I have played a lot of amazing video games over the last 30 plus years. Games that made me jump for joy. Games that brought me to tears. Games that made me so angry that I threw my controller across the room. The past 10 years especially have seen remarkable leaps and bounds in video games. Mechanics, graphics and story telling that once combined are able to tug at the heartstrings of the most emotionally unmovable player. However, when I am asked (and quite frequently, I might say) what my favourite game of all time is, without even a second of thought I say: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That is until a week ago.
The Gold Standard – Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most highly reviewed games in existence, and for good reason. It changed the world of gaming through advancements in mechanics (Z-targeting), pioneering the open world setting, puzzles that melted the mind and forking the Zelda timeline in 3 new branches.
As a game critic, I appreciate and acknowledge all of these things, but that’s not the only reason why it was my favourite game of all time. When I think about Ocarina of Time, it takes me back to a very specific moment in my life, when gaming became part of who I am as a person. I can fondly remember the days where my brother Doug, our good friend Stephen and I would spend hours on end in my brother’s room, glued to the tv, passing the controller back and forth as we attempted to solve every puzzle, find every secret, get the Master Sword and save Hyrule. OoT made me feel smart. It made me think outside the box. It made me work as a team with Doug and Stephen, as we combined our minds and gaming skills to finish the game.
Now don’t get me wrong, OoT has its issues. It’s a game that I have a really hard time going back to as it didn’t age well. There’s something about the beginning of 3D that just looks sad today. Once solved, the puzzles were no longer challenges: there wasn’t really much replay value once you discovered all the secrets. But as a 14-year-old, it was mind blowing. It’s that feeling that I held every other game up against. It was the pinnacle, the gold standard.
The 100 Year Wait (Well Not Really)
Then along came a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A game that we collectively as gamers, Nintendo fans and Zelda die hards, have been waiting for for ages. In between Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild, 13 Zelda games have been released on a myriad of different consoles, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, but none ever comparing to OoT. When Breath of the Wild was announced January of 2013, it was hard to believe that Nintendo was capable of living up to what they were proposing. A completely open world Zelda? Zelda Skyrim? A game set to revolutionize a genre like Ocarina of Time previously had? The hype was real and yet my skepticism was just as high after my disappointment with previous Zelda 3DS title Triforce Heroes, the Wii U’s dismal performance as a console, the constant delays and just overall caution after being burned by broken promises in the past. I borderline refused to watch or read anything to do with the game besides official trailers and game showings at press conferences.
Then, I went hands on with Breath of the Wild at the Nintendo Switch event in Toronto this past January… and I started to believe.
I believed in the possibility that Nintendo could strike me with lightning twice. I had 20 minutes. 20 glorious minutes that were completely intoxicating. I didn’t want to let the Switch go.
Lightning Strikes Twice – Breath of the Wild
Fast forward a few weeks, and the Nintendo Switch arrives in my lap, pre-release, with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I was currently 5 hours into another amazing game (Horizon Zero Dawn) which I promptly dropped.. Breath of the Wild consumed my life, and thanks to the Switch’s portable mode, it really overtook my life.
Like Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild is a genuine advancement in video game design. Nintendo had a lot to live up to when they said it would be set in an open world, and they went above and beyond any other game we have to date. You, the player, can go anywhere, climb everything and interact with things and objects in ways that make sense in the real world. Materials and their nature matter. Physics matter. Real life logic and thinking outside the box too. I pity the poor people trying to write guides for this game. The puzzle design is so good, that there are rarely a single solution..It’s in discussing those solutions, the choices and the paths taken with my friends and fellow gamers that makes me feel like I am 14 again, sitting in my brother’s room. Though now, I am looking at the Switch instead of a CRT TV and my excited discussion is through social media and GoG Discord rather than between the 3 of us passing a N64 controller back and forth.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild rewards discovery. It challenges your notions of gameplay. It makes you anxious at appropriate moments. It makes me feel smart in new ways. It reminds me of why I love games.
80 plus hours later and I finally decided to complete the story, even though I still have many many more things to do across Hyrule. My heart was in my throat and my nerves were taut as I prepared to face Calamity Ganon. I feared I would fail. I dreaded that I would be ending my adventure, that the fun was over. When I finished, and I cheered on my living room couch, a little bit of sadness struck me as I realized that it was all over.
The New Favourite
It took me two days after that final battle to realize that Breath of the Wild had now become my favourite game of all time. That realization came when the need to pick up the Switch again was so high after hearing more friends discuss the game and talk about new secrets to unlock. It became almost like a drug. I needed that gratification again. Even though I finished the main quest, the game isn’t over. The adventure lives on. I feel as though I experienced my own version of the 100 year wait, my patience paying off when this new hero of Hyrule awoke and breathed life back into a franchise I love dearly. I went back to Horizon Zero Dawn, which is awesome, but there is still this little nagging voice in the back of my head trying to coerce me back to Hyrule. My desire to jump back into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is just as strong as when I played Ocarina of Time, and yet more so, because I’m creating new memories every time I turn on the game.