I have officially now joined the cult of the switch. For a brief period of time… probably fifteen minutes if we are going to be honest about it… Amazon had switch units in stock for prime members only. Now that sounds like an exclusive club or something… but quite literally everyone I know that shops Amazon regularly…. is a prime member. I had said for awhile that if I ever stumbled across one I would pick it up immediately, and I guess in my mind limited availability over Amazon was the same thing. What is even more shocking however is that I ordered it at 2pm on a Thursday and by some quirk or time travel it was waiting for me when I got home Friday afternoon. As a result I got to spend a good chunk of the weekend playing with it and fiddling with the various console modes. So far the honestly most comfortable mode for me to play is with the joycons detached and the little bumper things that it comes with attached. This allows me to just chill with each arm resting on whatever is comfortable be it leg, lap or the arm of a chair. All in all I am really damned happy with the unit, and it feels extremely good especially in “handheld” mode. I spent some time Saturday afternoon hanging out in the back yard playing Zelda Breath of the Wild and it was glorious. The switch is essentially everything that I assumed the Wii U would be for me… and probably was if not the for the fact that the gamepad has such an insanely short range from the base unit.
The thing I want to talk about this morning however is Zelda itself. There was a side conversation that happened over the weekend, of all places on facebook about switch ownership and the limited number of games. One friend mentioned that if there was ever a game worth spending $400 to play that it was Breath of the Wild. Then another friend chimed in that folks have said this a lot, but that no one has really been able to put into words why this game is special given the extremely stiff competition.
I keep hearing comments like this but still don’t understand what is so special about it. No one seems able to capture that in words. My skeptical self thinks it has a lot to do with Nintendo nostalgia, but that is just based on a lack of understanding of what is so compelling about it.
So as a result I think I am going to attempt this morning to put it into words why I feel this game is so special. For me at least it is not really a nostalgia thing given that in truth I have never been that big of a fan of the 3D Zelda games. I’ve beaten Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Windwaker and while they were okay… they were not even close to dethroning A Link to the Past as my favorite Zelda series game. I never really could put my finger on it, but something always felt off about them. For me a huge factor of what made Zelda fun was that I had this huge world to explore, and barring that I had the right items at the right time… it felt like I could pretty much go anywhere. Granted in the 2D era this meant a bunch of tiles stacked side by side… which in truth was pretty limited… but in my mind it absolutely Felt open. When it comes to the 3D Zeldas… they have always felt like I was much more limited on my range of motion and where I could actually go based on how far I had progressed in the game.
With Breath of the Wild, the sense of exploration I felt in the original games is there in full. While I am similarly limited by my stamina meter, or weather effects like cold or rain… the game feels completely open to me to go wherever I think I can survive. There is a certain thrill of discovery when you find a new shrine and figure out the puzzle that exists within. That was the part I liked of the 3D Zelda “temples” is the fact that each one of them had some gimmick that had to be learned in order to progress through them… and in Breath of the Wild this same idea is contained with 120 of them. That is so much more of that element that I really enjoyed in past games, and is only improved by the fact that no one in games is going to explain to you where all of them are. Sure there are easy ones to find, that are right off the path or that serve as the teleport for a given town. However most of them involve getting out and roaming around, to try and find where they have been hidden into the landscape.
Similarly there is the Korok Seed mini game, and from what I understand there are 900 of them scattered throughout the world. Most of them involve noticing something going on in the landscape and then interacting with the elements in a certain way to reveal the Korok that is hiding. For example one of the very early ones involves diving off of a cliff into a ring of lily pads that are sitting in the water below. It is the sort of thing that as you walk by you notice… “that looks odd” and then when you start to investigate you try different things until you ultimately reveal another Korok. There is a challenge with Open World games to both allow open space to exist… but make that open space be meaningful and that is one of the things that Breath of the Wild really succeeds at. Not to mention that the Korok mini game is charming as hell as you keep bringing more seeds to Hestu for his Maracas. There are honestly an awful lot of elements of this game that just come across as charming. Once you leave the “starter zone” for lack of a better term you find out that the world is not really as “post apoc” as it seems at the start. Folks have learned how to survive and often times thrive in a world where destruction is looming over it, and each of the people scattered has a story to tell and hints to be given about other things happening in the world.
It is extremely hard to put into words what it is about this game that is so damned appealing. Even as I sit down with the purpose to do just that, I am finding myself lacking the necessary vocabulary to really make it make sense. I have plenty of problems with the game, namely the way the weapon durability system worlds. However that said I like it enough to have just purchased a second copy and completely restarted the game after getting a decent ways into it on the Wii U. There really are not a lot of games that you could say the same for, with the big two that are standing out in my head that I own multiple copies of being Destiny and Castlevania Symphony of the Night. There is an awful lot going on in the game… but I have this constant feeling that I have only barely scratched the surface of its complexity. I think that more than anything is what keeps drawing me to it. Its like this grand puzzle that, as I solve one little bit of it… keeps exposing new areas for me to explore and then ultimately solve as well. Its not just that I need to go to a new land and vanquish a new evil… but as I wander across that land I am constantly finding myself needing to learn a brand new mechanical vocabulary to survive its trials. In some ways the puzzles in this game remind me of the way the ones from Thomas Was Alone felt… where each time it increments on the information you already have but keeps pushing the boundary to incorporate new elements and challenges.
Unfortunately I am not entirely certain I have even begun to scratch the surface of the job I set out to do. Which of course was the put into words what made this game worth spending so much time and effort on playing. There are so many great games out there right now like Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda… both of which I am playing quite a bit of. However I still find myself drawn to keep venturing into Hyrule on a regular basis and keep figuring out how the world ticks. I can’t really say if this game is better than that game… because so far I have been enjoying all of them. I also feel like my attention isn’t a zero sum game, and that all of these games are worthy of it. I will say that Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is doing something different. It feels different from the previous 3D Zelda offerings, but at the same time very different from the traditional Open World model. Some of these differences are frustrating, but at the same time the quirks are also what makes the game itself feel extremely fresh. I will say having played it on both the Switch and Wii U now… that there is just something about the Switch that makes it all feel better. Its like playing a game on the platform it was designed for…. and playing it when it got ported to another system. Some of the things that felt awkward on the Wii U just seem to work beautifully on the Switch. So if you have not already ventured forth into Hyrule… I would probably suggest just waiting until you ultimately get your hands on a Switch. Is this game worth buying a console for? I obviously thought so, but in part I also bought the console knowing that there are always a high number of Nintendo games that I want to play on every platform they create. I’ve thought my purchase of the Wii U was well worth it, in spite of the fact that it never quite worked the way I wanted it to. All of that said… I don’t think the Switch is worth the markups or crazy “bundle” deals that places are trying to direct users towards. Just wait for the base unit to come back in stock, and I am hoping with the release of Mario Kart in a few weeks that there are going to be a whole lot more units available.