While we love the series and it is easy to get carried away with a new title in the franchise, because we have the affinity for the characters and story, we’re very hard on new Zelda titles. We know how good they can be and what we, as gamers, deserve. Which is why we’re happy to say we were also thrilled with what we saw.
The Nintendo DS Zelda games were alright, but they weren’t the up the same par that other handheld Zeldas lived up to. Older games in the series like Link’s Awakening and, of course, A Link to the Past, hold up because they were so well crafted all those decades ago that they’ve remained playable, beautiful, fun games.
A Link Between Worlds seems to fall into that latter category, a conclusion we’ve reached despite having only played two small areas of the game. We got to try out a multi-tiered dungeon area as well as a fielded area in the overworld. The game plays exactly as we remember the original did back in 1991, but everything else about A Link Between Worlds is brand new.
The art style brings back some of the A Link to the Past imagery, but doesn’t copy any of the direct assets. A Link Between Worlds is very much a new game, complete with new graphics, gameplay, and audio. The visuals are really beautiful, and even on the small screen of a 3DS, when Link is jumping, there’s a clear facial animation and attention to detail usually looked over in other handheld games. Link is rendered as a full 3D model, even given the game’s top-down perspective on the action. It isn’t the same 3D world as Ocarina of Time 3D but it isn’t supposed to be; Nintendo is crafting a lush world in a new perspective.
That new perspective also transfers over to Link’s ability to become a drawing and become absorbed into walls in the environment. While it seemed to be limited to flat walls in the original videos we saw, we were able to get drawn Link onto a cliff edge in the overworld as well as the dungeon we played. The transition between the two view modes is very smooth and really lets you see how the world is created. The entire world is rendered in three dimensions, even though you can’t see the whole thing from its normal perspective. Becoming drawn Link makes you realize just how different it looks from a slightly different angle.
A Link Between Worlds also seems to employ a new lighting effect that simulates realtime lighting. We’re not certain there will be real-time shadows or lighting in the game, but what is already in place looks really great. The shadows cast on statues and the light reflecting on the stone walls and floors of dungeons look spectacular, especially for a handheld game.
The audio in A Link Between Worlds is likely the best we’ve heard in a handheld Zelda game (you can have a listen here). It is beautifully performed by what sounds like an orchestra rather than some midi tunes that Nintendo was used to using in their games. The music is recreated from original tracks from A Link to the Past, though we’re sure we’ll hear a new theme or two from Koji Kondo in this game also.
Gameplay elements are where Zelda titles tend to really shine. The magic hammer is making its triumphant return in a big way in A Link Between Worlds, as it appears to be a major element of traversing the heights of a dungeon in the preview we managed to play.The magic hammer is satisfying to use and looks comically large next to Link’s tiny body, which makes it seem even more powerful than it probably is.
We took a peek at the inventory in the demo we had and, while there wasn’t much to see, we did find the bow and arrow and the Fire Rod from previous Zelda titles. Both play exactly like they did in the original game, though they’ve obviously been updated with some nice 3D models. There’s a satisfying twang from your bow when you release an arrow, a hallmark of the weapon in any game.
We loved what we played of A Link Between Worlds. It’s not finished yet, and we only got to play about a percent of the game by our estimation, but that percent was deliciously Zelda at its core. Nintendo has played around with a new art style that seems to be working, controls are fine-tuned even at this stage in development, and items feel true to their original counterparts.
One of our favourite games on the show floor at E3 2013, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a game we’re looking forward to grabbing when it launches this holiday season!