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Exclusive: Zelda 3DS 'feels totally different,' needs to be played in 3D

In an exclusive interview, Zelda series director and producer Eiji Aonuma talks to CNET's Jeff Bakalar about the sequel to 1992's A Link to the Past on the Nintendo 3DS.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
5 min read

The Nintendo 3DS has already been through a lot. The first-ever glasses-less 3D portable console didn't have the most glamorous of launches when it hit the market more than two years ago. Tainted by an underwhelming batch of debut software, controversial 3D effect, and a disappointing battery life, the 3DS didn't have a whole lot going for it out of the gate.

If that wasn't enough of a burden, the 3DS was also forced to follow up the original DS, a predecessor that is approaching worldwide sales of 154 million units combined. It's the best-selling portable console of all time.


But in the 25 months since its release, the 3DS has made significant strides. A focus on the platform's online store and a hardware refresh with a much bigger screen and better battery have begun to right the ship. Most importantly, a bevy of compelling software has been made available -- though some have criticized the company's continual recycling of classic games.

In addition to hardware and software improvements, Nintendo has made up ground on consumer interactivity. To better keep its audience in the know, the company has been conducting a series of videos that have shed a generous amount of transparency on upcoming titles and news -- a move that has seemed to generate an organic buzz throughout its loyal consumer base.

Among the announcements made at the most recent Nintendo Direct video is the sequel to the 1992 Super Nintendo classic, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It's a game many -- Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime among them -- consider to be one of the best Zelda games ever made.

Surprisingly enough, this sequel would not see a release on a home console. No, the follow-up to the iconic top-down view adventure would be realized on the 3DS.

The game's most notable mechanic is Link's ability to shift from a 3D character into a 2D drawing. He can maneuver in and out of precarious situations with this new ability, which will also force players to examine the world in a different light.


To better understand the thinking behind this move, I got a chance to talk with Eiji Aonuma, the man who has overseen various Zelda games including the Link to the Past sequel.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my interview with Aonuma was that the new 3DS Zelda game -- one that exists within the universe established by 1992's A Link to the Past -- will be a significant departure from the way most Zelda games are played.

When speaking about the basic Zelda formula of finding items to allow progression, Aonuma said "it certainly feels different from our [the developer's] point of view."

So what does "different" mean exactly? Aonuma was cautiously vague, but he explained that, with the introduction of a platform the Zelda franchise has yet to appear on, the game's developers had a fresh canvas to work with. It's this clean slate that was the driving force behind the decision to bring the classic top-down view of A Link to the Past to the 3DS.

Where in the past a game would normally need to be first constructed in a 3D world, the diorama-esque visuals of the 3DS have been able to breathe new life into environments that have become all but extinct in the last 20 years.


Of course, there had already been a Zelda game on the 3DS, but that was the 2011 remake of Ocarina of Time. Aonuma worked on that game, and it taught him a lot about developing on the stereoscopic 3D platform, which opened up a brand-new vein of creativity for him and his team. In fact, Aonuma says this new Zelda game may be the most inventive yet.

But why A Link to the Past? Why not create a new world for Link to explore? Aonuma says that the 3DS has allowed for the revisiting of a top-down world and provided new ways for the player to interact with a Zelda game. It was the perfect chance to reopen A Link to the Past. And like some other Zelda games in the past, the 3DS sequel will alternate between a light and dark world.

So where does the idea of Link becoming a drawing originate? Veteran Zelda fans may remember Phantom Ganon, the protector of the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time. During Link's encounter, Phantom Ganon jumps into one of six identical paintings on a wall. Aonuma wondered, "What if Link could have the same power?"

Of course it's reasonable to wonder about the possibility of the stylus-equipped 3DS player assuming the role of artist in this new Zelda game. Judging from my time with Aonuma, it certainly seems like a possibility.


Seeing the Link to the Past sequel played on a 3DS reminded me of dimension-bending games like Crush, where the camera's perspective decides the physical rules of the game. The new 3DS Zelda isn't too far off, in that the switch to 2D creates a different plane for Link to travel along.

During my interview, Aonuma repeatedly stressed the importance of the 3DS' 3D effect and how it's used in the new Zelda game. This feature has been a major topic of controversy surrounding the 3DS since its launch, and the consensus seems to be split down the middle in terms of preference. Some complain that it causes headaches, whereas others maintain it's the only way to truly enjoy 3DS games.

Regardless of how you'll play the sequel to A Link to the Past -- with or without the 3D slider on -- Aonuma assures that you'll enjoy the game. He and his team understand that not everyone likes to play in 3D. That said, if you don't play it in 3D -- even with the 3D slider ticked up just a bit -- Aonuma says you're not getting 100 percent of the intended experience.

3D also presents a challenge in advertising the game. A 3D gameplay video is available for download on the 3DS, but the effect can't be conveyed in conventional advertising on the Web or TV. "I wish I could just tell people to buy it and definitely tell your friends!" he said.

The 3DS sequel to 1992's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is set to arrive exclusively to the Nintendo 3DS this holiday.