The Zelda Univserse is a pretty convoluted one, with canonical time travel, reincarnations and parallel dimensions all existing and connecting each of the games into one story. Even so, a direct sequel revisiting the same kingdom from an older game isn’t thing that happens frequently. The Phantom Hour Glass and Spirit Tracks were all sequels to, and took place in the same instance of Hyrule as Wind Waker. Similarly to that trio of games, A Link Between Worlds brings us to the familiar world of A Link to the Past, and has us confront a new danger in a new time.  The characters are chibi and have puffy cheeks, the map is overhead and the woods are to the north of the castle and town like the first game. But pretty much everything else in the game is different and I think I that’s why this is the first Zelda game I’ve enjoyed playing since Minish Cap.

 

If I were friends with The Legend of Zelda on Facebook we wouldn’t even be in a “Complicated” relationship. I would probably unsubscribe from seeing all its post and block it from seeing most of my pictures. I just haven’t really liked most of the games in the series. The gibberish squawking that characters make when you speak to them  in “voiced” games drives me nuts; the writing takes itself far too seriously during most important story segments and I often lose interest in the long dungeons and puzzles.  I don’t have the nostalgic love for the Hero in the Green Tunic that could keep me interested in the lackluster gameplay and repetitive dungeons. When I tried to play A Link to the Past as a youth I gave up pretty quickly.

Luckily for me ALBW changed up the formula in a way that really brought out the fun for me. The game ditches the traditional “did you find this item in this dungeon? Well you’re going to need it to complete this dungeon” model of exploration for  a more open ended “Rent (or buy) whatever weapon you want whenever you can afford it and go where you please” system. Of course there are hints telling you what item you’ll need to take on which dungeon, but it feels really nice to blast enemies in the earlier part of the game with ice rods and giant bombs. There is a ton more Rupee to be found in this game as well so grinding through one dungeon can typically get you enough to buy one weapon out right, which lets you keep it even after death. The dungeons are, for the most part, very short and I was able  to complete 2-3 per sitting. A major positive this version of Zelda had over the others were the inclusion of the Hint Ghosts. Essentially, by paying Play Coins, players can get hints from nerdy looking ghosts that populate the dungeons and overworld. The hints range from useless tidbits like “There’s an entrance around here” to very specific clues like “Use the arrow when it’s eyes are glowing.” It really helps in those moments where you could spend ANOTHER 14 minutes trying to figure out a puzzle by retracing your steps and using all your items and hitting your sword against all the walls, or just talk to a ghost and move on.

Along with those changes to the series’  systems, the addition that sets this game apart from the others is the use the Merge mechanic. A bit less than halfway through the  game an Evil Clown (no, not that one) tries to destroy Link by trapping him in  a 2D painting. Thanks to the power PLOT Link not only survives the magic assault but gains the ability to walk along all walls as a 2D painting for a limited time. Most of the game’s puzzles revolve around, finding a point to become a painting to get to another location. This is not just reduced to something as obvious as using a wall to cross a path when the floor has been destroyed. There are plenty of smart puzzles involving moving platforms and perfectly timed wall merges.

 

ALBW_paint

I think the painting art is secretly my favorite thing about the game

 

 

Other Zelda titles I’ve liked were Link’s  Awakening, Oracle of Seasons and Minish Cap. I played Phantom Hour Glass up to defeating the last dungeon and going back to the MAIN one but soon became completely disinterested in the game that just wouldn’t end and wouldn’t stop with the filler material (I’d even gotten used to the silly stylus-only movements). I completed  A Link Between Worlds in about 3 weeks of casual play. With the exception of the Desert Fortress/Dungeon I always felt a sense of progression, of accomplishment. Whereas is the past with Zelda games I begin feeling like I’m climbing up a steep hill very quickly. The open-ended structure and constant positive feed back of being able to complete dungeons and dispatch of enemies how I see fit was such a rush.

 

A Link to the Past is a pretty good answer when guessing the favorite childhood game game of a 26 – 34 year old video game enthusiast (Battletoads x Double Dragon 4 Life) but this sequel is my favorite game, so far, set in that version of Hyrule.

 

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

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