A Link Between Worlds is the heir to A Link to the Past. Its dungeons are numerous; and though they are undeniably short, they pack quite a challenge and feature constant level design brilliancy. Traveling through its overworld, especially to those who have not visited the Super Nintendo classic in a while, is a refreshing delight. Its secrets are many, and awaiting in every corner of its two contrasting worlds are caves, characters and mini-games that remind you why this specific take on Hyrule might be the most well-done of all. It is not overwhelmingly big, but it is just grand enough to allow Nintendo to fill every single one of its acres with something nice to do. A Link Between Worlds, therefore, does something not many Zelda games have done lately; it amazes both inside and outside the dungeons.
All of that is, obviously, great news. But, given its glaring similarities to a timeless classic, A Link Between Worlds needed something to distinguish itself and become a remarkable Zelda that stood out on its own. Nintendo, then, went ahead and found not one, but two elements that set it apart from the crowd. The first one comes in Link's ability to merge into walls. It is not a random gimmick, but something that smartly brings back elements of 2-D platforming that had been missing since the pair of Oracle games. It supports the development of great dungeons whose puzzles go beyond the item-based triggers we have grown so accustomed to, and it allows for brand new interactions with an overworld that has been explored by most players.
The second trick that A Link Between Worlds has on its sleeve is the flexibility of the order in which dungeons can be conquered. Once past the initial stages of the game, the map will be marked with the locations of the game's dungeons, and players are free to decide where to go to. The greatest thing about that system is not the flexibility itself, but the item-rental mechanic it is based on. Since most dungeons require a specific item to be accessed and cleared, Link can rent any items he wants from a shop. Rented items will remain with Link until he falls in battle, at which point they are automatically returned to the store. After some time, those items can also be bought. Purchasing each item eliminates the punishment of losing them upon defeat, but it also costs a whole lot of rupees.
And it is in there that lies the genius of the whole system. Not only does the equipment-rental allow dungeons to be explored in any order, but it also makes finding treasure extremely important, hence playing right into the hands of the joy that it is to explore Hyrule and its dark twin kingdom. Finding caves, mini-dungeons, and using Link's graffiti powers to access new locations is a lot of fun, and it also has a end: to save players the trouble of flying back to the item shop every time Link is beat down.
A Link Between Worlds has its flaws. For a series that has shown such artistic prominence in its latest entries - as clearly demonstrated by the release of Wind Waker HD, the game's visuals are good, but not remarkable. Its boss battles are far from being inventive, which is disappointing considering how brilliant Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were in that regard. Yet, even with a few dungeons remaining until the story is finished, and many hours and secrets away from fully completing it, it is easy to see this is the most balanced Zelda game since Ocarina of Time.