Review by Wiggis
I would pull the wrong switch all over again
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is still considered to be one of the greatest titles in the series, even to this day. Even when new Nintendo consoles and handhelds release, all bringing grand new Legend of Zelda titles with them, ALttP still remained nearest and dearest to a lot of the hearts of the Zelda faithful. In November 2013, twenty one and a half years after the release of the SNES classic, 3DS owners were given the opportunity to revisit the era of Hyrule everyone knew and loved. But was Nintendo just trying to rehash on old successes? Not at all. Here's why...
STORY: 9 / 10
Like A Link to the Past before it, A Link Between Worlds begins with our hero sleeping soundly. Only now, you're awoken by Gallow, the son of a blacksmith under whom you're an apprentice. After some verbal scolding for sleeping in, you're sent to deliver a sword to the captain of Hyrule's Royal Guards. Unfortunately, before you can hand over the parcel, you watch an evil being named Yuga turn the captain and a priestess named Seres into paintings. After witnessing the attack, you explain what you saw to Princess Zelda, who sends you out to find the descendants of the original Seven Sages and go stop Yuga.
Admittedly, the beginning of the game merely feels like revisiting old ideas and locations. Thankfully, it isn't too long before ALBW starts taking it's own twists and turns, some of which are genuinely surprising. Eventually, those twists mold ALBW into it's own unique Zelda adventure, making you actually forget that you're playing a sequel. It is very much worth playing through to the very satisfying ending.
GRAPHICS: 10 / 10
Simply put, A Link Between Worlds is gorgeous. The facelift from the SNES to the 3DS is overwhelmingly apparent as Hyrule shines with far greater detail than ever. Since there's a fairly considerable time gap between ALttP and ALBW, many familiar locales, such as Hyrule Castle, have undergone many changes, giving a sense of newness that Zelda veterans will appreciate.
But it's not just the environment that's been given a grand polish. Link, Zelda, the NPCs and the monsters all look incredible. They all still retain the same cartoonish look from the old-school classic, but the move to the 3DS gives them all much more fluidity and detail than ever before.
Now, you'd think that with all these vast improvements to the visuals, Nintendo would stop there. However, if you did think that, you'd be wrong. There are so many little touches that help add to the overall presentation. These range from Easter Eggs, such as Majora's Mask hanging up in Link's house or portraits of Wind Waker characters, to even the title screen! Yes, the title screen! It literally changes based on the last place you saved your game and what you did in that area!
Last but not least, the 3D effects of ALBW are unbelievable. Arguably, it's the best use of the 3D at all, even more than Super Mario 3D Land or Fire Emblem Awakening. The new dimension is perfectly implemented all over the place, from solving puzzles to environmental details to player and enemy movement. It really puts the player's focus to all the areas around Link, not just the 360 degrees that surround him on the ground. Honestly, I had the 3D slider at maximum 100% of the time, even as I was watching the credits roll.
SOUND: 9 / 10
Above and beyond, the music found in the Legend of Zelda series has always been, well, legendary. The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert tours are more than proof enough of this. Thankfully, A Link Between Worlds mightily continues to carry the torch. Since the setting is in the same Hyrule as A Link to the Past, many of the old tracks are back. Songs like the title theme and the Lost Woods theme are very welcome returning classics. Other tracks, such as the classic song and the Dark World theme, are updated versions of their 16-bit counterparts, all of which sound amazing. Of course, with a new game comes new tracks, such as the Maiamai theme, which definitely holds it's own alongside the rest of the music. The only real bump in this road is that there aren't enough new songs.
Nintendo didn't leave all the audio nostalgia to the music, however. Sounds like warping through a dungeon, soldiers charging, picking up and heaving rocks, etc. all sound great coming from the speakers of a 3DS. They all still sound like their 16-bit counterparts, but only clearer and a bit more distinct. On top of them, all the new sound effects (ringing the bell, using new items, etc.) all fit in just as perfectly.
Link has never been one to speak. In fact, in this game, he silently waves his arms to "talk" to people. But he still cries out like he's done in every game since Ocarina of Time whenever he falls, gets hurt or unleashes a charged attack. Everyone else either laughs or summarizes entire thoughts into monosyllabic sounds. All of it still sounds great, though. Not once did I ever come across anyone who brought the sound quality down.
CONTROL: 10 / 10
Every Zelda game feels tailored to whichever system sees it's release. A Link Between Worlds is no exception. The thumbstick controls movement while the face buttons interact with the world (B button is your sword, X & Y buttons are your items and A is your "do" button). The L button uses your Pegasus Boots (when you get them) and R raises your shield. The touch screen is mainly delegated to menu selection, but it also serves as the item, equipment & map screens. On top of that, ALBW enables the player to mark specific points on the map, which helps should you come across a heart piece you can't yet reach.
All of it combines to make controlling Link as smooth as silk. Never at any point did I experience anything that made me curse the interface.
GAMEPLAY: 10 / 10
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds plays amongst the best of the top-down Zelda games. Anyone who considers those to be the best Zelda titles will feel right at home here.
Being a sequel to A Link to the Past, it plays very similarly to the SNES title. You explore, converse with the locals, conquer dungeons and rise to power. There are even certain events that play out in reminiscent fashions. But the 3DS utilizes it's capabilities to make A Link Between Worlds much more than a mere return to the same old Hyrule. Aside from geographical differences, simply exploring the land is more fun than ever thanks to all new abilities and features. Perhaps the biggest new change is in the central game mechanic: turning into a painting.
After you beat the first dungeon, you gain the ability to become a painting of yourself on certain walls that can move back & forth. This is utilized so well throughout the entire game. Almost instantly, you use this for many reasons, including crossing gaps, avoiding traps, dodging enemies, collecting hard-to-reach items, solving puzzles and traveling to Lorule (this game's version of the Dark World). All these features (as well as a few more I won't reveal) are spread out in a flawless pace while never at any point feeling forced.
The next brand-new feature to this game is the ability to rent/buy a majority of the game's items from a single shop. You can rent items for a small price, but you'll lose them if you die. Otherwise, you can buy them for a high price. Ownership not only ensures that they'll be yours forever, but you can eventually upgrade them. To some, this may come off as cheap since you're not "earning" items such as the bow or boomerang. Looking at it more optimistically, however, you'll see that having early access to all these items bestows freedoms upon the player that no Zelda game has before (except maybe the first NES game). You can tackle dungeons in basically any order, reach elusive secrets sooner and it gives a much-needed booster shot to the Zelda formula.
Also new to ALBW is the Stamina Bar. This governs how long Link can remain a painting in a wall. It also regulates how many times you can use each rentable/buyable item, as each arrow fired or bomb dropped will deplete the Bar a little bit, rather than subtract from a collected quantity. Initially, this seems like an unusual addition to implement to the gameplay, especially when you see that the Stamina Bar automatically refills when you're not using it. Before too long, however, you'll wonder how Zelda games could have played without this feature. It's the perfect substitute for a magic bar, making items like the Fire Rod or the Ice Rod get as many uses as the player desires. As expected, the amount of Stamina drained varies for each item. The whole thing makes using your items feel more like flexing natural muscles rather than something you must keep up, such as maintaining a stock of arrows or magic.
In the field, there are secrets absolutely everywhere. Combining the early access to the items with the ability to merge with walls means you can find stuff pretty much everywhere. Some prizes dangle just out reach, while others are cleverly stashed away. Even then, there are still secrets you have to earn, as you can't buy "upgrade items" like the Pegasus Boots or the Hylian Shield. Plus, because this is a 3DS game, all the game's secrets, both indoor and out, utilize the 3rd dimension to an incredible degree. Secrets and puzzles need to be solved both above and below you, as well as around you on a flat plane.
Now, a Zelda game wouldn't be a Zelda game without dungeons. Fortunately, A Link Between Worlds has some of the best dungeons to appear in a Zelda game in years. It's all helped by the new item application. It gives a much-needed change to the Zelda dungeon formula. Before, it was "enter dungeon, find item, beat dungeon with said item". Not that this was necessarily a bad method for tackling a dungeon and it's boss, it just never changed in at least 15 years. Now, you're not even told which item you'll need, but it's helped by the freedom of tackling puzzles in multiple ways. Example: say there's an out-of-reach switch. You could use the Tornado Rod to float up to a moving platform to reach the switch, use the Ice Rod to hit the switch or throw a bomb at it. Granted, there are certain puzzles where a specific item is required, but it helps give dungeons a fresh facelift. The bosses at the end are all excellent, as per Zelda tradition.
A Link Between Worlds also does something that hasn't been done in a console Zelda game in over two decades: they made Link a lone warrior. No fairies, no talking boat, no strange creatures, no ghosts, nothing. Your only buddy is your sword. Luckily, your swordsmanship is, in the realm on top-down Zeldas, unparalleled. You may only have 3 attacks (slice, stab and the spin attack), but they're incredibly refined here. He swings his sword incredibly fast, the spin attack has the longest reach and you get 3 major sword upgrades. By the end of the game, you are scary kinds of powerful.
If you want to run around the game without actually tackling the story, there are a few things you can do. There are minigames, such as Cuccoo dodging or the returning "Let's Play Money Making Game", that can be played to win heart pieces or money. If you feel like testing your skill, there's a Treacherous Tower that can be conquered in multiple difficulty settings. But if you're in more of an exploratory mood, there are 100 creatures called Maiamai that can be found to upgrade Link's equipment. It's almost like finding the 100 Gold Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time, only in ALBW, the payoff is much greater.
Lastly, where A Link Between Worlds is a single player affair, the StreetPass functionality comes close to giving you a multiplayer experience. Passing by another 3DS owner who also has an ALBW save file will enable you to fight a Shadow Link set to their strengths in their game, including their hearts, sword, shield and items. These are genuinely fun and can keep you on you toes, as the Shadow Links will absolutely utilize their items and equipment! Beating these Shadow Links under specific criteria awards you medals, similar in fashion of the X-Box Achievements.
Beating A Link Between Worlds won't take too terribly long, but two things make this absolutely forgivable: everything you see and play leading up to the credits and Hero Mode. Hero Mode is the same as it was in Skyward Sword in the sense that all the enemies are twice as strong, which makes the game much harder, especially once you reach Lorule again. Seriously, it takes a while before you can take more than one hit in Lorule!
If I had to complain about anything at all, it's in the save feature. Not the actual saving, but in what can sometimes happen when you do save. To save the game, you talk to weather vanes. I don't mind this, as they're plentiful and you're given the ability to warp directly to them. What I do mind is how often they ask if you want to take a break. If you say no, you're stuck scrolling through text where repeatedly pressing A has no effect. It's true that this is kind of a nitpicky issue that doesn't affect the overall game, but it is annoying and it never stops.
OVERALL: 10 / 10
More sequels should be set up like A Link Between Worlds. It provides enough old aspects to warm nostalgic hearts, it introduces plenty of new features to help it feel like it's own game and utilizes the 3D better than basically every 3DS title that released before it. It's a must-own title for both newcomers to the series or anyone who has ever considered themselves a fan of The Legend of Zelda.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (US, 11/22/13)
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