Pretty much anyone who’s played a Zelda game in the last ten years should know what a transportation overworld is. After Ocarina of Time, which introduced the non-essential but compelling Epona, the series as a whole gravitated toward worlds designed around transportation.
It started with Majora’s Mask, with sections of the overworld requiring either Epona, Goron Link, or Zora Link. They each offered their own form of transportation that regular Link could not access. Majora’s Mask’s tighter overworld made things more interesting.
The Wind Waker, of course, followed suit, with the King of Red Lions being required to traverse long stretches of ocean. Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Skyward Sword were, like The Wind Waker, clearly defined by the transportation choices made by the developer. I’ve gotten the sense in this community and others that people are growing tired of these overworlds. While I’ve never personally minded it, I’ve always wondered if Nintendo could do anything different with it.
The answer is obvious: an overworld integrating multiple forms of transportation, many of them non-essential, might flow more freely, feel more realistic, and better allow for exploration. As I said before, we’ve already seen the multiple transportation options in Majora’s Mask. Rather than feel limiting, that game often felt liberating, even if they were all essential.
How could it work with actual forms of transportation and not just masks? Imagine trotting to the coast of a sea, hitching a ride on a boat (an alternative to swimming, which is an option, but is much slower), sailing to an island of giant gulls, taming one on the fly, and soaring to a floating city–all without interruption. It might be hard to integrate, but it might just be worth it, as seamlessly-flowing overworlds were a staple of the Zelda series before Ocarina of Time.
With better technology comes more options, and I’d like to to see developers using the opportunity to take some conventional ideas that they once had to place at the center of games and expanding the range of possibilities. In this way, transportation could be liberating, not restrictive, and could infuse the series with more freshness than the separate, one-at-a-time approach to overworlds. Given the developers’ experiments with transportation, most of which have been successful, combining and incorporating them into a more natural environment seems like the logical next step.