Wake up Link, the time has once again come for you to star in the debut of a new console. Just as it happened between Gamecube and Wii, Nintendo has decided to delay the launch of a Legend of Zelda built for a reasonably unsuccessful console, to then redouble its efforts with the simultaneous release on its successor. In this case we're talking about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which passes the baton from Wii U to the new Nintendo Switch come March 3.
We've been learning about the game for years now, and it's not the first time we've played it here at Gamereactor, so allow us to sidestep offering excessive detail with regards to the basic concept and mechanics. That said, it's important to reiterate that this is an open world experience (or, as Nintendo likes to put it, an "open air adventure"), one in which an amnesiac Link can freely explore at the player's leisure, as long as he has got the required strength, equipment or knowledge to navigate the area. His main resource/tool this time is the Sheikah Slate (a clear reference to both consoles' portable screens), which is used to both interact with the environment and to deploy a telekinesis-like magnetic power.
Besides, the Switch demo at the hands-on event in London offered nothing new content-wise, in fact it was the very same early section of the game that we first got to try at last year's E3, and in the time we spent playing, we didn't really notice any additional gameplay elements. It starts at the beginning of the story, with Link asleep and almost naked in a cave. Awoken by the voice of the princess, he dresses up in whatever he finds in the chests nearby (this linked to the importance of wearing the appropriate costumes later on), then picks up his brand-new tablet and goes out to explore this vast, huge open-world. This time we decided to ignore the old man and straight away we went off to explore and find some enemies to fight. This was because what we really wanted, given there was nothing new to see, was to test the game's performance on the Switch and the potential new technical improvements.
To be blinded by the first rays of sunlight right after leaving the dark cave still feels as shocking as it did the very first time, as we're still unaccustomed to this devastated Hyrule being so massive and green. But now it's even more eye-catching thanks to the crisper 900p resolution and the expanded draw distance. Even though both versions offer you the full map to explore, the cleaner graphics allow you to scan the horizon with more ease, trying to figure out what's awaiting you in the distance.
A walk up to the meadow where the collapsed Temple of Time is laying gave us enough time to realise another difference: the slight upgrade to the texture quality. But, without a doubt, the difference we appreciated and welcomed the most, and perhaps that's most significant, is the great vibrancy of the colours. When we first played Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Wii U we were captivated buy the toned nuances, but now the stronger greens and browns show something else. in this regard, it'll be a matter of taste.
That improved vividness is the only thing that remains when you take the Nintendo Switch from its dock and play in handheld mode. Instead of 900p on TV mode, on the 6.2 inches screen it runs at 720p, just like on Wii U, and the tiny details aren't as important given the size. We weren't sure that playing on the go would deliver a desirable gameplay experience, but the camera position, usually pretty close to Link, allows for a decent overview of your surroundings, even if you won't have the same clarity when gazing at far off objects. The position of your hands on the attached Joy-Con controllers feels natural, and the button layout, which follows a traditional setup, will make this handheld mode more popular than first expected.
Lastly we want to mention something that does not have a huge impact, but that was confirmed by producer Eiji Aonuma during the American presentation. Load times on Switch are faster when compared to those on Wii U (particularly when using disks) thanks to the game card format, even though the structure of the game means you'll seldom have to wait while staring at a black screen.
We know that the otherwise epic trailer left some a bit underwhelmed, as the game can still look a bit rough on screen. But the truth is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been improved for this port despite being nothing more than just that; an adaptation of a title designed for different hardware. The aforementioned differences are noticeable, but they're subtle and nuanced and won't impact the core experience in any way. Thus the upgrade isn't enough to bias your decision on whether to buy the game for one system or the other. More important is whether you have the old console already at home, or whether you're prepared to pay to be able to play on the go. Whatever your choice in the end, this will still likely be one of the best games of the year, and it's definitely one to keep an eye on ahead of its launch on March 3.