Lessons the Wii U game can learn from its predecessors.
It has been quite a while since the last, new console Legend of Zelda game was released. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword graced Nintendo Wii consoles around the world in November of 2011, and we’ve been waiting for its successor ever since. And while Nintendo lifted the lid on the Wii U’s Zelda game at E3 2014, we still know very little about the game outside of the fact that it is going to be “open world,” or whatever Nintendo’s version of that is. Other minor details can be gleaned from the two snippets of gameplay Nintendo has shown us thus far, but nothing that really gives us a good idea of what to expect when the title is (eventually) released.
With the rumors and speculation about a possible HD remake of Twilight Princess popping up over the last few days, I realized (should the rumors prove true) that in roughly the same amount of time it has taken from Skyward Sword’s release to the present, Nintendo will have effectively rereleased four(!) 3D Zelda games. Ocarina of Time 3D came out just before Skyward Sword’s release in summer of 2011, Wind Waker HD released in the fall of 2013, Majora’s Mask 3D came out earlier this year and it sounds like we’re soon to be playing Twilight Princess HD sometime in the next few months. What this means, to this author, is that Nintendo has had a lot of time to reflect on what made each of these individual games great… as well as to go back and attempt to fix some of their flaws to improve the overall experience. What is great about this is that it should give Aonuma’s team a lot to think about when crafting the next Zelda, using elements of each prior game that worked really well and removing what didn’t, while also adding new gameplay quirks to separate this Zelda from what has come before.
I thought it would be appropriate, then, to make a list of one thing from each previous 3D Zelda game that Zelda on Wii U (or is it Zelda on NX? Sorry… That’s a topic for another time!) can adopt, and another aspect of each game that could be fixed or left out entirely for the next game to be as great as possible. Without further ado, onto the list!
Positive: The story.
Negative: The world felt small.
I purposefully left out the motion controls here, as that was a contentious addition that either made or broke the game for some people. While I personally loved the controls, I’m aware of the portion of Zelda fans that prefer a more traditional control scheme. So rather than focus on that, I want to talk about the story. Skyward Sword features a more robust, emotional and character driven story than any other Zelda game to date, and I found myself really invested in it. The characters were all loveable, the pacing was done almost perfectly, and there were enough twists and turns to keep things interesting throughout the 40 hour adventure. If Wii U’s Zelda can give us a story that is half as good as Skyward Sword’s was, I’ll be more than happy.
On the other hand, it’s well documented that Skyward Sword had the player revisiting the same three areas the entire game, with Skyloft serving as a hubworld of sorts. And while I loved that the overworld was more involved in the game this time around (rather than simply being an open area with little to do other than traverse to the next dungeon), this limited amount of space made the game feel a bit cramped. Luckily, it seems that this won’t be an issue at all in the next game, as Nintendo seems to be set on giving us a gigantic world to explore.
Positive: The dungeons.
Negative: The open world with nothing to do and that horrible intro.
Twilight Princess still has some of the best dungeons in the entire Zelda series (with Snowpoint Temple being the highlight of the game). I don’t think I need to explain here how important great dungeon design is to a Zelda game. If I were Aonuma, I’d definitely take a page out of Twilight Princess’ dungeon design book and put the guys and gals who worked on those fantastic temples and caverns to work on the new game.
On the other hand, the world outside of the dungeons was surprisingly bare. Outside of some heart pieces and bugs to collect, we weren’t give much to do in between dungeons. There weren’t any memorable sidequests, and most of the game was spent riding Epona from place to place. And while I love Epona as much as the next guy, those sections of horseback riding lasted as long as sailing did at times in the original Wind Waker, only there was nothing to discover in the empty expanse that was Hyrule. If the next Zelda is aiming to be a huge, open world game, Aonuma and his team need to make sure that the world is populated with quests, characters and collectibles that are fun and memorable.
Also, please don’t give us a three hour long intro where we’re doing nothing meaningful. Twilight Princess has the worst intro in the entire series, and is the main reason why it’s the only Zelda game I’ve only played through once. I can’t stomach playing through the beginning all over again.
The Wind Waker
Positive: A beautiful world with a lot to discover.
Negative: A little too easy.
Once I got out on the open seas in Wind Waker, the whole world felt like my oyster to explore, unlock and find the treasures hidden inside. Sailing around and finding the many different islands, enemies and secrets that populated the Great Sea was a fantastic experience. It helped, too, that the game was absolutely beautiful, making me want to see everything its world had to offer. Zelda on Wii U needs to reproduce this experience; a beautiful world begging its players to search its landscapes, and rewarding them for doing so would go a long way in making the next game a great one.
Wind Waker, however, was the first Zelda game in which I felt that the challenge level was lower than other entries in the series. I can’t say for certain, but I don’t recall ever once falling in battle to any of the enemies or bosses in the game, and even the final battle with Ganondorf felt too easy, when I was expecting much more. The Hero Mode difficulty in the HD remake alieves this a bit, but this is only unlocked after completing the game once. For Zelda on Wii U, the game either needs to be a good challenge from the start, or give the player the option to choose a difficulty at the beginning.
Positive: The memorable sidequests and the mask mechanic.
Negative: More dungeons, please.
Majora’s Mask has some truly fantastic and meaningful sidequests. It’s world isn’t the biggest in the Zelda series, but it may have the most character and heart of all of them. That’s because it feels like there is so much going on, and the citizens of Termina are all coping in different ways. In their misery, denial and hope, they give Link several tasks to complete, but unlike other games in the series where these tasks are nothing more than fetch quests and collect-a-thons (I’m looking at you, Skyward Sword), Majora’s Mask’s endeavors are actually fun and memorable. If Zelda for Wii U’s gigantic world is filled with these kinds of quests scattered about its lands, there could potentially be hundreds of hours of gameplay bliss.
The most unique element of Majora’s Mask, however, were the masks themselves. Zelda Wii U doesn’t have to rip this gameplay mechanic directly… but having Link undergo some transformations, or giving him some other type of special ability that changes up the gameplay from time to time would be awesome!
One aspect of Majora’s Mask that has always disappointed me, however, is its dungeons. There are hardly any to begin with (there’s only four of them), and the ones that are in the game are some of my least favorites in the 3D games. Zelda for Wii U needs lots and lots of dungeons, and they need to be some truly challenging and unique ones.
Ocarina of Time
Positive: Making Zelda feel fresh again.
Ocarina of Time may have a negative, but I honestly couldn’t recall one. It’s not even my favorite 3D Zelda game, but I can’t find anything wrong with it that merits mentioning here. There’s a reason that it’s considered one of (if not THE) greatest games ever made, and I think the fact that I was unable to find a negative speaks to that.
It’s greatest positive, though, is easily identifiable. Ocarina of Time was tasked with transitioning the franchise from its 2D roots into 3D in the same way Mario 64 had to for its own series. The fact that Ocarina of Time not only succeeded, but excelled, is special. Ocarina made the Zelda series fresh again, when it was in danger of becoming stale after Link to the Past and Link’s Awakenings’ great, but very similar contributions. Ocarina of Time took everything that was great about Link to the Past and made it feel new again by putting it into 3D with some great mechanics and wonderful design. Asking Zelda for Wii U to do this is almost unfair. In today’s gaming world, there isn’t quite a transition like the one Ocarina of Time had to make. But it would be really cool if Zelda U could do something, anything, to evolve the Zelda formula further. Nintendo gets accused a lot of making the same game over and over again when it comes to Zelda (which is untrue and unfair, but I can see where the criticism comes from to a degree). Doing something with Zelda U to truly break from past traditions, while still feeling like Zelda, would be amazing… even if it may be impossible.
Those are the aspects of past Zeldas that I would love to see implemented or left out of the new entry. I’m sure there are other opinions out there, and I would love to hear them. The great thing about this series is that everyone has their own favorite entry, and for many different reasons. Sound off and comment about what you’d like to see the new Zelda take from other games!