When Nintendo announced its E3 2016 plans, or rather lack thereof, in the months leading up to the conference, many were disappointed with the news. And rightfully so. For Nintendo to show only one game at the biggest video game presentation of the year was simply unprecedented.
It turned out to be a brilliant move that I believe foreshadows the company’s future.
Nintendo is in a peculiar spot. 2016 is clearly a transition year where the company has committed to resetting its resources in anticipation of its new game console, codenamed NX. The delay of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out of this year led to an unavoidable dearth of software for this holiday season. Nothing can fill a Zelda-sized hole, so Nintendo essentially admitted that nothing will. The company also does not wish to unleash the NX information onslaught on the public just yet, which has caused a spell of radio silence to partner with the missing games.
This vacuum is where Nintendo found itself during E3. With nothing to announce for this holiday and a tight lockdown of all things NX, Zelda was really its only option. But what Nintendo knew and we forgot was just how monumental a new Zelda project is.
Fans have been frothing at the mouth for this game since its unveiling at E3 2014, with nothing but short clips featuring assurances of its release date and Wii U compatibility to obsess over. These same fans have been clamoring for Zelda to be the bastion of hope for their beloved console. As time pressed forward and delays reared their ugly heads, this sliver of hope for the Wii U shifted to the NX’s ability to solve Nintendo’s mounting woes.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems worthy of shouldering these hopes.
As soon as Breath of the Wild appeared on Nintendo’s Treehouse Live event, the eyes of the entire gaming world were jostling to catch a glimpse of the beloved series. The game rewarded this attention with an incredible demo that felt distinctly “Zelda” while pioneering a new path for the 30 year old franchise.
The infinite paths across the fields of Hyrule hadn’t seemed this enticing since the groundbreaking original, and as the sole entity at Nintendo’s booth, everyone had a chance to experience it for themselves. The result was a multitude of gameplay videos and commentary that outlined a diverse storybook of experiences that captured the industry’s imagination
But as I consumed every video I could find about Breath of the Wild, I couldn’t help but sense parallels between Zelda and Nintendo itself.
The Legend of Zelda has become relatively safe and stale in recent years. Just as the shadow of the past haunts Nintendo, the brilliant Ocarina of Time hangs heavy over the series. With the exceptions of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, the series has hit the same beats for almost 20 years. Companions, long prologues, over explanation and familiar visual cues have long mired the series. Fans have long wanted Nintendo to learn from the sprawling open-world games that have populated the gaming landscape and, frankly, outgrown Zelda.
Breath of the Wild features none of these tropes in what we have seen. An actual voice awakens Link from his trademark slumber before he is set loose on the world. No tutorial, no explanation. Small dungeons and camps litter the landscape. Hearts no longer pop out of long grass. Link’s trusty sword is no longer enough to survive in the world. Those of us fluent in the language of Zelda will be presented with a challenge that we have never seen before in this series, and with the oversaturation of open-world RPG’s, this phenomenon is incredibly rare.
Breath of the Wild is truly a new direction for The Legend of Zelda.
It is fitting that this game is coming, assumedly, at launch for the NX. Like Breath of the Wild, the NX holds infinite promise for the future of Nintendo. The Wii U was a manifestation of Nintendo’s waning understanding of the gaming industry and its own fans. It featured a gimmicky controller, little 3rd party interest and a slow trickle of Nintendo support. The decision to sink the flailing console in favor of something new is unprecedented for the historically proud company.
The NX has the ability to transform Nintendo in the same way that Breath of the Wild is transforming Zelda. It is rumored to be very powerful, and the lack of Wii U software points toward a torrent of games for the new platform. While we don’t have any concrete details, Nintendo’s ability to experiment with its golden goose gives me hope that the company can release something truly fresh and innovative.
Zelda provides the perfect bridge between the Wii U and the NX. It looks to give us something familiar while simultaneously being a bold new direction for the franchise. E3 2016 was the perfect opportunity to give us a taste of this direction without any in-house distractions. The result was a brilliant showcase for the game that gave us a hint at the direction of NX while allowing content creators to weave tales about their individual adventures. I haven’t been this excited for the future of Nintendo in years.
(Published June 25, 2016, Middle of Nowhere Gaming)