The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is less than 100 days away. And as somebody that considers its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, as not just one of the best Nintendo Switch games, but one of the best games of all time, I should be feeling the hype. Yet, instead of getting more excited with each passing day, I’m actually growing increasingly concerned.
This week’s Nintendo Direct showcase should have been the event where the lid was fully lifted on Tears of the Kingdom. But once again Nintendo opted to keep its cards frustratingly close to its chest and instead we only got a pretty lackluster trailer that does little to explain what's new in this sequel — that’s especially grating when the game’s $69 price tag has just been confirmed; a first for a Nintendo Switch game.
There’s little doubt that Tears of the Kingdom won't be at least a commercial smash. It’s a brand new mainline Zelda game on a console that’s shifted more than 100 million units, it's practically guaranteed to be a top seller.
However, even if its best-seller status is basically a given, I’m increasingly getting a sense that Tears of the Kingdom may not live up to the remarkable legacy of its predecessor — and Nintendo's seeming reluctance to showcase the game isn't filling me with confidence.
An all too familiar Kingdom
My biggest concern with Tears of Kingdom so far is just how familiar it all feels. Breath of the Wild was a breath of fresh air (pun intended) for the long-running Nintendo franchise, but this sequel just looks to be more of the same without much innovation.
That’s not necessarily a fatal problem, Breath of the Wild was so good that I’d probably take more of that formula. But promotional material suggests that Tears of the Kingdom will reuse the same open-world space, which is pretty concerning. I’ve spent more than 80 hours exploring just about every corner of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, I'm ready for an adventure in an entirely new land.
It seems that Nintendo is hoping to make an old space feel new with an increased focus on verticality and the emergence of several structures in the sky. The latest trailer also hints at some form of a cave system. But unless the map has been dramatically altered to the point where it’s virtually unrecognizable an unwanted sense of déjà vu seems inevitable. And if the map has been so radically changed that it's all totally brand new, then why even set it in the same location at all?
Furthermore, the sparse footage we’ve seen suggests that the combat and physics-based puzzle-solving of Breath of the Wild will be replicated in Tears of the Kingdom. This, alongside the overly familiar location, has this sequel looking more like a large expansion pack rather than an iterative sequel. And after a six-year wait, I’m not sure that will fully satisfy me.
Although, the new trailer had a short clip of Link driving what looks like a crudely cobbled-together vehicle. So perhaps Tears of the Kingdom will be the spiritual sequel to Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts we never knew we wanted!
Nintendo Switch limitations could be a problem
My other chief concern ahead of the launch of Tears of the Kingdom is that it will be severely held back by the Nintendo Switch’s rapidly aging hardware. My colleague, Marshall Honorof, wrote an excellent piece on this issue last year, and it’s a sentiment I strongly echo.
Even Breath of the Wild struggled to run on the Nintendo Switch in certain places back in 2017 — the slideshow framerate when exploring dense forest areas was one of the game’s few flaws. Well, the Switch’s hardware hasn’t got any younger in the years since. And it seems a safe bet that Tears of the Kingdom will also be plagued by performance issues in its most graphically-demanding areas.
The limitations of the Switch console could also be a reason that Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t appear to be taking the established formula up a notch. After all, if Breath of the Wild struggled to run on the Switch hardware in certain spots, a more ambitious sequel would only be more taxing. From the limited footage we’ve seen to date the two games look visually identical, suggesting there won't be any significant graphical improvements.
Of course, Nintendo may have figured out how to better optimize Tears of the Kingdom, eliminating some of Breath of the Wild’s performance issues in the process. But considering recent Switch exclusives like Splatoon 3 have suffered with framerate dips, I can’t say I’m feeling particularly optimistic that Tears of the Kingdom will buck the trend of recent Switch games with performance woes.
Never bet against Nintendo
While my current hype levels for Tears of the Kingdom may be a lot lower than I would have expected three months out from launch, it’s a testament to my faith in Nintendo that I’ve still locked in my preorder this week. Although I’ve opted for the standard edition, the swanky Collector’s Edition isn’t quite in my budget.
There’s still time for Nintendo to explain exactly how Tears of the Kingdom differs from, and hopefully improves upon, Breath of the Wild, and there’s every possibility a real blowout reveal is being saved for a later date. Perhaps the game will get its own individual Nintendo Direct presentation sometime in the next few weeks.
I also can’t overlook the fact that when it comes to its core franchises, Nintendo almost never misses. You can count the number of truly bad Zelda games on one hand, and even the ones that have disappointed at release, such as Skyward Sword, tend to be eventually reevaluated over time.
I'm a little more apprehensive about the release of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom than I usually would be about a flagship Nintendo game. But I’m still reasonably confident that once it’s in my hands I’ll be almost instantly won over.