When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild dropped back in 2017 it not only heralded in the age of the Nintendo Switch but it also (pardon the pun) breathed new life back into the 37-year-old Zelda franchise—a series that was long overdue for a makeover.
Nintendo managed to reinvent the wheel with BotW, but with the release of the highly anticipated sequel finally here, I can’t help but wonder if the internet is viewing this new game through rose tinted glasses…
For those unaware, BotW took the series to the open world, a game format that saw a meteoric rise throughout the 2010s. Although some argued that Nintendo was late to the party, others were thankful that the gaming giant was finally ready to show everyone how it was done.
No longer was series protagonist Link, confined to traversing linear locations and several sprawling dungeons in sequence on his quest to save princess Zelda.In BotW, the entire world was your oyster. Nintendo had finally given players the freedom to explore and tackle at a pace that suited you.
Although gamers are often critical of open worlds with too much fluff content, Nintendo was met with immense praise for its interpretation of the format. The game featured a stripped back soundtrack to let you appreciate the games immaculate sound design and breathtaking, hand-crafted world. There were also secrets and puzzles scattered all over the world, most of which felt relevant and carefully thought out.
With a staggering score of 97 on the critic review aggregate site Metacritic, it’s safe to say that it was well received by fans and professionals alike. Even my Dad was playing BotW.
It’s hard to follow up games that were met with such universal acclaim as this, and apparently Nintendo were aware of this, delaying the sequel several times before its eventual release on 12 May 2023 to try and get things as polished as possible.
To say the internet was hyped for the release was an understatement—every new Nintendo Direct saw fans spamming the comments, clamouring for a Zelda trailer, and the artistic corners of the internet have been filled with art of Princess Zelda sporting her new short haircut ever since it was unveiled in a teaser trailer back in 2019. Reports are also surfacing, revealing that since the release of the sequel, searches for “Zelda Porn” have skyrocketed. Real classy guys.
And now that we all finally have our hands on the game, I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the direction Nintendo has pulled in for the new entry. The red flags were there in the trailers but I shut my eyes and pretended not to see it, I wanted to buy into the hype. But I can’t delude myself any longer like the rest of the internet. I have a really massive gripe with the game: why oh why did Nintendo choose to implement vehicle building into The Legend of Zelda?
Seasoned gamers will remember the car crash that was the 2009 Rare game Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. This black sheep entry into the long beloved Banjo-Kazooie 3D platforming franchise saw the game turn to focus on vehicle building and driving, a move that has long puzzled gamers, and is said to have killed the Rare franchise.
And now it’s Zelda’s turn to let players build cars (among other basic structures) with the new ‘Ultrahand’ ability—because you know, that’s exactly what I wanted out of a fantasy game filled with monsters and princesses. I really wanted to be able to build a car out of a plank of wood and four wheels…
I’m sure some fans were over the moon when they spotted this new feature. I can only imagine that Nintendo were spurred on by the viral, rule breaking clips that caught the internet’s attention during the release of the first game that saw players exploit the tools that had been bestowed upon them. I remember being amazed at players using the time stop and momentum mechanics to fly across the map at record speeds on a metal cube. I didn’t actually care to do it myself though!
Among the new abilities is a new fuse mechanic that sees The Hero of the Wild able to attach virtually any item in the game world to his weapons for damage bonuses or for different status effects. While a neat concept, this slows down the pace of the game tremendously and forces you to sift through finicky menus for ages as you look for different bits and bobs to stick to your weapons and arrows.
We’re even further from traditional Zelda than we’ve ever been, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. BotW’s success is solid proof of that. But, the emphasis on attaching and building in TotK as part of its core gameplay loop was not what I was hoping for out of a sequel.
Additionally, very quickly the status-quo is reset back to what it essentially was in the last game. 10 hours into the game and I’ve been presented with the same list of chores as last timeShrines: Check. Korok puzzles: Check. Towers to unveil the map: Check.
Also lacking in a refresh is the enemies available for battle in the game. Zelda’s iconic Bokoblins and Lizalfos are back en-masse, with very little variation from BotW. I like thematic consistency but didn’t we all already spend hundreds of hours fighting them in the first game? For four years of development, I would have liked to see a little more variety in the monsters being put to death by Link.
Not to say that there’s no new content. The land of Hyrule (the same area you will have explored tirelessly in BotW) has seen numerous little changes, as well as the introduction of a sky map and an underground level to explore.
TotK feels like much more of an evolution, rather than the revolution that the previous entry was. That’s fine, not everything has to be flipped on its head, but the £60 price tag for a game that is essentially BotW 2.0 feels like a slap in the face. Especially when so much of the content is a repetition of things we did in the previous game, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.
TotK is set to smash the charts and critics are already decorating the game with 10/10 ratings, as well as glittering reviews. However not everyone online is happy with the final product—myself included.
The Legend of Zelda subreddit’s first impressions thread is filled with a plethora of players questioning the direction that Nintendo have chosen to take the series in.
It’s not just on Reddit either, user reviews on Metacritic are sharing similar frustrations. TotK is already sitting on a 96 score from the review aggregation site, whereas its user reviews are hanging around an 8.6, with most of the gamers complaining about a lack of new things to do, or fight, as well as complaints that the game’s new powers feel out of place.
So why are so many gaming publications overlooking all these issues and shortcuts the new entry has taken? Is this the infamous Nintendo effect in action? While Western developers are often subject to harsh criticism and expectations, Nintendo is infamous for getting away with bad practices like this online.
There is a clear dissonance between what is being experienced by publishers, and the score these games are getting. Eurogamer Germany calls the game a perfect 10/10 despite admitting in their review that “it doesn’t quite deliver the punch of its predecessor.” Make it make sense.
It may be because of Nintendo’s overall integrity that it gets passes on things like this. When it comes to this Japanese gaming titan, the standard is definitely lowered. When Call of Duty releases annually, there’s a clear expectation regarding what you’re going to get. I think I just hoped they’d show up a little stronger after blowing everyone away the last time. Was I simply anticipating too much from Link’s latest outing?
The adventure has just begun, and while there is plenty of fun to be had, maybe gamers need to take a step back and reconsider the incessant praising of Japan’s most famous game developer.On the other hand, it might be the general lack of integrity that games in the West so often perpetuate that have made audiences so forgiving when it comes to Nintendo.