When Nintendo finds itself open to criticism for becoming a bit stale it can usually rely on its back catalogue of much-loved heroes to come to the rescue.
Cue 2023 where brave, blonde and blade-wielding Link, hero of the Zelda series, is arriving on a paraglider to appease fans.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is tipped to become one of the best-selling titles on the Nintendo Switch.
A critics’ darling, it is likely to quieten the chorus of fans and analysts asking questions about plans for a new console, which have been pushed back to 2024.
Many fans on TikTok have been making light of the saxophone featured in the trailer for Tears of the Kingdom – adding to the hype in the build-up to Thursday’s release.
The Nintendo Switch was originally released in 2017. It’s incredibly popular, with 125 million units shipped, but its sales figures have started to falter.
Can Nintendo follow the success of Breath of the Wild?
Tears of the Kingdom is the sequel to a game widely considered a masterpiece. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was named as GQ magazine’s best game of all time just this week.
For presenter, gaming content producer and Zelda super-fan Mr Midas, Nintendo is under serious pressure to get Tears of the Kingdom right in order to prove it is still on top of its game.
The latest games in the Zelda series offer players the freedom to explore at their own pace
He explains that “Nintendo are not great at following-up” and argues that they “make some of the greatest things we have in gaming,” but when time comes for what’s next it “rarely works as well”.
“A great example is the Wii,” he says. It was an incredibly popular and sold in huge numbers but its follow-up, the WiiU, was, he says, “trash”.
“Nintendo are so creative and always willing to push the envelope, but sometimes that doesn’t work for them. These previous miss-steps are why we haven’t had a Switch 2 announcement yet in my opinion, because I honestly feel they’re petrified with what that follow-up is going to be.”
Mr Midas argues that being able to prove they can iterate, by making a great sequel to a best seller, is vitally important for the Japanese games giant.
A free-roaming roleplaying experience with a massive canvas for story telling, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom allows players to explore the vast, vibrant and visually stunning lands of Hyrule. You’re encouraged to use your imagination to solve puzzles, craft weapons and battle to defend the land from Ganondorf – tribal chief and villain.
The overwhelmingly positive critical reaction will be a relief for Nintendo bosses. Especially as it legitimately shifts the focus of coverage in the gaming press away from potential new hardware and on to the game.
It’s the perfect timing for a title of this magnitude, scope and significance to come out. The coming months will be awash with guides, tips and hot takes about Tears of the Kingdom.
The sheer size of the game may put some casual players off entering into it, but critics have been raving.
Initial reviews of the game have been positive. “Tears of the Kingdom is a triumph of open-ended game design that pays homage to the best parts of the Zelda franchise’s own storied history – and sometimes exceeds them,” wrote Steve Watts of Gamespot.
There were five-star reviews from Empire,The Guardian,Metro,the Daily Mirror, and the Radio Times, whose critic Rob Leane said: “We’re pleased to report that, boy oh boy, Tears of the Kingdom really is a brilliant game. If Nintendo wanted a showcase, a celebratory hurrah to cap off this generation, this is all that and more.”
Alana Hagues of NintendoLife added: “It takes everything its predecessor does, improves upon every single aspect, and gives you even more freedom, an even bigger world, and tons more secrets to uncover. It’s frankly staggering and makes for an absolutely incredible experience.”
‘I’ve taken the day off to play’
Famous for the freedom it gave players to explore at their own pace, Breath of the Wild sold an estimated 30 million copies. It’s become so beloved with Zelda fans that you’ll often hear some get heated about whether it should be considered the best Zelda game ever – rather than the 1998 release, Ocarina of Time.
Journalist Marie Le Conte bought her Switch during lockdown and poured 250 hours into Breath of the Wild.
“There are a million different ways to deal with any situation in the game, which I think, intellectually, is very gratifying,” she says of her love for it.
Rightly proud of her achievement to complete the game without dying (the permadeath challenge), she’s now booked a day off work to fully immerse herself in the sequel.
“I’m going to just sit in my pyjamas and play all day. I will have to take a short break for Eurovision, and then I’ll be back to it on Sunday.
“Going back to basics, I’m excited because I just think it’s going to be tremendously fun.
“I want to know what they’ve done to it. How different will it be? I know there’ll be lots of new game mechanics, ways to play, new weapons and I want to see them all.”
Despite premium game releases being particularly expensive (Tears for the Kingdom is retailing at about £60 in the UK) Marie thinks many people, like her, will happily make the investment because expectations are so high: “The drawback for games as a hobby is that it can be expensive.
“Occasionally I’ve spent £50 or more on a game and then found them hard work and not enjoyed them. It can be very annoying and a waste of time when that happens.
“With this however, I have faith in the developers which is not always the case.”
Sticking to a winning formula
The Zelda franchise in the past has seen dramatic shifts in time, location and visual style between releases (here’s looking at you Wind Waker).
However, this time the story follows on from where it left off – something Mr Midas believes is “a super smart move”.
“Zelda games are beloved, but they’re not the biggest selling. It doesn’t sell like Grand Theft Auto or even Mario but the way fans connected with this latest version of Link and Zelda is on another level.”
Nintendo are making the most of that. Building on the legacy of a game which, as Mr Midas explains “captured the imagination of people who aren’t traditionally Zelda fans,” is a deliberate decision. Not alienating recent converts to the franchise gives this release a chance to outperform its successful prequel.