IF NIN­TENDO HAS SOME­THING NEW UP ITS SLEEVE FOR NX, THERE’S LIT­TLE EV­I­DENCE HERE

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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.

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