Back when the SNES first came out, it came with a poster tucked inside the box. As any good Nintendo fan would, I hung up that poster in my bedroom. The poster was filled with screens of upcoming games. At the very bottom of that poster was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For months and months, I'd sit and stare at those screens every day after school, imagining the adventure that Nintendo was cooking up. Somehow, some way, the actual game managed to live up to the hype I built up in my head.
Fast-forward to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. When I first saw the game announced, those memories of sitting in my room waiting for the game to release hit me full-force. Alongside that feeling was a bit of nervousness as well. Could Nintendo really do a sequel to A Link to the Past that did the original justice? Would they risk tainting the classic by trying to recapture the magic?
Well I'm done worrying now. If you've been worrying as well, you should stop right now. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds not only manages to live up to A Link to the Past, it also evolves the Zelda series in some very important ways. The future of Zelda is here now, and it took a Link to the Past to make it happen.
ALBW loves to trick the player. When you first start you, you get the vibe that this title might be playing it just a bit too safe. The beginning of this title and ALttP are very similar. You wake up in a bed and you find out that you have a sword to deliver to Hyrule Castle. You'll certainly experience deja vu early on in the game, which might be why Nintendo set out to show just how different this title is quite early. Even better, you'll get right into the action just mere minutes after the game kicks off.
Gone are the days of long-winded intros. While I was never one to complain about Zelda games taking their time to get going, I can understand why people might feel like that. If you're one of those people, be prepared to be absolutely in love with ALBW. It doesn't even take a half-hour to get to your first gameplay/dungeon experience. Hell, it might not even take 15 minutes. This is a game that doesn't beat you about the head with explanations and tests. You learn the reason why you're out for adventure and then jump right in head-first.
That's not to say that this game isn't welcoming to newcomers. ALBW has a very organic way of teaching players how to tackle obstacles and utilize items. You learn by playing, rather than having a exposition walk you through things. There's even an option for those that get stuck often. You'll be able to obtain hint glasses very early on that let you spy ghosts you otherwise can't see. If you're really stuck on a puzzle, just pop on the glasses and you're sure to see a ghost around. They'll help prod you in the right direction. If all that isn't enough, you can always head over to the fortune teller and get an even clearer picture of what you should be doing. Some will surely find that helpful when you have a million options for what to do.
ALBW is absolutely wide-open for you to explore. As has been widely publicized, you'll be able to tackle dungeons in any order you want. Early on in the game you'll have an intro dungeon, then there are two others that you can approach any way you want. After that, the game opens up even more to give you a wealth of dungeons that can be completed in any order. Couple that with the fact that almost all items can be purchased/rented early on and you'll have near limitless options. There's a sense of exploration here that reminds me of the NES days, but ALBW takes things even further.
Don't feel like doing dungeons and just want to wander around the overworld? That's completely up to you. I can't tell you how many hours I spent walking around every nook and cranny to find goodies. Now you don't have to memorize areas you can't access to return to when you have the right item. You can grab your bombs very early on and blow up any suspicious looking spot you happen upon. Bring a bow and arrow to light up a switch and explore the paths that open. Light up torch pedestals with your lantern or fire rod and collect the treasure chests waiting for you. While there will be very few instances where you have to wait until later in the game to gain an item/ability, the large majority of your exploration depends simply on what items you've purchased or rented.
Worried that you won't have the right item to complete a dungeon? That's another element that won't be a problem. Dungeons let you know what item you'll need to tackle the baddies and challenges inside via various means. Sometimes you'll talk to a character near the dungeon, sometimes there are pedestals marking what item you need. What happens if you need an item from the shop, but the dungeon you're at is all the way on the other side of the map? Just ring your bell item that will warp you back to any weather vane you've come across, including the one right next to the shop!
Sure, this all sounds good, but aren't you just tackling new dungeons in the same old area from A Link to the Past? I was worried about that as well, but this isn't the case either. Hyrule has changed a bit since the SNES days. While the layout may be similar, there are all sorts of new nooks and crannies to check out, people to talk to and locations to explore. Things even get more new and varied as the game continues on, but that's getting a bit into spoiler territory. Just know that you shouldn't be worried about already knowing where everything is and what it does. The location may be the same, but the adventure brings in all new challenges.
On top of all that, Link's wall merge ability lets you explore Hyrule in ways you never could on the SNES. When you earn the ability to turn into a wall mural, it will take some time to wrap your head around just how much it opens up. You'll slowly realize that the power will allow you to adventure in all sorts of unique directions and locations. Then when the dungeons come into play, the wall merge will start to blow your mind with how its utilized. There are so many instances where I was blown away by the mechanic, and I was left scratching my head as to how Nintendo's devs came up with such wickedly clever brain teasers.
Nintendo has been saying for months now that they're out to change the Zelda series, and ALBW will be the first real step to show that off. While you may think that's a bit of bunk, you'll most likely be singing a different tune when you sit down with the game. It is amazing to me that taking the base of a game from 20 years ago has helped Nintendo to truly expand what the series offers. This is a truly smart, sharp and wickedly fun Zelda game. While some may say that Skyward Sword suffered from a bit of repetition and bloat, ALBW is trimmed down to an absolutely delicious experience.
In recent months, Nintendo has talked about the Zelda cycle. They believe people need a few years with Zelda games to truly appreciate them, then the tide eventually turns and games that received some criticism early on are seen in a new light. I really don't think this is going to be the case with ALBW. I think many will be hard-pressed to find major faults with this game, if any faults worth complaining about at all. I know a few will complain about the reuse of a location, but if that's the biggest complaint there is about this game, so be it. I felt this Zelda title was one of the most unique, fresh and engaging I've ever played.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is, in my opinion, the best handheld Zelda game by a very long shot. I also believe it to be smarter/leaner than most of the console outings. There aren't any Zelda games I dislike, but I do have my favorites. ALBW is so fantastic that I'm not questioning which game sits atop the series in my mind. I'm very hopeful that you'll have the same feelings. I absolutely cannot wait to hear what you have to say.