This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the Nintendo Switch and the latest Legend of Zelda.
I'm willing to bet it crossed Nintendo's mind more than once to call its new console the "S-Wii-tch", but thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and for once, we have a Nintendo console whose name actually means something! An appropriate meaning, as well, for a switch is another name for a beating stick with which one might conceivably flog a dead horse. Oh, and it also lets you "switch" between living room console and handheld, a service just as unasked for as it was when the Wii U tried it. But while the Wii U could switch from living room to handheld only if the handheld remained inside the living room, you can carry the Switch to the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro and still have a bit of a game, although you'd better hope there's some free power outlets up there.
I guess Nintendo is still employing a fleet of obsolete construction robots as QA testers, because the controls still favor geometric shapes over anything designed with human hands in mind, and using the thing in handheld mode with my massive, masculine mitts was as comfortable as wanking off a VCR. But hey, that's the point of the whole "switch" aspect: you play it the way that's comfortable for you and let all the other ways stick a U-bend on their todgers and piss up their own assholes.
I feel Nintendo are vastly overestimating its average user's tendency to leave the house, but if you are forced to do so because of a family picnic or because most of the couch is on fire, you can snap the controllers off like a big electronic Kit Kat, prop the screen up on a flat surface, and continue gaming as God intended, until the battery runs low, at which point we discover that some world-class intellect put the power input on the underside of the screen, so you can't plug the cable in while it's propped up on a table. You're either going to have to interact with nearby family members or rescue workers to pass the time, or carry around a large cordless drill. You've got two options once you detach the controllers: you can either continue waving the two ends around like a complete pillock with two garage door remotes, or you can give yourself a well-deserved slap, insert them into the special housing that turns them into a standard controller, and come and join us in the fucking real world. I say "standard controller", but only if the definition of "standard" now includes having a wireless connection that's more like a casual pen-friend relationship.
If there was anything between the controller and the console, such as part of my leg or an affectionate dog, then I'd get all kinds of sync issues; the game wouldn't realize I'd stopped pushing forwards and Link would walk straight off a tower to his death, which might as well transition us to the fact that there's a new Zelda game with towers in it, because this one's trying to be more of a sandbox and I guess Ubisoft must have taken Nintendo aside and given some advice. "Trust me, can never have enough towers; my games are full of them. I love towers! My dog is named Tower. I grind up towers and snort them. Sometimes at night, I'd take a little model of a tower and shove it--" Well, anyway! Breath of the Wild is a new Zelda most closely comparable to Zelda: Twilight Princess in that it, too, is being released for both a new and an old console and is most definitely a more advisable purchase for the old because the old has other games, not to mention a degree of backwards compatibility and isn't going to charge you a subscription to play the same old Nintendo tat you've been repeatedly buying and re-buying for the last forty fucking years. But I digress!
Link shows up in Hyrule and finds himself tasked to rescue the usual princess by getting the usual sword and slitting up the usual bastard; and in other news, the sky continues to be blue and the Trump administration fucked something up. What is interesting is that Breath of the Wild takes a decisively hands-off approach to structure; the traditional Zelda linear acquisition of useful stocking-fillers that gradually open up the map is nowhere to be seen. In fact, if you want, you can jog straight from the tutorial area to the final boss fight and take him on; you'll get fucking mulched, and you'll need to be conveyed back to the save point between two slices of bread, but it's nice to see Nintendo finally acknowledge the many obsessive psychopaths in their core fanbase. "Hey, bet you can't speedrun this game, you insane, beautiful bastards," says Nintendo with a sly wink, knowing full well the speedrun will be online inside a day, and by week two, they'll be posting blindfolded speedruns on Guitar Hero controllers using only their knobs. Everything else in the game is there to make the final fight easier: building up hearts and stamina, assembling weapons that don't break if you stare at them for too long, and the main point of doing the four dungeons is to enlist someone from each of the four major races of Hyrule to come and hold Ganon down while you give him a few free kicks to the goolies before the fight starts proper.
I like it 'cause it's organic game design; I like that you spot landmarks from towers by looking at them with your magic smartphone-telescope and marking them off manually, 'cause you know at that point in a Ubisoft game, the map would just spooge a bunch of icons like a highly aroused clown with confetti up his dick. I like how the only proviso for getting the Master Sword is having enough hearts to tank the massive, life-threatening hernia Link gets from trying to pull it out, 'cause it's as good a measure of worth as any, and you know another Zelda game would make us solve puzzles stolen from the back of a cereal box for thirty minutes. Which is not to say Breath of the Wild isn't above making us prove our worth every alternate fucking step. The main source of hearts and stamina upgrades are the 500 quintillion micro-dungeons that all have the exact same decor. Endless glowing cyan! It's like being stuck in Isaac Clarke's wardrobe during a rave.
Making the final boss easier isn't really your only motive; we also explore for exploration's sake, and the game world's size and repetitive scenery makes it a bit dull to get around. Then again, I'm always talking up Wind Waker, Wind "70% featureless ocean and 30% conversations with fish" Waker. Then again again, Wind Waker had character. In Breath of the Wild, Ganon - or rather, Calamity Ganon, which is his new title and not the name of a Nintendo-themed musical Western - isn't a character at all; he's a generic evil force whose job is to sit around inside a giant, pulsating bollock and wait to be killed.
Character may be what we sacrifice with the hands-off approach, although the exception is Princess Zelda; I liked what they did with her: an insecure nerd in so far over her head that she's giving the blue balls to deep sea angler fish. I've got some control problems, even beyond the controllers having more syncing issues than the fucking Titanic. The stealth element is a complete waste of space, and since weapons degrade like the atmosphere at a party after the cops show up, it'd be nice if the weapon selector didn't suck on old tea towels. But on the whole, Legend of Zelda: Death of a Salesman is, while a bit emotionally cold, a broadly absorbing open world that offers something for every flavor of lunatic Nintendo fanboy: old-school nutters will like the traditionalist feel, 100% nutters will like taking photos of every monster, animal, and air molecule, and as I said, the speedrun nutters will love it as soon as they figure out how to control it with a Fisher-Price piano and an egg whisk.
- Breath of the dog: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Actually the syncing got better after the launch update but you might still have trouble if, unlike me, you have a living room larger than a sultana
- And it didn't speed up the fucking climbing animation
Extra: Will Save the Galaxy for Food Edit
My new book, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, is out now! It's a sci-fi comedy with all the usual sci-fi comedy themes: redundancy, hopelessness, and existential dread. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from all good retailers and some dodgy ones.