My shower door may be a portal to Lorule.
Early in the morning of November 22nd, in those twilight hours between night and morning, I found myself unable to sleep: I had been dreaming of playing a Link Between Worlds. Giving up on the prospect of getting back to sleep, I started my morning routine. While in the shower, I noticed for the first time in the three years Iíve been living in this house that there was an upside down Triforce on one of the walls! I thought better of waking up my wife to share this startling discovery, and instead started thinking about why this game had me so wound up, unlike so few titles in the last two generations of video games.
Flash to today, and Iíve realized that I spent a majority of my weekend playing Linkís latest adventure - not since the launch month of World of Warcraft had a game made my food and restroom breaks negligible necessities. Somewhere in the sixth generation, video games became a world that moved on without me. I tried in vain to enjoy Super Mario Sunshine. Every Final Fantasy since VII made me want to scream the opening line of Minor Threatís Filler. I played Call of Duty and Halo in a befuddled state, wondering why each respective series was so revered. This is the part of my plight where many gamers are still with me, but then I reveal that I couldn't get into BioShock or Mass Effect either.†
I was a latecomer to the current generation, lured back in after listening to RetroforceGo! and hearing them speak of titles that embraced the retro aesthetic (way back when that was a novel idea). I enjoyed a small handful of titles, mostly on the wii. Still, I always felt like I was attending a hip party without an invitation. Nowhere was this more evident than when I attempted to play Left 4 Dead 2: I would join a game, take a few steps, and then see the voting dialog appear wherein players elected to remove me from play.
At first, I chuckled, assuming they didnít like my gamertag. After an hour or so of failing to play a game for longer than a few minutes, I was sure that video games just didnít want me anymore. I felt like a relic of a bygone era. I didnít want to see achievements; I celebrated my first one by disabling all notifications. I would often get annoyed when friends would appear uninvited in my Borderlands 2 games, derailing whatever plans I had in motion. I couldn't care less if people were able to see my activities. I forced myself through Skyward Sword, cursing every time I had to bowl a bomb or listen to Fi explain the same thing over and over.†
Seriously, was this necessary?
But A Link Between Worlds helped me rekindle that long-extinguished sense of immersion and wonder. Stepping back into the realm of a Link to the Past was like going to visit a ďmassiveĒ mountain from childhood, and instead of it being long-gone or disappointingly small, it was everything you remembered and more. This game is what nostalgia yearns to be Ė memories bearing the magic of age. Not only is there no guiding companion, thereís also no messing about in dungeons learning to use each key item.
Many fans praise the dungeon designs of Zelda where a new item is introduced, and the proceeding areas help the player utilize their new tool, often culminating in a boss fight that does the same. But this concept wore thin fast for me. By the time Twilight Princess came around, dungeons all bore a similar pattern, and boss fights were predictable breezes. With the latest title, a player is able to rent the tools and figure out for themselves how to use each one. Each dungeon and cave then becomes reliant on the more free-form experience of the player. I had no idea what the Tornado Rod was going to do, and I had a blast simply running around and creating vortices.†
Amazingly, A Link Between Worlds doesnít sacrifice story for this freedom. Rather than use cutscenes for thinly veiled handholding, most of dialog actually feels relevant. On the rare occasion that the wall is broken, it truly feels necessary. Remember the library in Linkís Awakening or the Know-It-All Birds in the Oracle titles? This is where guidance should be contained, and the tradition is continued with the hint goggles. I havenít used this helping item once, but Iím glad it is there for those who do need the extra assistance. Rather than going point by point, it would make more sense to simply state that A Link Between Worlds contains everything that made the series alluring, and sheds all the unnecessary fluff and candy-coating it has gained over the years.
I donít seek to argue that thereís something wrong with video games today. Nor is this blog my admitting to being an old curmudgeon who bitches about what the kids listen to on the radio nowadays. But like music, the years make it harder for me to find my way back to a pure gaming experience, where I can simply fall backwards into a gameís world as I would a pile of fluffy leaves on a crisp autumn day. This time around, I didnít have to dig deep into the indie titles or try my luck at something completely random in the hopes of stumbling into the magic. I just had to come home.