A tight, fun little romp, but …

Jon Mercer
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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A very long time ago, when Jon Mercer wasn’t even 10 years old, a game was released for the then-recent Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

A screenshot of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.”

Though he wouldn’t procure said SNES console for another year and a half, nor would he possess his own copy of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” for another year after that, young Jon would devour every morsel of it he could. He read the tie-in manga featured in Nintendo Power magazine, four years before he would even know what a manga was. He played snippets of the game at friends’ houses, but never for long enough.

“Link to the Past” was my absolute favourite game in the Zelda canon — to this very day, it still is. So, one can understand my excitement over “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds,” a pseudo sequel/spiritual successor that reaches back more than two decades into a timeless gaming franchise and delivers a game that is both heartwarming and nostalgic, if a little hackneyed.

Too familiar

That would probably have to be my biggest, if only, bone of contention with “Link Between Worlds” — as I grow older, I find that I am less impressed with blatant tickling of my nostalgic bits, less eager to go back for a different take on a familiar world, unless it truly is different — and this game plays it very safe with familiarity.

The overworld maps for Hyrule, and “Lorule,” the newly rechristened Dark World, are virtually identical to their SNES counterparts; several of the dungeons and even a few of the bosses draw very heavily from that which came before.

Despite some massive reimagining, “Link Between Worlds” comes across like one of your favourite bands, after a crucial member has left and the rest of the group opted for a sound-alike. It’s good, but it’s just not what you wanted.

Once these initial trepidations wear off, and you/I can accept the fact that we’re playing a portable Zelda, “Link Between Worlds” begins working its considerable charms.

Designed with a welcome sense of effervescent fun, usually centred on Link’s handy new ability to transform into a painting to traverse across flat surfaces, the game uses this ability in increasingly clever ways, involving portals between Hyrule and Lorule, and even enemy shields. And this is only the first of the “Link Between Worlds” bag of tricks.

In a very cool little feature, Nintendo has eliminated the need to stock up on quantities of arrows, bombs and any of the other goodies needed to split the game’s dungeons wide open.

Instead, everything is tied to an item bar that drains whenever items or magic abilities are used, but gradually replenishes when these skills are dormant.

It plays like the stellar “Y’s Seven” for PSP, and encourages players with compulsive issues to go ahead and let loose with Link’s items outside of the requisite puzzle sections.

Another neat idea is a shop that allows players the opportunity to rent, and eventually buy, the sort of items that were once found at the heart of each dungeon. With potential access to the hookshot, the wands, or any of the other devices, the game’s dungeons can be tackled in nearly any order, which adds a sense of freedom.

That freedom comes at the cost of the exhilaration that one usually got opening chests inside the dungeons. Now they seem to contain little more than rupees (Hyrule’s currency), and various bits and bobs for potion crafting.

Of course, until they are purchased, the items return to the shop after a labyrinth has been conquered, or Link falls in battle.

Unlike previous iterations in the series, the thrill doesn’t come from finding the item to unlock the next destination, but the creative means in which players can use them.

I must admit I was mildly disappointed in the “Link Between Worlds” visuals. They use an art style analogous to its SNES predecessor, with loads of bright colours, but a lot of the textures are muddy and boring to look at. It lacks the character of post-2002 Zelda games, flying directly in the face of the lighthearted approach Nintendo has employed here.

The 3-D effects add a nifty twist, and play upon the multiple elevations employed in the game; but truthfully, it wears thin after a couple of dungeons. Nintendo’s graphics work on the 3DS is usually flawless, and while it’s certainly good here, it doesn’t hold to their high standards.

“The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” is a tight, fun little romp through a Hyrule that holds a dear place in a lot of older gamers’ hearts. But with a Nintendo that in recent years has become a master at tickling our nostalgia bones and igniting our imaginations, it comes across as a little simple.

Platform: 3DS

Developer: Nintendo EAD/Monolith Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013

Rated: E for Everyone.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Nintendo, SNES

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