Apr 26, 2023 - Technology

Hands on with Nintendo’s stunning Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Screenshot: Nintendo/Axios

Nintendo’s next big Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, is exhilarating but dauntingly complex, Axios found after an hour of hands-on time with the massive game at a New York City showcase this week.

Driving the news: Tears of the Kingdom, announced in 2019, is the sprawling sequel to 2017 hit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The highly anticipated game has been shown in trailers ahead of its May 12 release, but Wednesday is the first day Nintendo is letting people outside of the company talk about how it plays.

  • The short version: It’s fun, if complicated, offering the expected sword-and shield adventure mixed with a surprisingly deep system for crafting vehicles and gadgets.
  • It appears to be a Zelda for creative tinkerers, a game suited to the generation of users-as-creators who build in Minecraft or Fortnite, make videos in TikTok or craft levels in DIY games like Nintendo’s own Mario-maker.

Catch-up quick: Breath of the Wild, which has sold 29 million copies as of the end of last year, reinvented Ninendo’s long-running Zelda series, shedding some of the complexity of recent entries to instead set players loose in a mysterious world where they had to find their own way.

  • Nintendo’s designers encouraged players to wander and see what the forests, deserts and mountains of the interactive world of Hyrule had to offer.
  • The result: one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time.

Details: Tears of the Kingdom appears to be set in that same Breath of the Wild world. Its in-game map shows the same overall landmass of its predecessor — though that map is now one of at least two.

  • Players can toggle from the expected ground-based map to see a map of the sky, filled with floating islands on which much of the game’s adventure will take place.
  • On land, many familiar landmarks have changed and the map is covered with new place names, suggesting that much is different thanks to the passage of time. (Nintendo is so tight-lipped about the game, though, that it’s still unclear if Tears of the Kingdom takes place before or after Breath of the Wild).
The new sky map, showing some of the game's floating islands. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

Initially, much of the game seems familiar, thanks to the return of many systems, visual elements and sound effects from Breath of the Wild.

  • The screen is once again adorned with indicators regarding the time of day, temperature and how much noise Link is making.

The big, new addition is the crafting system, which allows playable protagonist Link to build make-shift contraptions to solve puzzles and deal with enemies.

  • Link can use mysterious “Zonai” devices to attach rockets, fans and more to objects in the world.
  • In one challenge we faced on a floating island in the sky, we needed to transport a small Korok character across a gap. Our solution: Attach a Zonai fan to a minecart, put it on rails, drop the Korok into the cart and turn the fan on. The minecart launched off the rails to its proper destination.
  • Later, back on the land of Hyrule, Nintendo reps pointed us to a monster-filled base set on a hill and challenged us to get there. We found some large boards, placed one on the ground, attached several Zonai gadgets — a fire emitter, a balloon, a steering device, a fan — to create a flying platform we then used to soar up and around the base, then leapt off it with a glider to drift right inside.
Our make-shift flying platform, built in-game. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

Player ingenuity will also be rewarded with clever use of Link’s new “fuse” power, which lets him attach any item in the game world to his sword or shield.

  • We attached a fan to an arrow (it flew further).
  • We attached a flame emitter to a shield (our shield shot fire).
  • We attached a cooking pot to a stick (it looked funnier to whack enemies that way).

Another new power, recall, lets Link reverse the movement of any object in motion, which we used when an enemy hurled an explosive barrel at us. We froze it in mid-air and sent it back where it came from, blasting the baddie in the process.

Yes, but the controls for the game may be an issue.

  • The crafting system requires adroit manipulation of menus and a lot of comfort using control sticks to holding and turning objects in 3D space, to attach them just right.
  • The Nintendo demo of the game threw players into the deep end, and the actual game will likely introduce these moves more gradually, but there’s no doubt that the controls in this game are much more complicated and potentially frustrating.

The bottom line: After an hour with a game that will last far longer, Tears of the Kingdom appears to exemplify the inevitable Zelda franchise ebb to more complex experiences.

  • 1998’s streamlined classic The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time led to 2000’s time-looping head-spinner Majora’s Mask. The elegant 2002 Wind Waker eventually led to 2011’s creative but cumbersome Skyward Sword.
  • With Tears of the Kingdom, Zelda is getting complicated again.

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