If you’ve ever read any other video game review penned by myself, you’ll find the first thing I do is equate some new experience to an old one of mine. This happens particularly often if I’m very fond of something and want to really drive home the point of how good it is, that something new can equal a formative experience as seen through rose tinted nostalgia-vision. And if you haven’t yet guessed, Breath of the Wild connected to me on so many levels that I couldn’t compare it to any single former Zelda experience but instead it connected with each and every previous game in the series.
So let’s say for the sake of argument you’ve never played a Legend of Zelda game. These are action-adventure games that are developed and published by Nintendo. In these games you are typically a small elfin lad named Link who has to save the world. There are numerous recurring themes that I won’t go into here like the Triforce, the connection each of the three protagonists typically have in each game or any of the outlying lore. Seriously, if you’ve never played a Legend of Zelda game then you owe it to yourself to at least try one of them.
This game builds upon every Legend of Zelda game that has come before. From themes and level layouts echoing the 8-bit era of the games, music reflecting the Super Nintendo or races that have popped up throughout the series to just small nouns haunting us from the past, everything here presents a generous helping of the series to fans. This rewards long time players while filling the world with content for newbies. The world and how you interact with it, bar none, is the best in the series. The developers pared the powers they give link down to four runes, and that forms the tools in which you’ll interact with EVERYTHING but mixing and matching those tools gives you a great sense of freedom in how you are allowed to approach any given puzzle or enemy. As you complete quests, shrines and defeat foes you will collect items that will give you additional options on approaching situations.
For the sake of argument, there are differences between this game and the others. Without many exceptions, most Legend of Zelda games are more or less linear. They have you do dungeons in a certain order and almost all dungeons are completed in the same way: go about halfway through and find a unique item that will let you go back and finish the other half of the dungeon. The boss needs to be defeated by that item and then you’ll more or less never think about that item again. Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess were notable in bending this rule but it’s a pretty solid template that was burned, shot, drowned and stabbed before being thrown out the window when they developed Breath of the Wild. This game is an open world and while for some that means a game like Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim, I’d say it’s closer to GTA. It’s an open sandbox that doesn’t care about you or what you’re doing, as opposed to the theme park that is Skyrim with a carefully curated selection of randomly defined moments mixed with hand crafted narratives.
Nostalgia and fresh gameplay mechanics are great, but now the question is: how does the game feel to play? I enjoyed the game on the WiiU and compared extensively to the Switch version and while the framerates were indeed better on the Switch, both games suffered from very variable frames per second. This didn’t stop me from being able to play or enjoy the game but if the game were a less celebrated series or if there were other issues to go with those frame rates, then you could criticize the game a little harder for it. Other issues that distracted me were the motion controls for some puzzles which were so out of place I could see someone giving up on the puzzles that used them entirely. The soundtrack, while beautiful, is hardly befitting of the usually quite excellent series and is so muted that I often had to stop moving Link to listen for the music. Likewise while this is my favourite iteration of the world and the other people in it, Ganon (the usual bad guy for the series) felt far less compelling and more like a malignant storm: something you can hate but not get mad at.
Overall if it isn’t utterly obvious yet, the game itself is good. Very good. Good enough that this might be a decade defining game and certainly will be a bar for future games in the same way that A Link to the Past or The Legend Of Zelda 64 were and are. If you don’t mind frame rate issues and you own either system the game runs on, then you owe it to yourself to try it. Graphically the game is a stunner, so it’ll be a nice show piece regardless of which system you put it on. If you aren’t a fan of open world games, particularly ones where the maps are so huge you’ll end up spending more time getting from place to place than you will doing things at those places, then the game is probably skippable.