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First Play: Zelda: A Link to the Past 2

We go hands-on with Nintendo's nostalgic sequel

Yesterday, Nintendo announced a brand new Legend of Zelda for the 3DS. Not just any Zelda, however: A Link to the Past 2.

You've got to respect the risk Nintendo is taking. It could just as easily have developed an entirely new, standalone entry in the series and, given that an original Zelda game hasn't been released for the 3DS yet, garnered similar excitement.

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But instead, it tied itself to one of the most revered games ever and leaped into the thrashing waters of nostalgia. Only time will tell if the sequel lives up to the legacy, but a recent hands-on with the game offered an encouraging taster, comprised of both the new and the familiar.

Sticker Star

A Link to the Past 2 adopts the top down, isometric perspective used in previous Zelda title, but sits its visual style comfortably between the colorful look of original, and the cel-shaded style seen in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.

Obviously, Toon Link is swapped out for his puffy-haired predecessor, who makes the jump from SNES to 3DS with his skillset intact. Tap the B button and he swipes his sword. Do it at full health and a razor sharp wave will also be released. Alternatively hold it to charge the sword and then bash into enemies, or release for a spin attack.

Complementing the sword is a large hammer, which is more vertical in its strike path, and can be used to stun enemies, destroy certain floor panels, or smash specific switches. At long range Link has his trusty bow and arrows.

Our hands-on starts, naturally, at the entrance of a dungeon, in a room partitioned by numerous red and blue walls. Scattered around are matching balls which, when hit, raise and lower the corresponding walls. It's a familiar puzzle, but is given a unique twist with the new Merge mechanic.

When standing next to a flat surface, players can hit the A button to make Link attach himself in sticker form. As a sticker, the camera swoops in close to link, and he can be shuffled left and right, seemingly impervious the effect of gravity; walk off the side of a platform and he won't plummet to his death. Nintendo hasn't yet said if Link will gain any additional abilities in sticker form, or if he'll even be able to jump.

The mechanic forced us to start thinking about the way we approach dungeons differently, and even gave traversal a puzzle-like element. We spent quite some time wandering between dead ends until it clicked that we could turn into a sticker and slide between the bars of a window.

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While standing on a platform circling the outside of the dungeon, we reached a point where a wall threatened to knock Link off. How do we get around it? Stick to it, walk around to the other side, wait for the platform to appear from underneath, and then pop out again.

In later sections we used vertically moving boxes to climb our way up the structure. It's a cool new mechanic that calls to mind games like Echocrome and Crush.

According to Nintendo, it wants to "reinvigorate the flat 2D world of A Link to the Past with the sense of height and volume using the three-dimensional display of Nintendo 3DS." The demo we played leveraged the top down view and 3D capabilities to great effect by having us move between multiple floors.

By pounding smiley-faced launchpads using the hammer, we could bounce between multiple levels to access new and hidden areas.

Despite the new trick, the format of the dungeon was very much in line with the traditional Zelda formula. Making our way room to room we picked up small keys to access new rooms, eventually happening upon the boss key, and then heading to the final room.

Inside, we launched to the highest platform, where a large caterpillar-like enemy awaited. Defeating it was a matter of chasing its vulnerable tail and attacking, with each strike the enemy became frenzied and would occasionally push Link through a hole in the platform, down into an enemy-filled room.

Frustratingly, the demo was set in a very early dungeon, which meant the potential of the Merge mechanic wasn't displayed to its fullest. But we have confidence that Nintendo's designers will come up with interesting ways to use it, and expect there to be some devious puzzles later in the game.

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Additionally, there was very little to show off what makes this uniquely an A Link to the Past game, other than the visual style. Yesterday, Nintendo said the game takes place in the same world as the original, and fans have found familiar areas, but thus far we haven't seen anything that clearly identifies that. Perhaps we're jumping the gun, and a light-world/dark-world reveal is in the pipeline.

Since its release, the Nintendo 3DS has developed into a must-have portable system, but its success has been somewhat muffled by its underperforming console brother. The announcement of A Link to the Past 2 was exactly what Nintendo needed, and it has reinvigorated fans. Now it just needs to make good on the promise.

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