When the Nintendo Switch Teaser Trailer was unveiled in October, my family were among many - seemingly - that loved the idea and the concept. My brother, who hadn't been in on the Wii U generation, was very much attracted to it and wanted one, while my mum is a Nintendo enthusiast in any case and decided she'd be buying one. My dad for his part thought it looked like a clever piece of technology.
At times I've wondered whether my family's interest in Nintendo is only multiplied because of what I do for a day job, but by the time Nintendo's January Switch event happened I sensed that wasn't happening in this case. For different reasons they all loved what they saw, thanks to the games shown, the cool demonstrations of the concept or simply that neat Joy-Con technology. As I flew to London for a press hands-on my folks were waiting on Amazon to get pre-orders in and were genuinely excited about it.
When it came to the launch line-up of games there was only one way to go - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Out on Wii U too, of course, it nevertheless became the go-to day one release on the new hardware. Both my brother and mum pre-ordered copies to go with their systems, but I was quietly worried (before playing it fully) whether it would do the business in terms of providing a truly memorable opening gambit on Nintendo Switch. Then I played it for an extended time and came to the conclusion it was pretty special, awarding it a 10 in our review. I wrote that review in isolation, of course, and will admit to having 'the fear' as the embargo loomed. Would it be well received elsewhere, or could I look forward to trolls accusing me of being a grovelling fan-boy?
Well, it did pretty well, and I figured I wasn't the only one that truly fell in love with the game. I was pretty confident my brother would also love it, as he had the foundations from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in his gaming history and has played more current- and last-gen open world games than you can shake a stick at. My only hope would be that he would adore it as much as I do; if anything, I think he likes it more and would give it the non-existent 11 /10.
I'll be honest, though, I was worried about how the game would sit with my mum (I've told her this multiple times, so don't sweat it). Over the past 5-6 years she's got a lot of use out of her 3DS and Wii U with games like the LEGO series, Animal Crossing, Story of Seasons and so on. She had started to get a bit more serious in the past year, though, graduating to (and beating in one case) Dragon Quest VII and VIII. This is a gamer that mainly played Columns on the Mega Drive in the '90s and took a while to get used to 3D movement in LEGO City: Undercover back in the early days of Wii U, but things change.
Gaming is like any other skill, it needs to be learned and then practiced. We don't hop on a bike or drive a car perfectly right from the off, but take time to get better. Playing video games is the same, but I'd bet many reading these pages have forgotten that. Using the analogue sticks, all those button combinations, at some point we're all beginners that find it strange.
I've seen that evolution with my mum, but I was nervous about her getting a Switch and relying upon Breath of the Wild as the game. It's a lot of money to buy into it (over £320) and my concern related to the fact that she hadn't actually played a game in the series before; it would all be new. Yet here's the thing about BoTW - it's designed so that those sorts of concerns are irrelevant.
I'm a terrible backseat gamer, awful in fact. If I'm watching someone do something wrong I say it, and get frustrated; frankly I can be a bit impatient in that situation, though I have gradually started to improve. The answer with BoTW and my mum was simple. Stay out of the way, don't get involved.
Early on I provided some basic tips and pointers when asked, little things like how to use the map, be aware of the elements and so on. I pointed out the My Nintendo guide (yours for 10 Gold Points) and some that were starting to pop up here on Nintendo Life, but otherwise I didn't butt in. My mum, I later learned, was taking notes as she played anyway, post-its with controls and little remarks on what works and what doesn't.
It's been two and a half weeks and they're both still playing. My brother, I reckon, could have beaten it by now, but he clearly doesn't want it to end. No side-quest, area or collectible is being ignored by him, and he has some cool stuff I didn't even know was in the game. For review I messed about for around four days like this, but then saw the embargo looming and went into 'story mode'. It was still a playthrough of between 40-50 hours (as an estimate), but I hadn't been able to embrace the wanderlust as much as my brother. I actually created a second profile on my Switch about two weeks days ago just for a second save, which I'm tackling slowly and at leisure.
My mum is still going too, and what's wonderful is how different her experience has become. Unlike my brother she's a way off tackling Ganon, but she ignores convention and the way I would play the game. She's been exploring, and just recently blew my mind by clearing a really tricky part despite Link only having five hearts. Sheer persistence and curiosity are enough for progress, and she's utterly hooked.
In fact, whenever my mum and brother are in the same room they just talk Zelda, all the time. They're talking about areas, encounters, gear, recipes. My dad smiles at it all, and I'm left amazed by it. Never before have I seen a game utterly engross and connect two entirely different gamers. Their paths through the game have been so different, yet it's a shared experience. I think Alan Lopez wrote beautifully about this from his perspective when he spoke about Breath of the Wild as a multiplayer experience.
The thing is, I also have 1-2-Switch and a few other early titles, but all the family seems to play and talk about is Breath of the Wild. 1-2-Switch is too awkward and embarrassing, in a way, and there are other good games that don't have such universal appeal. Breath of the Wild's greatest achievement is taking a 'gamer' series and making it an awe-inspiring adventure for everyone. I have colleagues who say they have kids that play it like a new take on Minecraft, a point also made in this excellent video by Mark Brown.
For these reasons I'll probably argue in the future that Breath of the Wild is in the conversation of the greatest games of all time. I've never seen a game engage so many varied players in such unique ways. For my part I should be burned out, having 'beaten' it in a little over a week for review and then started it again. Yet I still love it, I keep going back.
Whether treated as a final hurrah for Wii U or a launch game for Switch, Breath of the Wild is something special; unlike anything that came before.