Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 1, 2017

How Puzzle Gameplay made Zelda lose its way

Nintendo has a philosophy that gameplay shapes the game. Not lore. Not ‘cool concept art’. Gameplay.

Nintendo will design gameplay first, and then make the game around that gameplay. This has served Nintendo very well in the past, so they keep doing it.

A big part of what Nintendo considers ‘Zelda gameplay’ is puzzles. Therefore, Nintendo starts making these ‘puzzles’ or ‘puzzle concepts’, and then makes the game around it.

Eventually, Zelda revolves around puzzles. We’re like “WTF!?”, but Nintendo says, “You do not understand the Zelda. We do.”

One big part of Zelda is Link using his sword. In an alternate universe, that Nintendo would design gameplay around Link using his sword. The Zelda game would evolve into swashbuckling linear designs. Everyone would go, “WTF is this slasher game? What happened to Zelda?”

Zelda Breath of the Wild seems to revolve around ‘The Open World’, at least the world of nature (hence the title and theme of nature). I remember Miyamoto saying in Twilight Princess that the world should be logical. If a sign is thrown in the river, it should flow down the stream. The player expects that. While people may try to quantitative examine Zelda Breath of Wild and its systems, I think Nintendo was looking at the logical parts of Nature. The overworld is very well sculpted. Other parts of the game came about from that logic. Since it is nighttime, it is not logical for NPCs to be standing in the dark. Therefore, they have schedules where they go to sleep. That is logical. This is why I think they put it in there. Once Nintendo established a logical order of nature for the overworld, the other parts (such as NPC schedules) came about to not be absurd.  A NPC standing in the dark is absurd. (though, they still do it too much which suggests Nintendo may still not be getting it).

Zelda Breath of the Wild did what we wanted: they went back to the original Legend of Zelda, even put gameplay mechanics in an 8-bit prototype, to discover that the Open World was what we always wanted and how we defined Zelda. Breath of the Wild’s phenomenon is clearly connected to this thirst for an Open World adventure.

“Where does Nintendo go from here?” asks the gobsmacked reader.

There are three possibilities. One is that Nintendo regresses back to Aonuma Zelda.

“Oh dear, no!” cries the reader.

Indeed. But this is Nintendo. After they made Super Mario World, they went, “No more of those 2d Mario games! hahahaha” Nintendo can do things very, very wrong.

The second possibility is SUSTAINING advancements to what was established in Breath of the Wild. This would mean refining the Open World, cutting bad stuff, adding more of the good stuff, putting on more layers, etc. Such a game would be satisfactory.

The third possibility is a disruptive one. Just as Breath of the Wild was made by an enlightenment in the Open World lessons from the original Legend of Zelda, what if Nintendo did this again but went even further back in time from the original Zelda?

Above: We’re going back in time… and then into the future

Since I cannot review or talk about Zelda BoW “Wow!” because of the game’s massive, massive volume, as I whittle away at it, I am currently writing a series of articles on The Open World that inspired the original Legend of Zelda and where that led. Some parts of it led to Skyrim, but there are batons no one has picked up yet. I am convinced they are the future of gaming.

Forever, we have pointed to the original Legend of Zelda as a type of talisman, a signpost, of where Zelda should go. Now that Zelda has done that, we need a new signpost figuratively speaking.

One of the great things about writing is that the process of doing so uncovers things you never even imagined. There will be many connections with games that will surprise the reader. I fear I cannot do this site much longer, so I need to get it done soon.

Here is something for the Reader to think about. We are all under agreement that the original Legend of Zelda was a type of Open World, at least in an 8-bit sense, are we not?

“Yes,” gruff-like hardcore gamer says. “We do agree.”

But there was another game that was in development at the same time as Legend of Zelda made by the same exact developers: Super Mario Brothers.

Was Super Mario Brothers genius the concept of an Open World? Compare 1985. No game comes close to what Super Mario Brothers offers. While Super Mario Brothers has great physics and all, it has many ways through a level. You can go through pipes. You can warp through zones. The Japanese version of SMB 2 was THE WRONG WAY. This, we know. The American Super Mario Brothers 2, Doki doki Panic, was the RIGHT WAY for one big reason: you can scroll backward and upward and downward.

Look at Super Mario Brothers 3. Is that not an Open World? Or a hinting towards one? Super Mario World, ditto.

I do not mean ‘sandbox mode’ as that implies ‘systems’. If Mario Odyssey strives to be an ‘open world Mario’, this could get back to the magic of Mario that we haven’t seen in decades.

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