NOSTALGIA is the vice of seasoned gamers, a demographic old enough to recall the first flushes of success for franchises now entrenched as part of the medium’s cultural fabric.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - 3DS
Score: 9.3 / 10
There are few series as established or beloved as Zelda. Over the course of 27 years, it has repeatedly raised the bar for the RPG genre and following in Mario’s footsteps by making a successful leap from two dimensions to three.
At first sight, the 20th entry, A Link Between Worlds, appears a paean to Zelda’s fondly remembered 16 bit era, capturing a buffed and polished version of the top down perspective over Hyrule that proved so thrilling and ambitious upon the release of 1991’s Super Nintendo title, A Link to the Past. On the 3DS, endearing locales like Kakariko Village once again come to life, tugging at the heartstrings of those tasked with thwarting the machinations of Agahnim and Ganon 23 years ago.
The depth of the handheld console’s 3D technology is employed superbly. Basic minigames such as avoiding the cuccos are given a graphical lease of life as the birds flock from every height and direction. The feature also ensures that dangerous journeys over narrow ledges and walkways become vital and fraught. Unlike some 3DS titles, the visual trick is used with economy and purpose, and Hyrule seems reinvigorated as a result.
If history is a guide, however, it is clear that Nintendo is not the kind of developer to simply indulge in reminiscence with a graphical spit and polish. A Link Between Worlds continues this legacy of innovation. After little more than ten minutes’ play, it presents an arresting new gameplay mechanic and an overhauled design. Together, these elements redefine Zelda’s famed puzzle-based exploration, leaving you amazed at how such tweaks can have a transformative impact upon the conventions of the series.
The title wastes no time in revealing the player has autonomy over Link’s narrative. In contrast to the linear approach of A Link to the Past, its sequel permits you to traverse every nook and cranny of Hyrule in a sequence of your choosing. Similarly, the fabled tools employed by the young hero on his perilous adventure are available from the off, with the likes of the boomerang and hookshot available to rent.
Play astutely and you need never part with this generous inventory. Die, however, and Link will be parted from his bounty of devices. This lends a heightened urgency to proceedings, especially in the dungeons. Ah, yes - the dungeons. Long a cherished if fiendish component of the franchise, they enjoy a renaissance in A Link Between Worlds. The obstacles and thoughtful puzzles of the multi-level labyrinthine realms are present and correct as always, but it is the new gameplay mechanic - the ability to merge into walls - that makes things interesting.
Link’s novel power allows an extra dimension to play with, one in which to avoid the tumbling boulders of ore in the narrow wynds of Death Mountain, or which offers up a new escape route in a previously unfathomable lair. The concept is executed with charm, as the protagonist’s Hieroglyphical figure ekes around the room’s boundary, rewarding the player’s spatial awareness.
At times, it is easy to forget this new manoeuvre and rely on the old controls, stubbornly hoping that a solution will emerge. This, though, is the game’s greatest trick - the setting and presentation lulls you into a false sense of security where memories of A Link to the Past both help and hinder. It may look like a homage to the previous game, but it demands an altogether more imaginative approach. It is one of the finest entries in an illustrious series.