The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Like every Zelda game before it, A Link Between Worlds has a gimmick. In this one, hero Link can wander up to a wall and turn himself into a chalky doodle on a dungeon's brickwork.

Now, graffiti tag Link can waddle around the perimeter of a room and access otherwise unreachable areas. He can stick himself to moving platforms and spinning walls, slip through cracks, and escape into the masonry to hide from enemy attacks.

It's the backbone of the game and this clever, creative new power crops up in almost every dungeon and puzzle in your adventure. But it's not the game's biggest gimmick.

Eastern Palace

A Link Between Worlds also makes the most dramatic change to the Zelda formula in, well, perhaps the entire series. For the first time you're no longer stuck in a set dungeon-to-dungeon sequence - instead you're left to tackle any crypt, temple, or tower you like, in practically any order you see fit.

And instead of finding new items in some dusty chest, you rent key equipment - like bombs, boomerangs, bows, and ice rods - from a cheeky salesman who builds a pop-up shop in Link's home.

It's a substantial gear shift, an a welcome change after 14-or-so games that used the exact same formula. But it's not without problems.

By letting you play the last seven dungeons in any order you desire, A Link Between Worlds doesn't have a difficulty curve as much as a difficulty plateau.

The Ice Ruins, for example, could be your third dungeon, or it could be your tenth. With no way of knowing, Nintendo has had to evenly temper the puzzle depth and combat difficulty in all seven latter dungeons. As such, the game practically flatlines throughout its entire second act.

Tower of Hera

Those dungeons are fun to explore, and they toy with depth to make particularly good use of the handheld's 3D effect. There's an icy subterranean cave with a giant elevator system running down its spine, and a monster 13-storey tower that leads you outside for some vertigo-inducing climbs.

But that sense of scale and elevation is most often a neat visual trick, and rarely affects the design.

Remember how you'd drop ice crystals from one floor to another to harden the lava in Oracle of Seasons's Sword & Shield maze? Or how you'd knock down pillars to drop the fourth floor onto the third in Link's Awakening's Eagle Tower?

There's nothing like that here. Practically every dungeon plays out like a series of disconnected puzzle rooms, and you never get the sense that the dungeon itself is one big, three-dimensional puzzle box to solve.

They're straightforward and overly simple, and none stands out as particularly strong.

Palace of Darkness

The new open-ended structure also means there can be no final dungeon, which was often the best temple in previous Zeldas. That last race for the final gem or sage or othersuch widget was a unique test of strength and stamina that represented a challenging culmination of every technique, item, and baddy that came before it. That doesn't happen here.

The game is, in general, very easy. I never died once. You also get dungeon maps for free (you normally have to find them), can use fast travel from very early on, and there's a heavy-handed hint for every single puzzle.

Skull Woods

For all its radical changes to that tired Nintendo formula, A Link Between Worlds is also - ironically - one of the most familiar and unimaginative games in the franchise.

It's the first Zelda game to recycle a previous world map, for example. This takes place in the same Hyrule as A Link to the Past, and not much has changed in the intervening decade. It still has Kakariko Village, the Lost Woods, Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, and the Desert of Mystery.

It's disappointing. After the initial nostalgic rush of seeing a favourite 16-bit game remade in 3D, it starts to feel like retreading old ground. Zelda is all about discovery, after all, and you can't really discover what you've already explored.

The items are also devoid of creativity, and are almost all slight twists on formulas that have been seen in a hundred previous Zelda games.

Turtle Rock

This might seem like a string of complaints, so it's worth noting that A Link Between Worlds is - in fact - very good. The combat is energetic, liquid smooth, fast-paced, and more fun than any top-down Zelda. There are some truly ingenious ideas littered throughout the temples, and some terrific boss fights to face.

But it's just that the Zelda games have such an impressive legacy that if a new entry is merely "very good", that's a little disappointing. This is a solid entry in an otherwise spectacular series of games, and that's a shame.

A Link Between Worlds will be remembered for its radical sequence-breaking shift to the formula. But its unremarkable dungeons, overly familiar world, and straightforward design will make this more of a footnote in the Zelda saga.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between worlds is old fashioned Zelda fun with some clever new gimmicks, but it's too easy, straightforward, and familiar for a full recommendation
Mark Brown
Mark Brown
Mark Brown spent several years slaving away at the Steel Media furnace, finally serving as editor at large of Pocket Gamer before moving on to doing some sort of youtube thing.