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It’s time for another video game reflection! I’ve been enjoying my 3DS lately, and I’m making my way through a number of games. Zelda is always on recommendation lists, and usually for good reason. This one’s no different… well… except that it’s very different. In great ways. You’ll see. The Zelda franchise has enough praise already, and I can hardly make a contribution to the conversation. Let it be known anyway: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a good reason to buy a 3DS. The basic idea hasn’t changed: you take the role of a green-clad hero (usually named Link). Some kind of crap happens in a kingdom (usually called Hyrule). You’re tasked to find a sword, get other magical or mythical tools, destroy a bunch of low-level baddies, then work your way up to vanquish the head evil. The appeal in most modern Zeldas isn’t the combat or the story, but the journey and the puzzle-solving in dungeons along the way. You’ll need to figure out how to open doors (by switches, or through finding keys), and you’ll have to discover the best ways to defeat enemy characters. What makes Link Between Worlds so special? The game knows that you already know the formula. In that way, it’s rewarding to the Zelda veteran (which is almost anyone owning a Nintendo system, after all). And accordingly, Nintendo decides to turn things a bit sideways. I’m sure you’ve already heard about the core mechanic swap: every sub-item is available upfront. You don’t need to search for one in a dungeon and then start using it in new puzzles. Link Between Worlds just gives you that hammer, the fire rod, whatever, and lets you run free. This means that entire dungeons are designed around a tool, rather than acting as facilitator to get to the item. As a consequence, the level design is lively and original. The desert level is a treat, especially when you realize how the sand rod works. The light mechanic in the Dark Palace is initially confusing, but opens up and satisfies as the dungeon continues. You also don’t need prior items quite so much in a new level, a welcomed way of creating discrete adventures (a good fit for the handheld-console audience). The other big change: Link can now warp into the wall, and become a flat painting. When a part of the wall, the character can move left and right without dropping down (albeit with a time limit imposed). This doesn’t read like anything significant, and I think that’s part of the point. If you’re a long-time Zelda fan, you will overlook this ability for big stretches of the game and that will be a mistake. You’ll search for another door, another switch, something to smack with a specialty item. In reality, the answer was probably as easy as warping into the wall and finding a new platform. This will seem like a time waste, and a weakness in level design (at least at first). But repetition will make you learn. And then your intuition will change. By the time you hit the last few levels, you’ll start to think in two and three dimensions at the same time. Flat walls will mean something new to you. It’s clever, and leaves your brain with a pleasant sensation as you begin to meet the game on its own terms. To me, that’s the greatest power of A Link Between Worlds. Yes, the levels are interesting, the story is reasonable (with a satisfying final twist). It’s Zelda, it wasn’t going to suck. More important: it knows it’s a Zelda, and decides to use that self-awareness for good, and for change. And in the end, it even dares you to change. That’s a pretty great way to make an homage to a 20 year old game.

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