On this second 3DS outing for Link and company, Nintendo has once again gone backward. Re-making Ocarina of Time for the once languishing handheld was an inspired move, serving to revitalise interest in the Zelda franchise by dropping one of the all-time greats on an audience starved for games.
In this title, A Link Between Worlds, gamers are taken to a point in the Hyrulian timeline just beyond that of another classic - A Link To The Past. As a true sequel to the 1991 SNES favourite, A Link Between Worlds not only has big gameplay shoes to fill, but technological ones as well.
Following an archetypical damsel-in-distress Zelda plotline, A Link Between Worlds sees the titular Link running about his homeland chasing after artifacts and bopping bad guys like any other of his excursions. Core gameplay mechanics are largely unchanged, and Link will dispatch enemies by sword, fire, freezing, arrow, and boomerang. The combat system feels finely tuned and works superbly with the 3DS analogue stick.
A change in pace is also provided early on in the game by allowing Link access to a full range of kit via a rental system. Almost immediately, dungeons that would normally have been bypassed until late in the piece are accessible, a useful concession that allows the player to pick and choose where to visit at their own discretion. It's a breath of fresh air for the series, weighted by forcing the player to return all rented items in the case of Link's untimely demise. While Link's tools can be purchased outright, the option to do so isn't enabled until around the half-way mark.
Also given an overhaul is the ammo system normally found in the Zeldaverse. No longer is Link required to crash around in bushes to find bombs. Instead, all consumable items are now linked to a power-meter that refills with time. The system lets Link loose a few arrows and maneuver about enemies while recharging. It feels fresh and is implemented in slick, accessible fashion.
In a post-Super Mario 3D World landscape, the 3DS has demonstrated that it can handle 3D platformers that are beautiful as they are engaging. A Link Between Worlds is certainly a looker, crisp and fluid animations combine with larger 3D set-pieces to form a Hyrule that is both familiar and fun to explore. When the 3D shifter is pushed to its maximum setting, the slightly-off top-down view gives a sense of containment that suits the dimensions of the screen well (on both 3DS and 3DSXL). The 3D effect adds to the platforming elements of the game, although it's best turned off when furious action is called for - the screen flicker caused by moving the console is too much to bear in times of strife. Link and the various creatures of Hy-(and Lo!)-rule look vastly better modelled and drawn with the 3D fader enabled, meaning A Link Between Worlds is one of the few games on the platform where the 3D feature feels essential - if only at times.
A Link Between Worlds, then, looks and feels like a Zelda game of old - and yet it's not. Its one major flaw is that it's simply too easy to fly through. The first third of the game is tuned so low that many players are very unlikely lose a life at all. The early dungeons are particularly simple, and many can be breezed through in a single pass. While things do hot up later, the game never really poses a serious challenge and can be completed in far less than 20 hours.
The two world maps of the game are designed to be explored in parallel, remembering the points where Link can zip between each one takes up more time than completing the main storyline. Minigames of varying quality and addictiveness help tp flesh things out, although in a world filled with mobile-mini games these are hardly a standout feature. The boss fights in the A Link Between Worlds are still the Zelda staple they've always been - filling the player with dread as the final temple door is unlocked and satisfying to crack when each terrible creature's own Achilles heel has been discovered. These encounters are both beautifully designed and rendered and are a delight to knock off.
To add to the complexity of problem-solving and level design in the game, A Link Between Worlds has a unique mechanic. Link is granted the ability to slip into the surface of walls as a living painting, Phantom Ganon-style, losing a dimension in the process. The ability allows Link to escape immediate harm, as he becomes impervious to damage when in 2D. The power is linked to the aforementioned power-meter bar, and running out of juice will pop our hero back into the 3D level. Navigating temple interiors and the walls of Hyrule see the mechanic put to some clever use, as certain passages are only accessible when Link is drawn to the wall. There are times, however, when artificial roadblocks are put in place which feel unnecessarily limiting.
By the time the game’s end is draws near, players will have experienced a well designed and entertaining action puzzler, filled with lively characters and some surprisingly good flavour text. While not as punishingly challenging as other games in Zelda's lineage, A Link Between Worlds looks and feel just right, possessing responsive controls and visuals befitting one of Nintendo’s crown jewels. Anyone buying this game will be wrapped up in the feeling of quality and attention to detail brought to life in clear 3D and find themselves humming the greatest hits soundtrack in-between bouts.