Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “nintendo switch”

Severed for Switch, 3DS, Wii U, PS Vita and iOS

I really enjoyed the Mexican themed Metroidvania Guacamelee, the last game from DrinkBox Studios. Severed retains a similar art style, and a small element of Metroidvania, but other than that it’s a different beast entirely, both in gameplay and tone.

Severed takes place in some kind of underworld, with a young woman with a severed arm arriving to find the bodies of her dead family, to attempt to lay her to rest. Along the way she encounters several figures, some friendly, some antagonistic. As you can probably tell, Severed is a fair bit darker than the generally comic and upbeat Guacamelee. I felt like Severed was a little bit too ambiguous for its own good; I didn’t really know what was happening, which made it a fair bit harder to actually care. There are some striking images, such as the corpses of our protagonist’s family and the hollow, dead eyed stare in her eyes, but these images don’t really come together to form a cohesive whole.

Severed was designed for touch screens. The combat involves hitting enemies with your sword, using your finger to swipe across the screen. Longer swipes do more damage. Some enemies will block, meaning that you have to attack around them and some have more interesting defences. You also have to parry incoming attacks by swiping against it. This basic mechanic is a lot of fun. You will end up facing multiple enemies at once, with the need to swap between them and parry when they’re about to attack. This can get hugely frantic, but seriously fun and rewarding. Things are complicated further when enemies get particular buffs, such as boost to attack or speed. The simple act of swiping across the screen ends up being less important than managing a large number of foes, keeping in mind factors like the time it takes to parry their attacks and how many shots you can get in before you have to defend from somewhere else, There’s a surprising amount of depth, with an upgrade tree powered by body parts you sever from your foes. You get interesting attacks of your own and we end up with a combat system which is deceptively complicated and engaging.

Between fights you’ll be wandering the world in first person, through a series of distinct rooms. The different environments represent Zelda dungeons more than anything else, dense and layered. You’ll be collecting keys, backtracking, finding unlockable boosts to health and mana (for special attacks), as well as solving some simple puzzles. Severed ends up having more than a little in common with the much maligned Skyward Sword, in things like combat and dungeon design. You do this exploration one handed, as you need your other for the combat. As a lefty I’m pleased to report that moving with your right hand and swiping with your left feels fine.

Severed has a dark and unpleasant tone, with some genuinely distressing imagery within the cartoonish art style. The horrors that we face throughout the game are also darkly beautiful. The soundtrack is moody and atmospheric. Just as with Guacamelee, the extra layers of polish help to elevate an experience which may otherwise be more rote.

I’ve never quite played anything like Severed. It doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but it takes a bunch of disparate elements I’ve never really seen combined before in interesting new directions. I didn’t like it as much as Guacamelee, but it has cemented DrinkBox Studios as one to watch.

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Graceful Explosion Machine for Switch, PS4 and PC

Graceful Explosion Machine is a simple, stylish little shooter which proves doing a stuffed genre just a little bit differently can be enough to make it feel special.

Graceful Explosion Machine is a side scrolling shooter, where you move your little space ship within a small arena, most of which loop left to right Pac-Man style. Your task is simply to blast every single one of your enemies, using a range of weapons. These are your straight forward blaster, but also a spinning melee attack, homing missiles and a powerful laser. Your blaster has infinite ammo but can overheat if spammed and the other weapons are all tied to a separate bar, which can be filled by picking up little gems dropped by enemies. There are a range of enemy types, some of which simply charge at you, but some will fire upon you or require heavier weaponry to take out efficiently. You can move your ship freely, as well as flip it to fire in either direction.

Graceful is a great way to describe this game. It starts getting extremely frantic, particularly in the last few of the 40 or so levels. Having a wave of ships begin to overwhelm you before decimating them with your melee strike never stopped being satisfying. All the weapon types were useful and I found myself slipping into the trance like state usually reserved for rhythm games. There’s a sense of style and, yes, grace permeating the game. It gets very difficult towards the end, with vast numbers of foes spawning almost on top of you, where resource management and making every hit count become vital. Simply put, Graceful Explosion Machine is a hell of a lot of fun.

It has a clean, colourful look, primarily orange and yellow hued. There’s a charming simplicity to the visuals, where your ship, foes and even bullets have a soft roundness to them, like it’s Fisher-Price First Shooter. The aesthetic really works, never distracting you from the snappy reflexes needed to succeed. The soundtrack is synth-y and atmospheric and appropriately ratchets up the tension when needed.

Graceful Explosion Machine is good old fashioned fun and there’s not much more to say than that. There are far worse ways to pad out your Switch library.

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Splatoon 2 for Switch

After much speculation as to whether Nintendo would ever tackle a shooter, they knocked it out of the park from the get go with Splatoon. It was fun, unique and like nothing else I’d ever played. Splatoon 2 is a very conservative sequel by most accounts and likely only exists because a port of the original wouldn’t have looked good considering that some are already grumbling at the number of Wii U ports on the Switch. That said, the foundation is still strong and the new additions and tweaks are very good. I’m not going to go over the core mechanics of Splatoon 2 much, I covered that back when I reviewed the first one (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/splatoon-for-wii-u/).

The core mode of Splatoon 2 is still the brilliant turf war, where teams of four have three minutes to coat as much of the map with ink of their colour as possible, with the winning team having the higher percentage. You still need to try to take out your foes to buy some precious time to dominate the map, but it’s not your main goal. Taking focus of shooting away from violence is so very Nintendo and I really do love them for it. After climbing 10 ranks, unlocking new weapons and clothing along the way, you can enter Ranked Battles, which have different modes such as a tower defence mode and one involving possession of the powerful ‘Rainmaker’ weapon. These are fun, but I was irritated to have to spend so long working my way back up to them. This game is very similar to the original; new maps and weapons make a difference, but the foundations are functionally identical. This makes the work back up to Ranked Battles a bit obnoxious, and limits the excitement of unlocking new weapons. Oh, I’ve got the Splat Roller back…cool. I imagine that this is an issue with almost any regular online shooter, but this is the only one I really play apart from the odd round of Titanfall 2. It’s an example of why I don’t like upgrade and EXP in online modes in FPS. I get why it’s there; you’re placed in a skinner-box and the little dopamine rush when you unlock something new is nice, but I’d much rather everyone be given access to everything upfront, with unlocks being purely cosmetic. I’m aware that this is a gripe with modern shooters in general, but it did impact my enjoyment of the multiplayer. Still, the core fun is still very much there and I don’t think it’s really possible to have a bad time playing Splatoon 2 online.

The major addition is Salmon Run, a really horde mode, where a team of four must defend themselves from wave after wave of enemies, complete with boss encounters. It’s surprisingly intense and a lot of fun, particularly when played locally. My ability to engage with Salmon Run has been limited by the fact that it’s only available at particular times. I’m reliably informed that this is par for the course for online shooters but I hate this. Some critics have been saying they like the pleasant surprise of Salmon Run popping up and being available, but as someone with a full time job and limited ability to play games, turning on Splatoon 2, wanting to play Salmon Run and not being able to is infuriating.

The single player is continued and improved upon. Story wise it’s basically the same; Giant Zap Fish is stolen from Inkopolis and you have to save it blah blah blah. The only twist is the role played by Callie and Marie, the Squid Sister pop stars of the first game. In a neat little twist, the final Splatfest of Splatoon, where Marie won the popularity contest over Callie, has greatly upset Callie and she has gone into hiding. I liked the way it tied back to the last game, but the actual plot still isn’t much, even if the world building remains surprisingly well thought out.

I really enjoyed the single player stuff in the first game, but it’s much better now. The levels are much more intricate and the platforming elements I loved from the first game expanded upon. A nice change is that the levels are based around a variety of weapons, rather than just the Splattershot in the first game. This means you have levels based around sniping with the Charger, or tanking through with the Roller, or using a variety of the other weapons. You can also replay these levels afterwards with any weapon of your choice, with the levels altering slightly to accommodate this. This adds a lot of replayability if you fancy it. Nintendo could probably have got away with giving this series no single player element at all, but I’m really glad they did.

There are some minor cosmetic upgrades, but mostly speaking Nintendo are sticking with the instantly iconic style they settled on for the first game. 90s American biker/graffiti culture is a weird cultural touchstone to tap in to, but it works undeniably well. The music is still as strong as ever, faster and exciting tracks mixing with the low key reggae relaxation of the lobby. The only real upgrade I could spot visually was that the actual ink itself looks far more real and silky. Once again, Nintendo prove that power isn’t everything; Splatoon 2 looks and sounds wonderful.

Splatoon 2 is more of the same, which is not a bad thing. Being able to play handheld on the Switch is a revelation and I hope this allows the series to grow in a way it never really could on the poor Wii U. With many free maps and weapons to come, I look forward to dropping back into Splatoon 2 for as long as Nintendo keep supporting it, or even Splatoon 3.

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Thumper for Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC

Thumper has one of the best marketing descriptions I’ve ever seen; ‘rhythm violence.’ It’s a lovely way to put it and sums up the general vibe of Thumper very well. I’ve played a fair few rhythm games in my time, but none that filled me with the anxiety and genuine sense of dread that Thumper does. A mechanic introduced later in the game killed a lot of my enjoyment, but for most of my time with it Thumper was an intense and unique experience.

In Thumper you play as a little beetle thing, making its way along a track in a bizarre, fractal hell-scape. There are 9 levels, with each culminating in a boss battle with a hideous, demonic face. It may not have a story, but it certainly has an atmosphere and it can be genuinely unsettling and oppressive. You must avoid obstacles in a variety of ways. The simplest are barriers, where you must simply hold a button to smash through them. Some require you to lean your beetle in a particular direction, or change into different lane to avoid sinister snake things. It’s fast, intense and noisy and it’s easy to get into the trancelike groove that the best rhythm games create. The boss battles involve you having to tap a button on these green glowing patches on the track; if you hit them all, you can launch a laser at the evil face and after four hits it goes down. It’s an interesting way to apply the mechanics to a boss fight structure. The whole thing can be punishingly hard, with it only taking two hits for you to die and then have to retry the section you’re on. For most of the early parts of the game, it generally feels fair, but an infuriating mechanic had me turn on Thumper somewhat.

Around midway through you are introduced to these gates, which mean you have to hit blue glowing paths like in the boss fights for the particular run. If you miss even one, a laser descends and damages you. This was fine at first, but when combined into boss fights it becomes punishing for the sake of being punishing. Normally when you are fighting a boss, if you miss one of the green patches you simply restart the section, with no damage or death. There’s an element of trial and error, of getting better and better at each section’s timing that’s very satisfying. In some of the later bosses you’ll hit it three times, with one to go, but then the gates will descend and you know that if you fail you will not be able to try again, but have to start the entire boss fight again. It’s a needlessly cruel mechanic and one which punishes you simply by wasting your time, utterly negating the fun sense of trial and error seen in the rest of the game.

The visuals are striking and there’s a sense of barely restrained chaos at all times. This being a rhythm game, most credit should go to the music. It’s not something I think anyone is going to be listening to for fun anytime soon, being mostly made up of pounding drums and intense synths. The sounds of your beetle as it careens around the track, smashing off walls and through barricades, adds more percussion to the brutal rhythm which pervades the whole experience. I could maybe have done with a bit more musical variety between levels, but I can also see why they went for one style of music and completely leant into that.

Thumper is one of the weirdest rhythm games you’ll play. I felt that in the latter portions its difficulty tipped too much towards arbitrary and cruel, rather than challenging and engaging. Still, when you’re working your way through the levels, utterly immersed in the beat, Thumper takes that classic rhythm game experience and twists it into something evil and oppressive. That’s pretty cool.

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch

I had thought that Mario Kart 8 was as close to perfect as the series could get, but it turns out I was wrong because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe manages to improve upon it. Wii U owners, such as myself, may be frustrated that they’re getting a re-release rather than a new game, but I’ve seen Mario Kart 8 take-off on the Switch on a way it never did, or ever really could, on the Wii U.

I won’t talk about the general handling or the tracks or anything like that, because I’ve already covered that in my review for the original game (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/mario-kart-8-for-wii-u/) and the two DLC packs, which are included here (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-one-for-wii-u & https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-2-for-wii-u/). Suffice it to say that the handling is perfect and the tracks diverse, exciting and wonderful.

I’ll focus instead on what is added. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial additions, the introduction of ‘smart steering’ to keep you from falling off the tracks and an auto accelerate option. Some people (utter pricks) have criticised their introduction, saying that it ‘plays the game for you.’ Having these features on do not give you any real advantage, as you will always skip shortcuts and never really power slide or boost effectively. You might win in single player 50CC matches but that’s basically it and I don’t think anyone will consider that to be the core Mario Kart experience. It is something which allows the very young, or perhaps disabled gamers, to access and enjoy the game. How anyone could view this as a bad thing is beyond me. However, one tiny niggle is that the smart steering is put on automatically when you start, and this isn’t really indicated to you. It should default to off and then need to be turned on, not the other way around. This is literally the biggest flaw in the game by the way.

There are a couple of interesting changes to the core gameplay from the original. The first is the ability to hold two items at once, Double Dash style. In practice it doesn’t really change things too much, but it’s something nice to differentiate itself from the original product. I suspect that the more significant change will be the introduction of a third level of boost on the power slide, this time sending up purple sparks. The tracks aren’t designed for its use, with few corners lasting long enough to activate it, but the boost is massive and it feels amazing when you do pull it off. Neither of these changes mess with the almost perfect mechanics of the original game, but offer something a bit different nonetheless.

Easily the biggest difference in the re-introduction of a proper Battle Mode, which has been somewhat neglected after it’s arguable heyday in Mario Kart 64. There are plenty of different modes, from the classic balloon battle to the shine catching game from Double Dash. There are new courses too, with the most striking being one based on Splatoon, complete with soundtrack. The Inkling boy and girl are also introduced as racers in this game. The new Battle Mode rounds out and expands an already rewarding package.

All said though, the best addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is more a function of the Switch console than the game itself. Portable, instant local multiplayer is a game changer. The Switch’s appeal may not be as immediately obvious as the Wii’s, but I think this feature is a system seller. Each player can use a separate Joycon to split0screen race, anywhere you go. The single Joycon isn’t the most comfortable controller in the world and I don’t think anyone will be preferring it to a Pro Controller, but it does work, much better than you might expect. I’m not a fan of online gaming generally; I love multiplayer, but I usually only get that rush of excitement when I’m in the room with whoever I’m competing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows me a vision of a bright future for local multiplayer, something which for many years has been steadily dying.

As a final point, I’ll share a video of what I was doing on Saturday night. For clarity’s sake, I’m the guy who’s amazing at Mario Kart, not the guy who’s amazing at rapping. I’m a good rapper at best. This guy is called Mega Ran by the way and he’s great, go see him. Support independent musicians.

https://www.facebook.com/MegaRanMusic/videos/10154717487563473/

I love this console and I love this game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential.

 

VOEZ for Switch, iOS and Android

I’m a bit of a sucker for rhythm games, even rhythm games where the music is mostly Taiwanese indie EDM and dubstep. VOEZ is an unsung and unhyped member of the Switch launch line up, but one which rounds out a deceptively strong group of games very well. The Switch is, ultimately, a high powered handheld, and VOEZ is the perfect handheld game to pick up for a couple of minutes here and there.

VOEZ uses the touch screen exclusively, meaning that it is to date the only Switch game that cannot be played on the TV. Some have said that this dilutes the Switch brand, but anything that broadens the range of games which can come to the system is ok in my book and I hope that VOEZ leads the way for more high quality tablet ports onto the system. Essentially, you’re just touching a screen to a beat, but the sense of style and synergy VOEZ oozes is captivating. The key press inputs are simple presses, flicks and drags across the screen, but it gets pretty intense and the difficulty really ramps up. Pulling off a tricky series of taps feels incredible.

In terms of soundtrack, VOEZ isn’t particularly interested in giving you a bunch of favourites to tap along to. I didn’t know a single song in the game and that’s ok, I quite like the fact that this is a cultural artefact not targeted towards my demographic. I generally preferred the more poppy songs, such as it’s pretty delightful main theme and was generally less keen when the tracks were more EDM or dubstep focused, but this is purely a consequence of my tastes rather than any reflection of quality.

There is a story, with particular challenges earning pages in a visual novel narrative about a group of teenagers forming a band. It’s fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but my interest was brought to a screaming halt by some bizarre difficulty spikes and troughs. One chapter requires you to get a decent grade on the hardest difficulty and then the next on easy. After playing on harder difficulties easy seemed boring so I just stopped. The visual style is very clean and clear, as rhythm games should be, but it’s still delightful to look at, filled with colour, with the lanes for the track themselves shifting to the beat.

VOEZ is, so far, the best Switch game I’ve played to spend a couple of minutes with here and there. I definitely want the Switch to keep up console level releases, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more high quality tablet style games on the system to. VOEZ proves that the Switch can pull it off.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch and Wii U

I don’t even know how to go about reviewing this game. Zelda is my favourite game series, but it’s hard to deny that it’s been stuck in a rut. I think the last genuine classic is almost 15 years old; Wind Waker. The following games have been good, even great, but have not captured me as much as the games that preceded it. There were two major transformative moments in the series prior to this year; 1991’s SNES classic A Link to the Past and the seminal 1997 Ocarina of Time on the N64. Since then, the series has stayed roughly within the established formula. Now, almost 20 years later, the third transformative moment for the series has arrived with Breath of the Wild. It’s not perfect, there are definite roughs around the edges, but Breath of the Wild is a game changer both for the series and open world game design in general.

I think Breath of the Wild has the greatest open world ever made because it is truly open. Even in GTA you can’t enter all the buildings, but if everything you see in Breath of the Wild is attainable, everything is reachable, everything is tangible. There was a moment I headed towards a shrine which had popped up on my sensor. I later realised that the story would have taken me to its location eventually, outside a gate near one of the main villages. Instead, I climbed up a mountain and down again to my destination, seeing a glimpse of strange ruins I would come to later. On my way up the mountain I came to a plateau upon which I had a perfect view of Death Mountain, Hyrule laid out before it. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit teary; this was the Zelda game I dreamed about as a child, the game I wanted Twilight Princess to be and it never could. The plateau I was on served no real purpose, it wasn’t how you were clearly intended to reach this shine, but it was there and it was gorgeous and I think Nintendo put it there on purpose. The world is massive, but still feels handcrafted. I don’t think Nintendo have even heard the word procedural generation. This is the Nintendo difference, this is why I will always love this company, for all they can be infuriating.

There has been a rigid Zelda formula since A Link to the Past. You explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss, you explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss etc. There’s usually a major focus shift a bit of the way through, like A Link to the Past’s Dark World or Ocarina of Time’s 7 year timeline jump, and then you do the same thing. It’s not a bad structure by any stretch, but the spirit of adventure of the original NES game was missing. Breath of the Wild abandons the formula almost entirely. Dungeons don’t really exist anymore and are replaced with Shrines scattered around the map. There are 120 in total and most contain some kind of puzzle. Some a very brief and some are like mini-dungeons and each give you an item which can either put towards giving yourself a Heart Container or expanding your stamina wheel. There are four larger dungeon-like areas, the nature of which I will not spoil, but they never reach the scale of the previous games’ dungeons. The puzzles themselves work very differently; you no longer have a set of equipable items you use to solve a dungeon’s puzzles. That design locks you into a particular path and you can tackle Breath of the Wild’s challenges in any order you like. Instead, you are given almost all of your tools in the first hour and sent out into the world. These powers are linked to your mythical Shiekah Slate and can do things like manipulate metal objects, pause time for a moving object, freeze ice and others. The puzzles are much more physics based and designed differently to traditional Zelda puzzles, often with multiple solutions, reminding me more of something like Portal or The Talos Principle.

Zelda games have long had a clear divide between exploration and puzzling, with the two halves of the games kept distinct through the dungeon structure. Breath of the Wild unifies the two, with a little and often approach to puzzling rather than dense and lengthy challenges. Initially I saw this an entirely positive thing; some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, but as time went on my opinion shifted somewhat. There may be 120 shrines (and the four mini-dungeons), but many of these shrines (too many) are combat focused and for a lot finding the shrine itself is the puzzle. All shrines have the same visual design and music, meaning that by the end I was feeling a bit like I’d seen it all before. A few fewer shrines and more themed and expansive dungeons may have been a better approach and I hope this is what they do with the sequel. The shift to shrines from a few massive dungeons is a good thing, but I think a slightly better balance could have been struck.

Link is the most manoeuvrable and fun to control he’s even been in 3D. Almost any surface is climbable, limited only by your upgradable stamina wheel, and any height can be used as a platform to glide from with your sailcloth. This is the most tangible open world since Metal Gear Solid V. Since I finished Zelda I’ve started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and whilst I’m enjoying it, it feels limited after Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is entirely laissez-faire about how you approach its world. If you want to climb over the mountain in front of you rather than following a path wending round it, feel free. Many open world games use mountains and rivers to guide and block your exploration, to provide barriers, but Zelda simply places them as another challenge. Exploration is almost always rewarded, maybe with a shrine or with a Korok seed which you use to expand your inventory. If you see an interesting looking spot and wonder if there’s something cool up there, there almost always is. I love exploring in games, but many open world games are unwilling to remove the leash. Even games I love like The Witcher 3 would be very hard to play without waypoints, with a world designed in such a way that you need a map to get around. Early in the game, you will be sent to go through a valley between two mountains and then get directions. You don’t need a glowing marker to show you where to go, you can just look at the key landmark. There are more HUD options if you want them, but I played very minimalist, navigating by directions from passers-by and environmental clues. The last game I bothered to do this with is Morrowind.

This openness extends to the combat, which is another significant departure from previous games. In previous games you would generally have one sword, two at most, with which to fight. I mean, sure you could whack things with the Biggoron Hammer in Ocarina of Time, but why would you when the Master Sword is better and quicker? Breath of the Wild has an aggressive weapon durability system, which has been controversial. I totally get why people would hate it: I thought I would and sort of did myself at first. Your weapons are ridiculously brittle, with many weapons barely surviving a single protracted encounter before they literally shatter, never to be seen again. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about acquiring loot and becoming more powerful; the difficulty curve instead fluctuates. There will be moments where you are powerful, fully buffed from food, quiver filled with arrows, powerful weapon at your side when you can take on the world. There will be times when you are low on health, depleted and with no weapon of any value. Breath of the Wild nudges you away from playing one particular way, from simply approaching each encounter by charging in with a sword. You don’t want to waste your finite resource of the weapon for no reason. You are instead encouraged to be clever, using the environment or stealth to clear areas. There’s something of Metal Gear Solid V’s vast toolbox of tricks in Breath of the Wild’s design. Some may find this nudging oppressive; if I want to charge in and just use a sword than why should the game stop me having fun? I see their point, but I don’t think I would have experimented as much as I did if I didn’t have to by necessity. Other games would teach you these mechanics through pop up or tutorials, Breath of the Wild teaches you to play smart by necessity. The actual melee combat itself is pretty basic, and feels like a step backwards from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, although the game is more about encouraging you to approach enemies in a variety of ways. Using the bow feels better in Breath of the Wild than it ever has before.

The biggest issue with the combat is a lack of enemy variety compared to previous games, with creatures like Re-Deads, Darknuts and Dodongos missing, with the world populated almost entirely with Bokobins, Moblins and Lizfalos.

One element I was very dubious of before release were the crafting and survival mechanics. I generally hate these in most games, but there’s a tactile charm to everything which makes even these irksome mechanics somehow delightful. Rather than collecting hearts from chopping grass, you heal from meals that you cook over a fire, which can also provide other buffs. Most games would just do this through a menu, with the outcome of your cooking clear based on your ingredients. Zelda is cheerfully chaotic, with cooking literally done by holding up to five items, dropping them in a pot and taking what comes out. Experimentation is rewarded and the buffs are considerable. There are areas which are too warm or cold for Link to survive, so these can be alleviated with particular outfits or foods. Zelda did something impossible; it actually made me enjoy crafting and survival. It’s essential that you take these mechanics seriously too because this game can be hard. It’s the hardest Zelda game since…Link’s Awakening maybe? It’s never cruel or capricious however and generous with autosaves.

Breath of the Wild doesn’t have the protracted opening for which most 3D Zelda games are guilty. Link awakens in a strange chamber and emerges into a Hyrule devastated by the arrival of Calamity Ganon. No clear timeline placement is offered, but the implication is that Breath of the Wild may be late in the timeline, as Ganon has abandoned any vestige of humanity or intelligence as Ganondorf, descending instead into as primal force of sheer evil. 100 years before, Hyrule had been overrun when Calamity Ganon turned the kingdom’s own highly advanced defensive Guardians against their masters. Link must piece together what happened 100 years ago and put an end to Calamity Ganon as it lurks in the ruins of Hyrule Castle.

Zelda has never had complex plots, but at their best they tap into a sense of epic destiny. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, post-apocalyptic, and there’s a sense of melancholy and loss which pervades the whole thing. I had worried before release that Breath of the Wild would be a barren wasteland and would lack the loveable cast of weirdos which help make the series so special. Happily, this is not the case, with a cast as entertaining and eccentric as we’ve come to expect. Standouts include the charmingly positive Zora Prince Sidon and the intimidating Gerudo warrior Urbosa. The minor cast has some real stars too; I’m glad to see that the proud Zelda tradition of ridiculously effeminate carpenters is alive and well. Still, the actual plot is a bit underwhelming. We’re introduced to a key supporting player in each of the game’s four main dungeon locations, with their own subquests attached and I had been expecting, and hoping, that the game would return to them in the conclusion. The open structure and ability to approach the goals in any order make a story which feels more like a series of vignettes than an epic adventure. Nothing much can really change or grow. The lack of a true villain doesn’t help, with the mindless fury of Calamity Ganon never making anywhere near as much as an impact as Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker’s Ganondorf, or the titular Majora’s Mask.

The majesty of the open world would be nothing if it didn’t look incredible, but it really does. This is the best looking Zelda since Wind Waker, with an art style which falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. I played it on the Switch and it looks amazing both on the TV and on the little screen, with beautiful bright colours and truly stunning art direction. The characters are also brilliantly expressive and funny, with charming animations. The music is minimalistic but wonderful. This isn’t a triumphant soundtrack I’ll listen to over and over again like Wind Waker and I don’t think it’s going to inspire complex tributes like Majora’s Mask, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the game it is. A booming orchestral score would feel out of place in this Hyrule, but there are some lovely tunes in a lot of the towns and villages. Some are entirely new and some are truly stunning re-workings of songs from previous games. There are some problems; Breath of the Wild introduces voice acting to the series for the first time and the result is…mixed. Some supporting characters, particularly in the Gorons and Gerudo sound perfectly fine, but a few too many major characters are very stilted. I hated Zelda’s voice, which was breathy and a bit pathetic sounding. There are also regular framerate drops, particularly in chaotic scenes and when docked in TV mode. It’s not awful and anyone who tells you it ruins the game is an idiot who doesn’t deserve videogames, but it would undeniably be better if the framerate was more solid.

So, in summary. Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, because no game is. What it does do is transcend its flaws, offering something which feels truly new whilst respecting the storied past of this great series. It’s a wonderful experience and Nintendo’s best game since Super Mario Galaxy. People may knock the Switch line up for only having one big game, but if you must launch a console with only one game it might as well be one of the greatest of all time.

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