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Game Review

After a 27-year history of dungeon trolling, treasure questing and bad-guy besting, coming up with a fresh angle for yet another Zelda game might seem to be a tall order for the Nintendo gang. How many variations on the same "save the princess" tale—involving an over-sleeping elf of a hero, a magical Triforce and a pretty royal who keeps being snatched up by some power-hungry baddie—can there possibly be?

Fans of the seasoned series worried in vain, however. Not only have gamemakers found a way to serve up a recognizable kingdom of Hyrule once again—revisiting the overhead bird's-eye view, look and feel of the 1992 SNES classic A Link to the Past—but they've also spruced things up a bit while moving the timeline forward. Ultimately they've created one of the more highly praised Zeldas ever in a 3DS exclusive called The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

The Weakest Link? No. Just a Yawning Link
Set a generation or two after the events of Link to the Past, the game's homogenous and reluctant hero, Link, is still having as hard a time getting out of bed as his predecessor. And no wonder: When he finally succeeds, he's suddenly faced with the fact that a wand-waving no-good named Yuga is magically turning the kingdom's attractive notables into two-dimensional paintings.

The evil magician says it's because he wants to capture the essence of beautiful perfection—which, of course, will eventually include the blonde-haired, blue-eyed charm of Princess Zelda—but it becomes clear that this guy is more than simply a collector of abracadabra art. He has some nefarious scheme up his sleeve that involves a wish-granting relic called the Triforce, the reanimation of a long-ago banished bad guy named Ganon and the machinations of another kingdom in a parallel dimension.

It's up to Link to traverse the game's open world of grassy fields, volcanic mountain tops, wide flowing rivers, swampy wetlands and sun-scorched deserts to stop whatever nasty stuff is going on. He does that by cutting down scores and scores of foes who are suddenly populating the once peaceful land, and by solving intricate puzzles on his way to reclaiming the broken-apart pieces of the Triforce.

The Slashing's Required to Get to the Solving
Of course, it's this world's magicking and sword-swinging battles that parents may be the most curious about—some of whom grew up playing that first game. To be sure, there is plenty of both to navigate here. This enchanted kingdom is a place of fairies who heal, magicians who wave wands for both good and evil, and witches who lend their brooms for quick transport.

It's also a land packed with attacking skeletons, one-eyed jumping ticks, dive-bombing crows and ink-squirting octopuses. Link encounters big bosses that range from multi-eyed plant beasts to a skeletal demon thingy to a lava-spewing turtle to a gem-encrusted dinosaur. He uses a sword, a bow and arrow, bombs, and a boomerang to make his way past them all.

The magical elements are a fantastical part of a fantasy land of elfish knights and princess-saving heroes. And the beastie enemies are more cartoonish that ghoulish. None of the battling results in any blood or gore. The tiny blows land with a small flash and the fallen blink out of existence. The detached and repetitive-feeling fighting is part of a game mechanic used to illustrate the swarming evil that must be bested—while supplying a few gems that can be used to obtain tools for the rest of the game.

You Say 3-D, I Say 2-D, Let's Call on Link to Get the Job Done
The real joy of A Link Between Worlds comes through its wonderful puzzles. Indeed, this is a digital world of fun cerebral conundrums. As Link travels mountain passes and underground dungeons it all looks colorful and kid-friendly, but there are puzzles within puzzles within puzzles designed to challenge kids and adults alike. They sometimes require a balance of darkness and light or a triggered pressure plate or a specialized tool or even the proper dimension to navigate. And that last part is a brilliant addition:

As Link encounters Yuga and his two-dimensional turn-people-into-paintings magic, he realizes that a special bracelet gives him the ability to transfer himself between the regular 3-D world and the world of a 2-D drawing. And it's only in his Egyptian wall painting-like form that Link can find secret pathways across otherwise unpassable chasms and through the slightest cracks in the face of a brick-and-mortar obstacle—offering a plethora of new possibilities to the puzzle solving. And when a perplexing puzzle's solution finally slips into place, the resulting "aha" moment feels like quite a reward as it links you to both gaming's past and future all at once.

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November 22, 2013

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Bob Hoose

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