The latest adventure starring Link is The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, a sequel to 1991's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This new journey features a new iteration of Link, Princess Zelda, the Master Sword and all of the trappings you've come to expect from a Legend of Zelda game, but with several improvements that makes this perhaps the best top-down Zelda game ever released.
The Legend of Zelda isn't just a video game series for some people. There are legions of fans out there for whom The Legend of Zelda is truly something special that transcends the boundaries of the screens of their televisions and handheld game systems. These are the kinds of people you'll find with Triforces tattooed on their bodies and replica Master Swords and Hylian Shields hanging up somewhere in their homes. And it's also these special people that will go bonkers for A Link Between Worlds. But don't worry, newcomers, because you're in for a treat if this is your first Zelda game.
A Link Between Worlds takes place six generations after A Link to the Past and starts how most Zelda games do, with Link waking up in bed. He's late for work at the blacksmith's and must jet over there before he gets chewed out. Unfortunately, he's not saved by the bell and gets in trouble, tasked with delivering a sword as a punishment to the Captain of Hyrule Castle. He finds the Captain in the Sanctuary, but also runs into the game's villain, a strange wizard named Yuga who is obsessed with beauty and wants to resurrect the evil Ganon. Yuga takes the caretaker of the Sanctuary, a beautiful girl named Seres, and turns her into a painting before whisking her away and knocking out Link. He is saved by a mysterious stranger named Ravio who sets up a shop in Link's home and aids him with several tools throughout his journey.
On this adventure, Link must save the Seven Sages who have been kidnapped from Hyrule and turned into paintings by Yuga. He ends up following the dastardly wizard into an alternate version of Hyrule called Lorule, which is ruled by Princess Hilda and is generally full of danger and misery. It isn't unusual for Zelda games to feature an element of duality and A Link Between Worlds is no different. However bright and happy Hyrule looks and feels, Lorule is the complete opposite. The aesthetics for each world are very distinct and both help convey either a feeling of gladness or a feeling of dread. The sense of danger in Lorule is only heightened by the fact that enemies are even stronger and more complicated than their Hyrulean counterparts.
A majority of your time will be spent in A Link Between Worlds's many dungeons. In previous Zelda games, there would be a set pattern that had you going from one dungeon to the next, gaining tools and abilities that would help you unlock subsequent dungeons. In A Link Between Worlds, most of these tools are available for you to use at the very start thanks to Ravio's shop. As long as you've got the rupees to spare, you'll have access to items like the Bow, Hookshot, Bombs and Boomerang. The difference this time around is that, while you can use each item ad infinitum, each tool's use depletes a charge meter. If the meter is empty, then you can't use the item. The meter refills on its own, so it's all a matter of timing your actions just right.
The meter is also depleted when you activate Link's newest power: the ability to become a 2D drawing and use walls to travel. This new power was inadvertently granted to Link when Yuga tried to permanently turn him into a painting. Fortunately, Link was spared that fate, but retained the ability to stick onto walls. With this power, he can walk around corners and stick to walls where there are no platforms. The ability is a cool new addition, but just keep in mind that you're able to utilize it anywhere there's a flat wall without an obstruction. I'm ashamed to say there were more than a few times I felt stumped in a dungeon after solving what I thought were all of the puzzles, only to neglect using the 2D power to navigate walls and find different areas. So remember: have wall, will travel.
While the tried-and-true Legend of Zelda formula that consists of moving from dungeon to dungeon to unlock abilities, defeat bosses and rescue sages is present, the experience has never been more enjoyable. A Link Between Worlds is a joy to play no matter how well-versed you are with the series. The puzzles this time around are just the right amount of frustrating-yet-solvable ones that you still get an immense sense of accomplishment after figuring one out. Combat is smoother than ever, and Link can effortlessly switch from slashing away at an enemy to using one of the many tools at his disposal.
Speaking of effortless actions, adding the map and inventory to the 3DS's bottom screen makes adventuring a breeze. You can quickly switch out items to map to your X and Y buttons and even stick little pins on the world map as handy waypoints. Getting around is easy thanks to a witch named Irene who thinks it's her destiny to help you. With one ring of her bell, she'll come flying to drop you off at any of the save points you've activated across the map. Just remember not to be fooled by all of the conveniences, since A Link Between Worlds is still pretty challenging.
A Link Between Worlds has everything that longtime fans will love, from callbacks to previous games (Dampe the Gravekeeper makes another appearance), to the familiar layout of the land. But newcomers will also find that the game facilitates their needs and is a great introduction to the famed series. Not only is the gameplay silky smooth and accessible for newbies, but a hint system has been put in place for anyone who gets stuck. And the best part is that the hints don't outright solve puzzles for you, so the challenge is still there.
Simply put, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of the best experiences one can have on the 3DS, or on any platform, for that matter. This is the kind of title that can sell systems and only comes along every once in a while, so make sure you secure your copy now, because you've got two whole worlds to explore!
This review was based on a retail copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS that was purchased for review.