One thing I’ve always loved about Nintendo is how they have consistently managed to stick to their roots while also evolving and switching things up just enough to make the old new again. They quite effectively demonstrated this in 2006 with their pseudo-reboot in New Super Mario Bros. – a game designed to tickle the fancy of all those wearing rose tinted goggles of nostalgia while also incorporating new elements and power-ups from more recent games to make it unique from its inspiration. Since then, I’ve regularly fantasized and dreamed about the idea of some of my other favorites from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras getting similar treatment, where they retain the look and feel of the original while adding new elements to make them more interesting and modern. One of those dream projects was a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES, but I always worried no game would live up to that classic; even when Iwata announced The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo Direct, I wasn’t sold on the idea. However, now that I’ve completed it, I can honestly say that A Link Between Worlds is everything I hoped, and far beyond my expectations; I don’t think I could have been more pleased with the results.
At the start you’re dropped into a familiar situation in a familiar world. Link is having nightmares of his time with the Princess, only to be woken up in his home by his childhood friend. Instantly, as soon as you leave your home, you know that everything about A Link Between Worlds is a labor of love addressed to fans of the original. The 3D graphics are crisp and a great homage to the 2D sprites they emulate, the sound effects are pitch perfect, and every single track in the score is a perfect recreation of the original, but better. Not only do you hear those wonderful tunes from the SNES era, but the quality is vastly improved. The horns are stronger, the violins have a better harmony, and every single chime, chip, or tweet is a twang at the heartstrings. This looks and sounds exactly like one would hope a sequel would look and sound, and it’s glorious. Part of me worries that this is nostalgia talking – and in a way it is – but the quality is there, and there are some new tracks as well, such as a particularly creepy forest temple theme, or the final dungeon theme, both of which fit into the mood established by the sounds of Death Mountain or Misty Mire. Blend the returning tracks of A Link to the Past with modern sounds from Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, and you have a winner on multiple levels.
It only takes a few moments to get into the mood, but if you ignore the immediate and pressing urge to explore everything, you quickly head to your job at the blacksmith’s, where you meet a great swordsman who is getting his blade tempered. Upon his departure, it is revealed that he forgot his sword, and you must head to the sanctuary in the north to return it to him. However, all is not well, and upon arrival you find that Yuga – The villain of A Link Between Worlds – has defeated the swordsman and imprisoned him in a painting. You confront Yuga, only to find that he does the same to you. Luckily, you escape, and in the process gain the ability to turn into a moving picture that can scuttle across walls – a skill that becomes the crux of A Link Between Worlds. If you’ve played the SNES prequel, you have a basic idea of the plot from this point forth: you find pendants while Yuga captures the seven sages, an act that creates a rift between the two worlds that allows you, using your new-found wall-scaling skills, to seamlessly travel between the worlds via multi-colored cracks in various walls around Hyrule. The strategic location of each and every crevasse leads to a degree of strategic teleportation and secret hunting, naturally.