The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is simply one of the best Zelda games in many years. With Skyward Sword before it and now this one, Nintendo has gone 2 for 2 with awesome Zelda games. Sure the game does have some aspects I wasn’t particularly fond of, but these are few and far between. All in all, it’s still an amazing game and one you need to play if you’re a Zelda fan or even just a fan of action-adventure games. Is it worth picking up a 3DS for on its own? I’d say yes, especially if you’re a Zelda fan. But you won’t have to worry about a lack of games either way, because after the slow start in the launch window, the 3DS has really picked up steam the past year or two and this latest entry in the Zelda series is another great game for Nintendo’s handheld.
Graphics – The graphics in Zelda: ALBW are not super impressive in my opinion, but that is not what most people play Zelda games for anyways. The 3D effects can make it difficult to get a good view of the action at times, but you just have to re-focus your eyes to adjust to it. Of course you can always turn the 3D off, but that would deprive you from the full experience of the game, though admittedly, ALBW doesn’t use the 3D that much. It’s mainly used for hopping down from ledges, from floors above to lower floors in dungeons, and other similar situations. I was surprised that it wasn’t implemented much at all in the boss fights. The style is very reminiscent of Link to the Past on the SNES, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, as that was one of the best looking SNES games for its time. ALBW may lack in blow away graphics, but what is there gets the job and serves its purpose. 6/10
Sound/Music – Music in ALBW is a mix of classic Zelda themes with some new ones thrown in. Some are simply backwards versions of existing themes. All-in-all, the music is nice and fits the game well. Sound effects are pretty much the standard Zelda variety, nothing really that exciting in this area, but that’s not to say they’re bad, because they’re not. 8/10
Gameplay – I think most Zelda fans would agree that gameplay is where the series has always shined and that is no different with ALBW. While the game takes place in the same world as Link to the Past, there’s quite a few changes. For example, once you get to Lorule, you can’t just wander around anywhere you want. You have to use the fast travel option or go back to Hyrule to move to a different area. This was not the case in LTTP’s Dark World. One of the biggest changes in this entry in the series is that you now can rent (and later buy) nearly all of the items in the game from practically the very beginning of the game. But there’s a catch. If you game over while renting an item, you lose that item back to the shop and have to re-rent it. Fortunately you’re later able to buy the items outright and that means they stay with you even through death. It’s an interesting change and means you can tackle the game pretty much however you want. That’s another switch on the traditional Zelda formula. Normally you’d have to complete dungeons in a linear fashion, but in ALBW you can do them in any order so long as you have the required item rented or bought from the shop. There’s also special items found only in the dungeons which are not necessarily required to complete the game, but will help you out a lot along the way. Plus you’ll need the Titan’s Mitt if you want to get 100% of the collectibles found in the game.
Puzzles in ALBW are a mix of the standard Zelda type of puzzle, plus some new ideas involving use of the 3D mechanic as well as the new painting mechanic. In some parts you’ll have to use the Tornado Rod to elevate Link to higher areas. And you’ll have to merge into a painting in many parts of the game, in the overworld and in dungeons in order to progress. This is also used for certain collectibles. Another thing which I think is new is found in certain dungeons where you come to a room with water or the like and a raft that you normally can’t use besides standing on it. But if you use the hookshot, you can propel yourself forwards on the raft. Nintendo also changed how item upgrades work in ALBW versus how they did in LTTP. Previously in LTTP you had to go to the correct Great Fairy and the Blacksmith to upgrade items. In ALBW, you have to find the collectible critter known as a Maiamai (little octopus/shellfish things) and turn them into their mother to unlock item upgrades. You also have to own the item, not just have it rented. The sword is still upgradeable at the Blacksmith like in LTTP, but instead of finding a missing blacksmith, you have to find something called Master Ore and you need 4 of them to get both upgrades. Another thing which I thought was a nice touch was the inclusion of the Sacred Realm, which is the first time as far as I know that the uncorrupted form of it has ever been playable (albeit briefly). The Dark World was the fomer Sacred Realm (then called the Golden Land) in LTTP, but we never got to experience the Sacred Realm after saving Hyrule. It’d be cool if this is expanded upon further in another entry in the series as it is one of the few things that has not really been done much at all thus far. One thing I didn’t like was that you are given one of the Pendants. I didn’t like the similar part of Twilight Princess where you’re given a piece of the broken mirror, and I don’t like this either. Why? Because I feel like it should be acquired from a dungeon like the rest. You’re not just given a piece of the Triforce in Zelda on NES. You’re not given a Pendant or Crystal in LTTP. You’re not given a medallion in OOT. And so forth. 9/10
Story – Another big selling point of a Zelda game is the story. As you would expect, the story in ALBW is somewhat similar to the one in LTTP, but does have a few differences. While in LTTP, you rescued maidens trapped in crystals, in ALBW, you rescue sages (like in OOT and TWW) from paintings. The villain this time around is a sorcerer named Yuga. He plays a role somewhat similar to Agahnim in LTTP, but he is not the only villain found in ALBW. I won’t spoil it here, but you might not see it coming initially unless you were paying close attention. Yuga initially wants to obtain the full Triforce for a somewhat noble reason, but later intends to use it to obtain power and beauty. The same reasoning for why he wants to resurrect Ganon. Link has to rescue the Sages trapped in the paintings by Yuga and put a stop to his evil plan and save Hyrule & Lorule. 7/10
Challenge – While there were parts of ALBW where I got stuck, that was mostly due to my not remembering to try to use the painting ability, which as I mentioned earlier, is used frequently in the game. I think this is because having played just about every Zelda game there is, I’m used to the concept that when you’re stuck it usually means you are missing an item you need to progress. That does happen in ALBW but not as often as you can rent everything right away once you have enough rupees. In ALBW it can also mean you need to use the painting ability. Other than that though, the enemies don’t provide too much of a challenge. There are a few like the Lynels for example that are tough, but once you figure out the trick to defeating them (close, quick attacks), even they are no match for Link. One of the hardest parts of the game is the advanced version of the Treacherous Tower, but this not required in order to complete the game. And this is only tough because you’re facing lots of enemies in succession with little to no recovery items. I took 3 blue potions and 2 fairies and used all of them. Even with all of that, I never got a game over screen in ALBW. I did die a few times, but being a Zelda pro, I know to always carry fairies in bottles to be resurrected and thus kept the record intact. There’s also Hero Mode unlocked once you beat the game which a harder difficulty, but this review is not covering that part of the game since it’s basically more of the same game, just a little more difficult. 5/10
Replay Value – ALBW offers up several things to contribute to replay value. Of course there’s Hero Mode which I just mentioned, if that sort of thing interests you. You don’t seem to get much of a reward from it, so I’m not sure it’s really worth it in my opinion. There’s also several mini-games in ALBW, like the Cucco one, the Tower, Rupee Rush, and more. And of course there’s plenty of Pieces of Heart to find like in most Zelda games. There’s also the Maiamais I mentioned earlier. Though all of that being said, I found about 2/3rds of the Maiamais in my initial play through before I started going out of my way to find them (to get all the item upgrades) and all but about 7 or 8 heart pieces. And that is without really trying to find them, so you might not get much replay value out of that. Nintendo also incorporated a pseudo multiplayer mode utilizing SteetPass. When you get a StreetPass match, you get to fight a Shadow Link version of that a player, though they are controlled by the game’s AI and not the player themselves. You can collect a bounty for defeating each one, but this doesn’t seem to serve much purpose other than to serve as a sort of high score feature. 6/10
Fun Factor – ALBW is one of the best Zelda games in recent memory in my opinion. It may have some flaws, but overall, it’s a very fun game and highly recommended you check it out even if you don’t currently own a 3DS. If you get the special Zelda-themed edition of the 3DS XL, it comes with a free eShop download code for the game, so that’s a good option if you don’t already own the handheld. While the world may be the same as in LTTP, even if you’re a pro at LTTP, you’ll find lots to love in ALBW and will appreciate the nods to the game’s inspiration and pseudo-prequel. 9/10
Buy It Or Not? – Really, if you’re even a minor Zelda fan, there’s no reason not to buy this game unless you already own it. Do yourself a favor and buy it, I doubt you’ll regret it. It is simply one of the best Zelda games in a while and it’s really close to pushing into my Top 5 Zelda Games, though I’d place it just below Wind Waker and Skyward Sword. The game is available on the eShop as a digital purchase at a variety of retailers. You can also find it Amazon by clicking this affiliate link. Buy!