|I don't always lose my mind, but when I do, it's over Zelda.|
Let's be honest, here. The reason you go to Zelda is because you expect a certain formula- travel, dungeons, combat, exploration, secrets, and boss battles. It's just the nature of the beast. And sometimes, that formula gets a little shaken up.
Well, no. That formula always gets shaken up.
But with A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo decided to switch things around by... well, keeping them the same. And you know what? It worked.
-Hyrule is large and completely open from the very beginning- well, mostly. But A Link Between puts control in your hands by letting you chose how you explore the world based on your preference, rather than pushing you on a linear quest. It's utterly refreshing.
-The new changes, such as rental and the painting mechanic, make Hyrule and its reflection into what all Zelda environments should feel like- three-dimensional, open playgrounds. You are able to explore every aspect of the world around you, and do so with every tool at your disposal. Just don't die.
-Choosing to focus on gameplay rather than story, A Link Between Worlds features some of the best dungeons in the series from multidimensional and pure cleverness aspects. Though they are not so complex as to confuse the player, they test the mechanics of the game instead and make each new step through the deathtrap-filled structures all the more enjoyable.
-While A Link Betwen Worlds features a great variety of gameplay, it forgoes story elements that many of the series' more recent iterations have used to improve the experience. This may seem like a loss to some, and the overload of plot points at the game's end may feel like it's a bit too much.
As a diehard Zelda fan, it's hard to approach A Link Between Worlds without drawing comparisons to the game that it takes many cues from- the pinnacle of 2D Zelda design, A Link to the Past, which is considered by many to be the greatest Zelda game of all time. However, it's also extremely important to establish what makes A Link Between Worlds different, and potentially even better, than its predecessor- non-linear design and a more in-depth exploratory option in the form of the painting mechanic.
In returning the series to its roots, Nintendo took a huge risk. Luckily, the dungeons in A Link Between Worlds rely not on the difficulty of combat or obstacles, but puzzles to display their difficulty. The game also makes it quite obvious which dungeons it THINKS you should tackle first, but its open-ended formula is extremely refreshing and allows the player to appreciate what it truly important- the environmental design and detail brought to the world.
While I've heard many complaints about the graphical style, but it does what it was supposed to do- look like A Link to the Past. If it had been more detailed it would have been a wonderful thing, but how much can you change a graphic while still remaining faithful to the blocky design of the original title? It's true, Nintendo could have pushed the system harder, but A Link Between Worlds still looks great and plays great. The characters are full of life and have interesting and quirky personalities, the enemies are easily identifiable and their attack patterns are emphasized by design, and all the while, the game runs smoothly and never lets up on its pacing.
While the dungeons are easily the most compelling and concentrated form of fun, there's plenty to do on the side- from dodging cuckoos to playing Octorok Derby, to collecting tons of odd snail/octopus creatures to power up your gear. Not to mention a surprisingly deep Streetpass function that is both bizarre and extremely amusing at the same time. Loaded with content and unique concepts, it's almost as if every previous Zelda title since the DS was ignored in favor for a traditional experience- and it works fantastically. As a seasoned player, I appreciated the ingeniousness of this title's ideas and was giddy as hell playing through. But as someone who understands every Zelda title is SOMEone's first Zelda title, I can't help but be excited for the younger audience that picks this game up and plays it for the first time. It's a true gem, and just another example of how good Nintendo can get it right when they really try.
Final Verdict: As if we needed proof that Zelda's top-down escapades were some of the most solid gameplay experiences in Nintendo's history, the company comes out on top again with a delightfully unique adventure that manages to give fantastic tribute to its history while also being individual and enjoyable in every way. A Zelda game that finds its strength in its design rather than its presentation, A Link Between Worlds adds yet another must-have notch to the 3DS' belt.