Hello Zelda Informer readers! I’m one of the new writers, and I decided my first article would examine the major differences and similarities between console and handheld Zelda titles, which has been on my mind ever since Ocarina of Time 3D came out. In this piece, I’ll cover the history of Zelda on the console and handheld platforms: Their individual innovation, scale, and how the link between the two has evolved over the years. Most importantly, I’ll analyze what both the historical and current trend mean for the future of handheld and console Zelda titles.
At least one Zelda title has made it onto every Nintendo console and handheld ever since the NES/Famicom and Game Boy. However, the type of Zelda game that would appear often changed depending on whether it was on a console or handheld.
It wasn’t until a few years after the release of A Link to the Past that the first handheld title, Link’s Awakening, was released on the Game Boy. At this point in time, the differences between a console and handheld Zelda title were rather simple: While A Link to the Past was a large, expansive Zelda game, Link’s Awakening was a smaller black and white game running on limited hardware. It was still a very original title that introduced some mainstays that would even become staples in the Zelda series. But above all, it was meant to be a portable version of the beloved console Zelda games of the time, with the added convenience of on-the-go gameplay. It was much like how the two Super Mario Land games were meant to be portable replacements of games like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. A similar theme applied to Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, which released after Ocarina of Time changed console Zelda games forever.
This is where the gap between consoles and handhelds began to get very interesting. Rather than having smaller titles that were simply “portable” versions of console games, Zelda was split into two distinctive types of games. Full 3D games on consoles, and classic 2D “top-down” games on handhelds. All throughout the rest of the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color’s lifespans, as well as the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, and DS, this difference remained. Sure, the Wii Zelda titles added motion controls. And sure, the DS titles added full touch controls, as well as 3D graphics. When it came down to it, we still got top-down Zelda games played (at least mostly) in two dimensions on handhelds and full 3D Zelda games on consoles (Four Swords Adventures being the sole exception).
The original DS had its fair share of 3D action/adventure games (ports of Super Mario 64 and Rayman 2, new games like Metroid Prime: Hunters), but it didn’t feel ready for a full 3D Zelda game, at least to me. That changed with the release of the 3DS and Ocarina of Time 3D, a remake of the N64 classic with revamped graphics, higher resolution and frame rate, improved game mechanics, better draw distance, and controls that take advantage of the 3DS’s special features.
Ocarina of Time 3D not only ported the original game perfectly, but improved on it in many ways, and I think it leaves no doubt that a new 3D console-like Zelda is now fully possible on a Nintendo handheld. For the first time since the SNES and Game Boy days, Nintendo’s concurrent handheld and console can output similar games, albeit on different scales. Furthermore, both the Wii and 3DS emphasize “hands-on” controls, the former with motion, the latter with touch. And with the Wii U featuring a touchscreen controller, Nintendo’s console and handheld are about to get even more similar in terms of the kind of games they can output.
So what does this mean for Zelda’s future? Now that all of Nintendo’s current systems can output 3D titles without trouble, one might think this is finally the end of 2D top-down Zeldas. But if you consider recent games like New Super Mario Bros., which reimagine the 2D Marios of old, perhaps not.
But where to draw the line, I wonder? In today’s gaming world, is it enough to design essentially the same kind of Zelda game for both handheld and console? If so, what would determine which platform a hypothetical Zelda game should appear on? I’d be hard pressed to say size or scale, since it would be a shame to feel like the 3DS was simply getting a “watered down” Zelda title that Nintendo just didn’t decide to make on the Wii U. Aside from that, the 3DS carts probably have enough storage space to hold a Zelda title close enough in size to a typical recent console Zelda title, anyway. And it certainly can’t be a mere difference of 3D rendering on the 3DS versus high definition graphics on the Wii U. A case could be made for the console Zeldas keeping Skyward Sword‘s motion plus controls , which would differentiate from handheld Zeldas sticking with the more “traditional” button-based controls, but at this point, we have no way of knowing whether Nintendo will do that or else incorporate the Wii U gamepad instead.
If this uncertainty means anything, I think it’s this: If Nintendo does indeed decide to output 3D zelda titles on both platforms and moves way from motion controls in the next console release, the series will change. Once again, the console and handheld titles will innovate in ways to distance themselves from each other, creating their own unique styles of play. And since this is Nintendo we’re talking about, I can’t imagine what they might do. But I expect I’ll be blown away. And if this does indeed happen, then who knows: Perhaps the two styles will grow closer and converge again at some point before drawing away, keeping with tradition.
What do you think? Do you think Zelda should just continue what it has been doing, with top-down titles on the handheld and 3D titles on the console? Or do you think that both systems should output 3D titles with their own innovations? Or do you think they should do something else entirely? Let us know in the comments below.