One of the most difficult things in the modern video game industry is to make a sequel to a game that produces a new and interesting experience without alienating what players of previous titles found to be entertaining. Link Between Worlds looks auspiciously similar to the 1992 classic Zelda: Link to the Past, sporting enhanced visuals, a soundtrack with numerous remixes reminiscent of various Legend of Zelda tracks throughout the ages all combined with an excellent recreation and expansion of the world represented in prior installment. Does Link Between Worlds pointlessly retread old ground or does it introduce a fresh new experience? Let’s find out.
Zelda Link Between Worlds opens in a subtle enough fashion: Link, the iconic protagonist, awakens from a dream by his friend Gulley and is then shown a very familiar landscape of Hyrule. Wandering about the landscape leads the player to encounter Ravio, a traveling merchant who provides Link with his bracelet for… no reason (you see, people just like giving Link stuff). Shortly thereafter the plot begins unraveling when a villain named Yuga appears and begins trapping the Seven Sages in paintings, those Sages being the ones whose very existences keep the dark lord Ganon at bay. Link himself, also, falls victim to Yuga’s spell of being thrust into a wall as a painting, but thankfully the bracelet allows him to move freely on the walls, rather than just being trapped.
Why explain so much of the story? Because turning into a painting and moving along the walls, objects and obstacles in a three-dimensional space really opens up a significant change to the formula. Suddenly, areas completely recreated from Link to the Past are completely turned on their head by this simple inclusion, changing up how the player interacts with the environment drastically. An area cordoned off with iron bars up could be thought, at one point, to be impossible to cross therefore requiring entry from another point to get the treasure chest overtly placed in the middle of the room. Instead, players are eased into the mechanic by showing off that you can merge with the walls and walk right by the iron bars.
The merging mechanic gets more and more complex as the game goes on, eventually requiring that players properly manage use of the ability (actions such as using tools or the merge ability are tied to a meter. More on that later), merging onto moving platforms and exiting with proper timing to avoid spiked spinning drums and more.
The tool items, such as the boomerang, hookshot and bombs, are also tied to the same meter as the wall merging ability. The largest difference with the Link Between Worlds is with the equipment items: Traditionally, in a Legend of Zelda game, players complete the dungeons in a specific order, obtaining one piece of equipment that’s used throughout the dungeon. This game, on the other hand, allows the player to pick up any tool whenever he or she has the rupees for it. This isn’t to say that the dungeons don’t have puzzles that unequivocally require specific items, and when the player comes across a dungeon that does require something specific, a sign of it is shown near the entrance.
Players can rent items from Ravio for an incredibly cheap rate, the catch being that if the player dies then Ravio will come and reacquire them (with no mention made of why he didn’t save you, of course). After completing a few dungeons, players get the opportunity to flat-out purchase the tools at a higher cost, but without the drawback that if you see a game over then your pockets are emptied of all items you don’t own.
The largest difference that the new approach to tool acquisition is that players have the opportunity to tackle the dungeons in (most) any order they see fit. The nonlinear approach is significantly closer to the approach by the original Legend of Zelda for the NES and it gives players who spend their rupees on the first cool item they see an opportunity to still progress since the rental prices are significantly lower. Players are told where the dungeons are located and, upon trekking to them, can see signs in clear visibility of which item the dungeon requires in order to complete.
If players lack the necessary items they can summon the friendly witch Irene’s broom to functionally teleport between any save point (and yes, there are save points in front of each dungeon, so getting back is a cinch). Players who don’t want to immediately move from dungeon to dungeon also have quite a lot of incentives to fully explore the world maps of both worlds, of course, and collectibles are spread quite liberally throughout the map to encourage player exploration.
Heart pieces and optional items, such as bottles to hold healing potions and faeries in, also make a return in this iteration of The Legend of Zelda. Searching the map for just those along probably wouldn’t be enough for some players, of course, so Maiamais, little shellfish octopus… things, are also strewn all about the world map and every ten a player collects during his journey (the Maiamais emit a low crying sound as the player nears them) will make Mother Maiamai reward you by powering up one of the tools you own. Tools such as the Fire Rod, for example, initial shoot off a singular burning twister to damage enemies while its upgraded form lets you release a faster, and significantly larger, fiery tornado capable of hitting a target multiple times, so staying on top of upgrades can definitely make your life easier. The whole Maiamai aspect of the game definitely promotes exploration and puzzle-solving as the rewards are extremely tangible to the player (and who doesn’t want a bow that fires 3 arrows at once?).
Of course, exploring the overworlds and dungeons wouldn’t be anywhere near as absorbing if the environments were poorly done, and thankfully, everything looks and flows well in Link Between Worlds. An extremely large portion of the entire Link to the Past world map was completely redone in 3D rendered polygons, so those who have played that game will see a lot of beautifully rendered familiar scenery.
Also, because previous collectibles were all removed, therefore Nintendo had a second go to concentrate on hiding items in very interesting places which makes scouring the surroundings addicting and extremely pleasant. Graphically speaking, the models and areas designed in Link Between Worlds are probably among the best on the 3DS has to offer, and that’s including the interesting looking method that Nintendo had to employ in order to actually get the polygonal models to properly look like the SNES title.
Of course, because it bears mentions since this is a system with a selling point in 3D, the usage of it in this particular game can be absolutely breathtaking sometimes and definitely helps the overall experience, so it could definitely be recommended to play with the 3D on with this title. The music in Link Between Worlds is excellent as well, offering a fair number of remix tracks that would be sure to bring about a huge and hearty wave of nostalgia, but also includes a great number of tracks that are new and completely fitting with the overall theme of the game.
The reasons for adventuring are just as important for some people and, while the story is delivered in fairly sporadic increments, the overall plot is actually pretty good. The majority of the actual story to Link Between Worlds is delivered in two or three events throughout the game, and some people will easily find themselves completely engrossed in the events during these points in time. Of course, there may be some who would prefer the story be delivered more commonplace throughout the game rather than in some moments immediately after the first three dungeons and after the next eight, but the overarching story is still definitely worth it. Normally Nintendo games don’t have a whole lot of story to offer and thankfully Link Between Worlds tends to circumvent this particular trope.
To summarize: Link Between Worlds is definitely worthwhile. It recreates a lot of what made 2D Zelda titles worthwhile while still introducing new aspects and features to keep players interested and interacting. The aesthetics are extremely pleasing and really pop with the help of the 3D effect of the 3DS and the soundtrack definitely helps create an adventurous ambiance while playing. The environments are well crafted and encourage constant exploration, and allowing the players to explore and tackle dungeons in the order they wish is definitely a nice change of pace from the norm of Zelda titles lately. Merging with the walls really creates a new interesting way to think about how to tackle the individual puzzles presented in the game, and hopefully a mechanic likes this makes a return in a later Zelda iteration. Overall, if someone owns a 3DS there’s absolutely no reason to not try Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds if you enjoy exploration and puzzles.