A multitude of mechanics in a gorgeous, breathing world. Nintendo just saved open-world games from themselves.
Unless you have been living under Spectacle Rock for the last few months, it will have been hard to avoid the damn near universal praise bestowed upon Nintendo’s latest. I was hoping to avoid it all anyway, as I certainly couldn’t warrant that seventy euro price tag last month (that’s what, 100 games through strategic bundle shopping?) Still, all I had to see was a headline like “Breath of the Wild is the Best Nintendo Game Since Super Mario 64” and I was down to K-Citymarket faster than you can say Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland.
Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. The voice acting is, across the board, terrible. The characters come alive through great art, design and animation, then they open their mouths and…eh. There’s no easy way to play in the original Japanese but it can be done on the Switch at least. I was playing on Wii U because, as previously hinted at, I am a poor, and that’s where my second major grievance comes in. So much of the game is built around your map and inventory and it is super apparent that this was intended to originally work as a dual screen experience as only the Wii U allowed (RIP). After the decision was made to cross-release on Switch, the aim to “provide the same gameplay experience” across both platforms ultimately meant cutting features out of the Wii U version, and that’s just a real shame. Framerate drops and a low resolution were a problem for about five minutes until I got over it, and kids today should remember that Ocarina of Time ran at about 17 FPS back in the N64 days and we loved it.
The biggest problem really is the game length. Or rather, the fact I have all this other stuff I have to do rather than play the game all day. Because, I want to live in Hyrule now. It’s beautiful; the flora and fauna, the landscapes, the skies. It’s relaxing, with ambient music matching a pace that you’re always in control of. It’s just so goddamn full of freedom, it’s bursting at the seams. I was happy working my way through The Witcher 3, pre-Zelda, thinking oh this is the best game ever, but now it’s ruined. No other game comes close to that freedom BotW gives you in exploring a space vertically as well as horizontally. Geralt can’t climb like Link. And other comparisons; the lack of symbols on the map marking side quests make the discovery of events in Zelda so much more adventurous. The lack of achievements, common across all Nintendo titles, here feels relieving more than anything, with the absence of chores or checklists making for a more joyous and carefree game.
When I started playing BotW, climbing trees and picking apples, I noticed the wildlife and watched them run away from me. So lovely, much nature. Now, a hundred plus hours in and I’m shooting everything that moves, selling prime meat without a second thought, to earn the rupees that I need to buy all the arrows I’m burning through. It upsets me a little that I’ll never experience the game fresh again, yet still I’ve had some second hand pleasure watching others play for the first time. The game is such a playground that everybody ought to find some sort of joy inside. All those loving systems that rub together, multiply and explode out into such fun, emergent gameplay make this game a game for all time.
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U (Reviewed) / Switch
Release date: March 3, 2017
All screenshots © Nintendo