I just finished "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" for the Nintendo 3DS so here's a few random thoughts.
The hype for this game led me to buy it. I actually sold my 3DS back in July, 8 months ago, and so I had to by a 3DS just to play.
"A Link Between Words" borrowed the world map from "A Link to the Past", the Super Nintendo Zelda game. The dungeons are changed and of course some details on the map are changed but over all it's the same world map. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. For those people that have played "A Link to the Past" it certainly brings back memories. On the other hand it can also seem like a cop out or laziness as in rather than give players something new to explore they just re−used old content. I think overall I'm in the latter camp. I would have preferred a new world to explore rather than just revisiting the old world. I'm not sure what reusing the old designs really helped with the story. If the 2 games/stories were connected in some way maybe that would have been cooler but for all intents and purposes there was no connection.
Friends and reviewers told me how great this new Zelda was and how it changed things up. I didn't get that feeling at all. In fact it seemed pretty much exactly more of the same. Like I was playing "A Link to the Past 2.0". Most Zelda's have added new and interesting items. There's the basics, arrows, bombs, hookshot, boomerang, etc but Majora's Mask added all the masks, Twilight Princess added the wolf, the spinner, the ball and chain. Wind Waker added the leaf and added some amazing combat and all the boat travel. Maybe I'm forgetting which games added which things. The point is each of my favorite Zelda's added something that made them feel fresh in some way, at least for me.
"A Link Between Worlds" adds a few things but for whatever reason none of them did anything for me. The biggest "add" is the main new action, Link can turn into a 2D image and slidewalk along flat walls. It's a neat idea but in and of itself it's not that interesting. It's just another way to walk.
It also arguably makes some of the puzzles harder in that you don't always have a perfect view of the southern walls but sometimes you need to jump into them. Maybe that's just me being not being observant enough but there were a few times when I thought something was hidden just a little too well.
I should have taken more notes but ... a few things that I got stuck on.
The Thieves Hideout Door: I don't consider this a spoiler but you might so read at your own risk. There's a place called the Thieves Hideout and the doors are sealed. They look exactly like every other sealed door in the game. Sealed doors open when you do something like flip a switch or stand on a pressure plate or kill all the monsters in the room. So, seeing the sealed doors on the hideout I didn't approach them because what would be the point? No other sealed door in the entire game will have any kind of response to Link so there's no reason to approach those sealed doors on the Thieves Hideout. I spent > 1hr trying to figure out what to do to open the sealed doors. Looking for switches, talking to people, trying to find another entrance. It turns out for some reason you're supposed to divine that among all the hundreds of doors that look exactly the same this particular one requires you to walk up to it and try to open it. That's bad design IMO. If I remember correctly the original one in "A Link to the Past" had a guard in front of the door and since it's normal to talk to people in Zelda it was obvious to walk up to him. I think they should have kept that idea. Either that or change the design of the door to suggest that it requires a different kind of interaction than the 100 other exactly the same looking sealed doors that don't.
I got stuck looking for the 3rd lost turtle. I won't tell you how to find it but after spending > 1hr looking I finally had to use a walk through. I don't know if that's just me not being observant or bad luck or what. I'll assume that was just me.
Yuga's last fight. The final boss fight will likely take people at least a few tries. Unfortunately to trying again there's 2 minute 20 seconds of stuff you have to do before the fight. You have to walk into the castle, teleport deeper in, walk down a long hall, then watch a long cutscene. Every time you die you have to endure this 2 minutes 20 seconds stuff. Really? Once was enough! Were the designers that un−thoughtful? Didn't the playtesters complain? Repeating that over and over didn't add to the experience, it only made it frustrating and annoying.
One difference from previous Zelda's is soon into the game you're basically given almost all the power ups. Since it happens so soon in the game I don't think that's a spoiler. It's an interesting choice but it also seems designed only for people who've already played previous Zeldas. Maybe the number of people who haven't played another Zelda is really really small? One of the formula's of Zelda is you go into a dungeon and eventually find a new item. You then get locked in the room and the only way out requires the use of the new item. This teaches you how to use the new item.
"A Link Between Worlds" doesn't have this. Because you can just get all the items at the beginning you pretty much have to know how and when to use them. The concession they give you is that a dungeon that requires a certain item will have a couple of pillars in front of it with images of the item you need just incase you didn't bring it. I'm all for trying new game design ideas but IMO this idea didn't work. It robbed the game of a certain amount of discovery. Since you can get all the stuff upfront there's much less sense of accomplishment and growth than previous Zeldas because you get it all right at the beginning.
Another interesting idea is all these items can be bought or "rented". The difference is about 16x? You can rent one item for 50 rupees or buy it for 800 rupees. Renting it means if you die you lose it so you have to go back to the guy who rents them and rent it again. I'm not sure this was a good game design idea or not. There are save points in front of every dungeon and there are teleports in every dungeon from the entrance to somewhere close the the boss fight. So, you just save your game before the boss fight. If you die you reload the game which means there's absolutely no reason to buy. Even better, when you reload you get all your hearts at whatever level they were when you saved and your potions etc. So, there's arguably no reason to buy because continuing, while it means keeping bought items, it also means you've got to go repurchase your potions and refill your hearts before continuing.
I'm mixed on how I feel about this. It does give the player a choice. And, maybe it gives people a lesson? They can play smart and save before each hard spot and only rent or they can buy, continue after dying and make the game much more tedious. Is that a good trade off? You'd expect the trade off to make renting the worse option and buying a final relief from renting once you can afford it but that's not how it works out.
Finally the game felt far less polished for me. I don't know how to put my finger on it. I suppose if I go back and play "A Link to the Past" maybe I see this at the same level of polish and it's just my current self, 22yrs older, that interprets the game differently. But, ... In previous Zeldas I always felt like I met new characters who in one way or another I got attached to. At the end of the game it was neat to see them again during the credits. The best of those being the credits of "Ocarina of Time" seeing the Goron King and other characters I'd had dealings with during my adventure. In "A Link Between Words" though I felt almost none of that. The only character that appeared during the credits I felt any "awwwww, that's nice" feelings toward was, Irene, the witch; Probably because she had the most dialog. I don't know if I'm willing to go back and quantify the dialog of the characters in "A Link Between Words" vs other Zelda games but for whatever reason I had the least amount of attachment to any characters in this game compared to all the rest.
To end on a positive note I really enjoyed the *real* 3D on the 3DS for this game in particular. I don't know why it did it more for me in "A Link Between Words" than previous 3DS titles. There's no special features or gimmicks they used. Looking top down on the world is the same as previous 2D Zeldas and even being able to see down to levels below, while more real in this games, was also used in "A Link to the Past" so it's not like it added new game play but for some reason I really enjoyed it. My eyes on the other hand ... 😛