IF NINTENDO HAS SOMETHING NEW UP ITS SLEEVE FOR NX, THERE’S LITTLE EVIDENCE HERE
In one Shrine, you must free a boulder from a long, cylindrical cage on a see-saw in order to destroy a wall. We see two solutions. You can use Magnesis on the fulcrum to tip the boulder out, or activate Stasis and whack the stationary wrecking ball with your weapon. Each blow landed while time is frozen stores energy within the target; when the power expires, that energy is released and it flies off in the direction in which it was struck. This sort of flexibility in approach is a necessary inclusion in a game that is, after the opening couple of hours, freely explorable. But it also chimes perfectly with the theme of the game: it is not about where you have to go next but where you want to, and what you want to do when you get there.
Nintendo has been uncommonly open about the struggles it has faced in adjusting to the demands of development in the HD era. Breath Of The Wild’s delay to 2017 is in part a business decision: this is a game made for both Wii U and NX, Nintendo’s new console which the company has confirmed will be out before the end of its fiscal year in March. But developmental headaches have played their part too, despite the increase in core team size and the assistance of 100 staff from Xenoblade Chronicles developer Monolith Soft (which also helped out on Skyward Sword). Indeed, Aonuma admits that, but for one mistake, the game might have been ready much sooner.
“We have these milestones during development,” he explains. “I play the game, then give staff my comments, my advice on what direction they should be heading in. At one of the milestones, the game was fantastic. There were so many great elements. But at the next milestone, that was all gone.
“I’d made a lot of comments about what they needed to add, but I never told them what I thought was good about the game at that milestone. So they added stuff that I’d recommended, but they also added some other elements they thought would work well – and that ended up breaking all the good parts of the previous build. I learned that, when it’s good, I have to say so. If I’d managed that well, maybe development wouldn’t have extended quite so much!”
Even had that been the case, you suspect Nintendo would have sat on the game until NX debuts next year. While the E3 demo was limited to the game’s opening hours, livestreams on Nintendo’s Treehouse channel showed much more of Breath Of The Wild, suggesting that the game is already as good as finished. Confounding expectations, Nintendo declined to use E3 to unveil NX to the world. But it did show a game that will launch alongside it, and there is much to be inferred about the way the console has been designed. The GamePad screen, for example, is next to useless, used only for offscreen play. There are no touchscreen interactions; the gyroscopes are used for fine aiming of Link’s bow, and in one Shrine to change the angle of a ramp. But at its core this is a traditional game played with sticks and buttons. There is no suggestion here that NX will depart from that proven formula.
Thankfully, in a game whose creation has required so much fresh thinking, Aonuma has made one game for two platforms before: Twilight Princess released on both the outgoing GameCube and, at launch, Wii. “When they told me about [Wii’s] motion controls, I was kind of surprised,” he says. “But I’ve been with Nintendo for a long time. At first they would say, ‘Hey, we made this new platform. Make a game.’ The next step was, ‘Is there anything you want to add to this new platform?’ Now I’m involved in creating the hardware. They’ll ask me what would be a good feature to add. I’m not so taken aback by it any more.”
Aonuma admits he felt “fulfilled” by his work on motion controls with Skyward Sword, and would be happy to try it again. “But I really like anything new,” he says – something that’s hard to reconcile with the familiar way in which Breath
Of The Wild is controlled. Perhaps Nintendo does have something new up its sleeve for NX, but there’s little evidence of it to be found in this game.
It is even harder to reconcile Aonuma’s apparent love of novelty with the man who has worked almost exclusively on Zelda games for a quarter of a century. For all that is new about Breath Of The Wild – in the context of its series, at least – does he not hunger for a completely new challenge? “Actually, Nintendo has been telling me to create a new IP,” he says. “But then, they’re also telling me to make more Zelda games.” He has ideas, however. “I can’t really share much; I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything. But I really like the idea of a game where I can live as a thief. That’s all I’ll say.”
As the kabuki master would admit, Aonuma understands the Zelda mould. With Breath Of The Wild, he has broken and rebuilt it to remarkable effect. Perhaps the next logical step is for him to make a brand-new one, but in the meantime, he will have to be content to have helmed the most ambitious game Nintendo has made in 20 years. It means the troubled, misunderstood Wii U is going out with a bang. About NX, it poses more questions than it answers, but one thing’s for sure: Nintendo’s next console, while still nine months away, is off to a cracking start.