Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, one of the most effortless, weightless Zelda games in years.
A Link Between Worlds manages to recapture the adventure of the original Zelda, which was content to drop players at an empty crossroads without a word, your only clue of what to do being a cave beckoning in the distance. At the same time, A Link Between Worlds succeeds in reinvigorating a well-trodden formula without alienating the players who already adore it.
That's quite a trick.
A Link Between Worlds has all the familiar pieces – bombs, the boomerang, the ubiquitous treasure jingle – but it feels like the antithesis of the most recent games in Nintendo's flagship series. A Link Between Worlds is light on dialogue. There are no arbitrary caps on items or Rupees. There isn't one jabbering sidekick in sight. The most sweeping change, however, is also one of the simplest: Players can tackle dungeons in any order they please.
This one alteration imbues A Link Between Worlds with an incredible sense of freedom, making Hyrule and the new Lorule feel like real kingdoms. You never feel as if you're just being funneled from one destination to the next. With the ability to rent or purchase nearly all weapons and equipment at the outset, the world begs to be explored, and there's plenty to find for those who are willing to look. Dungeons benefit as well, afforded an extra degree of flexibility thanks to Link's fluid arsenal. Even the obligatory "collect 100 baubles" quest – in this case involving adorable sea creatures – is unobtrusive, enjoyable and rewarding.
Of course, A Link Between Worlds isn't defined solely by its departures from tradition. What solidifies it as one of the best in the series is its adherence to Zelda's greatest strengths. The worlds of Hyrule and Lorule are beautifully detailed and filled to bursting with secrets, cleverly designed dungeons and delightful distractions. Nintendo's decision to get out of the player's way throws these strengths into sharp relief, making it easy to remember why we all fell in love with Zelda in the first place.
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far: