In the mid 2000’s, Nintendo was the highest roller at the video game industry casino. Nobody was taking bigger risks than they were and shockingly Nintendo was more successful than they had ever been before, reclaiming their throne on top of the sales charts that Sony had taken from them nearly a decade before. Their motion control and touch screen console combo ushered in a new era of video games and got consoles in the homes of people who would never have thought of themselves as gamers before.
But, as the years went on and the fresh bloom of the Wii and DS began to wilt Nintendo knew that it was time for a change. However they weren’t ready to completely rethink their game plan just yet. With a few tweaks to their strategy, and adding one new character to each name, Nintendo released the 3DS and the WiiU. Over the course of last generation, I think Nintendo learned something important; that it was the casual, family oriented appeal that got the systems in their home, but it was the hardcore gamers that kept interest in the system and continued to buy software long after Dad and Grandma have moved on. Both systems seem to be designed around the philosophy of looking like something that is easy for the same people enjoyed the simplicity of the Wii and DS, but stacked with enough features and horsepower to keep the practical gamer satisfied. Their online features and stores have made massive leaps, the tablet like controller can be used for something as easy to play as Angry Birds, but the buttons and analog controls needed for an intense fast action fighting games and first person shooters. However this philosophy wasn’t just exclusively behind the development of the hardware; it seems to be the driving force behind the development of their software as well. Nintendo as of late seems to be striving towards finding the perfect balance between being easily accessible for newcomers, yet containing enough depth and style for hardcore fans who are interested in a more immersive experience. Examples of this are evident in many recent releases, and ones that will release later this year as well, such as Super Mario 3D World
When first unveiled, it was to great disappointment amongst many Nintendo fans because of its simplistic approach and casual appearance. After the several recent entries in the New Super Mario Bros., many hardcore fans wanted something closer to a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy. However, that disappointment quickly dissipated as more details and footage revealed in later trailers that the game hade much more to offer than its initial impressions would ever hint at. Super Mario 3D World seems to be the culmination of everything that fans of the series have loved in recent years and bringing it together in one package.
The hectic game play that the multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros. Wii brought to the table, The out-of-this-world originality from the level design and crazy power ups of Mario Galaxy, the more approachable music, style and controls of Super Mario 3D Land, all seem to be what Nintendo has brought to the table to create what looks like one of the most exciting games Nintendo’s biggest mascot has ever been in. Even the slightly less linear over world and Miiverse functions of New Super Mario Bros. U, and Character selection and skill variety from 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2, (or Super Mario Bros. USA depending on where you are from) seem to be making an appearance here. Not to mention some of the most common complaints amongst fans seem to have been addressed (Such as peach making an appearance, because nobody liked playing with two generic toads).
Now more than ever, Nintendo seems to be listening to its fans and trying to figure out what the best game for everyone would be. I believe its this newly established connection with its fan base, and Nintendo’s ambition to create an approachable game experience without sacrificing the depth or integrity amongst their hardcore fans for their main series titles that we can begin to guess just how Nintendo is going to look at creating the probably the most important entry in the Legend of Zelda series since the days of the GameCube.
There have been many recent Zelda titles in the past few years which have all released to varying acclaim among critics and fans, and if 3D World is any inclination, Nintendo will look to take what worked with those certain games and bring them together, while also excluding what features have been met with less desirable feedback.
Firstly, the most important issue, “The Zelda Formula” and what we can expect will most likely be contingent on the success and feedback of the near future release “A Link Between Worlds” on 3DS. Almost every single Zelda since A Link to the Past, has used that title as a template for the creation of each game. While Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask and other titles have made many significant changes to how many of the Zelda conventions are implemented, the core experience of the series has remained the same. A Link to the Past has had such a heavy influence on the series till this date, and ironically it seems its sequel 21 years later seems to be the first that is going to try to rewrite the conventions we have become so comfortable with. Rather than the “ Go to dungeon, get new item, use new item to beat boss” cycle that is repeated through most games, now players are going to be able to choose what ever weapon they want from a shop at the beginning of the game. This will allow players to explore the dungeons in almost any order that they desire. This more simplistic approach will be greatly successful at both simplifying the game and making it more interesting for the hardcore fan base. Zelda, even all these years later has still been one of Nintendo’s least accessible franchises. They have tried a lot of things to try to levy this such as simplifying the control scheme, easing the combat and cel shading the art style to seem more kid/family friendly. But the series is still being played by the same audience it always has been enjoyed by. The only good that simplifying the experience so far has done is frustrate the core Zelda fans.
(*Yawn*… Too easy)
Though I believe it’s the exact, pragmatic order of events that needed to be completed in, in order to progress through the that has held the series back from reaching a wider audience of gamer, who may just want a game they can explore in at their own leisure.
I’m sure over time, many of more casual games whom have tried the series, got stuck repeatedly and never really tried the series again. Being stuck in a Zelda game has for a while now, been a very limiting experience. Most of them let you do almost nothing until you do exactly what it wants you to do. While this created a great sense of satisfaction for when you actually do solve those puzzles, a sense of joy that the series fans have come to love, it has led to endless frustration among many new comers and people unfamiliar with the series and its conventions. Letting the player select an entire arsenal of items from the beginning will be much more approachable for those who have found it difficult to get into the series. For example, if they get stuck at one dungeon, they can easily just go onto the next one and try their luck on that. And as they get more comfortable with the game and the logic behind its nuances perhaps they’ll be able to figure out the puzzle that they were once stuck on, rather than getting frustrated and putting the game down.
(Ugh.. Do I HAVE to do this right now?)
Though the benefits of this won’t just be for the casual. For more seasoned Zelda veterans, It should allow for much more experimentation with the capabilities of the items and exploration discover new and secret areas on their own merits. This sense of freedom should met with positive feed back from new comers and veterans a like. And I suspect this to be the new foundation on what WiiU Zelda shall build upon.
Another area where the series needs a massive step forward is story. There was a time when the story of a game was told in the instruction booklet. Since then the industry has taken massive leaps forward. While Zelda has taken steps forward as well , it has not kept pace with the rest of the industry and its conventions in this regard seem rather archaic. It wasn’t until the most recent Skyward Sword I believe Nintendo seems to understand what direction they should go. A more emotional connection with the character that the series is named after, should be of the utmost importance. Zelda doesn’t need an overly complex story, or some crazy scenario to make it different just for the sake of it. What it does need, is more emotion and for the player to care about the character in the world. If the plot is to save Zelda the player has to care about her. The player has to want to save her. If there is no emotional connection, than the story of Link putting his life on the line to save the princess or the people in the World around him than the story has no weight.
(Finally, after 25 years Zelda and Link seem to care about each other)
Making the surrounding cast likable and even lovable should be of the utmost importance going forward. Voice acting and orchestrated soundtracks should be included as well. It’s time for Zelda to make that leap. I understand the reluctance among fans to not want voice acting because of Nintendo’s history with handling the issue; but it’s no longer an excuse and it is something that is beginning to hold the series from a story telling perspective back. I can understand protests for not wanting Link to talk, but there is no reason why WiiU Zelda cant be just like Half Life, or Metroid Prime 3, or any of the other games that have a vocal cast coupled with a silent protagonist. If voice acting is done well it can give the player a much better connection with the cast and characters, it would greatly benefit Zelda as a series in its attempt to get to the next level.
Some other things we can also expect is that the game most likely won’t feature motion controls; or at least, only in moderation and not motion to the same level that they were implemented in Skyward Sword. It would serve no purpose other than to exclude those who didn’t like the last games control scheme at all as it doesn’t make it any easier to play. If anything Motion in a series like Zelda is more difficult and requires more attention and dedication on the gamer’s part. A more conventional control scheme like Wind Waker HD, with some casual motion such as with the hookshot, and some inventory touch screen mechanic is in all likely hood all we will see as far as controls/interaction with the game goes.
Some more expected things I think we can expect to see, while it may sound strange is a first person perspective option. The idea of implementing this is actually not a new idea. During the development of Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto actually wanted the game to take place in first person, and even more recently in Wind Waker HD, you can play through most of the game in first person has well. Fans would most likely reject the idea now of the game being exclusively in first person, but I can see there being a strong possibility for allowing players to play through the entire game, including combat and platforming, etc. this way if they so chose to.
(could this be the new way to roam around in Hyrule?)
And finally, while Zelda has always primarily been an isolated single player experience I believe now is a time where Zelda may actually do something to make you feel more connected with other players. It likely won’t include actual multiplayer or co-op, but there was an interesting feature that Wind Waker HD brought to the table that the series definitely should look more into building upon. There was a system where you could receive notes in bottles from other players that contained messages and pictures. I think we could expect a more advanced form of Miiverse intergration, something along the lines of in Dark Souls where other players can leave hints, or messages to other players; or even set traps.
(Zelda could gain a lot by implementing some of Dark Souls ideas)
All in all, for Zelda going forward, I think we should expect a game that seems to combine all of Nintendo’s most recent philosophies and successes in recent games. It needs to find the perfect balance of offering something new and accessible, but familiar and deep. Maybe it won’t have as big of a revolution that people are perhaps expecting, but if the perfect balance between all of the games new elements combined with the old it could have the same system defining impact that the series has tried to achieve that Ocarina of Time did in 1998.