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Adventuring across the countryside to save the kingdom, utilizing familiar tools to tackle puzzles and dungeons and charging up my sword to take out multiple enemies at once. Yep, it's good to be in Hyrule again. But more than being just another Zelda game, Link Between Worlds manages to mix plenty of new elements with some old favorites, crafting a finely-tuned RPG experience that felt reminiscent of genre greats, while boldly pushing forward into new territory at the same time.
Maybe its because I only recently got to playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but I completely overlooked this wonderful title when making my Best of 2013 list this weekend. It's a shame, since it absolutely deserves a spot on that roster, reminding me why I fell in love with the series in the first place while giving me whole new reasons to fall in love all over again.
One of the first games I ever got for the original Nintendo Entertainment System was The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. My brother and I played that game for countless hours, even if we didn't understand how the various systems worked and usually started from the very beginning every time we booted it up. Since then, the Zelda series has been a part of my gaming DNA, popping up every few years with a new offering that was reminiscent of previous series entries while typically offering a new world to explore, new dungeons to conquer and new threats to overthrow.
While the adventures themselves have always been different, certain aspects of the Zelda games have remained unchanged, including a typically linear game flow, dungeons that would grant items that would in turn let you proceed into the next dungeon, rupees that you could horde but seldom needed, etc.
A Link Between Worlds surprisingly changes much of that, still keeping the feeling of a Zeldagame while mixing up some of the mechanics that have remained constant for 20 or so years. This is a very good thing, showing growth out of a series that, over the years, typically has stuck to the safe (although also typically amazing) path.
When I first heard that A Link Between Worlds would take place in the same world as A Link to the Past (arguably the best game in the series), I couldn't help but roll my eyes. “Here comes another first-party Nintendo game trying to capitalize on our nostalgia without offering anything truly different to the mix,” I thought. What I got turned out to be the exact opposite of that.
While the overworld is the same as Link to the Past, none of the content is rehashed. You'll be tackling all new dungeons, new bosses and a new quest to save not just one kingdom, but two. I don't think it's a spoiler at this point to say that A Link Between Worlds lives up to its namesake by transporting our titular hero to Lorule, a realm connected to Hyrule by portals in need of their own hero. Once the player steps foot in this second kingdom (which keeps in perfect harmony with the game's motto of familiar but different), A Link Between Worlds truly starts to sing.
At this point, a typically linear series becomes totally open, allowing the player to explore the various dungeons in the order of their choosing, deciding on their own if enemies are too tough or puzzles are too tricky for the time being. This provides a wonderful sense of freedom, something typically lacking in a Zelda game.
Similarly, there's a new item rental system that actually makes all of those rupees worth saving up. You can rent any item in the game for a small fee but, if you die, all of those items return to the shop from whence they came. This serves the double purpose of actually putting a price on death, another thing that has thus far been missing from the series. You can eventually buy the items flatout for a much bigger fee, meaning you actually have good reason to slash through the grass and bushes to claim even more sparkling currency.
Aside from the main story, there are several little side missions and distractions you can discover if you're willing to explore. None of this stuff is necessary, but it all helps flesh out the world, give you additional objectives and even the occasional surprise or two.
I wrote recently that I've been rediscovering my love of Nintendo games recently, and A Link Between Worlds is a big part of that process. While staying true to the Big N's staunch (and frequently frustrating) dedication to rehashing old franchises, A Link Between Worlds goes on to prove that there are still plenty of new things to say within those guidelines.
Everything about A Link Between Worlds is a delight, something that will make believers out of newcomers to the series while rewarding vets for their continued dedication. Everything from the music to the controls is spot on, complemented by big boss battles, challenging dungeons and craftily orchestrated puzzles that will make you feel like the smartest gamer to ever pick up a 3DS.