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Why "A Link Between Worlds" is the best handheld Legend of Zelda game yet

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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Let's forget "Skyward Sword," "Twilight Princess," and "Wind Waker." Let's go old school, back to a time when our handheld, multidimensional consoles were known simply as "Gameboys."

Because their The Legend of Zelda games were, as we used to say in those days, "super duper cool." We said this because we were ten. There are better words to describe them now; words we've forgotten because we haven't played them in forever. But "A Link Between Worlds" seems designed to bring back the desire to. From in-game sprites to items, it's equal parts new adventure and nostalgia.

Let's get to the "new adventure" part first, since what's not to like about becoming a painting? Despite the irony of becoming one-dimensional on a three-dimensional console, this element of the game adds an entirely new layer of strategy and is tons of fun. ("What's that? There are rupees on the far side of this room, across this wide chasm, and I have no Roc's Feather? Well, I'll just turn into art and get them that way!") Not to mention it makes exploring the map feel a lot more fulfilling. In addition to merging, having an energy bar instead of keeping track of how many bombs and arrows you have is pretty convenient. And let's not even get started on the adorable Maiamais.

Now for the nostalgia. I first experienced it only a few minutes into the game, when a girl on a broomstick flew through my screen. Could it have been Maple from "Oracle of Ages" and "Oracle of Seasons," the snarky little witch apprenticed to an older witch, who begrudgingly helps you with your quest? No, it's Irene, the snarky little witch apprenticed to an older witch, who begrudgingly helps you with your quest! So she's basically Maple.

The items also fit into this category. What Zelda-loving child didn't play "Link's Awakening" and spend hours forlornly pacing the shores of the waters they would drown in, trying to find a way to the rupee-laden islands just barely visible in the distance? Do you remember the joy you felt when you first discovered Zora's Flippers? That frustration is back, and so is that joy. Rods are back, too--not for changing seasons, despite the early appearance of one in "Oracle of Seasons," but for fire and ice, like in "A Link to the Past," and with the new additions of the Sand Rod and Tornado Rod.

The world and art style are the most obvious flashbacks of all, however, since the game takes place in the same universe as "A Link to the Past." It's all a familiar map with new secrets (and huge secrets, you discover after you beat the first three dungeons), familiar shops with new items and a familiar art style with new applications.

Wars about which Zelda game is the greatest have been going on since there was more than one game, but I'd dare to say that because of its new elements and its nostalgia--a perfect blend of "A Link to the Past" and the "Oracle" games, with some throwbacks to "Link's Awakening"--"A Link Between Worlds" is the best yet, at least on the handheld front.

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