A Link Between Worlds: Looks Like Crap, Plays Like a Dream

The newest Zelda may be face-meltingly hideous, but your fingers will rejoice at just how beautifully it controls.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

There's no getting around the fact that the latest entry in Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, A Link Between Worlds, is dog-ugly. Its simplistic polygons and lumpy visual design look amateurish at best, downright offensive at worst.

I suppose you could pin the blame on the fact that A Link Between Worlds hews so closely to its direct predecessor, A Link to the Past. 1992's definitive Zelda adventure featured a very unusual art style, with a rounded look to its environments that led to oddities like trees that appeared to have been made from injection-molded plastic and rocks that resembled congealed chocolate. A Link Between Worlds reproduces entire elements of A Link to the Past wholesale, and it attempts to recreate quirky 20-year-old bitmap graphics in polygons. The effect, unfortunately, doesn't quite work, and the whole affair is an eyesore -- especially cutscenes, where the awkward appearance of characters (who come off as refugees from the lowest grade of third-party Dreamcast software) deflates any intended dramatic impact.

You can't help but be disappointed by this outcome, as the Zelda games have generally featured fairly attractive graphics. You'd certainly never know about this legacy by looking at this latest entry, though. Even the DS games, low-resolution as they were, demonstrated a pleasant art style that worked well within that system's constraints. A Link Between Worlds reminds me less of Phantom Hourglass and more of those laughably terrible CDi games that Philips developed (leaving a permanent stain on the franchise's reputation to serve as Nintendo's penance for backing out on their "Play Station" deal with Sony). I many hours into A Link Between Worlds at this point, and throughout the entire adventure I've cringed at the agony being inflicted on my eyes every time I glance at the screen.

Jarring as Worlds' appearance is, however, I can sincerely say I don't care. Barfy-looking graphics, it turns out, are a tradeoff... and the benefits greatly outweigh any superficial ugliness. Simply put, A Link Between Worlds is the fastest, smoothest-playing Zelda game ever. Its world may be hideous to behold, but it moves with silky consistency.

This doesn't mark the series' first foray into merging the two-dimensional overhead perspective of older Zelda games with 3D polygons, but it is the first to do so with a traditional control scheme. Moving from sprites to polygons frees the action from the old "grid" style of world interaction, and Link's movements aren't restricted here to the eight directions that they were on Super NES (with the exception of certain items like dash boots, whose nature as old-school throwbacks serves a functional purpose). The DS Zelda games compensated for that system's digital-only controls by making Link maneuver about with a stylus on the touch-screen, and only a stylus. It was clever and accessible, but it also didn't quite feel like Zelda.

The finest in 3DO-caliber graphics, all in the palm of your hand.

Controlling the hero in A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, feels exactly like a Zelda game should. No, actually, that's not true. It feels better than it should, or at least better than what you've come to expect. Link is incredibly responsive, and he moves snappily through a full 360-degree range of motion. Getting about and fighting enemies feels far more fluid than it did in classic Zelda games, but the forced top-down perspective means you don't have to fuss around with a 3D camera and rely on Z-targeting in order to guarantee you hit your target. There are no cheats or workarounds or "good enoughs" here; merely Zelda mechanics perfected.

The control scheme in A Link Between Worlds is so good, in fact, that it takes some getting used to. Previous games in the series have featured an element of self-correction in their controls, whether through the four- or eight-directional grids that constrained Link's action, or else via a lock-on button that kept the camera pointed at your target. Here, you have a wide range of motions to complement the fact that you gain access to all your usual dungeon tools nearly at the outset of the journey, so you have to employ a touch more discipline than usual to ensure Link aims where you want him to. Before long, though, you'll feel right at home with the game's immediacy and responsiveness.

Seriously, though, the darkness is kind of a blessing.

That -- and the crummy graphics -- are small prices to pay for a game that plays so well. It's hard to know, not having finished the adventure or gauged other people's reactions to it, what place A Link Between Worlds will carve for itself in the Zelda series' history. But if I were to wager, I'd guess it would have something to do with redefining the fundamental playability of the games. It offers the fluidity and grace of The Wind Waker, yet it lacks the crutch of constantly holding down a button to keep your weapons trained on your target. Sure, it looks terrible next to Wind Waker's stunning visuals, but the tradeoff is the fastest-paced, most energetic action RPG I've ever played. That's a compromise I'm more than willing to make.

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Comments 29

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  • Avatar for Kirinn #1 Kirinn 5 years ago
    Certainly good to hear that the mechanics are rock-solid. I had been thinking the overall art style was a but of a wonky compromise, so I'm glad it doesn't detract from the gameplay at all. (The shame of it is, though, that so much of the *concept* art for this iteration is drop-dead gorgeous.)
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  • Avatar for Genocidal #2 Genocidal 5 years ago
    This sentiment is how I'm starting to feel about the 3DS in general -- great games with questionable graphics. I'm glad the gameplay trumps all in this case though; was definitely worried that being able to unlock the series staple items early on would have a big negative impact.
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  • Avatar for GustinHardy #3 GustinHardy 5 years ago
    And we all know what happens when people complain about the look of a Celda... I mean Zelda game.
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  • Avatar for alexb #4 alexb 5 years ago
    It doesn't look great, but saying it's 3D0 caliber is definitely taking things too far. How does it sound? Zelda is also known for its music.
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  • Avatar for Yesshua #5 Yesshua 5 years ago
    This article certainly reads like you don't care about the graphics.
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  • Avatar for SuffolkGooner #6 SuffolkGooner 5 years ago
    I've always thought Nintendo's games had a feel superior to that of others, so I'm glad they're still on the ball. I'm surprised that they let the game ship with such awful graphics though, are they really that bad?
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  • Avatar for jeremycarrier12 #7 jeremycarrier12 5 years ago
    This has been my impression as well. Everything just MOVES with such a quick fluid pace, the magic meter keeps the micro-management down, the dungeons look a lot more complex and interesting than the original LttP, its got a fantastic soundtrack. And no AI helpers! No big tutorials! Choosing dungeons out of order! Its like a dream Zelda game, that flat out plays BETTER than any other 2D game in the series.

    But man, its fuckin' UGLY. Like, really, REALLY fuckin' ugly. Why!? I'll probably love it anyway, but man, shit is crazy
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #8 Mega_Matt 5 years ago
    Would have been nice if they kept the same graphic style they've been doing on the DS games. I feel like A Link to the Past's world would look lovely with cell shaded graphics. Aside from the that the game looks great and I can't wait to play it.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #9 brionfoulke91 5 years ago
    @Genocidal A lot of 3DS games have great graphics. Animal Crossing, Shin Megami Tensei IV and Fire Emblem are all beautiful games.

    I do think that this Zelda games looks a little better in motion, but yeah I don't really care for the art style on this one. I'm glad everything else about it is great though.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #10 jeremy.parish 5 years ago
    @Mega_Matt This game's design aesthetic has been weird. At E3 Link looked like his Zelda II/A Link to the Past version, but then they totally reworked him to resemble the Ocarina/Majora design. I hear there's some kind of connection to Majora (beyond the one obvious reference in the shop) so maybe that was the impetus there. In any case, the concept art looks waaaay better than the in-game graphics, which is always a shame.Edited November 2013 by jeremy.parish
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  • Avatar for docexe #11 docexe 5 years ago
    It looks very simplistic and uninspired in screenshots, but I honestly don’t think the graphics are THAT ugly (low tier Dreamcast games, maybe. 3DO? C’mon!). Anyway, I’m glad to hear that the gameplay and mechanics are great. A Link to the Past is still my favorite in the series and I’m glad the sequel is shaping up nicely.
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  • Avatar for darrellrhinkle57 #12 darrellrhinkle57 5 years ago
    Jeremy still has quite the way with hyperbole, I see. :D

    I'm glad to hear the game plays well. I'm chomping at the bit here, I tells ya! This months is gonna be moider on my wallet.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #13 Funny_Colour_Blue 5 years ago
    The Header Image for this article is so great. I can't get over how awesome it is.
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  • Avatar for gigantor21 #14 gigantor21 5 years ago
    Lord Jesus, those visuals do NOT work. Good to know it plays well, though, which is ultimately more important.
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #15 pashaveliki 5 years ago
    I agree with everyone on the interwebs that was hoping that this game would stick to the Wind Waker 'Celda' aesthetic.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #16 Stealth20k 5 years ago
    I think it looks wonderful. I think your over reacting
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  • Avatar for morganlewis12 #17 morganlewis12 5 years ago
    just wanted to let you know, although they did link to your article, Zelda Informer has copied and pasted large quantities of it for their own "story".

    As an aspiring member of the gaming press, this is unprofessional and disgraceful on so many levels. I just wanted to let you be aware of it.
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  • Avatar for chrisgibbons80 #18 chrisgibbons80 5 years ago
    Half of my 720p screen rendering a 256p screen isn't going to do the game wonders. Who knows how you got that screen shot anyhow.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2013 by chrisgibbons80
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #19 jeremy.parish 5 years ago
    @chrisgibbons80 I used a devious and questionable tactic called, "Downloading it from Nintendo's press website."
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #20 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    Amazing gameplay, huh? You're not fooling me Jeremy. I'm still expecting polarizing reviews and heavy fan backlash. :P
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #21 Godots17thCup 5 years ago
    I don't doubt that the dev team had a well-intentioned desire to "preserve the spirit" of A Link to the Past visually, but it seems they got lost somewhere along the way and it resulted in something less-than-stellar. It seems odd, almost wasteful, to me that Nintendo would create all of this consistently gorgeous pastel artwork and then not find a way to incorporate much of it into the game itself. The 3DS is hardly a powerhouse, but it and the Zelda team are certainly capable of much more than ALBW's graphical style would indicate.

    That said, I'm with Jeremy: if this game manages to ape (or even surpass!) ALttP's quick flow and successfully combine it with a more open design and more fluid controls at the expense of beauty, that is a trade-off I'll gladly make. ALttP isn't my favorite Zelda game (though it's up there), but you'd be hard-pressed to find another game in the series with better pacing.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #22 Godots17thCup 5 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino Oh, heavy fan backlash is definitely coming. This is a new Zelda game we're talking about, after all. :P
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #23 nadiaoxford 5 years ago
    @alexb I'll field this one.

    It sounds awesome. Mostly remixes, but really well done remixes. I ain't complaining.

    (Yuga's theme is the grossest-sounding thing in the world, though, I don't even know what happened there.)
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #24 LBD_Nytetrayn 5 years ago
    They didn't change the movement from the demos, did they? Those weren't 360 degree motion, just eight-- but a more appreciable eight than the weird diagonal walk Link had in A Link to the Past. Still, trying to line up a shot with an arrow would only give me up, down, left, right, and diagonal-- if I needed anything more than that, I had to walk into place to try to hit my target, or just not hit it.

    As for graphics, they seem fine to me. They remind me of A Link to the Past run through the New Super Mario Bros. filter, though I suppose how one feels about that game's graphics could dictate how they feel about this one, too.
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  • Avatar for jimboton #25 jimboton 5 years ago
    yeah but what of the puzzles, exploration, secrets?

    Neither are ALBW graphics all that awful nor was there ever anything wrong with ALTTP's 8-way controls or general playability... is this just another one in a long line of dumbed down, linear, accessibility focused portable Zeldas, or is it truly more like a nineties Zelda (challenging and fun)? That's the real question.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #26 DiscordInc 5 years ago
    Been replaying through LttP in anticipation of this game, and that only highlight the discrepancy between the two games.

    It's weird since I just finished playing through the new Phoenix Wright game which provided the best example I can think of in recent memory of literally translating 2D graphics to 3D. Sure different developers and genres, but it shows that it is possible to do it right. ALBW is definitely doing it badly though.
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  • Avatar for Ganman3 #27 Ganman3 4 years ago
    I don't much care for the visuals either, but I think it's completely unfair to compare anything to anything anything anything anything like the Phillips CD-I. (Sorry. Acknowledging that game in any form broke my brain.)
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  • Avatar for ovinophile #28 ovinophile 4 years ago
    I read this article before I played ALBW and fully went into the game expect god-awful graphics. On the contrary, I found them to very smooth, crisp, bubbly, and delightful. I'm playing on a non-XL 3DS so I wonder if that makes the difference, but 3DO-quality it is not, sir.
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