January 28, 2014

A Link Between Worlds is the Best Game EVER

Whoops, don't know why this one came to mind.
Note: I've been getting quite a few angry responses to my Most Overrated Games of 2013 article. People have been making very good points, like: how can you claim that a game is overrated if critics say that it's a great game? Or, how can you claim to be a gamer when you don't like the same games as everyone else? Well, I am nothing if not open to criticism, so I have decided to give a totally honest positive review of a 2013 game that everyone else liked. Because after all, no one reads these articles to get a different opinion, right?
As a longtime Zelda fan and a self-admitted Nintendo fanboy, there was never any question of me not getting the newest game in the franchise, Super Paper Link to the Past. No wait, sorry, the title is Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I have no idea why I got confused like that.
A Link Between Worlds puts you once again in the role of Link, who once again has to save Hyrule from evil. You once again fight enemies from a top-down perspective, instead of an overly complicated 3D perspective, once again using bombs to open up cave entrances, once again using the hookshot to cross gaps, and once again collecting three pendants, getting the Master Sword, and freeing seven sages. If I repeat the phrase "once again" a lot, it is only to signal my satisfaction with Zelda developers ditching their nasty habit of bringing in new elements into their games and finally just giving us a visual update of one of the oldest games in the series.
The first thing any Zelda fan will notice almost immediately in this game is the tense, fast-paced combat. When you start a fight, you never know if you'll have to mash the B button 3 times or 10 times in order to defeat all of your opponents. Occasionally, you may even need to raise your shield to stop an incoming projectile. This is in stark contrast to the god-awful Skyward Sword, which, with its fluid motion controls, forced you to stop and think about how and when to strike your enemies. Dammit Nintendo, this is a game! We don't want to think about things here!
Where combat really shines is in the boss fights. Other games in the series may have forced you to use strategies and time your attacks in order to defeat bosses, especially in the final boss fights. This meant that there was difficulty to those fights, and that you even had to die occasionally, taking up precious play time. Well, no more. In this game, boss strategies are simple and heavily telegraphed, meaning you can power through all dungeons in the space of a few hours. The one exception is the Gauntlet boss, who requires you to time your attacks well and think about how to dodge incoming attacks. This is an unfortunate deviation from the game's dirt-simple, superb combat systems, but luckily, is a one-time mistake.
Boo, challenging boss! You're getting in the way of me reviewing this game!
Boo, challenging boss! You're getting in the way of me reviewing this game!
Another welcome change from Skyward Sword is the way Link navigates the game-world. Skyward allowed you to explore a vast world full of secrets, using motion controls to rule a flying bird, something which somehow even made exploration enjoyable. However, being confronted with so many options is confusing and hurts my head. Luckily, A Link Between Worlds artificially limits exploration in the beginning of the game by using a strict fast-travel system, with objects like large boulders that you can only move later in the game making sure that you can only reach certain areas exactly when the developers want you to. Another wonderful aspect of this system is Irene, the witch who transports you around the world using her magic broom. She is but one of the many characters you will meet in this world who repeats the same awkward humor in every interaction, making sure the game is at least as full of laughs as a Smurfs movie.
Could these characters bee more funny?
Could these characters bee more funny?
The travel restrictions are somewhat lifted in the second part of the game, as you are given seven dungeons to explore in pretty much any order you want, and the fact that items are rented from a store managed by another HI-LARIOUS character instead of found in dungeons gives a certain sense of freedom. You may even ask yourself: does beating the dungeons in a different order change the ending in some way? Are there a lot of side quests to take up? Do the choices I make affect the game in any meaningful way? Fortuantely, the answer is a resounding no.
As a game critic, one of the things I fear most in games is innovation. After all, adding new elements to a game means that I can't play it in exactly the same way I have been playing other games over the last year. Fortunately, Nintendo listened to the wishes made by people like me and threw innovation completely out the window. Not only is the world map basically the same as in the original game, but also the music, the enemies, and even some bosses are slightly-updated versions of the ones from the original Link to the Past. With this setup, I can happily put as little effort as the developers into this game, thus freeing me up to engage in other activities like watching cartoons or tweeting about how great Dark Souls is.
The opposite of innovation is gimmickry. A gimmick seems to add new depth to the game, while not forcing you or your audience to think too hard about how to use it for exploration or combat. Link's new ability to merge into walls might seem to open a world of possibilities, but luckily for those of us who fear challenge, it opens more of a one-horse town of possibilities, occasionally used to cross gaps (which are only there to force you to use the merge ability) but never much more than that. It is not before the very end of the game that it is used in combat, but don't worry – the game tells you exactly how to use it, so as not to cause a sudden, unfair difficulty spike.
Given the simplicity of the game, you might think that it is too short to be worth your money. Luckily, the developers had the same thought, and added a sidequest to the game in which you help the oh-so-cute giant octopus Mother Maiamai retrieve her 100 children. This may seem like a lot of work, but  while it adds a few hours to the game, it adds nothing in terms of difficulty or substance, as rescuing Maiamai consists of about 5 strategies that are repeated in all instances, with very few exceptions. Chances are, you will find most of them without even trying. You say easy; I say "intuitive". And when a game is this intuitive, how could you argue that it is not the best game of the year 2013?
The dialogue with Mother Miamai is but one example of Link Between Worlds' "intuitive" writing.
The dialogue with Mother Miamai is but one example of A Link Between Worlds' masterful writing.
  • Simplistic, easy-to-get-through combat
  • "Nonlinear" structure
  • Dialogue does not confront the player with unfamiliar jokes or ideas
  • One boss fight may require more than 30 seconds to beat
FINAL SCORE: 100 (out of 10, not an average)

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