Friday, February 14, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) Review

I'm going to get right to it: A Link Between Worlds is easily my favorite new Zelda game since The Minish Cap, which came out in 2005 in North America. I've enjoyed the recent Zelda games, but every single one of them has just had something missing. Just a few hours into ALBW and that something was back.

It's ironic then that I had never been so underwhelmed by a new Zelda reveal than I was when ALBW was first announced, but that's part of the magic of this game, how it stubbornly and effortlessly defied my expectations at every turn. I expected to roll my eyes at the heavy A Link to the Past-inspired blueprint for the game and be bored with re-exploring that game's same overworld. Yet, I found exploring ALttP's Hyrule once again immensely enjoyable, not only because it is the first open, free world I've seen in a new Zelda game in over ten years, but because this world has been transformed; it's familiar but somehow feels entirely new, with surprises and new discoveries around every corner. Before the game was released, a friend of mine compared his excitement for ALBW to the remake of the original Resident Evil that was released in 2002 for the GameCube. He explained how he loved revisiting familiar environments in games and seeing what had changed, and having his expectations played with. Although the situations are different, as ALBW is not meant to be a remake but a brand new adventure, his words got me thinking and the end product demonstrates that playing with expectations is something that ALBW does indeed excel at. The game is the expertly-designed return to form in terms of adventure and exploration that the Zelda series sorely needed, but also shakes up the Zelda formula in a more significant way than what any other recent Zelda game has managed to do. The result is the most novel and most satisfying Zelda game in several years.

Perhaps the mascot of this mix of familiarity and innovation is Ravio, a curious merchant dressed in a flamboyant purple bunny suit. After Ravio takes an unconscious Link to safety early in the story, Link agrees to let the bunny man stay in his house. Not long after, this bizarre stranger pushes all of Link's furniture into a corner and takes it upon himself to transform the hero's house into an item shop for his own profit. It is here that A Link Between Worlds, after establishing a feeling of warm familiarity, throws the most exciting curveball into the Zelda formula in years: instead of being found in dungeons, all of the game's major items can either be rented for a small free or bought for a much larger fee from Ravio's shop. Being able to acquire almost every major item in the game very early on is an exhilarating experience and feels like just the breath of fresh air that this series has needed. ALBW feels much more like a "new" kind of Zelda than Skyward Sword ever did, despite how hard it tried. The feeling of total freedom and possibility so early on is amazing.

Ravio's item shop

Just as in the original Legend of Zelda, once I had some Bombs, I was free to journey across the entire map looking for caves to find. But I didn't just have the Bombs, I also had the Hookshot, the Bow, the Fire and Ice Rods, and more only a few hours into the game. Acquiring all of the game's major tools in one place all at once (if the player chooses) risks taking away that feeling of excitement when earning a new item that will unlock new areas on the map and while this is partly true, the game also smartly still has a lot of other items that supplement exploration that aren't found in Ravio's shop, but are hidden in other reaches of the world; items like the Power Glove that lets Link pick up boulders blocking his way, the Zora's Flippers that let him swim and dive, and the Pegasus Boots, which if you've played A Link to the Past, are deviously well-hidden and just another of the many ways the game toys with player expectations. Even though I had plenty of items very early, I still felt like there were several areas that I still couldn't reach and in this way the overworld retains a sense of mystery and discovery and at the same time feels incredibly open and free. Also, by giving me familiar items like the Boomerang, Bow and Hookshot early, it removes the age-old process of getting these obvious items in the game's early dungeons. In addition, there is still a major item located in every one of the latter half of the game's dungeons, each one lending in some way to making Link more powerful and capable, so a sense of progression and growth is still intact. These items include upgrades like the Blue Mail, which allows Link to take more damage. I don't necessarily want the item shop idea to be the standard from now on in future Zelda games, but it's an interesting and fresh new concept that works well and I also wouldn't be opposed to seeing something like it again down the line.

The item rental/purchase system also makes the dungeons a bit less formulaic to an extent. While most dungeons require a certain item to enter and many of the dungeon's puzzles revolve around using that particular item, there are some dungeons that don't revolve around any specific item and instead take advantage of Link's new painting ability (more on that in a bit) and design elements unique to that dungeon. For example, one labyrinth revolves around Wallmasters, those creepy hands that descend from the ceiling and pull Link back to a dungeon's entrance. Instead of requiring Link to use a specific item to progress, this dungeon tasks the player with manipulating these monsters in order to progress by, for example, luring one down so it smacks a switch located on a platform out of Link's reach. Another dungeon focuses on puzzles surrounding light and darkness, with certain monsters, obstacles, and other assets only being visible in one or the other state, and forcing Link to manipulate the two in order to progress. It's one of the coolest ideas in the series, and that's not even my favorite dungeon in the game. If a dungeon does require a certain item, Link having it in his possession at the outset allows a dungeon to take full advantage of that item from the moment a player walks into it, instead of only having Link use that item for the dungeon's second half like in previous Zelda games. While it's true that most of one of the item-specific dungeon's puzzles can be solved with the same tool, the painting ability and other mechanics like the ones I mentioned above make up for this. Also, since a player might have any number of items in any dungeon, many problems can often be solved in different ways. In an early dungeon I doused some flames with my Ice Rod, but it was clear that the game intended for me to use the gust-summoning Tornado Rod to do the trick. I also solved one puzzle in the final dungeon in a way that I'm pretty sure wasn't the intended way for me to do it, but I saw a solution and I went for it. Basically, while the dungeon design might have been even better if they required the use of more than one item (and dungeons could have done this because they already communicate in some way before entering them which item the player needs, and could have communicated that the player needs multiple items; in fact, some mini-dungeons in the game do exactly this, but none of the major ones do unfortunately), the dungeon design ultimately isn't crippled by only ever requiring one item at the most and these are still some fantastic levels (also keep in mind that, as I said earlier, multiple items can help you in dungeons and there is sometimes more than one solution to a problem, but the game never requires a player to have more than one specific item to complete one of the game's major dungeons, with the exception of the game's final dungeon). The most important thing to take away in regards to A Link Between Worlds' dungeons though is that there were many times when I felt like by using a combination of the painting ability and the items that I had on hand, I was able to think my way through a problem. That's the key factor here: I feel like I actually used my brain to solve these problems on my own in ALBW; analyzed a situation and thought through it, whereas in many other Zelda games it's an obvious and formulaic manner of: "get Boomerang, use Boomerang in obvious manner", or "get Whip and repeat process". Or in some cases, "have partner plainly tell you what to do".
A Link Between Worlds' dungeons are spooky and spectacular

Oh, that's right, barring Oracle of Seasons and Ages and the Four Swords games, for the first time since 1998's Ocarina of Time introduced the concept, Link has no companion in A Link Between Worlds. No jabbering fairy, no talking hat, no sarcastic imp, and no monotonous robotic sword spirit. It's just Link, his sword and shield, and the grand adventure before him. I have wanted a partner-less Zelda game for years and years and with Nintendo's current hand-holding design philosophies, I simply never thought it would happen again. I cannot describe to you how liberating it feels to just be on a solo adventure in this series once again. To have to rely on my own wits alone in order to find my way through this quest. If you get lonely, there are plenty of charming characters to visit and converse with such as Ravio and a young witch named Irene that can transport you around the world, offering a charming little comment each time she does so. There are also two methods available if you really need some help and don't have an internet connection: there's the fortune-teller character that has been present in many previous Zelda games who will point you in the right direction if you forget what you're doing in the game's main story, and than there are the Hint Glasses. The Hint Glasses are an item obtained early on from, appropriately, the fortune-teller that allow Link to see normally invisible Hint Ghosts that, for a price, can drop a hint on how to overcome an obstacle in Link's way. That price comes in the form of Play Coins, which can only be obtained by walking 100 steps with a 3DS. The best part about the hint systems in the game is that they are all completely optional. I shoved the Hint Glasses in a corner of my inventory and there they stayed, silent and unobtrusive. This is the balance that recent Zelda games have failed to achieve (Skyward Sword in particular), having the option for help for those who want it, but not sacrificing the experience for those who don't want any help at all. Now, if only we could get rid of those annoying break reminders, Nintendo... (these only pop up at save points, but seriously, the game reminds me to take a break after like half an hour...really?)

The other way in which puzzle-solving and exploration is completely turned on its head is the painting mechanic. In a clever twist, the game's central antagonist, Yuga (who is the Zelda series' most competent antagonist in a long while), imparts this ability to Link after he attempts to turn the hero into artwork (that's kind of his thing), but a magical bracelet bestowed by Ravio ends up turning this evil spell to Link's advantage. The entire game started with the concept of having Link turn into a 2D painting on a wall, and everything is built with this idea in mind. This is the kind of idea that becomes second nature, as I fluidly popped in and out of walls in every new location I found myself in, just to test the limits of the ability and see what I could find. This new ability is used in combination with dungeon and overworld design for many unique challenges and also lends itself to some of the game's best boss fights (like merging into a giant monster's shield, confusing the beast, before popping out behind it and slashing it in the back). The painting mechanic also adds a whole new dimension to the kind of top-down Zelda experience that we're familiar with, literally allowing players to view the environment from a whole new angle. It's an ability that became so ingrained in me by the end of the experience that I'm going to find myself wishing I could merge into walls in other adventure games.

Link's ability to merge into walls is a thoughtfully-designed mechanic woven into every aspect of the game 

The first half of A Link Between Worlds, which if you've played A Link to the Past (or most console Zelda games) is the "three pendant period" before getting the master sword and the mid-game twist, is masterful. The first dungeon is mandatory, but the player is free to choose the order in which they tackle the next two dungeons, and while these beginning levels are each well-designed and bring something interesting to the table (like the House of Gales' unique wind-based puzzles and the Tower of Hera's impressive demonstration of what stereoscopic 3D can bring to the game's multi-tiered dungeons), exploring A Link Between Worlds' marvelously-designed Hyrule is the real treat here. There are caves to discover, puzzle rooms full of unique challenges, quaint characters to find and just all sorts of little discoveries to be made. Player progression is not only blocked by lacking a certain item, but in at least one area is also barred by the strength of enemies a la the original NES game. One of my most memorable early-game experiences in ALBW was when I was exploring the eastern reaches of the imposing Death Mountain. I ran into some particularly dangerous fire-spewing lion creatures known as Lynels that took off three hearts with one attack (keep in mind that I had under ten in total at this point) and that simply would not go down no matter how many times I dug into them with my weak starting sword. I had to see what they were guarding though despite the fact that my life and all of my rented items, which I risked losing if I died, were on the line. I managed to dodge the beasts and found my way to the harrowing, cavernous depths of Death Mountain. As I fell from platform to platform while an endless pool of lava simmered miles below me, I feared for my life and my gadgets but just had to keep exploring. It was after I found myself cornered by two more Lynels with a sheer drop into the lava pit below on all sides and a dwindling heart meter beating at the top of the screen that I finally decided to give up and retreat. I can't remember the last time I had this kind of experience in a Zelda game, this feeling of raw adventure, and not a scripted adventure, but one that I had orchestrated myself. There are several times early in the game that I almost died and I knew that death would mean losing all of my precious tools. This drive to explore and yet also risk from doing so is also something a Zelda game hasn't accomplished in a long time.

At this point in the game, I knew I still had a whole other world to explore and a whole story ahead of me, and this anticipation of there still being so much more to see and discover is one of the best aspects of any great adventure game. The first half of A Link Between Worlds not only demonstrates the openness and freedom of the game, but also how it both pays homage to what came before it and is full of completely new surprises. After seeing trailers and footage from the game, I expected the first three dungeons to be in the same places and be largely the same as in A Link the Past (but with different layouts), with the same bosses as well. The first dungeon I visited was a palace that was in ALttP (but with a totally different layout of course) but the first boss took me off guard, as did the entire second half of the dungeon. The second dungeon I visited was something entirely new with an entirely new boss, and the third dungeon (the Tower of Hera I mentioned earlier) was again something familiar from A Link to the Past, but given a completely new perspective thanks to its layered, multi-leveled, indoor and outdoor design, enhanced by the 3DS's stereoscopic 3D capabilities. This design paired with the 3D feature made the dungeon something else entirely than its ALttP counterpart, as journeying higher and higher and snaking around the tower's outer walls as previous floors loomed below gave the impression of climbing a giant tower high above the clouds much more effectively than the version in ALttP did.
The sense of exploration and adventure so early on is wonderful

Whether it's an entirely new musical track where I expected a familiar one, a new boss where I expected an old one, or something familiar but completely redesigned mixed in, the game constantly defied my expectations. One of the areas where the game surprised me the most, at least in part, is the game's story. I'm not going to outright spoil anything, but you might infer some things based on what I say, so if you haven't played the game, you might want to skip this paragraph. After hearing some details about the game and based on my own assumptions, I expected A Link Between Worlds to largely lift the same tale from A Link to the Past, just with a few different flavors and some new characters. I was therefore surprised when the opening to the game (which is short, sweet, and doesn't keep you from embarking on your adventure for long) paid homage to A Link to the Past, but was actually something different than the iconic rainy opening of that game. Then, after acquiring the Master Sword in much the same way as in A Link to the Past and making my way to Hyrule Castle, also like in the SNES classic, I was completely taken off guard by what happened next. Lately, the stories in Zelda games have been content to follow a very familiar formula, especially in regards to their antagonists. I didn't expect ALBW to be much different, especially considering that it was following the blueprint of the game that first used this formula so many years ago. The way the game plays with these expectations, however, and completely shatters them with one of the smartest and best mid-game twists in a Zelda game is brilliant. I'm not talking about the fact that Link ventures to an alternate, twisted mirror of Hyrule; we all knew that was coming. It's the events that surround Link's transition into the alternate kingdom of Lorule, and especially concering what the game's antagonist, Yuga, is up to, that pleasantly surprised me. In other words, there's more going on here than just another "pawn wants to revive Ganon" plot. The first steps in Lorule are also wonderfully handled, and meeting its people and seeing the state that it's in provides a brilliant counterpart to Hyrule. Seeing the Lorule Blacksmith casually sitting outside his house as vicious monsters roam about his front yard immediately tells you something about the grim state that this world is in. The whole Hyrule to Lorule transition brings to mind the drastic shift from happy childhood to the future, ruined Castle Town in Ocarina of Time. While the narrative does fall into the trap of sort of going by the wayside during the game's second half, it comes back with a vengeance for a touching and memorable ending sequence, which I wouldn't dare spoil for you, only say that if you've been playing this series for a long time, I think you're going to really enjoy it. Could the story be better? Of course. There's room for improvement in several areas, such as character development and lore development when it comes to Lorule (the fantastic first steps in Lorule created a burning sense of curiosity about the kingdom's history and interest in the world that the rest of the game didn't quite live up to), but it's still an enjoyable tale with some really terrific moments, and also contains some really poignant themes and observations on the series as a whole. Also, Zelda fans are going to have a lot to theorize about with this one.

Another surprise? This game's musical presentation is glorious. I don't know why this was a surprise, given the series' excellent musical track record, but I was a bit let down by Skyward Sword's soundtrack, especially when it was hyped as being the first title with fully-orchestrated music in the series. While Skyward Sword has some fantastic stand-out tracks and some especially atmospheric ones, a lot of its melodies just didn't catch on with me and the orchestrated quality of the music in some areas just didn't do much to improve melodies I simply did not find that engaging, such as the Sky/flying theme. I didn't expect much from A Link Between Worlds' soundtrack but remixed songs from A Link to the Past, and while there are certainly plenty of remixes and they are brilliant (the remix of the Dark World theme from ALttP is incredible), there are also a hefty dose of new compositions and even the smallest ones, like the mini-game theme (which is actually a remix of a track from Nintendo Land's The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest attraction), are ones that I found myself falling in love with. The compositions in the game have a unique sound and incorporate a lot of horns and acoustic guitar, which makes them stand out from other pieces in the Zelda series. The music is one of the best demonstrations of how much effort was put into this game. There are so many genius touches throughout the soundtrack, such as the main overworld themes for both Hyrule and Lorule changing as you progress in your quest. The dungeon themes in this game are particularly surprising as I fully expected a remix of the Dark World dungeon theme from ALttP to be present in all of the Lorule dungeons. While an excellent remix of the Light World dungeon theme from ALttP is present in the Hyrule dungeons of the game (it gives me some serious Dragon Quest VIII vibes), each Lorule dungeon not only has its own unique atmosphere and feeling (something that ALttP often lacked), but its own musical piece as well. These themes are beautiful, haunting, at times legitimately creepy, and always perfectly fitting for the atmosphere of each maze. In a genius twist that I didn't even notice until after completing the game and reading about it online, each dungeon theme is actually based on the same melody (most clearly heard in this theme), just heavily altered across each dungeon. And what blew my mind even more is that this melody is actually very reminiscent of the original dungeon theme from the first Legend of Zelda! I also feel obligated to mention the musical piece for the final dungeon in the game, which starts off very tame, but builds and builds the further you progress in the dungeon, until it's a rousing, triumphant, just plain epic piece of music that perfectly concludes your adventure. This trick has been done in previous Zelda games' final stretches, but never in such a dramatic and multi-layered way as this, where finishing each section of the dungeon adds a new layer to the music. It should not be understated: Ryo Nagamatsu (who also worked on Super Mario Galaxy 2's soundtrack) did phenomenal work with this game's musical score and I hope he returns to work on future Zelda games.

Princess of Lorule, Hilda is one of the game's best new characters

The way that A Link Between Worlds seems to effortlessly blend familiar elements with brand new ideas is part of what makes the game work so well. At once, it's a nostalgic trek through Hyrule, but at the same time it feels totally new, completely destroying my prediction that the game would be "half new game and half remake". It has a unique soul that differentiates it from A Link to the Past, but it is also a game that fully embraces the "essence of Zelda". In the end, I'm fine with there being one Zelda game that re-uses a previous game's overworld and other assets like this, especially because the end product turned out to be so damn good, but I still wouldn't want this concept to become a trend. Let's not have the next console Zelda game be another romp through Ocarina of Time's Hyrule, please.

My few major complaints with A Link Between Worlds (besides the fact that I think the narrative, especially its second half, could have had a little more meat to it, particularly in the areas of developing the world of Lorule more and giving the player more motivation to complete their quest) come from the rewards for exploration and the design of Lorule. First off, I felt at times that exploration rewards were a little off. There are several "puzzle rooms" you can find throughout the game that are these great little mini-dungeons that utilize Link's arsenal as well as his merge ability. Unfortunately, the prize for almost every single one of these mini-dungeons is the same: 100 rupees (there are two that yield 300 rupees). Not only is this prize predictable, but a bit inadequate a reward for the effort required to acquire it, especially considering how prevalent rupees are in this game. Rupees can be won in mini-games, found in chests all over the world and in dungeons, are dropped by enemies, and are found in grass, under rocks, etc. I also found the same prize,100 rupees, simply lying out in the middle of the Lorule overworld at one point, with no effort required to reach it. This trivializes the effort put into finding and solving these mini-dungeons. I also found that heart pieces were often a bit too simple to find. Heart pieces are almost always lying out in the open, or located in small caves, often requiring not much effort to reach. At times, I felt as though the location of heart pieces and the location of rupees should have been switched. Now, I realize what the developers were going for, because rupees are very important in this game, not only for mini-games (which can get quite expensive), potions, and items, but mainly for renting and buying the expensive items from Ravio's shop. However, I think by simply mixing up the rewards a bit, for example in some mini-dungeons getting a heart piece and in others finding rupees, be it 100 or 300, would have made the prizes more unpredictable and exciting, but also would have made some of the heart pieces harder to reach. While exploration and puzzle-solving are ultimately their own rewards, and you never really know what you're going to find when entering a cave, it gets a bit stale when the prize is always the same boring amount of rupees, or the cave is just a single small room with a heart piece lying around.

Secondly, the game's alternate kingdom of Lorule has significantly less to discover than Hyrule. While Hyrule is packed with secrets, caverns, and things to discover, I often found my thorough exploration of Lorule lacking. There were plenty of spots in Lorule where there could have been a cave or more content to discover, but where there was simply nothing to find at all. I don't mean to say that Lorule is barren, just notably lacking in optional discoveries. There's no denying that there's just a lot less to discover in the second half of the game than the first half (not counting the mandatory dungeons of course). Also, Lorule is segmented into several different regions that aren't interconnected but must be reached from specific fissures located in Hyrule. The second half of the game, even though it is completely open and the player is welcome to tackle dungeons and explore as they see fit, sometimes actually feels much more cut and dry than the first half, as it usually consisted of me entering one of Lorule's regions, finding all it had to offer in a very short time and then simply heading to the next dungeon. While Hyrule's design takes a page out of the classic top-down Zeldas of old, Lorule's design sometimes feels like it takes more of page from Skyward Sword's book, as often it feels like one big, interconnected dungeon. At times, getting to a dungeon in Lorule feels like a dungeon in itself. This keeps the pace of the game constantly moving and there is always something interesting to do (I should also mention the game is totally devoid of any obnoxious filler or bloating), but as a consequence the second half of the game feels a bit like just going from dungeon to dungeon, with much less overworld exploration. There are certainly things to do in Lorule besides dungeons, like participate in a very unique baseball mini-game, but I just feel that Hyrule is much more enjoyable to explore.
Am I the only one who likes the Octoball mini-game?

I haven't mentioned the visuals of A Link Between Worlds yet because, honestly, there's not much to talk about. ALBW's art-style and visuals get the job done; they're bright, colorful, pleasing to the eye, and are very faithful to A Link to the Past. They might be a little too faithful actually. I think a bit more detail and pizazz here and there would have benefited the game. For example, the caves in the game look like they were cleaned, polished, and put together by hand just for Link to smoothly walk through them (and of course they were, by the developers, but this sort of "clean" look harms immersion a bit). Some little bugs scuttering around, some actual water dripping down instead of just the sound effect, some grass or mushrooms growing through the cracks, more little touches like those would have made the environments feel more organic and believable. Oftentimes, it feels like this world was tailor-made for a certain hero, instead of being a naturally organic world. I suppose this is a criticism that can be lobbied at several Zelda games and is something that I think does need to be worked on in the series, but it feels like an especially appropriate criticism when talking about A Link Between Worlds. Ultimately, I don't dislike the visuals or the art direction in ALBW and in some areas, such as in the dungeons, there are some pretty great visual and lighting effects. I also really like the detail found inside of houses in the game. I should also mention that the game runs smoothly and plays wonderfully at sixty frames per second (although I still encountered a tiny bit of slowdown and stuttering in some areas). Ultimately, I still prefer the gorgeous, detailed 2D art of The Minish Cap, and while A Link Between Worlds gets a pass because putting a 2D top-down Zelda world into 3D was part of the game's mission statement and the game does interesting things with this angle, I'm against the desire, especially within Nintendo lately, to make all modern games 3D or 2.5D just for the sake of it, when games like Rayman Origins prove that beautiful 2D art still has a place in modern gaming and often far outclasses uninspired three-dimensional art and the 2.5D look (I'm looking at you, New Super Mario Bros. series...).

On that note, the stereoscopic 3D effect in the game is indeed fantastic. I've been a fan of the 3DS's 3D feature since I bought the system and I always play all my games with the slider all the way up, as I think it just makes the games pop more and adds a subtle amount of depth to the experience. A Link Between Worlds really comes alive with the effect and I love how it appears as if you are looking down into this little fantasy world. I already mentioned how the effect benefits multi-layered dungeons, but it also benefits the terrain as a whole; now high cliffs and long falls really feel high and have the depth that they should. Some dungeons have a truly fantastic sense of depth and distance, including my favorite one in the game, which I don't want to spoil. Also, some of the dungeons take Link to their outer walls, where he can see the ground far below. You can even make out some of the blurry Hylian landscape that you've traversed as you climb higher and higher up Hyrule Castle. The viewpoint in these instances sometimes doesn't make much sense, but for me, that's part of the game's charm.

One final aspect about the visuals I want to note is the way the traditionally top-down 2D perspective translates to 3D. Basically, when taking A Link to the Past's fully top-down look and putting it realistically into 3D, the game would look a little boring because only the tops of objects and characters could be seen and it would be hard to make out the details of these individual assets. In order to preserve the look of the classic top-down Zeldas, the designers had to give all the assets in the world a "leaning-back effect" where if viewed from the side, every object and character in the world is actually tilted backward or has a slanted surface so that from the top, the fronts of these objects can be seen. The result is an admirable attempt at replicating the look of the 2D classics and if you don't think too much about it, you probably won't notice how the angle doesn't make much sense (it really never did even in 2D, but 3D makes this much more apparent), but it can be quite jarring when, while in painting form and near an object, you can clearly see the bizarre "leaning" effect or otherwise notice how everything in the world is slanted in some way.

The "lean effect", which Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma revealed at New York Comic-Con 2013 

I'm really nitpicking now because when it gets right down to it, my few complaints did little to impact the big grin I had on my face upon finishing this game. It's a new Zelda game that I thoroughly enjoyed and I can't wait to play it again on the more difficult Hero Mode. Given all it does right with its freedom, exploration, great dungeon design, new item shop and painting mechanics, and also just its brilliant sense of adventure, A Link Between Worlds also benefits from the little details. Details like the two-man band in the Kakariko Village Milk Bar that play a simplified rendition of almost every major musical piece in the game, or details that bring the world together like hearing about how the item shop lady's husband ran away after they had a fight and later on finding her husband hiding out in a cave, or finding a message in a bottle in Lake Hylia from a man who is stranded on Death Mountain, and later helping that man recover his strength and find his way home. Or simply the fact that the game doesn't ever artificially restrict Link's movement speed while indoors like recent 3D console Zelda games. Or that they finally got the Hookshot right again and it can latch onto anything wooden like trees (but sadly not treasure chests like in the classics). Or all the fabulous Easter eggs that can be spotted by diehard fans and all the theorizing that this game's references and plot details are going to spur (there are a lot more nods to Majora's Mask here than just the mask itself on Link's wall). ALBW also does away with many minor series' conventions and streamlines the game experience with additions like an auto-refilling stamina gauge in place of consumable items that were always easy to refill anyway and the fact that Link starts off able to hold up to 9,999 rupees (the most in any Zelda game to date including Majora's Mask, whose bank could only hold up to 5,499 rupees at most); no more tedious wallet upgrades or wasted rupees that can't fit in your wallet (at least until later in the game). A Link Between Worlds is a delight to play and I was entirely engaged from beginning to end. I was thinking about the game when I wasn't playing it and I couldn't wait until the next time I could get lost in the charming, magical world of Hyrule and its dark, ruined (but still a bit stupidly-named) counterpart, Lorule. For all those that have been a bit disappointed or turned off by recent Zelda entries, and even for those who love those games, this is the game for you. A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic Zelda experience, but it's also just a fantastic video game experience. Just go play it. If you don't have a 3DS, than buy one and then go play it.

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