by Stephanie Klimov
Are 2D Zelda titles a thing of the past?
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, The Legend of Zelda franchise has been around for a long time–over 35 years and counting. In fact, 2023 will herald the 25th anniversary of the fan-favorite, Ocarina of Time. Growing up, I would chat with friends and the gaming community, and our first Zelda titles were similar: it usually came down to A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time. These three titles were released between 1991 and 1998. However, in the last few years, I’ve heard more often than not that many fans’ first games were Twilight Princess or even Breath of the Wild. That blew my mind.
Decades have flown by, and I haven’t realized that a new generation of gamers has discovered Zelda. More importantly, their first impressions of Zelda are also much different than someone my own age (mid-30s) or older. This demographic has not experienced the 8- or 16-bit 2D art style and gameplay, unless they were surrounded by friends or family who exposed them to the earlier games. Expectations for Zelda are evolving–would the bulk of fans now expect high-graphic fidelity, hand-holding, and diverse gameplay?
Imagine if The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were your first Zelda game (and maybe for some of you, it was). Nintendo blessed us with a gorgeous world, colorful 3D graphics, non-linear gameplay, and the ability to do just about ANYTHING. With Breath of the Wild as your barometer, it may be challenging to fire up one of the Oracle games.
Many would consider A Link Between Worlds as the last top-down “2D” title in 2013, not counting Tri Force Heroes. We also received a remake of Link’s Awakening in 2019, but Grezzo’s take was more of an isometric view. Looking at these examples, it has been a long time since we experienced a true top-down 2D Zelda game and even longer since an original top-down 2D Zelda game that is not a spiritual sequel or remake.
We are now seeing Nintendo favor the 3D Zelda games, especially with the Switch closing the gap between the console and handheld market. The next mainline title will be The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. As we go all in on this refreshed take on the franchise, there is little to no incentive for Nintendo to create a 2D game from scratch. At most, Nintendo may provide the old 2D titles such as The Minish Cap, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages as part of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. If this ever happens, do you think newer gamers will play a linear and graphically and mechanically simplistic Zelda title? Maybe. Maybe not.
I find it challenging myself to revisit older games. Even growing up with the N64, I have gone back to play some, and I don’t find enjoyment like I used to. The graphics are dated (all those pointy polygonal characters!), and the camera angles are wonky. When I played the original Legend of Zelda a year ago, I quickly became frustrated because I was not used to the technological limitations of moving just up, down, left, and right.
It is natural that our minds become used to increasingly better technology. Just imagine going back and using home phones attached to the wall or texting on old cell phones that utilized “multi-tap” (three letters assigned to a number). We would be pretty frustrated and impatient.
So, is this the end of 2D Zelda games? I say it is very possible. It is not because I hope for this result, but rather with the roadmap Nintendo has traveled for The Legend of Zelda, it will be hard to “go back” and appease the newer fanbase. Sure, gamers 30-something and older would love this, but once the market shifts to a greater percentage of gamers whose first experience is Breath of the Wild, the odds will continue to grow slim. Nintendo hasn't had the best history on giving fans what they want, either.
It really makes you think about how much we have grown and that time does not discriminate. The franchise evolved–and had to to stay relevant–and it will continue to do so. Like Sheik once said, “The flow of time is always cruel; its speed seems different from each person, but no one can change it. A thing that does not change with time is the memory of younger days.”
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