A Link Between Worlds ‘Drawing on the Wall’ Ability is Good for Gameplay, Bad for Zelda

Among all the overly-familiar elements in A Link Between Worlds, we’ve seen one stand-out new feature so far: the new game mechanic that transforms Link into a hieroglyphic drawing and allows him to walk on walls. So far the reactions have been… well, largely non-existent. We’ve seen a few media outlets talk about its effect on gameplay, but there hasn’t been much in-depth discussion of the idea itself.

There’s a lot of potential for the idea to open up exploration of the game’s top-down 2D world in a way that just hadn’t been thought of when A Link to the Past was born. But there’s also the question of whether something like this truly fits in with what we think of as Zelda.

New Possibilities for Exploration

Personally, I find the idea somewhat intriguing. So far Nintendo’s mostly focused on its possibilities in terms of introducing new kinds of puzzles – raise a certain wall so it lines up with a certain other wall, and you can sidle along the side until you reach your desired destination. That stuff’s all good and well, but as I reiterate time and again, relying too much on puzzles actually holds things like combat and exploration back. And combat and exploration were both essential in A Link to the Past back in 1992 – a sequel’s going to need to be just as strong in those areas.

zelda-3ds-3However, I think the “drawing on the wall” mechanic has a lot of potential to enhance exploration. You’re no longer restricted to just walking visible paths – you can actually create your own roads, as long as there’s a wall to travel on and enough time to get somewhere worthwhile. I could see a number of secrets being easily accessible via wall-walking for those who are diligent enough to notice the right shortcuts, while still being reachable through more conventional means, perhaps later in the game when you have the right tools and have found the right roads.

While generally the vision for Zelda Wii U involves a world without walls, Nintendo’s found a way to actually harness the walls necessary for keeping the top-down 2D game worlds interesting to introduce even more possibilities for exploration. Now the overworld, already somewhat maze-like as it is, will feature even more twists and turns for players to investigate, since every wall could potentially lead to a secret.

And Yet…

But while the mechanic actually seems like it could be put to good use from a gameplay perspective, it’s not all about gameplay. It’s also about the lore, the world, and the presentation – all elements that history has proven are very important to The Legend of Zelda.

spirit-tracks-trainsFrankly, I don’t see the idea that Link can turn into a magical cave drawing going over very well with average consumers, who are already struggling to find continuity within the series as it goes through so many visual and identity shifts. They’re looking for a Zelda that’s focused on the more conventional medieval fantasy tropes like epic world and battles – the ones that went over so well in Twilight Princess – not “new unique ways to play” that have to get shoehorned into the lore somehow. (The trains of Spirit Tracks come to mind.)

Technically, when you combine its Wii and GameCube sales, Twilight Princess was one of the best-selling Zelda games during its initial release (i.e. before re-releases), nearly matching if not narrowly edging out Ocarina of Time‘s 7.6 million. How did Twilight Princess ascend to such a great height? I look at it this way: it focused on being a bigger, better Ocarina of Time. Now, whether we can argue at the end of the day that it actually was better is one thing, but it’s indisputable that it focused on advancing many of the ideas and concepts originally introduced on N64.

Horseback combat was greatly expanded, allowing Link to wield his sword and other items besides his bow. Link’s tunics were a bit more interesting than simply “survive hot temperatures” and “breathe underwater,” giving them more utility and cooler looks. Even the visuals were more or less “Ocarina of Time on steroids” in terms of the look and feel.

The only major “unique” element was the wolf transformation, but – and here’s the kicker – it fit very logically within the mythology. Men-who-become-wolves are already a part of fantasy, as are wicked worlds with transforming effects on those who enter. Heroes-who-become-wall-art, however, has no real precedent in Zelda lore… or in traditional fantasy.

Zelda has historically thrived on appealing to traditional fantasy worlds and floundered when it has tried to reach too far outside them. (Again, see Spirit Tracks.) While I’m excited that Nintendo is aiming at A Link to the Past with A Link Between Worlds, I can’t help but feel as though many might see the wall-drawing idea as stepping too far away from the “combat and exploration” core and too far into “Puzzelda” territory, thus corrupting the original integrity of classic-style Zelda. The 3D games have already had a wild enough ride as a result of experimental design choices – the last thing Nintendo needs is to rope the still fairly pure classic series into that trend as well.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.lefebvre.161 Aaron Lefebvre

    I think it will do fine, and can see the world being just as fin to explore as the first LttP. Just gotta wait and see.

  • Tensei

    You raise a good point and it highlights a systemic problem for Nintendo.

    The new mechanic is representative of Nintendo being innovative and lazy at the same time. If this was a new character in a different world, there would probably be more excitement. For example, I’m looking forward to playing Contrast (which utilises a similar mechanic) more than LTTP2.

    The state of Nintendo’s IP is in a precarious situation. Just how much longer can they keep on reinventing IPs, making it feel fresh and not tired and gimmicky. It is a fine line. I dont know what more can be done with Zelda and Mario, that fundamentally changes the way we see those franchises.

    I would really love to see Nintendo become less risk averse and invest in new games that will probably fail. Or if they want to continue making the same franchises, invest in some other studios to diversify their catalogue like P101.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      I think there’s plenty of room to innovate the CONTENT of Mario and Zelda. The problem is that Nintendo keeps thinking that they have to innovate the GAMEPLAY. For example, the new settings of TWW and SS had tons of potential to be gigantic content innovations. The problem is that Nintendo tied TWW’s ocean world too closely to “sailing” and not deeply enough to “exploring foreign islands” and SS’s sky world wound up being disappointing. Those worlds seemed more about the sailing and flying than about actually EXPLORING.

      • Tensei

        Good point. Making the world a character in itself would certainly help Zelda. Dont underestimate the fun of traversal though. All open world games can live and die by how fun it is to travel. For example, riding Epona in OOT, gliding in Batman Arkham city etc.

        I just think that Bill Trinen’s explanation that they come up with new gameplay ideas and then tack it on to existing IPs is a bad philosophy and in time will actually dilute their franchises.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LanifJec Alex Jones

    I like it when Nintendo takes chances on new ideas within the Zelda franchise, and honestly think there are many ways they could change the game positively. Twilight Princess did exceedingly well in innitial sales (and I belive being a launch title for the Wii had a lot to do with that) but it has also beed regarded by many (myself included) as one of the biggest disappointments in the franchise. The reason being that it is nothing more than a rehash to OOT with some miniscule updates. The only reason trains felt shoe-horned into the lore was because EVERYTHING was trains.It would have been much easier to fit trains into the lore had they made it like linebeck’s steamboat. Anyway, based on what I have seen, there is no reason to think that this new drawing ability will be any harder to make sense of in a series based around magic and fantasy than a talking hat that shrinks you to the size of an ant, a rod that allows you to spontaneously change seasons, a baton that allows you to control the wind, or a sword that splits you into 4 separate people.

  • MusubiKazesaru

    I like the idea so far, I’m just worried it’ll make the game too easy

  • CChaplin

    I don’t see this as an element that would take anything away from the feel of the game or the quality of the world, I don’t honestly understand what all the fuss is about.

  • Twister27

    I am guessing that the wall ability will be put introduced in the standard “curse becomes special power” sort of way, like with the Deku mask in MM, the wolf transformation in TP, or the various abilities in Paper Mario TTYD. It would be nice to see a more unique method of putting this power into the story though.

  • KY_LOZ

    “Now the overworld, already somewhat maze-like as it is, will feature even more twists and turns for players to investigate, since every wall could potentially lead to a secret.”

    I hope hey don’t make it glaringly obvious for every single secret but i have a feeling all those walls will be tetured differently from regular non mergable walls.. I’d prefer if got clues and hints for these secrets via townsfolks or other npc’s, quest items, objects with clues.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      I think the real promise lies in the fact that it doesn’t matter if any secret is obvious. Try the wall mechanic everywhere and you’ll eventually find everything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coolkangarooo Gabriel Gomez

    You know, I think that is what I think was missing from SS, the combat. There were some tough moments, but they were only a few moments, like in the final dungeon with the stalfos and the zombie bokoblins, the fight with the barrage of enemies when you are trying to get to the bottom of the sealed grounds. Those are the only two combat scenes I can remember.

    Twilight Princess (in my opinion) had everything. It had combat (shadow beasts, horse combat, darknuts, Cave of Ordeals, King Bulbin, and in the Hyrule Castle), it had pretty good puzzles (dungeons), and I loved the story and art style. I just wasn’t feeling it with SS, I always felt something was missing. I agree with Alex on this one, Nintendo cannot go straight after puzzles in this game or I will feel disappointed.

  • K2L

    And again the TP fanboyism strikes back. I already lost the count on how many of these Alex has published. And ALTTP2 isn’t even out yet. Very pitiful, but then again, it’s not even the first time.
    Also, TP didn’t sell 8 million copies. It sold 7.15 million. VGChartz is unreliable.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I don’t even like TP that much- I just recognize that it hit the brand image right on the head.

      • K2L

        I know TP isn’t your favorite game. Thing is, you’re giving it [i]too much[/i] credit to it. And I’m not saying that because I dislike it. I dislike no Zelda games (except PH). Rather, there are things TP did well but others that didn’t. One of the things it didn’t do well was that it didn’t do enough to distinguish from OOT. I know you see that as a plus (as do the [i]7.15[/i] million people who only wanted “Ocarina at 120%”, but if each and every single upcoming game was like OOT/TP, the sense of novelty would be nowhere. Regarding the article, you argue that the mechanic shown is bad for the game, but we don’t know how large or small its scale withing the whole thing will be. Perhaps it’s only one of the potentially many abilities he will gather through the quest. Maybe it’s a temporary mechanic that only pertains some of the parts of the game. Also, comparing it to the train is a bit unfair. The train was deliberately anachronic. The Wall thing is still a magic concept, and magic is what some fans feel has been lost after the LOZ-OOT era.
        I know I’m acting too sensitive about this, and I really have to watch my tone and attitude. Speaking about Zelda has been extremely touchy for me since my untimely exile from Zelda Wiki. The fanbase and community have become so inconsistent and vitriolic that it makes me not want to be a Zelda fan anymore.

        • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

          Thing is, every single piece of magic from LoZ to MM was “unoriginal” in the sense that it was all generic fantasy stuff: a staff that shoots fire, enchanted arrows, a legendary blade, a cape that turns you invisible, a cane that summons objects, a magic flute, warp magic, etc. And yet, each of those six games was seen as incredibly original, even though they all stuck to fairly generic ideas.

  • zdog

    There is no getting around it, this man knows his Zelda. It is so true that the things that get in the way of me enjoying a Zelda game are the things that get in the way of combat and exploration. Had never connected those dots, but its very true. Great article.

  • Chris

    Nobody knows Zelda more than the people who make it. I’m sure that they will tie this into the story well. The problem that i have with this article is that (although well written) it’s constantly comparing console Zelda games to what is going to be a handheld Zelda game. I really don’t think you can compare the two. And all we’ve seen so far is a demo of one dungeon. Not enough in my opinion to determine the ratio of puzzle to combat

  • BlackRaven6695

    So, apparently, whenever the series tries anything that isn’t clichéd, anything that hasn’t been done a million times before, it’s sales plummet. Marvelous.

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