Review by Rango
"A return trip to a legend long past."
When I was seven, I went to my friend's house. He had a SNES with a particular, golden game that stood out to me. It was called The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Upon playing it, I was introduced to the overwhelming number of items at my disposal, the freedom to explore a vast land, and smooth controls while battling my enemies with a sword. Once I managed to get a copy of the game, I was introduced to a huge number of dungeons to explore, upgradeable items, side-quests to do between dungeons, and an epic, fantasy story that involved saving maidens and a princess. This was my introduction to the Legend of Zelda series, a memory which would last me forever.
Fast forward to 2013, the trailer for ALBW comes out and I have a nostalgic flashback to the greatest game I ever played. To think a sequel would be made all these years later just blew my mind. Just upon introductions, I knew this game was going to be memorable. As the release date drew closer, my patience grew wary. The wait became more and more painful over the coming weeks before it finally came out. When it did, I finally had the one game in my 3DS collection I had been waiting for since I bought one. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was one of the greatest purchases I've ever made for a Nintendo system.
Zelda returns to form in 2D with lush greenery. Using animated 3D models, it keeps the charming, cartoony feel of ALttP, never deviating to being too serious or too lacking to look polygonal and jagged. Each world has its own feel with various palaces that have deserts, ice, fire, water, and even wind, among others. Animations are fluid and vibrant, and you know you're playing a Nintendo game when you're talking to happy NPCs or fighting a ginormous boss that doesn't fit on the screen in the next moment. The game also takes advantage of some various graphics tricks, such as actually dimming the Dark Palace, making it hard to see unless you use your Lantern, and the effects that come into effect when you enter the Dark World (Lorule) look really trippy in the background. When characters become a painting, they become a colored, 2D sketch, in direction contrast to their otherwise vibrant appearance. This game uses art as a theme, but a lot of what you see will remind you of ALttP as if it was a remake.
The story involved is standard Zelda fanfare. A lot of it is save the princess and defeat the vile villain. This time it's Yuga, a Gerudo from a parallel world known as Lorule. He intends to steal the descendants of the seven Sages (Maidens) from ALttP and use them to his benefit. You'll spend time saving these maidens, grabbing powerful weapons, and entering Lorule in an attempt to stop this fiend. While the story sounds very simplistic and standard for a Zelda game, there are one or two plot twists that will truly add to the story. Also, the ending is probably the best I've seen in the entire series since Wind Waker or even Link's Awakening. If you're walking in expecting a shallow story with little plot, you won't be disappointed.
Even compared to ALttP, A Link Between Worlds outdoes it in 20 years of evolution with its controls. Link seems to move just a little faster now, you can now equip two items at once, you can quick-equip your items using the bottom screen, and your sword now has an arc that goes almost 180 degrees. This means it pretty much covers Link's front, protecting him from enemies coming at him from even an angle. Link can now turn in all directions, so you can hit in all angles. The controls feel very fluid, it's easy to maneuver, and combat is a breeze in this game without ever being too easy.
The gameplay in this game is standard 2D fanfare and what you'd expect from ALttP's core. What's different is that, over the last 20 years, it's incorporated dungeon puzzle elements from games such as Link's Awakening, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, the Minish Cap, and some of the other games as well. You can stand on crystal switches, shoot a number of targets, use ice to mold lava, use fire to melt ice, use wind to extinguish flames, a Hookshot to pull switches, and even a Hammer to hit switches that launch you. You meet a new character, Ravio, who lives in your house and rents you items. You enter dungeons with these items and solve the puzzles inside. You don't get a new "item" in dungeons anymore, since you already have one. While this may be a cause for concern, it opens up a new level of freedom in the series. Just remember, the other bothering fact is that if you die, you'll have to give the item(s) you rented back. Fortunately, until you get to Hero Mode, which is an upgrade in difficulty, it's not too easy to die in this game. Furthermore, you can buy items from Ravio after the third dungeon, so you'll always have them. When you get to Lorule, the "items" you get in the dungeons will be either an ore to upgrade your sword, an armor, or a necessary item such as the Titan's Mitt. You'll still go through Lorule's dungeons with reward, but it's a different approach. While it works very well in ALBW, I still prefer the mystery of getting a new items in the series. Sadly, with recent Zelda games since after Wind Waker and Minish Cap, the items have gotten very predictable or very uninteresting.
Back in the day, it was amazing to use a Boomerang to target your enemies, a Deku Leaf to float with and blow enemies away, Nayru's Love to turn invincible, and Ether/Bombos/Quake to kill your enemies. After Wind Waker, most of the items served the purpose of simply being there to complete your puzzles and had little purpose in combat. Twilight Princess had a Wrecking Ball and Bomb Arrows, Spirit Tracks had a whip, but Skyward Sword relegated all combat back to the sword. The mystique of using new items was gone. A Link Between Worlds brings that back in form because you get new items, like the Tornado Rod, which stuns all enemies around you instantly, a Sand Rod which forms pillars and uproots antlions in the desert, and even lets you upgrade your items to a more powerful form. Visiting Mother Maiamai with her babies will allow you to make your weapons stronger, such as giving the Bow an ability to fire three arrows instead of one, and power up your Fire Rod to do much more damage.
I want to talk about the music in this game as well. You'll hear many classic tunes from Koji Kondo in this game, as well as many new tunes, all arranged or composed by Ryo Nagamatsu. Along with the familiar tunes of Hyrule, the Dark World, and even Dark World's Death Mountain and the Light World's Palace themes, the Dark World has new music in the dungeons, as well as a new boss theme, to add to the intensity of the fight. Each dark world theme has the same motif in the song, something you'll be able to hear if you pay attention to it, but they all have a different feel depending on where you are. The Swamp Palace has a mystic, water dungeon feel to it, the Ice Ruins use chimes that give it a wintery feel, and the Thieves' Dungeon gives it a hurried pace as you're evacuating a place crawling with enemies hunting you down. Each dungeon has a different mood, so while the motif is the same, each theme is completely unique, right up to the Lorule Castle, which adds new instruments and a more epic feel as you complete a section of it. While Zelda is known for having good music in its series, I would rank ALBW's songs in the upper echelon of the series, nearing the levels of Wind Waker and Majora's Mask's music in terms of sheer quality.
Is this game fun to play? Yes. Is it fun to play again? Absolutely. You unlock Hero Mode upon beating the game, which makes enemies do 4x as much damage to you. If you believed the game was easy the first time, or even easier than ALttP, feel free to touch an enemy upon reaching Lorule. I dare you. If you take my word for it, there are ways to prepare. The downside is Hero Mode isn't unlocked from the start, so anyone who beat it once already knows where all the Fairy and Bottle locations are. Still, it keeps you on your toes, especially near the end. This game also has a StreetPass functionality. You can get little "achievements" from beating Shadow Links, which is an A.I. controlled enemy that you fight in one of several battle grounds. Think of it as a throwback to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, complete with the dungeon theme from the same game!
I recommend this game to anyone with a 3DS. Anyone without one should considering picking one up for this game. A Link Between Worlds is the greatest Zelda game Nintendo has released in many years, since at least Wind Waker or even Majora's Mask. I feel the series hit a low point from Twilight Princess onward, but ALBW is a kind of new beginning to the series, maybe even a renaissance. Only time will tell, but when Aonuma addresses issues such as fetch quests, repetitive backtracking, lack of good items, and pacing issues, ALBW is the answer to all the problems that have plagued the series. I've beaten the game several times now, and I can't find a better reason to play on a 3DS right now.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/30/14
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (US, 11/22/13)
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