With the Wall Street Journal’s recent report* that Nintendo are developing a Legend of Zelda game for mobile platforms, we thought it would be fun to speculate on what the upcoming title might be like. Will Nintendo go with a 3D Zelda, a retro sprite-based game, or something different entirely? And which purchase model will Nintendo favor? The single payment, full game approach they favored with Super Mario Run or the free-to-play model which has worked out so well for Pokémon GO!?
Open World-lite Zelda
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It’s likely that a Zelda akin to the series’ most recent iteration, the truly freeform open-world of Breath Of The Wild, would be a little out of reach of even the rapidly increasing power of today’s mobiles and tablets. But that’s not to say a stripped-back, less graphically demanding version couldn’t at least be attempted, and it would certainly be a feather in Nintendo’s cap to be able to bring that open-world feel to mobile. It’s likely, though, that too much of Breath Of The Wild’s innovative boundary-free ethos would have to be sacrificed, and with it, Zelda’s unique character. It’s hard to see Nintendo being hot for compromising on one of their most important properties, especially given the kudos they’ve gained from Breath Of The Wild’s almost universal acclaim.
Watering-down their creative vision to make a quick buck is likely not on Nintendo’s agenda.
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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
If the most recent iteration of Link’s continuing adventures is a step too far for modern mobile hardware, but Nintendo are intent on giving gamers a no-compromise Zelda experience on their phones or tablets, a 3D Zelda in the mold of the ’90s and ’00s iterations may well be the way to go. Some of the series’ most beloved games have been essentially level-based in design: Ocarina Of Time is still a highpoint in the series for many, and Majora’s Mask holds up wonderfully well. Also, if this sort of thing was possible a decade ago on Nintendo DS consoles with The Phantom Hourglass, it’s surely possible on today’s mobile tech (which also makes use of touch screen controls). Also, if Nintendo released a ‘proper’ full-featured Zelda game, it would sidestep accusations of simply going for the cash grab, as the resulting game would likely warrant a full price model of release. But, as Fire Emblem Heroes recently proved, there’s arguably more money in free-to-play on mobiles right now, so Nintendo might instead prefer to release their Zelda title for free and count on microtransactions to fill their coffers. If they did go that way, a 3D Zelda would perhaps not be the best fit
Certainly possible, but production costs versus return make it less likely in a world that seems to prefer free-to-play.
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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The top-down, 2D RPG-lite is where the Legend of Zelda series first began (back when pixel-art was a necessity, not a stylistic choice) and this design still seems like a perfect fit for mobile. Nintendo showed an aptitude for updating this type of game when they brought A Link To The Past onto the DS console at the beginning of this century. It was a huge success and proved that the style it employed, now considered retro, was not only timeless but also still recognizable as a Zelda game. There’s also the benefit of sidestepping any potential technical problems caused by hardware, as sprite-based graphics, or even basic 3D polygons (as in the DS Pokémon games), are achievable on practically any mobile platform—even when rendering a large open world. One more thing in its favor: a throwback Zelda would be well suited to a modular model of release, where players could download an initial free area, then expand the game world by purchasing new areas containing more quests and story content. If this ends up being Nintendo’s preferred method of delivery for its mobile endeavors, I can see retro being Nintendo’s mobile Zelda of choice.
Extremely likely. A win for everyone, whichever angle you look at it from.
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A Link To The Past and Four Swords
Another style of game that would suit a retro aesthetic perfectly. And why shouldn’t Nintendo try to replicate the four-player fun that was Four Swords, its multiplayer add-on to the A Link To The Past remaster? Mobiles are certainly more suited to multiplayer gaming that the Game Boy Advance ever was, and who wouldn’t want to tackle a series of semi-procedural puzzle-dungeons with a group of friends. Especially now those friends aren’t forced to be in the same room together (ah, that GBA link cable!).
There’s a fair probability of at least some multiplayer elements making their way into Zelda’s mobile future.
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The Nintendo-licensed property that has made them the most money so far on mobile platforms is far and away Pokemon GO! so wouldn’t it make the most sense from a financial perspective to simply leverage the same augmented reality format (and even the same third party studio in Niantic, if need be) to create a similar game set in the Zelda universe? The answer is yes, of course, but Nintendo has a history of not just thinking of the money, and taking risks for the sake of innovation. If they do go the way of GO! It’s fair to assume this won’t just be a skinned version of the pocket-monster capturing phenomenon.
Could Nintendo bank on lightning striking twice? I’d day it’s definitely possible, but my money’s something more innovative than an exact copy.
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The puzzles in any Zelda game
Rather than take inspiration from one of the mainline Zelda titles, it’s possible Nintendo could attempt a Zelda-themed puzzle spin-off. There are a huge number of puzzles in the Zelda games to draw inspiration from after all, with many (so many!) involving some variation of block-pushing. The main argument against this type of move is that expectations have undoubtedly been raised by the news Nintendo is developing a Zelda title. If Nintendo then goes on to release a spin-off that looks like Zelda but plays like Candy Crush, it’s likely to only lead to disappointment. Negative buzz can build all too quickly, and could potentially kill the game before it’s even released, regardless of whether it's actually any good or not.
A Zelda-themed puzzler appearing out of nowhere would be a bonus. An eagerly anticipated Zelda title that turned out to be a puzzle game would be a big letdown.
The truth is, the Legend of Zelda mobile game we end up with will likely incorporate elements from a few of these options. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3D graphics, an element of augmented reality, and a multiplayer component all make it to the final game. Whichever direction Nintendo is going, fans should look back at the series’ history and have faith. There’s never really been a truly bad Zelda game, and that’s not likely to change even with this move to a new format.