I’ve had a bit of a strange relationship with Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, and it’s actually taken me months to complete, despite only clocking in at just under fifteen hours of game time. Whilst initially I was super excited for this brand-spanking-new entry in the series, designed from the ground up for the Nintendo 3DS and taking advantage of the unique features of the console, even going so far as to order the special edition 3DS console with the game preinstalled, upon firing it up and playing it my first impression was lukewarm at best. Eventually, I ran out of steam about half-way through the adventure and the game entered my backlog, the first time this sort of thing had ever happened where a Zelda game is concerned.
Well, here we are in February 2015 and the release of Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D has sparked my “Month of Zelda” and given me an opportunity to jump back in and finish Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds whilst testing out the New 3DS’s super-stable 3D. Surprisingly, the game hooked and reeled me back in instantly and I enjoyed it *far* more than I had done previously, even fulfilling a load of side-quests as well as the main story and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I kind of regret the way that I’ve approached this game, but must come to the conclusion that it simply wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and as a Zelda game it’s going to have that reaction with a lot of people. Destructoid’s review was controversial, giving the game a 6.5/10, but I can now see clearly why this game could be considered one of the more divisive in the long-running series.
Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is actually a direct sequel to Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, taking place hundreds of years later but with many of the same locations and a comfortably similar interpretation of Hyrule. As you can see from the screenshot above, and at the end of this article, the game does a good job of recreating the 2D world from the older Zelda titles but in an updated 3D engine. Splitting critics down the middle, there seemed at the time of release to be no clear consensus as to whether the graphics are good or bad for this game; well in my opinion they’re great. The “squishy” 3D-modelled art style suits this style of Zelda game very well, and the lighting in particular really lends environments a good atmosphere and sense of place. As I mentioned in the introduction, this game was designed from the ground-up for the Nintendo 3DS and it makes excellent use of the stereoscopic 3D feature of the console, with lots of dungeons and temples utilising the 3D perspective in puzzles and to aid with traversal. For instance, sections where you have to drop downwards avoiding things and landing onto platforms are made considerably easier, and more visually exciting, with the 3D enabled and the game really shines here on the New 3DS hardware, benefitting immensely from the super-stable 3D feature.
The story of Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds concerns itself with the split triforce from Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and an evil sorcerer called Yuga who is trying to reconnect them all in order to summon power to himself and rule the kingdom of Hyrule. In order to do this he uses his magic to turn both Zelda and Link into paintings and breaks the barrier between the world of light and his own twisted dark realm of Lorule, the antithesis of Zelda’s kingdom. However, through the use of a magic item, given to him by the bunny-suited character Rovio, Link manages to control this painting spell and can henceforth actively flatten himself onto walls. Using this new ability Link is able to literally slip through the cracks in reality and the game takes place simultaneously between the two worlds of Hyrule and Lorule, with much of the puzzles and routes through the overworld relying on going back and forth between the two realms. Aside from Rovio, who is quite an interesting new character for the Zelda series (especially by the very end of the narrative), there really aren’t any other good characters in the game and generally speaking the plot is not very elaborate or deep. It’s there simply to facilitate the gameplay and Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is quite content to let you wander about in a non-linear fashion through the game, experiencing it all at your own pace.
Nintendo have tried to expand upon this freedom to explore even further by radically overhauling the way that the gadgets and temples work in this game, compared to the traditional route offered by other games in the series. This is both good and bad. As a huge fan of the Zelda formula, I had absolutely no problem with the classic “find a temple, explore until roughly half-way, discover a new gadget, this unlocks the last half of the temple, beat the boss with new gadget” pattern; especially since once you had the new gadget it would then be in use for the rest of the game, with each new temple building on the skills and techniques of the last. That is how some of the most complex and deviously designed temples have worked in the past! Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds tries to do away with this and gives you the option of renting every gadget and tool almost from the very start of the game.
The result is twofold, firstly it means that the game is now *very* open and non-linear and the temples can be tackled in any order, depending on which ones are available at that stage in the game’s story. Many will see this as a very good thing, especially people used to modern open-world fantasy RPGs. However, the secondary effect is that it makes temples a lot less exciting and also seemingly a hell of a lot easier, as the temples and dungeons of this Zelda fly by at breakneck speed, and offer only the mildest of challenges despite still being quite clever in their design. Personally, I’m not a fan of this new system and would much rather get a slow-feed of new gizmos and skills to learn, that slowly build on top of each other until it all comes naturally. Couple this with the basic combat of a 2D Zelda and you have a very fast, loose, and short game that clocks in at around 15 hours – about half the time I would normally spend on a Zelda title. This is obviously still a decent length though, especially for a handheld title, so don’t take it as a massive negative.
Now, this whole review needs to be under one important caveat: I’ve never played Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. I know lots of people who swear blind that game is the pinnacle of the Zelda series, and many of these people *love* Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, putting it right up there in at least the top tier of titles in the series. I never owned a Super Nintendo console, and despite having the older game downloaded onto my WiiU virtual console, I’ve just not gotten around to playing it yet. Still, of the Zelda games I have played, including some of the older 2D ones like Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, I still consider the 3D games to be the very best of the bunch with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D being my absolute favourite. And that’s where I’m approaching this review from, as for me Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds simply wasn’t what I was looking for in a Zelda game and despite it being an absolutely great videogame, it will end up being my lowest rated entry in the long-running franchise.
I played, I was disappointed, I left, I returned and played some more… and ended up having a blast with this great game. Still, the changes made to the Zelda formula are not my cup of tea and I hope that future titles don’t use the blueprint of Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds and instead find other way to innovate. For many though, this may well be the breath of fresh air they are looking for, albeit a very easy and short-lived one.