Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review – Imagine Minecraft crossed with Fortnite and you’re only half-way there
(Switch) ***** Age: 12+
WANDER and wonder – the two pillars of every Zelda title reached a zenith with the astonishing open world found in Breath of the Wild, the greatest game of 2017 if not the decade.
Six years later, Tears of the Kingdom doubles down on that nucleus of gameplay, presenting the player with a sweeping new crusade in a fantastical land filled with startling vistas, gripping puzzles and malevolent goblins. It’s part travelogue, part mystery, part brain-teaser.
As much as it closely resembles the mechanics and appearance of its predecessor, Tears of the Kingdom holds many secrets and no little innovation. Nintendo has clearly learned from the untrammelled success of Fortnite, Minecraft and even Elden Ring, incorporating far broader elements of construction, improvisation and aimless fooling around with physics.
Series stalwart Link returns as the hardy adventurer forever cast as a lowly hero who saves the kingdom of Hyrule or (in the less enlightened times) Princess Zelda. In this sequel, a new demon king threatens Hyrule and Zelda goes missing only to make sporadic appearances as a potentially evil influence. But as always the plot here is less important. It is more the game’s mission to send the player on a dazzling odyssey in search of MacGuffins through wildly different terrain, from lush fields to desert to mountain to forests of snow. You wander open-eyed with wonder. You wonder at the sights and your mind wanders at the possibilities.
Can I go way over there? Yes! Could I climb that peak? Yes! Can I attach that thing to this yoke and make something incredible? Yes! What the hell is that? Let’s find out!
Breath of the Wild dabbled with enabling user ingenuity, allowing creative players to fabricate madcap, YouTube-worthy stunts – from trick shots to feats of flight. Believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Tears of the Kingdom hands you a whole new set of tools such as time rewind, weapon enhancement and a suite of building blocks ranging from mere planks of wood to rockets, wings, wheels, fans and balloons. The mind boggles at how these could be combined in myriad ways. You could and probably will spend hours – nay, days – assembling bizarre machines and elaborate structures for your own amusement. Or you can largely ignore such diversions and stick to Link’s conventional powers when solving puzzles or dispatching enemies.
Underpinning all of this transformative upgrade to Link’s arsenal is the gameplay familiar to any Zelda fans. He gradually acquires powers, knowledge and strength as he climbs, swims, runs and fights his way around Hyrule. You’ll encounter horses, vehicles, enemies and curios aplenty. Compact puzzle dungeons teach him the new rules of his toolset.
But Tears of the Kingdom has many more surprises up its sleeve. This is a game on several planes. High above the sprawling countryside float many islands in the skies. Deep in the bowels of the earth, a vast network of utterly dark underground caverns conceals more challenges.
Conventional dungeons were absent from Breath of the Wild but they return with a vengeance here. They may be limited in number but at key points you’re plunged into byzantine multi-stage dungeons. Solving them involves not only careful platforming – sometimes a little too drawn-out for its own good – coupled with puzzle-solving and some dramatic boss fights.
The expansion of Link’s capabilities does come with the cost of real complexity, however – something that may intimidate newcomers. With so many buttons to manipulate, you can be forgiven, for example, for accidentally dropping a boulder on your own head or jumping off a flying contraption when you meant to step sideways.
Just occasionally, you’ll glimpse a very unNintendo-like glitch that suggests the Switch is being pushed to its limits. When buffing weapons with other objects (rocks, additional weapons, etc), for instance, the result can clip through scenery simply because it’s so physically big. It’s also difficult to fathom the value of the busywork involved in gathering so many different types of resources. Your inventory becomes so crammed with stuff you’ll forget what half of it is.
None of this stops Tears of the Kingdom from becoming an instant masterpiece, a joyous quest crammed with spectacle, humour and tests of your imagination. You’ll laugh at your ludicrous creations, rejoice at your triumphs in battle and rage at your own stupidity when you mess up.
Most of all, you’ll spend all your waking hours away from the Switch thinking about Tears of the Kingdom. What can I do next? Could this be possible? What if…?
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, it’s a heart-stealing, shield-surfing, gadget-building, dragon-slaying, mountain-climbing, arrow-slinging, mischief-making, sightseeing, wind-riding, gourmet-cooking, horse-jaunting, time-bending, rib-tickling beast of a game. It’s wonderful.