Back when we did our Top 20 Games of 2013 feature, we made sure to attach to caveat that the list was just the opinion of two guys who hadn’t played everything that came out in 2013. I mention this because our top 5 entries would have looked a little different if I had played The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds before we assembled the list.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is an unexpectedly great game, which seems like a silly thing to say. I mean, Zelda games are pretty much always great, right?
Well, yeah, they are, but this one was reusing the world from A Link to the Past and had kind of a bland, cheap-looking art style (don’t worry, it grows on you). Also, for some time Zelda games have been good in a Peter Jackson Middle Earth movie kind of way. They’re slavishly well-crafted, but also a bit overstuffed and overwrought, and the last few Zelda games (particularly the ones on the DS) were more The Hobbit than Return of the King. So yeah, I was skeptical. I knew the game would be good, but maybe in an “only for fans” sort of way.
I was wrong to doubt. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is, in my humble opinion, the best 2D Zelda game ever made. I know that’s ludicrously high praise, but after finishing the game I tried to think of another 2D Zelda I’d rather replay. Certainly not the DS games. The original NES Zelda? No. A Link to the Past? No. Maybe, possibly, my previous 2D Zelda fave, Link’s Awakening? But nope, I think A Link Between Worlds tops even that classic.
Two princesses, twice as nice.
ALBW way seem like a small, humble game at first glance (and really it kind of is) but it’s also a bracing, surprisingly brave game that grabs the wheel and completely redirects a Zelda ship that’s been stuck on the same course for too long. For some time now (really, ever since Majora’s Mask director Eiji Aonuma took over the series) the trend has been for Zelda games to become increasingly dense and rigidly structured. This approach probably reached its limit with Skyward Sword, a game with an overworld so dense and twisted it felt no different than the game’s dungeons.
ALBW cuts the Zelda formula to the bone. While it took nearly 6 hours to reach your first dungeon in Skyward Sword, ALBW gets you started with the dungeon hacking within half-an-hour, and from then on you rarely have to spend more than 20-minutes between each additional dungeon. The dungeons themselves are also reduced to their bare essentials — each one establishes it’s basic theme or mechanic, iterates on it a few times, then boom, boss time. No excessive backtracking or grinding through enemies or item collecting. This leaner approach to Zelda means ALBW is over quicker than most games in the series (it will take you maybe 10 – 15 hours to beat) but it doesn’t feel like a short game. Those dozen-or-so hours are packed with two worlds, 11 dungeons and countless sidequests. The experience may be quick, but it feels appropriately epic.