It’s surprising that as big a gamer as I am, I haven’t played that many Zelda games.  I played the original on NES way back when, Twilight Princess on the Wii, the Ocarina of Time remake on 3DS, and now A Link Between Worlds for 3DS.  It seems like every time I do play a Zelda game, I love it, and this is no exception — A Link Between Worlds will have you hooked from the beginning and is awfully tough to put down.

Hyah! H… hyah!

  • TL;DR: Great in every aspect, from gameplay to visuals to pacing
  • Platform: 3DS
  • Score: 9.1
  • Hours Played: 20
  • What I Played: Campaign on normal mode
  • Recommended:  All day long.

Legend of Zelda games have been entertaining us for over 25 years and there are a lot of elements that have stayed the same throughout.  Our adventurer, Link, must always save Hyrule from the latest form of evil.  This time, the evil sorcerer Yuga is determined to hunt down the Seven Sages and use their power to resurrect the Ganon and rule the world.

However, there are some immediate differences between this Zelda game and others.  Most notably, a very kind man in a purple Rabbit hat lets you rent and own nearly all of the game’s items, like the bow, hook shot, and fire rod, right off the rip.  Traditionally, you have to finish the first dungeon to acquire an item that allows you to finish the second dungeon, etc.  This new dynamic really opens up A Link Between Worlds, allowing you to choose your own path.  Items all work off a single energy gauge, rather than requiring you to carry around different ammo.  You can equip two items at a time, each of which will be used a fair amount as the game progresses.

He sets up shop in your house, too. Kind of a dick move.

That same energy gauge is used to transform Link from his world-saving 3D self into a 2D painting.  As a painting, you can walk in left-to-right straight lines along walls.  This opens up not only your ability to reach chests and caves, but allows you to travel to Lorule (clever name, huh?).  Lorule is an alternate reality, near-mirror image of Hyrule, similar to the Dark World in A Link To The Past.  The only way to get there is through tears in Hyrule that connect to their corresponding location in Lorule.  Wall merging also turns you invincible while in combat, which I used as more of an escape tactic than anything else.  The audio also changes while you are 2D, seeming a bit… flatter.  Yes, that was on purpose.  No, I’m not sorry.

Visually, A Link Between Worlds is striking.  It has hints of classic SNES-style sprites from A Link To The Past mixed with a modern 3D look, which fits well with the other dualities present in the game.  Everything is very snappy and fluid.  Each dungeon has a very distinct feel to it — one will have you playing with light and darkness, while others have you harnessing the powers of fire, wind, and (of course) water.  The same area can be vastly different if viewed in Hyrule or Lorule.  It’s tough to talk about a game on 3DS without mentioning the system’s self-titled feature.  Unlike Pokemon X/Y, which had noticeable frame rate drops with the 3D turned up, A Link Between Worlds shines in three dimensions.   I recommend playing with the slider on full for the entire game, as a lot of the world’s top-down features and the 2D/3D dynamic are truly treats.

Left - Link's house in Hyrule.  Right - Link's house in Lorule.
Left – Link’s house in Hyrule. Right – Link’s house in Lorule.

Both screens on the 3DS are used to perfection in A Link To The Past.  While the top screen is reserved for gameplay with a minimal HUD, the bottom screen serves as both your map and backpack.  For a game feature that isn’t normally talked about, the map is incredibly well done.  Each tear that you find between Hyrule and Lorule will glow on the map.  There is also a fast travel system and the ability to put push pins on the map to remind yourself to come back later for something you may not be able to reach quite yet.  While the pins can be colored red, blue, or yellow, I wish you could add a small text note to each.

You’ll need that map to keep track of everything there is to do in both Hyrule and Lorule.  There are dungeons to conquer, plenty of secret caves to find (I bet the sound effect just played in your head), and collectibles like heart pieces and lost sea creatures.  On top of all that, there are some fun mini-games like Octoball Derby and the Treacherous Tower.

My only real complaint with the game is it’s difficulty.  While the enemies do scale with time, there are plenty of weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, and heart containers to keep you standing.  There are also an enormous amount of heart pickups to heal with and fairies to bottle, along with Great Fairies who will heal you each time you visit them.  The only times I ever fell in battle were when I went way, way too aggressive with a fight.  This may be the Zelda non-veteran in my talking, but A Link Between Worlds was a bit easy.

Now get on out there and save the world!

A Link Between Worlds is a great game, from top to bottom.  The gameplay is familiar with old standby locations and items, but has new twists by allowing you to use any item and go to any dungeon at any time as well as become 2D.  The controls are tight, the visuals really stand out in 3D, and there is plenty to do aside from stopping evil.  Nintendo and the 3DS have another gem with The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

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