I have been playing Zelda games since Ocarina of Time, and have played and beaten every single one except for Zelda II and Spirit Tracks. With that being said, this game has a lot to live up to as far as I am concerned. This game doesn’t do a lot to stand apart, but it essentially puts everything together in such a glorious way, which helps it stand on its own as a great Zelda game. Why? Read on to find out.
It is difficult to go wrong with the Zelda formula. You go through dungeons and within, you collect keys and items until you get to the boss at which point you defeat him. There are of course things you must do to get to the dungeons as well. Fairly simple formula, right? Well there is more that makes this game so wonderful though. Let us begin with the story. At launch, this was the beginning of the series’ story (Though now, that title goes to Skyward Sword.). That meant it had a lot to explain, but instead of going the route of trying to lead into a later game, it in fact creates a new unique story that does a great job of pre-dating almost everything else. At first the story seems simple enough. A sorcerer wants ultimate power and you have to stop him. In fact it does not get much more complex than that overall. A fairly decent cast of characters all have unique stories associated with them and it is quite fun exploring this. Though most of the time these sequences are short, there are enough of them to keep things interesting. Beyond that, the story isn't mind boggling or anything, but it does get the job done just well enough to keep you entertained. The addition of the Minish does add a whole new level of depth though. Depth that is not seen in most other Zelda games, because it essentially adds a whole new race of beings into the mix as extremely important beings; the other games mostly play a little emphasis on each race but the focus is almost always on just Link. Without risking spoiling the game, just know that the story is basic, but it still has a decent amount of depth to it.
If you have played at least one other Zelda game, you will recognize quite a bit of what is going on as far as items go, but this game offers three brand new items along with a slightly upgraded older item. Even though the rest are nothing new, they’re fun because all items are important. Unlike some of the other games (like Ocarina of Time, for example), every item is not only used in problem solving, but almost every item has its uses in combat outside of boss battles as well. For example: the Shield can be used to block Octorok blasts, the Gust Jar can be used to draw in rocks and bushes that enemies may be hiding under and the Pegasus Boots can be used to dash safely through a Dark Nut so that you can attack him before he has the chance to turn around. While traveling and fighting, I went out of my way to make use of every item somewhere or the other, which is not something I did with all the other Zelda games. Not only that, most of the items are actually pretty fun to use.
The dungeons, though limited to 6 (including the final), are all made with the greatest care and are ripe full of creativity. They aren't necessarily the most challenging to get through, but they generally make you think 'oh wow that was a pretty cool way to use this item'. Each dungeon is well-made and memorable. They have great progression, and they each feels quite unique. The dungeons all lead up to very well done boss battles as well. Personally, I didn't like only one of those bosses, which is the first one. The first boss in most games is usually lackluster though, so that’s not a negative point for this experience. There is a decent selection of enemies do defeat as well, many of them being unique. There are two things that make this game absolutely great though. The first is the ability to shrink to Minish size (these small thumb-sized creatures). This adds a great deal of depth into the game and sometimes creates two separate worlds to explore. This ability is not merely there for progression either, it truly is a great element to the game, and honestly is one of the main things that makes this game different from the others. Of particular note are the extremely fun ways this ability is used against some of the bosses. The second is the Four Sword. If you are not aware, this game is actually a telling of the formation of the Four Sword. The Four Sword is a sword that allows the user to split himself/herself into 4 copies. This elements isn’t used often enough, but is used very well when it is used. There is more to this game though, and that is side quests.
The main game itself is very short, and probably won't take you more than 6-8 hours to complete. The side quests easily double that time to about 12-16 hours. There are these stones called Kinstones that you fuse with various characters to activate events (for example: a chest with rupees may appear or a salesman may get an idea for a new product). Getting the Kinstones generally is not too hard, it is figuring out who to fuse with that can make things interesting, and sometimes figuring out how to access what you activated. This actually often goes hand-in-hand with Heart Piece hunting as well, which can be quite a feat in itself. There are also 10 optional Sword techniques you can search for and learn in the game (including the much loved Hurricane Blade attack, here dubbed Great Spin Attack). Still want more? There are also Mysterious Shells that can be used to buy figurines in a lottery-like system (similar to Trophies from Super Smash Bros.), with a total of 136. These are of enemies, characters and events in the game and provide a short description. Lastly, 4 of your 12 items have upgrades you can search for (5 if you count your wallet). In the end, this game plays beautifully. It could have just used a lengthier main quest and a more interesting story.
The graphics take the Wind Waker style and convert it to GBA graphics, and it fits perfectly for this game. All the enemies look great, the environments are varied and detailed and the animations are nicely done. This is quite possibly the best music in a Zelda game. Even though it re-uses themes from various games in the series, it has enough unique tunes to make it substantial. Each area has a great and unique track that sounds perfect for the mood, and none of them are a bore to listen to. The sound effects are all fairly well done, though Link's sounds may get slightly annoying sometimes. Overall this does a great job of making your ears feel at ease (or tense depending on the situation in-game).
If you play extremely slowly, then you’re looking at a total of about 20 hours to attain a 100% completion. More likely you will spend about 15 hours on it though. That is too short considering it took me about 12 hours just to get through A Link to the Past's main adventure the first time. On the other hand, because this game is short, it makes it more bearable to play through with various personal challenges (such as a 3-heart play through). Due to the length, I can almost guarantee you that you will come back to this again more than once.
Despite the emphasized length issue, the game is an extremely satisfying adventure. This is the type of game that will appeal to people who like RPG, Action and Adventure games. If you own a platform that this game is playable on, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a much ignored gem within the Zelda series, and also one of my favorites.