It would appear that Nintendo is the gambling type.
With their Wii U console all but forgotten by consumers and third party developers, the Japanese company didn’t bother with a big-stage presentation at this year’s E3 video game expo. They stuck to their preferred method: a bubblegum-tinged video stream, the bulk of which was taken up by a game they announced three years ago: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Nintendo is quite literally betting their house on the game; it’s the main focus of their stand, which could readily double as a film set, recreating the ruined world of Hyrule that features in the game in a corner of the LA Conference Centre’s west hall. There’s a lookout point, a camp fire, a cantankerous machine and Link himself – all life-sized. Buttons in the floor queue up sound effects around the room, making it feel more like an Alton Towers area than a game exhibit.
Did Nintendo’s gamble pay off? The answer is in the queue to get into their stand – all three and a half snaking hours of it. Fans are willing to spend the better part of their day waiting in line to play on one of 140 console points. There’s even a queue to watch people play.
But is it worth it? Does it warrant the Hyrule hype?
There’s a soul stirring moment about four minutes into the opening of the game that does it; a visual cue, a reassuring beat in the gameplay that hints that Nintendo has another classic on its hands.
Link awakes in an underground chamber, apparently having slept for 100 years while Hyrule fell into ruination. Rising from his tomb-like-bed, he investigates some chests, grabs some clothes and obtains the Sheikah Slate – a magical tablet that will act as your guide through the game. It’s at this point Link exits his subterranean slumber pit to emerge on a cliff overlooking the game’s world. It’s stunning. Grass stirs in the wind, clouds skim over distant mountains, a valley of trees and mysterious structures expands into the distance.The soaring music, the colouring book pallet, all conspire to make you want to explore it.
The bulk of the hour we spent with the game was taken up by foraging, exploring and generally exercising the newly awoken Link; activities that should be dull, repetitive, having appeared in countless games you’ve already played. Somehow, it’s fresh again.
We gathered mushrooms, shot a boar, cooked our stash on a fire.
We climbed a cliff – an activity you’ll be doing a lot of, which sees Link use up a small circular ‘effort’ circle that dissipates as you climb.
We discovered an axe, chopped down trees, unleashed melee combos on comical troll-like creatures. None of it was radically new, but a combination of tight controls, pleasing animations and just having Link back again cast a pleasant spell over the activities. It just feels right.
You’ll get a much more eloquent description of what you can get up to in the game with the following gameplay video: the point is, that it plays as well as it looks. It’s a proper Zelda game, a return of an old friend.
One point of consideration arose from using the Wii U pad to control the game. In this version Nintendo was showing to the public, nothing appeared on the pad’s screen section except controller instructions. That Sheikah Slate you collet looks an awful lot like a Wii U pad, but even the Nintendo representatives giving the demo explained they didn’t know if the screen would serve any additional purposes.
Will the NX, Nintendo’s next console set to arrive in March 2017, feature a similar screen-based controller? Will it be compatible with the Will U pad? Nobody knew.
It would have perhaps been better for all Nintendo fans if the game hadn’t been so magically captivating. As it is, the next eight or so months are going to drag as we wait to be reacquainted with Link. It’ll be worth it though. Trust us.