We're in the same world (albeit years later) as SNES adventure A Link to the Past. The short time jump (in comparison to the franchise's era-spanning chronology) means Nintendo can not only cash in on nostalgia for the 90s classic, but gracefully side-step the fact that that game's Hyrule overworld is replicated almost exactly here. If you've played the SNES original, or its many re-releases over the years, you'll know how to get to the likes of Hyrule Castle, Lake Hylia or the Lost Woods without even looking at the bottom screen's map.
So at first glance, the cynic inside will see the game's design as an easy way to rebrand what is essentially an update of an old game into something new. But upon exploring further, you discover a lot has changed in Hyrule in the intervening years. The geography's not exactly the same, while you'll quickly stumble over new secrets, residents, mini-games and more as you scoot around familiar territory. Dismissal turns into a grudging respect at what Nintendo have achieved; the alterations are consistent with the passage of time that'd have occured - all's familiar, but new.
However A Link Between Worlds is far from the epilogue that Wind Waker was to the Ocarina of Time, with its own central villain (that proves Nintendo can create compelling antagonists in the Zelda world other than Ganon) and its own twist on the dual worlds that was one of the SNES title's main motifs - here Hyrule overlaps with Lorule, an alternate version of Link's world in which you'll spend a good portion of the main quest travelling through. The structure may follow the franchise's usual template - a brief three-pronged quest followed directly by a longer, more epic one - but your adventures will still throw up surprises.
Transferal between the two worlds involves a new ability bestowed on Link early on, letting him merge into walls and other flat surfaces as a 2D painting. It's a cute trick that plays a part in solving the game's many puzzles, but refreshingly doesn't form the core of besting the game's multiple dungeons.
Those are still a mix of puzzles, correct weapon use, boss fights and exploration. Subtle but central to their design is an increased emphasis on verticality; floors will overlap, you'll step out of darkened rooms onto exterior ledges, which will give way to massive drops. Slope gradients will suggest clues for room solutions. The game retains the top-down aspect of its ancestor, but makes fantastic use of 3D to contrast the different geography of dungeons and overworld.
As with Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo know best how to use the technology that many now discard as redundant. Yes, you can play happily with the 3D switched off, but it adds so much more to the immersion and dungeon solving if you've got it on.
Equally the game's music is fantastic. The atmosphere it lends to everything you do, everything you see in the game cannot be overstated; the score compensates for the regression back to the top-down viewpoint. this Hyrule feels no less grandiose as a result - though with time's passing and years of experiencing expansive open worlds since A Link to the Past, the world feels smaller as a result. Almost bite-sized. Not a problem, in fact a benefit, given the format of choice. You still have to head to the nearest weather vane if you want to save your game, but they're generously dotted around the map. Dungeons can easily be clocked in a lunch hour if you know your Zelda mechanics and puzzles.
One of the biggest changes is also the one we have the most gripe with. Weapons are no longer hidden within dungeons, but have to be rented from a salesman who sets up shop in your home early on. Die, and the items are returned to him, meaning you have to stop a dungeon crawl, exit, travel back to your home, and pick them up again (providing you've got the cash to rent them).
Even if Hyrule's chests and grass seem festooned with cash now (eventually you can buy equipment outright, but it's a heavenly sum) to counter this and there's a quick travel option to get you from door to door quickly, it's a bizarre, awkward system. Maybe it was built to give adventuring a sense of danger - but its really a fear of having to backtrack and the tedium that comes with it.
Even if eventually you're walking out of dungeons with pockets full of Rupees, you've only got enough to purchase one item at a time, and rent one or two more. As you don't know what particular equipment is needed for dungeons, you're forced to make your way to the dungeon opening, check the relevant icon at the door, travel back to your home, pick up the weapon needed, and return. All it does is kill momentum and enjoyment of slowly unearthing all of the world's secrets.
Luckily this issue is heavily outweighed by what else is on offer. Yes, A Link Between Worlds is an experience dipped heavily in nostalgia. It offers less surprises to the franchise formula than the likes of Super Mario 3D World does for the Mario series. But it's the strongest entry in the top-down branch of the series since, well, A Link to the Past.
The rental service is a bothersome problem. But we can live with it. And given everything else you'll delight in experiencing? So can you.
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