February 21, 2021 is a day that The Legend of Zelda is probably dreading. After turning 30 back in 2016, the series is about to reach the halfway point between its 30th and 40th birthdays. I turned 25 a couple of months ago and the only thing I can see ahead of me is 30 – strangely, numbers between five and nine all just look like the next shift of ten.
But there’s also a bright side for Zelda hitting yet another milestone. When its slightly older older sibling Mario turned 35 back in September, it received a deluge of new games and announcements. Super Mario All-Stars – yes, the SNES game – was made playable via Nintendo Switch Online, while Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was announced for February 12, 2021. We also got Mario Kart Live Home Circuit in October – although our poor little plumber still didn’t get to show off Super Mario Odyssey 2.
While Zelda isn’t quite as commercially successful as a moustachioed titan like Mario, it would be remiss to assume that Nintendo hasn’t got big plans for the series on its big day. Zelda, shown below, is probably going to be spitting out announcements faster than Korok seeds.
Of course I know that’s not Zelda – it’s clearly Impa. Or Link. I’m messing. Relax.
Anyway, if I were a betting man, I’d put my house and shoes on the fact we’re going to hear at least something Zelda-related from Mr. Nintendo on February 21, and it’s probably going to be more than a simple, “Happy birthday dear HeroOfTime.” My guess is that it will be something relatively similar to what happened with Mario – which is, frankly, both an excellent and terrible thing.
Let’s start with the good news. While an awful lot of Zelda titles are playable on the 3DS and Wii U – which is a bonafide Zelda machine – I think it’s worth remembering that the 3DS is handheld-only and a lot of people don’t have access to a Wii U. As of November 2020, the Nintendo Switch had sold 68.3 million units (via Statista), while the Wii U had shipped a mere 13.56 million – barely over 20%. What’s more, the Switch is still selling immensely well, having smashed both next-gen consoles in their launch month. The Wii U, on the other hand, has been on the market since 2012, and the production of new units is fast approaching its expiration date.
What this means is that the Switch has exclusive access to a huge and growing market, but still has precious few legacy Zelda titles on offer. In fact, the only Zelda games on the Nintendo Switch eShop at present – not accounting for spin-offs – are Breath of the Wild and the Link’s Awakening remake. Aside from that there’s Cadence of Hyrule, Hyrule Warriors, and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, but these aren’t mainline titles.
It’s worth noting that you can also play The Legend of Zelda and Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link via the Nintendo Switch Online NES Library, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past via the SNES equivalent. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great games (well, maybe not all of them). But four major titles, one mainline remake, and three spin-offs constitute poor pickings when it comes to a 35-year-old franchise with 19 mainline games and counting, as well as eight official remakes and 17 offshoots (admittedly a lot of said offshoots are bad).
So the good news is that we’re probably going to hear of at least one major game coming to Switch. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are the two main ones, both of which have been playable on every single Nintendo home console since their debuts on the N64. I also reckon some titles from the GameBoy era, such as Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, and Minish Cap have a pretty good chance of making an appearance, while the Wii’s Twilight Princess is sufficiently modern to play well without massive alterations, but old enough to justify porting to a newer console. I’d love The Wind Waker, but let’s not get our hopes up too high on that front. Lastly, there was that Skyward Sword rumor from last August…
Anyway! We’re going to get some games. It would be cool to get a Breath of the Wild release date as well, although I reckon that’s some fairly wishful thinking. Regardless of how the whole situation shapes up, the bad news is that we could easily see something like the limited-time run of Super Mario 3D All-Stars again, which was a consumer’s nightmare. Despite the shortages of physical copies for the collection, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is also available digitally – so why, then, is it only on sale until the end of March? There’s a PSA for you: if you still haven’t picked up 3D All-Stars, which includes Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, you’ve got two and a half months to do so before it’s gone.
Nintendo went on to repeat this tactic with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light in December, which is also only available until March 31. My main concern when it comes to the Zelda anniversary is the unfortunately likely scenario that sees Nintendo repeat this maneuver in order to create a false sense of scarcity, driving sales in the short term. This could also be to Nintendo’s benefit later on – while we currently have access to the NES and SNES libraries via Nintendo Switch Online, Super Mario 3D All-Stars complicated matters when it came to imagining a similar treatment for the N64. How could Nintendo justify charging a premium for a service when its flagship titles were already available individually? Remember what I said earlier: the N64 was the original console for both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, arguably two of the most – if not the most – illustrious titles in the history of Zelda.
What I’m basically saying is that I’m excited about the prospect of potentially getting to play some of my favourite Zelda titles on a modern system, flitting between docked and handheld modes depending on whether I’m up for a big-screen experience or flaking on the couch with a beer. At the same time, I’m skeptical of what these announcements might feature under the hood. Nintendo may sport an ostensibly family-friendly appearance, but it’s also a profiteering capitalist demagogue on the global stage capable of emptying pockets at a moment’s notice.
The Legend of Zelda is turning 35 and we’re probably going to gain access to some pretty great games. The question that’s got my head whirring like a million consecutive spin attacks is this: at what cost?
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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