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

By Jordan Hurst 28.05.2016 2

Review for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo has apparently wised up to the mixed reception given to the gimmicky control setups of the last few instalments of The Legend of Zelda, not to mention the audience's disillusionment with the series' constant Ocarina of Time worship. It doesn't seem to know where to go now, though. While the company teases gamers with the eternally delayed prospect of a true series evolution on Wii U, it has also churned out A Link Between Worlds in the meantime. Previously reviewed here, this is the most palatable Zelda incarnation in almost a decade, even with the unshakeable feeling that it's just treading water in a pool dug by A Link to the Past years ago.

The idea that Zelda games are all very similar has always been overblown. Sure, there are plenty of common narrative and structural patterns, but taking into account new abilities, equipment, and aesthetics, many of the titles are about as different as you can get within the same genre and series. Having said that, though, it seems like an obviously bad idea for a franchise with such a reputation to evoke one of its previous iterations so completely. Disregarding the fact that almost every Zelda game is a throwback in one way or another (the concept is even in the title of A Link to the Past!), didn't Nintendo already do a full-length throwback to this specific game with Four Swords Adventures? Well, kind of.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS

FSA's ties to Zelda's SNES outing are largely just a side effect of being a direct sequel to the original Four Swords, which happened to be built upon and bundled with ALttP's GBA port. A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, is an intentional homage, rather than one born of convenience, and the difference is palpable. Much noise has been made about how it recycles the 1992 title's world map, but that's actually not as unfortunate as it sounds. The important things - dungeons, secrets, and narrative events - operate entirely differently; that Kakariko Village is in the same place as before is just a superficial detail. The environmental repurposing also sets the stage for some clever subversions of some of ALttP's famous moments, making it both nostalgic and surprising for long-time fans.

Most of ALBW's actual problems come from its premise and gameplay structure. The plot involves a new villain, Yuga, wreaking havoc across Hyrule using his unique ability to transform people into paintings that adhere to any nearby flat surface. While trying to stop him, Link stumbles into Lorule, a parallel world that coincidentally (from a narrative perspective, not a development one) looks a lot like the Dark World from ALttP. After the initial eye roll caused by Hyrule getting another alternate counterpart, the story settles into an enjoyable state before being punctuated by a series of reveals that are thematically interesting, but mostly fall apart upon inspection. In particular, the villain's plan turns out to be complex for complexity's sake, as it overlooks its own obvious flaws and other, simpler solutions.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS

Yuga's painting transformation ability is similarly riddled with holes. Why is he able to do it? Why is he the only one who can do it? Why are Hyrule and Lorule connected by magical fissures that only living paintings can move through? It all makes one wonder: why is the painting stuff even here? The answer, it turns out, is because it makes for a fantastic game mechanic. Yuga accidentally gives Link the ability to self-transform early on, and despite how out of place the talent is in the story, it fits into the gameplay perfectly. It allows for an eye-opening fusion of 2D and 3D design sensibilities, and the host of inventive ways it's used against bosses is almost enough to make me forget that no direct combat happens in painting form.

It's clear very early that the "Worlds" in the title refers to the second and third dimensions as much as to Hyrule and Lorule. The fact that the graphics are practically a 1:1 recreation of ALttP's art using 3D models is the first hint, but it's the exceptional dungeon designs that really drive the point home. Their creative and expansive use of the z axis reveals a whole layer of structural possibilities never attempted in a top-down Zelda before, allowing the developers to craft twisting structures and unusually engaging puzzles. Link's traditional arsenal has either been added to or altered to incorporate this verticality, as well. It should come as no surprise, given all this, that ALBW also makes excellent use of the 3DS's stereoscopic capabilities.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS

While the new equipment (including the pillar-forming Sand Rod and the flight-inducing Tornado Rod) is mildly novel, the way it's acquired truly sets ALBW apart. Specifically, each item must be rented for a small fee and bought for a large one before it can be upgraded. This is the kind of feature that sounds much better on paper than on screen. It allows players to complete dungeons in any order they like and ensures money is consistently useful throughout the game, but it also means that upgrades can only be faster or stronger versions of existing features, and it prevents complementary item use outside of optional areas.

The emphasis on player choice shows how unexpectedly modern this game is, inorganic visuals and half-recycled soundtrack aside. Not only does the painting mechanic feel like something out of an indie puzzle-platformer, but Nintendo has clearly learned a lot from Skyward Sword. This adventure is gratifyingly immediate - characters don't say any more than they have to, and an efficient fast-travel system is introduced quickly. It also has a solid challenge level, although its open-ended nature here renders another feature imperfect, as the difficulty curve is easily warped by the player's whims. Still, it never even comes close to the depths of cruelty and effortlessness that the NES and GameCube titles respectively reached.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The Zelda fanbase is notoriously bad at coming to a consensus regarding the quality of individual games, but this release has the most potential for unified support since…well, A Link to the Past. It's too overshadowed by its predecessor to ever be anyone's favourite version of the franchise, but as a fast, engaging little ball of nostalgia here to remind everyone why they fell in love with the series in the first place, it's a definite success.






Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (10 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop


Good, fair review. I'd mark mine a little lower today. I think after the disappointment of Skyward Sword and having to wait so long for a proper 2D Zelda after the lacking DS games, coupled with me having grown up on ALttP, made me see ALBW in a higher light, but it's still a great game that did a lot of things right. If memory serves me right, I found it a bit too on the easy side, and felt it may have relied too much on redoing what ALttP did, but I've not played it since it came out, so I definitely want to give it another go at some point.

Cheap as chips on the 3DS now, too, what with it being in the Nintendo Selects range, so all Zelda fans should pick it up and try it.

Once again I'll bring up the polarisation of the Zelda fanbase. This is probably my favourite handheld Zelda.. maybe even go as far as to say my favourite 2D Zelda. I personally really enjoyed it, loved the art style and the soundtrack was great also.

Then again, I don't have the nostalgia for A Link to the Past that older fans do.

Even so, I think LttP is brilliant. My least favourite Zelda game is probably Zelda II, because I could never seem to get into it. Maybe i'll try playing it again at some point. Older me might appreciate it more.

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