Zelda: The cham­pi­ons bal­lad

The fat lady sings for 2017’s best game – and she car­ries a de­cent tune

Games Master - - Contents -

The lat­est DLC for Breath Of The Wild is here, and Link’s got a mo­tor­bike.

For­get any no­tion of this be­ing the ‘story DLC’. The Cham­pi­ons’ Bal­lad is, in fact, a set of tri­als tied to­gether by a wisp of nar­ra­tive thread. That and the ab­sence of new re­gions to ex­plore might come as a dis­ap­point­ment, but by the time this add-on is over, you’ll have a Goron-sized grin plas­tered across your face all the same. As far as the story goes, don’t ex­pect to learn much be­yond what you al­ready knew. In­stead, we get a bit of ex­tra background colour about the Cham­pi­ons them­selves, de­tailed in flash­backs to when Zelda met each of them. There are some de­light­ful mo­ments, no­tably, a show­case of ab­so­lute badassery from Ur­bosa (eas­ily our pick of the four Cham­pi­ons), and a ten­der scene in­volv­ing Mipha and a young Si­don. Daruk, mean­while, dis­plays an un­likely but en­dear­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and while Re­vali’s still an­noy­ingly smug, we do get a glimpse of another side to him.

Though they’re fairly short, these are among the best-di­rected cutscenes in the game, and am­plify the sad­ness of the story. It’s another re­minder of the Ghi­bli in­flu­ence: be­hind the sweet­ness and hu­mour, there’s a lin­ger­ing un­der­cur­rent of melan­choly, and the bit­ter­sweet grace note at its con­clu­sion earns the tears it’ll draw from those most in­vested in the tale. It’s a bal­lad for a rea­son, you know.

One-hit thrill

As for Link, this means a re­turn to where it all be­gan, as you’re sum­moned to the Shrine Of Res­ur­rec­tion to pick up a brand new weapon and start the kind of test that would make Hide­taka Miyazaki nod ap­pre­cia­tively. The One-Hit Oblit­er­a­tor (and what a bril­liantly no-non­sense name that is) is deadly in more than one re­spect: it’s true to its name, but hold­ing it re­duces Link’s health to a quar­ter of a heart. In other words, ev­ery en­emy is a po­ten­tial one-hit oblit­er­a­tor, too. Oh, and you can’t put it down un­til you’ve fin­ished the first part of the trial, which asks you to clear out four groups of en­e­mies and com­plete the shrines that emerge once you’ve slain the last of them.

The up­shot is that the big­gest en­e­mies pose less of a chal­lenge than be­fore; the leap­ing Lizal­fos are a pain, yes, but since you’re quicker and nim­bler than the hulk­ing Moblins you’re likely to down them be­fore the mes­sage to take a swing

at you has trav­elled from pea-brain to limb. By con­trast, their smaller co­horts be­come more fear­some threats: it’s a chas­ten­ing mo­ment when you find your­self fran­ti­cally sprint­ing from a pair of elec­tric Keese, only to in­ad­ver­tently col­lide with the edge of a spiked bar­rier.

Beast mode

It’s tense stuff, and some will hate the lack of a safety net as they fall to the very last en­emy in a group. Yet it serves a dual pur­pose. For one, it’s a timely re­minder of how dan­ger­ous the plateau felt at the very start of the game. And for those who’ve ac­crued the hearts, weapons, and ar­mour to all but trans­form them­selves into an un­stop­pable force by the endgame, it rep­re­sents a trial wor­thy of the name. Since you need to have tamed all four Di­vine Beasts to play The Cham­pi­ons’ Bal­lad, it’s ob­vi­ously de­signed for play­ers who know what they’re do­ing. We’ve all grown com­pla­cent by this stage, and so it’s fit­ting that we’re made to feel vul­ner­a­ble once more.

And that’s just the ap­pe­tiser. The Oblit­er­a­tor is put away for good (pity; it would have been a nice op­tion for pro­fi­cient com­bat­ants) and four new way­points ap­pear on the map. Here you’ll meet avian beef­cake Kass, who’s work­ing on an ac­cor­dion trib­ute to the four cham­pi­ons. Nearby, you’ll find struc­tures that re­veal the ap­prox­i­mate lo­ca­tions of three chal­lenges for each, while Kass’s words give you a clue about your ob­jec­tive. The rest you have to fig­ure out for your­self.

There are no new re­gions to ex­plore – though much of what you’ll find here is tucked away in places there’s a good chance you haven’t yet vis­ited – but this part of the ad­ven­ture cap­tures one of the most sat­is­fy­ing things about Breath Of The Wild. It isn’t sim­ply about dumbly fol­low­ing a map marker, but us­ing the in­for­ma­tion you have to pin­point where you’ve got to go (and, in a cou­ple of cases, what to do when you get there) which makes the sense of ac­com­plish­ment all the greater. For one, you’ll have to wait for the dawn to show you the way; another de­pends on the nightly ar­rival of a ma­jes­tic crea­ture. Ringed gates pro­vide cour­ses for shield surfers, and sand-seal rid­ers, while a third of­fers a Pilotwings-es­que glid­ing chal­lenge. Each of these un­locks another shrine, mak­ing up a dozen in all, in ad­di­tion to the ones on the Great Plateau.

In fact, the shrines here are among the best in the whole game, the hall­mark of a team that has nat­u­rally grown con­fi­dent at build­ing these elab­o­rate puz­zle chal­lenges. Many re­quire care­ful tim­ing as well as thought, while one thrilling stand­out is a true test of your nerve: a gaunt­let of spikes where just one hit is fa­tal, with a fi­nal, de­vi­ous flour­ish putting you on a long, nar­row plat­form with haz­ards thud­ding in from ei­ther side as the back wall slowly, men­ac­ingly, grinds to­ward you.

Await­ing you at the end of all this is another dun­geon, styled like the Di­vine Beasts. Com­pact and in­tri­cate, it’s es­sen­tially a piece of ma­chin­ery op­er­ated from within, with Link cast as a tiny cog placed into var­i­ous slots to make it func­tion in dif­fer­ent ways. Then fol­lows a cli­mac­tic en­counter which, un­like the dis­ap­point­ingly re­cy­cled bat­tles that round off each Cham­pion’s story, is com­pletely new – and it’s a match for the fight against Calamity Ganon at the very least.

At first, the lu­di­crous re­ward it yields (see Bike Drop) feels like it’s come too late. Most will have seen just about ev­ery cor­ner of Hyrule be­fore even start­ing this DLC, after all. Yet it also sums up the best rea­son to play The Cham­pi­ons’ Bal­lad: it’s ba­si­cally an ex­cuse to spend another eight hours or so im­mersed in one of the most rich and boun­ti­ful game worlds ever made. And that’s an in­vi­ta­tion only a fool would pass up.


It’s dis­ap­point­ing that the bat­tles against Ganon’s var­i­ous forms are sim­ply re­vis­ited, but be­ing forced to fight them with limited kit fresh­ens things up a touch.

For­mat Switch (re­viewed), Wii U Pub­lisher Nin­tendo De­vel­oper Nin­tendo ETA Out now Play­ers 1

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