The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3
Released: November - December 2013
Played: 100% complete in 17h33min
When a stranger appears in Hyrule and kidnaps the Sages by turning them into paintings, a hero named Link sets out to rescue them. With a fragment of the Triforce stolen, cracks begin to appear in the kingdom of Hyrule, linking it to the dark mirror world of Lorule. Link will have to master a new skill to travel between worlds and save Hyrule and Princess Zelda.
A Link Between Worlds earned average review scores of 91%. Some reviewers found the formula familiar and others thought it felt fresh, but all agreed that the game is top-notch. The colour, new mechanics (equipment rental and painting mode), and the ability to tackle dungeons in any order were highly praised.
Quick note before we begin: there are some games I've played that I enjoy, but don't have much to say about them. This is one of those games, and I'm struggling a bit to put thoughts to... blog, so it's going to be a bit of a short review.
Second quick note: I've always meant to play through A Link to the Past, but only ever got far enough to recognize that A Link Between Worlds uses the same world map and makes some references. I don't know how far it goes though.
The first thing I noticed when I started A Link Between Worlds is the music, which is amazing. The main themes are updates of classic tunes, but they're just so well put together. The folksy guitar + violin version of the main theme is excellent, as is the Lorule overworld theme. These two tracks in particular make me want to hook my 3DS up to my speakers and just leave it running. So good.
After I noticed the music I was launched straight into a highly polished, well built, but very standard Zelda adventure. Collect the three things to get the Master Sword, then collect the seven things to find the final boss, all using the standard array of items to unlock areas and dungeons in the overworld, and a standard optional collection quest.
It probably sounds really boring when I put it that way, but I was consistently impressed with the cleverness of the environment and dungeon design. I didn't find anything particularly difficult (I only died 9 times in my entire 17.5 hour playthrough), but the game still frequently managed to make me feel smart with a lot of its puzzles - just tricky enough that the solution is rarely obvious at first glance, but not so difficult as to be frustrating. The sand and darkness dungeons are good examples.
The standout puzzle mechanic is Link's new ability to go two-dimensional and move along walls. Most of the cleverest puzzles use this ability - transitioning from a stationary wall to a moving platform to a previously inaccessible wall, sneaking around cliffs to areas unreachable on foot, or dodging hazards by going flat. It's neat, and really made me re-think my approach to exploring. Suddenly walls or cliffs are no longer obstacles, but potential routes to hidden treasure. Although it's a little disappointing that wall travel is only for movement and no enemies have the same ability.
The other twist to the standard Zelda formula is in how you obtain your gear. Early in the game a fellow named Ravio, wearing a purple rabbit,
commandeers rents your house to use as his shop. Ravio will rent you most of the items you'll need - bombs, the bow, boomerang, fire rod, etc - and reclaim them when you die. So you can rent every item right away, but if you die, you're out the rupees and need to rent again. Later on you can permanently buy the items at a high price (which is important if you want to upgrade them).
Finally, right at the end of the game came the twist that differentiated A Link Between Worlds from the other Zelda games I've played. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the villain's motivations are not what I initially believed. It's a good twist with a satisfying resolution.
Oh, also, I still think the 3DSXL's 3D is sorcery. It works so well.
So, should you play A Link Between Worlds? Yes. It feels very familiar, but it's so well put together and so well polished, with a couple of just-different-enough twists. I had a lot of fun.