If the rumours are true then the next Wii U Zelda game is heading in a more open world format, if this is the case then Link Between Worlds could be considered an experiment. It’s by far the most open of Zelda games yet, while the majority in the series shepherd you from one area to the next, only opening the next environment when you’ve discovered the correct equipment, Link Between Worlds lets you go anywhere. Once all the dungeons have been marked on your map it’s up to you where you head first, and it’s definitely the game’s greatest strength.
While the openness is unfamiliar territory, Nintendo have coupled this with the familiarity of Link to the Past, possibly the series’ most beloved entry. Set in the same world as LTTP, the map is largely identical. Link’s house is located in the centre; the mountains are to the north, forest to the west and so forth. So if you’ve played LTTP you’ll know exactly where to go in Hyrule. The other world of Lorule though? Not so much.
The game’s key mechanic is the ability to blend with the wall, turning yourself into a living painting and being able to travel along the walls surface. This also being used to travel through ominous looking gaps in the wall that lead to the other world of LoRule. A world that, as the name suggests is a little more depressing than the vibrant colours of Hyrule. In this land ruled by Princess Hilda it’s your job to stop Yuga and rescue the seven sages who have been trapped inside paintings. This is the where the openness of Link Between Worlds comes into play.
Once you’re told where the Sages are being held each one is marked on your map. And where you go next is completely up to you. However each dungeon will require the use of a specific item (much like Zelda’s of old), this is handled by Rovio, a guy who sets up shop in your house allowing you to rent or (at a later time) buy items. If the item is rented then when you die each item will be returned to Rovio, however, despite getting killed a few times this never really had much of an issue considering rupees are absolutely everywhere. Chests containing a hundred rupees became a common occurrence in most dungeons. There were so many that we just ended up renting every item right at the start, but then this could be preferred to constantly chopping down grass to scavenge one rupee a piece. Another good point about this system is that you have a magic bar next to your health, this depletes once an item is used, but recharges after a short while. This means no more hunting in pots for bombs or arrows; everything uses this bar, including the new painting mechanic.
While the world is largely the same as LTTP, the dungeons are anything but the same. Nintendo have certainly excelled at using the 3D technology to complement the gameplay in such a unique way. So in Link Between Worlds a lot of the dungeons are vertical in nature. Many dungeons have multiple floors and more often than not you’re able to see down to the floor below. With the 3D fully cranked up it looks great and really adds to the tension when you’re slowly moving across thin platforms or being forced to jump down and land on a moving platform. Looking at screenshots really doesn’t do the game justice; it’s one of those games that has to be seen running on the system to really appreciate it.
On the whole, the dungeons are some of the best seen in the Zelda series. Puzzles mix some of the olden days Zelda tricks (lighting torches, pushing blocks onto switches etc.) and the new, the ability to walk along walls courtesy of the new painting mechanic. As mentioned pressing A against the wall allows Link to blend with the wall and walk along it. This used to full effect as a way to reach previously unreachable ledges. It’s all very much a master class in design.
As a game that is steeped in nostalgia it’s no surprise that on top of the same world as Link to the Past, it uses a lot of the same music and jingles. It’s clear as soon as you start the game and are re-introduced to the same menu music from LTTP. From there it uses largely the same music, now with a fuller, orchestral sound that will make all Zelda fans grin like a loon.
Link Between Worlds ran the risk of being nothing more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, revisiting one of the most beloved games in the series, thankfully Nintendo have manage to couple the LTTP memories with some of the best, more unique design seen in the Zelda series in quite a while. If the more handholding nature of recent Zelda games has dampened your enjoyment then the open world nature of Link Between Worlds will be a blessing. In a holiday season dominated with next-gen talk, Nintendo have come out and shown that resolution and graphical power mean nothing without games. And that’s what this is, a damn great game.