Writing about games makes having a collection of them fulfilling and also a bit saddening. You can keep a collection of games knowing full well that you can dive back into the original Ducktales or Metal Gear Solid at a moment’s notice. But, because of the need to constantly stay on top of the new you rarely get the time to dive headlong into an old school experience as they’re lost to the vortext of time and blogging deadlines.
A Link to the Past is one of those lost for me. I remember beating it way back in 1992 with a friend and adoring every second. But, as time went on accelerating along with my love of writing about games it was, somewhat ironically, lost in time. I remembered it fondly of course, but hadn’t the occasion to think of it save for maybe when I got my copy of the Hyrule Historia.
But now, seeing a bona fide sequel to one of the greatest Zelda titles I was more than excited to get my grubby mits on it. Here are my first impressions of Link’s return.
The Blacksmith’s Apprentice
Much like in A Link to the Past, you wake up as Link, an apprentice to the town blacksmith. You’re tasked with delivering a sword to the Captain at Hyrule Castle but once you arrive to deliver it, the evil Yuga has begun Bob Rossing everybody, turning them into paintings. Before long you’ll be dungeon crawling per tradition and tracking down the magical douche nozzle before he paints everyone into oblivion and brings not only Hyrule to ruin, but also Lorule. Lorule being conceptually a mirror image of A Link to the Past’s Dark World. All this amounting to A Link Between Worlds officially becoming Christopher Nolan’s favorite entry in the series.
Link as a Cave Painting
The most notable new ability on your quest to rescue the Seven Sages along with Hyrule is to turn into a painting yourself, flattened like a pancake against walls to solve various platforming puzzles. It also helps to dodge enemy attacks; especially in close quarters situations. This could have been done quite badly but using it judiciously makes it enjoyable because A)It’s not overused and B)those who enjoy investigating every nook and cranny will find some fiendishly hidden treasures using it. Even if Link does look terrifying when you use it.
Link’s judging stares aside, A Link Between Worlds is a gorgeous game. Artistically it carries a lot of the same top-down charm you’re accustomed to on the mobile games but with a more old school feel for those who have tired of the Windwaker cel-shaded look. Plus it all looks stunning on the capable 3DS hardware. 3D is used here to mainly subtle effect to demonstrate the difference between dungeon levels and to add some spice to some of the boss battles. The subtlety in its execution feels like 3D done right and not just for the sake of having 3D. Lorule and Hyrule both are vivdly realized and set to the kind of classic Zelda tunes you’d come to expect.
Hookshots and Broomsticks
The layout is basically identical to A Link to the Past but if you’re worried about a lot of backtracking fear not; there are systems in place to prevent a ton of wasted to and from time without ruining the exploration aspect for newcomers. For starters, early on you meet a witch who you can summon at anytime from Hyrule or Lorule to catch a Harry Potterish ride to any of the game-save weather vanes you’ve unlocked. This is a huge help if you have to get from A to B quickly (or if you’re just impatient). Also, true to many other Zelda titles when you get nearer the final boss of a dungeon a portal opens up that allows you to beam between the dungeon entrance and the boss door.
One of the weirder additions I’ve seen so far is Ravio, the merchant who just decides to basically take over your house to peddle his wares. You have the option of ‘renting’ items from him which you can hold onto for as long as you’d like until expire. At which point his repo-man bird friend loots your corpse and hauls the gear back to Ravio. You can buy items to keep them persistently available, but at least a couple of the items you’ll find work great in a specific dungeon but aren’t wholly necessary to plunk down the big buc-er, rupees for.
Reviews for this game have been overwhelmingly positive and it’s easy to see why. It defies problems seen in comparable games of the genre and manages to introduce enough new without being overwhelming while staying true to the series roots. I’m not comfortable writing out a full review yet as I haven’t played the story through to completion, but if these first few hours are any indication this just might be my 3DS top pick for 2013.