Art, graphics, music and multiplayer
The visual influence of "A Link to the Past" is clear and in some cases painfully obvious; outside of the pre-rendered cut scenes, all the characters, architecture and level design are straight out of that 1992 game, albeit recreated to be natively three-dimensional. The designers also added a more intentionally cartoonish aspect to the graphics, a style tracing back to 2003's "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker."
Even the basic layout of "A Link Between Worlds" is similar to that of "A Link to the Past." This open world might have seemed huge in 1992, but today it starts to feel small about midway through the game. In Lorule, "A Link Between Worlds" had its best chance to distinguish itself from "A Link to the Past," but aside from a few graphical garnishes (Princess Hilda's spider web-like magic and the cracks between the worlds both look great) this dark world looks a lot like the dark world of "A Link to the Past."
As wall paintings, Link and other characters take on a striking new appearance similar to a mosaic or early medieval illumination: solid colors, thick lines, almond-shaped eyes and sharp profiles that lack perspective. The distinctive look makes these two-dimensional paintings pop amid their curvy, smooth-textured 3D surroundings.
Most of the game's music and sound are from "A Link to the Past." The music, by composer Koji Kondo, is a lovely orchestral remix that accentuates the mood and feel of each area. The sound effects are largely the same as in the original game, right down to Link's grunts, screams and kiais, but don't feel at all out of place.
New players won't know the difference, and old players will enjoy the nostalgia. The only bothersome sound effects are Zelda's breathy exclamations, which belong more to a 1930s damsel-in-distress movie than a 1992 video game, much less a 2013 edition.
"A Link Between Worlds" might be the "Zelda" series' first online multiplayer game. At Kakariko Village in Hyrule, players can elect to use Nintendo StreetPass, the 3DS's close-range networking functionality, to make their versions of Link appear in other players' games.
When enabled, StreetPass will show you "shadow" versions of other players' Links as they travel through their own versions of Hyrule and Lorule. When you encounter a Shadow Link, you can challenge him to a duel.
If the other player agrees, you'll both be restored to full health and transported to a special arena to duke it out. Winning a duel earns players extra treasure. Losing bears no penalty, and players return to the health they had before the duel, no worse the wear.
Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto famously conceived the first "Zelda" game when he opened his desk drawer and imagined a miniature garden hidden inside it. That same spirit is present in "A Link Between Worlds." What the game lacks in story it makes up for in strong level-design, particularly the "merge" feature, which adds a whole new dimension to the puzzles and story.
For its balance of charm and challenge, old and new, "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" gets a four out of five from Tom's Guide.
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS and 2DS (game card or Nintendo eShop download)