It’s hard to believe it’s been 27 years since gamers were first introduced to the green tunic clad adventurer Link and his first quest to recover the Triforce and rescue Princess Zelda. Since that time there have been no fewer than fifteen additional “official” titles expanding on the history and fate of the land of Hyrule, as well as the legacies of both Link and Zelda. One of these games was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which was originally released for the Super Nintendo way back in 1991 and still stands the test of time as one of, if not THE best game in the franchise. Now, more than two decades later, fans get to revisit this classic tale in the long overdue direct sequel, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, currently available for the Nintendo 3DS.
Set generations after the events of A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds revisits the world(s) of Light and Dark. The game opens with a new Link introduced to games, an apprentice to the local blacksmith. One errant delivery later, and this new Link finds himself called into battle to help defend Hyrule and rescue another Princess Zelda (seriously, someone needs to expand the Hyrulian Edition of the Big Book of Baby Names) from the clutches of a new threat, this time a dark sorcerer named Yuga. Yuga has not only captured Princess Zelda, but has also captured the descendants of the Seven Sages. Yuga accomplishes this by transforming his captives and opponents into painted two-dimensional portraits, frozen in a state of suspended animation.
After confronting Yuga early in the game, Link finds himself transformed into a painting as well, where he is left stuck helpless against a dungeon wall. Although all hope seems lost, it’s way too early for this to be the end. Thanks to a special gift from a mysterious stranger, Link is not only able to pull himself free, but is gifted with the ability to transform back into a two dimensional drawing and move effortlessly through various nooks and crannies.
I’ll admit I was expecting this 2D transformation to be little more than a quick gimmick, but after spending a good deal of time with that game, I can’t help but be impressed how deep one simple game mechanic can be. Designers spent a lot of time crafting the environments to make the most out of this latest trick up Link’s green tunic sleeve. Often, Link will use his newfound ability to merge with a wall and skitter over a chasm to reach an otherwise unreachable cliff, or maybe he’ll flatten himself against a wall to avoid getting squished, a la Indiana Jones, by a rolling boulder. There are numerous other ways that Link’s transformation comes in handy, but the key is that it never feels overused or gimmicky. It simply feels natural.
It’s hard not to love the presentation in A Link Between Worlds. Everything that fans loved about A Link to the Past has been painstakingly redesigned on the 3DS to take advantage of its capabilities, pulling a sharp, detailed, and still familiar version of Hyrule from the 16-bit classic. Gameplay is similarly refined, maintaining a sense of familiarity while streamlining things like inventory management. Link’s got a pretty hefty arsenal at his disposal too, including things like fire and ice wands, the classic boomerang, a helicopter-like Tornado Wand, and more. These also come in handy with the game’s StreetPass feature, in which your customized Link battles it out with other “Shadow Link” players met on the street for a bounty of rupees and items. Special challenges also give players an incentive to seek out other adventurers and take them on in the battlefield.
When all is said and done, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is about as perfect a Zelda game as you can get. It’s innovative enough to feel new, but harkens back to the classics for that sense of nostalgia. The game is a perfect spot for newcomers to jump in without feeling like they’re missing something, and yet it’s also deep enough for longtime fans to expand on the mythology of the land of Hyrule, the power of the Triforce, and the lives of the epic heroes and villains it all gives birth to. If you ever needed a reason to own a 3DS (or even the recently released 2DS), this is it.