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Zelda: Breath of the Wild finally shakes Nintendo’s biggest design problem

by Joey Davidson | March 7, 2017March 7, 2017 2:30 pm PDT

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild deserves a standing ovation for finally bucking Nintendo’s borderline insulting trend of treating players like complete idiots. Bravo.

Did you play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? If you loved it, I’m about to offend you. I don’t think it was a very good Zelda game. In fact, I’ll offer that it was on the bad side of the franchise’s spectrum. I know this because I recently tried to play it again.

The game is a mess of long, drawn-out tutorials. Everything is explained and re-explained, and when you think you’re finally done with the lessons, Fi (your sword) pipes up with more unnecessary instruction. It makes the game feel slow and tiring, and it assumes the player can’t figure anything out on their own.

This isn’t just a problem with Skyward Sword, though. It’s a problem with a few franchises made by Nintendo.

Consider the once spectacular Mario & Luigi RPG series. Bowser’s Insider Story (2009), Dream Team (2013) and Paper Jam (2015) all suffer from over-tutelage. You’ll be 20 hours into those adventures when the companion creature on your journey pipes up with another lengthy tutorial.

This happened most recently in Paper Mario: Color Splash on the Wii U (2016). While not as bad as Skyward Sword, the game still managed to enter full-on tutorials at 10, 20 and 30 hours into play.

Consider The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game opens with the Great Plateau space and barely any introduction. You meet a man who spends, maybe, two minutes telling you to look around. When you find a shrine, he offers you a trade. Those shrines are where you learn mechanics centered around the game’s runes. I’m talking about Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis and the bombs.

All of the teaching in the game occurs through UI signals. When you lock something in place with Stasis, the game teaches you about hitting objects to apply potential kinetic energy through a puzzle, not a wordy tutorial. You learn through trying. The game never tells you that you can beat something with Stasis and then grab on to launch yourself across an open space.

All of these things are taught through discovery and puzzles, not lengthy bouts of dialogue with “Press A” or “Press B” emphasized for instruction. You learn by doing here, and there are mechanics that I’m only discovering 20 hours into the game, and that feels wonderful.

This goes for the main questline, too. Marks appear on the map for where you should head next, but there’s no tutorial about paths to tack or methods for avoiding difficult battles. It’s possible to run directly to the final boss at the very start of the game. The title never stops you with an invisible wall or an obstacle than can only be breached with a tool you don’t have yet. It stops you with difficulty through tough bosses and enemies.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does’t hold the player’s hand, and it deserves a nod for that. Thank you, Nintendo.


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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