Nintendo’s prestigious The Legend of Zelda franchise has always been seen as a barometer for adventure gaming on consoles. Keeping clear of the oft forgotten asides on CD-i, every iteration of the series has been met with great critical acclaim and commercial success; so much so that other titles are compared directly to the standard it sets. Such is the success of its formula that Nintendo has rarely deviated from the structure in the twenty years since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past; the title that carved the ruleset of the series in stone. With The Legend of Zelda having been accused of resting on its laurels in recent years, what better way to face the detractors than with a direct sequel to that 16-bit classic?
Put frankly, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is never going to convince the naysayers that Nintendo has it within them to change The Legend of Zelda while maintaining the high standard of gameplay. However, it will be all the ammunition the core audience needs to argue that it simply doesn’t need changing. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a beautiful, commanding videogame experience that ranks far above the competition in many ways, and yet much of it’s innovation is in the subtleties. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is The Legend of Zelda through-and-through, and on Nintendo 3DS we could ask for nothing more.
The formula of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds consists of gathering news items and then using that item to combat enemies and open new paths. The world is designed around the shrewd application of a simple set of rules introduced by each new item building to a complicated set of commands before your very eyes, and yet each step of the way the player is informed of all the wheres-and-why-fores that they could ever need to overcome each puzzle. The fun is in the doing, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is never anything but.
The newest tool offered by The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the ability to merge with walls. Intrinsically tied to the storyline and yet granted to Link in a fairly throwaway manner, this new ability does exactly what the best The Legend of Zelda additions do: work in three fashions, often simultaneously. The merge ability will allow you to avoid enemies when needed, solve puzzles when faced with a roadblock and also explore areas far wider, often leading to hidden bonus items such as rupees and heart pieces.
The regularity of the homage to other The Legend of Zelda titles is both impressive and heartwarming. From the Majora’s Mask hanging on the wall in Link’s house to the myths of Hyrule’s past discussed by the townsfolk; it’s not all about honouring The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but rather every The Legend of Zelda videogame that Nintendo has yet offered. With that any aficionado of the franchise with likely fall in love with the title immediately upon beginning, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is of a high enough quality in it’s own right that it’s sure to attract new fans to the series also.
However, for all its commendable innovation and reflection of the journey that videogame design has taken over the past twenty years it also highlights some of the less inspiring changes. Almost every new mission gives that player an objective marker on the touchscreen based map, arguably taking some of the thrill out of exploration. Link is cast as a character who knows little beyond his daily routine – just as he was in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – but here he is not just told where he needs to go but also how to get there, diminishing the responsibility put on the player. It’s a strange change to the formula, and not the only one that could be seen as working to the detriment of the experience.
The visual quality of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds maintains Nintendo’s typically high standard throughout. Comfortable and colourful, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds won’t be considered the best looking videogame on Nintendo 3DS, but it is so well presented that the suspension of disbelief is never broken for a moment. This is an expertly crafted videogame experience in every possible way, including both visual and aural design.
The Legend of Zelda has opted to stick firmly to its established template over the past twenty years, and while The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds offers some renovation it’s hardly braking the mould. For many gamers however, it won’t need to. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds proves what a good formula The Legend of Zelda has in that what felt fresh twenty years ago is still a wholly entertaining experience several console generations later. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of the finest adventure videogames of this year, and arguably one of the best videogame experiences yet to grace the Nintendo 3DS console.