The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)
I have this frankly unnerving propensity for doing things the complete opposite way of how they really should be done. Manoeuvre, signal, mirror, that’s my motto behind the wheel. I tend to put the milk in before the sugar, which some tea authorities I know inform me is unfathomably wrong. And I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried to slip some baggy tracksuit bottoms down past my inevitably Nike-runnered feet.
So it proved to be the case again when a new handheld Zelda sequel, directly modelled on the best of the series in the Super Nintendo’s A Link to the Past, was announced. I should have had a penile accident, the good kind, right there and then. Instead I felt a combination of emotions, all of them negative. Disbelief! Panic! Fear!
When I saw Link trundling around the little screen, I felt sure that we’d have to condescend to exclusively using the stylus again to move the throaty bugger around – bad memories of the ill-mannered DS games. Not so. And when we E3 watchers clocked the green-garbed hero depleting a special item meter through the use of rented items, we feared that Zelda had taken another radical shift downwards from the dismal Skyward Sword. Not so either. Finally, when we saw Link’s latest gimmick, melding into the walls, we all… well, probably I was the only one to snort derisively (a perfect way to mask my fear).
But I ought to have had more faith in the finished product. What we’ve got is a highly polished Zelda love letter that starts from A Link to the Past’s overworld, graphics and sounds and goes from there. It takes a little bit from many other games in the series – indeed, one of the very first references you see is Majora’s Mask hanging on Link’s wall. A possible reference to an upcoming Majora’s Mask 3DS? Perhaps, but starting your latest Zelda outing off with a relic from that game? Now that’s brazen. That is “let’s let fat Barry in goal take this penalty even though we’re two goals down and double biology is on in 5 minutes” kind of brazen. You do an act like that, you better have the game to back it up.
And A Link Between Worlds definitely walks the walk. I’ve played the SNES precursor so many times I could probably tell you how the designers took their sake and what songs they liked to sing at the karaoke of a casual Friday, if such a thing was allowed in glorious Nippon. I was afraid, therefore, that I’d have moreorless played this game already, that this game would be all graphics and gimmicks, no real new tricks.
The changed flow of the game and the completely overhauled dungeons put paid to my silly cynical theory. The overworld has just enough little edits to make it look fresh (and keep in mind, I can safely say with no hint of exaggeration that I can find my way around Hyrule better than I can find my way around my home town), and the dungeons are excellent – the old stuff. The melding into the walls is something new and exciting, and you can get your head around it very quickly. It’s fun to test your range with this skill, and see what little hideaways and cubbyholes you can get yourself into.
Renting items from a shifty squatter that literally steals your home is the other unique selling point of the game. It does mean you can get a large percentage of the items early doors, resulting in there being no dungeon items as such – this does take away from that thrilling Zelda dynamic of slowly but surely augmenting your abilities through finding new items and being able to go to new places with them (that is thrilling, isn’t it?). But it’s not so bad, because there’s still plenty of items out there for you to discover. Plus, the rentable items are upgradeable! Isn’t that such a wonderful word? Say it: upgradable. There’s 100 wee tentacled creatures to find as well, and it’s the rescue of these lads that grants you item upgrades – far more of an incentive to find them than, say, Gold Skulltulas.
Really, Link Tween Worlds seems to nail that trait that its originator and Ocarina of Time in particular both possess: that at any given time, there’s tons of stuff to do. And it certainly behooves you to run up and down Hyrule, or its Dark World variant (now called Lorule), looking for new nooks and crannies – even if only because the sights along the way are always pretty. The game really does look fabulous in motion, with graphics that you’d have to call ‘gorgeous’, maybe even as good as ‘juicy’. When a Lynel quite literally knocked me for six hearts on Hero Mode, drawing a loyal fairy from one of my trés chère bottles, I wasn’t even angry – I simply enjoyed the enemy’s fire in motion a little too much.
If you still lap up a game as you die a grisly death and lose progress, you know you’ve got yourself a winner. Even moreso if you find yourself actually becoming furious and exasperated at these now commonplace reminders that you’ve been playing the game too long and that you should stop soon, silly American, or risk eye AIDS. What is with these reminders? Probably put in to appease some hippy Japanese political party. Thanks, but I’d rather stay and admire the scenery if it’s all the same to you, Nintendo.
3D display, of course, is a heavily touted feature of this console, and of course this game makes use of it, debuting before the disappointingly open-plan 2DS. But I seem to treat the idea of 3D imagery in the same teste-quivering way as I treat nuclear armaments and their use: fascinating to talk about for a while, and a real technological marvel in its own right, but too much idle thought or discussion on the subject and I begin to become very scared by it all. I can’t help it. My brain rejects it and I get nervous. It’s all just a little bit too much for my cute little head. And for this reason, I prefered to play through this the way I’ve played other 3DS games – as flat-as-a-pancake, with only the occasional sheepish flick of the 3D dial to show doubting Thomases that my hearts display was indeed still hanging a layer above the grassy knolls of Hyrule.
I’m grateful to Nintendo for implementing this unique feature, and without the use of noncy glasses to boot. But if I wanted to make my eyes bleed through sheer graphical power, I’d play the blisteringly fast F-Zero 3DS. Oh, wait! That’ll be why I haven’t bought the console. But the good news, and this applies even to proud misers like me, is that A Link Between Worlds is the latest addition to what’s now become a pretty impressive line of ‘apps’ for the console. Faults are very few and far between – bar some ropey collision detection at times and the unfair advantage that elevation gives to your enemies (and you’ll see what I mean if you try to take on soldiers on a flight of stairs), there’s nothing to really moan about.
Really, the acid test for this one was whether it could dance to the tune of Link to the Past and follow its mentor’s cues, while adding its own little touch of sexy samba. This game fulfils both tasks, with enough new tricks, throwbacks and ditties to wash the bad taste of Skyward Sword out of our mouths. Grab this today – it’s pure unmissable.
06 July 2014