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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

A series with a rich history behind its name, each game in The Legend of Zelda franchise is crafted with immeasurable care and quality, taking years to develop and, occasionally, taking even more still to finally land in fans' hands. Whilst the series remains one like no other and continues to offer some of the greatest adventures in video games, it has increasingly become much more opinionated over the last decade or so, due in part to formula repetition and questionable control and gameplay mechanics. Whether the Nintendo EAD-developed The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a safer approach taken to reclaim lost fans from the 80s and 90s is a thought for consideration, but this return to the traditional top-down viewpoint of classic 2D Zelda has forced many a fan—old and new—to take notice. Is this the start of a new beginning for the franchise?

It is not often in The Legend of Zelda series that players are given the opportunity to return to the same world from a previous game. In fact, in revisiting Hyrule from A Link to the Past, this is the first time it has been possible to explore the exact same map in a canon sequel. With the Super NES game's arrival in the West being in 1992, it is a far more acceptable and less risky move to make than basing the game off of a much more recent title in the franchise. It is a long enough period—over two decades, actually—that, for long-timers that are still engaged with the adventures of the hero in green, and indeed for some that may have stopped playing the series for a number of years, it will rekindle a lost feeling of love that may have gone astray, even if just ever so slightly, between player and series.

Even so, it is still a rather ambitious move, especially as the series, as mentioned, continues to present entire new worlds and variations of Hyrule in each subsequent game. Since this is the first of its case, though, it may be no small assumption to make that any fan of A Link to the Past would be giddy with excitement at the prospect of returning to this setting that has held so many memories from its time being traversed and excavated for every tiny secret during its 16-bit days.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

A Link Between Worlds is a nostalgia trip—quite possibly one of the best nostalgia trips that a Legend of Zelda fan will endure in his or her time with the series. From waking up in the very same house at the start of the game, to the resting place of the Master Sword in the Lost Woods, to those pesky vultures that swoop down on Link in the desert, A Link to the Past is represented almost identically in this game, which is set centuries after it, chronologically. Practically every location of the overworld can be explored straight from the get-go, granting curious players the opportunity to see what has changed, what hasn't changed, and just how much everything was as they remembered it in the early 90s classic.

How much of the overabundance of nostalgia masks what is new in A Link Between Worlds, though? Has much been done at all to create a title that survives on its own merits, and not of those of one of the defining 2D adventure games of its time? Well, it is true that A Link Between Worlds' main appeal comes from the fact it is a true sequel to A Link to the Past, but some bold new steps and a touch of Nintendo innovation have been applied to ensure that this is not simply a lazy overworld copy-and-paste job with a few new dungeons thrown in.

Obviously, what will remain decidedly similar is a story featuring a certain young man in green, the Princess of Hyrule, and an antagonist seeking the power of the Triforce. Whilst 2D Zelda games have progressively become more story-focused, what is presented with A Link Between Worlds is amusing, but not as heavily forced onto players as compared to other top-down entries, such as Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages and The Minish Cap. Undoubtedly, many fans love the idea of more depth to the plot in these games, and even though it is here and certainly not overly serious, it does feel more like an advancement of A Link to the Past in this regard, and less like the titles that appeared on the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

However, this is by no means a fault. To some it may be, but this approach allows for a free-flowing adventure with fewer stoppages, which, in turn, grants far bigger emphasis on continued exploration and, of course, puts greater importance on the dungeons—the core part of any Legend of Zelda game.

The correlation between exploration and the dungeons delivered here is rather new territory for Nintendo and the series, but it is utterly welcome. Linearity is a term brought up often when each new Legend of Zelda game releases, with the forced nature of completing dungeons in fixed orders wearing thin now. One of the most pleasing changes to the system in A Link Between Worlds is finally having that ability to complete dungeons in almost any order. With the option to now rent items for the first time since the Japan-only Super NES Satellaview game, BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets, level designs that utilise a broader range of ideas now exist, instead of mostly just the item found in a chest in its respective dungeon in past games. It makes for a less predictable and more exciting set of puzzles that do manage to impose a few challenging situations. Although series veterans are unlikely to be troubled too much, a special item can be used at any time that reveals ghosts that can provide hints for the current room at the cost of Nintendo 3DS Play Coins—a pleasant optional feature to offer a helping hand.

What sets A Link Between Worlds further apart from any other game in the series, also, is the ability to take the form of a drawing and merge into walls. It is only possible through the transformation of what was previously a strictly flat and two-dimensional world on the Super NES, to a fully three-dimensional Hyrule on the Nintendo 3DS. Still presented in the classic top-down viewpoint, this is a game that has been redesigned into 3D, offering a completely new perspective on the familiar world. Through the ability to merge into the landscape, and with the camera shifting to accommodate where Link does this, Hyrule becomes a totally new world to explore. On the overworld, it is a means to locate and access new dungeons and reach otherwise inaccessible cliffs that hold caves and secrets; whilst inside dungeons, it is a core gameplay mechanic, where puzzles, platforms and entire levels themselves are crafted with Link's astonishing talent in mind. For a skill this bizarre, it is executed so naturally that it doesn't feel out of place in not just this once-trodden Hyrule, but the entirety of the game.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

A concern upon the announcement that A Link Between Worlds would be set in the same map as A Link to the Past was that of still having enough to do outside of conquering dungeons and, as such, whether said dungeons would suffice if overworld content was lacking. With a gratefully large number of them to explore, and it being equally pleasing that each dungeon yields engaging schemes and themes to ensure sustained enjoyment, the out-of-dungeon portions and extras of the game are thankfully existent and will delight fans, too. Side-questing is perhaps lacking when compared to other titles, but what is here is more than satisfying; whether it is searching the whole land for critters in a bid to power up equipment, competing in mini-games to win pieces of heart and those now-more-necessary-than-ever rupees (thanks to the item rental system), or competing in battle trials against hordes of enemies to test the might of the hero. StreetPass is even put to use to fight against replicas of Links from other players' games and to attempt to achieve a number of accomplishments through these engagements. It's unfortunate that the Nintendo Network wasn't employed to allow users to maximise opportunities to battle other players or friends, however.

Familiar Legend of Zelda players are unlikely to find too much trouble in getting through A Link Between Worlds, and bosses aren't anything completely out of the ordinary or overly difficult; there is much that has been seen before, which, on one hand, is great for the nostalgia, but on the other, it can mean a real lack of challenge. The Hero Mode that can be unlocked serves to deliver the tests many fans will crave, but some might have preferred the option to select this from the start.

Where 3D Legend of Zelda games have, arguably, relied too heavily on the same formula for too long and are in need of new ideas, A Link Between Worlds benefits from doing away with tedious modes of transportation and playing frustrating instruments that were apparent in the past two top-down-like main entries on the Nintendo DS, and proves that 2D Zelda succeeds when it sticks to what it knows best, whilst also bringing in ideas that are ideal and much-needed, with a key factor being in the form of creating a more non-linear game. With this original style of Zelda getting back on the right track, hopefully, now, the 3D iterations can take a couple of leaves from A Link Between Worlds' book and really reinvigorate this unparalleled series once more.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

The touch controls of previous portable games Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are not missed, as A Link Between Worlds resorts to the traditional button setup of old, with a quick-touch interface for smooth inventory interaction—there are no gimmicks here. This is true, classic Legend of Zelda done in the way it should be. Lots of dungeons, a beautiful overworld, secrets to uncover—it's all here, and it's exactly what fans want to see.

Graphics

It retains the super colourful and vibrant look of its prequel that is accentuated even further through the Nintendo 3DS, although some may have mixed feelings about the new look and even Link himself, who seems to be less detailed than he really could have been. The jump from 2D sprites to 3D models if coming straight from playing A Link to the Past may take some getting used to, but it is most definitely appreciated if only to see this world in a completely new light, and is an art style that would be welcomed again for a future 2D Zelda. The stereoscopic 3D effect is put to extremely fine use across the board, creating noticeable depth on floors in dungeons and caves, and crafting much more visually-appealing story scenes.

Sound

With multiple gorgeously-crafted arrangements of A Link to the Past tunes and even some other tracks from across the series, as well as all-new music to boot, what composer Ryo Nagamatsu has done here is nothing short of heart-warming and spine-tingling. While having previously worked on mostly Super Mario titles, this is Nagamatsu-san's first central role in the Zelda series, where Koji Kondo had primarily been the lead composer for almost the entire franchise thus far. The Legend of Zelda's musical scores are in very safe hands with Nagamatsu-san, judging by the wonderful original and arranged themes created for A Link Between Worlds.

Value

A typical Zelda player will likely be through the game before the 15-hour mark, which is more than acceptable for any 2D adventure, but there is no way that it will end just there. With the extra secrets to uncover and the more challenging Hero Mode for daring players to brave (a feature that is now becoming standard fare for games in the series), A Link Between Worlds will remain a game that is firmly embedded inside the 3DS for a long while to come, and indeed one that deserves to be revisited in the future many more times, like countless Zelda entries have been over the years.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

No touch or motion controls that don't always do what is asked of them; no microphone gimmicks to blow hundreds of times into incredibly infuriating wind instruments; no involuntary hand-holding that removes the need to explore and continuously breaks up the flow of the game—A Link Between Worlds is the very definition of what classic top-down Legend of Zelda games should always be about. It is clear that 2D Zelda thrives and is at its ultimate best when it sticks to its roots, and A Link Between Worlds does exactly that, and more. This is the return to form that long-time fans have been wishing for in the classic 2D format for the Zelda franchise for many years; it is the greatest entry in a very long time.

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04.12.2013

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Nintendo

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Nintendo

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (6 Votes)

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

Staff Member

While I don't feel as strongly about the "stagnation" of the series as you do, this game has still become my favourite handheld Zelda game to date, right in front of The Minish Cap and Spirit Tracks. With all the praise it has received so far, I hope it'll mark the start of an era where handheld games can stand up to their home console brethren again, not just in quality and attention from Nintendo but also appreciation from fans of the series. The DS games were still good - even great in case of Spirit Tracks - in their own right but it always felt like they were an afterthought compared to the home console instalments.

It'll certainly be interesting to see what elements the new Wii U Zelda will take from this game. I do like how the 3D games have been more story-focused, so I'm not sure if I'd want them to adopt the classic non-linear formula. Perhaps some sort of hybrid that takes the best of both worlds. Either way, I adore all five 3D Zelda games so far, so much that I can't even decide on an order or a clear favourite between them. I highly doubt the Wii U one is going to be any different.

Cubed3 Reviewer/Feature Writer | Twitter | Backloggery
Sid James (guest) 04.12.2013 16:21#2

10/10

This game captures me right from the start. I had my reservations with aLttP, but this one guides my right to the points I have to go to, let me be a part of the game, and not a spectator like in past handheld-Zelda-games. I am at home on the console-Zeldas, but this one feels right and immerse. 9/10 as well!

I find your lack of faith disturbing!
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Laurelin said:
but this one guides my right to the points I have to go to

Ouch, sounds like a reason to dislike it more than anything else for me. I don't want to be lead by the hand, I want to be left free to figure things out for myself. Being told the general location of a key spot in the game is OK, but being told right where to go, not so much Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer
Staff Member

RudyC3 said:
Laurelin said:
but this one guides my right to the points I have to go to

Ouch, sounds like a reason to dislike it more than anything else for me. I don't want to be lead by the hand, I want to be left free to figure things out for myself. Being told the general location of a key spot in the game is OK, but being told right where to go, not so much Smilie.

But that's exactly what it does..it tells you the location of key spots in the game by placing Xs on your map. How to actually get there, when you go there and sometimes gain access to a dungeon is up to the player beyond the start of the game that'll obviously be designed to ease players into it.

( Edited 05.12.2013 17:42 by SirLink )

Cubed3 Reviewer/Feature Writer | Twitter | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

That's a light relief indeed, I thought it had some sort of arrow pointing you in the right direction at all times or something, which i would have hated. I haven't played the game yet, see Smilie

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

That's what Inazuma Eleven does, Rudy, which spoils things...constant on-screen reminders and a bloody big arrow on the map! Zelda just gives a gentle nudge, which works well for someone like me that regularly turns the 3DS on and off, sometimes with a day in-between and then forgets the objective! Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Brill review Az Smilie I was very uncertain before playing the E3 demo, felt it was just a rehash of ALLTP - but that effect really does bring a new dimension into the mix, even in the demo dungeon. Might pick this up around Christmas...!

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

I am not new to games and like being free to roam around, but with handhelds or mobile-Zeldas I am sometimes lost as what to do next, so I am glad for the gentle nudges - where the son of the blacksmith may be found, where the next 2 pendants are located... 
It's important not to run to all these locations right away, since you have to explore updates, bottles, heart-pieces or side quests. 


Pick this game up, it's a great deal different from aLttP and the dungeons are (almost?) totally new. It's a NEW game, not a remake! Like maybe two games taking place at Berlin, for example (my home town right now), and naturally not being remakes, of course.

I find your lack of faith disturbing!

I was playing and got inside of a cave and the music sounded quiet some familiar but couldn't put my finger on it. Then it hit me. Call of Duty 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3qekbt2olE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdsn97U4BfY

LBW is some what sped up abit but the tones are right.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

^ Can see the similarity for sure, though guess the CoD developers would have taken some inspiration from the sort of grim, cavish sort of atmosphere in the composition

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

irfy said:
I was playing and got inside of a cave and the music sounded quiet some familiar but couldn't put my finger on it. Then it hit me. Call of Duty 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3qekbt2olE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdsn97U4BfY

LBW is some what sped up abit but the tones are right.

That track was already in Link to the Past in 1991 so if anyone took inspiration on the other, you got it the wrong way round Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Well that explains alot. Smilie

Probably my favourite 2D Zelda to date, It used to be ALTTP, It has everything, Hero mode ups the difficulty as in the amount of hits you can take. My only gripe is the length, 2D Zeldas always seem too short compared to their 3D counterparts, I much prefer the 2D versions, and even though there is alot to do if you want to complete it, collecting all maimais etc the game can last a whille. I wasn't a fan of the camera being directly above Link at first either, I preferred the pseudo isometric 3D view from ALTTP but im glad to say it grew on me, the 3D when on is absolutely stunning, the cliffs look like actual dangerous drops, and climbing Zeldas castle, wow. It's not often Im gobsmacked but climbing the castle with the 3D on, inside and out the castle absoutely blew me away (the background as your climbing the castle outside was the actual portion of the world map you'd see and not just some random trees etc which was a nice touch), coupled with the nostalgic sounds from the original, I was jaw dropped, was gorgeous to play. Definitely a 10/10 for me, they just need to update the difficulty of the dungeons, and maybe add more of them to make it last that little bit longer.

( Edited 15.12.2013 21:12 by Im_Neutral )

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