Fittingly for a game built around themes of duality, A Link Between Worlds is simultaneously the most original and familiar Zelda entry in years.
The Zelda games, like many of Nintendo’s beloved franchises, are almost sacrosanct in many players’ eyes. To suggest that flaws may exist within them is to all but place your head on the block and direct the axeman to at least be quick about it. Yet for a quarter of a century and counting, each entry has usually repeated the same formula – guide Link through dungeon, find item, defeat boss, move to next dungeon, repeat, destroy arch-fiend Ganon.
While this instalment doesn’t shatter the paradigm – Link is called on to save the world once again, travelling between the beautiful kingdom of Hyrule and its shadowy twin Lorule to rescue the Seven Sages and Princess Zelda – the first and boldest thing it does is abandon the staid, predictable progression. All of the key items and weapons that allow successful navigation of the realms and their perils are available early on, rendering the game a far more open and enjoyable experience. Each dungeon can be tackled at your leisure, or ignored entirely while you pursue side quests.
Whichever approach you choose, the design and structure of the world is fantastic, with clever tricks and puzzles meticulously woven into every location. Link’s new ability to turn into a two-dimensional painting adds a fresh way of thinking about challenges too, as seemingly inaccessible areas may be reached or barriers slipped though simply by flattening the impish hero against a wall.
However, as a rare direct sequel within the saga (to the SNES epic A Link To The Past, specifically) it also suffers from heaps of repetition. Certain bosses return, and are defeated in exactly the same manner as in older games – a handful even show up multiple times within this game alone. The script also feels derivative of its predecessors, more for samey jokes and side characters than for the expected cycle of reincarnation and destiny that marks Link’s adventures. Adopting the same top-down style as its forebear works well for the controls of the 3DS, but mimicking the 16-bit layout with tiny 3D models is less successful. With neither the sharp, impressive detail of Twilight Princess or the charming, impressionistic style of Wind Waker, A Link Between Worlds simply looks bland.
Despite the visual imperfections and the moments where returning players will feel they’ve done this all before, there’s a marvellous adventure here. A fine addition to the wider Zelda lore.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen