The 35th anniversary year of Super Mario Bros. will soon draw to a close and although Nintendo has extended the celebrations to 31st March 2021 (a day which Mario himself will do well to survive, it seems), 2021 marks the 35th birthday of the next-most celebrated series in the Kyoto company's catalogue: The Legend of Zelda.
The various announcements for Mario's 35th were kept under wraps until September this year, a matter of days before the anniversary of the Japanese Famicom release, although pandemic-related scheduling disruption may have played a part in that timing. The Legend of Zelda launched on Famicom Disk System in Japan on 21st February 1986, so while it's possible we'll see an announcement in the first weeks of the new year, we also wouldn't be surprised if we hear nothing until April (once all the Mario stuff is over).
We're talking 'bout Nintendo here, though; anything's possible. With that in mind, team Nintendo Life sat down and thought about what our favourite platform holder might have up its sleeve to celebrate three-and-a-half decades of adventuring in the kingdom of Hyrule (and other territories). Below you'll find ten predictions based on past evidence, intuition and a little dreaming; a mixture of well-reasoned guesswork and pie-in-the-sky prognostication.
Let's take a look at how we'd like to see Nintendo celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Zelda franchise, then...
Remasters and Re-releases
Straight off the bat, we'd like to see more of the series' back catalogue available to play on Switch in some form. As things stand, you can currently play The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, as well as Breath of the Wild and the Link's Awakening remake, of course.
While the long-running series has had its share of remakes and remasters, we'd love to see more of the old titles come to the current console. A whole new generation who just missed the 3DS are getting into games right now and they don't have easy access to Ocarina of Time — a contravention of the Geneva convention, we're certain.
With all developmental hands on deck for the follow-up to Breath of the Wild, full-scale remakes seem unlikely, although they'd certainly be welcome. Rumours that Skyward Sword might be coming to Switch continue to hover and 2021 would mark ten years since that game launched on Wii. Grezzo, the studio behind both Ocarina 3D and Majora's Mask 3D on 3DS (and Link's Awakening on Switch) must to be up to something.
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda
Fans have already mocked up that it would look like, of course:
Yes. Yes, please.
Another Zelda Character joins Smash Bros. Ultimate
All eyes are on The Game Awards at the time of writing thanks to the scheduled reveal of the next Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC fighter, but Nintendo has said that the remaining invitations for the second Fighter's Pass will be doled out periodically up until holiday season 2021. The huge Smash Bros. roster already features several Zelda characters, but we wouldn't be surprised to see a little cross-promotional marketing next year with another addition.
But which character should get an invitation? Well, we've had fun playing as the Four Champions in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, and squeezing four different fighters into one slot (and rebuilding the game to accommodate them) sounds like the sort of crazily taxing task Masahiro Sakurai would be assigned to complete.
Alternatively, a beloved vintage character updated for the 2020s could work just as well. It's been a while since we heard from Tingle. Or how about Agahnim? Skull Kid? Epona? A flock of cuccos?
Still, if some Byleth-style cross-promotion is on the cards, an all-new character from a new game would make good business sense. If only Nintendo had a Zelda title in development that was ready to launch in 2021...
Breath of the Wild 2 launching *crosses fingers*
Could the tentatively titled Breath of the Wild 2 see release in 2021?
It's certainly possible. In March it'll be four years since the original launched alongside Switch, and we'd have put money on BOTW 2 hitting in time for the 35th anniversary had 2020 been a regular year.
We still think there's a very good chance, though, and with rumours of new Switch hardware in the works, what better game to launch a new SKU? Metroid Prime 4, perhaps, but that one's still a ways off.
We're pretty certain that the next entry in the mainline series is pencilled into Nintendo's 2021 Filofax; the real question is whether or not they'll grab a biro and make it a date. At the very least we'll get a name — we're getting tired of calling it 'Breath of the Wild 2'.
Those Wii U ports
C'mon, they're just sitting there!
Of all the remaining Wii U games that haven't yet made the jump to Switch, the pair of HD Zelda remasters are perhaps the most conspicuous absentees and definitely deserve another chance to shine.
If we're honest, we're not too bothered about 'Deluxe' versions of The Wind Waker HD or Twilight Princess HD, although we'd welcome an option in the former to toggle between the revised bloom-lit visuals and a visual mode that better approximates the flatter, vibrant and timeless look of the GameCube original. And if they wanted to add in any cut content, who are we to argue?
The Legend of Zelda 35
Following on the heels of Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, it seems just a matter of time before Nintendo put out another Battle Royale-style spin-off for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. We speculated as to the direction it could potentially take back in October — who'd say no to ninety-nine Links dropping onto an Eventide Island?
Perhaps it's easier to imagine something with a retro flavour closer to Mario 35, with a little Four Swords spice thrown in for good measure. The Breath of the Wild developers showed a behind-the-scenes 8-bit-style prototyping tool at GDC 2017 (above) which was used to test physics interactions. That type of retro-styled world could be a fertile bed to plant an online multiplayer experience, and one which would celebrate the series from its roots to its most recent guise. Thirty-five players wake up in different places across 8-bit Hyrule and set out to battle Ganon using nothing but teamwork and what they pick up along the way...
Where do we sign up?
New consoles for Nintendo Switch Online = More old Zelda games
If Nintendo were to expand its Nintendo Switch Online offerings beyond the NES and SNES games currently available, more vintage Zelda adventures on Switch would be an inevitable result. The addition of Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance titles, for example, would likely herald the arrival of the original Link's Awakening, the Oracle of Ages and Seasons duo for Game Boy Colour, and The Minish Cap. We'll take the lot. The more the merrier.
Unless Grezzo wants to totally remake any more of the Game Boy installments for Switch, of course.
Spin-offs and Crossovers
We've had Cadence, we've had Calamity, so what's the next Zelda spin-off?
With such a large universe to draw from, the possibilities are endless and after such promising collaborations with other teams large and small, it would be great to see another developer take the Zelda franchise for a spin. Or someone could bring back Link's Crossbow Training. That too.
We have fond memories of the Zelda Twilight Princess Picross game on 3DS; you can never have too much Picross (Zelda-themed or otherwise), so we'd take another one of those — especially if it's free. A port and international release of the Japan-only DS game (and Club Nintendo exclusive) Tingle's Balloon Fight would go down very well, too.
We've also been fantasising about a Zelda X Fire Emblem crossover which essentially transfers FE gameplay into the world of Hyrule. Hey, if they can make a good Musou out of Breath of the Wild, we'd love to see what a Hylian turn-based SRPG looks like!
We're sure there will be a host of events and items appearing across other 'live' Nintendo games: the Tetris 99 Zelda event; the Super Mario Maker 2 Link course competition; the Animal Crossing: New Horizons items.
There's nothing stopping Link or Zelda cropping up in other companies' games, either. With fans speculating that Samus might be coming to Fortnite, we can think of another character or two who are quite adept at gliding down from on high and battling foes across a large map with melee and projectile weapons. Then again, seeing Link gunned down with automatic weaponry on social media might not be Nintendo's bag.
Lots of lovely Zelda hardware and merch
The 25th anniversary saw the release of Zelda-themed 3DS and there's a decent chance we could see a Triforce or Hylian shield pasted onto some Limited Edition Switch hardware. Skins are all well and good, but could you resist a Switch Lite with proper Sheikah Slate stylings?
There will certainly be plenty of crossovers in the realm of more affordable merchandise. Link lunchboxes, Master Sword skewers, Hylian hosiery — you name it. We've also got our fingers crossed for some Lego Zelda sets next year. Fans have been dreaming up Lego brick crossover creations for a long time: from a recreation of Link to the Past's overworld map to a Breath of the Wild stable; from Link's humble abode to the Hylian Knight himself.
While we've enjoyed the unique gameplay spin Nintendo gave the LEGO Super Mario sets, we'd argue that the grandeur of the Legend of Zelda lends itself just as well to a more traditional build.
Whatever Nintendo is planning, there will naturally be some totally unexpected announcements. 'Zelda Maker' would be amazing, although fans have been clamouring for that for years.
No, there will be some unpredictable, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit-style curveball what nobody will see coming. And we wouldn't have it any other way. That's half the reason we're living the Nintendo life, right? Bring it on.
Well, would you look at that: not a single Link pun! Who says this site is nothing but dad jokes and links...
Oh-no-we-didn't! Let us know your thoughts below on what Nintendo might have in store for Zelda's 35th, and feel free to dazzle us with your finest Zelda wordplay, too. Puns are the very highest form of comedy — perhaps even all art. Yep.