Best of 2013: #2 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Nintendo may be knocked for its reliance on franchises, but games like Super Mario Galaxy show that the company can innovate within such storied series. The Legend of Zelda series, on the other hand, has suffered through good-but-not-great sequels, struggling to resonate with gamers the way Ocarina of Time once did.

A Link Between Worlds shows us that, at long last, Nintendo understands what made the classic top-down Zelda games so special. The end result is a game that's destined to be as revered as its inspiration, A Link to the Past.

The connection to LTTP makes it easy to shrug off this newer entry as merely an imitator that stands on the shoulders of giants. Superficially, that's true. It owes a large part of its visual identity to the SNES classic, particularly in the world layout. But to me, that just made the accomplishment more impressive. Comparing itself to such a revered classic could have made its flaws more glaring, so the entire concept was an innately risky proposition. To quote The Wire: "you come at the king, you best not miss."

While Worlds keeps many mechanics from the SNES game, Nintendo smartly did away with many Zelda staples. The item rental shop solved three legacy design problems at once: it made the game less linear, made dungeon loot more valuable and varied, and fixed the economy. The wall-painting mechanic, which I was sure would be a tacked-on gimmick, became a perfectly natural way to take advantage of the space. And the transition to 3D models and emphasis on providing a smooth 60 FPS made slashing Link's sword at enemies feel better than it ever has.

I've loved Zelda for a long time, but A Link Between Worlds gives me renewed confidence that Nintendo understands how its earned the following that it has. A Link Between Worlds is not only a compelling reason to own a 3DS, it's the reason to be a Zelda fan again.

The Shacknews Best of 2013 Awards were determined by ballot voting across the entire Shacknews staff. Our top pick will be revealed tomorrow.