After completing it the other day, I have this to say: remember how I used to say that top-down Zeldas just didn't do it for me as much as the 3D ones? Well, I might have to review my stance on that! LBW is the best of the bunch, no friggin' contest. And I can't put it down to just one thing, it's just a multitute of small factors that ended up piling up.
It's quite a feat when you think about it, considering just how much it borrowed from LttP. The overworld's the same as ever, the music also is (not that it's a bad thing, mind you!)... but I was surprised to find out that so was Lorule compared to the Dark World. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting Dark World Mk II. The same areas in the same places, often with the same names (except for the Swamp of Evil and the Village of Outcasts, which were named after the dungeons that were in those areas in LttP)... but wait, the locations of the fire and ice dungeons were reversed! WHAT A TWIST! But the fire dungeon's still named Turtle Rock, despite being in another corner of the map.
It may sound like I'm being all negative here, but things actually DO feel different from what they were in LttP, despite the striking resemblance. There are more things to do, for one thing. Nintendo is the undisputed master of taking old stuff and make it feel new, and nowhere is this as glaringly obvious as in LBW. I feel many people have been unfair in their assessment of this game, outright calling it a "remake" (sometimes before even having entered the Eastern Palace)... and while it seems rather close to that in appearance, it really IS a full-fledged sequel. I guess another thing Nintendo's good at (factoring in its subsidiaries, considering the example I'm about to use) is blurring the line between sequel and remake - just look at Pokémon Black/White 2.
I must say, I found the idea of doing the dungeons in any order you please (barring the Desert Palace, which must be done after the Thieves' Hideout) very interesting. The fun part is that if this game stuck to the classic formula of "find item in dungeon, then use it a whole bunch for the rest of the game", it wouldn't have been possible. The mechanic of renting and buying items is what made that possible, and it made for a refreshing change of pace (as well as a fantastic rupee sink). I wasn't so sure when I heard about it before getting the game, especially with the seemingly outrageous prices, but playing it definitely convinced me (that, and rupees are incredibly common anyway).
The best part is, even if there are no "dungeon treasures" in the traditional sense, like the bow, the hammer or the Hookshot, there are still items to acquire in them that will make your journey much easier, meaning that they still gave you a reason to do dungeons in this and this order. These items, aside from the Desert Palace's Titan's Mitt, are entirely optional (and can in fact be missed easily, especially the Master Ore in the Palace of Darkness). And even in the case of the Titan's Mitt, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from doing the Desert Palace last (though I wouldn't recommend it, considering all the things it opens up).
What I did, personally, was go through the Swamp Palace first to get the Blue Mail. Can't say no to instant 50% damage reduction! I then did the Thieves' Hideout to get a Master Ore and unlock the Desert Palace, where I then went to to grab the Titan's Mitt, which I used to find the second Master Ore needed to get the Tempered Sword and a whole bunch of Maiamais. After that it was off to the Palace of Darkness and the Skull Woods for the remaining Master Ores, then the Ice Ruins where the Stamina Scroll was, and finally Turtle Rock for the relatively useless Hylian Shield. Is there any special way you tackled the dungeons, or did you just improvise the whole way through?
There is one problem with the ability to do the dungeons in any order, though: there's no real increase in difficulty as you go through them. You keep getting better and better gear, more and more hearts, and the dungeons don't get harder, meaning they actually get easier in comparison. The one exception, in my opinion, would be the Ice Ruins, which took me a while to figure out. Always the freaking ice dungeons...
Speaking of difficulty, that's another minor complaint I have: there's just not enough of it. Even not knowing what was coming next, I still breezed through any combat situations (buying and upgrading the Fire Rod as soon as you're given the chance is a huge difference maker, admittedly). Including bosses. I never even came close to dying against any boss, not even the heavily watered-down Moldorm. (I'm not sure if the way it was hit with the nerf bat was a good thing for the game's balance, or just tainting its legacy and reputation as one of the most annoying bosses ever.) And of course by dying I meant "drinking a potion". Never did that either. I blame hearts being much more common than they were in the likes of LttP - and having full health now is more helpful than it was then, because even though the Tempered and Golden Swords were nerfed, the projectiles they shoot out at full health were buffed instead.
On the subject of death, the fact that you lose any rented items when dying really isn't a big deal considering how easy the game is, so buying the items for really high prices would honestly be an exercise in futility if not for the fact that you need to buy them to upgrade them. Which you really really should do. I'm not sure if it's by design, or if they really meant to sting you by losing rented items if you died, buf if it's the latter then they mucked it up.
Heck, you want to know how easy this game is? Wind Waker and Twilight Princess had 50-floor super-dungeons that were, in each case, the hardest part of the game, even when you were equipped with everything that could be found in the game. LBW tried its hand at this, and while it feels different with the small arenas, bottomless pits and frantic pace, it works well. Unfortunately, when I tried the highest difficulty (they were kind enough to give you the traditional heart piece for beating the INTERMEDIATE difficulty, which had only 15 floors), I had 20 hearts, the Red Mail, the Golden Sword, and every item fully upgraded, and at the end I still had over half my health. Yeah, the upgraded Tornado Rod and the Great Spin utterly break this place, but even with them, it was still my first time through, and I would've survived without a single potion had I had the Blue Mail instead. Yeesh.
But you know what? It's fine. Wind Waker was even easier than that, and I still rate that game very highly. While adequate difficulty definitely enhances the experience, it's not THE criteria. Or the second one. Or even the third.
One feature I did thoroughly enjoy, despite its possible contribution to said lack of difficulty, is the energy system. In most Zelda games you have a magic meter that you use up when using certain items, and you have to replenish it by finding magic pots at random. You also have a finite supply of arrows, bombs and what have you. Not here! In this game, when you use an item (even one that typically doesn't use up magic or run off a supply, like the hammer or the Hookshot), some energy is consumed, and it fills back up quite rapidly. Only if you start spamming an item very fast will you actually drain all of it. This allows you to be much more liberal with items than ever before, and if you play it right the upgraded Fire Rod can well become your primary means of offense - something that's utterly unthinkable in any game with a magic meter.
Another huge improvement over LttP is transportation. Back then, you could only quick travel in the Light World, but you could only do so once you reached the Dark World, and getting back there was more of a pain than it was worth. It wasn't THIS time-consuming, it was just a bit tedious is all. Here, the game takes a page off Majora's Mask's book (in one of the few things it did right, thankfully) by allowing you to quick travel to any save point you've encountered. Portals between worlds are much more numerous as well, which is quite convenient.
All this combines to make a very fun experience, definitely the best I've had out of any 2D Zelda game. Of course I could nitpick about the plot endlessly, such as how the hell can mere mortals destroy the essence of the gods, how come the Triforce can create more of itself, and my personal favorite, how desperate you have to be to entrust an obviously clinically insane Dragon that could already crush you like wheat beforehand with the task of obtaining the Triforce of Power and inhabiting Ganon's body. Suddenly the king of Hyrule trusting Ganondorf in OoT doesn't look so bad! But ultimately, as you know, I really don't care much for story in games, unless my intelligence is being insulted, which clearly isn't the case here, just minor nitpicks. At least they didn't bring back "the Master Sword sleeps again FOREVER!!!" from LttP, despite the exact same shot of it being laid to rest at the end being used.
...my, my, look at the time. Once again I didn't think I was going to write this much, but clearly I did. So I'm not holding you up any longer. Bye!