In fact, the Switch console now feels like it is nearing the end of its lengthy lifespan — Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S have already been out for a couple of years, absolutely blowing the Switch out of the water in terms of visual fidelity and processing power, and yet the rumoured Switch Pro has still not be announced to replace it.
Enter Tears of the Kingdom, which could be the final major showcase of what Nintendo’s current console can do. With no new Mario games, Zelda games or fully fledged Pokémon RPGs in the announced pipeline after this, TotK feels like it could be the last hurrah for the current generation before Nintendo finally reveals its future hardware plans.
And 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. Breath of the Wild was already beloved, of course, and this sequel manages to stay true to its predecessor in so many ways whilst also mixing in countless new elements to get you hooked in once again.
Tears of the Kingdom picks up some time after the events of Breath of the Wild, kicking off with a cold open that quickly thrusts Link and Zelda into a whole new adventure. To say too much about the whys and wherefores of Link’s new mission could be considered spoilers, so we’ll stay vague on story details, but there are some things that feel safe to mention.
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The game’s marketing materials have already made it clear, for example, that a whole new area has been added in the skies above Hyrule. If you’re a fan of 2011’s Skyward Sword, which got a HD re-release on Switch in 2021, you’ll surely get a kick out of this. Once again, there are islands in the sky offering puzzles, collectables and new mysteries, and you can also dive down to the surface to revisit your old haunts from Breath of the Wild.
Again, we don’t want to say too much for spoiler purposes, but you might be pleased to know that the ground level of Hyrule has also had something of an overhaul. Although all the key settlements and landmarks are still in the same places, events in the game’s prologue ensure that there are new challenges waiting for you around every corner, new problems that need solving, and every character in every village will have something new to tell you about.
Link also picks up a totally different set of abilities this time. You’re not making frozen platforms or timing bombs like the old days. Instead, Link has been introduced to new concepts including the highly-promoted crafting mechanics. If you were worried that Zelda was about to turn into Minecraft, though, fear not! This game has its own approach to crafting and once you get used to it, it just feels like a natural extension of the experience.
Link has two major crafting abilities: one of them is called Ultrahand, which allows you to move objects around and mush them together to make things like boats, carts and rudimentary flying machines; and the other is called Fuse, which allows you to weld certain items onto your weapons, arrows and shields to beef up their stats. Both of these come in handy during normal play, but they really shine during puzzles, and there’s no constant pressure to craft vehicles if you don’t want to.
Speaking of puzzles, it’s worth noting that there is a whole new set of shrines for players to try out. Some of them are simple little tests that teach you about the new abilities, while others are more challenging brain-teasers. There are ruddy loads of them, though, so you might want to clear your schedule.
As well as the shrines, there is also a number of bigger dungeons (AKA temples), with these larger levels chaining together a number of trickier puzzles and throwing in a boss fight as your reward for completing them. Longterm fans should be pleased with this compromise, with the lack of dungeons being one of the few sour notes in Breath of the Wild.
Link also has an ability called Ascend, which allows him to rise up through the ceiling of certain environments (this comes in handy during climbing as well). And there’s another new ability called Recall, which allows him to rewind the movement of certain objects. With all of these new skills at your disposal, the puzzles are totally different, and they’re one of the very best things about the game.
This time out, it feels like Nintendo have put the skills of game development in your hands, giving the player all the tools they need to create their own puzzle solutions. You can chain together your new abilities, bend the environment to your will and deploy a number of new gadgets called Zonai Devices (these include fans, gliders, rockets and flamethrowers, to name just a few).
Rather than forcing you to find the one sole developer-approved way to solve a puzzle, Tears of the Kingdom gives you a whole toolbox of options and lets you master every environment in your own way. For example, you can strap a rocket to your shield and fly up into the air for a new perspective at any point. You can drop a plank of wood from a great height using Ultrahand, then use Recall or a Zonai Device to turn it into a floating platform.
This freedom to approach situations in your own unique ways makes for a really fantastic experience, encouraging you to think in playful ways and bring your own creativity to the fore. This freedom also couples well with the exploratory vibe of the game as a whole. No two players will have the same experience with Tears of the Kingdom, and that’s part of the magic.
Once you’re through the tutorial, this is a true open world game — you’re free to tackle whichever areas you want in whichever order you fancy, just like BotW, and now that freedom blurs into the puzzles and battles as well (fusing special items onto your weapons can have some really fun effects, too, rewarding you for trying something new in combat).
The only tip we’d like to give you, really, is this: don’t forget to use your new abilities! If you’ve played Breath of the Wild recently, you might be tempted to tackle every situation in a tried and tested way. But so many of the scenarios here are built around the new abilities, so you could get stuck for a while if you forget about them… for example, if a door feels like it’s jammed shut, there’s a good chance that your Ultrahand ability will be able to yank it open. Don’t overthink it!
Lots of games have been inspired by Breath of the Wild in recent years, including last year’s triumph Elden Ring, but Nintendo has really mastered the formula here. The developers have given you a wide open sandbox to play in, some fun new toys to contend with, and they’ve also found a whole new story to thrust Link forwards with. Oh, and the music is just beautiful.
As we said at the start, though, this does feel like the best a Switch game can get. Without the speedy SSD storage that you’d find in a PS5 or Xbox Series X, Tears of the Kingdom still makes liberal use of lengthy loading screens. Without the capability to render 4K graphics, it still has to depend on that slightly cartoonish watercolour aesthetic. And without the processing power to show you everything everywhere all at once, you do notice some characters and objects only pop into existence when you get close enough to them.
When the game is this good, though, it’s so easy to ignore all of that. This is a game that puts player freedom above all else, and does a really great job of creating fun experiences in a world that you can approach from any direction, with any method that you please. Everything from the puzzles and combat to the the collectables and characters will keep you engaged for hours on end. Here’s hoping Nintendo’s next console has better battery life, so we never need to stop playing on the go!
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom launches on Friday 12th May. We reviewed on the Nintendo Switch OLED Model.
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