Link’s latest adventures in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom (TOTK) are everything we were waiting for.
The game has proven a roaring international hit. One common phrase often seen across social media in the past two weeks since the launch is the idea that Breath of The Wild, Zelda’s previous foray on Nintendo’s Switch when the system launched, almost feels like a beta version of what we ended up with in TOTK. How wild is it to call a game that went on to sell 30 million copies since and win a ton of awards a beta test? But it honestly feels kind of accurate with how much TOTK built on the last version of Hyrule we visited six years ago.
The Legacy of Zelda Enthusiasm
There are few dates on the video game calendar that get circled with more enthusiasm than a new Zelda game. Since the first one dropped in 1987, its raving fan base has always wondered what would be next for the franchise that often served with Super Mario Brothers as a flagship game that showed off the capabilities of Nintendo’s hardware from generation to generation. Zelda’s creators Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka were a part of both famous franchises. While it doesn’t quite serve that role in the same fashion given Nintendo has now allowed many more developers to publish games for their hardware in the Switch era, Zelda still very much serves as the benchmark for how much fun you can have on the Switch.
Zelda has turned down the cartoon style from 20 years ago. But the current look and feel still have a very anime feel that looks a lot cleaner than Wind Walker released in 2002. But 2006’s Twilight Princess feels much more similar to what the game looks like today. The modern version feels a lot brighter and more fun, like the way the lava pops with bright red and orange bubbles.
Miyamoto explained some of the thought processes they had as Zelda continued to transition into the 3D format in the 2000s. He noted part of the reason they went for the cartoon look was it made it easier to show expression in the characters. He also wanted it to feel like you were playing a cartoon in 3D, they definitely aced that test.
Breath of The Wild provided a lot of the building blocks for this new sequel on the same generation of hardware six years later. In an interview with Game Informer, Miyamoto noted one of the big jumps as Zelda made the move to the Switch was the nature engine. Exploration has always been a significant backbone of the fun in the play-it-at-your-pace game where you can toss around chickens or make a speed run for the master sword.
“Adventuring and exploring nature is what makes the game,” Miyamoto told Game Informer when the game launched. “I had to relook at what dungeons look like for us and kind of take it out of the dungeon. We spent five years kind of working on that.”
Miyamoto admitted he himself likes the open-world aspect of players creating their own adventures across the storyline over the years but understands there are folks out there that like those deep storylines with a lot of backstories. He thinks this modern generation of Zelda games has done a good job balancing the two.
The Tears of The Kingdom Launch
Over the past few weeks, the world has now had a moment to dive into Hyrule. But the months and years leading up to this moment had a bit of mystery to them. Regardless, once the game hit shelves, it was on.
In just three days, it became the fastest-selling Zelda game of all time. Ten million units moved globally in that first 72 hours, 4 million of them here in North America. That makes it the fastest-selling Nintendo game ever on any system in North America according to Nintendo. A major achievement for the game’s creators.
“Many players are returning to Hyrule with all its new mysteries and possibilities, and with the record-breaking launch of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for Nintendo Switch, we can’t wait to see what they’ll create in the game and the stories they’ll share next,” said Devon Pritchard, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and communications. “We’re grateful for all of our fans who’ve shown their passion for The Legend of Zelda over the years, and these sales numbers for the latest installment continue to show the strong momentum for both the franchise and Nintendo Switch this year.”
Reviews and Livestreams Pumped The Hype
One of the things that helped the massive launch was just how positive all the reviews were. It’s currently sitting at a 95 on Metacritic, the most noted aggregator of video game reviews by a mile. That score puts it as the 49th greatest game of all time per their review system. While 22 other games in history have scored a 95 on the site, TOTK ranks No. 1 one among those games that have scored a 95 since the website was founded over 20 years ago.
Zelda’s 1998 edition Orcana of Time is the number one game of all time on Metacritic as the only game ever to score a 99. The last installment on Switch, Breath of The Wild, ranks No. 14 on the all-time list with the Wii U version coming in No. 26. Twilight Princess is No. 39, and The Wind Walker is No. 44. There are a few on the list after TOTK also. The Gamecube Collectors edition from 2003 came in at No. 54. The Game Boy Advance edition of A Link to The Past came in at No. 59 with Majora’s Mask right behind it at No. 60. Twilight Princess is two spots later at No. 62. A 3DS version also made it. With the TOTK’s reviews getting added to this all-time list, basically one in 10 of the top-reviewed video games of all time on Metacritic is a Zelda game, if you count the two versions of Breath of The Wild as one.
“The fandom behind the Zelda franchise is stronger than ever and to date, Tears of the Kingdom is the best reviewed game of 2023 on Metacritic,” Marc Doyle, Co-Founder of Metacritic told L.A. Weekly. “In fact, it currently ranks in the top 50 games of all time and the number four Zelda game to ever be released.”
We asked Polygon Senior Reporter Nicole Carpenter if she thought the game got scored tougher by critics as a direct sequel.
“I don’t necessarily think it got scored harder, but Breath of the Wild did have a major impact on the industry so there was an expectation for what Tears of the Kingdom would be. The bar was already set high and people expected Tears of the Kingdom to jump over that bar,” Carpenter told L.A. Weekly, “The game sold 10 million copies in a few days so it’s definitely up there for the biggest game of the year. Beyond that, Tears of the Kingdom will be one of most influential games of the year.”
Another thing the newer generation of Zelda games has had play to its favor is the rise of online streaming. The launch has been a hit. According to TwitchTracker.com, over the last week, people have spent 8 million hours watching other people play the game and the streams averaged about 50,000 people watching at any given time. Things peaked on May 11 when 351,714 users were simultaneously watching TOTK streams.
50 Hours In
What?! The Great Deku Tree has a stomachache again?! Sign me up. That’s not even a spoiler at this point, it’s presumable Hyrule’s bad guys at any given moment have had an impact on his acid reflux. Those kinds of expectations are one of the things that have made the series great. Each time we go back, the little things we love are done even better.
We are about 50 hours in. I’ve completed the Wind Temple but have predominantly spent most of my time exploring. I’ve hit about 35 Shrines so far in the process of building up hearts for the main storyline. One of the reasons I’ve hit so many shrines early is because of how fun the new gameplay mechanics make them. The massive refreshing of all the minigames makes each one feel very unique.
Those four new core gameplay mechanics are called Fuse, Ultrahand, Ascend and Recall. Fuse lets you attach objects from the world to each other or your hand after you use Ultrahand to move them around. You’ll use a combination of those powers and the world around you all the time to upgrade your weapons, solve puzzles and even build vehicles.
Ascend adds another vertical element of gameplay in addition to the massive sky map that covers the whole game from above. It allows you to climb through ceilings within reach of the ability and emerge through the floor on the other side.
Recall allows you to move objects and then recreate that object’s movement through time. Say a rock falls down a waterfall you want to go up, you hit the rock with recall and ride it up the waterfall. There are some wild uses for one when it comes to all the puzzles.
There also is a ton of wild physics mechanics attached to the main storyline. As you dive further and further in, you’ll get access to an even wider array of tools to combine with the Ultrahand and Fuse abilities.
With all that, and what feels like triple the game compared to Breath of The Wild, I think the only reason TOTK isn’t higher on the all-time list is that it’s a direct sequel. Regardless, it’s one of the best games ever.
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