A Link Between Worlds immediately tugs at the heart strings of my youth as Link is once again roused from his warm bed and soon finds his world quickly moving beyond the mundane and into high adventure. After reporting to work and being given the task of delivering a soldier's sword, all hell breaks loose in Hyrule. Yuga, a powerful mage, transforms a young maiden into a portrait. Link then reports the event to Princess Zelda, only to be defeated by Yuga, and lose the Princess to the same foul magic. From here, the adventure grows in scope as Link has to gather two pendants, rescue the seven sages and restore order to the kingdom.
The graphics are charming, colorful and bright. The graphics aren't the super high resolution models of The Last of Us as far as realism go, but due to the design choices, A Link Between Worlds will still look just as fantastic in 20 years, while the The Last of Us will not age nearly as well. The game is heavily inspired by A Link to the Past, but every frame has that extra sizzle. Every character has a distinct look and way of moving that adds to the appeal. Link truly does look like an incorrigible youth as he explores the world. Ghostly beings appear mischievous as they fade in and out, launching colorful magic attacks. The bosses are exceptional as always, with fantastic design that promotes their immense size and power. The animations are great, especially on the floating hand boss in the Skull Woods dungeon.
The forest areas of Hyrule are particularly pleasant with vibrant greens, while the use of purple and shadow on the ramparts of Lorule Castle exude oppression and gloom. The 3D effect is excellent as usual with Nintendo titles. The 3D element layers each area and at times induced a sense of vertigo. The score is an arrangement of the classic themes used throughout the series. Much like Star Wars, it just wouldn't seem like a Zelda game without the wonderful pieces we have grown familiar with. The atmosphere of each area, spurred by the combination of sound, music and graphic design, is a stunning achievement for a game utilizing a top down view. In a world of three dimensional shooters and action games, few ever come close to achieving the level of immersion you will find here.
Another hallmark of the series is the tight control. Link can swing his sword almost as fast as you can hit the attack button. Direction changes are snappy, which is good considering you get swarmed by enemies on many occasions. The touch controls didn't really seem necessary, but were nice as an option. Another great touch is the camera controls tied to the D-pad. If you press any of the 8 basic directions, the view extends outward, giving a better look at your surroundings.
The story does cover some familiar territory with Link's goal of collecting magical objects and trying to save Hyrule, but it does offer some great twists and turns and a fresh take on a few different elements. Yuga is an egotistical and effective antagonist. His motivation to revive Ganon is misguided and foolhardy, but he is consumed by his desire for power. Princess Hilda is another nice addition and she is also consumed by her motivating factor. Ravio is comical, provides you with items and is a key component of the overall story.
While all of the above are certainly a cut above the vast majority of other video games, all of it would be for naught without the masterful game play A Link Between Worlds provides. The ability to turn into a living portrait is a great new twist, and allows for a lot of freedom of movement and is instrumental in figuring out how to solve puzzles and proceed through the dungeons. Link can only move left or right and must find a lower or higher platform in his Hyrulian form to reach the heights and depths of the world. This ability is also used to travel to Lorule, a gloomy alternate version of Hyrule. You do so by finding rifts that allow you to travel back and forth, but only as a portrait. The mechanic is also only required exclusively in one boss battle and helps make for a memorable and epic experience. The animation and game play of this final moment is inspiring and innovative and gives the game one final breath of fresh air as it plays out.
The inclusion of Ravio, an item merchant who sets up shop in Link's house, gives a welcome change to the Zelda dungeon formula. You can pretty much tackle the dungeons in any order you choose so long as you rent the available items from Ravio that will help you complete each one. The caveat is if you fall in battle you will have to journey back and rent the item again. Thankfully, Nintendo saw fit to substantially increase the amount of rupees available and didn't limit how many you can carry. Quick travel is definitely a welcome addition. Link can ring a bell and summon a young witch to warp him to any weather vane he has previously visited. Giving Link a rechargeable magic meter was a great decision, and really makes the arsenal feel more useful across all of the dungeons rather than just a singular one. Bombs and arrows are also tied to the magic meter and is another refreshing change.
The dungeons are as well thought out as ever, but each one appears to be designed with shorter completion times in mind, which is a welcome change after the size of some of the areas in Twilight Princess. The puzzles are as well polished and intuitive as ever. I found myself enjoying each one and was elated when I finally realized the solution to several of the less obvious ones. One in particular involved going to different floors and removing obstacles in order to allow light to shine down on a series of switches that allowed access to the boss room. Removing obstacles required bombs, the flame rod and a little bit of three dimensional thinking. It made solving the puzzle a fun adventure.
A Link Between Worlds is one of those rare(read: not Nintendo) games that transcend age and technology. The combat is fun and engaging. The puzzles are not too hard, but are very effective in making you think and consider your inventory and environment. The art design and music are at the height of the Nintendo standard and the game play is nothing short of genius. It can't be stressed enough how well done, fun and innovative the living portrait power can be. It's increased length and game play mechanics places it one very miniscule step above A Link to the Past. In comparison to Ocarina of Time 3D , it stands shoulder to shoulder(alongside ALttP also) at the top of the gaming world as one of the best gaming experiences of all time.