August 17, 2017
YouTuber Mark Brown has been producing a series of videos called Boss Keys, where he examines the dungeon design of various Legend of Zelda games. He recently released a Boss Keys video for 2013’s A Link Between Worlds.
Before diving into the dungeon design, Mark Brown first takes a look at the overworld design. He notes that as time has gone on, Zelda games have become more and more linear. That changed with ALBW, where outside of a few exceptions, the dungeons could be tackled in whatever order the player wanted. This required a radical departure from the typical Zelda formula. Instead of finding items within the dungeons, you now rented or purchased them from Ravio. Mark Brown argues that this change improved the overworld, but actually harmed the dungeons themselves.
Mark Brown presents three main reasons why the dungeon design suffers from ALBW’s open world approach. First, since we no longer find items within the dungeons, a significant bit of dungeon solving is eliminated. We can no longer use new items to access areas of the dungeon we couldn’t previously get to. Next, he argues that the difficulty curve is basically flat. This is because the designers have to assume that any dungeon could be the player’s first. Finally, a dungeon’s puzzles can only be designed with one item in mind – the item you need to get past the first room (or in some cases to even enter the dungeon). Since the player may only have the needed item in their inventory, the designers couldn’t incorporate puzzles that required other items.
Mark Brown then goes on to discuss the dungeons themselves. He groups Zelda dungeons into three general categories: lock and key, puzzle box, and gauntlet. Lock and key dungeons are basically mazes where the player has to find keys to progress deeper into the dungeon. Puzzle box dungeons require the user to manipulate the dungeon layout itself to progress. This can involve changing water levels, turning the dungeon upside down, or other level manipulation techniques. Gauntlet style dungeons are simpler and basically just require the player to follow the path and defeat the enemies in front of them. While it’s pretty easy to categorize individual dungeons into one of these categories, it is tougher to categorize an entire game this way. Mark Brown concludes that ALBW is the first game in quite some time made up almost entirely of lock and key style dungeons.
There are several criteria Mark Brown uses to test if a dungeon is a lock and key style dungeon. Do the dungeons have branching paths? Do the dungeons offer choices? Do the dungeons have backtracking? Mark Brown determines that the dungeons in ALBW meet this criteria, although the dungeons are not as complex as the lock and key style dungeons in previous 2D Zelda games. That’s not to say there aren’t any fun or challenging puzzles in ALBW, and Mark Brown goes on to highlight a few of his favorite puzzles and mechanics in the game.
What do you think of the dungeon design in A Link Between Worlds? Do you agree with Mark Brown’s general dungeon design categories, and where he fits ALBW dungeons into his framework? Check out the video below or click here to view it on Youtube, then leave your thoughts in our comments section. And be sure to check out Mark Brown’s other Boss Key videos examining the design of Legend of Zelda dungeons.