By Jamaal Ryan
While Nintendo struggles with product sales and the Playstation Vita stands as my favorite handheld system, the Nintendo 3DS is an undeniable haven for incredible software.
As an owner of both handheld systems, though 80% of my handheld time is spent playing free Vita titles, the remaining 20 pulls me away from all gaming completely, as I contract myself to that one 3DS title that I MUST play.
The incessant praise that A Link Between Worlds has received made me throw my hands up and say, “Alright! I get it; I’ll play the fucking game already.” I figured I owed it to myself, thinking that I didn’t play A Link to the Past, that I should play the spiritual successor to one of the greatest games of all time.
I didn’t know that I had actually played A Link to the Past until I booted up A Link Between Worlds.
The assembling Triforce and that iconic intro song took me right back to 1995 when I had originally played the game. Thankfully, I didn’t remember the map, the wink and nod references, and the enemy encounter design, so the game as a whole was a completely fresh experience for me.
Zelda has always had an “open world” aspect to it – Windwaker, in my Zelda history, being chief among them. But A Link Between Worlds subverted the formula in ways that’s completely unexpected to the franchise.
The dungeon self-determined order and the complete gamut of items available in your own house changes the fundamental way in which you play Zelda. You want the bomb now? Rent it. You want the hook shot for its handy use? You can pick that one up immediately after you drop 80 Rupies to rent the bomb you were looking at before. This same sense of agency of course exists in the dungeon order as well when after the first three dungeons you complete, the order in which you complete the remainder is entirely up to you.
As the game goes completely out of its way to facilitate player choice, there is a crucial element of responsibility as well. 2013 seemed to be the year of refined monetary systems after games like Grand Theft Auto V and Assassins Creed IV have made currency meaningful; the same goes for A Link Between Worlds as well. The rental system is smart, allowing players to access all the items in the game; but the small price of just under 100 Rupies comes at an even greater one: if you perish in battle, all of your items will be relinquished by the “Repo Bird” and returned back to the shop for repurchasing. Buying and owning items permanently doesn’t become available until later in the game at a significantly higher price, which gives the game a level of progression.
And progression is a concept that A Link Between Worlds could have fucked up so easily given its new system, however it walks this line carefully, albeit with a few stumbles. For a large portion of the game, you’re caught constantly running into chests that contain Rupies and ingredients needed for special potions. Yes, popping open a chest in the middle of a dungeon to only find a boomerang has come to be expected, but at least they still instilled a sense of finding something special. On the same token, there are a few rare items that can be found to make Link stronger, and those were as good as a surprise as any. And while the fact that tackling any dungeon at any time means that the game’s difficulty is largely lateral for a large portion of the experience, each offer specific challenges that give a different enough experience to keep things moving.
So yes, the dungeons are splendid in A Link Between Worlds. I am not good at Zelda game, or even puzzle games rather. My Zelda history has been accompanied by guides and video walkthroughs. Approaching my seventh dungeon chasing after the seven sages, not once did I have to turn to a guide to assist me in solving any of them. This could be attributed to the fact that I’m getting older and becoming more experienced in games, but I’m confident that these dungeons were designed that way as well.
Just as Portal 2 was more complex, though not more difficult than the first, A Link Between World’s dungeons are more readable, but no less clever Zelda’s before. It mixes the theme of each dungeon with the wall paint mechanic (Link can now infuse himself to walls which allow him to walk two dimensionally to areas inaccessible in 3D) while keeping puzzles within the constraints of a handheld meant to be played on the go. No one wants to be stumped on a puzzle when their train stop has arrived.
Not too long ago, I heard about a discussion comparing Windwaker’s combat to A Link Between Worlds’, and both have a fair argument. Windwaker allows you to mix in items in combat better than any 3D Zelda game, and it’s counter and parrying mechanics akin it more to old school action games. A Link Between Worlds’ is more practical with just 4 simple approaches to combat (which includes any two combinations if your inventory) that can be mixed and matched in various ways depending on the enemy type or the quantity. I can use the hook-shot to stun projectile enemies from afar before closing in, or I can use the Tornado Rod send surrounding enemies into a dizzy. Ammo has also been taken out of the picture completely to be replaced with an energy bar (which shares with the painting ability as well). Though some may scoff at the simplification is ammo management, I assure you, this hassle free approach will make you not want to go back.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic game, one that should be mandated for 3DS owners. Nintendo has taken unheard of risks with the franchise with this successor, and given Nintendo’s repositioning, hopefully an equally ambitious Zelda game would come out of it.
Wishful thinking maybe.