By: Steve Zachmann, contributor
I feel like I have this gaming albatross around my neck; I’ve never finished a Zelda game ever. To be a bit more specific, I’ve never gotten close to finishing a Zelda game before. I’ve cleared 3 dungeons in The Legend of Zelda and 1 in Ocarina of Time. That’s pretty much the extent of my Zelda experience. To me that seems unacceptable. For such a beloved franchise, I’ve never really given it a fair shake. From what I understand, regardless of which Zelda game you play, there is typically a pretty cut and dry formula (and each game puts some unique twists on that formula). So I figure, if I can get through an entire game, I can at least say that I understand the basic formula of Zelda. If, at that point, I don’t like the concept of Zelda, then at least I articulate what it is that I don’t like about it. With that in mind, I dove headlong into A Link Between Worlds.
Let’s cut to the chase…
This game is great and I like it a lot. I’ll probably never be one of those ultra-hardcore Zelda fans with triforce tattoos, but I can at least say that at this point the Zelda franchise is now one that’s on my radar. In playing A Link Between Worlds I couldn’t help but ask myself why I was enjoying this game. As any Zelda game, it features the typical Zelda tropes; dungeons with puzzles, items to find, etc… but why did I like all that stuff now, when I disliked it so thoroughly the last time I tried it? The answer is simple, time.
The last time I truly gave Zelda a try was Ocarina of Time. When it was originally released for the N64 I was deep into the throws of teenage angst. My gaming interests were firmly rooted in violence, gore, sex, and all of the other things teenage boys love. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were my heroes at that point, certainly not some cartoony baby like Link. What’s more, the industry was in what I’d call it’s “cheat” phase. Things like the Game Genie, magazines filled with tricks, cheats, and walkthroughs, and of course those good old Prima strategy guides were a huge part of hardcore gaming culture. As such, I was used to (and enjoyed) games that were easy or that I could cheat to win. I wasn’t interested in exploring for exploration’s sake. I was interested in beating a game to say that I had done so.
My perspective on gaming has changed radically since those teenage years. First off, I hate cheating now. I never use cheats or hacks for any game I play. This isn’t because I’m on some anti-cheating high horse or something, I just have less disposable income now, so beating a game as quickly as possible because of cheating isn’t a financially smart idea. Instead, I like to wring every little bit of experience out of a game. I’ve also matured in my idea of what is fun. Games like Minecraft, Dark Souls, and even World of Warcraft have helped shape a new perspective on games where the journey, not the arrival, is the fun.
Ok, we get it, tell us about the game.
With a different perspective on what makes a game fun and what doesn’t, I found myself enjoying one of the Zelda series’ biggest tropes; exploration. A Link Between Worlds has a big world, but not too big. In addition, there are many areas that you can see, but can’t access yet. All of this makes the game feel incredibly rewarding. Finding a heart piece that you can’t reach, only to come back later when you’ve gotten the boomerang is such a pure feeling of gaming enjoyment. The Zelda series may lean heavily on these simple, pure gaming experiences, but that’s only because they’re fundamentally enjoyable (and because the Zelda series basically invented many of them).
For all the reasons I’ve stated above I’ve obviously come around on the series as a whole, but what about A Link Between Worlds in particular? Standing on it’s own, it’s really a great game. It goes a long way to simplify some of the things that I’m guessing are frustrations to the traditional Zelda fan. For instance, instead of having to find or buy every item in the game, a vendor will rent you items for a drastically reduced price. Once you die you must give back the items, but death isn’t a terrible concern, and the rental price is so cheap that it’s really a non-issue. So where other Zelda games forced you to search high and low for the boomerang, A Link Between Worlds let’s you access it when you’re ready. In addition, the game allows you to use fast travel stations to quickly move across the map without having to traverse the entire thing.
The above factors do a couple things for the game. First off, they keep the action fast-paced. Instead of having to trudge through half the map simply to get back to a place you were just at, you can simply port to the closest fast-travel station and get right into the thick of it. The rentable items make the world feel much more accessible at the beginning. If you see a cave that looks like it’s door could be blown open, go rent the bombs for 50 rupees and get in there. What’s more, the touch screen on the 3DS allows you to drag pins onto the map and place them in spots that you’d like to remember. This makes it even easier to remember where you should be going.
Without spoiling anything, this particular Zelda game’s hook comes in the form of an alternate universe. In A Link Between Worlds Link literally goes from Hyrule to the alternate version, called Lorule. He access this world via fissures in the walls. So, as you might imagine, places that are inaccessible in one world might be easy to reach in the other. Using a fissure to return to the inaccessible world now gives you access to a new area. It’s not a terribly original idea, but it’s executed with the typical polish of a Nintendo game, so it feels spot on. Moving between worlds effectively doubles the overall map size, and creates opportunities for some great puzzles.
As much as I’d love to report that I’d finished the whole game and could scratch another one off of my New Year’s resolution list, I’m not done with it yet. I have no doubt that I’ll finish the game though. Regardless of any previous feelings on the Zelda series, A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic game and worth playing. As a short aside, I’m not a fan of the 3D on the 3DS. Like many people, it hurts my eyes and causes me to get headaches. That said, I always try to use the 3D a little bit for each game, simply to see how a game has utilized it. A Link Between Worlds has, by far, the most beautiful use of the 3D technology I’ve seen on the system. I use it as much as my eyes permit, and find that it truly enhances the experience; a fact that I haven’t been able to claim on any other 3DS title. So, if you’re one of the lucky few who can use the 3D without issue, I absolutely recommend playing A Link Between Worlds with the 3D cranked up.