"A followup is something I approach with both childlike enthusiasm and a bit of caution."
To say The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a fan favorite might be an understatement. It was one of the
games to own if you had a Super Nintendo, and ranks up there with the likes of Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, and Super Mario World as an iconic 16-bit game. A Link to the Past took the top-down view of the original NES classic and expanded, polished, and refined it to a point where it still stands up today, over 21 years later. There have been several successful top-down Zelda games since then, of course. Link's Awakening and the recently re-released Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons also share in the well-earned adoration.
Still, there was something about that
version of Hyrule; its inhabitants, the flow of the story, the twist of having an entire alternate world where the largest portion of the game took place, and of course, the introduction of the wonderful Hookshot. Ever since Shigeru Miyamoto casually mentioned
in 2011 he'd love to see a remake of A Link to the Past, people have hoped to see this idle comment become something tangible. Then, in spring of 2012, Miyamoto switched gears a bit and instead of tossing out the word "remake," said he'd want to create something new
"based on, or starting from, A Link to the Past." Finally, here we are in 2013 where we're mere months from a release of just such a title.
Third paragraph. Am I finally going to talk about A Link Between Worlds? Yes. Thanks for hanging in there with my history lesson. Let's start at the surface level: One look at the screen shots and you can tell this game is based on the SNES classic. The visuals are built with polygons now, on a game engine that runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, but there's no mistaking LttP's Hyrule. The portions of the overworld map that I saw – around Link's house and the ruins to the east – were directly from A Link to the Past. There were some slight modifications, such as new platforms holding Pieces of Heart, and some crystal switches to make a chest appear. The demo dungeon seemed completely new. It's hard to say at this early stage exactly what the ratio of familiar vs. new content is in play, but it seems like a nice balance: enough familiar locations to cement that you're in the same world, but littered with new experiences so that it doesn't feel like a rehash.
There were a handful of tools available: the bow & arrow, hammer, bombs, and Link's sword and shield. Hitting B swings your sword (and yes, having full hearts grants you a magical beam while attacking), holding L brings up your shield to deflect attacks, and X & Y hold your choice of item. Items are managed in a clean grid on the touch screen, and are assigned by simply dragging an icon to your button of choice. The lower screen also displays the world map, or a dungeon map with buttons to easily toggle between floors. It all works fluidly, and makes switching items quick and easy.
One interesting change is the magic meter. In A Link to the Past, this meter was your fuel for any magical items such as the medallions (Ether ftw), magic canes, and so on. Now, your magical reserves also power the hammer, bow, and bombs. What this means is that instead of having a stockpile of bombs and arrows to replenish, you can use them so long as you have magic. The hammer and magic wand in particular use a large chunk of your meter with each swing. The idea seems to be that more power = more magic, with arrows at the low end of that scale and the hammer on the other. It sounds restrictive, but given that your magic gradually refills automatically like many modern games, it works well. It's worth noting that any and all of this could change prior to release, but it's an interesting change that I think could work. I'd expect the game would have magic meter upgrades like its predecessor at some point if this stays intact.
Using some items is a different affair than what you're used to. While the SNES game allowed free movement, sword swings were still limited to eight directions; now, you can freely attack in any direction. The bow & arrow, meanwhile, is locked to 8 directions, although holding down the item button causes Link to remain pointing in that direction, allowing you to strafe and line up your shot. The hammer still lets you bash posts into the ground and flip turtles over to reveal a squishy underbelly. The demo's one new item is an unnamed magic wand, which casts a swirling pillar of flame at your foes. The effect makes good use of the 3D screen, so it's never been more fun to incinerate your enemies.
The 3D effects are also put to good use in the multi-tiered dungeon. With floating grid platforms showing the floors below, it uses 3D to enhance the feeling of depth in the area, instead of just for purposes of novelty. The biggest gameplay change so far is one that appears to be a novelty as well at first glance: the ability to become a flat drawing and walk along walls. If you look at the second screen shot to your right, you'll see how it works: after finding your way on top of the crystal switch-controlled blue platform, melding into the wall allows you to slide around the corner and to a ledge outside the barred window. It literally adds a new dimension to solving puzzles and navigating both the overworld and dungeons. For a seasoned Zelda player, it took some getting used to, to remind myself that I could do it, but it made for some fun solutions.
That covers most of what I know and got to play. If you take anything away from this long-winded preview, let it be this: as someone who has been playing Zelda games since 1986, the series is near and dear to my heart. It's the reason I came to love adventure games and RPGs. One of the only decorative items that has never left my bedroom in 21+ years is a store display
for A Link to the Past. So, a followup is something I approach with both childlike enthusiasm and a bit of caution. I have no idea if A Link Between Worlds will live up to its legacy, but I do know the demo I played showed immense promise with fluid gameplay, tight controls, innovative puzzles, and just the right amount of nostalgic charm. November cannot get here soon enough.