Just a couple of weeks ago, a new Zelda game was announced for the 3DS. Like any Zelda game I got excited. I don’t yet have a 3DS and yet The Legend of Zelda is just one of those series that gets me all hyped up. At first glance it seemed to be everything I wanted, but upon closer examination one big thing could really hold this game back, something that has held back all of the recent Zelda games for me personally.
I’ve heard plenty of people grouse about the new ways in which we have controlled Link in recent Zelda games which I think is somewhat understandable. I personally really enjoyed the touch screen controls of the DS games and think returning to stick aiming for shooting my bow feels slow and cumbersome after using Wii controls. But at the same time I recognize their issues. Skyward Sword’s insistence on just about everything being controlled with motion was the biggest problem in that game. A little restraint and more focus on getting the important parts of those controls right (the one-to-one sword fighting) would have went a long way in improving that entry. But that is really a topic for another blog. The truth is due to the 3DS’ screen setup I thought it was pretty obvious we’d be heading back to a more traditional control scheme which I welcomed. So my worries were more about what I think has been a larger problem in this series of late: its lack of a proper explorable overworld.
The worst of the games when it comes to its overworld was definitely Spirit Tracks. Which is a shame because the other parts of that game are fantastic. Clever dungeon designs, particularly the sand and fire ones, and a refreshingly fun version of Zelda that tags along with Link on his adventure made for a great time. But the train segmented the overworld in a way that just wasn’t fun at all. It felt really restrictive and held the game back. Phantom Hourglass at least gave you more freedom in your movement about the sea, but its lack of size, worthwhile stuff to explore for or truly detailed locations (which can really only be done on land I’d argue) made for another disappointing overworld. Skyward Sword went in a different direction. It had a rather simple overworld in the sky, once again restricted by traversing it via a vehicle of sorts, but tried to make up for this by making its three main locations below the clouds more detailed and dungeon-like. I can respect this attempt to mix up the formula, but it just didn’t work out the way I’d have liked.
So after these three games, I am craving an all-new overworld, explorable by foot. And with a sequel to A Link to the Past it seemed I might just have it. Except all signs point to the fact Nintendo will largely be re-using ALttP’s overworld. And I’m once again bummed out. Now A Link to the Past has a high quality overworld. The kind I’d like to see in a new game. But I’ve already explored this one. Sure with all new dungeons, I assume it will be tweaked to some extent with how one accesses them. But it is still disappointing. We have a series that already remixes the location of Hyrule for a lot of the new games. We have the fact that I’ve been waiting for the kind of overworld I want for over six years now. Those both make this latest copout by Nintendo that much more frustrating.
I feel like there is some laziness on their part here too. Both DS games seemed to be avoiding the work involved in developing a proper new overworld. And literally re-using one for this game? It just feels lazy. I get the idea this started as a remake and evolved into what we have now. But honestly that doesn’t make me feel any better because after doing the Ocarina of Time remake, they shouldn’t have even been thinking of doing another remake before working on a from-the-ground-up new entry in the series for their new hardware.
I have been bitching about this for weeks now and I can even feel I am more annoyed than I should be. The truth is I play Zelda mostly for its puzzle-focused dungeons which scratch an itch few other games do for me. And based on the footage they have shown of this new 3DS entry’s dungeons, they look to deliver with an interesting new mechanic that seems to add a lot of verticality to the level designs. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this game quite a bit. But the series’ overworld problems have become an annoying trend and it’s finally beginning to drive me up the wall. Hopefully this ends up being less of an issue than I feel it will be in this game. And hopefully Nintendo doesn’t once again skimp out on this aspect in the Wii U incarnation. It feels like forever since I was able to explore a fresh new overworld the way I expect to in The Legend of Zelda and I hope this period of time will come to end sooner than later.