The new Zelda will be a step backwards in time

While skimming the paper in the Infendo HQ penthouse this morning I happened to glance at my television, my laptop, and Shigeru Miyamoto all in the same instant (he occasionally makes us breakfast).

On Infendo there was Derek’s superbly written expose on the most anticipated Nintendo E3 announcements; on my TV was the Opera Wii Browser, with Malstrom’s news page pronouncing the end of close-minded gaming; and on Shiggy’s face was the devilish grin of a man who had something wonderful up his apparently bottomless sleeves.

Meanwhile, this spontaneous culmination felt like the planets aligning, and I had a rare moment of clarity. I entered a deep trance and my personal muse, Reggie Fils-Aime, appeared in my ear, whispering the secrets of E3. My brain, an insatiable Nintendo-stamped sponge since the age of five, soaked up every vowel, consonant and syllable that came forth from Reggie’s mouth. The future was clear: the next Zelda, whenever it arrives, will be a masterpiece for the ages. Oh, and it will be 16-bit.

Before I go any further, first, a disclaimer: I am privy to no insider knowledge about Nintendo, its plans, or what it has in store for us at E3. I have heard no rumors outside of what’s basically been reported here at Infendo and at the major gaming blogs. I am not really clairvoyant, nor do I speak regularly with Reggie Fils-Aime or Shigeru Miyamoto, unless, of course, you count the times, late at night, when I attempted to animate a recent article of Wired magazine that featured an interview with Miyamoto in NYC with my mind.

That said, there’s some evidence out there that leads me to believe Nintendo is ready to drop a hammer on the industry, more so than any Wii Sports revolution or Wii Fit flash-in-the-pan fitness movement could hope to achieve.

The first exhibit was Derek’s piece on E3. I’m pretty sure a lot of it will come true. Some of those hypothetical titles are long overdue, especially for a company that’s known for powerful franchise characters that make them millions of dollars. With the bridge successfully laid with Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Strikers Charged, Sluggers, Super Mario Galaxy (I can’t believe that came out LAST year!), and several other bridge titles, I think Nintendo has the table set for big, mid-tier titles like a Kid Icarus remake, Pikmin and Donkey Kong Wii (maybe not New Super Mario Bros. 2, though–I don’t know why). They’ll probably space these titles out over September-January, and perhaps even beyond, with a big series of announcements at E3. Expect these titles to be highly accessible, and damn fun, platformers, point and click puzzlers, and colorful. In effect, expect them to be the predictable bane of all close-minded hardcore gamers’ existences, as we’ve happily come to expect from Nintendo since about 2004-5.

But that’s the thing. They’re going to be predictable titles. If anything, Nintendo has proven that safe and predictable has no place in its repertoire this generation. It’s carved out a niche in the non-niche arena, and while I see many of the Infendo E3 list coming to fruition, I no longer see them as the meat of the gaming meal. More like an appetizer.

For the meat, I was attracted to #2 in Derek’s article: The rumored “new” Legend of Zelda. Here’s where the connection to Malstrom and Mega Man 9 come in. I already wrote on Infendo that Mega Man 9 was much more than anyone first thought it was, and I stick to that opinion today. I’m glad I did, because it’s the same opinion shared by Capcom developer and lead on MM9 Inafune:

This project was born out of a desire to create a new Mega Man series in an 8-bit style. A decade has passed since the last Mega Man, and on this occasion, we specifically chose to go back to our roots. The idea behind it is that we wanted to reintroduce “simple and fun” characteristics of Mega Man to the users […] XBLA and PSN enable HD output, but that alone does not make all the HD games interesting. HD technology does not make a game interesting. The quality of gameplay makes games interesting. Users don’t pick up a game to evaluate graphics. They pick up games to enjoy gameplay. If a game can offer fun, the users can enjoy the gameplay without any reference to the graphics.

Know your roots just so happens to be stitched into a Nintendo-branded hat I bought a while back, so it’s refreshing to see a developer outside of Nintendo invoking it here.

The critical mistake that many gaming advocates make today is to associate graphics or “deep storytelling” in gaming with “art.” They’re not. The real “art” of video games is the gameplay. Is it fun? Can you pick it up in the first few minutes without a tutorial? (Hat tip, Mal) Games are entertainment. The “art,” such as it is, is found first and foremost in the gameplay. The rest of that stuff–realism, physics, graphics–they’re just supplemental information that really only matters if the core of the game is whole, healthy, and fun.

But back to Mega Man, and what it has to do with a post about Zelda that has yet to really mention the series at all.

Like Mega Man 9, I believe the new version of Zelda that Iwata and Miyamoto claimed would be “the last Zelda game as (we) know it in its present form” will be a step backwards, but in graphical chops only. And it won’t be for nostalgic purposes, either (and neither is MM9):

Mega Man 9 will be much closer to Mega Man 2. As mentioned earlier, in the process of going back to our roots, we came to conclude that those fancy moves were unnecessary. There are many gamers who claim that Mega Man 2 is their absolute favorite. I took it as an indication that Mega Man is not all about the moves. The beauty of Mega Man actually lies in its simplicity and a fine mixture of simple gameplay, puzzle-like thrill of maneuvering tricks at the last minute, and battles. Instead of new moves, we’ve tried to find an excellent balance in the game design and to achieve “simplicity and fun” in the very detailed-oriented age. (Inafune)

Their expertise no longer hampered by graphics, which are now “good enough” for a majority of people on the planet, Nintendo developers, led by Shigeru Miyamoto, have been hard at work perfecting a Zelda that is entirely about the player. There’s never been any showing off or arrogance in Miyamoto’s work, a la Epic Games, but the new Zelda, should it materialize at E3, will be the epitome of that philosophy. Think big, colorful palettes, made even more vibrant by the fact that Twilight Princess’s muted earth tones subconsciously have us craving a brighter Zelda future. The player will have complete control over their world in Zelda, and the level-long tutorials that plague all “hardcore” games these days will be largely unnecessary because the world and it controls will be simple, fun and intuitive. we saw this in Phantom Hourglass, but it was rough around the edges. I’m not saying I think or even want the same exact controls in a new Wii Zelda, but I do think it’s an indication of what’s coming soon.

There will be no redundant or unnecessary features; no elaborate cut scenes or babbling dialogue from characters serving as the mouthpiece of misguided creators, like Metal Gear Solid 4. No, instead expect an experience that’s much closer to The Legend of Zelda, than it is to Assassin’ Creed. With a new Zelda, should it arrive anytime soon, Nintendo, true to its word, will return to its roots, and the hardcore zealots will hate them for it. Good. As the past two years have proven time and time again, success has had a tendency to be the exact opposite of whatever they’re saying.

And lastly, that leaves the great, untouchable Shigeru Miyamoto. The connection here is with Capcom’s Inafune. I see them cut from the same cloth. Miyamoto got a bigger cut, sure, but they’re both old school developers who’ve been through this exact same volatile environment before, with the NES.

With Miyamoto, I imagine him looking out over the current gaming landscape with an incredible twinkle in his eye. After so many years of being handcuffed by a hostile market, and so many years of money-making success that was overshadowed by a biased and belligerent press corps, the cloud are finally breaking. And they’ve revealed a vast expanse of open, fertile land begging for some decent, engrossing entertainment. With the creative reign he’s no doubt granted by Iwata in the halls of Kyoto HQ, I’m sure Miyamoto’s mind is racing faster than it has since the early 1980s. He’s taken his franchise players into the shop, like Zelda, and he’s disassembled and reassembled them time and time again. He realizes the benefits of low-cost, high value games, and he’s applied that to everything he’s touched for the Wii so far. Now that the base is established (literally, the Balance Board is a literal base), and growing everyday, he’s free to create the next great Zelda. It will be humble and glorious, like a carpenter’s cup (think Indy 3), and it could very well change gaming even more than Wii Sports, Fit or motion controls.

Long story short, I wouldn’t be surprised if the best game of the year in 2009 is a vibrant 2-D, top down, 16- or 32-bit Zelda game. Not surprised in the least.

28 Responses to The new Zelda will be a step backwards in time

  1. Kale says:

    Dude…..we already played the game game you’re dreaming of…..The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, remember? Now, while I totally agree with your hopes for a revisiting of the old sprite-based games of yesteryear (Mega Man 9 is going to rock) I don’t know that Zelda would be a good one to revisit is such fashion. Now, I could easily see something like Super Mario World being revisited and expanded with new stuff, even Super Metroid or Donkey Kong Country, things that wouldn’t require extensive writing or endanger the “canon” of a well-established franchise too easily. Old NES remakes would be extremely cool, too, but these could never be called “new games” and instead would be more akin to mods or expansion packs.

    Personally, I still don’t think there’ll be anything whatsoever involving the Zelda franchise at E3. We’ll be lucky if there’s anything of the sort aimed at us hardcore, long-time Nintendo disciples. And even if there is, it’ll only be skin deep to help some stupid uninspired party game designed at getting Grandma familiar with Mario or Samus Aran.

  2. Jack says:

    Kale,

    I’m not too entirely optimistic about Zelda appearing at E3, either. Consider this post some informed wishful thinking.

    And I’m definitely not thinking remakes of any kind. These are new, involved efforts that remove the graphics debate entirely, or at least relegate it to the supplemental bin where it belongs.

    Your last point troubles me, though. It’s inaccurate at best and has nothing to do with Nintendo’s current strategy at all. If anything, the game won’t be “dumbed down” at all (see also: casual gamers = retard gamers articles, by Sean Malstrom). It will be approachable, fun and involved; worthy of any Nintendo fan–new, old, or otherwise.

  3. LordToker says:

    hhhmmm gives us somthing to chew on. i’m not sure how i would feel about going backwards (graphically) until i play it. i liked the Minish Cap which felt like a new Link to the Past, so we shall see.

  4. LordToker says:

    oh yeah forgot about Four Swords which was fun, but didn’t feel like a Zelda game to me. i don’t like being able to carry/use only 1 item at a time.

  5. Will says:

    I don’t care what form Zelda comes in at this point. I just wish it would have a soul again.

  6. cbylife says:

    boooo! i don’t like your zelda idea. =(

  7. DeathChronx says:

    I really like how Miyamoto and Inafune are now finally starting to take a step backwords and finally take a look at the core of gaming as a whole…Sure, very realistic games are awesome..But, why did, 8bit, 16bit, 32bit, etc…Have to literally “die” with the coming of a next-gen? We were so obsessed with upgrading graphical power, when it was still a possibility to play and fully enjoy, a retro game. I find myself using virtual console some times more than anything else..I would imagine that an 8bit game made presently would be pretty interesting..

  8. gametaku says:

    Great article, I always enjoy reading what you put up on Infendo Jack. After reading that I do think Zelda may take a step back, but from some of the excessive things that have come to slow it down. It did start off as a core game and stayed as one, but the 2D ones were always simple and engrossing enough for enough to play them. A new Zelda in 3D that does away with all of the bindings would be great. In 3D our start has continued to become slower, which wasn’t too big of a problem until the series hit a sophisticated 3D console, the Gamecube.

    I love WW and TP, but anyone can easily quit at the beginning since they won’t get what’s so great about series at its’ start. Ocarina was part of that huge 3D boom, and Majora’s mask has a quicker start and pulled in many who scooped up Ocarina. TP’s beginning is too trivial, and if the post at the below link is completely true (I believe it is), we missed out on too much. 2D or 3D I’ll welcome any new Zelda.

    Miyamoto, the greatest of the gaming pioneers has never stopped doing that. Inafune on the other hand needs to return and I hope Megaman 9 is his ticket to doing so. If his quotes from above are to be believed, he’s improving Megaman again, but doing it as if it were really Megaman 3, not 9. If so, 4 (10) is going to be what really blows people away.

    http://www.hyrule.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=7216

  9. Roxxor says:

    I like the idea of a great Zelda game, but I don’t see why Nintendo would degress graphically. If the Wii is capable of good graphics, then the game should have good graphics. The best Wii games push the Wii to its limits. For example, Brawl had to use a dual layered disk to handle the awesomeness, and some of the eariler Wiis couldn’t handle it. Yes, the origional Mario Bros. game will always be best with NES graphics, but now that we have come to expect decent graphics, it would be a mistake to make a game, of one of the best if not the best series ever, with bad graphics. Gameplay does matter the most, but we want it to look amazing for the Wii.

  10. gametaku says:

    I don’t believe the graphics would be bad, they just wouldn’t be taxing. It’s not like the equivalent of them Releasing Twilight Princess at the Ocarina of Time level (which is still pretty good today for N64 standards, that game was only limited by tech, not scope). It’s more like making this great game that grabbed people in the original without focusing so much on the technology. There were many features cut from TP, and as mentioned above the game was very excessive. In the original you played, and you played well. Why not make the game of yesterday with the tools of today? A Link to the Past is the best example I can show you, it’s about as close as we can get to a real world example.

    Or did I misinterpret your piece Jack?

  11. Andrew G. says:

    I think you’re missing the point Jack (please read this in friendly tone, because I’m not trying to be rude or anything – this is just another take).

    Mega Man 9 is a piece of nostalgia – and little else – that is being created for the fans and for the developers alike. It is filling a void that has been left open for far too long. Mega Man 9 is a product of bringing back something that is truly missing now: a good Mega Man title. All of the recent Mega Man titles have been cookie-cutter, garbagey card-battlers made for 11-year-olds, and Inafune decided it was about time to provide a real service for the fans.

    But Zelda doesn’t currently lack anything like Mega Man does. It hasn’t truly degraded in value (in fact, the only problem with Twilight Princess in my opinion was how easy it was – and nothing else). Any other qualms you’ve heard about the current Zelda games are due to hyper-fans and forum trolls being picky about how they will get to play the next experience, not keeping an open mind and assuming it has to be a certain way. Even the graphics and somber art style presented in Twilight Princess were a change from the colorful world you prefer that was presented to you a few years earlier in The Wind Waker and later in Phantom Hourglass. They’ve already given you what you want.

    This isn’t to say that the next Zelda title, whenever it decides to rear its inevitably-glorious head, will be the same as its recent predecessors. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get something entirely different from what we’re used to. But there’s really no need to assume that Nintendo won’t make the best of their hardware, as they always have. I can’t imagine the point of going 16 or 32-bit for a new Zelda like I can see the practicality of an 8-bit Mega Man.

    Does that make sense to you? Because it makes sense to me.

  12. gametaku says:

    Really? You don’t feel that Zelda’s quality has been dipping a bit? Before when you got new weapons/items you really had to use them and they were a bit more important, now for the most part that act like glorified keys. There aren’t that many that seem to fit together like puzzle pieces with the rest of the game.

  13. ResidentialEvil says:

    I have to agree with Andrew G. I don’t see the point in Zelda going backwards like this; Mega Man needs to because it hasn’t been relevent in years. I personally don’t feel Zelda’s quality has dipped; I love TP and I didn’t have very much negative to say about it.

    I would argue a Star Fox or Donkey Kong game would make much more sense to do this since both of those series have IMHO hit close to bottom. Both of those likley need to step back a few generations to get back on track.

  14. XCWarrior says:

    I don’t mind seeing a 2D Zelda, it won’t happen, but it would be cool. But if it resembles 4 Swords in anyway, gameplay wise anyway, I won’t buy it. That stands as the only Zelda game I disliked it. It was boring and awful and rushed and just plain trash. I still think we are 2 years at least away from another Zelda, but it’s coming.

  15. AC says:

    4 swords was a cool game if i played it. 4 gameboys, a gamecube and all those cables made it a rarely played game, as well as the original final fantasy chronicles. on the other hand if they made a sequel for DS and Wii, we could have a huge hit on our hands, 4 swords zelda that is.

  16. -_Q says:

    Okay okay,

    I am at Turtle Rock in A Link To The Past on my SNES, and I just beat Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2 for the first time.

    DKC and DKC2 were some of the most splendid gaming experiences I have ever had Especially in the case of DKC2. The gameplay was perfect, the music was fantastic (thank you dave wise), the graphics were splendid looking, the game was challenging but beatable and most of all it was FUN FUN and more FUN. It was just pure joy.

    Wind Waker was once again, pure joy. It was just another world. Every time you turned on the game it just felt “freeing” as opposed to turning on Ocarina and feeling like it was time to go “beat a level” or something. The game just had a magic about it.

    To get to the point, having played through almost all of ALTTP now, I think I can pass judgement on it. It’s not fun. It’s just not fun. It may have clever moments, it may have cool items, but it’s not fun. I don’t enjoy playing it. Maybe it’s personal preference, but that’s what the industry is about. People.

    Ninty, I feel that Donkey Kong hit its peak in Diddy’s Kong Quest. So why not make more games like that, but make them even better? Make the graphics FOR the gameplay and just see what happens.

    Ninty, I feel that Zelda hit its peak at Wind Waker. The color, the magic about it, the characters, the childlike wonder, THIS is just so much more ZELDA than something like ALTTP.

    Whatever you do, guys, make it FUN!
    It’s not more or less pixels, it’s not polygons or celshading,
    those are ART STYLES now. You have no limitations!
    There’s no “pushing the graphical boundaries”, there’s no “stepping backwards in a retro style.”

    Diddy Kong was frickin’ fun. Wind Waker was frickin’ fun.
    ALTTP felt like a chore. I don’t want to play another game like that.

    Stop thinking backwards or forwards, just make good games!

  17. -_Q says:

    Oh, when I wrote “Ocarina” up there, i meant “A Link to the Past.”

    Whoops.

  18. samfish says:

    I have no doubt in my mind that Nintendo will eventually release 2D updates to their major franchises, mostly via Wii Ware…and a new 2D Zelda would almost 100% certainly be a Wii Ware title. I HIGHLY doubt they’ll go that direction for the mainline series, though.

    That said, I do agree that Zelda’s reinvention is going to be a retro one…but not the kind you’re thinking of! I have almost 100% faith in Surfer Girl’s reporting that Retro Studios is working on a Zelda spin off and I reckon there’s probably about a 65% chance that we’ll see it at E3 (depends on if Kid Icarus is real or not and if it is, if they’re positioning it at their big holiday game or not, since a Zelda game would easily steal KI’s thunder)/

  19. Drahken says:

    I agree with you as far as the graphics deal goes. When Twilight Princess was forthcoming people were all, “ohemgee! its back to real zelda! no more celda! yes!” I, on the other hand, thought it was too color-muted and light-bloomed. What’s wrong with “less advanced” graphics as long they look good and fit the game? I think cell shading is much more suited to Zelda than realism. That, combined with the best storytelling in the series make Wind Waker my favorite.

    But as far as the rest of your prediction, I’m not so sure. I do seem to recall reading somewhere Shiggy or Iwata saying that Twilight Princess was the last Zelda “as we know it”, with the connotations that they weren’t going to be the same 3D Zelda that they’ve been pretty much using since OoT. That on this next outing, the Zelda formula was going to shift in the same substantial way that it did when transitioning to the N64. So I guess your prediction is a possibility. But I severely doubt they’d do that. Look at the outcry that Mega Man 9 has incurred on the intertubes. (I’m ecstatic about it by the way.) Some crazy people are saying that “It’s going to ruin the Mega Man franchise.” (Ignoring the fact that the Mega Man franchise hasn’t updated in ten years any way and that the gameplay is exactly the same as it’s always been.) And that’s just Mega Man. Could you imagine if they did that to Zelda? As I said, Mega Man’s gameplay is staying the same. All that’s been “downgraded” is the graphics and sound. When they “downgraded” JUST the graphics to the (I believe MORE beautiful) cell shaded style, people practically broke out the torches. To actually send the next main entry into the Zelda series back to LttP would literally destroy the internet. Make another fun 16-bit side entry in the vain of Four Swords or Minish Cap, great. But to do that with the main entry would be a grave mistake.

  20. samfish says:

    Also, when Nintendo DOES finally get around to making a new mainline Zelda game, I REALLY hope they take a damn good, hard look at Okami. Okami did everything Zelda should have done in Wind Waker and TP. In particular, they need to look at the way Okami’s story was told and how unpredictable it was.
    …and in Twilight Princess’ case, look at how Okami actually made you consistently USE the items in more than just the dungeon you found it in.
    Okami’s dungeons were also more well integrated into the world than Zelda’s. In Zelda, they’re just dungeons. They’re just there and no one knows why, whereas in Okami, there were only a handful of dungeons and temples in the literal sense and it always made sense why they existed in the world (except arguably the Tsuta Ruins).

    I know I’ve kind of gotten off on a tangent by bringing this up, but that’s what Zelda needs to do to reinvent itself. The gameplay is by and large perfect (although I wouldn’t mind seeing a more engaging, action title-esque combat system), but it just needs to feel less predictable. They need to get away from the “3 Temples> Plot Twist> 8 Temples> Final Boss” formula they’ve been using since LTTP.
    It doesn’t need to be set in the future…
    Or go retro 2D.
    Or make it like the original where you can go to almost any dungeon you want first…
    Okami showed them EXACTLY how to get away from that formula and still have a mind blowingly epic, huge game. If they did that, they’d cover all their bases…the series would feel fresh and you wouldn’t have any fans feeling alienated by some drastic change in direction (or at least nearly as many, since there’s always some group that inevitably hates the new Zelda).

  21. Sean says:

    I really hope you are right. Twilight Princess is probably my least favorite zelda so far – sure the graphics were okay, but it felt like a lame version of OOT. I was bored for almost the entire game. I didn’t care at all.

    Wind waker looked great – once I got past the weird art, I loved it – and the gameplay was okay – but it was also incredibly boring. Nobody wants to sail forever.

    Phantom Hourglass was a joy, but it was rough.

    OOT was amazing, but I may have just been blown away by the extra dimension. Link to the past was also stunning.

    But the Zelda game I played the MOST, and the one I’m most likely to play through again? Probably Link’s Awakening. What?! says you? That’s right. It was simple, fun, engaging, and there was a lot to do. If THAT comes out for virtual console, or whatever DS equivalent is expected, It will probably be the only Zelda VC i’ll ever buy.

  22. anonymous says:

    I want a Zelda game I can play with my Dad.

    I really hope Zelda Wii can be that game for me.

  23. Gentle Jones says:

    I’d love if they revisited the cel-shaded link with no sailing.

  24. anonymous says:

    Though you do have a point, I do not necessarily agree. It’s a little hard to take what you say seriously, because there is always a hint of fanboyism in your tone. It is true that games are constantly being made that have great graphics but shit gameplay and story. This does not mean, however, that going back to 2D is the answer. Is it too much to ask for a deep story AS WELL AS a fitting art style and graphics?

    Also, bashing down MGS4 was completely irrelevant to your argument. MGS is nothing like the Zelda series, except for the fact that they both go way back.

  25. Atlantis1982 says:

    I would be VERY DISAPOINTED if Zelda pulls off a MM9.

  26. Tankooni says:

    i would love to have a new classic game i actually prefer the 2d zelda games over the 3d ones
    sure the 3d ones are fun to but the 2d ones were much more fun
    i find it very annoyin how many people talk about nowadays is wether a game looks like or not
    the direction Nintendo goes is different and i like that it keeps things interesting

  27. Olas says:

    Wow I’m surprised that so many people dissaprove of the 16 bit Zelda idea.
    I personally am thrilled, and I hope that Nintendo keeps doing this with other franchises as well. I’ve always thought it would be cool for a developer to make a game for an older console.
    For instance if someone made a brand new SNES or N64 game. After all, didn’t we enjoy playing those old games just as much as the newer super grafficly enhanced ones. I still love playing on my SNES as much as ever, and I’ve always wondered why developers refuse to make any more of those type of games today.

    The storyline won’t be downgraded, and the gameplay, while perhapse a little different, shouldn’t be inferior to modern day Zelda games at all. And since those are the aspects at the heart of any good game I see no reason why this game can’t be as good as Ocarina or Windwaker.

    Also I understand why it may seem pointless to make a 2D game when you can make 3D ones however 2D games are easier and cheaper to make so they wouldn’t cost as much. And could be made way quicker and therefore could be produced more frequently.

    However I do agree that Nintendo ought to try this out on some other franchises like mario or DK first, before trying it on a franchise like Zelda which is more long and complicated.

  28. Ali says:

    I don’t mind the downgrade, I enjoyed A Link To The Past a whole lot and another game like it would be great.

    Don’t worry Shiggy has never let us down, never has he thought of and developed a game that has flopped. Anything he touches turns to gold.

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