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Zelda for Everyone: Why 3DS and Wii U Represent the Rebirth of a Legend

The Legend of Zelda‘s transition to the current generation has been an interesting one. Instead of paving the way with wholly new ideas, so far all three confirmed titles for 3DS and Wii U have consisted of re-treads of older ground: Ocarina of Time 3D and Wind Waker Wii U in the “enhanced remakes” department, and A Link Between Worlds in the “new game” category. Even considering that the 3DS sequel is supposed to be a brand-new title, there’s been an unshakable theme of “looking back” among the latest Zelda games.

The most interesting trend, however, is that these games each take on their own “style” within the broader tradition of the franchise. Ocarina of Time 3D expands on the most popular Zelda game of all time; The Wind Waker Wii U re-envisions one of Nintendo’s boldest art styles yet; A Link to the Past represents a retro-styled return to the series’ top-down heyday. Each of these titles had its own dedicated fans, and Nintendo seems to be aimed at reaching out to as many of its fans as possible with this new round of remakes and sequels.

CTRP_Zelda_scrn01_Ev04In an interview with Nintendo Life, Nintendo’s Director of PR Marc Franklin said that the idea behind A Link Between Worlds is to bring new life to the 16-bit look and feel:

Marc Franklin: The most important point is that it’s an entirely new game. It’s not a remake, it’s not a reimagination, it’s not a remaster, it’s brand new. It takes place in the world of A Link to the Past and the story happens after A Link to the Past, so that’s the way to look at it.

There’s so much unique about that game, you know, if you’ve played the original game I think there’s great respect for that (16-bit) look and feel, but then takes it to, if I can be literal, another level as it really looks at the game from a vertical standpoint. You’ve got the 3D visuals and the verticality of the game; it really enhances that whole dynamic. Most interesting about the game right now is the new mechanic of Link being able to form into a chalk drawing and move along the wall to be able to get through to different areas. That’s a fresh approach to puzzle-solving when you’re dealing with a franchise that is so esteemed and so long-running. We hope that fans are going to like it.

There’s going to be a great amount of respect and understanding of the past game. There’s a nod to the graphics but it’s really taking it a step further and enhancing it. It’s the way that we look at many of our established franchises: how do we take that franchise, create a new, fresh experience that is going to bring a new experience to the consumer? People love Zelda, for example, they always want to see a Zelda come out, but they also want to see it slightly differently. That’s what we’re doing with A Link to the Past: having respect for the franchise and the original game but doing it in a way that we think fans are going to love.

Here I’m noticing an attitude that hasn’t been present within the last few entries in the series. With the DS games and with Skyward Sword, touch and motion controls were proposed as a kind of one-size-fits-all approach to injecting new life into the series. The games were consequently developed around these ideas, even when they didn’t necessarily gel well with the existing Zelda framework. For example, many felt that the emphasis on touch and motion-based puzzles or overworld transport in those three games got in the way of their enjoyment of the world and the classic Zelda-style adventuring. It simply wasn’t for them.

oot-3d-hyrule-fieldOn 3DS and Wii U, we’re not seeing that kind of “one-size-fits-all” approach – instead, we’re seeing Nintendo literally remake the things that already worked for Zelda fans at various stages in the franchise’s development. When there are hardware-based enhancements, like the touch screen inventory of Ocarina of Time 3D, they make sense and don’t alter the fundamental character of the gameplay.

Back in 2012, Shigeru Miyamoto explained that the Zelda team was undertaking a number of “experiments” related to the future of the franchise in the hopes of finding a direction that would be appropriate to announce as a new title:

Shigeru Miyamoto: Obviously we started [the Zelda HD] experiment last year [referring to the E3 2011 tech demo] and used that to sort of showcase some of the HD visuals. And obviously when you look at that, you do get a positive reaction to how simply having the HD visuals in a Zelda game can really make the game look wonderful and give it sort of a high-quality feel. But one thing that’s interesting is we’re seeing how the way that tastes are broadening in video games and you have some people who prefer more casual experiences, and you have some people who prefer sort of those more in-depth experiences.

Obviously, as a company that’s been making games for a very long time, we tend to be more on the deeper, longer game side of things. But really what we continue to ask ourselves as we have over the years is, “What is the most important element of Zelda if we were to try to make a Zelda game that a lot of people can play?” So we have a number of different experiments going on, and [when] we decide that we’ve found the right one of those to really help bring Zelda to a very big audience, then we’ll be happy to announce it.

When we survey all of the currently-announced Zelda games for 3DS and Wii U, they certainly feel like the product of this kind of experimentation – like the results of tests that played around with the series’ best games and brought them to life again on newer hardware. The visuals in particular look like glorified tech demos that were taken up and transformed into full games.

WiiU_ZeldaWindWaker_Scrn02In fact, Eiji Aonuma even admitted when he announced Wind Waker Wii U that the game was the result of visual tests for the cartoon art style in HD:

Eiji Aonuma: …there are some interesting images that have emerged from the development process for this new Wii U game that I’d like to show you. If you’re a Zelda series fan, you may know what this image is. This is an image showing Windfall Island from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which was released 10 years ago on Nintendo GameCube. And it is now in HD on Wii U.

After the Zelda team showed the Wii U Zelda demo that we called the Zelda HD Experience at E3 2011, we continued to experiment with converting past Zelda art styles into HD as we continued to consider graphical styles for the new game. With The Wind Waker, we felt it wasn’t just a simple change to higher resolution graphics, but in fact felt as if it had been transformed into something entirely new.

There’s that word “experiment” again… but I also think it’s noteworthy that Mr. Aonuma specifically points out that their efforts to find the right graphical style for the new Zelda Wii U involved looking at past art styles. Clearly Wind Waker wasn’t the winner – that’s why it’s being used for a remake instead of a brand-new game – and we’ve already seen conversions of two other past art styles, namely Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past.

That leaves just one art style that hasn’t been put to use in a game for 3DS or Wii U: the high fantasy inspired look of Twilight Princess. We got a glimpse of this style back in 2011, as Mr. Aonuma stated, but we haven’t yet seen it come alive in actual game footage – an essential step before it’s shown as a new Zelda game:

Eiji Aonuma: Wii U launched at the end of last year, so I’d like to be able to talk soon about the new Zelda game we are preparing for you on Wii U, but since I have to wait until you can see the actual game visuals to talk about it in detail, I will instead talk about the driving theme behind our development.

Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the style they’re going to use. We could see a derivative style such as the painting-like look of Skyward Sword, or even a totally new style altogether. In fact, I think it’s quite likely that, like the other re-creations of classic looks, even the style of Twilight Princess would feel totally reborn on Wii U, whether through the use of more vibrant colors, more animated enemies, or vaster and more beautiful landscapes.

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However, the pattern seems to suggest that the path to Zelda‘s future will be paved by offering fans different kinds of experiences:

Marc Franklin: I don’t think we want to fold everyone into a similar path. I think each game is unique on its own and each one has an opportunity to create a distinct experience. You look at Wind Waker, we’re remastering the game in HD, that’s going to be a great experience, and we’ve announced Zelda HD for Wii U, which is going to be an entirely new take on Zelda (in comparison). That’s what people appreciate: being able to have those different experiences.

With a beloved game like Twilight Princess still waiting to be tapped for an extension into the future, Nintendo would be foolish to leave its beloved art style and world out of the Zelda brand portfolio as they embark on a journey into the glorious world of HD. A sequel to Twilight Princess would mark this generation as the true rebirth of a legend, as 3DS and Wii U together offer Zelda games for everyone.

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