It features many links to the past, but a new perspective as well.
It may be hundreds of years later, but the lands of A Link to the Past are teeming with life . I began my latest quest with the “Dark World” of Lorule opened up. Like A Link to the Past, you must complete a number of dungeons in both the Light and Dark Worlds, and free the seven sages who are trapped in the Lorule dungeons. When you first enter Lorule, Princess Hilda saves you in person, but afterwards, she communicates through telepathy at various times.
At least up to the point I played, you can’t travel between Hyrule and Lorule at will. Instead, you have to find specific cracks in the fabric of reality through which you can pass in drawing form. These portals are marked on your map as you find them (you can also place your own markers to indicate places of interest). Lorule is similar to the Dark World of A Link to the Past, but shared music aside, the map seems quite a bit different. The land of Lorule has been fragmented, so getting from location to location requires traveling back and forth between Hyrule and Lorule. Unfortunately, the flashy animation transition, (which reminds me a bit of the portal between dimensions in the Super Mario Bros. movie), slows things down a bit, and it’s especially annoying if you accidentally back into the portal right after emerging.
While the graphics are a bit shinier than I’d like, A Link Between Worlds incorporates fluid animation and a number of fancy lighting effects. These effects are particularly prominent in the Dark Palace, the dungeon I spent time in, home of the Helmasaur King. The fortress has three layers of security before you can even get to the entrance. Like certain sequences in Wind Waker (or Metal Gear Solid), you have to avoid detection or be thrown in jail (which you can easily escape from by turning flat). To get by the guards, you have to turn flat and hide behind vines covering the walls.
As the name suggests, the Dark Palace is light impaired, so use of the Lamp is paramount. Light streaming through windows and cracks opened up other areas. Floors and walls appeared and disappeared depending on whether the lights were turned on, creating treacherous labyrinths, some of which could only be navigated by finding hidden cracks through which to squeeze. The Dark Palace featured new puzzles, but many familiar enemies, such as the mirror-walking Goriyas. A number of puzzles involved dropping bombs to trigger a switch – but bombs weren’t limited to just one plane, you had to throw bombs up onto ledges to complete puzzles.
The game makes great use of stereoscopic 3D, and the levels are full of many floating platforms that you have to correctly judge movement of in order to jump down onto, which is especially harrowing in this game’s iteration of Death Mountain. Additionally, you'll often be forced to seamlessly transition between 2D and 3D versions of Link since some of the platforms can be accessed only by sticking to their sides. The game seems to be pretty heavy on using the 2D/3D mechanic to create mind-bending mazes.
The symphonic soundtrack almost sounds out of place in the shiny game, though the renditions of the Light and Dark World themes are glorious and the dungeons have unique music.
The linear nature of modern Zelda games has been a common criticism, and A Link Between Worlds seeks to remedy that. From early on, many weapons and items that would normally be found in dungeons can be bought or rented from Ravio, the purple rabbit-eared salesman, who has set up shop in Link’s house. Rented items allow you to try out an item at a reduced price, though they will disappear if you die. And since you don’t know which items you’ll need to complete a given dungeon, it’s a good idea to rent them all at first. The items and wall transform share a usage meter that rapidly refills, but is limited enough to make time management important. You can assign two items at a time, to X and Y, while B and A are reserved for sword and context use (and L lets you run). Ravio stocks all sorts of familiar items, as well as new ones like the Wind Rod. Also, in an interesting tie-in, Majora’s Mask was hanging in the shop – it’s not clear if that has any role in the game.
A lot of collectibles are scattered throughout the land, including Maiamai, little shelled animals that will call out for help if you are nearby. Many are stuck to walls, and then can be removed by going behind them as a drawing and then popping out of the wall. Like a living version of Link’s Awakening’s Secret Seashells, the Maimai can be returned to the Mother Maiamai, who will upgrade your weapons in exchange, such as letter your bow shoot three arrows at a time. Only owned items can be upgraded, not rented ones.
A Link Between Worlds evolves the classic gameplay of A Link to the Past, while bringing in some modern sensibilities, and a great use of the stereoscopic 3D effects. While it remains to be seen how the story and non-linear design works out across the game, from what I’ve seen so far, the game has a great balance of combat, action, puzzles, and exploration – exactly the kind of Zelda game I’ve been wanting.