In this article Nintendo Life regular Alan Lopez gives an account of his attempt to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with his partner, as real life didn't suit his desire for diving into the lengthy adventure on his own.
I've always gotten a chill before I started something I knew was going to be really great. I felt it the first time I opened "Don Quixote" and when I finished "The Sculptor". I also felt it right before I saw "Pokemon: The First Movie", "Oldboy", and "Her", ages 11, 18, and 26, respectively.
And with games? I definitely felt that chill when I started Super Mario Bros. 3, Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Galaxy, and now, Breath of the Wild for the first time.
But there's one major difference between then and now, interactive media and passive media: I have a partner who also wants to play Breath of the Wild. And we have but the one Switch console, one main TV, and most importantly, the same spare time.
Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but sharing this game is complicated by Breath of the Wild being built as a game of personal choice. Not in the Deus Ex, Mass Effect sort of way, video games where there is an emphasis on branching dialogue trees or consequences, but rather, its gameplay places strong (nearly exclusive?) emphasis on the intimate choices of wanderlust. What's up here? What's over there? By all the accounts I had heard from my peers, extensive time with Breath of the Wild unveils a game where curiosity leads you, sparking an almost childlike experience.
And listen, I'm going to be especially honest for a moment ...I didn't really want to dilute that feeling by sharing it with anybody else. But I knew I had to. I mean, I'm not a monster.
In the past, her and I have traded off major game releases that we wouldn't mind watching the other play. "Okay, you take Night in the Woods, I'll take Axiom Verge." For more context, I am a Zelda veteran, having beaten almost every single game in the series. She's not exactly a slouch either, having beaten Skyward Sword, Wind Waker (and Wind Waker HD), and dabbled in the Twilight Princess and Ocarina remakes. Now? We had strapped in and were ready to share in this grandiose Zelda adventure, not alone inside of Hyrule, but as co-pilots.
I kept a journal. This is what ended up happening.
"Why do I have to go?"
She didn't want to go with me to the midnight release of the Switch, down the road a few miles at a local game store. I didn't exactly blame her; it was cold outside and we had work in the morning. But fast forward to 12:30 a.m. and the scene was her tearing open the box atop our bed like a kid at Christmas. Admittedly, it's hard not to be intrigued by the Switch and its toy/high-tech mashup of features. Fast forward once again to the following day and this is where, in principle, we agreed to start our own file - shared.
We officially began playing in our living room the next evening with me holding the Pro Controller. I was already familiar with the general game from my time with it at E3, but I no longer had any time restrictions set on my journey. With this in mind, I bee-lined to the left after descending the game's opening hill.
"Shouldn't you be going to where that guy told you to go?"
"Yeah, I just wanted to see what was over here though."
I spent the next hour or so wandering through trees, prodding boars, picking apples, generally stultifying my crowd of one. She sat next to me watching. She gave faint suggestions as to where to go, what we should do, but mostly I just rummaged through the woods.
"I'm not sure if I like this game." "Oh, okay, sorry." I went onward towards the lit marker as initially instructed, which she seemed to enjoy watching a little better.
Upwards of a phonebook's worth of people had contacted me over the previous week asking how the Switch was, or so it seemed. Six of said people came over to visit over the weekend, which lended itself to bouts of multiplayer Switch games, namely Super Bomberman R.
Yet inevitably, Zelda came up as a topic of discussion. I booted my file up, Link still stationed in the opening overworld after some five hours of co-gameplay, and handed the controller around the room.
Breath of the Wild is a superb experience, but learning the finer points of the controls does take a solid several minutes. Watching Link bumble around cliffs, bees and ponds as several people attempted to guide our character made me learn a lot about myself.
"No, stop! Turn around. There. There! See it? Aim at that! No, the OTHER R button!"
This wasn't much of progress taken on our file. It mostly was a waste of resources. She and others guided Link to markers on the map in methods linear and anything but; "Game Over" appeared on the screen maybe half a dozen times.
We persisted. When it was my turn, I found the final Shrine from the game's opening hours and completed the missions the Old Man put forth to Link, pleasing the crowd. I then jumped to my death from atop the Temple of Time for good measure, proving that perhaps I wasn't as great at navigating Link as I had maybe thought I was.
"I want to start my own file."
What!? Betrayal! Was it me? We had but only began our quest! I pleaded my case, saying that we had already spent six or seven hours on this file, and that she already knew the locations of the first handful of items. She hardly seemed concerned.
"That's okay, I want to try this on my own." I felt like my experiment to share this experience had somehow failed, but I felt compelled to continue writing out everything anyway. In just a couple minutes, her Link had awoken, and she was off into the Great Plateau.
Almost just as quickly, I had begun noticing countless tiny details I myself had missed on my own playthrough. You found a journal? Metal boxes could be broken that easily? There's hidden chests in the lake? And while we're on the subject, you can just grab fish with your bare hands?! Considering my extreme attention to detail, it seems absurd I could have missed out on so many details. And yet alas, this was proving to be a different type of game.
Our apartment has a communal hot tub, which we find ourselves visiting a couple times a week after work. It was just the two of us, but this was no time for romance. That night she waded over to me and told me to cup my hands on top of the water in order to make a circle, as if was holding some sort of cylinder. She looked down at the water inside my stretched out fingers and began making points on our imaginary map, wading out lines and partitions.
"I've been here, here and...here! You know that spot near the cold mountains? I found an outpost that I spent awhile trying to climb, but…"
"But you needed to use your arrows on the ropes, right?"
"Are you serious? How would you know to do that?"
She had surpassed me in the story thus far, but I had done more exploration. This was just the way it had to be: alternating time alone with the TV. No matter though, this was truly the way Breath of the Wild was meant to be played, it turns out.
We discussed experiences, feeding each other tips and wildly speculating on what a crumbled wall that doesn't succumb to bombs might mean. The last time I partook in this sort of speculative gameplay discussion out of necessity? Before the internet's proliferation, playing Super Mario 64. Before that? Inside pawn shops that sold NES cartridges.
And now today in this post-internet age, within school rooms, on forums and even inside hot tubs, there finally exists a single player game that is so engrossing, so mad with ambition, so amusing and massive that at its highest potential, it acts as a multiplayer game just the same.