Written by Shaun Hatton
The Nintendo Switch, like many Nintendo console launches in recent memory, bears the unfortunate burden of having to live up to hype and expectation while also unfortunately not having much of a launch library to choose from.
Given the Wii U’s relatively short console lifespan, its peculiar two-screen gameplay gimmick, and is unfortunate lack of major third-party publisher support, it’s understandable that many have been skeptical of the Switch. But if one can count on Nintendo for anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. And for fans of Nintendo, and videogames in general, thankfully Switch has its killer launch game: The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.
Yes, the game is also available for the Wii U, but after having spent a week playing it on the Switch, it’s hard to imagine enjoying it as much without the conveniences the new console has to offer.
The convenience of being able to play anywhere for hours at a time allows for more opportunities to explore the game’s truly massive world.
Unlike some other recent entries in the series, Breath of the Wild doesn’t attempt to hold your hand with lengthy introduction or tutorial segments, nor will you have to sit through overly lengthy exposition right off the top.
Instead, Link awakens in the Shrine of Resurrection, and you’re free to move about and explore. It’s not long before you run into the Old Man, who explains that for the time being, you are stuck on the plateau. And in good series fashion, he has a bit of a fetch quest for you to complete.
Exploring the land of Hyrule on the Switch is as exciting as it is dangerous. The system is comfortable enough to hold for hours at a time. When I needed a break from this, I would remove the Joy-Con controllers and either hold each one separately in each hand or slide them into the system’s included Joy-Con grip accessory while propping the Switch’s screen up using its fold-away kickstand.
That said, it’s not the ideal way to play the system unless you’re sitting really close to the small screen.
The other option involves docking the Switch and enjoying the gameplay on your own television. This makes the Switch feel more like a home console (which it absolutely is) but having tried all the options, I prefer playing with the entire system in hand.
When you first enter the open world of Hyrule, your curiosity will get the better of you. A lot. By this, I mean you will die a lot. It’s gonna happen. Don’t worry about it. After all, you’re starting out with no weapons or armour, and there are a lot of natural hazards that can get you as well (cliffs, fast rivers, cold).
The first thing you’re going to want to do is get yourself a stick to fend off enemies. The stick won’t last long in combat as everything will wear down with use over time. But the good news is that enemies will drop their weapons, however meager they may be, and you can continue trading up this way until you come across actual weapons in your exploration.
The second thing that’s going to come in handy is knowing how to cook. I’m not joking. Cooking is an important strategic part of the experience, and it’s surprisingly fun.
After clearing an enemy camp, look for a cooking pot. It’ll be on a bunch of sticks. You can start a fire by holding a stick (see “1: GET A STICK”) near any existing fire and then walking over to the cooking pot. Now you’re ready to begin adding ingredients (up to five per recipe).
Go into your menu and select a material to hold. You can cook stuff that is obviously food (apples, meat, fish, mushrooms, rice, etc.) or you can get gross and cook monster parts and eyeballs. A good rule to follow is not adding anything gross to your meals. Food can be used to refill your heart gauge but certain food can give you status/stamina upgrades. For instance, eating something spicy will help you survive in colder climates.
The Old Man’s quest for you involves entering shrines and completing their challenges. After you’ve completed the challenges in the first four shrines (they’re very easy, you got this), you’ll have four Spirit Orbs.
These four orbs can be exchanged with the Goddess Statue at the Temple of Time. When you get the fourth orb, the Old Man will tell you where to head – you can’t miss the temple.
After you talk to the Goddess Statue, the Old Man will introduce himself to you again and give you the Paraglider, which will allow you to leave the Great Plateau and continue exploring Hyrule. Remember to visit every shrine you can find because besting their challenges will give you more spirit orbs that you can trade in for more health and stamina – which you’re going to need a lot of.
Completing the challenges of the four shrines on the Great Plateau will unlock special Sheikah Slate rune abilities (remote bombs, time stopping for certain objects, magnetic powers, and ice powers). These abilities come in handy throughout your adventuring but an additional rune ability allows you to scan an Amiibo into the game to receive helpful items you can use in crafting/cooking plus ammo, weapons, and more. It doesn’t matter which Amiibo you choose to scan, though Zelda-series Amiibos will give you some nice bonus items. You can scan a single Amiibo once a day.
Travelling across Hyrule is a lot of fun, but it also takes a lot of time when you’re exploring new areas and can’t use the game’s fast travel mechanic. Once you have the Paraglider the Old Man, among other bits of wisdom, will let you know about travelling to Duelling Peaks.
Just outside the village you will be able to sneak up on a wild horse (crouch by clicking down on the left stick and approach very slowly from behind). When the game gives you the prompt to mount the horse, jump on and prepare to tame it with several presses of the L button. You don’t have to press the button gently, but I found it helped me feel closer to the horse.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game that’s difficult to put down once you start playing, which makes a perfect launch game to entice players to try out the portable Nintendo Switch. It’s hard to imagine how Nintendo will top this with subsequent games in the series, but they tend to find surprising ways to captivate players.
Breath of the Wild has set high bar for quality for any upcoming Switch titles, and if it’s any indication of the fun we can expect from this console, we are going to be in for some real treats.
Shaun is a freelance writer and musician who has a life-long love of playing and talking about videogames. He has contributed to magazines and websites and has appeared on national radio as well. Shaun is perhaps best known for his five-year stint on the TV shows EP Daily and Reviews on the Run.