It’s a well-known fact that Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime’s favorite Legend of Zelda game is A Link to the Past. While walking around the Zelda Gaming Lounge at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo with Nintendo’s Krysta Yang, I was told it was her favorite as well.
“I was cautious when we announced [A Link Between Worlds], because I loved the original so much,” she said to me as we made our way over to the demo station. “It’s got such a big name to live up to that I didn’t want to think about the Link to the Past name being tainted. What they created for the 3DS, though, is really amazing, it’s something very special.”
I was generally in the same mindset as Krysta. During last year’s Symphony of the Goddess tour in Seattle, I was surprised to find that the part of the show that brought back the most fond memories was the Link to the Past section. All those latent memories of Saturday afternoons spent playing the game with my older brother suddenly came rushing back to me. It’s safe to say that those memories remain protected by A Link Between Worlds, but at the same time, the game doesn’t rely on those memories to feed the player new experiences.
There were two demo options in the PAX demo I played: field and dungeon. I chose the dungeon demo, since it seemed to be objective-driven and showcased some of the classic puzzle-solving elements that the Zelda series is known for. I was informed that the demo brought to the Penny Arcade Expo this year was the same demo they showed at E3 back in June—so I shouldn’t expect any surprises. It did surprise me, though, and it did so by showing me how a top-down Legend of Zelda game can still be relevant in this day and age.
On the technical side of things, the game maintains 60 frames per-second while the stereoscopic 3D is on. This made Link’s movements feel smooth and satisfying. You get instant feedback from hitting enemies, and the game never slows down when you’re hit or when there’re too many enemies on the screen. It features a new purple gauge that combines stamina and magic as well—no more collecting arrows in the field; you merely have to wait for that gauge to refill once it depletes.
The two things that left the greatest impression on me, though, were the use of the 3D effect to augment vertically-built puzzles and, my personal favorite, the hieroglyph transformation, which turns Link into a flat wall painting and allows him to travel across walls. Let’s talk about the verticality first.
The game lets you smash platform-like enemies into the ground and use them to reach higher levels. When you hit one of these enemies with a hammer, it’ll get smashed into the ground only to pop back out a few seconds later, sending Link flying up onto the next level. This technique is essential in scaling the tower, as timing plays a pivotal part in getting through some of the dungeon’s obstacles.
In other areas, you will have to find ways not only to get up, but to make your way back down in such a way that you’ll fall into parts of previously visited areas you could not reach during your first visit. You can use your hammer to break through cracked tiles, helping you to reach keys, maps, and other treasures that will help you along your journey.
The most exciting aspect of the game, though, was easily the hieroglyph transformation. It’s such a simple mechanic when taken at face value, and one that could easily be called a gimmick, but it gives a completely different impression when you’re playing it. Using it to slip in and out of a building through openings in windows and using it to hitch a ride on a block to a higher level really made the new top-down Zelda design feel fresh. The puzzles still feel carefully crafted and well attended to, the legend of its predecessor still fresh in the mind of its developers.
Taking into account everything I played at PAX, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is probably the game I’m most excited to see come out of Nintendo this year, and to see what they’ve done with it.