Change scares people. Let’s face it, Obama ran for president on a platform of change, and despite his as-yet-unfulfilled promises, half the country still envisions him with a pair of horns, sitting around a lavish palace of flames adorned with the skulls of aborted fetuses, plotting the upcoming battle with the Messiah (who also has some as-yet-unfulfilled promises to return). But whilst I mock Republicans, the Tea Party and Fox “News,” let’s not forget yet another group of people so resistant to change that they quail in terror around public wishing fountains: Shigeru Miyamoto and the Legend of Zelda development staff. I’ve written a handful of articles about other games in the series, and I’ll probably write several more, but even I have a limit of how many different ways I can comically discuss the same damn elf throwing the same damn boomerang at the same damn octorok.However, if the cesspool of Zelda ideas has grown a little too stagnant, the 3DS installment, A Link Between Worlds, has come along to develop new and exciting ways to re-create the same games that earned them so much adoration in the past; namely, to re-create the same game that earned them so much adoration in the past. Let me explain: with minor changes, the map for Link Between Worlds replicates the overworld maps from A Link to the Past, whilst purging any possible secrets you hoped to find by virtue of having played Link to the Past twenty years ago. The player can use many–but not all–of the items from Link to the Past, with two or three new ones tossed in for fun. And probably most absurdly of all, one of these new items allows Link to change into a portrait and merge with walls.
Let that sink in. The Zelda team took a device praised for innovation in three-dimensional viewing…and featured a game with a two-dimensional hero. I don’t think a game company has missed the point by quite this much since Midway started porting its classic arcade games for the Playstation. What other technologies can we downplay horribly? Side scrolling platformers for the Wii? Pong for the PS4? Microsoft Word for the Occulus Rift? (And yes, I do realize that they intended for the 2D aspects of the game to emphasize the 3D. I just wanted to clear that up before anyone leaves any nasty comments. Or any at all…)Actually, though, I only make fun of the philosophical irony of glorifying two dimensions when you have three available (four, if you have an hour or two) because I actually can’t find anything else to make fun of. I loved the original, right up from its worm-infested Death Mountain tower right down to the bottom of its cold, frozen, dungeon eyeballs. And while at any time I could fire up my SNES and slog my way through its surprisingly expansive dungeons, I sure would appreciate if someone could concentrate the pure essence of Zelda-y goodness, then market it in a nice, easy, just-add-water powder to mix in with something new. Okay, yes, I tried a little to hard for that one, but the point remains that the game took the best parts of Link to the Past…and then stopped. Everything else, they added fresh for Link Between Worlds, and it works. So what can I actually say about the game? You go through dungeons. You rescue sages. You travel from one world to the next. You look for the Triforce–courage, of course. But rather than finding items in dungeons, you have access to nearly all of them almost from the beginning of the game, to either rent or buy from some weird dude in a rabbit costume (spoiler alert….remember what happens in Link to the Past if you don’t get the moon pearl in the Tower of Hera?). Renting lets you access them until you get yourself killed, at which point the profiteering bastard sends his fairy companion to swipe them from you without so much as a “Look!” or “Listen!” Buying circumvents this entirely. All items work on a rechargeable gauge, which saves the time scrounging the bushes for refills. I guess it makes sense that Link might get exhausted pounding things flat with a hammer, but I don’t really know if I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept that bombs recharge and arrows grow back. The dark world has survived, mostly unscathed, although it now bears the painful moniker “Lorule,” a pun that in itself can curdle milk within five minutes, stronger than any of the bad puns the internet can muster. Like the swamp and death mountain in Link to the Past, the entire Lorule….[sigh]….can I just call it the Dark World? The entire Dark World map prevents Link from moving from area to area, a tactic to force you to look for warp points (i.e. slits in the wall) in different locations. This has all the purpose of a male nipple, though, considering they don’t exactly take Carmen Sandiego level skills to find. Overall, though, I rather enjoyed the difficulty. It may have coddled me somewhat, but you know what? It turns out I really have a good time playing games that don’t require me to staple a walkthrough to my wall for easy reference. I know I can get, uh…somewhat temperamental…over the appropriate level of challenge, but for the first time in ages I felt like I had bought a game, rather than a Nazgul of Capitalism, attempting to force me into the limbo world of shelling out cash for strategy guides and DLC. Such a novel feature, the ability to play a portable game system without constant access to the internet. They may almost make this a useful system if they don’t watch out. But in the last two years of writing, I don’t think I’ve encountered a game that I can actually praise as much as this. I felt as though they fully revitalized one of my favorite games of all time, making it into a brand new experience. But not too new. We wouldn’t want another Adventure of Link on our hands.
…Or would we?