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[Gamer's World] 'Tears of the Kingdom' Shows Nintendo Sees its Games as Timeless Works of Art

Nintendo creator Miyamoto said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." Spending a year polishing TOTK made it a clear success.



The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was released on May 12, four years after it was first announced. (©Nintendo)

"The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" is finally here. In the six years since its 2017 release, the previous game Breath of the Wild has been consistently ranked as the No.1 best game of all time. And so the Nintendo sequel has been one of the most highly anticipated games since it was first announced at E3 in June 2019. 

At IGN Japan, we included it on our annual list of most-wanted games for four years in a row. 

And on May 12, we finally got it.

TOTK is an awe-inspiring masterpiece. It takes the immense sense of scale and adventure of BOTW and expands on it in every conceivable way. It received a near-perfect 96% score on the review aggregator site Metacritic. Reviewers around the world have praised the game for its thrilling sense of freedom, with creative game design elements that reward the player's curiosity and experimentation at every turn.

Both IGN and IGN Japan gave it a 10/10, with our reviewer Otya Kan at IGN Japan writing:

Breath of the Wild's concept was described by Nintendo as "creating a game through multiplication," but after playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, its predecessor almost feels like a prototype. Not only are the amount of possibilities that Tears of the Kingdom's level of multiplication offer so much more diverse, its field was [also] designed to put those into practice to a much greater extent. Never before was the vast land of Hyrule packed with this amount of well-designed gameplay. Without a doubt, this is the best game in the series.

Everything That Could Have Gone Wrong - Didn't 

And of course, TOTK has sold. Setting social media alight upon its release, the game shifted 10 million copies in its first three days. That's a hell of a lot: around one-third of the previous game's lifetime sales to date.

Tears of the Kingdom expands on the exploration options of 2017's Breath of the Wild. (©Nintendo)

Nintendo has never been an easy company to predict, but with TOTK, they rewrote the rulebook all over again. There are so many things that could have gone wrong. TOTK runs on Nintendo Switch, a console that is in its seventh year and showing serious signs of aging. 

When the Switch launched in 2017, it already featured lower technical specs than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. And both of those consoles have since been superseded by the far more powerful PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, which brought higher-resolution graphics, smoother frame rates, 3D audio, ultra-fast SSD drives, and more. The Switch looks positively antiquated in comparison.

But the Switch has proven again and again that high specs are not everything. It has defied conventional wisdom to sell some 125 million units and is becoming the third-best-selling console of all time. That is thanks to its take-everywhere handheld form factor and easy TV connection. And a library of games that are really, really fun.


Still, over the past year or so, the cracks have started to show. November 2022's Pokémon Scarlet and Violet ran so poorly on Switch that Nintendo issued an apology for the game's litany of bugs. Many third-party publishers have stopped porting their PlayStation/Xbox/PC games to Switch as the hardware simply can't keep up. And with all of these issues, I confess I was a little worried about TOTK in the weeks before it was released.

Expanding on 'Breath of the Wild'

Expanding on the Hyrule map from the previous game, Tears of the Kingdom explores the Sky Islands above and the Depths below. (©Nintendo)

Breath of the Wild was a vast open-world game, letting the player choose their own adventure in the land of Hyrule. Densely packed with puzzles, battles, and exploration, it was a living, breathing world. 

Some six years later, Tears of the Kingdom promises to revisit an expanded Hyrule, adding floating islands in the sky. On a technical level that also means increasing the visible draw distance and the amount of stuff the game has to load at any given time. 

On top of that, it adds a whole extra layer beneath Hyrule, the Depths. And the player can parachute from the Sky Islands, down past ground-level Hyrule, and all the way into the Depths in one shot – completely seamlessly.

In addition, TOTK gives players a set of tools to build their own vehicles to traverse the open world. It's all based on a physics engine that makes your handmade contraptions behave as they logically should. 

Protagonist Link also has a new ability that enables him to travel through the ceiling of a room or cave to the surface above. And it requires a whole additional level of detail, as players could now reach areas they previously never would have seen.

Players can build their own contraptions and vehicles however they like. (©Nintendo)

With a playing field this massive, and free-building tools that allow players to make functioning inventions restricted only by their imagination, even the new-generation PS5 and Xbox Series consoles would struggle. It seemed obvious that the launch of TOTK would coincide with the launch of a new, more powerful Switch. But that never came true. 

No Bugs, Crashes, or Pop-ins!

Then, if it were to launch on the regular Switch, it seemed it would surely run like garbage. The fact that Nintendo showed very little gameplay footage ahead of the game's release was an additional concern, as it felt like they could be hiding a Pokémon-style buggy mess.

And yet… TOTK runs seamlessly on Switch. No bugs, no crashes, no pop-ins. The frame rate is locked at 30fps, which these days is the minimum requirement. But it rarely drops far below that. Exploration is largely free from loading screens. And the only real glitch (where players could duplicate in-game resources at will) has already been patched out. Yes, the textures can be a little ragged and it would be nice to see how glorious this game could look in 4K. But the TOTK's gorgeous art direction more than makes up for any technical shortfall – it's a really beautiful game.

Nintendo wasn't hiding a buggy mess. They didn't show much gameplay in advance because they simply knew they didn't need to – a baller move fuelled by supreme confidence in their product.

So, how did Nintendo accomplish this seemingly impossible feat? The answer is more simple than you might think. They worked really hard on it.

Protagonist Link must once again search for Princess Zelda. (©Nintendo)

Tears of the Kingdom was produced by series head Eiji Aonuma and developed with support from Monolith Soft. The latter is a Nintendo-owned studio that has achieved technical miracles on the Xenoblade series as well as the two Zelda games on Switch. 

Development began in 2017, and according to Aonuma, the game was mostly complete in March 2022. But Nintendo chose to spend an extra year polishing the game to the highest standard possible. And that's why it works so well.


A Contrast to the Norm

This may seem obvious. But in the world of videogames in the 2020s, it is sadly not the norm. Today, a game's release date is just the start, followed by patches that the player must download to update the game after it's out. A "day one" patch is standard for most games. That's because the developers take advantage of a couple of months after sending the master version of the game through certification and disc duplication so that a better version is ready to go on release day. And many games continue to release updates regularly after that, often over the course of several years.

Cyberpunk 2077, another hotly anticipated open-world game, was so riddled with bugs that PlayStation removed it from its digital store for nearly a year until the game had been sufficiently fixed. (It now runs very well.) 

A more recent release, "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor", had so many issues on PC that developer Respawn Entertainment issued an apology. 

And all three of the major console manufacturers have had controversies over the past few months, with the Nintendo co-owned Pokémon company on the hook for problems with Scarlet and Violet. 

Xbox head Phil Spencer has apologized to fans for the mess of its latest exclusive game Redfall. And PlayStation studio Naughty Dog's PC port of "The Last of Us Part 1" was review-bombed on Metacritic for its bugs that included everything from severe crashes to one where lead characters Joel and Ellie became progressively wetter in a cutscene for no reason.

Players can fuse objects to their weapons to make barmy hybrids and increase their options in battle. (©Nintendo)

A Year of Polishing

After several years of anticipation, if TOTK had been released in such a state, it would have been a disaster. You only get one shot at a first impression, a fact that Nintendo knows only too well. 

Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto once said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." And in the case of TOTK, choosing to spend a year on polish instead of rushing the game to market was a clear success.

Yes, OK, Nintendo could afford to do this, because TOTK was the highly anticipated follow-up to a highly acclaimed game that sold 30 million copies. And so the additional budget required for an extra year of development was probably less of an issue. Also, a major advantage of eschewing 4K fidelity is that the development of raw assets for standard HD is theoretically cheaper. So Nintendo was able to spend that money on polish and quality, rather than on visual fidelity. I know which one I'd prefer.

Nintendo's Philosophy

But budgets aside, I think this approach also tells us something deeper about how Nintendo approaches its products. It doesn't approach them as products at all. Nintendo sees these games as timeless works of art. 

The Super Mario Bros Movie was a hit among game fans. © 2023 Nintendo and Universal Studios. (©Nintendo)

This is why The Super Mario Bros Movie, with Miyamoto himself overseeing production, was so much more than just a soulless cash grab. It's why Nintendo has not rushed out a new Mario game to coincide with the movie's release, despite this being the obvious and potentially highly lucrative strategy. 

Moreover, it's why the Super Nintendo World area at Universal Studios Japan or the Mario Lego sets are filled with pioneering elements of gamification that make them utterly unique. And it's why Nintendo decided to spend an entire extra year on making The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as flawless as it could be.

It's here, and it's beautiful. If you're not already playing the new Zelda, you should: Link's magical latest adventure in Hyrule awaits.



Author: Daniel Robson

Daniel Robson is the chief editor of videogame news site IGN Japan. Read his series Gamer's World on JAPAN Forward, and find him on Twitter.

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