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

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

"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.

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

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.

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

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!

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (February 26, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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dagoss posted February 27, 2021:

I kind of think the title on this is a play on its LttP. Literally, it's a link between the two in-game world's, but it's also a link to the world of LttP.

I liked how having access to all items at once (sort of) allowed you to explore dungeons in any order. I think, though, that prevented them from scaling the difficulty of the dungeons like in other games (because there isn't really an order). The idea of renting was silly too. If I died, I was just going to save scum, which would let me keep the items AND not loose progress.

I absolutely loved how items use the magic bar and it recharges. In order zelda games, I hate chopping grass everywhere I go to fill up all the different discrete consumables you need.

I did have fun though, probably for the same reasons you did--the feelies of feeling like it's LttP and early 90s again. I tried to play through a second time in hard mode, but it didn't really have the same magic a second time.

(I look forward to seeing how the paragraph about the current world ages in a few years.)
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overdrive posted February 27, 2021:

Yeah, the dungeons really don't scale. A couple are more tricky than others, but that's kind of devised more on world placement. I thought the ice dungeon on Death Mountain was pretty tricky in a fun way to navigate, but it would likely be expected to be a bit tougher because the ice dungeon was arguably the trickiest in LttP and Turtle Rock, where it's located, was the last one to do in that game. But, yeah, when you make it to the second world, I think the only rule is you have to do the Thieves Dungeon before the Desert one because the sage you rescue in Thieves gives you the Sand Rod that you need to get to and through Desert. But all the dungeons there were pretty to really fun, which is good because I was a bit worried after the first couple, since they seemed less interesting that their counterparts in LttP.
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honestgamer posted February 28, 2021:

A Link Between Worlds was the last Zelda project before Breath of the Wild, and playing it gave me a lot of hope that Breath of the Wild would prove to be something special, specifically because of the non-linear nature of A Link Between Worlds. Zelda had been pushing hard in a linear direction since Ocarina of Time came along and upended everything, so I played A Link Between Worlds and suddenly could see the series getting back on track... which is what it definitely did. I'm starting to realize, based on comments from some folks, that there are now two Zelda fanbases as there are two Sonic fanbases. For some, true Zelda is linear, with a limited overworld and a focus on dungeon crawling. For others--and I include me in that number--something like Breath of the Wild or A Link Between Worlds is the closest we've seen the series come to its proper essence since, well... A Link to the Past!
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dagoss posted March 01, 2021:

For some, true Zelda is linear, with a limited overworld and a focus on dungeon crawling. For others--and I include me in that number--something like Breath of the Wild or A Link Between Worlds is the closest we've seen the series come to its proper essence since, well... A Link to the Past!

While I agree, even the most linear Zelda games eventually turn non-linear by the end. Windwaker, for example, is 100% linear, but the most time I spent playing it was running around and hoping islands as the world opened up. When you eventually get the tools, you can explore most Zelda games freely. I think it's just a matter of whether that point is front-loaded or after you finished the majority of dungeons.

The Zelda game I always wanted was some cross between Windwaker and the original game. :)
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overdrive posted March 02, 2021:

I think that for me, the lines for the "what is best?" question for Zelda are drawn a bit differently.

For me, it's the "accomplishing or busywork" line where if I have an hour or two, am I going to get something accomplished or feel like I'm just spinning my wheels. Typically, this revolves around doing a dungeon and I do note that the Zeldas I like tend to have more instead of fewer dungeons, but I'm also down with cool worlds to explore that are full of secrets.

For me, Twilight Princess was a blah part in the series because, especially early in the game, you had to do a lot of busy-work simply to get to those first few dungeons. I couldn't even get into Majora's Mask for that reason. The Oracle games were kind of annoying due to how your progress kept being interrupted in the late-game dungeons because you'd have to swap out items on a near room-by-room basis (that was another thing LBW did great -- by focusing dungeons on a particular item, you only had to go to the menu to make a change occasionally instead of frequently).

I guess my order of things to consider would be:

1a. Cool dungeons
1b. Smooth transitions where you get to do what you want without being saddled by mandatory busy-work constantly
2a. Involving overworld with lots of secrets to unearth
2b. Not having to constantly hit up menus because you have 54 tools and 2 buttons that can be used for them

Where the 1s and 2s are equal. Twilight Princess had 1a down, but that got balanced by not doing 1b. The Oracles were decent enough with both 1 points and had 2a, but not 2b. This game had all of them, which made it easy to ignore how easy it was.

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