The Hero of Legend arrives in the Forgotten Realm.
I didn’t buy a Switch. The reasons are numerous, if fleeting (I’ll get one eventually), but the fact remains that if I wanted to play Zelda, I knew I could either wait until I got a Switch, or just buy the game on the platform that the game was originally developed for. I convinced myself that there was little chance that the game would be dramatically better on Switch than on Wii U, and with that arrow in my quiver, I kept my March 2016 Amazon pre-order for Wii U Breath of the Wild.
I can’t compare the Wii U game directly to the Switch version in any meaningful capacity; my hands on time with the Switch version is limited to just 60 seconds or so. I can tell you that the Switch game looked more colorful, but that was on a different TV so it’s hard to judge. In lieu of a proper comparison (you might check out Digital Foundry for that), I can tell you what I’ve thought of my five hours with the game so far.
First off, the bad: the frame-rate issues are real. Whenever Link finds himself in a town, or occasionally when the environment seems spread wide open such as on a cliffside, the frame rate drops down to what feels like the 15-20 range. It’s not unbearable, but it’s certainly noticeable, and it does take away a bit from the feeling that this is the best looking Nintendo game ever made. (I’m looking directly at you, Wind Waker). Even with the frame rate drops, the game runs smoothly. There’s not much in the way of bugs or glitches in my experience. The game is built to allow many different outcomes for many different circumstances, and for the most part it handles these unpredictable scenarios with aplomb.
The other nitpick from my perspective is that the game is not entirely playable with the Wii U Pro Controller. You might think that this is a good candidate for such a game, as the Wii U GamePad is not used for anything meaningful except Off TV play 99% of the time. Because most Wii U games were not designed in this fashion, I’ve gotten surprisingly little use out of my Pro Controller; most of the time it feels like playing without the GamePad requires too much sacrifice. With Breath of the Wild, there’s basically no reason to use the GamePad when playing on TV….except that the game occasionally forces you into a motion control mini-game. This is limited to a handful of shrines, but it’s frustrating when you have to swap controllers out just because Nintendo didn’t feel like remapping motion control to analog sticks in the shrines. This, of course, would not be an issue on Switch because there is no controller on Switch without motion control (Editor’s Note: True, but try doing those with the Joy-Con L and R controllers separated. Hell on Earth).
Other than that, my experience with the game has been entirely positive. The game looks beautiful, runs acceptably, and feels distinctly different than any Nintendo game, and any Zelda game, made in the past 30 years. The game doesn’t tell you what to do, it lets you figure things out on your own, leading to a satisfying sense of discovery and wonder as the world slowly starts to make sense around you. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss things, and if you try to rush through the story objectives, you’ll find yourself woefully underprepared for the enemies you’ll encounter.
In many ways, this game doesn’t really scratch the Zelda itch that I’ve come to know and love with games like Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword. This is a different thing entirely. I had held off on buying Twilight Princess HD because I knew Breath of the Wild was right around the corner, but now I feel like I could go back and get that game and play them back to back without really feeling like I was getting two of the same type of game.
The Wii U version of the game does have the same DLC and day one update as the Switch game. The update took around 20 minutes to download and install, and I haven’t tried out the Expansion Pass yet. The disc-based Wii U game even requires a 3 GB install to the system memory or hard drive. The memory manager on Wii U told me that this was technically update data, so maybe that’s why the update took so long to install.
Another Wii U exclusive feature is that the game requires about 30 seconds to reload every time you exit the Home screen. You get the impression that this game is pushing the Wii U harder than anything else Nintendo produced for the system; it’s no wonder they were so excited to publish this game on Switch, knowing that most people would happily play that version instead.
Nitpicks aside, if you’re wondering if the Wii U game is worth playing or if the Switch upgrade is really necessary, I feel comfortable in assuring you that you can’t really go wrong with either version of the game. While I’d love to have a shiny new Switch right now, there’s something reassuring about playing this game without the complications of launch hardware (Joy Con desync, battery life, etc). If you’re also playing the game on Wii U, share your observations in the comments below. How are you liking it?