The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is an action adventure game with open world elements for the Nintendo 3DS. This is a newer entry into the Zelda series, so by this point I’m going to assume you understand most of the basics of Zelda games. If you need a reference, check out some other sources first or check out my review on the first Legend of Zelda. That being said, this game plays like most Zelda games before it. The game is supposed to take place many years after A Link to the Past, which is why the overworld is so similar, but as far as the story goes you won’t need to have played A Link to the Past to get what’s going on. To put it simply, you play as a blacksmith’s apprentice that gets caught up in a villain’s schemes. The villain turns Zelda into a painting, as well as the seven sages of Hyrule. It’s your job to save them all and prevent the return of the evil king. This requires going between Hyrule and its parallel universe, Lorule. Can you save both kingdoms and the princess as well?
The gameplay is about the same as other Zelda games, more closely resembling that of the 2D top-down titles. You walk around with a sword and shield fighting off monsters, getting rupees, doing side quests, and beating dungeons through combat and puzzle solving. There are a lot of items to attain through the game like bombs, a boomerang, and a few new items to the series as well. There are also ways to increase your power and health, mainly through side quests. The art is very cartoonish in nature but is a new visual style for the series even though other titles have had cartoonish art as well. It’s very rich, colorful, and a bit bubbly. The controls are simple but surprisingly tight considering the visual style. The music, while being mostly reworked versions of older Zelda themes, is crisp and lovely as ever. The sound effects are also very crisp while still being rather video gamey. The presentation is wonderful.
The things that really stand out here are a few additions and conveniences put into the game’s design. One of the new things is the ability to turn into a painting and move across flat wall surfaces. This is a simple mechanic, but it’s worked well into so many of the puzzles and even some of the combat. Plus, it’s something you use a lot in the overworld without becoming a game-breaking ability. Real attention and care was taken to make sure you can’t use it to skip over parts or exploit this new power, which is great considering they were basically working with the already made map. The other big new thing is that you now have an item meter, or stamina. This is used to manage your weapon usage and your wall walking ability. Basically every item uses so much of the meter upon use. The meter regenerates over time. So you can’t just spam items over and over, nor can you infinitely be stuck to the wall. This helps for puzzles and combat alike. It makes you have to plan and act with care when fighting. It’s also a very convenient way to keep you from worrying about a bunch of different ammo items or magic refills. You can use everything at any time as long as you have some stamina in the meter, which will refill itself. There are other conveniences as well, such as getting the ability to warp early on to go to any save point you’ve found. The touch screen serves as a constant map so you don’t have to keep hitting a map button and then going back to the game to track your movements. You can even place your own markers on the overworld map for reference points to go back to later. You can set some items into a quick equip menu. You can use two secondary items at a time, unlike most handheld Zeldas. All of the doorways between Hyrule and Lorule are clearly marked on your map. All of the main temples are marked on your map. The items you need to get into the temples are shown outside them and are generally needed to get to them in the first place. So many conveniences have been added to make the game smooth without taking away from the challenge.
The game’s design is wonderful. There’s just a big world to explore, lots of things to do, and the game lets you do it. After a short time playing a rather linear path to establish the basics, the game lets go and does a good job letting you do what you want to do. The game won’t hold your hand or force help down your throat, but if you DO need help, there are ways to get it within the game through hints and fortune tellers as well as general bystanders telling you things. It’s also a good mix between 2D and 3D gameplay. There are many puzzles and a bit of combat that require you to take advantage of multiple heights and depths as well as distances. There’s also a good balance of puzzles and combat rather than focusing too much on one or the other. The game also goes back to Zelda’s roots in that you get to just play in whatever order you want to. You can go do temples or mess around in side quests and exploring. It’s up to you. Also, early on there’s a system of renting items. You can rent most of the items in the game right away, granted you have the rupees for them. The thing about renting these items is that, if you die, you will lose them and have to rent them again, which will cost you. Risk versus reward. Later on you’ll be able to buy them for keeps at a greater cost. There are more items you can find on your journey as well. So, depending on what items you have and when, you can go do quests, exploring, and temples in the order you see fit. THIS is what an adventure game, a Zelda game, is all about. There’s also this neat side quest of finding these squid creatures hidden throughout the world in order to upgrade your weapons. It’s another nice way of encouraging exploration of every nook and cranny, as any explorer will want to do anyway. There are even some optional treasure rooms that are just big puzzles for you to figure out. The design is simply wonderful.
There’s honestly not much I can say for flaws. The game could’ve been longer, I suppose. The mini games were neat, but ultimately more of a distraction than anything else. The game could’ve held your hand a little less, although it wasn’t terrible in that aspect. There could’ve maybe been some more 3D elements of gameplay, but the balance is good as it is. Perhaps harder bosses would’ve helped, but most of them have multiple forms for some diversity and challenge. Maybe the things in the shop could’ve been cheaper, but they made rupees actually have value. Basically, there are a lot of things that people may not necessarily like about the game, but the reasoning behind the design works in favor of other preferences instead.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is probably the best-designed Zelda game there is. It may not make me feel deep emotions like Majora’s Mask. It may not have the critical acclaim of Ocarina of Time. It may not have the graphics of Twilight Princess. It may not have as much nostalgia for me as Link’s Awakening. Still, A Link Between Worlds blends 2D and 3D Zelda elements, puzzle and combat elements, and has so much exploration and adventure all put into one package that it’s damn near perfect. Plus, it’s all on a handheld! If you own a 3DS, buy this game. If you’re curious about getting into Zelda games, play this game. If you’re a fan of Zelda games, get this game. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds gets a 10 out of 10 for being the best-designed Zelda game in years, if not of all time. A MUST have for 3DS owners. Simply amazing.