With Breath of the Wild launching the Legend of Zelda franchise to an all time high, there’s no surprise in the Wall Street Journal revealing that Nintendo is planning to unleash a Zelda mobile app. Hungry fans are eager for more Hyrule, and what better way to deliver that fix than by giving them a taste each time they pull out their phones?
But many questions remain; we have no word on genre, monetization, or how the franchise will be leveraged. Clearly we should not expect an isometric Zelda game (a la A Link Between Worlds), as Nintendo has made it clear there are no intentions of releasing full franchise titles on anything but Nintendo’s own hardware. Aside from that, the possibilities are endless; Nintendo prides itself on innovation, and creating an expectation-breaking mobile experience that mirrors Breath of the Wild’s franchise-departing spirit would be an excellent way to keep things fresh.
That considered, the obvious fit for a Zelda mobile app’s gameplay is some sort of puzzle-solving. It would be easy for Nintendo to make a sort of “escape the room” type of game where players move from room to room in a dungeon. That could make for a fun game, especially given the popularity of this game type in the mobile market, but I expect something different from Nintendo, given the company’s emphasis on innovation.
Instead, we could see a game that makes use of a burgeoning technology: augmented reality. With the proven success of Pokemon Go, Nintendo is certainly interested in pursuing this gameplay option (not to mention Reggie Fils-Aime’s admission that Nintendo is actively pursuing more AR games). And with Breath of the Wild’s emphasis on exploration and discovery, we find ourselves at the perfect time to experience Zelda in the real world.
Imagine pulling out a Sheikah Slate in your own city. Just like Link, you could explore your map, find points of interest, snap pictures of local flora and fauna, mark areas for future exploration, and lose yourself on a quest of discovery. And since the Sheikah Slate is already basically an ancient smartphone, the potential for immersion in this game would be huge.
Aside from walking around and looking at cool landmarks, there are plenty of ways to gamify the experience of using the Sheikah Slate and adapt it for AR. For instance, in Breath of the Wild, Link must unlock portions of his map by climbing towers; players could easily do the same by traveling to a vantage point in a region and completing some sort of puzzle in order to reveal points of interest on their maps. And what about the memories of Zelda that Link seeks out? They could serve up a next-level scavenger hunt across real-world cities, and provide “memory” clips pertaining to the city’s history and culture. Shrines could also be scattered about the map, luring players to monuments or landmarks and providing them with a challenge or puzzle to solve – this could allow for the “escape the room” gameplay that matches so well with Zelda. Bokoblin camps, Yiga encounters, and perhaps even a Hinox or Talus boss fight could provide combat opportunities to round out the app’s gameplay offerings.
But will the mobile Zelda game actually look like this? It could, but it would take a lot of work and would not be cheap or easy to develop. However, neither was Breath of the Wild, and with Nintendo’s recent upswing on the early success of the Switch and their commitment to creating compelling software, we can expect to see some unique apps as they forge their future in the mobile market.