Flashback to Spaceworld 2000. A tech demo was shown as to how Zelda might look on the all new Nintendo Gamecube, showcasing Link and Ganon in a semi-realistic looking swordfight. It seemed a natural evolution of the series; as technology progressed so rapidly, of course a franchise about a sword wielding hero in a mythological world would turn more towards realism. People were seriously excited.
Then in 2001, that all changed. A video showing Link running away from Moblins was all that was shown, but it was a drastic departure from what was expected. It was so… toony! So, dare I say, childish! This wasn’t the epic follow up to the legendary N64 titles; this was a kid’s game! And, in fairness, the reveal trailer wasn’t all that great. It did a poor job showing off what Wind Waker would actually be like, focusing excessively on the new look, foregoing actual Zelda-esque segments and instead displaying a tone that the final game never really had. The marketing for the game definitely improved as the game got closer to release though. Later trailers began to show off what the finished experience would be like.
But it never really recovered from being viewed as a child’s game before it came out; the art style turned people off, and sales suffered. They weren’t terrible, of course, but the last officially recorded numbers released by Nintendo were 3.07 million sold — far beneath Ocarina of Time‘s 7.6. Not only did the game come in beneath sales expectations, it failed to help the Gamecube, a console struggling to sell well, pick up momentum on the market. And now it seems we might have an exceptionally similar situation in play: and I couldn’t be happier.
Flashback to E3 2011. Though Skyward Sword was soon to release, Nintendo elected to create a tech demo for their newly announced Wii U console to show off the graphical capabilities. It used Twilight Princess‘ semi-realistic graphical style to show off Link fighting a massive spider in a temple setting, and it looked incredible. Beautiful. Epic. Every adjective you can think of. It seemed a happy middle for the increasingly realism-focused mainstream market and the classic whimsy of the franchise.
And yet, this visual style worried me ever so slightly. I knew it would be beautiful no matter what they chose, but I was still scared. If they chose this style for the full game, would it be because that is what the developers wanted, or because they believed it would increase sales? It would be hard to blame them if it was the latter. Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, both games that arguably did not focus on their cartoonish nature as much as, say, Wind Waker and Skyward Sword did, sold far better.
But at the same time, as a consumer, the sales do not directly affect me. Whether the game becomes a massive mainstream hit does not affect my experience with the game. And from my experience, games tend to be better when the developers care about them. Not that they would not care about the game if they spent all of their time creating it; no, they would pour their heart and soul into it. But when the project is the team’s from the beginning and not something done to get off store shelves, when everything is their design and not just an assignment that they have to do, the game tends to be a more passionate one.
Whether or not you liked Wind Waker, it is hard to deny that the game had heart and passion poured into it, a passion that may not have existed had Nintendo followed their wallets instead of their hearts. The developers cared about what they were making, and they made it, damn the consequences. And personally, I would take a game made by people who care over a game that the developers created because they felt they had to.
Fortunately, the former is exactly what we are getting. The team at Nintendo has, by all accounts, been experimenting with gameplay ideas and different art styles for Zelda Wii U, and this is what they finally decided on: a style halfway between that of Skyward Sword and Wind Waker, and a massive, open world. It’s incredible. It’s beautiful. It’s epic. And it is not even close to being what the mainstream market is currently focused on.
Which means that this is what Nintendo truly wanted to create. This is the world they dreamed for us to explore. Despite the Wii U struggling with sales, despite having another art style that the fans adored and would more clearly resonate with the average consumer, Nintendo chose to create something different, something that they believed would make this the best game possible. And that gives me a lot of hope for the game as a whole. Nintendo is not selling out: they are doing what they believe we will love to play the most.
So just in case anyone starts talking about how Nintendo has screwed up Zelda’s chances, or writes about how Zelda won’t save the Wii U, (not that I fully expect either of those, but you never know) consider this: would you rather have a game that was created to sell, or one that was created for players to love? Perhaps I am alone on this, but personally, when given the choice between getting the best game the creators could make, and one that sells incredibly but lacks true passion, I’ll take the former any day. Sales are crucial, but the actual product should be, to us as the consumers, far more important, and I fear the gaming media and gamers as a whole may condemn the game because it doesn’t fulfill preconceived notions.
So that is why I am more excited than ever for Zelda Wii U. Because Nintendo just proved that they don’t just care about making something that sells insanely well, but that their first priority is letting the developers make the game that they want to make. And that is – there is no other word for it – awesome.
Bring on 2015.