“Breath of the Wild” reminds me of a time when I was terrible at video games in the best of ways. The first game I ever played (and finished) entirely on my own was “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.” I was seven when that game came out, and I was awful at video games. I’d never played a Zelda game before, let alone any game that was as big as “Wind Waker.”
“Wind Waker” treats you like your parent did when you were learning to ride a bike. The training wheels came off, your parent pushed you down the sidewalk, and they were really excited when they let go and you didn’t immediately fall over, but they still kind of wish you still had the training wheels on — just for a little bit longer, so they knew you’d be safe. You’re trusted to explore the Great Sea, but you can only do so much before you have to get back to the defined path. This didn’t take away from my experience with “Wind Waker” — instead, those boundaries helped me understand how the game and world worked, making the moment when I beat it all the more gratifying because I knew that I got better at it along the way.
“Breath of the Wild” isn’t interested in these kinds of rote teachable moments, though. It tells you what you can do, sure, and the rune Shrines on the Plateau teach you the basics of how you can interact with the world. Where it opposes “Wind Waker”’s paternalistic ethos, though, is that it doesn’t care that the buttons on the Switch are unconventional when compared to the Xbox or PlayStation, and it doesn’t care if you’ve played a Zelda game before. The game immediately tells you that you’re weak and everything is better than you right now. It wants you to fix that by waking up, getting out there, defeating Ganon and saving the princess.
Or you can spend four hours climbing a mountain and doing some puzzles — it’s your choice!
Either way, “Breath of the Wild” is adamant in its desire to have the player teach themselves what can and cannot be done in this instance of Hyrule. I picked up the sword 8 hours ago, after accidentally stumbling into the Lost Woods. I was bad at this game when I started, and I’m still kind of bad! I still get tripped up with the inputs and stuck in situations that I should have planned for ahead of time. Getting lost in this gorgeous, stylized version of Hyrule that takes heavy cues from “Wind Waker”’s cel-shaded aesthetic is just as engrossing in my 55th hour as it was in my first. It is unapologetically difficult and evolves on gameplay tropes setup in the “Dark Souls” series and borrows mechanics from the panoply of survival games that have become popular in recent years.
Even with all of this newness, though, it still feels like a Zelda game— and that’s what’s important.