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Can the 2D Sequel to 'A Link to the Past' Revive an Ailing Genre?

Yes, it's a new 2D Zelda, but can Nintendo get back in gear after twenty years of 3D?
April 17, 2013, 4:30pm

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is finally getting a proper sequel. On the Nintendo Direct video broadcast, the gaming giant just announced that the follow-up for the most universally beloved Zelda game is confirmed for the 3DS.

The game will be a classic, bird's eye roguelike adventure/dungeon crawler* Zelda game with 3D graphics and familiar mechanics. New to the table will be 2D puzzle/platforming sections, where players can become two-dimensional and move along the walls to solve new kinds of puzzles. This will bring a new type of Zelda puzzle, but also looks like a good riff on Playbrain's 2011 platformer, Sideways: New York.

The original A Link to the Past was released in 1992. It was heralded as the swan song of the Super Nintendo and 16-bit eras. It introduced many gameplay mechanics still used today, and is the gold-standard of adventure games. A Link to the Past would be the last major two-dimensional Zelda entry for any console, as 1998's Ocarina of Time took the game's concept and translated it into 3D, a trend which continues to this day.

Nintendo brought in Capcom to create 2001's Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, a return to form for 2D Zelda gameplay. When A Link to the Past was re-released on the Gameboy Advance, Capcom created the four player co-operative, Four Swords, which was also packed on the cart. And while Nintendo EAD created Four Swords Adventures for the Gamecube, the last true two-dimensional Zelda game came with 2004's Minish Cap, concluding Capcom's involvement with the franchise.

Nintendo has gone twenty years now without releasing a proper two-dimensional Zelda game, and indie developers have long since plundered the bones of the dungeon crawler. Does Nintendo have what it takes to reclaim the throne? Maybe. With Zelda in particular, Nintendo seems very cautious—all entries since 2001's Majora's Mask have felt like a compromise between creative direction and fan-service. Going retro always pays off for them financially, but the New Super Mario Bros. series, for instance, seems to reek of stagnating design.

Meanwhile, Kickstarter has seen it's fair share of dungeon crawlers and roguelikes come up through the ranks, but out of all of them, perhaps Radio the Universe has the best non-Zelda shot at reviving the genre.

The new Zelda game is scheduled for release for the holiday season this year. Or, knowing Nintendo, sometime in 2014. We'll keep an eye out on Nintendo's quest to reclaim the dungeon crawlers.

*Update: It has come to our attention that A Link to the Past is not generally considered a roguelike, and is instead more properly considered a dungeon crawler. We regret the error.