If reports are to be believed, Nintendo’s newest mobile game in development is none other than an entry in the Legend of Zelda series. Given the series’ traditional grand scope, focus on exploration and real-time battles, and near universal regard, Zelda may prove more challenging to adapt to mobile systems than Mario, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing. How can Nintendo tackle getting Zelda to work on your phone?
Let’s go ahead and assume that Nintendo intends to use the same core design tenants that it did for Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes; namely that the mobile game will maintain the basic gameplay from its series, that it is played in vertical mode using a single hand, and that it will be accessible even to players unfamiliar with the series. Here’s four ways that Nintendo might make a mobile Zelda work within that framework:
In this approach, the game is played in the overhead view, similar to classic 2D Zelda titles. The majority of the game takes place in dungeons, with each room filling out the phone screen. Like the original Legend of Zelda and Fire Emblem Heroes, there is no camera movement and the entire area can be seen at once. Each room contains monsters and/or puzzles to solve before advancing, ultimately leading to a boss chamber with a large reward. After each dungeon, time is spent in a hub world where you can spend your rupees on equipment and supplies before venturing into the next dungeon.
This approach allows the developers to maintain the core gameplay loop of classic Zelda and apply the traditional trappings of a mobile game to it. It’s also ripe for free-to-play and gacha mechanics. Chests can have randomized rewards, encouraging players to play through dungeons again and again. Real world money can be exchanged for rupees or different looks for Link. Got too many game overs? Watch an ad or pay $0.99 to recharge and continue.
I’m not saying it’s my ideal version. For me, I’d rather just pay $10-$15 and have all the content available. However, it’s undeniable that Fire Emblem Heroes’ free-to-play model has been far more profitable than Super Mario Run’s pay once model and Nintendo’s investors will almost certainly want future titles to be free-to-play.
Then again, Nintendo could surprise us all by releasing a very traditional Zelda game on mobile devices. Although it would certainly be paired down compared to something like Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has shown that it’s possible to make a full-fledged Zelda game that relies entirely on touch controls with Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Furthermore, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, the unofficial Zelda game released on iOS and Android, proved that Zelda can work, and sell decently, on mobile devices without sacrificing the series’ core gameplay.
I’m not going to lie, I think it’s exceedingly unlikely that mobile Zelda would take this form. It leaves little room for microtransactions and would almost certainly have to be an expensive premium game. However, Nintendo could use assets from Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks and largely copy their gameplay. This means that the game could be developed quickly and with minimal resources, partially making up for the smaller player base and lower profits that come with a premium game.
If Nintendo wants to give the game a more modern feel, they might shift the perspective to a close up third-person view and focus on the cinematic combat of more recent Zelda titles. Gameplay could take a page out of mobile hits like the Infinity Blade series and have a gesture based combat system where swiping determines the direction of your sword swings and hitting on screen buttons and prompts allows you to dodge, block, and use items. In between fights, there could still be some minor exploration and puzzle solving elements, as well as opportunities to spend your rupees.
It’s a proven model that works on mobile and could work as a free-to-play or premium game. For an example of an Infinity Blade-like game that takes cues from Zelda, just look to Horn, which features an interesting fantasy story and setting, magical instruments, a crossbow/hookshot, secret chests, and puzzles. This approach would feel less like an adaptation of older Zelda games and more like a fresh take on the series. It’s also easy to apply microtransactions to and regularly release content for to keep players coming back.
Following the success of Pokemon Go, Nintendo may choose to create an AR Zelda game. Perhaps your phone is a window into the Dark World. Just like in A Link to the Past, this Dark World is a twisted mirror of our own reality. Players have to search the Dark World for secrets and treasure while fighting monsters along the way. Real life stores could act as item shops and you could actually find rupees out in fields.
It cannot be overstated just how successful Pokemon Go was. Even though they had little direct involvement, it lead to a massive paycheck for Nintendo. Despite this, there haven’t been additional AR games released yet that capitalize on this sizable market. Zelda AR could help to fill this void and draw in players who’ve grown bored of Pokemon Go. It’s also a game that sells itself via word of mouth and social media sharing of screen shots. Who doesn’t want to show everyone the moblin you found in your shed or the new boomerang you found at Starbucks? It might not be as successful as Pokemon Go, which was a true cultural phenomenon that is unlikely to be repeated, but it could still be a big hit. Best of all, Nintendo could tap the partnerships it already has in order to obtain the talent and infrastructure needed to build such a game.