I’m gluing some random stuff to the mine cart. Several crates. Turbojet motor. Flamethrower. It looks like modern art. I walk up to him and strike him with my sword. Engines ignite, flames shoot out. He spins madly, sets the ground on fire and flies off the cliff. Well, that was something.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdomwhich arrives on May 12th is a strange game with a very open ending.
I don’t play Minecraft. Or Roblox. But my kids do. I bet yours is too. Nintendo may have turned its latest, long-awaited Zelda game into a clever nod to the world of build and customization that’s already a second language to most kids, because my first hour of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom surprised me with how. .. it’s cunning.
Yes, it’s also a game that takes place on a number of floating islands scattered throughout, possibly endlessly. But I’m more focused on figuring out how the hell to make a better rocket cart.
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I played Breath of the Wild again, a game that is mostly about patiently traversing vast expanses of land, relying on cooking and collecting items to survive. My time with Tears of the Kingdom so far has been very short: I only got to play for about an hour and a half at Nintendo’s loft space in New York, just a few weeks before the game’s launch.
I haven’t gotten to play since the beginning, so I have no idea what the plot is. Maybe it’s for the best. Instead, I was allowed to get my feet wet for about 20 minutes and try out some of the game-changing crafting mechanics, and then apply what I learned to an hour-long session on the ground and in the skies over Hyrule.
Yes, it seems extensive
I flew through the air towards the sky island and as I looked around I had absolutely no idea where anything had ended up. The land extended far below the ground, while I could see other islands nearby, far above the ground, and also between the ground and where I was. Compared with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which featured skydiving in 2011, there’s probably a completely different intensity here. But I don’t know yet.
Jumping from island to island and sliding down, I was almost dizzy with how high and endless the world seemed. Also, how would I ever go back to places?
Nintendo has the only answer: a medallion that, when placed somewhere, can instantly transport you back if you fall (which I did when fighting a large blocky boss character).
But there seem to be many ways to do things in this game.
Crafting: Get ready to build
This time around, there’s a whole new set of unique abilities for Link to use that play a big part in the changed play style. It’s clear that crafting will be a major part of Tears of the Kingdom. Much of my first session involved trying out Link’s new skills. As seen in Nintendo’s gameplay video, one allows fusing items onto Link’s weapons. Another allows lots of objects to combine into all sorts of unexpected creations.
The Fuse skill can upgrade weapons and I tried a few things. Keese’s eyeball on the arrow makes it a homing arrow and you can attach other things to explode or do who knows what else. Unlike Breath of the Wild, which had specific arrows for specific needs, here you could have a whole rainbow of arrow options.
A larger and more impressive tool is the Ultrahand, which can glue all sorts of objects together. The controls can take some getting used to: Tears of the Kingdom uses all the controls on the Switch, and grabbing and stacking objects can require some 3D spatial awareness. The d-pad buttons control rotating objects in different directions. (It would be easier in a VR headset!)
Gluing items together is fine, but the goal is to turn them into active machines. There are a number of self-contained, battery-powered magical technology objects that can power constructs: adding a fan or a rocket engine or a balloon or a flame. The fans have a steady blast of energy as the rockets explode and finish. Getting the angles right matters: I’ve done some things that failed to launch, shot in the wrong direction, or caused my vehicle to spin. It’s like Zelda Maker Lab.
I built a plane that I tried to glide towards the fortress I was attacking, but I added a fire powered balloon and went too high and hit a bridge. Then I poked around again and finally found another way to get there.
These magical tech objects can be obtained from massive gumball machines as far as I can tell from my demo. You have to earn money for parts. They will then remain in your inventory until you need them.
I felt a little intimidated by the creative freedoms here. But then again, I’m not a Minecraft/Roblox player. My kids would probably try these crafting mods and ask me why there can’t be more. Maybe there can be more? I only played for an hour.
The physics of moving machines can be played around with Rewind, another new power. It sends one object back in time, allowing everything you do to be undone. I rolled over my exploding machine with fire spewing minecarts and watched as it regurgitated as it burned off the cliff again.
Ascend, a force that shoots me through the ceiling if it’s above me, sending me sky high to jump through the bridge overhead. It’s another reminder that vertical is the main new dimension of this game.
All of these abilities are now displayed in a circle, more easily accessible. But I also have to learn to juggle the extra nuances of the Ultrahand and its finesse when rotating objects.
New abilities also mean new puzzle-solving tactics. I tried several puzzles on one floating island and found different solutions. Grabbing things and moving them with Ultrahand is definitely a new key tactic that feels similar to Breath of the Wild’s Magnet moves, but can be used on a lot more items.
Being able to craft tons of items and machines might seem like a way to get through a challenge quickly, but I found that sometimes the answers weren’t what I thought. Classic Zelda: the illusion of open-ended decision-making, with clear answers hidden beneath.
A world of constructs?
I guess I’m not the only one building something. “Constructs” are a major presence in the game I’ve played so far. These cute little ancient robots seen in the Tears of the Kingdom trailers are everywhere. Sometimes they fight me. One massive boss at the end of my session, a giant cube creature, feels straight out of Minecraft. Its pieces form into new shapes, but also shatter.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had robotic ancient Guardians and other relics of long ago, but Tears of the Kingdom continues its explorations into a lost, decaying world of former technological glory with Constructs and the mysterious Zonai, creators of pieces of technology that you use to machine construction using Ultrahand.
My first demo was intentionally cryptic with the story. I actually love it. Where does this ancient world of machinery fit in with my Ultrahand design skills? I have no idea yet. I can’t wait to find out.
Does Switch handle graphics? Basically yes
My demo revealed what you’d expect: Tears of the Kingdom looks like a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild, with similar graphics and vast vistas. That being said, the graphics didn’t wow me like they did in 2017. The consoles have surpassed the Switch’s graphical punch, but it’s also a reminder that the real joy of the Zelda games has never been the graphics. They were great game ideas and stories.
I’d love to see some future Switch 2 that could make Tears of the Kingdom shine even better – I saw some moments where the framerate seemed to drop a bit – but I don’t think it’s going to make the game feel worse. fantastic for most players. The benefits of being able to take this game on the road still feel like magic.
May 12th is only a few weeks away and so far I can tell you it looks like it will be worth the $70 and then to play Tears of the Kingdom.