No matter how things change, some things always stay the same. The Zelda series, for all its continued innovations and original ideas in moving forward has always retained a comforting air of familiarity. The first new Zelda since Skyward Sword, A Link Between Worlds is actually a sequel to the revered SNES classic A Link to the Past. Does this new title manage to push the series forward in exciting new directions, or is it bogged down by dewy eyed nostalgia?
Thankfully, the game achieves the former with just a healthy dose of the latter. This game oozes innovation and a sense of freedom I’ve not felt since the first Zelda. Longtime fans will have a blast seeing what’s changed and what’s remained in this loving recreation of the SNES Hyrule while we also get to explore the entirely new world of Lorule. Both worlds are filled with fiendishly clever puzzles, moody dungeons and all manner of secrets and collectibles to keep the completists happy.
The story leaves a little to be desired, with your standard Zelda collect X amount of this then X amount of that quest. However, the game does have a truly surprising twist up its sleeve and is peppered with likeable and charming characters throughout. The most prominent of these is Ravio, the salesman who sets up shop in your gaff and is responsible for the games biggest shake up: The item rental system.
The rental system is designed to allow players the aforementioned freedom to move around as they wish. Technically, you could run off with all the items within the first few hours and buy them to keep soon after that-at a price. For the most part, this system works and being able to go anywhere and do anything after previous game’s increasingly restricting hand holding is truly liberating.
Sadly, stumping up the rupees to get all the items is far too easy and the idea that if you die, you lose any rented items just doesn’t work. This is because the game is really, very easy and with a few fairies you can blitz through without ever dying. The only incentive to buy the items and not just rent is so you can upgrade them later on.
What the game lacks in actual challenge from death by enemies, it makes up for with some of the series’ most ingenious puzzles. A lot of this is down to Link’s new ability to merge into a wall and become a painting, Paper Mario style. This system actually turns everything you know about Zelda on its head and more than a few times, I was staring at a chasm or conundrum for minutes, only to realize all I needed to do was jump into the wall.
Each dungeon has it’s own unique feel and atmospheric music. In fact, all the music in this game is outstanding, be it a remix of an old classic or a completely new score, your ears are always in for a treat.
Graphically, the game looks just OK. When you slide up the 3D, it really pops but if you’re playing on a 2DS don’t expect anything too special.
My biggest problem with A Link Between Worlds is that it just doesn’t go far enough with the changes it’s begun to implement. It’s as if Nintendo didn’t want to go any further in case it started to feel too different to what’s come before. Despite this, it’s a short, sharp, charming adventure that easily sits among the best of Zelda and is undisputably the finest of the handheld titles. If Nintendo take what they’ve started here and keep pushing, Zelda should be in very safe hands.