Zelda Breath of the Wild is here and VERSUS PLAYER has decided to change up the format and stop referring to reviews as reviews, we find dissecting a game into individual categories like music or graphics or gameplay doesn’t really work for us. Instead, we are going to focus on little stories that sum up whether or not I choose to continue my adventure or switch (heh) over to a different game. In the wise words of Usher, these are my impressions.
Feature Image by Josh-DO-It
Zelda Breath of the Wild is a huge surprise for me, I knew I’d purchase it if I was going to drop a cool $479 on a Nintendo Switch but only because it was one of the few titles that were coming out at release. My relationship with Zelda isn’t a long one, I played the original on the NES at a friend’s house, I purchased Zelda: A Link To The Past at a Games Wizard sale long after the SNES was released and long after I’d completed titles like Final Fantasy VII. At the time I regarded that as the be all and end all of RPGs. I enjoyed A Link To The Past and finished it but it didn’t leave me with many memories.
I completely skipped the N64 era and wouldn’t touch a Nintendo console until the Gamecube years later. Ocarina of Time was one of those titles I’d seen being played and knew so much about but never actually got around to playing until the 3DS about two years ago. I thought it was okay however I gave up somewhere around the Water Temple. You’re not really dealing with a Zelda fan here.
WAKE UP, LINK
So here we are, awoken like everyone’s favourite biblical superhero in a tomb fit for a king. Zelda’s soothing words guide our elf (he’s an elf right?) and his fancy undies from a 100-year slumber, he’s given an iPad he has to dock it somewhere to get out of his damp hotel. Next, he needs to get decent, time to put some pants on. Link kicks open the treasure chest and hurts his foot, I laugh, he isn’t wearing shoes…it’s a nice touch. Some button prompts appear on the screen letting me know what I can do, Link can lift, throw and push. Standard stuff.
Ahead is a small ledge, I climb and see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been resurrected and it’s time to leave the vault and see what 100 years have done to Hyrule. If Fallout has taught me anything it probably isn’t going to be pretty.
DAMN THAT’S PRETTY
I love cel-shading and Zelda does it right. I assume the game takes over at this point, I push forward to the precipice of a cliff and look upon the lush green landscapes of the wild. It’s totally going to put the title screen up now. It does.
That’s it. It doesn’t say anything else, it doesn’t come up with a quest marker, Link just stands there. The greens are unbelievably green, you can see wisps of wind dancing with leaves in the distance. Birds fly in formation, trees sway from side to side, an azure river flows while the gentle ambience of the world around you creates it’s own serene soundtrack.
Oh, look an old man!
The game immediately lets you know you’re in for a huge adventure and part of that adventure is the mystery that surrounds it. What happens next is the start of some tutorials that are few and far between much like the Wild Spicy Pepper Steak Link cooked earlier, they are done to perfection.
Tutorials are a common feature in games and my main gripe with them is they can be too hand-holdy, let me say these are completely necessary and they teach you the right way, a gentle push. Find four Shrines, get four powers and then defeat Calamity Ganon. Yes, that’s right, get all your powers in the first hour, then go and kill the last boss. I won’t say anymore but trust me it’s awesome.
Now to find these four shrines you first need to locate them, there isn’t a big floaty thing in the sky or anything on your map, at least until you mark it. I’ve seen the trailers, I know how open-world games work, I’m going to need a vantage point and it’s totally going to be a tower. The only problem is I can’t see one.
I get some helpful advice and proceed to the location where the tower should be, I use my Sheikah Slate (iPad) and activate some drippy rune machine. BAM! A tower ascends to the heavens and it totally wants me to climb it. Of course it does.
Flashbacks assault my mind, games like Assassins Tower and FarTower 3 and WATCH_TOWER 2 start shaking with excitement on my shelves, they recognise their kindred brother, they have infected the Zelda franchise.
Only they haven’t. I don’t know why but climbing stuff in BotW is so damn fun. Lucky too, since you will be doing a hell of a lot of it. All of your climbing takes stamina, as does running, jumping, swimming, swinging and so on.
Climbing takes me back to my childhood, trying to figure out how to ascend a tree with no regard for my own well-being if I were to fall. Now, this all might sound a bit pretentious and while some of you may be rolling your eyes comparing a climbing mechanic to my bruised youth, it genuinely did invoke fond thoughts of running around the backyard with a stick as a kid. Even Shiggy loves it.
“When we first presented this to Mr. Miyamoto, he spent about an hour just climbing trees,” Fujibayashi said. “We left little treats like rupees on the trees, but we also left other things in other places we thought he might go. But he just kept climbing trees. Up and down. And so we got to the point where we go, ‘Do you want to look at other stuff?’ But he just kept on going. Once [he] got out of the Shrine of Resurrection, he spent an hour just within a 25-50 meter radius outside of that cave just climbing trees.”
So I climb the tower, my stamina bar depletes, I try a little jump cliff-hanger style, it smashes the stamina bar. I fall. Okay, this time I’ll take it slow. I often found myself close to the edge of towers and mountains with a sliver of stamina left, almost slipping as I finally got my feet to the top. It gives you a lot of sweaty palm moments but is hugely rewarding when it pays off.
Stamina is mana.
Mana is life.
Nintendo has turned stamina management into a tiny puzzle. Link has made the stamina bar great again. Or for the first time?
Let’s jump ahead, I have all my powers. I can Magneto it up with a magnet power and metal objects, I can freeze objects in their place with Stasis and adjust the direction they move in when the object unfreezes. I can throw magic blue bombs of the circular and squarish variety and remote detonate them. I can also make big blocks of ice come out of the water and climb them essentially building my own stepping stones.
Upon receiving all of this I also get a sweet paraglider. Now when I fall from stuff I can glide, assuming I have the stamina of course. I’m finally free to glide on the Breath of the Wild into the unknown, I sail the skies to the plateau below and I’m on my own.
I haven’t discussed combat yet, it does exist in the tutorial section however my first real wow moments happened shortly after my feet hit the ground. The weather has changed and I see a bow wielding, pig faced, bat headed creature on a small tower keeping watch. His buddies are dancing around an open fire possibly chanting “ooga-booga” as a spit roast is being prepared for dinner.
I move behind a tree and zoom in with my telescopic tablet. I spy a large stone cave shaped like a skull, nice digs, is this where they live? Moving out from behind the tree a question mark appears above Batpig, has he noticed me yet. Not quite.
I move a little closer and ready my bow, the question mark slowly fills from white to red. This indicates that he hasn’t spotted me yet, I get lower than Lil’ Jon in the grass and the indicator disappears.
SNEAKY SOUND SYSTEM
Stealth works in two ways, sight and sound. There isn’t really a stealth meter but the enemy icons will indicate if they can or can’t see you. The white question mark is a warning, changing to red means to back off and a yellow exclamation mark means you’ve been spotted. There is also a sound meter which is representing by a purple wave. Simply crouching and moving closer doesn’t dampen your footsteps completely, you also need to move slower. Weather also comes into play, if it’s raining they are less likely to see and hear you. Super cool.
Marge the rains are ‘ere. The weather takes a turn and a fog rolls in, it begins to rain and my hourly weather report in the bottom right indicates it will be here for awhile. Just enough time to get all Solid Snake.
This time I get a bit closer, I draw back my bow and aim for Pigmanbat’s dumb head. Swoosh, click, I missed, the arrow fell short by a bodies length as it wedges itself in the mud just below the tower. A question mark appears over his head and his attention is turned to the direction of the arrow.
I aim a little higher this time and let loose a second arrow, it hits him square in the melon and he dies. A satisfying click accompanies the head shot, he flies off the tower but his dancing buddies don’t notice. The rain is in full force, the BBQ pit has been doused but the boys don’t seem fussed, I hit another in the head killing him instantly, two left.
They notice me this time and scramble to collect their weapons, this is hands down one of the coolest features I’ve seen and adds to the immersion immensely. A common trope is that guards are always at the ready, patrolling for would be villains. What BotW does is set up a microcosm for every enemy mob you encounter. These pig people are actually called Bokoblins by the way and they weren’t at the ready, they were chilling out waiting for some tasty barbeque boar before I decided to rain on their parade.
I throw a bomb into the fray, remotely detonating it mid-air and causing their weapons and bodies to fly in opposite direction, I finish off one more using a torch I’d found earlier, it doesn’t do much damage and a prompt indicates that it will break soon. I throw it at the other and miss. The final Boko seems frustrated that I’ve picked up HIS weapon and does a little angry dance, it’s cute. I beat him to death with his own Boko Bat.
Now despite all the ruckus the fire still rages from within the cave and I notice what seems to some bubbles floating from within, I move a little closer, these lazy Bokoblins are asleep. The sleepy time bubbles are a nice touch. I consider running bomb in hand Adam West style but refrain, perhaps a stealth kill will work?
I sneak in nice and slow like, but unfortunately not slow enough. He wakes up and so do his buddies, I kill one while the other two grab their weapons, I’m charged at by a dark blue Boko with a spear and I’m left within an inch of my life. I pause, eat two apples and regain part of my health back. Unpause, I kill them both.
In some camps when you clear them you’re presented with a chest unlock, unfortunately this wasn’t one of them but there are certainly more rewards beyond the fun of clearing them.
I head outside and collect the mystery meat roasting on the now extinguished fire. I eat it and look off to the right, there’s a Bokoblin on a horse and he’s chasing a boar! I guess they need to replace the one I stole. I smile to myself as a little story of the way these “monsters” live develops more in my mind. Then I feel sad. Am I the monster?
I hear the sound of hoof to dirt, another Boko is charging right at me!
A dark red GAME OVER appears. Jerks.
LINK? LINK?! LIIIIINK!
Death can suck in a video game, sometimes it’s punishing like Dark Souls, sometimes it doesn’t matter and you just start back at a checkpoint and try again. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is somewhere in between it all. The game autosaves a lot, you can also save yourself but I often find myself relying on the system. In this instance I started back just before my Assault On Precinct Bokoblin.
I went mad. That whole process from the first arrow to becoming a shishkabobokin lasted all of 2 minutes and this time I get to approach it from a different angle. They somehow made death fun as well.
I’m not going sneaky this time.
I command Link to charge in, Mr. Boko on the tower sees me, he blows a horn. Everyone immediately scrambles for their weapons. I throw a bomb in the middle. I get shot by an arrow. More enemies charge from within the cave. I try to run. I die.
Okay, right. Arrow to the tower one, dead. Bomb in the middle, slash slash, dead. I run towards the cave, this time I climb it and perch myself in one of the eyes (it’s shaped like a skull remember). They wake up, I pull out a bomb with the intention of throwing it through the eye hole and blowing them up. It bounces back and I panic hitting the detonate button, I go flying back. They come in and finish me off.
What is this Zelda Souls? Eventually, I clear the place out as I get used to the controls, it will be awhile before I reach the Shrine that teaches me more about combat. I catch up with the Bokoblin on horseback and dispatch him quickly with an arrow. I steal his horse and push on into the Wild.
SHRINE A LIGHT ON ME
There are four shrines at the start that reward you with the four runes (powers) you use throughout the game. As you encounter more shrines in the world you will need to use one or all of them to complete a series of trials that will eventually reward you with a Shrine Orb. These orbs are then exchanged for either a stamina or health upgrade.
Shrines are found all over the world and are easily identified by a bright orange hue. When you complete the dungeon they turn blue and can then be used for fast travelling.
The puzzles you encounter are classic Zelda however they are more physics based than previous titles. I’ll run you through one of my favourites.
I descend into the Shrine and am immediately faced with a slope that is walled off in sections. Large balls drop from holes in the ceiling which is reminiscent of pinball. I expect a large MULTI-BALL prompt to appear on the screen but alas it does not.
They roll down a small stream of water making their way around these various walls and bumping into each other until eventually they meet their inevitable doom by rolling off the edge into an abyss. In the top left is an orange glowing ball on a pedestal and water runs beneath it and behind it. I can’t push it with strength alone so I use my Cryonis (ice pillar) ability to push the ball off its ledge.
From there it’s a case of using Cryonis to lift and push the ball up, over and around until it reaches the final slope to the abyss. The first time I do this the ball rolls off the edge, its path is too steep. Wait, I can also freeze objects in their place by stopping time. I let the ball roll it’s usual path until the end, this time I freeze right before it falls over the edge. I now have a small window of time get my big hammer I collected earlier and smash the ball into the direction of it’s home, a hole in the ground a little further up.
I whack the ball and wait for the rune to wear off, it does and immediately the force of the blow pushes the ball to it’s destination. The door unlocks and the classic Zelda unlock tune plays. Winner.
Every shrine is different and so far the 10 I have completed have all been enjoyable, especially the ones where you can utilise all of your powers.
JUST THE BEGINNING
There is so much more to say about Zelda: Breath of the Wild but I’m going to leave that for a time where I’ve completed more of Link’s adventure. A lot of the charm and appeal comes from the beautiful animations, minimalist music and simple yet strategic combat.
The rest is magic. Nintendo has managed to capture the warm and fuzzies inside a tiny cartridge and on a system that I can take just about anywhere. It reminds me of the time I first got Harvest Moon for the SNES. I just wanted to lay in bed with snacks on my nightstand wrapped up in a blanket and let the world pull me in.
BotW also did me one extra favour, it also got my fiance Jen of Jin & Jase who traditionally isn’t a big gamer to play with me. We now pass the controller back and forth together on the couch while we traverse Hyrule together. I now get to share my love of gaming with the one I love.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my new favourite game. Good job Nintendo.
Be sure to check our latest episode of PODCAST VS. PLAYER where we discuss the Nintendo Switch, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn in more detail.