The Nintendo Switch has been making its way around the country lately, taking a tour after its grand unveiling in New York City last month. Also making its way around has been the Defenders of the Triforce Real Escape game, and when they both converged on Los Angeles last week, I finally got a chance to get my hands on Nintendo’s upcoming console and play around with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Though I knew the Switch itself would be small and light, what with Nintendo’s focus on portability, I was still surprised at just how small it was—maybe 75 percent as big as I’d been expecting. The Joy-Con controllers, too, felt small, though not uncomfortable. Part of this, I think, was because I was subconsciously expecting something the size of a Wii Remote, and the Joy-Cons are nowhere near that big.
I also experimented with the different controller options as I played. First up was the Switch Pro Controller, paired with the game up on a big-screen TV. For those looking with a wary eye at the Joy-Cons, this is the way to go. The Pro Controller felt very “normal,” not too different from holding a standard Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller. Though it may not pair well with some of Nintendo’s Switch-specific games like 1-2-Switch, it’s definitely an option for those seeking a more standard experience (especially for longer games like Skyrim).
Next, I tested the Switch in its portable form, removing it from the dock and slotting Joy-Con Controllers into the sides of the tablet. The change from the big screen to the portable screen wasn’t instant, but it was close enough, taking less than two seconds. Again, looking down at the screen, the game seemed smaller than I expected, but still had a clear and sharp image. It was easy to slot the Joy-Con Controllers in and out of the tablet, though once in place, they fit snugly, without any wobble or gaps.
Finally, I placed the tablet back in the dock and tried playing with just the Joy-Cons, one in each hand (unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the Joy-Con Grip). The controllers were tiny, and it was odd at first to play without needing to hold both hands close together. With more time to get used to it, though, I can imagine the two separate controllers leading to more comfortable gaming setups—sitting with arms draped over the side of a couch, for example. The only danger here would be losing the controllers. As mentioned before, they’re small—it would be easy to casually set one down and lose the controller in the couch cushions.
Then, it was on to the actual content: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game’s been available to play at a number of events since E3 2016, so what I saw was nothing new. Still, playing where I was—with a few people playing in the row next to me—it was striking to see just how different everyone’s experiences were. I was eager to run around the world, so I rushed out of the opening area and made a beeline for the horizon. The way I went—running around trees and into a swampy area, climbing cliffs and leaping into the water—I never picked up a weapon. The player next to me had managed to find a weapon, but missed the clothes in the opening area, and ended up picking off enemies in Link’s underwear. Yet another player further down the line eschewed exploring altogether and had made it into a shrine within ten minutes of booting up the game.
Exploring the world without a weapon proved to be hazardous. I climbed a massive tree in order to avoid a horde of bokoblins, and had to dive into the water to catch fish and restore some of my health. My stamina wasn’t quite up to making it out of the water, however, and my first death was an ignominious drowning. I died again a bit later trying a blind climb down a massive cliff. It’s true that you can jump, climb, and run almost anywhere in Breath of the Wild—but that doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy.
Though I only had 20 minutes with the game, it was enough to show just how many different routes are open to explore. Breath of the Wild throws players straight into the game, without the lengthy intro and “starting village” sequence most Zelda games have, and lets players pick their own way forward. It’s definitely different from past games, but a difference that could prove to be a major ‘breath’ of fresh air for the series.