It’s kind of hard to accurately describe how impressive The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom game is. Personally, I find it increasingly rare to play a AAA game that lives up to the promise of its scope, but from nintendo the last ride did it successfully. There’s just… so much to do and so much worth doing. The side quests feel like valiant efforts rather than meandering distractions, the new abilities are unbelievable, and the main story itself quickly hooked me. Of course, it’s easy to argue that this is the game of the year. But I just hope that whatever Zelda game Nintendo makes next is nothing like Tears of the Kingdom.
Zelda is kind of a weird series. It’s a somewhat iterative franchise, but not quite as big as its cousin Mario, who constantly strives to make moving around in 3D space more interesting – or at least radically different – than before. For the most part though, each Zelda game has something of its own that really helps it stand out, at least since Majora’s Mask. Said N64 game obviously had the masks that allowed Link to transform into the different groups of people he featured in Ocarina of Time.
Then there’s Wind Waker, which did away with Hyrule’s open landscape and turned it into an open Oceanscape. Twilight Princess took things even further by turning Link into a literal wolf, Skyward Sword gave Link a bird to fly, A Link Between Worlds let him turn into a painting, Minish Cap let him shrink down to the size of a particle of dust , the list goes on. These are all gimmicks, but they often offer interesting ways to explore the world – much like Tears of the Kingdom’s new abilities.
It’s not the gimmicks that made any of these games as interesting as they are, but for me personally, it was the worlds you have to explore that made them worth exploring. And Zelda is at her best when she’s at her weirdest, like in what’s easily one of the best in the series, Link’s Awakening.
I first played Link’s Awakening when the remake came out and quickly discovered why so many people consider it their favorite Zelda title. The concept easily lends itself to doing something different with Link (he’s trapped in a dream and needs to find a way to wake up), and it’s all the better for it. Everything is wonderfully eclectic in Link’s Awakening, everyone a little weird but charming. And without the shackles of having to deal with the Triforce or Ganondorf, it allowed Link to have an adventure where the stakes were a little lower.
Sadly, I’m not sure we’ll ever get a game like Link’s Awakening again. Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has said that Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are the new format for the series going forward, and if he means that will be the case for all Zelda games, I think that’s a pity. While I understand people wanting to experience a little more of that classic feel with linear dungeons and the like, I really don’t mind that the series made a change in that regard (to be totally honest, I think only a few of the dungeons are truly memorable).
What I don’t want to happen, though, is for Zelda to lose its unique spirit by actually doing something different from game to game. It’s perfectly OK, even great really, when Zelda is much smaller in scope. You can even go as small as indie – something Nintendo already did, or rather let developer Brace Yourself Games do, with Cadence of Hyrule.
An action game in the visual style of classic 2D Zelda games, literally set to the remixed rhythm of the series’ musical history, Cadence of Hyrule is a constant surprise. Partly because of how good it is, partly because it actually exists (Nintendo? Let an indie developer handle one of its most treasured properties?) Story-wise, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary, a surprise to no one, but it was a pleasure spend time in Hyrule in such a unique and vibrant way.
I felt the same way when I recently played Minish Cap for the first time in years. The first time you shrink down to Minish size still feels like magic to me, mostly because it’s invited me into a world unseen by the citizens of Hyrule. Even better, it only took me 10 hours or so to beat the game, a rarity in today’s world where we constantly see games full of things to do but no reason to do them.
Minish Cap reminded me of the little ways Zelda could feel big; it didn’t need the massive open world of Tears of the Kingdom to look stunning, all it needed was a wonderfully saturated color palette and impeccable pixel art. It’s not that I don’t love exploring the world of Tears of the Kingdom, I actually do. I just don’t want this to be the only way to go on an adventure with Link.
Tears of the Kingdom is an incredibly difficult act to follow because it is arguably the biggest and loudest journey Link has ever taken. How do you create a sequel that’s at least as impressive as the one before it? I don’t think you can, honestly! But purposely going smaller, though not necessarily fuller, means the team behind Zelda can make something fun and unique without having to take home the gold.
Nintendo clearly loves to experiment, even if it’s to their detriment (would we have the Switch without the Wii U?) and it’s part of why it continues to be important in the gaming space all these years later. I don’t need Nintendo to let an independent team try Zelda again, although I don’t mind, but I don’t want Zelda to lose that weird spirit she has.
Mainly, what I want Nintendo to do is let Link do a lot of things; let him fall asleep and save a dream island, let him shrink in size and face larger than life enemies, let him save a city doomed to be crushed by the moon. Zelda will be better off with this.
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