Review by ABXInferno

"Amazing, Likeable, Big and Wonderful (ALBW) - Massive review enclosed!"

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the best handheld Zelda game there is, period. It drops the touch-control gimmicks that were in the last 2 DS games and instead is a much more traditional Zelda game, much like Link's Awakening, the Oracle games and the Minish Cap. This game has a lot of pressure riding on it, can Nintendo really surpass one of the best games ever made, its very prequel - A Link to the Past? In my opinion, yes. A Link Between Worlds is the most original Zelda title in years, happily changing the Zelda formula and mixing it up to allow greater freedom - the same amount of freedom I've only ever seen in the original Zelda in the 1980s. It also has an all-new merging-wth-walls mechanic that's front and center of the adventure, allowing you to reach otherwise inaccessible ledges. With that, I can safely say A Link Between Worlds is the best Zelda game I've ever played.

Presentation
A Link Between Worlds is gorgeous. From the bright and cheerful Hylian landscape to the dark and shadowy Lorulean environment, everything in the game is drop-dead gorgeous. And remember that the game, while it may be a top-down Zelda game, is rendered in eye-popping stereoscopic 3D, which is used surprisingly well , perhaps the best use of it in a 3DS game since Super Mario 3D Land. While it may not contribute much to the gameplay, it does add a lot of depth that would otherwise be impossible to perceive. While it may not display HD graphics at 60 fps that consoles like the PS4 or even the Wii U could display, the developers know their hardware platform well and uses its strengths to deliver one of the best-looking 3DS games ever.

A Link Between Worlds also has a seriously amazing soundtrack that demands your attention. The game features a full-on orchestral soundtrack, where every song is performed by a real-life orchestra and recorded. The composers and music players work together to deliver a fantastic soundtrack that manages to fit the atmosphere of the environment it's played in every time. Just when I thought I'd found a new favorite track, the game blew me away a few moments later with another amazing performance. And if you're a fan of videogame music, do yourself a favor and head to the Milk Bar in Kakariko Village and pay 10 Rupees to hear some amazing tracks, all performed by a real-life orchestra. You simply have to hear to believe, this might very well be my favorite videogame soundtrack of all time.

The game's story however, is slightly one-dimensional. It all starts with you, the employee of a blacksmith, delivering the sword of the Hylian Captain who goes to the Sanctuary. There, just as you're about to deliver the sword, the game's villain, Yuga, attacks the Sanctuary, turns a descendant of the Seven Sages into a painting and walks off, in the process turning the Captain, who presumably was defending Seres, the descendant, into a painting on the wall. Yuga then leaves, taking Seres along with him. Now you must inform Princess Zelda and she gives you the Pendant of Courage. You then go adventuring, the castle is captured and you have to get the other pendants to get the Master Sword. Same Zelda affair as usual, but there is a bit more to the story than you'd think, with the two kingdoms, two princesses and all, the story does get a bit more interesting later on, but you still can't shake the feeling that they could have put a lot more effort into the story.

All in all, A Link Between Worlds excels in its presentation, featuring beatiful graphics and an amazing soundtrack along with a moderately interesting story.

Gameplay
A Link Between Worlds, for all its graphical beauty and amazing soundtrack, woudn't hold a candle if it's gameplay sucked. Thankfully, it doesn't, at all. The gameplay is fast-paced and puts you straight into the action, ignoring the long tutorial sections that have plagued past Zelda games since Ocarina of Time (1998). And instead of giving you a less-than-helpful and more-than-annoying companion to tell you hints such as Navi, Tatl or Fi, the game instead uses the ingenuity of its design to communicate with players, using the environment to tell you how to do things. I'm glad it treats you as a real human willing to overcome challenges and have good concentration skills and no longer does an annoying companion pop out if you can't beat that puzzle - it leaves you all on your own, just like in real life, which might be a bad thing to some beginners, but remember this is the age of the internet and we can just look up the internet for strategy guides.

The game also willingly changes up the Zelda formula more than any other Zelda game, perhaps the first big change to the formula in decades. Instead of you finding an item in a dungeon, then using it to solve puzzles in that dungeon, fight the boss using it, get to the next dungeon using it again, then abandoning it for the rest of the game, instead the game allows you to rent any item you wish from the beginning from a cheerful travelling merchant known as Ravio, who also gives you a bracelet that's extremely important to how you progress, but that's for later. But for the first time ever, you can now get any item you wish at any time, save the Sand Rod which you can only get later on. You can then buy items shortly before leaving Hyrule. What's the benefit? For one, you no longer lose your items if you fall in battle. Yes, Ravio does take your items if you die and you have to re-rent them which can add up. Second, if you've been collecting the Maiamais, you can give 10 of them to Mother Maiamai and she will upgrade your items. There are a hundred Maiamais scattered all over Hyrule and Lorule and you need to collect all 100 if you want to be at full power for the finla battle.

However, that doesn't mean you'll get everything from Ravio's shop, you still need to get things such as the Master Ores to upgrade your sword or the Power Gloves and later on, the Titan's Mitt to lift large and heavy rocks, or even the Pegasus Boots to get Pieces of Heart and Maiamais. So even if you will be able to access most of the world if you rented all the items, it doesn't mean you can go anywhere .

Speaking of hidden secrets, I particularly love the game's two worlds. They're both quite dense and small and once you receive the Pegasus Boots you can pretty much travel from one end to the other within the short time span of a minute. And yet, its particularly packed with secrets, secrets that gradually open up as you receive quest items such as the Titan's Mitt or the Pegasus Boots. The game's overworlds aren't segmented either, for example islands you can only reach by travelling in a boat, towns you can only travel between one another via train or areas you can only reach by returning to the Sky. 99% of the world in Hyrule is reachable on foot and while Lorule does split up into several distinct parts that you cannot move between one another, it never feels bad, since there's a quick travel system that does enable you to reach other parts without returning to Hyrule first as long as you've activated those weather vanes before. The worlds feel dense and packed with secrets, never allowing you to spend eternities travelling between towns.

Did I mention the weather vanes before? These weather vanes essentially act as save points. The game only allows you to save at those points and it isn't bad, since they're scattered all over Hyrule and Lorule. They also allow you to travel from any origin to any activated weather vanes. The weather vanes are often located near important places such as Kakariko Village or before any dungeon such as the Eastern Palace. It does make travelling between places much faster and easier than before, effortlessly transporting you to important places such as dungeons.

And on the topic of dungeons, the game has some of the best in recent history, putting the game's new merge ability front and center of its designs. You gain that power from Ravio's bracelets and when Yuga turns you into a painting in the Eastern Palace, the bracelet starts glowing and you are able to escape. This new ability essentially allows you to cross large chasms, slip between jail cells and bypass enemy detection. This ability, unlike gimmicks such as the masks in Majora's Mask and the Wind Waker in well, The Wind Waker, is used very often to solve puzzles and reach important areas that are required to progress in dungeons. The dungeons all have their own item that you need to have, such as the Arrows in the Eastern Palace or the Hammer in the Tower of Hera, but that doesn't mean you don't use them later on. All of these items are used in the overworld as means of solving puzzles or combat. The game doesn't have any superfluous items that you can't use under normal conditions, like the Spinner or Dominion Rod in Twilight Princess. I hate these kinds of items since they serve no purpose and only confuse you and fill up your item menu, preventing quick item access. Perhaps it's only the Sand Rod that violates this rule, but otherwise all the other items are useful for beating enemies in combat or getting the Heart Pieces and Maiamais.

The dungeons also have some of the best puzzles ever, as I mentioned before, treating you as a human with a working brain, using the language of its design to communicate with you. These puzzles might be challenging and can be a daunting task, but when the solution finally hits you, it feels rewarding to be able to finally proceed. The dungeons all also have their own atmosphere, such as the suitably dark and creepy Dark Palace or the tall and treacherous Tower of Hera and as I mentioned previously, music tracks that are perfectly tuned to fit their atmospheres.

A Link Between Worlds also has some of the series' best bosses, from the towering Margomill, to the irritating Moldorm that still gets on my nerves even after decades to the violent yet kind of dumb Knucklemaster, the bosses are all big and brutal, giving players a sense of fear when they first see them in order for them to feel rewarding to finally conquer when you land that last hit.

The game has some of the best combat in any Zelda game - it features some deadly enemies that include the fierce and deadly Lynels to the Taros in Lorule, the fighting feels very entertaining and the game does reward you with prizes as high as purple Rupees for beating the deadliest enemies.

And if you're wondering about just how much homage the game pays to A Link to the Past, the answer is that the game does take a lot from A Link to the Past, one of the most respected games of all time, and yet adds in a lot that's new, more than enough to still make it feel like an all-new Zelda and not just a remake. They have very similar maps, so if you've played A Link to the Past and know it well, you should feel right at home with A Link Between Worlds, but expect to be surprised regualrly since a number of things have changed. All in all, with nostalagic value, Nintendo has balanced a very unstable beam, one that most game makers try to balance between old and new, but often fail and most often, feeling just like its predecessor. With A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo satisfies ALttP's fans and yet throws in enough to justify a $40 purchase.

The game also has tons of replay value - there's just so much to do in Hyrule and Lorule that will keep you playing for a long time. Sure, the game can be completed in a day or two if you really put your concentration on the game itself and you can just play once and abandon it forever, but there's games such as both the Hylian and Lorulean version of minigames such as Rupee Rush, avoiding Cuccoos in a Hylian ranch outside Kakariko Village or playing Octoball Derby in Lorule where you're objective is to smash as many pots as possible by playing baseball with an Octorok pitcher. A Link Between Worlds also makes great use of the 3DS's StreetPass functionality, allowing you to send a ghost version of your Link to other people and you can receive other people's ghosts as you go around while your 3DS is in sleep mode. If you win against other's ghosts, you can then receive the bounty, but you lose nothing if you lose. You can find these ghosts known as Shadow Links all over the land and you can locate them by going to Kakariko Village and reading the signs to find out where these Shadow Links are waiting for you. It's a great way to use the StreetPass functionality and one that constantly encourages you to practice, gain upgrades and play the game more in order to beat more and more Shadow Links.

The Final Decision
A Link Between Worlds, suffice to say, is one of the best games of all time. With the amazing graphics and fantastic soundtrack that will forever have its place in gaming history, a ton of content, some of the best puzzles, boss and combat in Zelda history and successfully balancing between old and new, the game is one of the best Zelda games ever made. I personally love this game and since I enjoyed A Link to the Past so much over a decade ago on GBA (yes, ALttP was released on GBA as a remake), I feel right at home in this version of Hyrule. To me, this is the best Zelda game ever made and that's a huge thing to say, especially because we're talking about a series with a dedication to perfection, one that has redefined gaming on many occasions. This may not be a revolution, but its a huge evolution of a formula that was perfected decades ago. Sometimes, it feels like Nintendo is just running another victory lap around a formula they perfected two decades ago with ALttP, but that's none of your concern now. For now, if you have a 3DS, you have no reason to skip this game - its amazing presentation and gameplay should lure you over after reading this review if it hasn't somehow done so before.

Final Score - 10/10

Presentation
+ Amazing graphics with surprisingly good use of the stereospic 3D even if it doesn't add much to the gameplay.
+ Fantastic soundtrack that stands as among the best soundtracks in any video game, in short, seriously good.
- Average and less-than-new storyline that doesn't reflect the huge amount of change in gameplay.

Gameplay
+ Huge amount of content that keeps you coming back for more.
+ The best combat in any Zelda game in recent memory.
+ Some of the best puzzles ever that can make you really use that noggin of yours to its fullest potential and doesn't have any annoying and irritating companions to tell you what to do.
+ Big and towering bosses that feel rewarding to defeat.
+ Willingly changes up the Zelda formula and succeeds - gives you a lot of freedom past the first 3 dungeons.
+ So good finding something bad to say wasn't possible, save my complaint for the story.

Buy, rent or skip?
If you have a 3DS, it should be a criminal offence to not own this game. If you don't, between this game and other jewels such as Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus Uprising and other great games, pick one up right now, there's simply no reason not to.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/14

Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (US, 11/22/13)


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