The Best Zelda Game In Over A Decade
Not too long ago I found myself questioning whether the Legend of Zelda series was doing it’s part in making sure that the series remained one of gaming’s highlights. The rubbishly titled “Has Zelda become one of the most overrated series around?” editorial I wrote late last year certainly caused a fair amount of controversy which was to be expected, some people aren’t going to take kindly to you bashing their favourite games. Never the less despite negative comments I received, my opinion didn’t really change although looking back I’m sure I could of raised some better arguments to back my post.
Going into A Link Between Worlds I wasn’t particularly too impressed with what I had seen, it looked extremely similar to a 20+ year old game and as much as I loved A Link to the Past, did we really need A Link Between Worlds to stick so closely to that game? It got to the point where I eventually found out that the over world in A Link Between Worlds was essentially the same as the one featured in A Link to the Past. I understand it’s supposed to be a direct sequel but isn’t that perhaps a bit… lazy?
Despite my disappointment with Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword, I decided to give A Link Between Worlds a try. All I wanted was a decent Zelda game that I would actually bother finishing, something I hadn’t done since Twilight Princess. Instead what I got was one of the finest Zelda games ever created and I feel like a fool for ever doubting the series.
I’m not going to turn this editorial into a review but I would like to highlight four reasons why A Link Between Worlds just does it for me. Of course there’s plenty more to it than just that but these are the main reasons why I’m completely in love with A Link Between Worlds
It’s almost a given that every time we see a new Zelda title, we also see some kind of new mechanic that is usually highlighted by the game’s title. We’ve had some great ones in the past such as the masks in Majora’s Mask but recently the last couple of Zelda games left much to be desired in this regard.
Phantom Hourglass had the horrible timer that forced players to rush through dungeons and in turn featured none of the cleverness of the 3 day system in Majora’s Mask. Spirit Tracks had Link building train tracks and finally Skyward Sword asked players to hold the Wii Remote vertically for a second or two to perform a downwards “Skyward” attack… get it?
A Link Between Worlds represents the first time in a long time that a gameplay mechanic has excited me, the ability to travel along walls as a painting. Not only is the concept immediately interesting, it will always the developers to play around with level design in ways previously not possible. You wouldn’t believe the number of times the solution to my problem was that I had simply overlooked the ability to travel along walls.
Painting Link isn’t just limited to traversing areas in new ways, it’s also used in a number of boss battles. I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone but there was one certain boss battle that used the painting Link mechanic so well that I almost stopped playing and wanted to start clapping.
The problem I have with gaming these days is that it seems that too many games are all about linear experiences, everyone wants to be the next “hollywood blockbuster” with scripted events. There’s nothing particularly wrong about this but it does sometimes feel like the developers are ashamed of what the games industry does best, freedom and interactivity.
Some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories consist of exploration, the sheer child like wonder to explore something until I was familiar with it. A Link Between Worlds goes on step further by offering up the most open ended Zelda game yet and the end result works beautifully. There are seven different dungeons and beyond simply marking where to find them, A Link Between Worlds leaves the rest up to you.
During my play through of A Link Between Worlds I had the option of deciding where to go next and according to the stat screen, I basically ended up doing the “first” dungeon LAST. This wasn’t planned but it’s simply how I ended playing the game and it’s this level of freedom that only gaming can offer. Not every game needs to be the next Skyrim but giving the player CHOICE is something that only gaming can offer so why are so many developers afraid of it?
I can honestly say that I had more fun being “lost” in A Link Between Worlds than I ever did playing Bioshock Infinite in it’s entirety.
If you’ve ever played a Zelda title then you’ll know how the basic structure of the series works, you have your over world and then you have the dungeon itself with a boss waiting for you at the end. The over world is always fun to explore but the real meat of the game has always been the dungeons and A Link Between Worlds has some of the best in the series.
What’s interesting about the dungeon design in A Link Between Worlds is that it’s not necessarily about size, in fact they’re rather short and small compared to it’s console counterparts. The key to why it works is because they’re cleverly built so they never end up dragging the experience. They’re JUST about the right size so you can memorise the layout without getting too confused and the puzzle design is yet again balanced perfectly so you’ll always know what’s left to do but not necessarily how to do it… yet.
A common trend in the industry is making sure the player is never stuck, things must always be progressing in order to keep the player interested but A Link Between Worlds thinks otherwise. Throughout the adventure I was indeed stumped a few times but it never to the point where I wanted to punch a wall (see Majora’s Mask water temple). The game always made it clear what each item did and what your available options were, think of the dungeons as small brain teasers.
Each dungeon in A Link Between Worlds took anything from 40 minutes to over an hour to finish and for a handheld game this is the ideal length. You’ll end the dungeon with a cool boss battle that will no doubt spark your curiosity as to what the next dungeon will offer up. Before you know it, you’ve become an addict always wondering what’s next until the credits hit.
Long story short, A Link Between Worlds isn’t cryptic about what needs to be done and the game is better off for it.
Doesn’t Waste Time
This is it folks, the number one problem I’ve had with the Zelda series for a while and one that I thought Nintendo would never be bothered to address. It’s the main reason why I couldn’t bring myself to continue playing Skyward Sword and it’s simple, GET TO THE POINT! I’VE PLAYED A ZELDA GAME BEFORE!
Even if you’re not a fan of the series, you already know what Zelda is all about so why Nintendo continues to feel the need to have the first five hours serve as a tutorial is beyond me. A Link Between Worlds doesn’t feature any annoying support characters (looking at you Fi) and after the first hour simply lets you do whatever you want. No seriously, after the initial hour in A Link Between Worlds you’re more than welcome to tackle the “last” dungeon if you want.
The best part to A Link Between Worlds‘ “okay, GO!” attitude is the item renting system. Typically in the past you’d acquire a new items as you progress throughout the game but now you can pretty much find all you want right from the comfort of your own home… Link’s home, not yours. The first thing I did was collect some rupees and rent EVERYTHING at once, I was pretty much ready for anything after the initial hour. There’s no need to worry about balance either, having access to all the items doesn’t break the game in any way.
In Skyward Sword the only interesting thing that happened in the first 2 hours was that I participated in a bird race which lasted all of 3 minutes. In A Link Between Worlds on the other hand I was ready for anything within that same timeframe. Whilst Skyward Sword felt the need to explain to me how a Zelda game works, A Link Between Worlds had me fighting for my life in my first boss battle.
Going into the Legend of Zelda Wii U, PLEASE NINTENDO, just get to the point much like how A Link Between Worlds did.
Ravio is the best, nuff’ said.
For a while I was doubting whether I was even a Zelda fan anymore but thankfully A Link Between Worlds has come and restored my faith in the series. It doesn’t bother with gimmicky touch screen controls seen in the past two DS Zelda titles nor does it waste my time in order to get to the good stuff. A Link Between Worlds is the Zelda game I have been longing for and it basically addresses ALL of the problems I’d been experiencing with the series for a while now.
A Link Between Worlds is the type of game I’d happily recommend to just about anyone who enjoys a good adventure title. I’m not talking about gamers who grew up playing Zelda but then eventually threw their tastes out the window in favour of by the numbers shooters and sports titles that flood the market in this day and age. A Link Between Worlds is something of a love letter to those of us who still value the purity of what gaming was all about and not what it’s become in recent years.
Not only was it a pleasure to play A Link Between Worlds, it’s now once again exciting to wonder what’s next for the series. In fact that’s not the only thing I’m wondering about these days, I’m starting to wonder if A Link Between Worlds is actually better than the all mighty A Link to the Past…