August 11, 2017
As many early game series, The Legend of Zelda began with simplistic two-dimensional graphics and eventually transitioned to a 3D world. This is commonplace for game franchises this old, but what is unique about Zelda is that it was one of a handful of series which has concurrently developed games in both 2D and 3D, and continues to do so today. The 2D style is popular among certain gamers, however the games seldom approach the sales numbers of home console titles. We are now shifting into a new generation, though, as Nintendo Switch blurs the line between handheld and home console, and I ponder perplexedly whether or not this will mean the demise of 2D Zelda games, and for that matter 2D games outside the indie market.
As a marketing strategy, and a good one at that, Nintendo has often made less intensive titles in their big franchises on the handheld system of the generation. They have done this with Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong just to name a few. The idea makes sense, and it keeps the company in the green long enough to see through the development of a new game, which for a home console takes a considerable amount more time and money. Since Switch is a home console and a handheld console, this begs the question as to whether or not the same strategy can be used going forward.
A 2D game could certainly be made on Switch, and in fact, many indie developers have made ports or original games for the console already, as well as triple-a studios like Konami with Super Bomberman R. The games are a lot less complex to create, so the idea could remain valid, right? I think it can in a certain market, and for a certain increment of time. Personally, though, the most substantial selling point for Switch is that I can take a full console game on the go. I don’t mind having smaller titles like the aforementioned Bomberman to fill in my collection with fun party games or bridge the gaps between hard-hitting releases, but really I want incredible gaming experiences wherever I go, since I am unable to do as much gaming at home as I am other places. I would certainly buy a 2D Zelda for Switch, but I would rather wait a few extra years and find another Breath of the Wild instead.
“What of the 3DS?” we might inquire. This is a subject I have been wracking my brain over since the announcement of Switch back in October last year. The Switch is a handheld console, and it is a significantly more powerful one than the 3DS. Its marketing suggests it is to be used primarily as a home console, but the demographic that is interested in it is split between those who would use it as a handheld as well. I imagined it would phase out the 3DS this year or early next year, but it appears that is not the case. Nintendo does still seem intent on supporting the handheld, as they recently released a new version of it, the 2DS XL. This was quite a shock to me, since I thought it would rotate out almost as quickly as Wii U, but between the new console release and a handful of game announcements going to the end of the year, it seems the console still has its own feet to stand on.
Does this mean we could get another Zelda game on it, and if it does, will it be 2D? Again, I think there is a possibility, but I hope for more. If Nintendo or a third-party like Grezzo is developing (or will develop) a new title for 3DS, then I would prefer to see a new 3D game. Beyond the remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the 3DS has shown its capability of presenting fantastic 3D gameplay in Pokemon: Sun and Moon, and Fire Emblem Echoes. My argument here is the same as Switch; I will buy any Zelda game, but as long as I am going to anyway, can I request that it is as great as it can possibly be? Another small problem I have with anything coming out on 3DS anymore is along the same lines. If it is as good a handheld title as it can be, does that not mean it shouldn’t be on Switch instead? As excited as I am for Metroid: Samus Returns, I cannot help but think it is being held back by a console that feels like it is the last generation. I love my 3DS, and I love its incredibly library of games, but going forward, any 3DS release will just feel like a game I would rather play on Switch.
Okay, I have said my piece about Switch and 3DS finding 2D games, but what about that other platform that the Big N has been slapping out new titles for left and right? Of course, I speak of the mobile device market! Gaming on your phone or tablet is arguably even more convenient than it would be on Switch. In fact, the Switch was created on very similar architecture to the Nvidia Shield, a tablet computer designed specifically for gaming. Mobile phone gaming is not going away anytime soon, and with the massive success of Pokemon: GO, other Nintendo series like Zelda could easily find their way into the market, right? I hope they do, but only if they do it right.
I have been upgrading regularly to the most powerful smartphone on the market every few years in hopes that a developer might realize that mobile devices are powerful gaming machines. In fact, my latest phone has specs that outclass almost every component of my home PC (I am primarily a console gamer, so I am not bothered by this all that much). The problem is that mobile games are limited to repetitive time-wasters like Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds. These games have a time and place, but honestly if my phone can handle more than my PC, I do not understand why developers are not making use of this.
Nintendo gets it. Switch almost feels like it is the push in the right direction the market needs to realize “Hey, we can make a full game on a device that almost every person in the world has already and sell it.” I have never paid real money for a game on my phone. Having said that, I would gladly fork over sixty dollars to play something like Breath of the Wild, or even a smaller Zelda game. Myself and many like me are willing to pay premium prices for premium games and for some reason developers do not see that and keep creating garbage to whittle out a buck at a time from whoever is willing to pay to win. A 2D Zelda may have a place here, but again I stress the fact that if a 3D one could be made instead, I do not understand why it would not be.
I have an abundant adoration for the 2D games that led up to this day in gaming. I will constantly go back and play Link’s Awakening; my first Zelda. Going forward, however, another 2D Zelda would feel old and tired. A Link Between Worlds felt like it was playing too much on nostalgia by reusing almost every aspect of A Link to the Past. It was a great game, but with a shift to an over-the-shoulder perspective it would have been that much better and not felt like retracing my steps from twenty-two years prior.
Two-dimensional gaming had its day and it was an invaluable stepping stone which led us to where we are now. It should never be forgotten, but it is time to move on. With more powerful hardware capable of sustaining the best possible gaming experience, the best possible gaming experience should be sustained. I see this shift, at least in the triple-a market, coming after possibly one more Zelda release, and I think the change will have a positive result overall. It may feel like we are losing an old friend, but we can always go back and visit him on Koholint.
What do you think? Is there a market for 2D games on the Switch, 3DS or mobile device market? Will it come out next month, taking us all by surprise and receive higher praise than Breath of the Wild? Please berate me in the comments and on Twitter, I would love to keep the conversation running.