Editor’s Note: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is arguably the most important game released for the Nintendo Switch since the console’s creation. As such, we have several GiN reviewers, all with deep backgrounds in the Zelda franchise and with Nintendo games, covering and reviewing it. First up is Michael Blaker’s take. And also, be sure to check out Vincent Mahoney’s Save State column where he gives a deep dive into this impressive title and goes over all the new mechanics. And now, on to the first review.
Hey all, I’m back with a review for one of the biggest games to release in the past few years, and it’s a doozy. It’s The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for the Nintendo Switch.
Plot: This is a direct sequel to the standout hit from 2017, Breath of the Wild, making this only the second mainline Zelda game to be a direct sequel after Majora’s Mask. The plot is pretty great, in fact it’s truly one of the best Zelda titles I’ve played yet in terms of story, but it does have to contend with its prequel Breath of the Wild. And it could be argued that it’s not quite as compelling because of being tied to the other title. Breath of the Wild started off amazingly, and there were almost no guidelines from the start, but Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t do that. That’s understandable, since Link needed some reason to start without any of his gear or abilities from Breath of the Wild, but the plot lacks the subtle touch that Breath of the Wild had.
Honestly though, that’s a pretty minor nitpick because the story is otherwise very solid and well done. I won’t spoil it because that’d be a travesty, but I was very satisfied once I finally finished the main story.
Characters: We get to meet tons of familiar faces in this new Zelda, but we also get to meet some new characters. I actually really enjoyed the expansion certain older characters got, although I really wish we didn’t have to deal with Yunobo as one of the major secondary characters. Still, I loved the unique identity of nearly every character and was psyched to see them act as naturally as they do in a world that is as vibrant as Tears of the Kingdom is.
Gameplay: But you all are waiting for me to get on to the meat of the review, and that is its gameplay. Needless to say, almost everything about Tears of the Kingdom is masterfully done and incorporates Breath of the Wild’s world in new and exciting ways. Yes, we re-tread many familiar places and locations in Tears of the Kingdom, but there are some major changes in the landscape of Hyrule that aren’t limited to the giant floating islands that are so prevalent in the game’s artwork. Frankly, I was as ecstatic to go through old areas like Gerudo Canyon as much as I was to explore the new underground area the Depths and the various sky island chains.
Speaking of the Depths, I can’t state how very well done and creepy this new area is. I don’t tend to be afraid of the dark in games when characters are outside, but underground or in caves makes it completely different, and Tears of the Kingdom showcases this to perfection in the Depths where almost nothing is lit and everything is shrouded in pitch-black darkness, at least at first. You can change that to a degree by thoroughly exploring and activating certain areas in the Depths, but you will still need to brave the many, many monsters that are out for your blood and the numerous treacherous chasms that litter the area under Hyrule. Or you can take advantage of Link’s new abilities to make the trek just a bit easier.
Link’s new abilities are amazing and truly change how Zelda is played. The ability to create mechanical constructions that are only limited by our imaginations and a pesky 21 object attachment limit which I’ve only hit one time is just, if you’ll excuse the pun, game changing. I love that I can do different things with this like craft myself a bike made out of fans and ride it around the world to explore via the air using Ultrahand, create myself a tank and wreck a monster outpost with ease, or clear out a cave full of sediment by crafting myself a cannon that I can aim with ease to destroy the rock walls. Then you can attach various items to your equipment and change everything about them with the Fuse ability. Maybe you’re fighting on a very high plateau, and you take a second to fuse a mushroom into a spear in order to fling enemies off easier because doing so gives a bounce effect to the weapon and shield. Or you need to scale a wall in a wet cavern that makes climbing a nightmare, so you attach a rocket to your shield in order to reach the top without slipping every few feet.
You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. Let’s continue. I once attached a Yellow Chuchu Jelly to an arrow in order to fish with ease by shocking every fish in a wide area. The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to Fuse. Ascend is also truly an ability that I hope returns in the future because it made traversing the world of Hyrule a bit more convenient and allowed me to really take advantage of the vertical nature of enemy encampments by letting me rise through the ceiling/floor and ambush enemies from behind. The Recall ability is just as fun, and I enjoyed using it to great advantage in traversal, in puzzles, and in combat where it’s often a necessity in order to defeat some of the biggest and most powerful monsters roaming Hyrule.
Speaking of monsters, there are plenty of familiar enemies to contend with in Tears of the Kingdom and almost every one of them from Breath of the Wild returns, the exceptions being the various bosses and the Divine Beasts, but there are a few “new” enemies as well. I say “new” because they are returning monsters from some of the older games like the original Zelda’s Gleeoks coming back as roaming monsters in the world that will absolutely wreck your day if you are caught unaware or the Gibdos and Like-Likes from other older titles. I enjoyed all the various new monsters and the ability to even fight bosses that you’ve beaten previously by encountering them in the Depths.
As for those bosses I can say with certainty that I loved the hell out of almost every single boss fight in Tears of the Kingdom, and it contains some of my favorites of the series.
There is one part of the gameplay that is a bit annoying to me as a player, and that is the abilities you gain later in the game. They aren’t as easily triggered as other abilities and frankly they can be a bit of a hassle to use for the most part, though there are two exceptions. Both have conditions that allow for easy use of them in certain circumstances via the A button, and the lack of that option for the other three abilities was annoying to the extreme. Honestly, it might have been better to have them in a wheel menu like the other abilities, as for the most part they were stuff that were pains in the butt to activate in combat. However, that is my only complaint and issue with it, and literally everything else handled amazingly well. And these abilities that are hard to deploy, while handy and useful, aren’t game changing or supremely impactful enough to warrant me bumping down the score by a full .5. If we had a .05 or .01 scale I could bump it down on, I’d probably do so because everything else handled amazingly well.
Art: The art in Tears of the Kingdom is just as outstanding and even better than Breath of the Wild. It really brings Hyrule to life. The characters ooze depth and complexity from their animations and models. The world is stunning to explore and even seeing familiar locales is made brand new because it’s depicted clearly that time has passed since Breath of the Wild and familiar locations have changed drastically. For example, Hateno Village is now the home of a very odd fashion trend that infects everything from the decor of the houses to the attire the citizens wear. As for frame rate, I only ran into issues a couple times when I was in the midst of a major battle with tons of moving characters and other objects in the area, and even then it was just a small dip in the frame rate and hardly made it difficult to play, let alone unplayable. And that is with me playing purely using the Nintendo Switch’s portable mode to let me beat the heat of the last few weeks here in the Pacific Northwest.
Music: The music is amazing. While there are very familiar tunes played, there are also new ones as well and they all are pretty awesome. But given that Zelda is well known in terms of its music, this should come as no surprise to anyone.
Overall: Tears of the Kingdom is going to be the new benchmark for all future Zelda games, but it might just be the benchmark for all future open world titles as well, with the ability to take various elements and repurpose them to endless uses with Ultrahand. So yes, Tears of the Kingdom is definitely worth getting because it’s one of those titles that might just change the whole of gaming.
For those who like: Zelda titles, action, adventure, exploration, drama and comedy, excellent plots, great characters, awesome gameplay, stupendous artwork, and an amazing musical score.
Not for those who don’t like: Any of the above.