The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) review: Ocarina of Time exploded onto the N64 in 1998, it immediately entrenched itself in the psyches of many who played it, there to stay for nearly two decades as “the best game ever”.
Grown men would continue to go teary-eyed at ‘moments’ such as travelling across Hyrule Field for the first time, or the freedom of discovering Epona and crossing the world on horseback.
Go back to it now, and Hyrule Field – the hub area to reach any other part of the game – takes about 30 seconds to gallop across, or two minutes on foot. It’s all a bit sad. It’s not a world. It’s barely the field it says it is.
But whatever it did in the years since, Nintendo never managed to stop anybody replacing increasingly inaccurate nostalgic ‘feels’ with good sense when thinking back to Ocarina of Time. Why? Because, whether taking The Legend of Zelda to the sea, or a parallel dimension with a wolf, or even into the sky with a dodgy Wii-mote flying giant bird mechanic, that simple elegance of crossing Hyrule Field and ending up somewhere else never grew or developed into anything much more.
Ocarina of Time has not been “the best game ever” for quite some years, yet the dream of what it promised but couldn’t deliver was enough to fan the flames of total delusion among a stubborn fanbase.
And Nintendo kept milking that staid formula. Subsequently, in stark contrast to its almost bafflingly freeform 1986 NES original, The Legend of Zelda became a series of linear, path-led, highly curated design. That was the formula, that’s what you were going to have to enjoy, and Nintendo was damned if it was going to wildly iterate on a 1998 classic that effortlessly topped lists written by the learned and wise. Nintendo was damned if it was even going to add a jump button.
Until now. (Yes, you saw that coming.)
But it’s true. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Zelda reimagined (or, perhaps, restored) as a completely open world adventure. You (Link – now no longer able to be renamed “Stephen” or “Bumface”, due to the new addition of voice acting) wakes up in a glowing blue bath 100 years after… something… and after an hour or so’s tutorial and literally four splodges on your map telling you vaguely where to go, it’s off to go and figure it all out for yourself.
Just like in 1986, you’re totally on your own. And just like that – so much moreso than the boringly by-numbers work of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout, or Ubisoft’s now laughably formulaic, tick-list infested ‘map moppers’ of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry – Nintendo appears to have quietly watched, listened and almost instantaneously figured out what an ‘open world’ game is supposed to be, pretty much nailing it on the first go.
Namely – it’s open, and a world. With a jump button. And climbing, and fighting, and swimming, and gliding. And cooking.
Dance beneath the diamond sky
The design philosophy and subsequent tapestry of gameplay is as fresh as the wind blowing around your pointy Hylian ears the moment you clamber up your first viewing tower.
Unlike Assassin’s Creed, finding a vantage point isn’t an excuse for the game to condescendingly litter the near horizon with helpful icons to stick in your HUD and count down the metres until you reach. No. It’s so achingly simple as to be (hopefully) embarrassing to anybody else creating an open world sandbox from this day forth, but it’s basically just like real life: If you see something from high up, you’ve got a better idea where to find it, but you still need to find it yourself.
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