When Hyrule The World
Few games owe so much to tradition as Zelda games do. These are sweet-natured adventure stories, endlessly retold, in which the plucky triumph over the diabolical, in which magical swords meet villainous flesh, and in which a hero in green dashes around collecting the same handful of sacred gadgets he'll need to save his kingdom.
In some ways, A Link Between Worlds is the most predictable airing of the Zelda template yet seen - it even builds upon the map of one of the very first instalments. Viewed from a different angle, though, it's willing to rewrite the series' cherished rules in surprising ways. This is the strangest Zelda in years, then. Luckily, it's also brilliant fun in its own right.
Link's latest 3DS adventure sees Hyrule threatened by a new menace - a devious weirdo who wants to trap the land's seven sages in paintings and raise bad old Ganon from his restless slumber. With the princess in peril, you're the only person who can save the day - and you've got a brand new power to play with, too. Infected with the villain's strange magic, Link can now turn himself into a painting whenever he wishes, switching from three dimensions to two at will and sticking to walls when the ground gives out.
This simple mechanic allows for some brilliant dungeons - clever and compact and perfectly designed for a bus ride or two. There are loads of them as well, a whole bright sweep of puzzle-filled grottoes and deadly tombs, in fact, and they make the most of Link's new ability to switch dimensions, whether you're being asked to stealth your way past guards or navigate steep drops.
You'll also be able to use some familiar dungeon items, of course. It wouldn't be Zelda without the boomerang or the hookshot turning up sooner or later. This time, though, you don't pick up most of your kit on the road - you rent it from a wily shopkeeper who's set up stall in your house. Luckily, his rates aren't particularly high, and you can eventually buy items outright instead of taking them on loan. The whole thing's a bit strange at first, perhaps, but it allows you to approach most of the game's dungeons in any order you'd like - and even switch between having two or three on the go at once.
Links To The Past
Outside of the dungeons, the game's sometimes a little less exciting. A Link Between Worlds takes its map of Hyrule straight from the SNES classic A Link to the Past - it even borrows dungeon names and a handful of bosses, too. At times, the feeling of déjà vu can be a bit strong even for a Zelda game. And, as with A Link to the Past, you can switch between two different dimensions, each with their own quirks and puzzles, but it's a lot less complex and satisfying than it used to be, and it's also delivered with a sheeny, rather cheap looking 3D art style that can be hard to love.
Such disappointments are still fairly minor, though, compared to the hours of adventuring you can have down in those dungeons. Avoiding many of the touchscreen tricks from most previous handheld Zeldas of the last few years, A Link Between Worlds feels fresh and pleasantly straightforward, and it's still got that elusive Zelda magic to it as you crack a puzzle that's been bugging you for an hour, find a missing bottle that will allow you to carry more potions, or finish off a nasty boss with a flash of the Master Sword.
And it's worth restating that the whole thing's been perfectly tuned to play it bite-size chunks, whether it's the dungeon designs that make sure you're never too far from an exit, or a new checkpointing system that allows you to travel instantly between any weather vane's you've unlocked - by hitching a ride from a spoilt witch and her rickety broomstick.
It's the best Zelda of both worlds, then - offering a nostalgic version of Hyrule for you to re-explore after twenty years away, while simultaneously laying on some ingenious tweaks that ensure you have more freedom than ever before to tackle your adventure the way you want to. You could wish for a slightly classier art style perhaps - the pixel art of A Link to the Past still looks brilliant, as it happens - but you couldn't ask for more heart and imagination where it really matters. Nintendo's done it again.
GAME's Verdict - 8/10
- Great dungeons
- Loads of nostalgia
- Real freedom of approach
- The art's a bit naff
- Re-used bosses
- Dimension-hopping feels a bit wasted.