It’s hard to imagine a more influential game than The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Even after Nintendo dragged Zelda into the third dimension with 1998′s Ocarina of Time, the series continued to cling so tightly to A Link to the Past‘s exploration-heavy formula that it’s a wonder it took 22 years for the company to cook up a direct sequel to one of the Crown Jewels of the SNES library. It won’t come as a huge shock to longtime fans that the resulting game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, feels more like a remake than a proper sequel, with a world map that closely resembles its predecessor’s and a story that, more than anything, fills in the space between the lines; what is surprising is that, with just a few key changes to the formula, A Link Between Worlds manages to best its progenitor in nearly every way, making it the definitive classic-style Zelda adventure.
A Link Between Worlds’ version of Hyrule is familiar in broad strokes, but the small details and changes Nintendo has worked into its playground add up to a world that feels lived-in, rather than simply recycled. A lakeside cave, previously home to a generic potion seller, is now inhabited by a giant squid who’s too big to leave her home and search for her 100 missing children. A local pub, once sparsely populated (and without a bartender!) is now a popular spot to grab a glass of, er, milk and listen to local musicians’ unique renditions of classic Zelda songs. Though not all changes are welcome ones — a fat man dressed in a bee costume comes to mind as one of the most hideous additions to Zelda lore since the invention of Tingle — it’s a testament to the simple charms of Nintendo’s design work that A Link to the Past now feels lifeless by comparison. I’d rather wander a Hyrule populated by Maiamais, derby kids and middle-aged cosplayers than one without them.
One of the things I’ve been enjoying the most about The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the way Hyrule has been fleshed out with unique characters. From key players returning from A Link to the Past to shopkeepers borne straight out of the pages of the original Legend of Zelda’s instruction manual, the sheer variety of characters in the game makes this decades-old version of Hyrule feel lived-in, rather than just recycled.
One of my favorite new characters introduced in A Link Between Worlds is the bard, who, along with his little buddy with the flute, plays stunning renditions of dozens of classic Legend of Zelda tunes. It’s not a particularly innovative little Easter egg — RPGs have been doing this for decades — but for fans of the series’ excellent music, it’s just nice to be able to hear some new renditions of some of our old favorites.
Over the weekend, I went to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York, picked up the largest capacity iPad Air money could buy, then boarded the F train toward my apartment in Brooklyn and spent the next 40 minutes acting like I wasn’t hoarding $900 worth of hot new Apple tech in my backpack. When I got home, the first thing I did was marvel at how light the Air was compared to my two year old iPad 3. The next thing I did was install XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which I then proceeded to play for an embarrassingly indeterminable amount of time before realizing I should probably get back to my clients.
When we reached out to Nintendo about our upcoming review for Pokémon X and Y, we didn’t anticipate the company’s PR branch would send us download codes for both games… but it worked out rather perfectly as it allowed two writers with two very different takes on the series to weigh in on what has been touted as the first major evolution in a series that has come to be defined by its sameness. Our main review (and the site’s official score) have been written by the young and hopeful Eric R. Miller, who’d barely stopped drinking from a bottle when the original Pokémon Red and Blue games came out in 1998. Providing a second opinion will be Invisible Gamer’s founder and resident grizzled oldman, Michael Burns, who hasn’t been able to stick with a Pokémon game since giving up on Silver and Gold in high school.
With the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the Nintendo 3DS approaching, we at Invisible Gamer have taken some time to focus on the world of Link, Zelda, Ganon, and the various odds and ends of one of gaming’s most treasured franchises. But, to be honest, I’ve felt a little left out in the midst of all the Zelda talk.
That’s because I’ve never played a single Legend of Zelda game.
Every time a new Zelda game is set to launch, I find myself drawn back to the series, eager to explore what’s changed over the past 27 years, and what has remained the same. Usually this culminates in a month’s worth of revisiting my favorite legends past – A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Link’s Awakening, Wind Waker, and Minish Cap – but every once in awhile, I’ll be motivated enough to go back and fill in some of the embarrassing gaps in my Legend of Zelda knowledge. This year, I finally completed The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, a game that manages to be excellent from beginning to end despite being the weakest of all the portable Zeldas. It’s a milestone I’m glad to have crossed, but I didn’t find it as cathartic an experience as when I finally completed Majora’s Mask for the first time. I guess it came along at the right time in my life.
This weekend, fans in attendance at Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds panel at New York Comic Con got a wealth of insight into the game’s development, along with a bounty of new details about its story, setting, and new features… and even some vague hints about the future of the Zelda franchise. And it all came directly from the mouth of longtime Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma, for whom the panel presented a first-ever opportunity to interact directly with fans.
Aonuma began the discussion by thanking attendees for their enthusiasm, then took a brief moment to praise the artistry he’s seen in Zelda Miiverse posts on the Wii U. The audience seemed to hang on Aonuma’s every word, and he clearly enjoyed the attention, grinning earnestly at with each frequent round of applause he received.
The GRID Lab at Ohio University is tucked in the basement of a building, unknown to most students. The room is filled with television screens, gaming systems and computers, ready to create, study and test games. For the members of Betwixt Games, the lab is where they work on their game: Max Impulse.