The title of Nintendo’s newest Zelda game describes much of its charm and ingenuity. This entry stands as a link between two design philosophies: the old, much beloved Zelda formula perfected by A Link to the Past, and the new, more freeing, exploratory format that gives players what they want as soon as they want it. A Link Between Worlds stands at the crossroads of these two different game types, melding them seamlessly. It shows Nintendo isn’t afraid to adapt and try new things in an effort to spice up the Zelda formula before it runs out of steam.
I’ve been playing To The Moon recently, a generally wistful 2D light-adventure game with a pixel art aesthetic. In it, you play as two scientists who travel through a person’s memories Eternal Sunshine-style with the express intent of changing one thing: each of their clients is on their death bed, and wants to believe they accomplished a goal they never could. For the elderly John, that wish is to go to the moon.
In an Iwata Asks on Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the designers were talking about story. It was said that Miyamoto didn’t like the idea of a story in a Mario game, “It’s fine without a story, so do we really need one?” And that got me thinking about all of the Mario games’ stories. Each one creates a similar base-line plot and that hasn’t changed in over 25 years: Bowser kidnaps Peach and Mario saves her. It isn’t interesting, exciting, different, or groundbreaking; it’s just a series of levels to get you to the end of the game.
This week, Nintendo announced another slew of upcoming titles including a Mario, Zelda, and Yoshi game. You can almost guarantee in that Mario game you’ll be saving Princess Peach from Bowser, and that Zelda game will have you save the Princess from the evil Ganon, and that Yoshi game will have you eat apples. But video games are unique story-telling devices, and it doesn’t have to be just that flat archetypal narrative. It can be as simple as giving the enemy a reason to fight, rather than just being evil.
In my last writing in this space, a year’s end retrospective of the best games of 1992, I hailed The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past as both the best game ever produced in its series, and as the single greatest game ever produced for the Super Nintendo. For me, that wasn’t a terribly difficult choice — it’s the rare game that defies the aging process to near mastery, wholly, competently confident in its design.