The Legend of Zelda celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, although you’d be forgiven for not realising. The official date of Zelda’s birthday is February 21, but in the three months since then, we’ve not seen much fanfare. Skyward Sword is being ported onto the Nintendo Switch, with the same Wii motion controls and slightly enhanced visuals, but that’s not really enough to celebrate the anniversary of a franchise as iconic and influential as Zelda. Games get ported all the time. A few years ago, Link’s Awakening was remade for the Switch from the original Game Boy version, and that took more time and resources than a simple port. Now though, it seems Nintendo is finally celebrating, because the company is giving itself an anniversary present – $15 of your hard-earned cash, in exchange for a basic in-game function. You’re welcome.
In Skyward Sword, fast travel – or the game’s version of it – was a bit of a pain. You could head skyward (with a sword, too!), and soar above the map to explore. However, you could only do it from save points. This being a ten year old game made for the Wii, a little bit of outdated design is to be expected. Plus, it’s Zelda, a franchise that has historically stayed incredibly close to its roots with ‘classic’ game design conventions, although recent releases have broken out of that rut somewhat.
In the new Skyward Sword, those older philosophies no longer limit your experience. You can fly whenever you want, even if you’re inside a dungeon. You can soar through the clouds freely, and even explore buildings, then with the press of a button, you can return to precisely where you started and continue with your adventure. As a jazzed-up port rather than a full remake, Skyward Sword doesn’t have too much room to maneuver when it comes to quality of life tweaks, but this is a big one. Only, of course, if you’ll give Nintendo an extra $15 for the privilege.
This feature is only available through a new Amiibo featuring Zelda and Loftwing – the bird companion in the game. If you buy this Amiibo, you just need to tap it on the Joy Con and the flight menu will pop up; tap it a second time, and you’ll be able to land. If you don’t have the Amiibo though, you can’t do this, and you’re stuck using the old save points method.
To clarify, that’s $60 for a port from 2011, or $75 for a port from 2011 with actual improvements. Hey, Nintendo needs some way to pay for Zelda’s birthday party, which has presumably been delayed due to lack of funds.
It’s shameful, especially because it will work. Zelda is one of the most popular franchises on the planet, and it has earned that popularity by repeatedly producing world class games with deep content and tons of replay value. This is not a franchise that has ever relied on predatory tactics, microtransactions, or shady practises. Breath of the Wild had DLC, sure, but nobody can complain that the base game is short of stuff to do.
It could be part of a worrying trend for gaming. While Xbox Game Pass ensures the medium is still available to those without money for huge blockbuster releases, Sony is rapidly pricing ordinary folk out of the market. After years of controversy and action from several governments, loot boxes are falling out of style, but are being replaced by battle passes – they rely less on gambling, but as a result cost more, and price free-to-play gamers out almost entirely. Meanwhile, if you wanted to make two islands on Animal Crossing: New Horizons – say one each for you and your partner, or roommate, or child – you’d need to buy them a whole new Nintendo Switch. Not just a new version of the game, which would be bad enough, but an entirely new console.
Amiibo exist in a weird spot. They’re collectibles, but you can use them in games – like Funko Pops, but useful and far less ugly. Giving them a function in Skyward Sword – or any game, for that matter – adds to their value, and makes them more worthwhile to collectors. In isolation, that’s clearly a positive thing, because the price of an official plastic figurine being $15 is pretty fair. The problem comes with how they are integrated. With Skyward Sword, it’s not that the Amiibo players are getting a bonus, it’s that the non-Amiibo players are having features taken away from them.
It forces you to buy a plastic toy on top of the full price game you’re already buying; all this despite the fact that it’s a simple port and Nintendo has shown it has the capabilities to add ports into Nintendo Switch Online as a sort of Game Pass Classic. It feels like certain titles and consoles are being held back from that experience so they can be sold to us at full price later on – it wouldn’t be so insulting if these games didn’t require a little plastic bird to be bought separately.
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