It’s quite arguable that the upcoming Zelda title for the Wii U, aptly titled ‘The Legend of Zelda for Wii U’, is one of the most highly anticipated Nintendo titles in a long time. Despite this lofty title, so far we’ve only seen it twice, and only one of these occasions have we got a glimpse at any gameplay (albeit offscreen). However, what we do know is that the Aonuma and his team are aiming to bring forth Zelda on a grander scale than it has ever been seen before, both in terms of scale and experience.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that whilst Nintendo have already confirmed that we are fast approaching our first look at their brand new home system, codenamed ‘NX’, so far Nintendo are still staunchly committed to bringing their latest Zelda experience to the Wii U.
There’s a clear case for them doing this; if you’re a Wii U owner like myself, it’s very possible that you might be concerned or disappointed at the so-called ‘software drought’, a lack of games brought about by a combination of weak third-party support and supposed struggles internally within Nintendo to make the jump to developing games in HD, factoring in development scale, time, costs and complexity. Whilst so far 2015 has seen a number of brilliant (and in some cases, successful) first-party titles, such as Splatoon and Yoshi’s Woolly World, along with games that are shaping up to look like must-plays for the system such as Super Mario Maker or Xenoblade Chronicles X just around the corner, it’s impossible not to notice the distinct absence of a home console Zelda this late into the console’s lifespan.
It’s by no means uncommon to hear the perspective that the newest Zelda title will go on to either release on both the Wii U and the brand new ‘NX’, much alike how The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess saw a release as a late GameCube title and a launch day Wii title. Some propose that the new title may skip the Wii U entirely, with Nintendo favouring a release for their big home console title on their newest home console. There’s a lot of debate over what the best option would be for a new Zelda, and I’ve decided I’d like to express my views on the situation and how I think Nintendo could best go about its release.
The Wii U’s sales figures might not have been the highest in the current console race, and the frequency of software releases may not have been as high as what fans have come to expect coming out of the Wii’s life-cycle, but when looking at the lineup from a broad perspective, Wii U owners have had it pretty good; we’ve had big releases in major, fan favourite (and million selling) franchises such as Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, in debatably their strongest form yet. We’ve had the return of some much adored franchises that have been missing-in-action in their traditional form for some time, such as Yoshi and Star Fox. We’ve also had some of the best original IPs in years, both in third-party form such as Wonderful 101, or first-party efforts from Nintendo such as Splatoon, which, with its seemingly limitless popularity, could easily be around as a Nintendo mainstay for the foreseeable future. The eShop has let us play some of the best indie games around, some fitting right at home amongst the quality first party titles on the digital storefront such as WayForward’s Shantae series, others offering new experiences that can only be experienced to their fullest on Wii U, such as KnapKnok’s Affordable Space Adventures. All in all, regardless of what people say about a lack of software faced by Nintendo’s newest home console, there clearly are some quality games on offer, many of which you can’t play anywhere else.
It’s undeniable that many of the Wii U owners who aren’t eagerly anticipating adding a new Zelda adventure to that fantastic lineup; you could probably ask around and find that some people purchased a Wii U with the intention of playing the newest Zelda, perhaps even after seeing the gorgeous HD tech demo depicting a Twilight Princess-style Link that was shown off back at the Wii U’s reveal. If you were to suddenly say to this group of people ‘oh, sorry, but if you want to play the new Zelda, you’re going to have to buy another system’, well, it’s easy to understand why they’d be pissed off! In terms of keeping up good relations with an eager fan-base, to hold off from releasing the newest Zelda title on the console everyone has already purchased would be a crazy idea.
However, if you were to look at this same argument from a marketing perspective – one that could perhaps be more closely aligned with the one Nintendo are likely to be taking, you’d find a different outcome altogether. It’s no secret that Nintendo’s last two console efforts, the Wii U and the 3DS, got off to rough starts. All kinds of issues can be blamed for this, from naming to timing, but one thing that I feel clearly played a huge part was the launch titles available. The lineups for both of those systems had some good titles, but it’s safe to say that there was nothing groundbreaking. There was no Wii Sports, and there was certainly no Twilight Princess.
If you look back to the Wii’s launch in 2006, there’s clear evidence as to why the console was such a success. Beyond the revolutionary control scheme it offered, it really had something going for it in terms of software library; if you were a casual fan, who perhaps hadn’t played a video game since the NES or Game Boy days, Wii Sports was fun, accessible and something completely different from anything you would’ve ever tried before – that’s the casual audience sold. Now how do you get the die-hard Nintendo fans, who were just coming down from the high of titles such as Metroid Prime and Resident Evil 4 that were experiences quite different from what the Wii appeared to be intent on doing? You give them Zelda.
I believe that even today, this principle still stands; people’s attachment to Zelda, the memories, the experiences, the sheer love of Zelda from its massive fan-base means that it is the very definition of a ‘console-seller’; a game that will make people go out and buy a console. So taking this into account, from Nintendo’s perspective, what would you rather do: release the brand new Zelda that will make people go out and buy a console on the Wii U, which is beginning to wind down towards the end of its life as a new system is emerging, or release it on launch with your brand new system, helping it to have the successful start that your last two console attempts failed at achieving? The answer is quite obvious.
Now this isn’t to say it’s the best option for Nintendo to take; after all, whilst financially it’d make the most sense to give up on the Wii U and focus on shifting development to NX, are a company who are known so well for their die-hard fan-base really going to be so quick to pull the rug out from under their fans feet, especially considering they’ve made efforts to say that they are committed to making Zelda happen on Wii U?
On the plus side, if Aonuma and his team are really intent on creating the grandest, greatest Zelda yet, then more console power is likely only going to further their ability to meet this goal; if the newest Zelda can not only take advantage of the new powers NX will have to offer, but showcase the console’s potential, both to consumers and, in turn, third-parties, then surely it’s a win-win situation for everyone? At the same time, this very argument deals with the hypothetical situation in which Nintendo will be willing to shift development progress to a brand-new system, one which the development teams will need to become acquainted with to use to its full potential, and one which will, in the case that it is a more powerful system than anything Nintendo have ever produced before, likely carry an increased requirement in development costs and resources (both physically and staff-wise), which in itself seems like an unlikely scenario to occur.
If Zelda was to go ahead and release on the Wii U, I think it would still be a success. After all, the Wii U already has an established user-base of around 10 million (as of June 2015), and this is a user-base that is hungry for and willing to spend money on software; even a brand-new IP such as Splatoon was able to reach the coveted million-seller status, something which fan favourite such as the Advance Wars series were never even able to achieve over their entire software range. In the case of Zelda, Skyward Sword was still able to break the 3 million mark globally, even though there was roughly a year before its release and the release of the then-new Wii U. This is the one guarantee for Nintendo if they choose to keep the title as a Wii U exclusive.
Weighing up these arguments and disregarding the likelihood of it actually occurring, I believe it can be argued that the theoretical situation of Nintendo releasing the new Zelda as a late Wii U title and a launch day NX title, in the style of Twilight Princess’ release on the GameCube and as a Wii launch title could be the best strategy for Nintendo to maximise the success of their new console Zelda. This provides a unique opportunity both for marketing and development; the prospective concept of NX being used to create a more powerful new console Zelda could become a reality, allowing the development team to create the Zelda that they want to make as close to their vision as possible is certainly a hard one to turn down, and this is still at a point where we know close to nothing about what to expect from the new title.
As well as this, Nintendo would put themselves in a position where they would have less fear of alienating dedicated Wii U owners, whilst still providing an incentive to drive NX sales; those who waited out on a Wii U for the release of Zelda can instead choose to adopt the NX instead (or, perhaps if cost is a major playing factor in their decision, they can opt to become late Wii U adopters if we consider that the Wii U could eventually drop in price following the release of its successor), and the knowledge that the NX can offer a superior Zelda experience could also contribute to further encouraging people towards the system. If the biggest entry yet in what could be considered Nintendo’s most notable franchise can also act as a technical showcase for the NX, this could serve the irreplaceable function of attracting the third-party developers who abandoned the Wii U back to the system, which will hopefully result in greater software support and a more competitive role for Nintendo in the console market.
In conclusion, I hold the belief that it is clear that the introduction of a new Zelda title could make or break the NX at launch. Perhaps this view is premature, considering we know nothing of the system, as well as the fact that we are discounting other franchises that may be present at the NX’s launch. Only time will tell if Nintendo’s newest Zelda will truly live up to the title ‘The Legend of Zelda for Wii U’.