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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £33
inc VAT

The best handheld Zelda game since Link’s Awakening, this is a master class in 2D and 3D adventuring

Sequels are becoming increasingly commonplace in The Legend of Zelda series, but few have such a huge shadow hanging over them as A Link Between Worlds. Set in exactly the same world as SNES classic A Link to the Past, which many consider to be one of the best, if not the best, Zelda game ever made, the fog of nostalgia hangs thick over almost every step Link takes in this new adventure for 3DS.

But while several moments trade on more than two decades of fond memories from the original game, A Link Between Worlds quietly subverts almost every one of them, twisting the traditional 2D Zelda formula into something new and unexpected. For the first time in the series’ history, this top-down Zelda has a distinctly 3D heritage.

Zelda - A Link Between Worlds
You’ll need to watch your stamina meter in A Link Between Worlds as everything from throwing bombs to wall-walking drains it pretty quickly

This is made possible by Link’s newfound ability to merge with his surroundings. After a run-in with the villainous Yuga goes awry, Link gains the power to transform into a delightfully medieval-style painting of himself that can slip across walls and ledges to reach newfound platforms and treasure chests.

We’ll admit it sounds a little daft on paper, but it revolutionises the game’s dungeon design, turning relatively flat, familiar rooms into full-bodied 3D play spaces. Hand-drawn hearts and rupees on the walls hint toward hidden, unseen passageways round the back of pillars and staircases while cracks and barred windows suddenly become new gateways to discovery. The camera follows you on your secret journey, too, zooming in close as Link makes like an Egyptian in his playfully stilted wall waddle.

Zelda - A Link Between Worlds
Link can only walk in straight lines when he’s hiding in the wall, so you’ll need to be on the same level as your destination to reach it

As Link hugs his surroundings, it almost feels like you’re glimpsing parts of the dungeon you weren’t meant to see, for as soon as Link jumps back out of the wall, the camera snaps back into its near-vertical position overhead. Nintendo make full use of this idea, too, as there are several rooms and chests hidden out of plain sight to reward more curious players.

But it’s the combination of these two viewpoints that really breathes life into Link’s environments, as navigation itself becomes its own kind of puzzle alongside the usual fare of item-based riddles. It channels the same hallmarks of great dungeons past like Eagle’s Tower from Link’s Awakening, and it’s one of the first games we’ve seen since Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii to show such a thorough understanding and awareness of its 3D space.

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The Dark Palace is one of A Link Between Worlds’ highlights

It goes without saying, then, that you’ll want to put the 3D slider to maximum for A Link Between Worlds, not least because the top-down action also makes great use of the console’s stereoscopic 3D. Stalfos jump up into the screen as they leap away from Link’s sword, jump pads hurl our hero into the air as they lift him to another platform and cucco feathers flutter in the wind as Link glides between buildings.

Another big change in A Link Between Worlds is the item rental system. Instead of finding individual items in each dungeon and gradually building up your inventory, Link now has everything available to him right from the start, for a small fee, of course. In a series first, this gives you the freedom to tackle dungeons in any order you like, which brings a welcome change of pace to your usual adventuring.

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Rental prices are pocket change, but buying an item will require a deposit of at least 800 rupees

Each dungeon still relies on a certain item to some extent, but a much greater emphasis is placed on Link’s shape-shifting ability, which rejuvenates the somewhat stale solutions of previous Zelda games. The Dark Palace is a particularly great example of this, but we’d hate to spoil one of the finest Zelda dungeons in the past twenty years.

There is a risk involved, though, as you’ll lose all your rental items when you die. Fortunately, Hyrule is practically bursting at the seams with hidden rupees, so you’ll find plenty of ways to help keep your coffers full. What’s more, you’re going to need every rupee you can lay your hands on, as later on you get the chance to buy your items so you can keep for good. These come with a hefty price tag, but unlike the copious amounts of free-flowing cash in The Wind Waker, the economy in A Link Between Worlds is much steadier so there’s always something to work for.

Zelda - A Link Between Worlds
Take a break from saving the world by playing a spot of baseball to win rupees

There’s another incentive to buy your items as well, as only items you own can be powered up by Maiamai, a mother octopus who’s managed to lose 100 baby Maiamais around Hyrule. Track them down in batches of ten and she’ll reward you by doubling the power of your arsenal one by one. The game’s not so difficult that you’ll necessary need to use them, but they’ll be essential purchases for those who want to attempt the rock hard Hero Mode after completion, where enemies do more damage per hit and drop less hearts.

Our only criticism is how small Hyrule has become in the intervening years. Despite sharing the same map as A Link to the Past – there’s literally not a tree or pillar out of place – you can run from one corner to the other in just over a minute. This is partly due to Link’s newfound running speed, which clocks in at a beautifully smooth 60fps, but while we appreciate the liquid transitions between screens, it makes the world feel less like a cohesive whole and more a patchwork of thinly connected areas.

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Old locations such as Turtle Rock crop in new places in A Link Between Worlds, but inside are whole new dungeons to solve

Then again, it’s hard to begrudge the game long when its incredible soundtrack is channeling twenty years worth of nostalgia through your headphones. A Link to the Past already had one of the greatest scores in Zelda history, but the full-bodied arrangements in A Link Between Worlds is Zelda music as its finest. There’s even a two-man band in Kakariko’s milk bar that will play classic tunes in brand new folk compositions for a mere ten rupees, adding that little extra touch for returning fans.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a triumph for the 3DS, effortlessly melding 2D and 3D adventuring into one seamless adventure. It relies perhaps a little too heavily on cues and tropes found in A Link to the Past, but as players will discover, it rarely lapses into lazy repetition just for the sake of fan service. A Link Between Worlds is handheld Zelda at the best it’s ever been, so make sure you don’t let this one slip through the cracks this Christmas. It wins a Best Buy award.



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