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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (391)

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Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds   Nintendo 3DS 

Too Little, Too Late    4/5 stars

Back in 2013, Nintendo found itself upon the horns of a dilemma. The company, which had always found success in both the home console and handheld console markets, suddenly found itself with a struggling 3DS, which failed to set the world on fire as the successor to the DS, and a struggling WiiU, which failed to set the world on fire as the successor to the Wii. Both preceding consoles had set records in sales and popularity, while their successors floundered, with no killer selling points to make customers drop their older systems for the newer ones. Placed in this difficult position, Nintendo played the role of a Biblical patriarch and sacrificed the WiiU in order to devote more time, energy, and resources to the prodigal 3DS. And while the 3DS stopped bleeding to death under its father’s careful ministrations, its competition with rival Sony’s Vita handheld never turned into a runaway success.

Unfortunately, the decision to save the 3DS instead of the WiiU saw a significant number of first-party Nintendo games hitting that handheld exclusively. And while the organs harvested from the corpse of the WiiU have all largely found their way to the Switch, 3DS exclusives never did. This, by and large, is no great loss to the overarching Nintendo community, as, in a tradition dating back to the original Game Boy Brick, most Nintendo handheld spinoffs aren’t particularly impressive, often suffering from technological limitations due to the fact that handheld hardware is a generation or two behind stationary consoles, or from Nintendo’s love of gimmicks (never more present than in the DS and 3DS), or from the fact that a small handheld device has both a limited field of view and limited battery life, necessitating design compromises.

One Nintendo franchise whose handheld spinoffs have largely been good (if not a little weird) is ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ From the Capcom-developed “Oracle of Ages/Seasons” on the Game Boy Color to “The Minish Cap” on the Game Boy Advance, ‘Zelda’ managed to avoid most handheld pitfalls… until the DS and its awful ‘Zelda’ spinoffs appeared. However, when the first original 3DS ‘Zelda’ game was announced, it immediately caught my attention. It wasn’t going to be a side-story or something weird, it was going to be a sequel to the best game in the series, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” This game, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” (“LBW”), had me hoping against all hope that Nintendo would release a version for the WiiU or even release a 3DS player for said ill-fated console. Alas, neither was to happen, nor did the Japanese corporation show any interest in porting its 3DS library to the Switch.

With the 3DS officially discontinued as of September 2020, I decided, on a whim, to try out the Citra 3DS emulator core in RetroArch. After all, with the 3DS and its games discontinued, even if I went out and bought a second-hand machine and cartridge (or borrowed one), Nintendo wouldn’t see a penny of my money anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while not perfect, Citra was able to run “LBW” at nearly full speed with occasional audio stuttering, while allowing me the pleasure of viewing it on my 55” TV, with one screen blown up to consume 80%+ of screen real estate, while the second screen occupied the bottom corner like a mini-map. So I figured I’d go ahead and play through the whole thing. What I found was a sequel that blatantly panders to its fanbase, relying heavily on SNES-era nostalgia, whilst cramming that nostalgia into a too-small package with very little identity of its own.

Presentation
“LBW” follows Nintendo’s trend of ‘throwback’ style games in that it is 2.5D, with a 2D gameplay perspective, but 3D polygonal visuals. Environments and enemies look nearly identical to their “A Link to the Past” inspirations, only polygonized, while the people tend to be a bit uglier and more eccentric. Character models for Link and Zelda in particular seem a bit too simplistic and chibi making the characters look and feel a bit like finger puppets. And while the world map is a 1:1 duplicate of the one in “A Link to the Past,” the environmental assets themselves feel a bit more bloated and puffy, giving the impression that there’s not nearly as much stuff in each screen in this sequel as there was in the original. Nintendo wisely ignored the 3DS’ titular gimmick, with only a couple of areas where the handheld’s blindness-inducing stereoscopic 3D would even work, let alone provide a tangible benefit.

Audiowise, “LBW” is fantastic… because it doesn’t even attempt to break any new ground. The glorious soundtrack from “A Link to the Past” is preserved here, with a few ‘new’ additions cribbed from other extant ‘Zelda’ games. The quality of the music in the SNES game pushed that system’s (amazing) sound chip to its limits, but even then was obviously MIDI. In “LBW,” while not fully orchestrated in CD quality, the background music does indeed sound more like real instruments than MIDI knock-offs.

Technically, there’s nothing really wrong with “LBW.” It runs nicely in an emulator and doesn’t employ any truly gimmicky control annoyances to make playing it on something other than a 3DS impossible. As Citra continues to mature, it will no doubt become the de-facto way to experience this game.

Story
“LBW” almost painfully retraces the footsteps left in the long ago sands of the 16-bit era by “A Link to the Past.” “A Link to the Past” was the first ‘Zelda’ game to present a cohesive, comprehensible plot and narrative, and it did so in spectacular fashion. “LBW” feels like it is constantly elbowing the player in the rips and saying, “Eh, eh? Remember this?” At the same time, “LBW” contrasts itself with “Ocarina of Time” as the direct sequel that could have happened, yet didn’t.

Our story opens with nearly identical beats to “A Link to the Past” way back in 1992. Our hero, Link, a green-clad Hyrulian youth, awakens in his bed. Only instead of his uncle girding himself for conflict in the midst of a rainstorm, the person waking Link is his annoying adopted brother, Gulley (like, Gully Dwarf?), who informs him that he’s late to work at the blacksmith’s shop.

Link heads into his job, where his adopted father, the blacksmith, yells at him for being late and berates him in front of the commander of the Hyrule royal guards. The captain leaves, but forgets the special ceremonial sword he was supposed to be picking up, so as punishment for his laziness, Link is ordered to track down the captain and deliver the sword.

Lazy Link no sooner manages this feat, when he witnesses a creepy, effeminate Gerudo sorcerer transforming the captain and a priestess into paintings. This sorcerer, named Yuga, knocks Link unconscious, taunting him that there will soon be even more paintings of the descendants of the Seven Sages in his collection.

Link regains consciousness, only to find that he’s back in his house, in his own bed, again, and that an annoying, simpering merchant dressed in a purple rabbit costume has invaded his house and wants to set up shop. In return for rent-free salesmanship, this lunatic, named Ravio (like, Chef Boyarrdee?), gives Link a moldy old bracelet and promises to let Link rent useful adventuring equipment from him for a modest fee.

Link heads off to warn Princess Zelda and her guardian, Impa, that a rogue sorcerer is on the loose, but finds that he’s too late. After a heated battle against Yuga, Link finds himself transformed into a scribble upon the wall… yet some sort of magic in the moldy old bracelet allows him both freedom of movement as a painting and the ability to return to 3D space at will. Link pursues Yuga through a mysterious portal, only to find himself in another world.

The Dark World from “A Link to the Past” has been reimagined as a parallel world called Lorule. It seems that, when the previous Link who defeated Ganon in the Dark World and reclaimed the complete Triforce wished for everything to go back to normal at the end of “A Link to the Past,” the former Golden Land transformed into Lorule, complete with its own inverted Triforce. In a plot line lifted directly from the TV series “Counterpart,” Hyrule and Lorule were nearly identical, yet they began to drift apart gradually over time. This drift was greatly accelerated when the Seven Sages and Princess Hilda of Lorule decided that the best solution to keep evil people from claiming the complete Triforce was to destroy it, whereas in Hyrule the three legendary archetypes each held a piece in perpetuity. Without its Triforce, Lorule began to decay and literally fall apart, while left with a Princess without Wisdom, a Hero without Courage, and a Villain without Power. Thanks to Yuga’s meddling, though, all three pieces of Hyrule’s perfectly cromulent Triforce had found their way into Lorule, setting up Link to retrace his ancestor’s steps and bring the former Golden Realm cum Dark World cum Lorule back from the brink.

Throughout its narrative, “LBW” employs excellent use of references to “A Link to the Past” combined with the literary technique of foreshadowing to create a handful of interesting plot twists that are right in plain sight the whole time, yet don’t come into focus until the plot puts them there. Aside from the fact that it tends to be a bit derivative and cleaves insanely close to the structure of “A Link to the Past,” “LBW” provides one of Nintendo’s more creative and enjoyable stories in recent memory, playing out over roughly 20 hours of game time.

Gameplay
“LBW” is a throwback to the glorious days when ‘The Legend of Zelda’ was a top-down Action/Adventure title, where the player was driven by the plot to seek out a progressive series of dungeons, clear them of their resident evils, and grow more powerful both by finding Heart Containers to increase Link’s health, and by finding a new piece of adventuring gear to enable exploration into previously unreachable areas and solving of previously unsolvable puzzles.

However, “LBW” also needlessly reinvents the wheel in an attempt to pander to the obsession with non-linearity amongst modern gamers. Thus instead of finding adventuring gear in his travels, Link has access to practically all of it from the beginning of the game, through the rental system in Ravio’s shop. Ravio typically charges a small amount of rupees – ranging from 20 for discounts to 100 for magic rods – in order to give the player and Link the privilege of checking-out a tool from the shop. But this isn’t like a library where Link is limited to one or two check-outs at a time: He can clear the shelves if he has the rupees. The lease period lasts until the player gets a Game Over screen, at which point Ravio’s annoying pet… bird-thing swoops over Link’s corpse and, instead of rendering aid, reclaims any rented items. While this systems may sound even more tedious than ‘Dark Souls’ in theory, in practice… well, it’s really a non-entity. Ravio doesn’t reclaim items if Link passes out but is revived by a fairy-in-a-bottle, and Link can carry 4 of those once the player completes the simple task of finding all the bottles, making it very difficult to actually get a Game Over screen. And for those concerned about their lack of manual skill, Ravio eventually offers the player the option to outright BUY his entire stock of adventuring gear, at 800-1200 rupees per item. This is a fairly trivial sum to gather, and I had purchased all but one item (due to plot reasons) before confronting Yuga and gaining access to Lorule for the first time.

“LBW” ties with its predecessor, “A Link to the Past,” in having the most dungeons in a single ‘Zelda’ game. The availability of all of Link’s adventuring tools from the outset grants the player the opportunity to tackle these dungeons in almost any order they feel like. The exception is an item called the Sand Rod, which is the only item recovered from a dungeon and which is required to access another dungeon. Other than that, though, there is no hard-and-fast order in which to progress. This, unfortunately, presents a few minor problems, in that the player is not actively funneled toward any part of the map at any particular time. Due to the game’s free-form mode of progress, I completely skipped over a couple of fairly major side-quests, simply because the game never pushed my attention in their general direction. I never would have even known they existed were I not being excruciatingly thorough in my search for Heart Pieces before the final dungeon, as is series tradition. And speaking of excruciating: The mini-games. Starting with “A Link to the Past,” every ‘Zelda’ game has included a number of these annoying distractions, most of which typically award a Heart Piece, and can be effectively ignored once the Piece has been won. “LBW” doesn’t break with this tradition, but the mini-games are some of the most annoying and most tedious in series history. Specifically, the baseball mini-game can burn in the fires of Gehenna with all the rest of the trash.

The biggest flaw in “LBW,” though, and which is caused directly by the item rental system is the complexity of the dungeons… or should I say the simplicity of the dungeons. ‘Zelda’ tradition typically sees the player guiding Link through the first half of each dungeon, solving puzzles in an attempt to access the unique piece of adventuring gear stored within. Then the latter half of each dungeon involves using said piece of adventuring gear to solve yet more puzzles before confronting the monstrous dungeon boss at the end. All of the dungeons in “LBW” feel incredibly short and incredibly simple due to the fact that they have been, effectively and functionally, cut in half. What dungeon-based content there is is well designed and mostly entertaining, making excellent use of Link’s newfound ability to stick to flat vertical surfaces as a painting in order to cross gaps, as well as his stable of more traditional items to hit switches, slide blocks/statues, retrieve keys, and all the rest. It’s just that each dungeon is so short that it feels more like a tutorial for a handful of gameplay concepts that get a chance to fully blosson. Maybe this was done to keep the dungeons ‘bite-sized’ for a handheld game.

Overall
“The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” is an obvious attempt to pander to fans of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” with its nearly-identical structure, setting, and soundtrack. However, in cleaving excessively close to its inspiration in some ways, yet wildly departing in others, “LBW” ends up feeling more like something that should have been tacked onto a 2.5D remake of “A Link to the Past” as ‘Second Quest’ style bonus content. The overall experience feels all-too-brief and pruned-down, with a cramped overworld and overly-streamlined dungeons that end just when they’re getting interesting. If this game had been released in the late ‘90s instead of “Ocarina of Time,” it might have made more of an impact. Releasing 20 years after its inspiration, though, this side-story/sequel is quite literally too little and too late.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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