Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds


This is a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. While there certainly have been other Zelda games that have come out since 1991 (in fact this is the 14th proper one), The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the first direct sequel to A Link to the Past. It is so much a sequel that the Japanese title for the game is the same for both of them, Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce, except the new 3DS game has a “2” on the end of it. Noted for colorful graphics, catchy music and creating a large, memorable pair of worlds all on one little cart, A Link to the Past is a standby for many to give when asked for their favorite game of all time. Twenty-two years later, this new portable game shows that the old formula can be improved upon and remain compelling.

Looking at the confusing flow chart of the series, A Link Between Worlds seems to take place hundreds of years after the revival of the ancient demon Ganon in A Link to the Past, but before he is revived, again, in the original Legend of Zelda. Naturally, this all happened in a splinter reality which is a nigh non-canonical version of the world created when the Hero of Time failed to defeat Ganon in Ocarina of Time. You don’t need to know any of that, but it’s true. All you really need to know is that a hero in a green hat and shirt eerily similar to the ones sported by the hero in this game, defeated some pig demon centuries ago and all has been at peace in the land of Hyrule ever since. A few monsters might roam about, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, one day, a dick named Yuga shows up and for no apparent reason turns everyone in Hyrule castle into a piece of crude graffiti, trapping them, immobile, on the walls. A young blacksmith’s apprentice receives a telepathic message that only he can defeat the sorcerer. Answering the call, present day Link springs into action and sets out with a borrowed sword to try to defeat the madman and rescue Princess Zelda. Thus begins a quest that should be familiar to anyone who has played a Zelda game before.

At this point, some people might ask if it is necessary to play A Link to the Past before playing A Link Between Worlds. The answer to this basic query is “No.” To be sure, the predecessor to this new 3DS game is an amazing work of art that should played by everyone and is the Zelda game that holds up to the passage of time better than anything else developed in the series. The fact that A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, and Super Metroid all came out on the same system, from the same company and were all released in a relatively short period of time is the reason most people, including yours truly, have fond memories of Nintendo games, and love for Nintendo as a company. But if you’ve missed the boat on the all basis for nostalgia found in this game, do not let it stop or delay you from playing the new Zelda game if you have a hankerin’ for new portable hotness. The only substantial references to A Link to the Past are the basic story beats cast as the stuff of legend, the deeds of a long dead hero (see above; guy defeats a demon, saves the day). Some of the scenery and geography is familiar, but there is no clear callback to specific events of the earlier game where back-story is necessary to know what is going on. It is not even required to read a synopsis of the earlier game to get what is going on in A Link Between Worlds, but it couldn’t hurt.

This game might even be better for people who have not played any of the prior Zelda games, especially the SNES one, because anyone in that category will find the same ol’ basic structure of the game fresh and have a completely new experience. Link will explore a large realm, broken up into discreet areas and dotted with temples and smaller caves that he will have to explore to complete his task of saving the day. Every dungeon will hide something that he’ll need to save said day. For anyone that played the earlier game, what those things are will be very familiar: three medallions of virtue to get the Master Sword, and then rescue Seven Sages to tackle the final boss. Similar to the parallel Light and Dark Worlds of A Link to the Past, this game has the related kingdoms of Hyrule and Lorule. While Lorule is reminiscent of the Dark world, it is only similar in layout to Hyrule, not a one-to-one map. (Dark World was identical to the Light World in layout and was re-skinned in an effort to increase the content of the older game; by simply re-skinning the overworld, Nintendo was able to fit a much larger game onto the small cart.) About a third of the way though the game Link will discover portals that allow him to switch between the two worlds.  Lorule is decidedly darker than the cartoonish fantasy realm of Hyrule, the enemies are harder to kill, and a thieves village stands where a peaceful town of happy citizens once stood.

This plays a lot like a top down Zelda game: Link will swing his sword at whatever is in front of him unless a button his held to hold up his shield, which blocks head-on attacks, or another button is held down to do a circular slash hitting everything around the young hero. There are no combos or anything extremely sophisticated, just avoiding attacks and traps by moving out of the way then turning around to smack enemies. Once a dungeon is found, Link will have to navigate a series of traps and puzzles to find keys to locked doors and eventually a big key to unlock the room which houses that pit’s ruler. While these dungeons take a while to defeat, almost all of the secrets in the game, hidden treasures or items that increase Link’s life, are found in the dense overworld.  Virtually every section of the map if filled with something to discover. Early on Link will be able to summon a flying broom to transport him to one of the dozen or so save points in each world to lower the amount of backtracking. Minus the flying broom, given the top down perspective, simple yet quick combat, and similar parallel light/dark worlds, this game feels very much like the successor of a past classic that it is.

One remarkable difference that will be made clear within an hour of starting the game is that Hyrule on the 3DS is flush with CASH. No matter where Link goes, he can’t help but run into money. It’s in pots, under grass, and so near the surface of every monster’s skin that it will burst out of them when they are slain. In earlier games it was necessary to grind for a long time to collect a mere fifty rupees, the Hyrulean currency of choice. Jewels worth a grand sum of twenty rupees would only occasionally be found in chests. These red gems were the subject of desire and were only occasionally seen. Here, some dead enemies will pop out red rupees and it is possible to find gems worth fifty, a hundred or even three hundred rupees. Other Zelda games have limited Link’s ability to acquire money by limiting his wallet’s size, but this time there appears to be no limit to how much money he can scrounge and discover.

The shift in the focus to acquiring a dragon’s horde of rupees comes with a shift in how Link will earn new items. In the past, there would be dungeons that would contain some sort of relic, like a boomerang, which was necessary to solve all of the puzzles in the dungeon – for example only the boomerang could hit certain switches – and, more than likely, the special item would be required to defeat the boss-sized baddy at the end (the Australian hunting device had to hit something before the boss would be vulnerable). This basic Zelda formula is so rote that it is understandable that some people have gotten burned out on the series. To freshen things up, instead of finding relics and tools in dungeons, players will primarily rent them from a weird, purple merchant named Ravio who conveniently sets up shop in Link’s house near the beginning of the game. This means that items which typically do not make an appearance until a few dungeons in, like the grappling hookshot, can be put in the inventory right off the bat. One does not have to wait until completing the dungeon with the bombs in it to explore suspicious cracks in walls and can instead investigate them immediately, for a price. Sadly, the bunny-themed peddler is not running a charity and the possession of these items is merely a rental.  Whenever Link dies, a sprite will show up and retrieve all of the items that he had been holding before he is popped back at a checkpoint. They can be rented again, but the rental cost is substantial enough that it will be difficult to rent all of the available items at once unless players are going to want to spend time grinding for Zelda coins. As the story progresses, players will be able to use the rupees they have been gathering to buy the items off of Ravio, at exorbitant cost, so that they will stay with Link should he perish.

This rental/buy system affords a greater amount of freedom to the exploration than is typically found in games where access to certain parts of the world is limited by what items the hero has. In any given ‘Metroidvania’ or past Zelda game, typically one area or dungeon is locked off until some item is found in another dungeon, which then allows the player to find the next item in the next dungeon, and on and on until the game is over. Here, players can check out whatever weird-looking thing they want, whenever they want. There is no longer a requirement to access the Fire Temple before the Water Temple because you need the fire rod in the former to kill the guardian of the latter, or whatever. Just rent the right magic rod and go. While there are certainly items in some of the dungeons that will make others easier–blue clothes that reduce damage or Ore that can be used to make the Master Sword more effective–but there is no requirement to finish the easier places before the harder ones. There are more items, treasures and abilities to find in the world than can be rented, so it is not even an issue that one will know from the beginning the totality of the available tools and powers which will be seen before the credits roll.

As a consequence of the game not knowing what items Link will have at any given time, tools that used to require ammunition now only require magic which constantly recharges. The need to hunt for arrows and bombs in tall grass or breakable pots has been replaced with an incentive to actually use more than the sword and ammoless items in regular combat. I would never use bombs in fighting a regular bad guy in the past because then I might run out of them and have to hunt for them later to advance in a dungeon or beat a certain boss, but now they are a legitimate way to blow away the opposition. These two changes, greater freedom through rentable items and more items using the magic meter, freshen up Zelda in a way not seen for some time.

But the novelty doesn’t stop there. As mentioned much earlier, there is an evil magic man who has the ability to turn people into paintings. In their first encounter he tries to do this with Link and succeeds in turning the polygonal lad into a crude, bug-eyed caricature of himself smeared on a wall. But thanks to a magic bracelet, 2D wall-boy Link is able to retain his consciousness and move from one side to the other and even exit the wall at will. Having made this discovery Link can now merge with any wall, exiting the regular world, and walk along the wall and even on to another if he hits a corner. If a bomb is about to blow up in his face, he can jump into the wall and it will go off, perhaps killing an octorock or buzz blob, and leaving the hero unscathed, safe in the wall.  Tiny cracks are easily passed through as Link wraps around the edges of the gap. If there are two balconies far apart from another, the jumpless Link can merge onto a wall and walk along their common surface, heedless that there is nothing but empty air between them in the 3D world. When moving like this the game shifts from a top down perspective to an angle centered on the picture Link, limiting your vision to the wall immediately to Link’s left and right–the same limitations a person on a 2D plane would have. The sounds of reality will also become muffled, almost as if they are only the sounds that would penetrate the first centimeter of a stone wall. It is a fantastic effect that captures the mechanic perfectly. Wall walking is a new way to explore in a Zelda game, or in any game. In the past if an item was out of reach Link’s typical solution was to have to get above it and drop down, now one can look for level walls to walk on. It is never overused in navigating the dungeons or overworld to the point of feeling like a gimmick.

Right down to the design of the trees this game looks like the older one. It is a simple yet iconic fantasy world that clearly conveys what it needs to without cluttering up the screen with a bunch of junk. It is a fully polygonal game which allows action to happen on multiple levels at the same time. The 3D effect of the 3DS is fine. It feels like staring straight down into a diorama with a little elf guy running around in it. The music is a mixture of classic tracks and new, all of which is catchy and fits the setting. Hyrule has a bright sound driving Link on, Lorule is decidedly less upbeat, and the main dungeon themes are haunting. As is to be expected, whenever Link solves a puzzle or reveals a secret passage, an iconic flourish plays. The tinks and twangs of combat are as familiar as ever. A new sound added to the mix is the chirping cry of baby Maimais, small snail things that have lost their mother. In addition to the dozens of life-increasing heart containers, these creatures can also be gathered. Since it is actually sort of a fun discovery to find out why one might want to do this, I’ll just say it is worth looking under every rock and shrub when you hear them.

Because this is a Nintendo game on the 3DS, it has Streepass functionality.  If you go in for this kind of thing you can create a black silhouette version of the hero to fight other Shadow Links when their owners walk by you with their 3DS in the real world. Other then e-peen the only reason to do this is that it will generate a flow of rupees to help buy items off of Ravio or to purchase magical healing potions or other consumable items from other (non-rabbit) merchants.  A nice feature, but nothing necessary.

This is a great game. From the snappy controls to the classic score to the denseness of the world with its ease of presentation, it is hard not to recommend. A Link Between Worlds is a sequel to one of the greatest games ever made, and it does not disappoint. When the worst thing I can write about it is “this looks and plays a lot like a beloved classic,” but have to add in “and it makes some meaningful and innovative changes,” it is probably worth buying.


+ Retains the look and feel of the classic Zelda games…
+ …While adding something new

– It is depressing to lose rented items

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 11/22/2013
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.