The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds came as a bit of a surprise. Not only was it revealed to be a sequel (a Zelda rarity) to the famed A Link to the Past, but it was also going to use the exact same game map as the SNES classic. This move was met with fevered anticipation as many still hold Link to the Past up as the best Zelda game ever made.
Nintendo manages to recapture the look and feel of the 22-year old map and bring it into the 21st century. They’ve given everybody the chance to re-live the past. But in the process of doing this, they aren’t able to separate Link Between Worlds from its predecessor, and fail to seize the opportunity to craft a unique follow-up.
Link Between Worlds takes place generations after our hero slayed Ganon and restored peace to Hyrule. Now, a nasty sorcerer named Yuga is sealing Sages away in paintings, trying to achieve “perfection.” Eventually, Yuga’s real intention surfaces, and Hyrule is faced with an ancient threat that can only be thwarted by our green-clad hero.
The story here is not one of the Zelda series’ stronger entries. They mostly follow the same formula in one form or another, but Link Between Worlds‘ is one of the least engaging. Yuga is a one-dimensional villain, and disappears early on in the game, not to be seen until the very end. As Link saves each Sage, a little more of the story, involving another princess, is revealed, but it’s hardly enough to garner serious attention.
There is one new character though that keeps things interesting, and would’ve been a great help to the narrative had he been utilized more outside of the last act; that’s your item-selling merchant Ravio. This bunny-costumed salesman is the central point of the game’s new “renting” system. In past Zelda titles, you’ve been limited to when and where you can go based on Link’s acquisition of particular items. A Link Between Worlds throws all of that out the window, and gives you everything upfront.
After you tackle the first dungeon, which is reached within minutes of Link awakening from his famous pre-adventure slumber, you’ll be given freedom. This idea of freedom has typically been thrown around in the Zelda-universe over the years, but hasn’t been fully realized in quite some time. Sure, you can explore the overworld and tackle a few side-missions, but your limitations are always quickly made apparent when you don’t have bombs, the boomerang or a hookshot.
It’s freeing to be able to go into any dungeon or attempt any side-quest (there are plenty) by simply renting the required item from Ravio. And to make things even better, every item is tied to an energy bar that recharges over time. So no longer will you have to worry about depleting your cache of bombs halfway through a dungeon and then circle back to a certain area to get more. It’s all nice and simple, and will have you scratching your head as to why Nintendo didn’t tie everything to a magic meter earlier. There is one catch here though, if you fall in battle, your items are surrendered to Ravio once more. You can outright purchase items, and further upgrade them, but that will require more rupees – plus more time.
What sadly doesn’t require much time are the dungeons themselves. They’re meticulously crafted and multi-layered, but they hardly put up a fight. There were only a few times where a dead-end was met, or a pause was taken to contemplate what to do next. The dungeons are enjoyable to trek through and some are rather unique (one is several rooms stacked upon each other), but you’ll be reaching that boss, which unfortunately is reborn in several Link to the Past forms, in no time.
In every dungeon, on top of using the required item, Link will use his new ability to flatten himself against the wall and move around like a live portrait. This ability, granted accidentally by Yuga and Ravio, is a cool concept at first. It’s fun to slither between bars and dodge enemy attacks at the last second, since you’re impervious when straddling the wall. This novelty quickly wears thin however, and is used one too many times, on top of utilizing the power simply to reach new dungeons. You’ll also use it to travel between Hyrule and Lorule (the game’s “Dark World”), solve side-puzzles and obtain heart pieces.
The thing that is most bothersome about this ability though is that it doesn’t feel necessary. In the past, you could lower dungeon bars by stepping on a switch or shooting an open-eye with an arrow. Now, you just snake through them. You used to have to wait for a hovering plate to carry you further into the dark. In Link Between Worlds, you rapidly travel across the coarse wall. It simplifies things and speeds them up, but it doesn’t feel like a great, inventive leap for the series.
The mechanic also doesn’t seem to fit. Yuga traps the Sages in paintings, but it’s more that they’ve been taken to Lorule, rather than become works of art. It doesn’t fit within the context of the story, and honestly, could’ve worked without it. In Wind Waker, sailing was necessary because Hyrule was flooded. In Ocarina of Time, you had to travel through the years to get to certain areas in order to defeat Ganondorf. Their gameplay features fit with their respective worlds. With Link Between Worlds it makes sense early, but the plot device is abandoned while the gameplay element hangs around. It’s obvious the game is just borrowing mainly from Link to the Past, preventing it from flourishing as a standalone entry.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds could’ve been in the upper-echelon of Zelda games. It rips nostalgia apart, giving it new life for 2013. The sprite-ly world of Hyrule in 1991 is now gorgeously revitalized in stunning 3D with models and environments that have an incredible sense of depth and dynamic shadowing. Once chirpy little tunes are now elegant orchestral tracks, complete with cheery trumpets and ominous drum beats. That’s the problem unfortunately. The game may be enjoyable, and it’s fun to travel down that old road with new shoes on, but you’ll be walking firmly in the middle of it. It feels too much like Link to the Past. A Link Between Worlds does a lot of things right, but creating its own identity isn’t one of them.
*The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was reviewed using a downloaded copy from the Nintendo 3DS eShop purchased by OmniGamer.*