Falling somewhere between a sequel and a re-imagining, A Link Between Worlds is a fine return to traditional overhead adventuring for the Zelda series. A streamlined structure and some new gadgets freshen up a visit to the very same incarnation of Hyrule we first saw more than twenty years ago in the enduring Super Nintendo classic A Link To The Past. With the pseudo-sequel currently garnering tremendous critical acclaim, there couldn’t be a better time for Nintendo to re-release the original on Virtual Console, so veterans can re-live their 16-bit glory days, and those who have never experienced it can enjoy not only one of the finest entries in the beloved franchise, but one of the finest videogames ever made, full stop.
First impressions upon booting up the Virtual Console are that this is a stone-cold classic that has aged as impeccably as the finest wine. The graphical style epitomises the beauty of the SNES – Hyrule and its inhabitants are wonderfully realised, full of colour and burnished with lovely little touches like the subtle use of the console’s lauded (and often over-employed) Mode 7 trickery. It is an iconic-looking videogame, and indeed, the style laid down in A Link to the Past went on to heavily inform many other top-down Link outings that followed.
Koji Kondo, working alone, fashioned an utterly incredible score to accompany the dreamy visuals. Some would argue that it was his finest work: the opening chimes that accompany the Triforce coming together onscreen lead into a booming title salvo, and later on we get the vintage overworld theme. But there are similarly brilliant, more subtle motifs at play. Check out the urgent, brooding theme that ushers Link through the storm at the outset of the adventure, the regal march that backdrops your run through Hyrule Castle, and the unforgettable Sanctuary theme – these are all fabulous pieces of music. This is before we even mention the “Get Treasure Fanfare” – a sound that anyone who has ever set foot in any version of Hyrule, or even has a passing interest in Nintendo, will instantly recognise.
Aesthetically a masterpiece, then, but A Link to the Past remains a landmark work in terms of its gripping, intuitive and utterly brilliant gameplay. A staggeringly huge world to explore, with multiple dungeons, hidden Heart Pieces and devious puzzles to figure out, it is a joy to revisit. Structurally, this is classic Zelda – you take on each dungeon in a pre-determined order, and obtain the treasure, usually a cool new item that is then used to solve puzzles and defeat the boss. The gradual introduction of new gear opens up new areas of the world map to Link, and there is a beautiful sense of achievement when you finally obtain full freedom of the land and waters of Hyrule.
The introduction of the alternate Dark World is a stroke of utter genius – it may be just a simple palette swap in technical terms, but it creates a whole gamut of puzzles and situations for young Link, as you use the Moon Pearl to flip between the dual worlds. Like the best old-school games, there are some tricky puzzles and sections that are extremely tough to beat, but seldom will you become completely bamboozled, especially within the expertly designed dungeon sections, which are wonderfully diverse and always entertaining.
VERDICT: Nintendo raised the bar to incredible levels with their third Zelda adventure, just the same way that they launched their 16-bit console with perhaps the finest 2D Mario platformer. Many would argue that A Link To The Past represents the pinnacle of the franchise, and playing either on-screen or on the Wii U GamePad certainly proves that the passage of time has done nothing to dull its magical impact.
INCREDIBLE. This is the pinnacle of our scoring spectrum, reserved for games that truly affect us, that capture our imagination so completely that they affect the standard by which we measure future games. 10/10 is not a declaration of perfection, but an assurance that the game in question is of amazingly high quality and has exceeded our expectations.