Gamers Get Look at Nintendo's New 'Zelda'

In ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,’ Link explores his biggest world yet, even if it means climbing a mountain. ENLARGE
In ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,’ Link explores his biggest world yet, even if it means climbing a mountain. Photo: Nintendo

Nintendo Co. NTDOY -1.05 % hopes an extended look at the next game in its storied “Legend of Zelda” franchise can keep fans sated until the company takes the wraps off its mystery NX videogame system.

In the past week, Sony Corp. SNE 0.55 % and Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.62 % announced new consoles capable of handling virtual reality and ultra-high-definition graphics. Sony used its stage time ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles to talk about PlayStation.VR.

Little is known about NX save the code name, a March 2017 release window and Nintendo’s promise that the machine is a new concept. Rather than show NX at E3, Nintendo allowed gamers Tuesday to play the next “Zelda” game, called “Breath of the Wild.”

It is a gamble. Nintendo has been dinged before for taking a too-casual approach to E3 while rivals show off high-powered games. The version of “Zelda” at E3 isn’t for NX but for the Wii U console, which ranks a distant third in sales behind Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.

As the Wii U slumped, so did Nintendo’s financials. The company found a salve in smartphone apps and its amiibo game-compatible figurines, saying in April that it expects revenue to be roughly flat and profit to rise in its current fiscal year.

It is easy to see why Nintendo is leaning on “Zelda.” The franchise has sold more than 75 million copies as of April, making it one of the company’s most popular series behind “Mario,” Nintendo said. The E3 showcase, in a two-story booth at the videogame conference, caters to the type of die-hard fan that has carried Nintendo through slumps in the past.

Trailer for ‘Breath of the Wild’

With the 19th installment of the franchise, Nintendo is addressing a fan complaint head on: that elflike hero Link isn’t given enough freedom to explore the medieval world of Hyrule.

In “Breath of the Wild,” Link wakes from a 100-year slumber to an interactive world bigger than any of the game’s predecessors, said Nate Bihldorff, head of translating Nintendo games for North American consumers. The vision is “to go back to the feeling of that first game,” he said.

Players can climb steep rock faces and hills like the protagonists in “Assassin’s Creed” and “Uncharted.” A random woodsman’s ax found in a tree stump can be used as a weapon.

Classic “Zelda” background music is toned down in favor of the sounds of wind and rushing water. Nature features prominently: Missions can be approached differently based on time of day, while a drop in temperature could cause Link to lose health if he doesn’t wear a proper tunic. “You could get struck by lightning if you’re wearing metal weapons like a sword,” Mr. Bihldorff said.

Several changes are departures for the series. In addition to changing weather patterns and scalable cliffs, there is a wider array of weapons like spears and axes that Link has access to. He can pick up food to replenish health. Enemies live in colonies rather than scattered randomly around Hyrule. And the game is compatible with several coming amiibo figurines.

Nintendo is mum on what makes the NX version different. It remains to be seen whether a new take on a revered classic can win over gamers who don’t have a Wii U or aren’t considering NX.

Brenden McCormack, a “Zelda” fan since childhood, plans to buy the game. “It’s the NX that’s going to be the selling point,” the 30-year-old of Plainfield, Ill., said. “I’m expecting it to run better, look better and I’m sure there will be other features on the NX that can’t be found on the Wii U.”


WSJ.com: US Business

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