It begins with a nightmare. Link tossing and turning in his sleep, dreaming of a malevolent force that he will unknowingly soon face in his newfound quest to defend the lands of Hyrule once more.
Everything begins precariously enough. Scorned by the local Blacksmith for oversleeping, the young hero soon chases after Hyrule Castle’s captain after leaving his new sword behind. This leads him to the Sanctuary where he witnesses scheming antagonist Yuga turn Seres, known to be a descendant of the Seven Sages, into a painting. The captain has befallen the same fate, and Link finds himself taunted that he stands no chance at besting Nintendo’s new villain.
Defeated, Link is awoken by travelling merchant Ravio, who gifts you a peculiar bracelet in return for temporarily setting up his shop in your home. Now recovered, you rush to see Princess Zelda who recognises you have shared the same nightmares. Yuga attacks, turning Zelda into a painting and believing to have done the same to Link, although Ravio’s gifted bracelet means that this is only a temporary transformation. A skill that is fundamental to the clear quest that is now unexpectedly laid before him.
It’s at this point that, without any hesitation, I can easily say that what follows ranks as one of the greatest quests that Nintendo have ever mustered for their stalwart hero. Their new gameplay ingredient, to shift Link into walls, seems simple in concept but ever so challenging a prospect to implement, especially as masterfully as they have here. It is, for want of a better term, a game changer, adding an entirely new perspective to the nostalgic feeling that most will feel from the series returning to its top-down roots, and a core pillar of its design rather than an underused element.
Making the overworld so much more vibrant a place to explore, curiosity often gets the better of you as you shimmy along walls purely to see what surprises may be lying in wait around that out-of-reach corner. As can be expected, it is within dungeons that the mechanic’s potential is truly realised, serving up some of the most ingenious puzzle designs that we’ve had to face for some time. If you were worried that the difficulty had eased to broaden appeal, prepare to find yourself stumped on numerous occasion as you tackle everything that Nintendo throws at you.
Such success is matched by the dungeon bosses, which range between the straightforward in approach to those that will require you to think outside of how you would have normally tackle them, mainly through the tactics that Link’s new ability grants. I’m averse to giving solutions away, but you’ll be once again grinning at Nintendo’s efforts here and for very good reason.
For those worried that their trek across Hyrule’s expansive lands will be arduous, Weather Vanes placed across the overworld act as quick travel points, with Irene the Witch whisking you wherever you wish to go at the ring of a bell. Such devices also fluttering at you to save whenever you’ve left it too long without doing so, whilst pins can be dropped on the touchscreen’s map interface to mark noteworthy locations you may wish to return to.
But their most daring move is Ravio’s Shop. Switching up the established formula, players are given access to all items necessary to complete the game’s dungeons early on – free to rent, or outright purchase these, in any order they wish. Rental costs are low, either 50 or 100 rupees, and you’re inundated with them as you slice grass, best foes, and smash pots, with chests regularly throwing high-value rupees your way. Nintendo has ensured that you can switch between items speedily through multiple control inputs, but the real opportunity here is that you can adventure through the dungeons in any order you wish. Entrances are marked on the map, and if you can’t quite figure out how to reach any you can just turn your attention toward another. This results in an uneven difficulty curve, but which is easily made up for through the striking variance in puzzles that you face.
Dungeons themselves hold retainable items with the Blue Mail halving all damage taken, being of vital necessity to tackle the game’s Hero Mode which is available upon completion, the Hylian Shield which can protect Link from magical attacks once blocked, and the Pegasus Boots return, although these are only used to speed your overworld traversal. Master Ore chunks are also waiting to be discovered, allowing you to enlist the Blacksmith to upgrade the Master Sword’s strength, which delivers the much-missed beam attack as well as the now standard spin attack.
Your items, once purchased, can now also be upgraded to make them stronger. Mother Maiamai, a cave-dwelling Octorok-like creature who is now out of the running for parent of the year, has lost her children who now find themselves irresponsibly stuck to buildings, pillars and in murky depths throughout Hyrule and Lorule. An icon on the touchscreen segments the map, indicating how many are situated in each with their frantic cry giving further clues, and every time that you gather 10 you can rush back to her to receive your reward.
Link can be gifted a three-way shot with the Bow, a more lingering Boomerang that can deal extra damage in taking longer to return, or a perilous fiery pillar being cast from the Fire Rod. Whilst these aren’t necessary to conquer the young hero’s quest, it is a welcome diversion and you will more than likely stumble across enough lost Maiamai on your travels for a few upgrades without making a concerted effort.
If hunting such critters doesn’t appeal, then there’s plenty of minigames to capture your attention. The challenge wave-based Treacherous Tower, Octoball Derby seeing you knocking pitched shots back at pots, birds and crabs, whereas Rupee Rush gives you 30 seconds to grab as many rupees that you can, although the timer is hidden leaving you to guess how long you have left. Risk returning to the starting point even a fraction of a second too late, and you’ll lose everything.
StreetPass similarly receives some neat integration, passing players seeing you receive a Shadow Link to face off against. These have a bounty on their head dependant on their equipped items and number of heart containers, ultimately rewarding you with the chance to boost your rupee count. If you feel that your proposed foe is too strong for you, then you can banish them to make room for new competition. An achievement-like Record system will hopefully ensure that you get plenty of playtime out of this additional feature, and my own Shadow Link currently has a bounty of 710 rupees on his head!
It’s in the presentation that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds regularly astounds. Nintendo is now at the point where they are reaping their experience in developing for the 3DS, and that’s clear to see. Whether descending your way through Death Mountain, wandering through the quaint Kakariko Village, tackling the numerous dungeons, or battling The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds‘ monstrous bosses, the intricately layered 3D visuals are second to none, surpassing the accomplishments made by Project Sora with Kid Icarus: Uprising. This is largely thanks to the game running at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, the benefit of which easily being felt through how responsive the experience is throughout, be that in combat or wherever – consistently never stuttering.
In terms of any notable criticism, the game’s signposting can feel a little off on rare occasions, especially when you consider the broad age range that Nintendo readily attract. Supplemental items necessary to access dungeons, namely the Zora Flippers, Even if the Zelda series has always been one of discovery, the route to find them isn’t particularly obvious.
Yet as storm clouds gather for the impending clash between competitor’s next-gen systems launching, Nintendo’s lone hero stands tall, Master Sword in hand, to defy them all. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds rounds off 2013 as a year in which the 3DS has strode to the fore. Creativity in abundance, Nintendo should be incredibly proud of what they’ve accomplished here.