Me: “I keep looking for the Pegasus Boots, but I can’t find them anywhere.”
Friend: “Oh, man, that took me forever to figure out!”
Me: “So you’ve got them? What’d you do?!”
Friend: “You know that guy that always runs away from you in Kakariko Village?”
Me: “Yeah, I thought you had to get the Pegasus Boots to catch him!”
Friend: “That’s what I thought, too! But you actually get them from him! I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out, but you just merge into the wall he’s standing in front of, and then pop out when you’re directly behind him. That will scare the crap out of him, and he’ll end up just giving you his boots.”
Me: “Ah! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!”
This easily could have been a conversation I had with a friend twenty years ago, but it actually just happened earlier this week. I don’t think kids really do this anymore, but my friends and I would always talk about our favorite video games during recess at school. We’d discuss strategies for defeating certain bosses or pass along rumors and secrets about hidden in-game treasures.
The Internet, despite all its benefits, basically killed this kind of ’round-the-watering-hole socializing that used to be so common among the kids who grew up with controllers in their hands. And the types of games we play now are, in many ways, largely different from those we grew up with. The same is true of the Zelda series.
But with the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo has masterfully transported us back in time by more than two decades, as we return to the same Hyrule we knew in A Link to the Past, albeit a few hundred years after our last visit. Much is as we left it, but that doesn’t make for the same game all over again.
At first glance, it may appear to be a remake of the Super NES classic, but it’s actually a brand-new game. And the fact this isn’t a remake only works to the game’s benefit. It improves upon everything borrowed from ALttP, and expands upon that foundation with a new story and new gameplay.
Gone is the Dark World, and in its place is Hyrule’s counterpart kingdom, dubbed “Lorule.” But because a fair amount of time has passed between the two games, and because new gameplay mechanics call for modified terrain, fans should not expect a pixel-by-pixel reproduction of the Hyrule we knew. Instead, what we get is a very similar, tweaked and overhauled reimagining of that Hyrule, which has been optimized for the use of the new “merge” mechanic.
Speaking of which, that’s what this new game is largely based upon — Link’s ability to turn himself into a painting, which allows him to merge into the wall. This serves as an original approach to puzzle solving, and makes for a fresh mode of exploration. Akin to something in a Paper Mario game, “merging” requires a style of strategic planning not seen in previous Zelda games, especially because Link can only maintain this form for a few seconds.
Last month, prior to the release of A Link Between Worlds, I revisited A Link to the Past and detailed everything that made it so great. Much of what I had to say also applies to ALBW. Here’s a selected excerpt, where you can swap the titles of the games and the words hold just as much truth.
“A Link to the Past doesn’t provide extensive, time-consuming instructions on how to play. You quickly and easily learn controls on the fly as you dash to rescue the princess. From the start, you’re thrown into the action and allowed to proceed without being stymied by prolonged tutorials.
There is no hand-holding here. And that might very well be what it’s most remembered for — its willingness to let you discover the world on your own, without any chaperoning. I think that’s what facilitates the rest of the game, honestly.
In A Link to the Past, you are free to go just about anywhere you like. You can complete the dungeons in almost any order. And though you may find you’re too weak to venture into certain areas, there aren’t whole sections of the map blocked off just because you haven’t reached the part of the story.”
This new entry in the series does a great job of implementing the “no-waiting-around” approach to exploration ALttP was known for. Depending on what you choose to do, you can be in the first dungeon within about 10 minutes of starting the game. From there, you can literally take on the dungeons in any order you like.
All similarities aside, there is an area where ALBW sets itself apart from the rest of the franchise. Until now, items were always found in dungeons, whose very layouts were designed around the use of the new items.
Now, you rent items from a fellow named Ravio, who wears a purple bunny-eared hoodie, and has set up shop in your home. Most items are roughly 20 rupees per rental, but should you encounter a game over, he will repossess his items. That said, you can buy the items to keep, but for a rather steep price of 800-1200 rupees per item. But it’s easy to rack up the rupees rather quickly, as you’ll find loads of ’em just about everywhere. It also helps to have a (seemingly) bottomless wallet. For this reason, you can easily gain access to all your items from the very beginning, which makes the game feel even more liberating than A Link to the Past.
And to be completely honest, that’s a trend present throughout A Link Between Worlds, where it surpasses its spiritual predecessor in nearly every way. A Link to the Past will certainly win the nostalgia factor, but ALBW is the superior game. I realize some people might be offended by that statement, but as a devout, lifelong Zelda fan, I wholeheartedly believe it to be true.
The only complaint I have — and it’s a minor one — is that the game is possibly just a bit too easy. I encountered only one game over in my 25-hour playthrough, if that gives you an idea. Though to be fair, I came close to dying in the final boss fight.
To everyone who bemoaned the formulaic and somewhat stale path the series had taken recently, this is the Zelda game you’ve been waiting for.