What's next for The Legend of Zelda?
If Nintendo would have announced that the Wii U was launching in January 2012, and that we would no longer get any new games for the Wii, then The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword would have been a fitting end to the shiny console. Now, I'm happy that's not the case, because I'm really looking forward to Xenoblade Chronicles later this year. But the point is that Skyward Sword is such a magnificent title that it could easily play the part of the swan song for an entire console.
What makes Skyward Sword such a wonderful game is, well, everything. The game is a sheer joy to behold, and it features a beautiful soundtrack. As for the gameplay, Skyward Sword really manages to treat players to an experience that's both faithful to the classic Zelda formula and surprisingly new in its own right. It's a near-perfect amalgamation of everything that made 3D Zelda games so outstanding and sophisticated modern tropes that feel right at home in the series.
It's hard not to play Skyward Sword and look ahead at the possibilities of the series. After having witnessed that neat demonstration for the Wii U, gamers everywhere began speculating on the direction Nintendo would take Zelda. Would the series go in a more realistic direction? Was the next Zelda game going to be darker, focusing less on charm and more on imposing art and character design choices? According to Nintendo, not exactly.
See, it's easy for us as consumers to watch the Wii U presser and say, "Hey, that's the next Zelda! Oh em gee!" Truth is, that Zelda footage we all saw was just meant to show us what games could look like on the Wii U. Is that how the next Zelda game will look? There's a possibility, but nothing is set in stone just yet. Nintendo has thus far stated that the next Zelda won't necessarily be a realistic-looking title. So can we expect a more colorful art style akin to Skyward Sword? Nope.
According to Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma, neither the world nor the art style from Skyward Sword are likely to be replicated for the next game in the series. This is kind of surprising because Skyward Sword is a beautiful game with a rich world. At the same time, it's not all that surprising because Skyward Sword is a unique game, so if Nintendo decided to keep the graphical direction exclusive to that title, it would certainly be fitting.
So what the heck is next for the Zelda series? If I had to put my money on it, I'd say Nintendo is probably less focused on a console follow-up to Skyward Sword and more intent on taking the series back to handheld. In other words, we can probably expect a new Zelda game for the 3DS before Nintendo unveils a new title for the Wii U. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, because the portable Zelda games have always been rewarding experiences in their own right.
I recently played through God of War: Chains of Olympus. That game originally launched on the PSP, but thanks to the ever-growing trend of HD remakes, I had the chance to play it on my PlayStation 3. As I played the game, I thought about how much it felt like a true console gaming experience as opposed to a handheld game. The same can't be said about handheld Zelda games, because as we all discovered with Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks, portable Zelda games have that small-scale quality to them.
Am I complaining that handheld Zelda games feel portable? Absolutely not! The fact that Nintendo can give us two different types of experiences with the series depending on what platform we're playing it on is excellent. And while a big console feel may work for God of War, I'm very happy that handheld Zelda titles play to the strengths of Nintendo's line of portable devices.
But if it does happen, should Nintendo try something entirely new for the portable Zelda games? Should the 3DS get a Zelda game with an isometric camera and intuitive touchscreen mechanics? Or should Zelda on the 3DS be more of what we've come to expect from the console games. Heck, if Ocarina of Time worked on the 3DS, the case could be made that it's time for bigger Zelda games to make their way to the handheld market.
Skyward Sword changed things up considerably for the Zelda series, and the capabilities of the 3DS could definitely make for a new kind of handheld Zelda title. Is it time for Nintendo to break the series out of its mold as far as handheld entries are concerned? Can the company deliver a game that captures the best of both worlds? What if Zelda got the Super Mario 3D Land treatment? Hell, what if the team that developed that game worked on Zelda for the 3DS? It would certainly be interesting.
The next Zelda game we see probably won't be a Wii U title. We can expect that major announcement somewhere down the road, but not anytime soon. I think we can all agree, though, that the next step in the Zelda series is to go portable once more with an original chapter. Handhelds have always been host to some memorable Zelda games, and they manage to provide excellent side stories for Link and Zelda. I think we can expect more of that trend, but as far as the actual mechanics and design are concerned, well, I'm pretty stumped!