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Making Zelda on Wii U the Best Ever

by Matt West - October 16, 2015, 7:56 am PDT
Total comments: 13

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!

Skyward Sword

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.

Twilight Princess

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.

Majora’s Mask

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.

Negative: ?

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!

Talkback

BnuyenOctober 16, 2015

the world in Skyward Sword small not hardly lol ...the only difference is that in Skyward Sword you explore the Sky and in other Zelda games you Explore on the Surface world ...having said that the Sky is huge and filled with lots of things to do.

Mop it upOctober 16, 2015

I would say the negative of Ocarina of Time is Hyrule Field. It may not be as large as the one in Twilight Princess, but it's still just as empty and uninteresting. This was less obvious back in 1998 when the simple act of running around in 3D space was new and exciting, but it's noticeable in hindsight. I s'pose you already covered this flaw when talking about TP though, so it wouldn't be very necessary to mention it again.

In any case, I mostly agree with this list of pros and cons. One thing I would add would be to take some cues from the original Legend of Zelda on NES, something that Link Between Worlds sort of already did: Allow most dungeons to be accessible from the start, and can be completed out of order (Link Between Worlds didn't seem to have an intended order). There should still be an order that the game can suggest following, but it doesn't need to be followed. The sense of discovery has never been as good as it was in the original game, where you never knew what you were going to stumble upon just exploring its world, be it something as small as rupees (or even paying to fix doors) to a whole dungeon in itself. This kind of design is certainly tricky to pull off in 3D, but if they manage it then it very well could be the best and definitive Zelda game.

TOPHATANT123October 16, 2015

I felt like being able to play the dungeons out of order in A Link Betwenn Worlds added nothing to the game. Zelda Wii U needs to be built around the open world mechanic from the start instead of tacking it on to appease that demographic.

Ian SaneOctober 16, 2015

Zelda is supposed to be grand and ambitious.  The original Zelda was mind blowing stuff on the NES.  There were some PC RPGs that had that kind of scope but very little, if anything, on console (can't remember if Dragon Quest came first).  And that trend continued as the generations went.  If you listed the most ambitious masterpieces of each generation, Zelda was always in there.

I felt that way with Nintendo's franchises in general where with each game and each console they would push things further and further until the Wii where it seemed like they had found their comfort zone.  It might just be their decision to not upgrade the hardware much but it was like the Gamecube level was where they liked to be and they focused on different controller stuff instead.

Twilight Princess is essentially a Cube game so I feel it's only fair to compare it to the games of the GC/PS2/XB generation and it compares favourably.  But Skyward Sword was clearly released in the Wii/PS3/360 generation but I felt it seemed scaled back.  It feels like a game from the prior generation with motion controls.  It does not feel grand and ambitious compared to other games of its generation particularly when it came out the same year as Skyrim.  Maybe it's the hardware but then Xenoblade felt more grand as well and that's the same hardware and it's first party.  Zelda should not be getting shown up by another Nintendo game.

Nintendo going with an "open world" design makes sense because the open world games that are so common on the other consoles, but are practically absent on Nintendo's, provide that level of scope and size that made games like Ocarina of Time stand out in a big way back in 1998.  But Zelda has not really extended beyond the OoT template which in modern times would come across as small and simple.  Today's open world game is more the modern equivalent of what Zelda was seen as back in 1987 than current Zelda.  Videogames concepts have gotten bigger and more ambitious as time goes on.  There is a reason why Pac-Man was the biggest deal in 1980 but is now a nostalgia act - it didn't grow with the industry and eventual it seemed small and simple.  Zelda is basically cutting edge circa 10 years ago.

Back in it's peak I expected to be blown away by console Zelda games and until recently that was the case.  That's what Nintendo has to do again.  Not blow everyone away by Nintendo standards or by the standards of their console but just period.  That someone that plays the major releases on the other consoles takes note of the new Zelda and is immediately interested in it (and jealous that it isn't on his console of choice).

ShyGuyOctober 16, 2015

What? The Twilight princess open world had more interesting stuff than Wind Waker.

Luigi DudeOctober 16, 2015

Quote from: Ian

Twilight Princess is essentially a Cube game so I feel it's only fair to compare it to the games of the GC/PS2/XB generation and it compares favourably.  But Skyward Sword was clearly released in the Wii/PS3/360 generation but I felt it seemed scaled back.  It feels like a game from the prior generation with motion controls.  It does not feel grand and ambitious compared to other games of its generation particularly when it came out the same year as Skyrim.  Maybe it's the hardware but then Xenoblade felt more grand as well and that's the same hardware and it's first party.  Zelda should not be getting shown up by another Nintendo game.


Nintendo going with an "open world" design makes sense because the open world games that are so common on the other consoles, but are practically absent on Nintendo's, provide that level of scope and size that made games like Ocarina of Time stand out in a big way back in 1998.  But Zelda has not really extended beyond the OoT template which in modern times would come across as small and simple.  Today's open world game is more the modern equivalent of what Zelda was seen as back in 1987 than current Zelda.  Videogames concepts have gotten bigger and more ambitious as time goes on.  There is a reason why Pac-Man was the biggest deal in 1980 but is now a nostalgia act - it didn't grow with the industry and eventual it seemed small and simple.  Zelda is basically cutting edge circa 10 years ago.

Once again Skyward Sword wasn't meant to be an open world game.  The whole point of Skyward Sword was focus on the dungeon aspect of Zelda by making the overworld itself basically it's own dungeon.  They even talked about how they made the overworld smaller then Twilight Princess as a direct result in order to make it more dense to do just that.  That was the whole selling point of Skyward Sword was since dungeons were the strongest aspect of Twilight Princess, Nintendo was going to have them a Zelda that was one big dungeon.

Games like Xenoblade and Skyrim might have huge worlds but things like puzzles and actual dungeons are a complete joke compared to what Skyward Sword had.  Hence why they have much larger worlds since the designers don't have to worry about actual level design and how things you do in one area will effect another.  Same thing with how all the enemies are designed as well since making enemies for games like Xenoblade/Skyrim are much easier to make since they can create 500 foot tall creatures where something as simple as a stab will make numbers appear and the enemy will die after a while.  In Zelda, they actually have to think about how Link will defeat these enemies since there's a hell of a lot more interaction going on in these games versus what are basically RPG's.


This is my number one worry about the upcoming Zelda.  In order to make a huge world, sacrifices will have to be made from other aspects.  I wouldn't be surprised if dungeon quality takes a hit since all the focus on the overworld is going to drain resources from the actual dungeons.  If Nintendo needs to make the overworld smaller in order to ensure the dungeons and gameplay are still great then I hope that's exactly what they should do.  I'll take something smaller that's actually focus versus something that's large for the sake of being large which is what many of these so called ambitious games are anyway.  Even Xenoblade which you love to quote, the giant world while fun to explore is only full of things to collect for fetchquest or enemies to kill MMO style.  There's nothing close to the unique puzzles, combat, mini games and gameplay variety the 3D Zelda's provide.

Mop it upOctober 17, 2015

Yeah, that's what worries me about them using the term "open world" as well. My fave part of Zelda has always been the dungeons, so that's why I really liked Skyward Sword and aren't too bothered with a few empty overworld sections in games like TP and OoT since they have nice dungeon sets as well. My least-faves in the series are ones like Majora's Masks since they have lower dungeon counts.

I wouldn't be surprised if the delay is because they realised a large world is boring and they're figuring out something else.

Evan_BOctober 17, 2015

Fantastic discussion topic, even if the opinions stated in the article aren't things I would entirely agree with. The surprising thing about Zelda is that it still manages to be a 40-hour experience even with barren overworlds. That shows how much actual content the developers put into these games, even if it is, at times, recycled.

Zelda needs to be a combination of spectacle and solid game design. With Wind Waker, I think Nintendo came as close as possible to creating a truly massive, technically impressive title with the core dungeon mechanics of Zelda intact. Twilight Princess focused heavily on atmosphere and improving dungeon design, while Skyward Sword centered largely around the mechanics of the Wii remote and I still respect it for that. I do think it's important to go back to the last NEW Zelda release, A Link Between Worlds, to see where Nintendo currently stands with the series. Obviously, that game was very much a sequel to A Link to the Past, but its non-linear design, rental system, and traversal mechanics were key. Most of ALBW's overworld was available to the player from the start, with the new wall-crawling opening up different areas as they progressed. In the initial reveal, Aonuma stated that the way the game would be designed would have players figuring out traversal as a puzzle as well, and I believe the non-linear nature of the previous game was also mentioned outside of the video. While the early build seemed to show very standard sailcloth and Epona travel, I think we'll see traversal impeding players in this new open world much more.

Many areas were only accessible after the painting mechanic was found, and though it was very much like an additional item in Link's inventory, the idea was pushed to its limits and I personally enjoyed it. If the Zelda team could come up with two or three of these traversal-based mechanics, they could tier the dungeons in different ways, perhaps allowing a player who discovers one type able to tackle dungeons 1-3 but another player stumbling on a different one on his first playthrough the ability to get to 2-4. This could be as simple as flippers for swimming underwater or in a lake, or even a Roc's Cape. I still believe that the Hook/Clawshots are much better as exploratory items than they are in combat (fabulous City in the Sky boss fight aside). Regardless, I think segmenting the progression is something that Zelda team DOES know how to do, and was able to get away with it in ALBW because of the size of the Overworld and the nostalgic factor. With a whole new world, there is going to have to be some sort of introduction, and I'm interested to see how they will introduce the massive map to players.

Also, in ALBW items were available to the player at the start as well, with only one locking off two of the "last" dungeons to the player because of its absence. This meant the player could go in any direction without much resistance. Obviously, it streamlined the game and its puzzles, which I know some people had issue with, though I liked the many riffs on a singular item featured exclusively in a dungeon despite it also taking away some complexity. Items should not be on a rental system- that is key. Rather, I think the player needs to be able to find these items on their own via exploration and THEN use them to enter and explore dungeons. This would allow more fleshing out of the Overworld while allowing them to centralize item-based puzzles like in ALBW, which may not be the ideal solution but perhaps the necessary one because of time and development constraints. It would still allow the player to explore but not access each dungeon, giving them more time to get to know the world.

I think Zelda's previous formula of "

Evan_BOctober 17, 2015

...Unfinished sentence will forever go unfinished.

AnGerOctober 18, 2015

I really don't think Nintendo should only look to their own projects for ideas on how to handle the next Zelda game. When it came out, I really enjoyed Okami more than Twilight Princess, mostly because the latter felt so incredibly dull and overly conservative (and I firmly believe after the incredibly atmospheric Majora's Mask and the joyous and charming Wind Waker (which also features the best version of Ganondorf), so I wonder if a look to games like this one for bits and pieces that were done in them would partly improve the Zelda experience. (i.e. the economy in Okami was nowhere nearly as screwed as the one in Twilight Princess because you had to earn your money through combat, treasure hunting and fishing rather than getting lots of money basically everywhere and your money was actually worth something)

Mop it upOctober 18, 2015

Quote from: Evan_B

...Unfinished sentence will forever go unfinished.

Nooooooo don't leave us in suspense!

HappyAnatomy11December 15, 2015

I agree that this is an interesting discussion, but why stop at OoT?

I think Nintendo is already hitting the nail on the head in terms of what to be inspired by from past Zelda games. It's possible that the original has not been looked to in any particular way at all given that Zelda II was so different from it. I can't say much about the 2d Zelda games: I've only played about half of The LoZ and LttP, given the number of hours and plot points experienced. What I can say though is that I love the original's open world, including the exact point made by Nintendo that you could actually go somewhere you shouldn't be yet. Now that is believability.

What the greatest games have is atmosphere and mood, which go hand-in-hand. All Legend of Zelda games have it, to varying degrees. Ocarina of Time (OoT) is simply golden. Majora's Mask is eerie and forlorning. Skyward Sword I will have to replay to be able to speak of as much as others. Twilight Princess (TP) is epic and majestic. I think it's crucial plot moments are as good as OoT's in their own way.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that we need mood, here. Always mood. And that's something that can only be inspiring and inspired. So far, from these short glimpses of footage, I like the mood. It kind of blends TP's epic majesty with Skyward Sword's cheer.

Looking forward to it...

E3 Hype Train EngineerDecember 15, 2015

Quote:

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.

You sir are quite mad. Link to the Past was better than Zelda 2 in everything except difficulty level.  LA had completely different characters, story, location, enemies... Far from stale.

I doubt Zelda is going to be "open world" like Skyrim. They probably mean you'll find items in a random cave instead of a 7 dungeon routine, and they're not gonna circle it on the map for you. There's not gonna be a gajillion sidequests to do. But I am excited that every area isn't going to have square boundaries with only two or three exits for the disc to load. Know what I mean? It's gonna be like old times in Hyrule Field, but with the wind blowing in your hair as you question whether you're ready to run up Death Mountain with just a sword in your hand and Malon's song in your heart, and no mini-cutscenes to mask the load times.

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