The Legend of Zelda has been a cornerstone of Nintendo console gameplay for as long as the Japanese giant has been making gaming systems.
The two are closely entwined, so it is no surprise that the franchise is one of those that flies the flag as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, the firm’s latest console offering – but one that is likely to be a landmark moment for both members of this partnership.
While the Switch is pioneering the hybrid console system – the ambitious idea that high-end console gaming can be done in the home, on the move and completely socially in one system, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild offers a new perspective on the much-loved franchise too.
Breath of the Wild is a huge, sweeping and open world that looks and feels much bigger and bolder than what has come before.
Feels like home
For fans of the series, there are plenty of familiar sights and sounds to raise a smile – from small touches like the traditional text dialogue system to the enemies and sound effects and soundtrack that pop-up throughout the game.
The art style, too, feels very Zelda in that it has the colourful, almost-cartoon like charm Nintendo often uses in its best-loved games.
Though Nintendo and Zelda has entered the 3D open world space, Link still looks very much like Link and that grounding really helps you embrace this new take on the Zelda universe.
This may be the flagship launch title on a major games console but those not completely familiar with Zelda should not expect realism on a mainstream triple A title scale – you’ll need to go elsewhere.
But honestly you shouldn’t – the charm of the Legend of Zelda is in its colour and characters, and they are more vibrant than ever here.
From the moment Link wakes from 100 years of sleep and leaves his cave for the first time to be greeted with a stunning panorama, or climbs his first tower to find Hyrule Castle has been taken over by a mysterious dark monster, the player feels an itch to explore this world.
From lush green plains to castles, ruins and snow-capped mountains and open water, there are vast landscapes to be explored.
You can do this is a variety of ways, too, from riding on horseback to climbing cliffs and mountains, exploration is a huge part of the game, as is the need to explore wider than the central story and enter shrines to face trials and puzzles for extra bonuses.
There are signs of smart advances too, with time moving between day and night more realistically played out, and climate having an impact on Link too. Climb the mountains at night and he’ll soon need to find shelter from the cold – this is grown-up open world play.
Wrestling for control
One area Breath of the Wind does feel like less of a convincing step forward is in the control system.
The new Joy-Con controllers are a great piece of engineering in terms of their flexibility, but there are moments when it feels lumpy and over-complicated.
Yes, part of this is down to it being a new console and controller to get used to, but when used in the Joy-Con Grip set-up in particular, button combinations that span across both halves of the controller are far from comfortable to input.
Button size plays a role in this – since the Joy-Con halves need to be useable in one hand it means a compact set-up, and the large number of buttons on each half to support multi-player functionality also occasionally forces you to glance down to check what you need against the on-screen prompt.
The control layout for Zelda itself also feels over-complicated, feeding this initial uncertainty further through some of the inputs surrounding your opening and using the map, as well as during combat.
We fired off several accidental arrows (a valuable commodity subsequently lost) during early play time.
These issues are most prominent during early gameplay and will hopefully ease over time and as you clock up the hours, the arrow fumbling did quickly ease thankfully.
But they are hard to ignore as part of your first encounters with the game.
Breath of the Wind is a bold step forward for the Zelda universe.
It has players camping, scavenging and forging in more detail than previous games while also maintaining and expanding on the quest and battle aspects of the game.
This is all taking place in the best-looking Zelda world ever, too, which naturally adds to the experience.
Yes, there are hiccups with the control system that will cause stutters among some players but many of these will hopefully be down just to lack of familiarity with the Joy-Con set-up.
If so, then don’t be too surprised if in the coming weeks and months you see Switch players on the go, lost in Hyrule Kingdom battling dark forces.