It’s been over a year since the release of Skyward Sword, a year-and-a-half since Ocarina of Time 3D, and just shy of three since the last original handheld Zelda – Spirit Tracks for Nintendo DS. Usually by now we’d expect to have already seen a first glimpse of the next Zelda on the horizon. We know at least one is in active development – a new game for Nintendo 3DS – but we don’t know anything about it, other than a cryptic clue from Mr. Eiji Aonuma that “it will be a game in which 3D is important.”
Nintendo has made something of a tradition of announcing new handheld Zelda games at the Game Developer’s Conference in the early part of the year. Both DS games were announced there, Aonuma first confirmed a sequel to The Wind Waker game at the event in 2004, and Twilight Princess got a trailer update in 2005. In recent years, the event has tried to shy away from game announcements… but will Zelda take the stage once again this year?
We’ve thought a lot about what we want out of Zelda on Wii U, but not quite as much about the series on 3DS. It’s high time we changed that.
Stay Away From Touch Screen Gameplay
We’ve tried a touch screen-centric approach to Zelda on Nintendo DS, and the response was largely mixed. Sure, things like the level of control over the boomerang added to the experience, but things like mapping literally every action, including general movement, basic sword attacks, and so on to the same screen wound up being problematic as much as it was intuitive. Whatever form the next handheld Zelda takes, I hope it stays far away from this kind of touch screen implementation.
As I said regarding the series on Wii U, the best way to utilize the screen is for inventory selection and maps – and that includes the popular feature of being able to scribble on the maps from the DS games. These mechanics have a proven track record and are a nice fit for the Zelda franchise. Things like touch screen swiping and enemy tapping, on the other hand, don’t mesh quite as well.
On the bright side, this kind of gameplay input is pretty unlikely anyway. The touch screen doesn’t output those high quality graphics or 3D visuals, so it certainly won’t be the game’s primary action screen.
Don’t Shy Away from 2D Games, Even on the 3DS
I adore what the advent of 3D environments brought to the table for the series, but it also makes me seriously sadface to imagine a world without the old top-down style. According to series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the development team has been looking back on A Link to the Past for inspiration for the next round of Zelda games. If that means that they can think of ways to leverage the old 2D gameplay style to achieve something just as legendary, it’d be a shame if they scrapped those ideas just because they want to use the 3DS’s stereoscopic output for true 3D visuals.
Just because it’s the “3DS” doesn’t mean all the games on it need to use 3D models. We’ve seen from the initial round of 3D Classics that even 2D sprites can be used to show added depth with the 3D feature – sometimes to terrific effect. Just as New Super Mario Bros. paved the way for a new round of games that tickled the mass market itch for old-school Mario, a top-down Zelda could tap into a whole sector of gamers that have felt left out by the more recent games.
Taking the Core Gameplay on the Go
One of the biggest strengths of the handheld is that, because its games tend to be smaller in scale and scope, that gives developers opportunities to make less bloated games that instead focus directly on the core. This was true for the very first handheld Zelda – Link’s Awakening – but the more recent handheld Zeldas haven’t really capitalized on this potential to the same degree.
In Link’s Awakening, there was no “fat.” There was just the core: fighting monsters, assembling gear, and journeying across fields and rivers, through forests and deserts, and over hills and mountains. Since then, we’ve seen the other handheld games add all kinds of unnecessary peripheral gameplay elements, most of them revolving around tedious collect-a-thons rather than driving the player to become a better fighter or a more competent explorer.
There was no complicated plot or narrative – just a basic scenario, with characters and atmosphere serving to spark the players’ imaginations. All Zelda really needs is a boy and his sword and a dangerous world to take him on. Rather than bogging down the game with pointless sidequests and rewards, why not add more meat in the form of dungeons, regions, and bosses? These are the things inevitably excite people, and are the building blocks that establish Zelda a “video game” in the first place.
Handheld Zelda works best when it capitalizes on being a more concentrated “video game” form. It’s time Nintendo rediscovered this lost art.
Header image source: Orioto on deviantART