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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review

  • First Released Nov 22, 2013
  • Reviewed Nov 14, 2013
  • 3DS

Another link to the past.

It's not easy to return to a place after a 21-year absence, so it's a surprise how effortless it is to slip back into the Hyrule first introduced in 1992's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The famous green tunic, castle, and characters are all revived in this 3DS sequel, and the passing of two decades and three console generations has done nothing to dull the sharpness of Link's first triumphant swing of the Master Sword.

For those who have cherished the original over the years, the nostalgic opening moments of this loving sequel will rekindle your memories of the classic game that precedes it. The heart of A Link Between Worlds is buried firmly in the pre-3D age of the early '90s, and Nintendo has produced an almost note-for-note polygonal reproduction of the original game's Hylian overworld, complete with the triumphant boom of the series' main theme charging out of the 3DS's speakers. But while many elements of this sequel are familiar, this is a fantastic standalone adventure that excels on its own individual merits.

A series of murals explain the events of A Link to the Past.
A series of murals explain the events of A Link to the Past.

A Link Between Worlds is molded by the history it treats with reverence, but the game quickly creates an identity of its own. The fleeting cameo of Majora's mask, hanging on the wall of Link's house, is just one of the occasional nods from Nintendo acknowledging where the series has travelled since muddying its boots around the gardens of the original Hyrule Castle. Yet this game's accomplishment lies with Link's new ability to transform into a portrait and traverse walls. As a painting, Link is a stylised riff on a Romanesque mural beautifully animated to look simultaneously static and vibrant, with bouncy movement and flickering eyes. It's an impeccably charming effect.

The painting is the game's central mechanic, its version of a time-travelling ocarina, wind-summoning baton, or werewolf transformation, and many of the dungeons make good use of the new tool. The ability comes to him by way of Yuga, the game's main antagonist, who seeks to revive Ganondorf after the events of the original game by trapping descendants of A Link to the Past's seven sages as portraits. Link, as history has taught us, must rescue them. Many puzzles involve a two-dimensional Link wrapping himself around the walls of 3D environment to reach switches and chests nestled atop faraway platforms, slithering through thin cracks to enter new areas, or even traversing between two worlds by shimmying through the fissures that connect them.

It's not a Zelda game without Cuccos.
It's not a Zelda game without Cuccos.

It's not just a feature you'll use to get at the odd treasure chest, either, as Nintendo has done a fantastic job deeply intertwining every area of the game in ways that can only be accessed as a painting, as well as layering it as a required step in other puzzles. Many previous games in the series have had players use bombs start the timer on a frantic dash through a quickly-closing door, but here you'll be doing like that while instinctively jumping into the wall and shifting around to another platform. The fact that navigating the world as a painting becomes second nature is a huge accomplishment: it's so central to A Link Between Worlds that I couldn't possibly imagine the game without it.

The rest will be immediately familiar to those who know the Legend of Zelda series, largely because A Link Between Worlds treads the well-worn path of previous games. There is, as there always is, a comfort to this familiarity, although A Link Between Worlds feels like the most direct iteration the series has ever seen. Even the structure of the adventure is extremely similar to that of A Link to the Past, where a few hours thundering through three opening dungeons is rewarded with the Master Sword, before introducing the dark world alongside another batch of seven dungeons.

Nintendo has designed the first Zelda game where you feel free.

At the same time, though, you're encouraged to thoroughly and openly navigate Hyrule, a revelatory change which makes this adventure feel free of the series' previous restrictions. Puzzles in the overworld are no longer something you think to come back and tackle later, when you've unlocked your full suite of tools and weapons, but something you'll want to work out how to accomplish right then and there.

The game opens up further, too, when you reach the dark world, now known as Lorule. You can tackle the Lorule dungeons in any order you wish, which massively impacts how the bulk of this game plays out. Whereas many other Zelda games cordon off areas behind obstacles requiring items obtained in other dungeons, creating a set of talents and player options that slowly unfurl, A Link Between Worlds puts the game's arsenal in the hands of Ravio, a shopkeeper in a bunny suit who sets up his stall in Link's house. You simply rent the item you're after--be it hookshot, boomerang, or fire rod--and off you go. Maybe it's to your next dungeon, or that obstacle you saw a minute ago that you reckon you could thump out the way with your new hammer, or maybe you just haven't explored Misery Mire in a while. Nintendo has designed the first Zelda game where you feel free.

The shift towards renting items makes the game far more reliant on accumulating currency than before, with wayward pots, tall grass, and treasure chests in dungeons regularly forking out hundreds of rupees. It's a beautifully cyclical system, with item renting taking away the barriers of exploring the world and getting rich finding secrets, but also taking the money found in those hard-to-reach treasure chests and hidden rooms. Rented items, which generally cost 50 rupees, are lost if Link dies, but can eventually be bought outright for closer to 1,000 rupees. There are enough rupees scattered around the game for fastidious players to buy everything, but I found myself only purchasing my favourite items (bombs, arrows, and the hookshot) and simply renting the rest.

Ravio well and truly understands the virtues of capitalism.
Ravio well and truly understands the virtues of capitalism.

Ravio's shop also exists to serve the puzzles of the game's main dungeons, with each particular item getting its own dedicated moment to shine in some of the finest dungeons to ever feature in the series. The sand rod, for instance, lets Link cross gaps in the Desert Palace by conjuring up rows of cross-crossing pillars that inadvertently trigger as many problems as they fix, springing up at the wrong height or heading in the wrong direction, forcing you to leap into walls in order to figure out the correct path.

But, of course, there's no set path or order. You could just as easily take the hookshot to the Swamp Palace, and clip onto sets of valves that raise and lower the levels across sets of rooms in interconnected waterways, or use the lamp in the Dark Palace for a string of puzzles that need the lights to be on or off, with a couple that seem to be asking for both simultaneously, at least until you work out what's going on. These are tight, compact dungeons that are densely populated, and one of my favourite things about A Link Between Worlds is that it's the first game in a long line of modern Zelda titles that has routinely left me stumped in the middle of a dungeon, scratching my head, aimlessly running around in circles trying to figure out what I'm missing.

Though it can be bizarre to think that something so occasionally familiar can still be so fresh and engaging, A Link Between Worlds is itself a unique experience.

It probably sounds odd that this is a game at its best when it feels like you're untangling a skein of yarn, but much of the series' joy comes from having a tightly-woven series of locked doors and blocked corridors slowly and surely peeling away until you feel like you've become the master of this tiny domain. While this is a more perplexing game than many of its modern counterparts--especially if you're looking to rummage through all of its treasure chests--there are Play Coin-guzzling Hint Ghosts that will put you on the right path if they so desire. I'd advise against cheating yourself the joy of figuring it out, though; the challenge here is perplexing instead of frustrating, and it's worth enduring those occasional bouts of confusion for the satisfaction that comes from your eventual success.

This is a lengthy game, and getting stuck in its intricacies is a delight. Without a 3D world to explore, and the difficulties of targeting and locking on that come with it, A Link Between Worlds is pure top-down puzzle-solving in fast, fluid areas. Combat is quick and punchy, and many of the boss fights are tricky enough to elicit the kind of fear and tension (especially when you start worrying about losing your rented items) that's been absent from the series for a long time. Each dungeon builds to this confrontation, which comes as a thrilling, thumping, all-action crescendo after all the careful and thoughtful exploration.

Many of these boss encounters are riffs on adversaries originally encountered in A Link to the Past, albeit with a new spin on how they need to be defeated. And what fights they are: you challenge a monster guarded by a thick shield of ice, battle against a spinning whirligig that threatens to push you down a chasm, and take on a gaggle of eyeballs, a raging giant fist, a skeleton thief, or a monster with a noggin encrusted with a thick rupee shell. Each has their own particular weakness that needs to be exploited, with my personal favourite involving confusing one boss by running up to its shield and switching to Link's portrait form.

If you've only played the modern Zelda titles, the appearance of the Zoras will come as a shock.
If you've only played the modern Zelda titles, the appearance of the Zoras will come as a shock.

In many other areas, A Link Between Worlds' main refinements over its predecessor come from smoothing out the experience. You can fly to fixed points around both Hyrule and Lorule with the aid of a Witch's broomstick, the Fortune Teller near Kakariko Village now gives you direct advice rather than cryptic suggestions, and the map (displayed on the bottom screen of the 3DS) can be easily navigated, zoomed in, and annotated with pins. These features make exploration easy--you can head off the beaten path in an effort to reach that tantalising treasure on the horizon, because you know you can just warp back when you're done--and allows you to focus on the exact areas, or dungeons, you want to be pursuing. Coupled this with the game's loose structure and you're left with the most open Zelda game in the series.

The aesthetic, however, does not effortlessly transition to a polygonal world. Link looks closer to Bilbo Baggins than he does Legolas, albeit with blonde hair rather than the purple rinse of the SNES original, and the game's versions of trees look more like giant bulbous pumpkins. It's more of a functional visual upgrade rather than an artistic one, though the end result is pleasant enough.

One visual area that Nintendo does excel at, however, is the game's 3D effect, which adds a surprising amount of depth and character to the game, and is easily the most successful inclusion of the handheld's 3D slider since Super Mario 3D Land. I'm not normally one for 3D, but I wouldn't play A Link Between Worlds any other way. It's a fast-paced adventure, then, and one that feels like Nintendo paring back the layers of complexity the series has added in recent years and simply returning to the basics--this is worlds apart from the train track metagame of Spirit Tracks, the last dedicated handheld Zelda. Though it can be bizarre to think that something so occasionally familiar can still be so fresh and engaging, A Link Between Worlds is itself a unique experience. There's a lingering sense that by this point Nintendo is just running victory laps around a set of mechanics they perfected decades ago but, at the end of the day, none of that matters: this is simply an absolute treat to play.

Back To Top
The Good
Some of the best Zelda dungeons in years
Item renting gives you more control
Difficult enough to provide a challenge
Plenty of secrets and collectibles waiting to be unearthed
The Bad
Can sometimes feel a little too familiar
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Martin Gaston has been playing Zelda games for most of his life. His favorite is Ocarina of Time, but A Link to the Past is definitely in the top three.
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Avatar image for Simba13

As a fairly new Wii U owner, I can't help but be very angry with Nintendo and their release program.

The Wii U actually gets very few new games at all, so the bulk of its games catalog is made up of the original Wii games, as well as downloads of old slightly upgraded conversions from previous consoles of yesteryear.

That is all well and good, but the best and newest games all come out on the 3DS handheld and some games like this one really deserve to be on the bigger screen of a tv or monitor.

It makes me so angry when the most expensive flagship console is left to drown in a sea of apathy, while the likes of "Zelda a Link Between Worlds" and "Bravely Default" are only released on a handheld, which I have little time or use for. Surely these games should have been made for the Wii U in the first place, and THEN ported to the 3DS, rather than the other way around?

What a waste of a decent console the Wii U is, just because for some reason Nintendo themselves have never advertised it enough since its release and now seem happy to let it fail miserably, without even trying to support and enhance sales, by releasing most of the best games on the 3DS.

The most expensive Nintendo console gets a few trademark Mario games a year, and relies on the cheapest old £5 or less ports from the NES and SNES era, to download as its main support games!

I just don't understand this retarded way of thinking and have completely lost confidence in Nintendo under their current Iwata leadership.

Avatar image for JReefer1

Reminds me of the original, obviously! With that fact..."they" could have considered that gamers that played the original at the time of release would play this one! It feels as if the developers went and played threw "A Link to The Past" real quick and then built a game from doesn't feel as if this is a title 20+ years in the making; as it should.

Avatar image for akiratasoeur

I'm at the end and I've been waiting for this since A Link To The Past. I just love the remastering on the music from A Link To The Past.

But I must admit that although the orchestrated music is excellent, the newly composed music feels out of the Zelda universe. I'm not a big fan of the recycling they did by using lazy note shifts on almost every single new composition and destroying the harmonies.

The new music is a cacophony out of place and it stands in the way of enjoying the game fully. I can't imagine Leonardo painting a smiley face and a stick figure in the Mona Lisa, so I don't understand why they would do that to the game's music.

Avatar image for JReefer1

@akiratasoeur The music is by far top tier, that alone is reason enough to pick this title up.

Avatar image for akiratasoeur

@JReefer1 @akiratasoeur

I agree the music is very good.

There are, however a few tracks that don't fit the remastered ones and clearly show the different composition styles. This would have been fine if they weren't cacophonies used in dungeons. I found myself slightly annoyed by the out of tune experimental compositions and was pressing on to finish the 2 dungeons that had such music.

Everything else is great thanks to great compositions from Koji Kondo.

Avatar image for Jock_Nerd

Just finished it yesterday. Masterful and magnificent. The polish and music surpassed my expectations. And the "painting" mechanic is excellent. One of the better Zelda games ever.

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Avatar image for chenzo22

does this game have any extra mini games and online multiplayer games?

Avatar image for Jock_Nerd

@chenzo22 yes to mini-games. the multiplayer incorporates streetpass profiles controlled by cpu opponents.

Avatar image for Securator

Shit i still dont have a nintendo machine....imagine that backlog of games. I knew i shoulda bought the 3DS instead of the stupid Vita.

Avatar image for therealone717

This once again proves that had Nintendo with all of it's exclusive great games, kept up with the console hardware race they would likely be on top of Sony and Microsoft right now. Gamers would get a Nintendo system to play all the great exclusive classics to Nintendo and they would still get all the good multiplatformers in all their graphical glory. If they had kept up, they would even have attracted more major developers for additional exclusive games by now. I like that Nintendo has done it's own thing, I just think they could have done the same thing and still kept up on hardware specs- over the generations, they likely would have regained the top spot - but hindsight's 20-20.

Avatar image for SipahSalar

@jimbo1525 @SipahSalar I have not played minecraft even once in my life.

Avatar image for Bozeman42

No mention of the music? The music is great!

Avatar image for Amandamarvell

So Link to the Past is this ones predecessor? Which one was that again, my mind's completely blank.

Avatar image for Bozeman42

@Amandamarvell SNES

Avatar image for jimbo1525

@Bozeman42 @Amandamarvell how you forget that game. That is my favorite Zelda!

Avatar image for chechak7

and this game take game of the year title ...

Avatar image for SipahSalar

I HATE HATE HATE zelda games.

Avatar image for therake2013

So it's a 10 if you haven't played A Link to the Past? Got it.

Avatar image for Bowser05

@therake2013 YES! Honestly the game was REALLY well done. My only issue with it was the high amount of familiar retreading to A Link to the Past. If you haven't played ALttP, you have nothing to compare it to, and thus will probably enjoy it VERY thoroughly.

Avatar image for raahsnavj

@therake2013 Which is interesting, because about half-way through I said to myself, "This game just beat out LttP as the best Zelda game ever." Of course gaming 'ratings' don't back me up on that, but LttP has always been my favorite and this one took that game and improved every aspect. It is amazing.

Avatar image for rytist

*since NES

Avatar image for voightslebaron

Thinking of picking this up. I've never played a Zelda before though. Am I gonna "get it" ok? Also, what's the completion time for this?

Avatar image for drekula2

this is one of the best zelda games for a newcomer to pick up.

expect to beat it within 15 to 25 hours. depends on whether you want to take your time and get extras or not.

Avatar image for raahsnavj

@voightslebaron I finished the first time through in about 20 hours with 100% items. But, I played LttP a lot so I knew my way around hyrule pretty well. When you get finished there is a Heroic mode... it doesn't change everything up like the second quest in the first Zelda, but it is a lot harder. Don't play this for the completion time, play this because it is just plain awesome.

Avatar image for rytist

@voightslebaron You gonna get it alright. I'm quite new Zelda player, just since 3DS came out (first my OWN Nintendo, despite I've played Nintendo games since SNES). But it is the 6th Zelda for me now, and I can tell, that every one of them is quite independent, everything you need to know is in every separate game. I haven't played A link to the past yet, but this one is a thrilling and adventure for sure.

Avatar image for amaneuvering

"Nintendo has designed the first Zelda game where you feel free."

What about the actual first Zelda game...?

Avatar image for raahsnavj

@amaneuvering This one does it even better. There are really only a two 'sync' up points once you get done with the first dungeon. You can do any of the dungeons in pretty much any order because of the 'renting' system that is in place. It is absolutely amazing in how they pulled it off.

Avatar image for izzy_reb_02

This Game is Spectacular >W< Even the gameplay and mechanics are simple to use with no draw backs really. I never really use the joypad much on any other game so it did take me to get used to for a while to play this game. It brings me tears in my eyes seeing this game made a come back and with alternative story line from Link to the Past (My first Zelda game that was on Snes) I love the remix and the new songs they bring on the table. I don't mind playing this game over and over again just to bring the old feeling and lovely music tones to my ears. One of my new favourites is the Lorule Castle music (near the end)

Avatar image for izzy_reb_02

Even this music brings an awesome tune :D , I like the newer ones to that they bring in to as well the remixes. It brings tears to my eyes to play this type of Zelda game, plus a alternative story line from my favourite Game on Snes "The Link to the past"

That was my first Zelda game I ever played on Snes.

Avatar image for Spazzh20

I wrote a review on it if anyone is interested.

Avatar image for JoInfo

This game is spectacular.

Avatar image for getupandboogie

This game convinced me to buy a 3ds (the zelda 3dsxl infact) and im glad it did! Although the game surroundings are familiar, it is a completely different game. The dungeons have been well thought out (i have just got to lorule though, so do not take my word as final), and i have spent a lot of time just walking around familiarising myself and reminiscing about the good old days with LTTP. I also love the OOT references with Impa and Dampe involved. The 'make yourself a picture' gimmick is well done and adds a new dimension to the game. If i had to criticise, the weapon buying which was meant to make it a lot more free roam is not as good as i thought it would be. Originally i thought you could rent one weapon at a time. Turns out you can get as many as you want (and after i was walking round exploring, i had enough to get all but the two rods), which i thought put a little downer on it. Also, this might just be my eyes, but sometimes i struggle with layers on the 3D, when im working out how high i am in comparison with where i need to be. But these are nit picks, easily a 9, and definitely the best zelda game in the past decade.

Avatar image for svaubel

ATTP is my favorite Zelda ever, one of only five games Ive given a 10 to back when I reviewed games. This game is incredible so far and Ive only just done the first dungeon.

I'd like to know how 'Feels too familiar' is a demerit to the game, as that is the point. This is a sequel :P

Avatar image for KokutenNagaki

This is the best Zelda game to come out in years. Completely washes the bad taste of Skyward Sword out of my mouth.

Avatar image for Bowser05

@KokutenNagaki It's funny you say that because SS is my favorite in the series AND this game left a bad taste in my mouth. TOO MUCH NOSTALGIA. Not enough new. I enjoyed this game, but it reminded me too much of Twilight Princess. Lost opportunities.

Avatar image for vegard1985

@KokutenNagaki It's funny how some Zelda fans really don't like SS, while others love it. I bought a Wii mostly for SS (and the Mario Galaxy games of course) and had a blast with it. The thing I love the most about it are the controls. They're just so much fun.

Avatar image for jlsp1224

I will be getting my copy tomorrow! First Fire Emblem, then Pokémon, and now Zelda... so glad I bought the 3DS XL, between this when I'm on the move, and my PS4 when I'm home, I'll be set. This year... has been a great one... T_T

Avatar image for wizardboyus

@jlsp1224 just got my 3dsxl too! my ps4 will be seeing less of me now that i have this game. a link to the past is def one of my top 10 favs

Avatar image for n0xinab0x

@jlsp1224 I couldn't agree more.

Avatar image for LeFeverBeaver

ALTTP was my fav Zelda (and favorite video game of all time). This is a beautiful game. I can't wait to figure everything out and find everything. It's been a while since I was this excited about a Nintendo game.

Avatar image for nami_the_mage

This game is a master class in everything I love about games. It's so cool how the game moves buttery smooth @ 60 fps in 3D mode. It's an almost perfect Zelda game.

Avatar image for Bowser05

@nami_the_mage Yes! I'm so glad the 3D runs so beautifully in this game! Unlike Pokemon...:(

Avatar image for glimpus

I played 5 hours tonight. This game is an homage to A Link to the Past, in everyway.

The soundtrack alone gives me goosebumps.

Avatar image for PosiTVEMinD355

One Piece Romance Dawn coming to NA for 3DS

3DS is on Fire

Avatar image for Miltonelite

I'm confused, I thought that Hyrule was original introduced in the original Legend of Zelda for NES.

Avatar image for zachattack24

@Miltonelite This particular version of Hyrule was first introduced in A Link to the Past.

Avatar image for disneyskate

Dude, what do you mean 'still'? It's only been one freaking year since the U even came out! Did you forget how long it takes to make a Zelda game for consoles?

Avatar image for disneyskate

There's a difference between a 'port' and a remaster.

Avatar image for The_Deepblue

I remember the video where Tom McShea and Peter Brown criticized Nintendo's E3 Direct video because it relied too much on its old franchises. Yet, here we have two games from that E3 reveal receiving a nine on this website within virtually the same week. Not only that, the two games release on the same day. Also, Peter wrote a preview piece for Super Mario 3D World and praised it as a fresh entry in the series. And Tom recently made a video gushing over how much he loves A Link Between Worlds. I understand Tom and Peter's points when they criticized the Direct. Having new Nintendo franchises of the highest caliber of quality is a good thing, but it's difficult to criticize Nintendo's old franchises when they consistently find a way to feel so new. In short, don't doubt Nintendo when it comes to its treasured series.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds More Info

  • First Released Nov 22, 2013
    • 3DS
    The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a new game with a new storyline set in world of the Super NES classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
    Average Rating248 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
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    Adventure, Action
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Fantasy Violence