The Zelda Graphics Question

Will we get the HD Zelda of our dreams, or will Nintendo pull a “New Super” on the iconic series?

By Jason Strong. Posted 03/05/2014 12:00 6 Comments     ShareThis

In August of 2000 at its Spaceworld event, Nintendo awed the gaming world when it showed footage of what many at the time took to be its next entry in the Legend of Zelda series. Realistic and gritty, the tech demo was exactly what fans of the series were clamoring for after 1998’s masterpiece The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and its darker themed little brother The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Nintendo has a long history, however, of marching to the beat of its own drum and giving its fans not what they say they want, but what it thinks they want.

Some would say that this strategy has paid off for the company. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, first showcased at the company’s Spaceworld trade show in 2001, was far from the realistic experience that gamers had envisioned and was met with widespread negativity upon its initial reveal. The graphical style of the game, however, has allowed it to stand the test of time in a way that few other contemporary titles have managed. It is now lauded as a masterpiece in its own right and has secured a successful HD remake.

Wind Waker wasn’t what we asked for, but we loved it anyway.

More than a decade after Nintendo pulled a fast one on gamers at Spaceworld, the company showcased yet another gorgeous tech demo in its beloved Zelda series at 2011’s Electronics Entertainment Expo. As much as I want this game to become a reality, however, my long standing relationship with the company has taught me that what I want is unlikely to be exactly what I’ll get. In fact, if Nintendo’s recent track record is any indication, the game is more likely to be flawlessly executed on a small scale than vast and breathtaking.

Zelda HD e3 2011 screen

Will this gorgeous demo ever amount to anything more?

For an illustration of what I believe has become the company’s strategy in the home console space, one need look no further than the Super Mario franchise. Previous entries in this iconic series were technical powerhouses; gorgeous games that showed exactly what their consoles could do graphically. With the launch of Wii U, however, the Big N chose to forego a massive open world game like Super Mario 64 or a direct sequel to its critically acclaimed Super Mario Galaxy in favor of the much more conservative New Super Mario Bros. U. I believe that the reason for this choice is twofold. First and foremost, the New Super Mario series of games have proven vastly more successful than the mainline 3D Mario titles, with sales of New Super Mario Bros. Wii more than quadrupling those of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Perhaps just as important for the company is the fact that the New Super Mario games require significantly less resources than building an entire 3D game from scratch, a point that has become more important than ever as the company makes the jump to HD. Some might point to last year’s stellar Super Mario 3D World to contradict my theory, but the fact remains that Nintendo decided to play it safe by expanding upon an idea that it had already successfully tested on 3DS, instead of investing its resources in a game on the scale of Galaxy, Sunshine, or Super Mario 64.

With the vastly diminished user base of Wii U compared with the original Wii, and with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword achieving good, but certainly not record breaking numbers, I believe that Nintendo will be looking to cut costs and maximize profits in any way possible even with this iconic franchise. With the almost universal praise that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds has received, common sense dictates that the company will poach whatever ideas it can from this stellar title in an effort to once again capture the wallets of gamers and garner positive reviews from the gaming press. In the time that it would take Nintendo to develop one large scale Zelda as grandiose as Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, the company could likely release two or three titles in a similar style to Link Between Worlds. The fact remains that Wii U is in desperate need of software to fill out its currently barren release schedule, and so even if Nintendo is developing a larger scale game, we could still see a clone of the 3DS title if for no other reason than to take up space.

Might Nintendo recreate the style of Link Between Worlds on Wii U? Would you play it?

There are of course other franchises that might be eligible for a similar low budget treatment. While a full HD sequel to Metroid Prime might be more expensive than Nintendo is willing to gamble on, who’s to say the company might not be keen to release a 2D exploration game in the vein of the NES and SNES originals with polygonal graphics? What of franchises like EarthBound, or Kid Icarus? The company is fully capable of releasing game after game in quick succession if it does so on a small enough scale with a small enough budget. The question remains, however, whether that is a viable strategy if it wants to regain some semblance of its former dominance in the market. Can Nintendo achieve success by playing it safe with New Super Marios and seemingly endless Kirby games? Or is it better to take a gamble and release something original, big, and beautiful? Tell us your opinion in the comments below!

6 Responses to “The Zelda Graphics Question”

  • 1567 points
    penduin says...

    Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an either-or proposition. If New Mario is anything to go by, there’s plenty of room for both the simpler, more accessible games and the bigger, bolder ones. It’s hard to imagine Nintendo being happy ditching the big stuff altogether, even if the bang-to-buck ratio isn’t as high.

    One could argue that the various Four Swords games began doing this within the Zelda series a while ago.

    I would personally like to see the lower-budget-iterations concept used to breathe life into some neglected franchises. How about a dozen new courses using the existing F-Zero AX/GX engine and assets? Or take Star Fox 64 3D and rearrange its levels and bosses into a new adventure? Why not take NES Remix a step further and remix entire NES and SNES games? (If you’re into emulation, check out some of the ROM hacks of Metroid or Super Mario World – even unpaid enthusiasts can do this kind of thing to great effect!)

  • 42 points
    Gaviin says...

    I’m loving the resurgence of 2D and games that harken back to Nintendo’s past. I’ve been really loving Super Mario 3D Land and all the little references it makes to past Mario (and even Zelda) games, while still keeping things new and fresh. I look back on Mario 64 and Sunshine as necessary for their times, but lacking in true fun, particularly now, so many years later. The Galaxy games were very good, but I think the
    “2D-ish” 3D of Mario 3D Land is way more appealing, fun, and should stand the test of time more than the open world 3D Marios of the past. And the purely 2D Marios are always welcome too.

    Link Between Worlds was pretty amazing, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. A Wii U Zelda in that vein would be most welcome and might actually get me to bite the bullet and buy a Wii U. But to be honest, even a 3D Zelda would probably get me in the door.

    I do also hope the next Retro Studios project is something like a 2D Metroid, followed by the first in a new Prime trilogy. That would without question sell me on a Wii U.

    A 2D Kid Icarus wouldn’t be bad either. Anything would be better than that junky mess they released on the 3DS.

    • 1567 points
      penduin says...

      Well, I don’t agree at all with your lower opinion of 3D Marios, Zeldas, and Kid Icarii, but you make an interesting point. (And I _do_ agree with your love of 2D gaming!)

      Your tastes and sensibilities probably represent a larger slice of video game fans than my own – a 2D Zelda as a major draw for buying a Wii U is not something I would have thought of.

      I suppose that’s one of the takeaways of this discussion – independent of budget concerns, choice and variety are important. Some people definitely enjoy a more simple presentation, some prefer more immersion, and some of us love both. Using multiple styles within the same series can only increase its appeal overall, I would think.

  • 63 points
    Jake Shapiro says...

    You seem to have this belief that because the Wii U isn’t performing well, Nintendo is going to cut costs on its game production. But there’s zero indication that’s the case. Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze were all massive games with high production values. Back when the GameCube underperformed, we didn’t get cost-cutting versions of Nintendo’s iconic franchises either. Instead, we got arguably the best games Nintendo has ever produced. I don’t think we need to worry about Nintendo “looking to cut costs and maximize profits in any way possible” with Zelda.

  • 6 points
    Vampire-Jekyll says...

    Graphical aesthetics have never been a big draw to me (though, as an aside, Pikmin 3 was gorgeous) and have never been a selling point. This holds especially true for Zelda titles, as the sense of adventure and game play are the main points. As long as the titles maintain their high level of game design, graphics will never matter.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I want HD, hyper realism. Zelda can swing any look, but I love seeing the games when they push for a realistic style.

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