A Link Between Worlds And The Value Of Tactile Feedback

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The main reason The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a fun game is its controls and user interface. It’s another great example of how snappy controls can enrich an entire video game, and I think that’s something a lot of people have started to miss in recent years.

When I first saw live gameplay of ALBW what caught my eye the most was how smooth everything looked, and that was the first thing I noticed upon starting up the game. I guess this is the first time in a long time I’ve played an action adventure game at a basically flawless 60 frames per second. It even makes the 3D wall painting mechanic feel great and 2D Link’s character model animate attractively.

Maybe that smooth framerate sticks out so much now because it became so rare on consoles this past generation. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were dominated by western developers that are only just now learning to reconcile console hardware ceilings with visuals and frame rates — something the Japanese have been doing for decades. I can only think of a few non-Japanese games (like Call of Duty) that even aimed for 60 on current-gen consoles. Hopefully the trend of next-gen action games aiming for 60 holds.

ALBW isn’t just about running at 60 though. What really caught me off guard has been its sound design. It’s an amazing fusion of nostalgia and clean design. Most of this game’s sound effects are actually the same ones from A Link to the Past but perfectly placed with a higher overall sound quality to make them more crisp. That combined with ALBW’s framerate and thus low input lag creates an extremely good sense of tactile feedback.

The reason I hold this kind of thing in such high importance is because I think tactile feedback is the main reason people play console games. Pressing a button to get an immediate reaction has been the binding point of console games from Mario to Ninja Gaiden Black. Nintendo and a handful of other developers try very hard to maintain that quality of feedback. This past console generation a lot of publishers tried to advertise “visceral” experiences while sacrificing feedback for eye candy and quick-time events.

When you have good feedback from a smooth-running game with satisfying audio, it’s like a strong foundation that enriches the entire experience that’s built on top of it. In my opinion every task in ALBW is more fun because it involves taking down more enemies to hear the clang of Link’s sword and collecting more rupees to hear the “blink” noise whenever you grab them. Even the sound effect for when you grab hearts to heal is directly from ALTTP and sounds wonderful in the new game.

Good feedback can even salvage a game I otherwise wouldn’t touch. I was pretty critical of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, but I have to admit I still played the game to 100 percent completion. I did so primarily because the game actually has very smooth controls. Lara handles noticeably better here than most third person shooter characters. This even convinced me to turn Tomb Raider’s graphics settings down to medium so I could play it at 60fps.

I’ll add there’s a lot more about ALBW that makes it feel like a much more “gamey” experience than recent Zelda games. I saw a lot of worry about its visual design when it was first announced, but now I think it’s a great fit. It’s basically the same art direction as ALTTP but rendered in 3D. When people saw that game’s sprites and concept art 20 years ago many probably took it to be some kind of Tolkienesque fantasy held back by 1990’s hardware. Today that art just looks like a fantasy cartoon, which I think makes for a really fun game.

The best way to describe ALBW is that it feels more like a video game than most of what came out this year.

BULLETS:

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