If there’s one game that’s been eagerly anticipated for the last 6 years, it’d have to be The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Being a straight sequel to Breath of the Wild which deviated heavily from the ‘traditional’ Zelda format, Tears of the Kingdom comes with lofty expectations. Loyal fans of the series have mostly enjoyed the new direction set by Breath of the Wild, but also felt that it soared a little too far from what makes a Zelda game… well, legendary. So will this new entry be able to appease both new and old players alike? Or, is it just a grandiose DLC in disguise? Let’s dive in.
The Perfect Zelda Formula
Unlike most Zelda sequels, Tears of the Kingdom largely reuses assets from Breath of the Wild’s dense and expansive Hyrule, but brings them back with different weather effects and exclusive locations. The sky puns I used in the first paragraph weren’t just alluding to Skyward Sword; Tears of the Kingdom features an eclectic mix of exhilarating air-based gameplay and locales to explore. For example, the Gerudo Desert has Link catching wind with his paraglider to scan above an area shrouded with sandstorms. Whereas Rito Village requires elf boy to launch himself across precariously placed platforms to reach the elusive Wind Temple high above.
These act as great extensions of Skyward’s Sword verticality, which were mostly linked to flying Loftwings over the world map. There are random treasure platforms to land on in the sky and smaller ones that don’t contain anything in particular, though they do serve a purpose in letting Link restore his stamina while he jumps and glides from one part of the sky to the other. Something that becomes incredibly satisfying as you unlock fast-travel waypoints which can launch our silent protagonist into the clouds; letting Link scan the surroundings, place waypoints and explore Hyrule’s open-world on the fly. (Sorry, these puns just write themselves).
Hyrule is once again filled with caves to crawl through, cliffs to climb, climates to consider, cuisine to cook, critters to care for and Korok Seeds to collect… you can bet your bottom dollar I didn’t even bother with these little poopsies. Regardless, the gargantuan, gorgeous open-world areas of Hyrule frequently double as environmental puzzles to solve before players even attempt the countless shrine challenges and assortment of dungeons this sequel offers. Yes, you read that right. Dungeons have made a triumphant return here. Even if they don’t all look super similar to the ones featured in Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time. Although, it won’t be dangerous to go alone here. Since Link often brings along a partner with individual abilities to help, instead of the usual find-a-boomerang-to-solve-the-puzzle formula of previous entries. A welcome change.
Twilight Princess introduced us to Wolf Link, Majora’s Mask doomed us to a 3-day cycle and Wind Waker defied all odds by opting for a cel shaded art style. As Zelda games almost always feature some type of hook (often literally) to make them distinct from one another, Tears of the Kingdom has this time gone down a more ‘experimental’ avenue. Link’s magical arm he receives early on brings forth several versatile abilities and a completely disparate approach to traversal and puzzle-solving.
One ability called Ultrahand can freely move and glue a range of objects together to MacGyver players out of all sorts of puzzling situations. Whereas the Ascend skill will push Link up and through certain ceilings, just like that famous Italian guy with the red hat. The logic required to solve some of the game’s scenarios can be quite challenging, but it’s very satisfying and often hilarious seeing how things eventually turn out. Overall, these features further enhance the physics-based gameplay introduced in Breath of the Wild and will no doubt expose fans to a wave of silly, yet surprisingly effective means of puzzle-solving.
In particular, the Fuse option lets Link combine all manner of rocks, sticks or even fire-breathing statues and bomb flowers to his sword, shield and bow to raise their versatility and attack power. This function also reduces the fairly criticised ‘durability problem’ of Breath of the Wild. But at the same time, it can still be pretty aggravating having to continually cycle through weapons and then start binding objects to Link’s equipment on the regular. Not a cure-all solution by any means.
Exploring Both Land and Sky
Link’s sword skills like the Flurry Rush counter and parry make a much anticipated return, alongside the jump-into-slow-mo-bow feature and pacey shield surfing that makes the downhill slopes of Hyrule a hoot. Plus, you won’t just be fighting the same insert-blight-name-here boss throughout the main story. Instead, the big encounters are noticeably more varied and difficult this time around. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to regroup and try again with different equipment and strategies. If there’s one aspect you can rely on though, it’s that the frame rate will stay at a near-constant 30FPS in docked and handheld mode, even when things get mega chaotic. Shockingly, it only dips in dense villages, massive explosions and certain cutscenes (of all things) for a second or two before quickly returning to its silky smoothness. Considering how many islands can be seen in the distance alongside the flurry of visual effects on screen, this is a mighty impressive technical showcase for a rather dated console.
The side quests are a tonne of fun to play through, serving as a fitting accompaniment to Link’s travels throughout the land and sky of Hyrule. They also reward players with handy equipment to trial out or let Link upgrade his heart count or stamina meter whenever he completes four of the many bite-sized shrine challenges. While the music of Tears of the Kingdom has once again opted for ‘twinkly’ piano pieces, I was surprised to hear a few jazz-infused tracks and big-time orchestral tunes from Manaka Kataoka which have infused the series with new life. Especially prominent during the game’s numerous cutscenes, her compositions help to draw out the fantastical Disney magic of the Zelda series.
Speaking of Zelda, the series has once again reverted back to a go-and-rescue-the-princess plot. That’s not a bad thing though. In fact, it’s far from it. Tears of the Kingdom’s story slowly pulls players in from the start and culminates in several powerful scenes that’ll surely leave the fanbase delighted, even if the voice-acting isn’t always fantastic across the board. Is everyone who they say they are? What are Ganon’s intentions this time? Will Skyloft play a role in the story? These and many more questions will be circling your brainbox as Link travels around Hyrule.
Tears of the Kingdom has finally found what the Zelda series has been searching for. Not only have dungeons made a triumphant return alongside Breath of the Wild’s open-world structure, but the aerial-based gameplay inspired by Skyward Sword has taken this entry to soaring new heights. It’s simply so much fun experimenting with Link’s magical arm abilities, as you can create a range of makeshift bridges, vehicles, transportation devices and weapon attachments that all (mostly) abide by the real laws of physics. Combined with the combat and traversal skills from Breath of the Wild, Link has an arsenal of options on hand to deal with any situation. Experimenting with them all is extremely addictive, and the journey only gets better with Tears of the Kingdom’s compelling story and characters that join Link throughout his glorious dungeon-crawling adventures.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
I must’ve been having an absolute blast with Tears of the Kingdom, as any 6-hour play session would fly by in the blink of an eye. That’s why I can definitively say that Link’s latest adventure is a must have. This game is just jam-packed with so many different things to do that you honestly can’t ask for much more from a video game. Even though the weapon durability system yet again grinds my gears, and the fact that multiple assets are reused from Breath of the Wild, Link’s latest story and adventure is still—in one word—legendary.
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