First Impressions: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Further muddying the timeline

Surprise! That rumored Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS remake was totally not true, and no doubt planted as a red herring by some unscrupulous Nintendo employee to throw us all off the real story: Nintendo's handheld is getting a “sequel” to fan-favorite The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

We say “sequel” because we’re not entirely sure what The Legend of Zelda 3DS is, even after playing it for a bit during Nintendo's 3DS software showcase yesterday. Nintendo made explicitly clear that this isn’t a remake of the SNES title but that it does in fact take place in the same stormy Hyrule that we first saved in 1992. We might have to wait until a future edition of Hyrule Historia to find out where the game fits and in which timeline it does so, but in the meantime we’re going to mentally tag it as New Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Future 3D. We dare Nintendo to think of a more appropriate title.

Zelda 3DS is a top-down affair with an art style that echoes A Link to the Past, merging the designs of the 2D sprites with the periphery art found in the game's manual (which depicts a blonde Link instead of a pink-haired one, just to nip that in the bud). The purist art style works quite well in 3D, allowing for a clean, chunky look that confirms Shigeru Miyamoto's suggestion that the layered world of Link to the Past would suit the handheld. The game cops the same controls as its progenitor, too, so no more of the stylus-steering found in the DS titles: Zelda 3DS is a button-based affair.

Verticality is the keystone on which the game is built — appropriate both for similarities to the girders of A Link to the Past and to emphasize stereoscopic 3D. While certainly not new to the franchise, we can say that based on our time with what appears to be one of the game’s early dungeons Nintendo is intent on building onward and upward. The demo began with Link at the bottom of a 10-story tower and dared him to reach the angry boss monster thing at the top, with nary a staircase in sight.

Strewn about the demo dungeon were some of the series’ navigation and puzzle tropes, like thwacking coloured switches to lift a corresponding wall or walkway or falling through conveniently sliced holes in the grating to an area below, as well as unconventional springy doodads that Link could clunk with his hammer, step onto and get launched upward.

Most interesting is Link’s new Merge ability, allowing him to turn into wall art and move left and right — he can’t fall or jump in this condition. Link can move around obstacles, latch himself onto the outside of floating blocks in order to climb to the next floor, or weasel his way through barred windows. Using Merge drains a stamina/magic bar, keeping you from staying super-thin for too long, which regenerates over time. The examples on display were pretty simple but did a good enough job of illustrating how the concept can spice up a dungeon.

Enemies on display were limited but old news — those pesky jumping stalfos are back, as well as kamikaze crows and ornery floor tiles — and the final boss at the top of the tower was an unspectacular worm thing with a glowy tail to stab. The demo offered little “wow” in this department, although to be fair the game was literally just unveiled, the dungeon is likely not final and, even if it was, likely represents an incredibly early portion of the game. We’ve played enough Zelda to know that the game never really starts until you've collected a trio of whatever mystical items have been spread around the lands.

Given that it shares the same world as A Link to the Past we’d expect this new Hyrule to bear a striking resemblance, although we can't say for sure how close it’ll be to the old game because our hands-on demo was restricted to this dungeon. Based on footage shown elsewhere it appears to be aiming for pretty similar indeed.

Since our time with the game was so limited, we really can’t speak to whether Zelda 3DS is worthy of its link to the past, or even really what that link truly entails. After crawling through its simple dungeon we can really only say one thing for certain: Nintendo sure is making another top-down Zelda game. It’s a thing. It’s real. For some, that tidbit may be enough to make them kick down the door to the locomotive and send the hype train into warp speed. All we want to do is play a good top-down Zelda and hope that this fits the bill. It’s halfway there already.

We'll all find out together when Zelda 3DS launches this holiday.