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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) review

"The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds takes advantage of every available opportunity and thus presents the most refined and purely enjoyable adventure the franchise has seen in more than two decades."

I just realized something unexpected: if The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds had somehow released prior to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and I were sitting down now to review the latter title, I would almost certainly describe it as an excellent but still vaguely disappointing follow-up to my third favorite Zelda game of all time, A Link Between Worlds.

Thatís not a comment I make lightly. Over the years, it feels to me that the Zelda series I once adored has been on a slow slide toward mediocre. It hasnít arrived there yet, certainly, but the grim destination was in the crosshairs. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was only briefly ever a title that I viewed with reverence--in the months ahead of its release, when I dreamt of someday owning a SNES, and in the few weeks that I spent playing it once I acquired it and before the dust settled--and yet for years it has told perhaps the finest story in which the heroic Link appears as a principle character. Its status as my third favorite entry in my favorite franchise seemed destined to last throughout the ages.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds changes that status by being the better game. Itís really that simple. From the opening moments, the new 3DS title sets out along a very similar path that even includes large chunks of the same fantastic overworld, with slight changes to layout and a new coat of visual paint that Iím not entirely sure I prefer. The narrative structure is even reminiscent: Link wakes from his sleep to find that he has a small quest laid out before him, and eventually it turns into a journey to rescue seven abductees from an evil being with ties to an ancient evil who has invaded from another world (now known as Lorule, because Nintendo couldnít resist a pun and thatís just one more thing I canít help but love).

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds asset

The design that enables a familiar story to unfold is tighter now, though. Introductory events take a little bit less time to transpire, and the player is more immediately given access to explore as he sees fit. This is a refreshing change from recent console outings such as Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, which waste your time with an eternityís worth of tedious chores. Here, you soon acquire a sword and can easily be working your way through a proper dungeon in mere minutes, even if youíve never played a Zelda game in your life. You donít spend long getting familiar with awkward controls. Everything just works.

As before, Hyrule merely functions as a relatively safe starting point. Youíll face only a few dungeons there, and the available challenges and puzzles are good at easing you into things as you learn to use Linkís most important new ability. Thanks to a special trinket he soon gathers, Link can flatten like a sheet of paper and slide along surfaces. Doing so allows him to slide through narrow gaps, or cling to high ledges while wrapping around to the far side of an abyss. There are other uses, as well. For instance, he can merge with brickwork and then pop out at an opportune moment to evade enemy attacks or to knock grating loose. He can also collect hearts and rupees that appear like hieroglyphs on the surface. And there are numerous other instances when the ability comes in handy, which I wonít spoil here.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds asset

Itís easy to write the ability off as a new gimmick, but it really does come to feel like an integral part of the experience, through to the very end. The writers even tied it into the story in a satisfying way, since it allows the player to identify with the missing sages who have been abducted and must also be rescued from a fate that Link himself only just barely avoids. The mirror item from A Link to the Past is gone now, replaced by the new ability, which Link can eventually use to slide through fissures that appear and connect the parallel and temporarily adjacent worlds of Hyrule and Lorule.

In Lorule, youíll learn to appreciate the most meaningful adjustments to the formula, changes that happily bring progression more in line with The Legend of Zelda on the NES. As you hunt down your missing allies in the strange new world, youíll find that you can explore the bulk of the dungeons in any order you like. Such a choice is possible because you are able to gather most of the items that you need in the very first building you see in the game. A merchant takes up residence there, and heíll rent you all of the most useful gear, or you can buy it outright if you prefer. A temporary loan is quite affordable--50 or 100 rupees--and it lasts until you fall in battle with no fairies around to revive you. A purchase tends to require some scrimping and saving but also lets you make a single upgrade if you find enough missing squid-like creatures. Those are hidden around the world like the creepy golden skulltulas were in Ocarina of Time, beneath rocks and high in tree branches and under tiles and such. You can return them to their oversized mother for rewards. I was surprised how much fun I had doing precisely that, in part because the developers smartly provided a counter on the map to let you know how many of the creatures remain to be found in a given region. What could have been a tedious chore is thus a pleasurable way to spend time between those dungeons.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds asset

As for the labyrinths in question, theyíre put together beautifully and follow themes. Each one is clearly built around a certain tool. In one, heated columns are topped by seesaw-like platforms that teeter back and forth depending on your weight placement. An icy blast from your rod will freeze them in place, however, allowing you to safely reach higher ground. You can also fashion footholds out of molten lava, using the same technique. And you wonít have to find the rod in the nearby vicinity; it is rented from that convenient merchant I mentioned, whenever you like. If you want to, thereís no reason you canít make the fire dungeon your first conquest in LoruleÖ or very nearly your last.

The developers play with the themes in more satisfying ways than they ever did in A Link to the Past, but in a manner that feels familiar. For instance, the dungeon in the swamp finds you entering a passage surrounded by an oversized monster skull, just like you did in the previous title. Then you can exit in various otherwise inaccessible parts of a rotten take on Lost Woods, and drop into new corridors beneath to solve the puzzle of the dungeon in chunks. There, your main foe is a larger version of the annoying hands that can grab you and toss you back to the entrance. You have to constantly watch for shadows, even in dark corridors that need to be lit by your fire rod. There are also puzzles designed around your interaction with that hand which--again--I wonít ruin here.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds asset

A Link Between Worlds spends its entirety expanding on what worked in the first game and somehow making it ever so slightly better. The magic meter from before, always a bit of an annoyance because you couldnít experiment without draining resources that were difficult to refill without a potion, now works beautifully because its energy quickly refills over time. You merely have to wait a few seconds if you go nuts with the item use. The warp points between the parallel worlds are now common and marked on a map. I like that too, and I also like how easy it is to find bird statues secreted throughout both worlds, which you can then warp to at a momentís notice. There are smart design choices like that everywhere you look. They contribute to a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

When I first saw video of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in a Nintendo Direct feed, I thought it could be a competent follow-up to one of the best Zelda games, but limited by the portable hardware. I never imagined that it would become one of my favorite installments in the series, let alone the one released in the last 25 years or so that I appreciate the most. Thanks to clever dungeon design, careful tweaking of a winning formula, and numerous other points too specific to mention here that contribute to a blissful whole, Iím pleased to say that Linkís newest adventure is one of his finest to date. Make sure that you experience it, even if you have to borrow a 3DS from a friend to make that happen. A Link Between Worlds is a triumph.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 23, 2013)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted December 25, 2013:

Very compelling review. A DS is first on my list for post-job buys.
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Masters posted December 26, 2013:

Great review, Jason. It has certainly warmed me to the idea of getting a 3DS. A couple things, though. Is this game a sequel to LTTP? A reimagining? Also, you talk about third favorite Zelda games without saying what number one and two are.
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honestgamer posted December 26, 2013:

Thanks for reading! You could do a lot worse than a 3DS XL for your next hardware purchase (plus it plays DS games)...
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honestgamer posted December 26, 2013:

It's a sequel to LttP, Masters, and is actually called The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 2 in Japan. The Hyrule overworld is really quite similar, but there are enough differences to make for some very interesting play (and then the world of Lorule REALLY adds new wrinkles). As someone who spent a lot of time with LttP, I was surprised that the experience in some ways ADDS to the new one, rather than making it feel like a retread. My two favorite Zelda games are still the original two, for the NES. And number three is now this one, as noted. :-D

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