Following on from our reader-voted Top 50 Games of the Decade, Nintendo Life staff members will be picking their personal favourite Nintendo games between the years 2010-2019. To round off our run of features, former Nintendo Life editor Thomas Whitehead returns to let us know his pick of the past ten years...
The end of a decade is either a momentous occasion or ‘just another year’, depending on your point of view. As a landmark it does give us a chance to think about how much things have changed – or haven’t, in some cases – over the course of ten years; that definitely applies to video games.
Picking a ‘game of the decade’ is tricky, though, or at least it should be. Games have not only evolved a great deal, but the genres and styles have changed. Yet, predictably to anyone who knows me, I’m picking a ‘current-gen’ game as my favourite of the decade; it’s in the running to be my favourite game ever but, well, maybe another time for that debate.
The quotation marks around ‘current-gen’ make sense, as of course, I’m talking about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was supposed to be the Wii U’s tentpole Zelda release, but a combination of development delays and the poor old Wii U’s woes meant that Breath of the Wild came to be better known as a Nintendo Switch game. On the one hand, it’s sad that the Wii U never had a mainline Zelda game to call its own, but in actual fact, the very nature of the Switch hybrid concept helped the game solidify its place as my favourite of the decade. Not only is it a stunning game, but it changed my whole perspective on this hobby of ours.
Gaming has always been in my family, mainly through myself and my older brother, and I have fond memories of family multiplayer nights on the SEGA Mega Drive where my parents would join in. As we all got older those family nights happened less (aside from a revival in the early Wii years), but my purchase of a DSi (and the start of my near-7 year love-affair with this very website in 2011) also brought my mum into the gaming fold. My dad plays some games too, but it still raises eyebrows when I talk about my retired mum beating Dragon Quest games, for example. The hybrid form of the Switch, meanwhile, made it irresistible when it was announced, and though I had one early and beat Breath of the Wild in 6 days to write a review (I'm still waiting for my medal), my brother and mother had pre-orders ready.
When I cleared the game for review I did it properly, in that I cleared all four ‘main’ dungeons and achieved the true ending. But I did have to rush a little because the game is ludicrously big, and despite unlocking all the towers there were areas and smaller quests I simply did not see; there was simply no time. Then I got to see my family experiencing it, right from my mum’s hesitant early steps in the Plateau where she made notes on controls (give us manuals back, darn it!) and then seeing my brother working through as slowly as possible because he loved it so much.
It became a family obsession, although at times my dad might have felt like we were all going mad. Every time we met for a family dinner we talked about Breath of the Wild in a rather (ahem) breathless way. And then my mum and brother would mention a village or quest and I’d be confused – “where is that?”. Cue a scenario where two 30-something men get Switches out of bags while a woman in her 60s fires up the TV for her system. “Over there, you have to climb up that mountain”. It was constant discovery, and for weeks all we talked about was Zelda – cool areas, tips for tough sections and why it was the most amazing game we’d ever played.
It was joyfully collaborative, and I realised my 10/10 review didn’t even cut it; this game meant more than a 'perfect' score to me. I discovered and learnt about the world with my family, and it felt like we could only truly experience all of Hyrule if we worked together.
That is what makes Breath of the Wild unique, special, and unlike any other game I have personally experienced in the last decade. Three players, three copies, and endless adventure. I have played through the campaign to completion 4 times – in a dash for review, slower in the aforementioned collab with family, in Master Mode, and most recently a 100% run including all of the DLC in order (but not all Korok Seeds, don’t be daft!). Those playthroughs have helped me through long travel times, tough personal moments, and just general snippets around the madness and tedium of real-life; I’m happy sitting on the couch playing it on my TV, or grabbing 15 minutes on the portable when waiting for a train. It is the only game of the past decade that I have beaten more than twice apart from Resident Evil 4 (my Halloween tradition), and across hundreds of hours. Games rarely stick with me that way; heck, writing this makes me want to start it all over again.
For some, it lacked ‘classic Zelda’ elements, and they’re not wrong. But what it did have was the ability to trigger my imagination – and those of my family members – in a way that has never been matched by any other media, of any kind. It’s not just my game of the decade, it’s my entertainment experience of the decade. Bravo, Nintendo.