I can’t remember the last time I died in a new Zelda
game. Okay, that’s not entirely true; there were those couple times on
the overworld maps in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks when I left the game running on autopilot
(not my brightest idea). But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I
mean a bona fide, teeth-gritting, go-down-kicking, “that guy totally
thrashed my pointy hat off” death. How can this be? The older games like
The Legend of Zelda and A Link to
the Past still manage to put me through the proverbial shredder
every time I play. Why the lack of challenge in the more recent titles?
For a long time, I found myself blaming the fact that the newer games,
being set in a 3D environment in the case of the console games or
controlled by the Touch Screen in the case of the DS games, simply
. But this doesn’t explain
why I can also get through the newer top-down Zelda games like The Minish Cap and Four Swords
Adventures with hardly a scratch, nor why other 3D series often
offer a comparatively high difficulty level. So what’s Zelda
done to lose its edge?
While a full list would probably prove inexhaustible, I would narrow the
problems down to one thing: there’s so much darn hand-holding. The
player-driven exploration and secret-finding that made the games famous
seem to have all but lost their place in favor of sidekicks and NPCs
directing you through a series of linear hoops. Enemies and bosses are
no longer challenges of skill and endurance in combat but instead suffer
from the “press A to win” syndrome, or else are glorified puzzles. And
with so many recovery hearts scattered beneath every rock and in every
patch of grass, it’s no wonder that deaths in Zelda
games have become such a thing of the past.
Please understand, Nintendo, that I don’t need a
mark on my map that tells me where to go every time there’s a new place
to explore. I didn’t need it when I played my first Zelda
game, and I sure don’t need it with all the expository text telling me
where to go anyway. Why not have map-marking be an optional feature, a
“hint system” of sorts? In the first two Metroid Prime
games, players could choose whether the game would point them to the
next objective. While unfortunately the linear structure of the third
game forced it at certain points, I feel that Zelda
could do well to incorporate a system like this.
In Metroid, Samus has her suit’s computer, which
can project a holographic map of the area she’s currently in. Link of
course lacks a portable computer, so what could Nintendo do to
incorporate the game world into this feature? I have a possible
, one of Link’s new
animal partners was the hawk. The hawk would make a perfect mechanic –
the hawk, when summoned, can scout out the surrounding area and show the
player which way to go. Nintendo could choose to go the easy route and
have each use of the hawk simply update your map and mark your next
objective, or they could aim for a bit more subtlety and have players
simply follow the hawk or look for the place where it is circling
overhead. Either way, I’d love a chance to figure out how to get to my
next objective myself.
I also don’t need Midna to pop up every five
seconds to give me her commentary or instructions. Yes, Nintendo, this
includes the first stretch of the game. “I guess I have to do EVERYTHING
for you,” she says not long after you meet her. Sign of the times.
practice, and intuition? Not to mention, you know, getting from place
to place by an active process, rather than a passive button press as was
often the case while in wolf form in Twilight Princess.
If people need this kind of help, then give them a means of using it,
but don’t shove it in experienced players’ faces.
2 was about right.
The “Tip Network” showed players a video demonstration of how to perform
required gameplay tasks, but anyone who already knew what they were
doing could blaze right through it. This would be pretty simple to
s well via the sidekick
character seen in last year’s poster. Players could call on the fairy
sidekick voluntarily much like they could with Midna in Twilight
Princess and ask for a “Fairy Tip,” at which point the sidekick
would demonstrate what the player needs to do to proceed. The “Cosmic Guide,” which actually has the AI take the player through the difficult section directly, could be implemented similarly.
If a player died enough times while trying to clear any individual
room, the room’s layout would change to reflect a lower challenge level.
This allowed for some strong platforming sequences that didn’t
completely alienate less experienced players.
Speaking of platforming, here’s a novel idea: incorporate a manual jump
button. Being able to jump in a three-dimensional space opens all kinds
of possibilities as far as environment and gameplay design. It also
gives more opportunities for the kind of platform-jumping and
secret-hunting we’ve grown used to in other 3D franchises like Mario or Metroid. While I don’t
think Zelda is especially hurting for this feature,
I do think that it would make the gameplay more versatile and offer
more opportunities to incorporate skill and challenge.
This would be particularly interesting in the case of bosses. Right now,
bosses are very formulaic—dodge their main attacks, use the dungeon
item to expose their weak points, and hit ‘em while they’re down. A good
portion of most boss battles takes place while they’re incapacitated or
preparing for their next attack, as opposed to previous outings where
players had to keep on the move because they were constantly under fire.
The GameBoy games were especially challenging in that you couldn’t just
run to avoid getting hit, you also had to jump over room-sweeping moves
that often took out more than one segment of life per hit – sometimes
two. (To put this into perspective, the final boss of Twilight
Princess didn’t even do that much damage.)
Imagine what that kind of challenge would be like in a three-dimensional
game. Players would have to constantly be on the move, jumping every
few seconds so as not to get their faces burned off by those fireballs
. It would remove a lot of the
tedious formula from battles and make them more about testing the
player’s combat skills and reflexes as they once were. Weak points could
then be difficult to hit spots instead of appearing when the boss is
temporarily incapacitated or ready to launch a certain attack. It would
be nothing truly new to the series—simply a desperately-craved return
But of all the changes I’d like to see to the difficulty level of Zelda, perhaps the simplest to fix is the overabundance
of recovery hearts. Whether it’s slaying an enemy, breaking a jar, or
cutting random patches of grass, there’s no place Link can’t look where
he won’t find a way to restore his health. This even considering that
most attacks do so little damage that they don’t pose a substantial
threat anyway. Previous games had recovery hearts, too, but they were
much rarer, and certainly weren’t strewn all over any given boss arena.
With the potential to carry up to four potions for health recovery (one
per empty bottle), players already have plenty of ways to recover health
—do we really need to have healing pickups every five feet? Just like
with the map marks and boss fights, things weren’t always laid out for
us. Give us a little more credit, Nintendo.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Tons of gamers from my
generation feel “left behind” by the most recent games due to their
quote-on-quote “accessibility.” Accessibility is all good and well, but
we, the community that has formed around your franchises, don’t feel
that discrediting the traditional gamer is the way to go.