Simply put, A Link Between Worlds is a very well-designed game that will make you crave for more. As much as I want to avoid comparing different video games with one another, I will absolutely have to start a discussion of about the way the prequel to this entry in the Zelda series, A Link to the Past, handled itself because the defining gameplay elements that make this game so enjoyable are mostly based on that old classic. I realize that this review may not be very useful to players who have no experienced the original game, but I will try to only use these comparisons as a basis rather than a conclusion.
In theory,A Link Between Worlds is pretty much the same game as A Link to the Past in terms of its mechanics. You see your character from a top-down view and are generally tasked to explore dungeons and solve puzzles while just casually cutting down enemies by hammering on the attack button. This is not an action game by any means as the combat is very simple and very clearly not the focus of the game. Instead, puzzles and exploration are at the core of this experience.
Surprisingly, however, I would still argue that the two games play absolutely differently from one another, as they use different ways of motivating the player. While the adventure in A Link to the Past gave you the feeling of there being an expansive world to explore, A Link Between Worlds focuses more on just constantly offering you something to do at every step of the way.
This change in focus is the result of the way character progression is handled in this game In A Link to the Past, the world was open to you from the start, and yet very little was actually accessible from the beginning of the game. In order to find everything the world had to offer in the original, the player would have to go through each individual dungeon to get the necessary items needed to get around the obstacles keeping you from new discoveries. Since completing dungeons was also the only way of progressing the actual story, the game turned out to be both story-driven while also offering you the chance to explore the world.
In A Link Between Worlds, you are practically given every single item from the start of the game because they are being sold at a shop that is opened mere minutes after the beginning of the game, every one of which you can probably afford after an hour or two of casual gameplay. After you acquire the items offered in the shop, you are almost given the entire world (or rather, both worlds) to explore because you can overcome almost any obstacle and see almost everything from the get-go. That change in focus has multiple effects on the overall feel of the game, but luckily, the game mostly benefited from those changes.
The biggest change in gameplay comes from the fact that the many obstacles in the game are no longer easily overcome solely through item usage, but instead require you to use your mind to solve some of the best puzzles you have had the pleasure of solving this year.
I want to really emphasize the puzzles here because those are absolutely exceptionally designed, if you ask me. We are not talking about simply hitting a switch on the other end of the room, or sliding around a cube that blocks the path, or getting something somewhere to activate something else; no, we are talking about environmental puzzles that require you to think outside the box. The ‘aha’ moments that you will experience in this game are next to none, because every puzzle is absolutely solvable by the means you have access to, and yet often very deceptive and hard to wrap your head around.
I cannot find the words to explain the brilliance behind these puzzles, but I can tell you that they never get frustrating even though the solutions are very rarely given to you. Puzzles just keep coming one after another, and the ensuing moments of finally finding the solution makes the game so very satisfying to play through at every step of the way.
Besides exploring and solving puzzles,there are hundreds of things to do that require your mind to be on full alert. There are collectables, both old and new that are not just plentiful and well-hidden, but also very satisfying to find due to their pay-off as they may help you upgrade your items or maximize your health bar. Then there are minigames that offer the same kind of reward and also a fair-amount of challenge that you will definitely be welcoming. The challenge comes in a variety of ways, as some mini-games require you to just have perfect timing, good reflexes, or just overall skill in navigating the world. This is not a question of being a completionist or not, you will definitely be doing a lot of these optional quests because of how alluringly they are presented to you, which is just proof of how excellent this game is designed and paced.
A Link Between World’s sole problem stems from its defining feature, however. Since every single spot in the game world(s) is littered with things to do, the game becomes more of a methodical checklist than a grand adventure. I mean, when there is so much to do right from the start, when will you actually start going through the dungeons and progress the story? The story is there to remind you of what you are actually trying to achieve, but you as the player will probably be too invested in collecting upgrades and rupees while solving puzzles, which will result in the world feeling like no more than a playground rather than a living, breathing and magical world.
Not only that though, but the game also seems much shorter as a result; and yes, I am aware that that contradicts the idea of there being a lot to do. Because there is so much to do and so little (if any) down time in-between all in-game tasks, you as the player will play the game at a much faster pace. You will teleport from one spot to another because you are so excited about the task that you are currently focusing on, and you will want to quickly restart minigames after failing so that you can finally obtain your rewards as quickly as possible. It is that playstyle that will make the game seem much shorter than it actually is. I played the game for around 15-20 hours on normal mode without reaching the 100% completion mark, but I felt as though I had only beaten it in four hours.
I love games that offer you nothing but gameplay, and A Link Between Worlds gives you exactly that, but as a result the world(s) felt as though it was not fleshed out. I would like to mention that the simplistic story is quite interesting as some plot-twists do occur at the end of the game, and if these twists were perhaps a little more emphasized and hinted at as you explore the world, it all would have felt like more of an adventure than a quest for completion.
In Conclusion, I would say you should definitely try out this new entry in the The Legend of Zelda series, no matter whether you are worried or happy about the new way it does things, because you will definitely like it either way just because of the superb dungeon and puzzle design of the game. It was a joy to play through, and yet I feel as though it will not become as memorable as A Link to the Past has become over the years. I would have really liked to feel more engaged in the world and the happenings, which is why I cannot offer the perfect score to this otherwise high-quality title. One more thing before you leave, though: The soundtrack is absolutely amazing, and if you, for some reason, decide that you want to hold off on the game, at least listen to the soundtrack in some way because it does deserve your attention.