It's rare for the Zelda series to delve into traditional sequels; sure, there are games that use the same assets or engine as a previous title, such as Majora's Mask, but the games generally feel disconnected from each other from a narrative and atmosphere perspective. This is by design; it's supposed to be a legend, after all, so it makes sense that each story would be told a different way. But by the beginning of the 2010s, the Toon Link era was beginning to change that. These were as close as we've gotten to direct Zelda sequels canonically, but their gameplay and setting were still their own. But with the series's first original title on the 3DS, Nintendo decided to take it a step further; A Link Between Worlds is a successor to not a recent title, but A Link To The Past, the game that set the standard for the 2D Zelda title all the way back in 1992 on the SNES. Set many years later, ALBW features a familiar Hyrule layout and a familiar dark world-esque alternate setting, this time titled Lorule. But while the game certainly takes great inspiration from the Zelda title that defined the series, it's still definitively a great game in its own right.
A Link to the Past is still an all time favorite for many Zelda fans, so a spiritual successor to it was always a good idea. Just as with that game, it's impressive how much detail and polish A Link Between Worlds can fit into its condensed world-or, worlds. For fans of traditional 2D Zelda, it's a treat; the dungeons are varied, puzzles are engaging rather than frustrating, and as for any good Zelda title, there's plenty of fun distractions and diversions throughout. Due to the ease of swapping out items, this is one of the smoothest Zelda experiences there is. The dungeons are all relatively small and compact, which allows for players to progress consistently, rarely feeling bogged down by any sudden obscure sections or difficulty spikes. It must be said this is certainly one of the easier titles in the series, so it does lack a degree of memorability; it's hard to say what dungeon or boss fight is supposed to be the definitive one in ALBW. They're all good, and their relative ease does make for a satisfyingly brisk playthrough, but it does lack those knockout punches-in both difficulty and memorability-that are so consistent throughout the series.
That isn't to say that A Link Between Worlds has nothing unique or memorable to offer. Of course, the wall merging mechanic is a brilliant mechanic, and contributes to so much of this game's identity. So many of the best puzzles, so much of the environmental exploration in this game is based around clever uses of this ability to great effect, and finding an obscure secret or a puzzle solution while using it is perhaps the most satisfying element the game has to offer. It also contributes greatly to your exploration of Hyrule and Lorule, and its implementation keeps both regions relevant for the game's duration. Even more revolutionary-and impactful, it turns out-was the game's non-linear structure. Especially at the time of release, when the previous title in the series was Skyward Sword (a game criticized by some for its over-adherence to the Zelda formula), A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air for the series. Freedom in gaming is not always a good thing, but here, it works a treat, greatly improving the exploration aspect of the title and bringing back some of that feeling from the very first Zelda-and, indeed, surely acting as an inspiration for Breath of the Wild. To supplement this, ALBW also introduced the item-lending system, which allowed players to use all the traditional Zelda equips essentially right from the beginning, which allowed for more continuous exploration and led to less backtracking.
Of course, when you take so much inspiration from a beloved title, it's bound to create some feelings of familiarity, and not always in a good way. Putting the maps side by side shows the overworlds to be near-indistinguishable, and while a sequel like TOTK can supplement that with massive gameplay changes and new areas, A Link Between Worlds doesn't have as many options to fit inside its much smaller map. It has enough new that it doesn't feel like a complete retread, but those who have played ALTTP recently or often enough might miss out on a degree of exploration joy here, which is the predominant thing the game does well.
Even with its similarities, though, if A Link Between Worlds is being called similar to one of the most genre-defining games of a generation, then it's clear that it must have done some things right. And for fans of a traditional 2D Zelda with a twist of varied progression, A Link Between Worlds is an excellent choice. It wears its influence proudly on its sleeve, and while it might borrow a tad too much from it, it's never to the point of becoming derivative or dull. And with the hindsight of BOTW, it's clear to see that ALBW had plenty of influence to offer on its own.