You have to tip your hat to Nintendo when you take a look at first-party franchises - there’s not another company in games development today who has characters as enduring and successful as Mario and Link. Try as you might, you’ll be hard pushed to find a main entry in either series that hasn’t been lauded for its high quality. A Link Between Worlds is no different in this regard, and it may just be the best Zelda title to have ever graced a handheld console.
If the previous paragraph hasn’t convinced you enough, then how about one of the best games out of the entire 3DS library? A Link Between Worlds is an almost flawless addition to the tried and tested formula, and Nintendo have even dared to make some changes in the process.
It’s largely business as always in Hyrule though. Link is awoken from his sleepy state by his pal and colleague because he’s late for work at the local blacksmith. You see, the artisan needs a newly crafted sword to be delivered to the captain of the guard of Hyrule castle, and Link’s the man (boy) for the job. Obviously, such a simple task doesn’t go to plan, as, upon arrival at Hyrule’s church, Link is attacked by Yugo - a wizard who is turning descendants of the seven sages into paintings - who wants to resurrect Ganon; the mindless beast version of the eternal Ganondorf.
So begins your journey to retrieve the Master Sword, save the sages from being trapped in poor brushwork paintings and stopping Yugo from taking over the world - and what a journey it is.
Hyrule just looks incredible rendered in 3D. Both the overworld and the dungeons are bursting with colour, and whacking the 3D slider up to max gives real depth to the multi-tiered, top-down nature of the game. Travelling up Death Mountain and seeing the ground below shrink into the distance is a clear personal highlight for the eyes to take in.
Once you retrieve three familiar looking gems and acquire the Master Sword, the real adventure begins, because Link retrieves his new power - the ability to merge with walls to become an animated painting.
Not only does the newfound power add extra depth to the seven main dungeons scattered throughout the land, it also enables Link to travel to Lorule, the alternate world last seen in A Link to the Past. Both worlds look distinct yet familiar, and the accompanying soundtracks for both help to define the atmosphere of each one. Hyrule is privy to a remastering of classic Zelda tunes, whilst the darker more sinister Lorule has a host of new tracks to enjoy - especially the eerie tunes that accompany the green-clad hero when he goes spelunking.
Travelling between the two is vital to success, as an obstacle such as a broken bridge in one world could be a vast lake that can be swam across in another. Small tears around the world enable the transition with the merge ability, and anticipating what will be on the other side when you emerge is a small but pleasant treat.
Link’s Paper Mario inspired ability isn’t the only new addition he has to help him on his way though. Once you’ve progressed far enough, you’ll be greeted by Ravio - a strange guy in a purple bunny suit who takes advantage of squatters rights and starts using your house as a rental store for his vast collection of weapons. The rental system forms the biggest change in the Zelda formula to date, as old stalwarts like the hookshot, boomerang, bombs and many more are now all available from the off for a small rental fee. The system might upset the purists out there, but it’s a far superior system, as you can now tackle dungeons in whichever order you like, giving rupees much more use. If you die, Rovio’s pet bird will snatch up any rentals and take them away should you fall in battle; meaning you’ll have to rent them out again.
Regardless of your feelings to the change, each upgrade eventually becomes available for permanent purchase at a higher cost - making exploration for funds more worthwhile. With more reason to explore, comes more opportunity for combat, and despite the pre-release hubbub, swordplay isn’t much more difficult - if at all - than before. the only time we found ourselves on the losing side of a brawl was in the excellent boss battles on offer. If the difficulty has changed, it’s here. Some of the bosses are quite tricky indeed, but our defeat probably came from poor preparation rather than increased difficulty.
Our only concern (and it’s a very, very small one mind you) is that, if you’re not a fan of 3D, not only will you be missing out on some spectacular views, you’ll also find it harder to perceive where some enemies and traps are; as the 3D really does add a lot of depth.
Other than the aforementioned though, we’ll take the risk and say A Link Between Worlds is a lesson in perfection. You’re not going to find another adventure game as finely crafted as this one anytime soon. With Hero mode and a plethora of hidden areas to discover, there’s little reason not to play through more than once. If anything, the experience is worth multiple playthroughs for the dungeons and soundtrack alone. Welcome back to the world of handhelds Link, the wait has been well worth it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Zelda fans will continue to be spoilt by a spectacular ride through Link’s first 3D adventure. With a top-notch soundtrack, lovely visuals and addictive gameplay, you can’t ask for much more.