It strikes me after a few minutes of playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds that this game isn't really just for me, that's the narcissistic Nintendo fanboy in me mournfully admitting that. A Link to the Past released back in 1991, so it's been over two decades since the SNES' masterpiece first hit the shelves. That audience has grown up, we've moved on, but most importantly, those of us who were gaming back then have been joined by a new, diverse audience thanks to the attractive imperialism of Nintendo's handheld consoles.
This, perhaps even more so than Ocarina of Time 3D, is a game that serves more than one function. It's not a straight copy of A Link to the Past with mildly updated graphics, but rather a new title that pinches the overworld from the SNES but then moves to remix most of the dungeons, whilst adding in a new mechanic that flattens our green-capped hero and turns him into a moveable wall painting.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is set to arrive, then, as a nostalgic love letter of sorts to Nintendo's golden age and one of the best games to have graced any platform: a trip down memory lane with a few surprises for those of us who think we've been there and done that, and an instruction in a near-timeless legacy for new fans who've flocked to Nintendo's handhelds in the meantime.
Our demo began in limited version of the overworld, revived from the SNES original in striking fashion, though still sporting the top-down perspective of yesteryear. We couldn't go inside Link's house, and much of Hyrule field was blocked off, but it did give us the chance to get too grips with how our time-travelling hero handles in 2013. The R-button brings up Link's shield, the B-button swings his mighty sword and also fires waves of energy if Link's at full health, and further items can be assigned to the X an Y buttons, such as bombs, Link's trusty hammer, and a revamped fire rod that can knock Link back if he steps into the flaming blast.
We came across some familiar enemies such as Soldiers, Octoroks, and Buzz Blobs, though the latter foes don't seem to electrocute Link any more when he touches them with his sword for some reason, and merrily spent a few minutes charging about the place, scything through long grass with our blade to see if we could find any hidden rupees. We tinkered a little with Link's "merge" ability, but we didn't really have any need for it until we took to the caves.
Stepping into a seemingly relocated Tower of Hera, we were instantly struck by the differences. The enemies are the same, but the layout has changed, and here we found that the developers had cleverly moved things around to take full advantage of Link's ability to become as flat as an Ikea bookcase.
In 2D mode, Link resembles an ancient take on his cartoonish appearance in Wind Waker, and moves with a charming waddle across walls. But by shifting the perspective, he's able to slip between the bars in a tiny window, for example, or traverse previously deadly gaps by shimmying along the wall and gaining access to previously unreachable areas. However, this all uses mana -- indeed Link's items aren't limited in terms of numbers any more, but rather take a chunk out of his magic bar -- and so it's important to be quite decisive when merging, though the bar will regenerate given a little time.
There are a few other little concessions to accessibility to suit the broader audience that the 3DS brings to the table. Battling through waves of familiar Stalfos (we were a little dismayed not to see any new enemies), we eventually came face to face with an old friend in the shape of Moldorm the giant worm, who appeared to have put on a few pounds. As before, we chopped away at its tail as it tried to knock us into the central pit, but after it succeeded about halfway through, it was apparent that Moldorm still retained the damage we'd done to it after we'd clawed our way back up to try again. A few knocks later and we were clutching a heart piece once again and wishing there was more to play.
Let's make no bones about it, Nintendo trade frequently on nostalgia, on the goodwill instilled by classic games of the past. But their best games of recent years are those that have successfully navigated the fine line between reinvention and repetition. A Link Between Worlds is shaping up to be just that: a game rooted in the present as much as it is in the past, something that Nintendo don't always deliver. We'd liked to have seen an aesthetic that really pushes the 3DS, perhaps one that takes a leaf out of the recent Animal Crossing's book, and it is to be hoped that the redesigned dungeons really make the most of Link's merge ability.
But, best of all, there's nothing riding on this game. The 3DS has more than hit its stride. Unlike Ocarina of Time 3D, of Wind Waker HD for the Wii U, Nintendo have nothing to prove with this game, and perhaps that's one of the best things about it: above all else, A Link Between Worlds is here to be enjoyed by all-comers, those wearing rose-tinted specs, and those with wide-eyed excitement coming to this version of Hyrule with fresh minds.