Granted, I didn’t complete a whole lot of games in 2013, but I did manage to check out some of the most important ones. Like this one: Nintendo’s Zelda – A Link Between Worlds. For a handheld console no less! That’s right, I actually bought a 3DS just to play this game. I’m glad the game turned out as good as it did, because, going by the videos, that really wasn’t a sure thing. The videos made it seem more like a weird little remake of a Super Nintendo classic, but one that has fallen out of the proverbial ugly tree and hit a bunch of branches on the way down. That’s also why I went with some concept art instead of the usual screenshot, the media that’s been released for this game really doesn’t do it justice, it looks quite good in motion. A Link Between Worlds strikes a fine balance between 3D visuals that actually work and the style that echoes a lot of what defined the original game on Super Nintendo. The only thing I found lacking personality were some of the dungeons, but then, you’re not really going to worry about that once you’re playing it: it’s positively bleeding ‘Zelda’ everywhere else.
That’s readily apparent when you first hear some of this game’s music. A lot of it has been lifted from a Link to the Past (the original game), though it has been rearranged and iterated upon in quite a spectacular fashion. Pretty dicey if you ask me. When you start tinkering with tunes that are regarded as all time classics, you run a fairly serious risk of ruining them. They didn’t though, and it’s pretty much flawless as a soundtrack that simultaneously plays on nostalgia (which is when music is at its very best anyway) while offering plenty of new sensations as well. However, since games have always been about ‘doing stuff’, nostalgia doesn’t work as well with games as it does with music. Unlike that infinitely re-playable album you first discovered when you were thirteen years old, games often aren’t able to hold your attention quite as firmly the second time round a decade after you first play them, however good your memories of those games might be. And since I’m declaring A Link Between Worlds game of the year here, that must mean it’s something more than a simple remake.
I remember watching Vinny over at Giantbomb doing his ‘quicklook‘ of this latest Zelda game and thinking ‘this looks exactly like a Link to the Past, how is this a thing?’ How indeed. Well, A Link Between Worlds has a number of interesting spins on the formula, spins that you just would not expect from Zelda. Gathering items through dungeon completion for instance, a series mainstay since its very inception, has now been replaced with a rental system (run by some shady looking dude in a purple bunny suit). This allows the player to choose from pretty much all of the game’s items from very early on. This philosophy extends to other aspects of the game, like the dungeons themselves: the player can pick the order he or she wishes to complete them in. Fairly radical for a Zelda game and it’s one of the things chiefly responsible for the sense of freshness this game exudes. I also caught myself approaching puzzles the way I was taught by the original game, back when I was ten years old, which, for instance, led to me figuring out how to acquire the ‘Pegasus Boots’ only at the very end of my play-through. Shame, though indicative of a playful approach in terms of the game’s design. In addition, A Link Between Worlds‘ use of 3D is superb: a game I once considered to be very flat now has a very unique sense of depth as you peer into the abyss underneath one of the game’s later dungeons. Very cool stuff.
It’s also a genuine, old fashioned, gamer’s type of game. I loved the Last of Us as much as the next guy, but this was better.