Wii U Was Made for The Legend of Zelda

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The more time I spend with Wii U, the more I realize that there’s one Nintendo franchise in particular for which it’s a match made in heaven: The Legend of Zelda.

I’m not just talking the GamePad’s touch input, which already proved its worth in Ocarina of Time 3D – Wii U will also be compatible with Wii Remotes, which many fans who enjoyed the series’ Wii installments will already be intimately familiar with. Sprinkle some HD visuals on par with those from the Zelda HD Experience demo from E3 2011, and it’s clear that Wii U offers many of the essential tools for building on the best The Legend of Zelda has offered so far.

The biggest question that I think Nintendo is going to be thinking about for Zelda Wii U concerns which of Wii U’s unique gameplay features it’s going to make use of, and of course that means a lot of thinking about how to implement GamePad functionality.

When Nintendo first showed off the Wii U GamePad at E3 2011, they jumped right to one of the most obvious applications of the new controller for Zelda: a touch-screen inventory. We had already seen how shifting inventory selection to a second screen could make the process unprecedentedly fluid with Ocarina of Time 3D; bringing that same convenience to a home console experience sounds like an obvious and standard-setting move.

Ocarina of Time 3D also offered a few more streamlined features that could easily be ported over to the Wii U GamePad. The game’s gyroscopic aiming option made for a quicker and more intuitive form of first-person control, a form we’ve already seen carry over to Wii U with the GamePad controls for The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. Of course, we’d like to see a less handicapped traditional analog aiming mode as well so that players who prefer that method can choose to use it – Ocarina of Time 3D‘s Circle Pad-based alternative wasn’t quite “fast” enough, giving it clear disadvantages against gyro aiming.

One thing that Battle Quest has done that Ocarina of Time couldn’t is display a more spectator-friendly third-person view on the main TV while a more player-friendly first-person aiming view shows up on the GamePad. This may not seem like a huge deal, implementing it in a single-player game that’s going to occupy a lot of TV time could actually enhance the experience for those who play with others around.

Such a feature won’t have benefits for everybody – in particular those who tend to game alone – but it could allow one of Nintendo’s core demographics – families – to use even single-player games as an opportunity to game together. I can already imagine my little three-year-old godson shouting to his mother that a pack of Lizalfos is coming up behind her while she picks off Bokoblin Archers from a distance.

Each of Nintendo’s two-screen Zelda games so far have also used the touch screen as a mini-map, and I think the series should continue this tradition on Wii U. I also think that Nintendo should incorporate some of the advancements they made in Skyward Sword, such as the ability to place beacons pointing players to their next objective and the prolific use of icons and labels to indicate the locations and names of major landmarks, and so on. It couldn’t hurt to expand a few of these ideas, either – for example, by giving us the ability to pinpoint the location of most NPCs on our maps once we’ve met them already.

In terms of the sheer usefulness of the second map screen historically, the original DS games actually have a leg up over Ocarina 3D in that they also allowed players to make notes and marks on the map. The types of “copy this pattern onto your map” puzzles that the DS games used, however, don’t seem like they’d be a good fit for a Wii U Zelda, save for a handful of “Lost Woods”-style moments. Instead, I think that structuring clues – both those you hear from NPCs and those you pick up in the environment – in such a way that map doodles might help players to discover secrets would be a terrific way to leverage the capability without making it too intrusive. Think “Spectacle Rock is an entrance to death” from the first game, and how that clue only really made sense because of the birds-eye view – that’s the kind of thing I’m going for.

I’d also like Nintendo to take things one step further and offer a “notebook” for players to use to write in other miscellaneous notes. Previously this option has only been available through outside software such as 3DS Game Notes, but there are enough potential applications for Zelda that it should really come built-in. For example, the ability to take notes could allow for more complex logic-based puzzles. Some players will be able to “get” these puzzles without needing to use the notes feature… others might need to sketch some things out first.

An in-game notes system could also work well with a more structured Encyclopedia, like the one seen in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, which had players tap key words or names in dialogue to record their meanings and significance for later reference. The game could have a basic description for each entry, while players could add information as they see fit – for example, the schedules of various NPCs or the weaknesses of certain enemies – and not only save them for later reference, but possibly share them with friends via Miiverse as well.

Of course, after Nintendo built a top-notch motion control interface for Skyward Sword, it’d be a shame to cast all that aside. After all, there are plenty of people who loved MotionPlus sword combat, and Wii U will already be fully compatible with Wii controllers anyway. The trap, I think, would be trying to design a game that can only be done with either the Wii U GamePad or Wii MotionPlus. Instead of shackling the game to controller-exclusive gameplay features, why not use the advantages of each control style to enhance the core strengths that already exist?

The Wii U GamePad should be used mostly as a traditional controller, with second screen features and gyroscope options serving as icing on the cake… but for those who want to use them, not as a requirement. Ideally, the game should be totally playable using a Wii U Pro Controller, since some players will undoubtedly prefer that option.

What about Wii MotionPlus, though? I think the solution would be similar to what we’re already seeing with games that offer it as an alternative option, such as Pikmin 3 – build MotionPlus-enhanced gameplay features, such as the pointer-based menu interface, gesture controls for certain actions and items, and so on… and then simply disable those features when a compatible controller is not in use.

Enemies in MotionPlus mode might take on some of the advanced defensive behaviors from Skyward Sword, while the more limited palette of options available with traditional button controls might call for some of those AI variables to be disabled. Alternatively, Nintendo could take the route suggested by Axle the Beast over at Zelda Dungeon and implement a control scheme that maps directional input to a combination of buttons and/or sticks.

In this way, Nintendo could offer all the enhancements the GamePad and Wii Remote Plus bring to the table… but without cramming them down the throats of those who never asked for them and do not want them.

Of course, we can’t forget the advantages that pure technological advancement will bring to the table. Not only will Wii U be able to output HD graphics, allowing for a more detail than we’ve ever seen in a Zelda game before, the boost in horsepower across the board should make room for a bigger, more populated, and more seamlessly connected world, deeper and more complex dungeons, and a more immersive experience overall.

If there’s anything I’d like to ask the Zelda team in terms of leveraging Wii U, it’s to avoid focusing too much on style and instead focusing on using the system’s resources to add substance to the gameplay, whether that means the world and level design, combat system, or additional features to give the franchise a solid start as a member of the next-gen gaming era.

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