"Possibly the most fun I've had with my 3DS since I bought the thing."
Nostalgia can be a powerful thing when it comes to gaming, with many companies supplementing their original releases with a slew of remakes. Some are simply remastered to take advantage of new technology; while others bring classic games to a new generation of gamers, often including new content to appeal to those who'd played them during their initial release.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds weaponizes nostalgia in a slightly different fashion. This 3DS game is NOT a remake of A Link to the Past -- instead, it takes its world, rearranges a few things, changes a few others and falls into this weird little area where it's an original offering, but it bears enough similarities to that Super Nintendo game that veterans of that title would feel like they're returning home.
I have to say I'm grateful for that. Maybe I just picked the right time to play this game, but the blast from the past it gave me was, at least temporarily, the cure for what's been ailing me about our present society -- a time when we're still annoyingly inconvenienced by a disease that's been around for the past year and probably wouldn't want to partake in public gatherings anyway because way too many people seem to think their political opinions need to be heard by anyone in their vicinity. Yeah, it was nice to take a couple weeks to flash back to the mid-90s when I was young, didn't have to deal with all this idiocy and was playing A Link to the Past for the first time.
Many of the similarities between that title and this will quickly be apparent. The layout of their worlds are quite similar. Hyrule Castle is still in the center of it, with Link's house only a couple screens to the south. The desert, the forest, the village -- all in the same locations. Many of the random caves scattered throughout the world also return, while, with an exception or two, all the dungeons can be found where they once stood. After doing the first handful of those places, you'll gain access to an alternate version of Hyrule that contains several more. To get around the worlds and their dungeons, you'll get access to several of the same tools, such as bombs, a hammer, the hookshot and a bow.
Basically, the foundation of A Link Between Worlds was set when A Link to the Past was released. However, that doesn't mean this is merely a copy of that game, as two major differences will be found. Early in the game, Link will get blasted by a powerful spell that turns its victims into two-dimensional paintings. However, due to a magical bracelet he'd received from Princess Zelda, he's able to control the effects of that attack. Now, he can walk up to walls and turn into a painting to merge with them, allowing him to traverse their surface and access areas he couldn't reach previously. This is a new power for Link and one that will serve him well throughout his adventure, allowing him to access and advance through dungeons, as well as obtain money, hearts and other items that are affixed to walls.
The other difference involves how Link gets access to all the useful tools and sub-weapons he picks up during the course of his adventures. In previous Legend of Zelda games, he'd obtain the majority of them while exploring dungeons. You'd pick up something in a dungeon, use it a few times to advance through that place and beat its boss and then it'd be rotating in and out of your equipment slots throughout the rest of the game. In A Link Between Worlds, after Link starts his adventure, a stranger moves into his house and starts up a shop, allowing Link to rent a bunch of tools for a small fee.
As long as Link remains alive, he'll have anything he had rented, but if he's slain by monsters, he'll lose them all and have to return to the shop and fork over more cash to reacquire them. However, after you've advanced far enough to access the second, alternate version of Hyrule, you'll also have the option to spend a lot more money to completely purchase those goods. It might cost 800 rupees instead of 80, but they are yours until you've beaten the game and watched the closing credits. Also, all of these items use Link's magic meter, so if you have the bombs or the bow and arrow, you'll never have to worry about ammunition -- just a gauge that quickly refills on its own.
In the early going, the key is simply to know which tools you'll need. To access most dungeons, you'll need a specific power, so if you don't have the right item, you'll have to hike back to the shop and drop some coin. As time goes on, though, you'll find that cash is pretty plentiful in this game, so it won't be any trouble having whatever you need whenever you need it. Until you actually can purchase them, there always is the worry that a series of mistakes could lead to you losing everything and needing to cash-grind for a bit, but that isn't nearly as big of a concern as one might guess.
Simply put, this is the easiest Zelda game I've ever played. I made it through the entire quest without suffering a single death, which is something I've never been able to say about anything in this franchise. After finishing it, I decided to start up A Link to the Past to see if I could figure out just why I found this game so lacking in difficulty. After playing through a couple dungeons, I narrowed things down to two factors. First, enemies in the SNES game had a bit more aggression to them and were more capable of chopping hearts off Link with ease. Secondly, cash and hearts are far more frequently received from enemies, shrubs, grass and pots in this game than they were previously. In A Link to the Past, I could chop down a bunch of shrubs on a screen and wind up with barely anything. Do that in a similar screen in this game and I'd collect multiple hearts, while also lining my wallet with a bunch of rupees.
But I'm not going to complain too much about this game's general lack of challenge. After beating it, you can access a much tougher difficulty level and, besides, when I'm having a lot of fun exploring a world and its dungeons, I'm not going to trash it for not being making me work overtime to achieve anything. While the game's first handful of dungeons felt like a step backwards from those in A Link to the Past, by the time I reached the alternate world, they started getting pretty large and complex. The water-themed dungeon was loaded with puzzles revolving around raising and lowering water levels, while Death Mountain was a massive place where seemingly everything I did opened up new paths to grant me access to areas that had been unreachable.
A Link Between Worlds was a fun and relaxing game. While it was lacking in challenge, I still found it easy to get sucked into its world to the degree that picking it up for an hour or two became something to look forward to on a day-to-day basis. There's something to be said about nostalgia, especially when it involves playing a newer game designed to evoke memories of ones from yesteryear. Being able to combine the new and familiar to create something that's a lot of fun is a good thing and this game proved capable of providing a great alternative to enduring reality, so I'm not complaining!
Community review by overdrive (February 26, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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