Zelda. Is there any franchise more synonymous with an adventure video game? I’ve waited many red moons for a Zelda title of this calibre. Not since I had my pre-order of Ocarina of Time (OoT for short) from K-Mart did I feel so excited about a Zelda game, and while Twilight Princess was a great game, nothing took OoT off its pedestal… until now. Breath of the Wild brings a fresh breath to a very stagnant, arguably failed console in the Nintendo Wii U during its final year of production. While the game itself was conveniently suspended to launch on Nintendo Switch, it’s important to remember that the game was originally planned as just a Wii U title, and therefore Wii U reviews are essential. So we took a look at how it holds up on the aging console.
Breath of the Wild’s story plays out very much like every other Zelda game you may have played. Link must rescue Zelda (and Hyrule) from an over-shadowing evil. In Breath of the Wild, Link has been asleep for 100 years since the Calamity, an event where Ganon took over Hyrule Castle, and took control of the four divine beasts and many ancient guardians scattered across Hyrule. The divine beasts are giant robotic creatures which watch over the key friendly civilisations of Goron, Zora, Gerudo and Rito. These beasts are essentially the main temples of the game, full of clever interactive puzzles which inevitably leads to their release from the calamity power which controls them. Instead of smaller temples there are shrines. You’ll find dozens and dozens of shrines across Hyrule, some which you can spot from afar, others well hidden and some which even involve some open-world puzzle solving to reveal. Inside the shrines is generally either a puzzle, an ancient guardian which will put you to a minor, modest or major test of strength, or simply a chest because you’ve already completed a puzzle to get that far. Each shrine gives you an orb which goes towards upgrading your hearts or stamina.
Starting the game, Link has just three hearts and one full stamina wheel. This surprisingly makes it a fairly difficult Zelda title to pick up and play. Hearts are fairly self-explanatory, but stamina is something which becomes more necessary as you work your way around Hyrule. There are many cliff faces which must be scaled in Breath of the Wild and it’s simply not possible to do it without an increase in stamina. You may even find difficulties with progression early in the game due to not having enough stamina. Although it gets used up when sprinting, swimming or charging your attacks, its main purpose is definitely for climbing.
If you’re wanting to progress quickly you’re going to have a hard time. The start of the game will take you a few hours as you unlock all the abilities of your Sheikah Slate, a tablet device that looks very much like a Nintendo Switch. Features of the Sheikah Slate include bombs (round and square), magnesis (moving metal objects from afar), stasis (freezing in time objects and creatures), cryonis (spawning an ice block/platform out of water), a camera, and the Amiibo option which is activatable from the main menu screen. You’ll find you need to refer to these abilities quite often, particularly when trying to solve puzzles. They can also be very useful in combat, and creates many clever and unique experiences.
The Sheikah Slate is also your menu screen where you’ll find your quests, inventory and map. The map is quite useful for figuring out where you want to explore next, and it will often point out nearby towers or towns to explore due to having an active quest for its location. You can also make an unlimited amount of markings on the map, however when Link uses his binoculars he can put a limited amount of special coloured Sheikah markers which give you a little extra navigation on the minimap. Fortunately you can fast travel to any unlocked shrine or tower around Hyrule, and there is usually a shrine located near a town or stables.
The Wii U controller allows you to switch your game between your TV and the controller’s screen just by tapping on the screen, which is great for portability, particularly if your house is set up well to accommodate for being within range of your console while in another room. This does mean that there’s literally no functionality for the controller’s screen while you’re playing on your TV though, which is a shame. Having the Sheikah Slate menu on that screen would have been quite useful, particularly for changing your weapons and equipment on the fly. As it is, gamers use a quick menu by holding down one of the d-pad buttons and scrolling through your inventory. This can prove to be a bit slow and stagger the combat.
When using your binoculars or other aiming equipment, the Wii U controller’s motion sensing comes alive and assists in accuracy. This can become inconvenient if you’re not in the position to suddenly be able to move your controller around at will, and Nintendo Switch players have reported awkward moments in public. There are a few shrines which also require the use of motion controls, usually to guide a ball through a maze or around an area. These shrines can be quite tricky and take a few attempts, but there are no repercussions for failure. Speaking of no repercussions for failure, although the game has the steep learning curve to begin with, once you start working your way through the game you’ll find you die less and less. There are a few items which actually prevent death, saving you at the last moment and these become ever more needed as you head towards Hyrule Castle to take on Calamity Ganon.
Horse riding is a cool yet somewhat impractical feature of Breath of the Wild. The handling of the horse riding on Wii U is perfect, and definitely leaps and bounds better than the Twilight Princess HD remake. As much as you want to ride your horse everywhere, it’s simply unnecessary once you unlock a few fast travel points and get quests that require you to travel vast distances. There are many horses around Hyrule which have various stats, some more legendary than others, but the horse riding just doesn’t feel as necessary in this Zelda game has it has in previous titles. You can spawn your horse at any stables, but it has to be within range for you to call it, which doesn’t work well for such a large map with many chasms and cliffs to surpass. Horses will follow paths and tracks naturally allowing you to enjoy the scenery, which we found was a good way to explore areas of the game and look for hidden items.
Cooking now takes up a fairly major part of the game, which is something quite new to the Zelda series. There is an incredible wealth of items available in the wild such as bugs, animals, fruit and vegetables, salt, eggs, herbs, mushrooms, and much more which you can use as ingredients to cook up dozens of different recipes. There are set recipes which you can find throughout the game but unfortunately they’re not stored in your Sheikah Slate so you either have to remember them, write them down, or refer to an internet guide. You can however simply wing it and cook whatever you want. This can lead to unexpected results, but usually if you read each item’s description you can get a pretty good idea of what your meal may be, i.e. heat/cold resistance, hearts/stamina recovery, etc.
It is definitely possible to complete the game as quickly as you want by finishing the main quests, but that is definitely not what Breath of the Wild is all about. Developers at Nintendo want you to explore Hyrule so badly that they made an open world 12 times bigger than the previous largest 3D title, Twilight Princess. There’s no Zelda title that compares to Breath of the Wild when it comes to exploring, and around every corner, under every nook and cranny is something worth finding. Korok seeds are one of the items you’ll find pretty much everywhere, and they are used to expand your inventory slots. It’s almost imperative to get more space for your weapons due to the fact that they break and/or you throw them at things. One hit from certain enemies can cause you to drop both your sword and shield!
Link has an absolutely crazy amount of weapons and armour to gather throughout your journeys through Hyrule, and it’s doubtful that you’ll even see everything before you beat Ganon for the first time. All the typical Zelda lore items are there bar a couple (where’s my hook-shot! Season Pass perhaps?) however you may find some of the more key items are harder to find than previous Zelda games. Much like OoT and other Zelda titles there are specific armour sets depending on what type of biome you’re in, and while they can usually be purchased from a vendor, you can also get some of the items in chests and from quests around Hyrule.
A new feature of Breath of the Wild is the durability of your melee and ranged weapons as well as your shields. Pretty much everything breaks, and you need to make sure you’ve got backups and aren’t left bare handed because although Link is a master swordsman, he doesn’t know any martial arts. There is no way to repair your items either, but fortunately the more powerful an item the more durability it will have and therefore last longer. All melee weapons can be thrown, however this often causes them to break. It’s a fun little gameplay element that has to be maintained, and it’s recommended to be well-stocked before going up against bosses.
Amiibo play an optional yet very useful role in Breath of the Wild Wii U. There are five Amiibo made especially for the game which include two Links, Zelda, a Guardian and a Bokoblin. Using the Amiibo in the game will cause items to fall from the sky including a chest which will often include rare items such as weapons, shields, arrows or even a saddle for your horse. Using these Amiibo on a daily basis can really give you a boost and help get stronger items than you may have already found. You can also use some of the older Amiibo to unlock items in-game, with the most mentionable being the OoT Link which will grant you the OoT “of Time” armour set, the Smash Bros Link which gives you the legendary horse Epona (from OoT), and lastly the Wolf Link Amiibo from Twilight Princess, which will spawn Wolf Link at your side. The best part about Wolf Link is that it registers your Twilight Princess save and increases its hearts based on your save file.
Visual comparisons of the Wii U and Switch versions of Breath of the Wild are aplenty on Youtube so there’s no point doing a comparison here when you can see it with your own eyes. Breath of the Wild looks great on Wii U. Although the game has a rather unique colour pallette, and parts tend to look somewhat washed out, the overall effect of the graphics is very aesthetically pleasing. Breath of the Wild Wii U features many different environments from the snowy peaks in the west to the harsh volcanic temperatures of the north-east to the balmy beaches along the coast, and everything blends perfectly to make Hyrule seem all that more authentic.
We did unfortunately have issues with the frame-rate when taking on groups of enemies. When there was a lot happening on-screen including elemental effects such as fire, lightning, etc, and the sword was swinging rapidly and bombs were flying, creatures jumping, we did notice severe frame-rate drops, often the game would freeze for upwards of 1 second while in combat. Fortunately these combat situations weren’t too common throughout the game, and it did not occur throughout any of the boss battles.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Wii U is nothing short of astonishing. We’ve seen some great games on the Wii U, but if there’s one which would have actually sold console bundles it would have been Breath of the Wild. It’s a shame it took so long to come out and that it coincided with the Nintendo Switch. With many other games (i.e. GTA V) opt to stick to their release schedule and then later release a remastered version on newer consoles, Nintendo chose not to take this route with Breath of the Wild which essentially killed the sales of Wii U consoles towards the end of its production. They didn’t even bundle the Wii U version into a Master Edition! With that said though, if you happen to own a Wii U and haven’t justified the $469AUD RRP price tag for the Switch but really want to play the new Zelda, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go grab it today.