Since Ocarina of Time, the only Zelda game we’ve seen that featured no real transportation for Link was The Minish Cap. Every other game has at least offered some form of it, at least temporarily. Often, it’s been a domineering, essential component of the game, offering little choice to the player about how and when to use it.
Epona is probably the best example of transportation as an extension of player choice. In all three games in which she’s featured, she’s often optional, which is, I suspect, why she is so popular. Best of all is Ocarina of Time; you can play the game without having anything to do with her, which makes rescuing her all the more entertaining.
The other Zelda games (excepting the Oracle games) structure their world and plot points around the transportation. It’s impossible to ignore the Great Sea in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, the train tracks in Spirit Tracks, and the sky in Skyward Sword. Epona is required to progress through Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, and indeed, at least parts of the world are structured around them.
Zelda fans haven’t had the luxury of a world that entirely lets Link alone. Mind you, I love the transportation ideas–the Great Sea is my favorite overworld in any Zelda game, and in almost any game–but I would like to see Nintendo attempt once again to structure a conventional Zelda world without relying on the form of transportation they offer.
This could certainly look like Ocarina of Time. Again, Epona isn’t essential and doesn’t feel essential in that game; every obstacle is mean to be crossed with an item. Ocarina’s overworld is brilliant. But there’s an even more recent example of how a 3D Zelda title could work without requiring transportation, and it’s the surface in Skyward Sword.
Skyward Sword offers two different venues for gameplay; one is the sky and one is the surface. In the sky, your bird is an absolute requirement, and you’re constantly reminded of it. The mazelike surface, however, would be awkward with any form of transportation; most of it is narrowly constructed, based around combat rather than exploration. While I’ve said before that I would like to have seen less linear progression in Skyward Sword’s overworld, there’s no reason to throw out its overall structure.
If Nintendo could work in optional transportation like they did in Ocarina of Time, all the better; but they should try, once again, to make it optional, not mandatory.
Would you like to see a new Zelda game without transportation, or with optional transportation? How do you think they could structure the world? Do you think Ocarina of Time’s overworld and Skyward Sword’s surface were successful?