July 1, 2017
There is a small subcategory of games that have surpassed the thirty year mark. Of this subcategory, very few series have stood the test of time as well as The Legend of Zelda. Many had difficulty making the transition to 3D in the nineties, others got stuck in a pattern (for a time, even Zelda was accused of this) of repeatedly releasing the same game with upgraded graphics. Whatever the case, I have taken particular enjoyment in observing the series as it jumps from one platform to another, and how it takes advantage of the new hardware for the first time. No developer introduces more features to the gaming industry with a new console release than Nintendo, and no series bests Zelda in the exploration of the potential of said features. This in mind, I have no doubt that Nintendo has gifted gamers worldwide with the best possible way to play games, and this goes doubly for Zelda. Their gift is called Nintendo Switch.
Over the years, the series has adopted new hardware differently than any other, with drastic changes to gameplay, story focus and presentation, and art style. This last point perhaps perplexes the most, as any other series to last over a decade (let alone three) generally stays true to the art style introduced within the title of origin. Zelda has no regard for this rule of thumb, however, as Wind Waker and Twilight Princess released only half a decade apart, and still show more differences in art style than the collective Mario series beginning with Donkey Kong in 1981.
The art style evolved from one game to another as early as the NES and SNES eras partially due to being contracted out to third-party companies, but even so it did not see a major change until Ocarina of Time. This Nintendo 64 classic brought the game into 3D for the first time, and due to the complications entailing, the art was monitored meticulously by a team of 3D animators working side-by-side with Yusuke Nakano, who took on the tremendous task of producing all character art for the game. The next big shift came with the afforementioned Wind Waker, which introduced us to the cel-shaded world of whimsy we all know, and introduced Toon Link. This change was again to accommodate the hardware, as rendering copious amounts of water (a somewhat important feature in the game) in a more realistic style would have been very difficult on the Game Cube.
After these changes, every game has still shifted stylistically, but none so drastically. The reason Nintendo Switch wins me over in this aspect of the series is that it has the power to pick up where any given game left off. A recreation of any game is possible on the system without any loss, and in most cases it would only be beneficial. Switch is not the most powerful console ever made, but it has the power to compete in today’s market, since the average consumer does not have a TV capable of displaying anything more powerful. For this moment right now, its visual output is on par with industry standards. Not only being able to recreate the best art and visuals from the series, but being able to expand upon it, goes a long way to aiding the series in bettering itself.
Visually this is the best console that Nintendo has ever put out, but it is still technically behind many consoles. Why would I not prefer Playstation 4 or the brand new Xbox One X, which Microsoft boasts to be the “World’s most powerful console?” Microsoft and Sony have Nintendo beat in display capability, that’s no contest, but Switch presents games in a totally different way that these companies have no way of competing with. The simple nature of plugging in a cartridge and playing instantly is much more appealing to me than waiting three hours or more for my Xbox One to install the game. Beyond this, the cartridges are so small that a simple storage case is all that is necessary to organize a huge collection of games. Being the type of gamer that prefers physical media, the cartridge solution has discs licked by a landslide.
This is a relation of two game systems, though, and has nothing to do with Zelda specifically. Why would Zelda be better on Switch? Several reasons. The series has seen a release on every Nintendo console. Moreover, it has flawlessly fluctuated between handheld and home systems. Now with Switch, it does not have to choose. Even though the power of the New Nintendo 3DS XL can render remarkable graphics and even proved it could compete with the Wii U, (having a slew of games dual-released or ported) most of its library still feels like handheld gaming. Switch blurs the line between handheld and home gaming with a truly identical experience between your television and tablet. As great as Sony and Microsoft are as gaming companies, they have no way of competing with the handheld convenience of Switch, and the fact that I would need to purchase a new TV to notice hardly any difference at home means Switch wins this round as well.
The best thing about Zelda on Switch, though, is that it is capable of emulating any and every control configuration the series has ever seen, and then some. Let’s pretend everybody’s favorite control scheme was the 1:1 motion controls of Skyward Sword. I know this strikes a different feeling between players, but bear with me; there is a point. With the Wii Motion Plus, a player could seamlessly control the Master Sword as though they held it in their own hand. The Switch Joy-Cons are basically two Wii Motion Plus controllers, but both of them are better. This configuration could produce precise shield movements for a more immersive motion control experience, be used for rapid application of various items with your off hand like the hookshot, or even let Link dual-wield for the first time.
As I said, though, the motion controls have a stark contrast in likeability, so what if you prefer a simple and straight-forward button-based setup a la A Link to the Past? Well turn the Joy-Con sideways, and basically you have a Super NES controller, but again, it is better than that. The Joy Con turned sideways has as many usable face buttons and technically two more shoulder buttons than the Super NES controller, plus an analog stick instead of a directional pad, HD rumble, gyroscopic controls, and an NFC reader. Basically they took the Super Nintendo controller and gave it some steroids, then shrank it in the wash.
Not only that, this controller is capable of mimicking most on the market today, plus you can sync up to eight of them to a single Switch. Imagine you desire a multiplayer journey as found in Tri-Force-Heroes or Four Swords, (I know, I am one of the few). Switch not only proposes the possibility to play an eight-player Zelda game, but you could bring it with you to the pub and just set up for four of your buddies while lowering a few pints. This is certainly a Switch mechanic marketed more towards games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but there is nary a franchise that could not benefit from a multiplayer title in some capacity or another, and the way Zelda has handled it over the years is a great way to break up the heavier, hard hitting titles.
Whether you prefer any of these styles over another or even if you would rather go for a second round of mashing button combos as seen in Hyrule Warriors, Switch has you covered. The biggest selling point for me on Switch was the multitude of ways to play, and no series can benefit from this as much as Zelda.
Now that I have put in my two cents, I would love to hear from you. Was everything better on the original Gameboy before we added unnecessary things like “color” to video games? Did the CD-i give a glimpse into what should have been? Please tear apart my argument in the comments or tweet @spamomanospam or @2guysplayzelda to keep the conversation rolling!