The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a perfect example of how to take an existing formula and make it feel fresh and intuitive by taking past game mechanics and improving upon them to the point of near perfection. ALBW (A Link Between Worlds) shows that there is still plenty of innovation and changes in the Zelda franchise and why it is held in such high regard.
Unlike my previous reviews, I will go about this one a little differently due to the more open nature of this Zelda title. As such I will be focusing on the game in three stages that are based on how far into the game you are:
- Starting(aka the OOooOO shiny stage)
- Midway(aka the Meat and Potatoes)
- End(aka the Final Countdown)
This will serve to better represent my feelings through the entire game, as what I judged to be either “good” or “bad” changed as I progressed through the game for one reason or another.
Starting - OOoooOO Shiny
Upon starting the game you will be greeted with that lovely Zelda music that fills one with a sense of good times to come. Initially, you are taken to Link sleeping in, unaware of the fact that he is late for work as a blacksmith’s apprentice (Link’s resume never seems to improve). The first thing that you will notice the second you are given controls is that this game is smooth; so smooth, in fact, that it’s about all I posted on our twitter account when I first played the game.
— Pause Your Game (@PauseYourGame) November 22, 2013
What do I mean exactly by smooth? Well for starters ALBW is 60 Frames per Second and it shows, especially when 3D is turned on it makes this game that much more enjoyable. There is no clipping, no items slightly out of place, nor anything of the sort; everything is where it is supposed to be and when you interact with the world it’s a seamless procedure that never looks out of sync. I simply can’t stress this smoothness enough as it made the whole game feel crisp and fine tuned, going above and beyond what I normally expect of Nintendo.
Your first task is to deliver a sword to a knight who forgot it at the blacksmith’s you work at (much like how cops lose their guns all the time), so you rush over to the castle to deliver the sword. Upon your arrival at the castle, it comes under siege and Princess Zelda is turned into a painting (Editor’s note: apparently putting her to sleep was getting too predictable) and is then taken to another realm (of course). This is where your adventure begins with the first task of gaining three charms that will give you access to the Master Sword. The first two dungeons you are exposed to serve as learning grounds in how the 3D is used to traverse through dungeon puzzles, how the renting system works, and how becoming a 2D painting can and can’t be used. While I knew there were other things to do, I knew that I would not be able to have the free reign I desired until I had access to both worlds and it seemed that’s what the game wanted too as everything was very limited until the Master sword was acquired.
Suffice it to say that at the start of the game I was awestruck and enjoyed the way you were taught new mechanics as it never felt as if you were in an actual tutorial.
Midway – Meat and Potatoes
Once the Master Sword is acquired, it’s time to start slipping between worlds. Lorule, while still being an open world, is broken up in such a way that requires you to swap between worlds in order to reach certain locations and many of the more rewarding puzzles and the treasures they contain. Unlike previous Zelda games where rupees had very limited value and dying didn’t carry as many penalties, ALBW puts a heavy emphasis on rupees and staying alive due to the renting system. Every time you die any items that were rented go back to Rovio and you must pay a renting fee to re-obtain the item. The only way around this issue is to purchase the item outright which makes it permanently yours, but this is expensive. For example, renting the Hammer will run you 50 rupees, while purchasing it is 800 rupees and at the start of adventure in Lorule this can become a challenge depending on which dungeons you do first.
Another major change from the normal Zelda formula is that you can do dungeons in any order you wish as all the items you need to progress through said dungeons are all available at the shop (with one exception). This is one of the most significant changes to the franchise to date and compliments the act of exploring by allowing you to choose the dungeons you wish to do first and the order you want to do them in after.
In past Zelda’s I typically focused on the main story as I never felt there was a convenient time to do side activities and exploring never really rewarded you with much. With ALBW’s rupee-sink renting system every opportunity to acquire more rupees becomes more worthwhile to pursue. In addition to tons of secret areas that reward you with rupees there are also a wide variety of side activities ranging from gambling to baseball to further thicken you wallet for those expensive items.
Dungeons are the man stay of this Zelda title with each dungeon having its own theme that influences each puzzle found within. As you might expect the Dark temple deals with Light; the Water temple with Water levels; the Fire temple deals with fire, and so on. Unlike previous 2D Zelda titles there is now an increased emphasis on the path leading up to the dungeon that adds an extra dimension to dungeons that was not present before. This plays out quite well in that it serves to break up the dungeon experience, which is important for a portable game as you want to break everything down into bite size pieces (in the interest of available time increments) but it also serves to keep the game consistently fresh. You are never stuck with the same ruleset for too long, making each dungeon distinct, interesting and enjoyable.
The End (THE FINAL COUNT DOWN dun na na nuh)
This is where I felt the one significant flaw in the game design really presented itself, which manifested in the unique dungeon items aspect of the game.
Each dungeon has a special item contained in it that will help you through your journey, whether that is Master Ore that can improve your sword, or a Hylien Shield that reflects magic, and another is armor that greatly reduces the amount of damage you take. However, a lack of awareness of which dungeons contain which items, as well as the game-changing effects these items can have on your play experience depending on the order you collect them in seem to have been overlooked in the design of ALBW.
Titan Mitts, for example, which are found in the Desert Palace can open up many areas that were not available to you before acquiring them. You don’t technically need the Mitts to complete any of the dungeons, but your exploration of these other areas of the game is significantly limited without them, and, if you became aware of this, you still would would have no idea where to get them until you stumbled upon them. This can drastically alter your entire game experience because many of the Maimai (hermit crabs you collect) and secret areas you find require the Mitts, and if you choose to do Skull Woods Temple last or towards the end (like me) it ruins the exploration potential of the entire game. When you do acquire them late in the game, instead of having a feeling of joy in finding the item, there’s a sense of regret that leaves you thinking, “Why did I not go here first?” This speaks in general to putting these type of upgrades in the dungeons; you can clearly see how depending on the order you acquired them in, your game experience would vary accordingly, not in terms of aesthetics and uniqueness, but rather in terms of experiencing the game “fully” and the challenge presented in doing so. For example, I found the armor that reduces the damage you take by half early on, which made me feel like a god and reduced the difficulty by a fairly large margin for the rest of my play experience. Instead of a game that would’ve presented an engaging challenge without the armor, I ended up with an experience that was significantly easier and less compelling in its difficulty.
This particular flaw is exposes the importance of considering all major aspects of a game when introducing a game-changing mechanic like the item shop that promotes choice and alternative progression; you don’t want to leave in a traditional mechanic like unique items particular to dungeons if those items will run counter to the design intentions of new and significant mechanics. Put simply, if you want the player to have a genuine choice in their progression path, make sure your game design does not work against that intended design by significantly altering their experience in a way that limits the potential, challenge, and enjoyment of the game.
Overall ALBW is an amazing game and gets you excited in the Zelda franchise once more by bringing new and interesting aspects and design choices to a core experience we are all too familiar with. While the end of the game left me with regrets and exposed the game’s design flaws, they do not detract from the superior quality of the rest of the game. If you have a 3DS, you should purchase this game immediately and if you don’t its worth considering getting one just for this game alone.