On March 3, along with a new game console, Nintendo released “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, the latest instalment in a storied series of video games, 30 years after release of the first “Legend of Zelda” game in North America. As with other titles in the series, the player controls a mute, questing elfin lad named Link across a verdant land of swords and sorcery, amassing items and skills, encountering friend and foe and trying to rescue Princess Zelda from the clutches of the monstrous Ganon.
What’s especially notable this time around is that “Breath of the Wild” is absolutely humongous. Within a thriving genre of games that encourage “free-roaming” exploration, “Breath of the Wild” makes other sprawling titles feel claustrophobic by comparison. A big selling point of the new console, the Nintendo Switch, is that it is a home console and mobile console in one, meaning that you can escape into a rich alternate reality wherever and whenever you want. It’s a feature entirely fitting for “Zelda,” a series packed with enchanted objects that whisk the protagonist away to parallel dimensions. But also, more than any other video game series, “Zelda” pioneered the idea of a video game as a portal into another world.
While Mario, the fleet-footed, mustachioed hotshot, remains Nintendo’s all-round mascot and icon, “The Legend of Zelda” represents the loftier flipside of Mario’s primary-coloured, populist whimsy. Both were the creations of Shigeru Miyamoto, who joined Nintendo as a staff artist but soon established his reputation as a visionary creator. From 1981 to 1986, he came up with “Donkey Kong”, “Super Mario Bros” and “The Legend of Zelda”. “Donkey Kong” was a huge hit in the arcades, and “Super Mario Bros” ushered in the home-console revolution—but “Legend of Zelda” was fundamentally new and different.
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