A Link to the Past
Time. We’ve waited a long time for the Hero of Time to return. Apparently, he’s been napping in a cave the whole time, blissfully unaware of the devastation raging in the outside world. That sounds nice for him.
For Nintendo and its fans, though, Link’s elongated absence has been none too pleasant. Not since 2002 has the Kokiri boy with the golden triangle appeared in a new console adventure that became an instant classic. Yes, it really has been that long since The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – a game that astoundingly underwent a transformation from object of extreme fan derision to acceptance as one of the series’ best – released.
In the intervening years, Nintendo’s inability to recapture the series’ magic in a new home console release certainly was not for a lack of trying. In 2006, it gave us Twilight Princess, perhaps the most reactive game Nintendo has ever produced in that it was the “mature” style of game a large and noisy segment of the fanbase demanded following the cartoonish Wind Waker. Then came Skyward Sword in 2011, which, as Breath of the Wild will do this Friday, simultaneously attempted to be the killer app for a new console launch and the last hurrah for an outgoing and underperforming console.
These were not bad games by any measure, but nor were they worthy of mention in the same breath – no pun intended – as Wind Waker, let alone what most fans would likely agree are the series’ highest peaks: 1991’s A Link to the Past and 1998’s Ocarina of Time. Had Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword been original titles or entries in most any other franchise, they would have likely received near universal praise. But the difference separating a game that is great in its own right and one that is great for a Zelda title is very much real and not slight.
No one will ever completely agree on a definitive order of quality for Zelda games, but few fans would place either of Link’s last two console outings in the same rarefied air occupied by his greatest adventures. Twilight Princess suffered from an absurdly long mandatory training segment and from trying too hard to respond to fan requests for a more “mature” Zelda game instead of just being great regardless of style. Skyward Sword also suffered from a long, dull opening, but its most egregious sin was splitting each area of its world into walled gardens rather than connecting them via a sprawling, traversable overworld.
A case could be made for A Link Between Worlds to enter that space, despite its Metacritic score implying otherwise. But even if everyone could agree on that 2013 callback to A Link to the Past being among the series’ finest, it’s still at an inherent disadvantage for being a handheld game, as it’s nigh impossible for even the best portable titles to deliver an experience on par with the best home console games.
At least, it used to be.