This week, my four-and-a-half year-old son and I capped off what was an 80+ hour adventure in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. He and I debated whether or not we were ready, but eventually mustered enough courage to head to Hyrule Castle to make Calamity Gannon “catch these hands.” Playing through that game was among the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a while.
For all the flack and criticism that the Nintendo Switch receives from the ‘core’ gamers for being underpowered, none of that matters. Breath of the Wild, along with the just released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, helped to remind my (jaded) self that when you’re not counting pixels and framerates, you can get back to having genuine fun: the Switch delivers that in spades.
To really understand why Nintendo’s current hot streak is so significant, you need to back track to the beginning of the current console cycle when Microsoft’s Xbox One found itself stumbling out of the gate.
A combination of poor PR messaging coupled with having less under-the-hood horsepower compared to Sony’s PlayStation 4, led to the Xbox One being the butt of never ending jokes regarding frame rates and resolutions.
Following the launch of both consoles, Sony’s PlayStation 4 almost systematically would offer higher fidelity visuals for the majority of third party titles available on both platforms. Since that time, it’s been a never-ending pissing contest between factions about “1080p this” and “60 frames per second that.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love that video games are constantly pushing the technological envelope forward. In my opinion, it’s what catapults video games as the ultimate storytelling platform. And because the industry embraces advancements in tech, we’re constantly getting bigger, faster, louder, HD-er (totally not a word), experiences. But there are those times where games will feature everything I’ve just listed, have multi-million dollar budgets, and yet still manage to fall short of expectations.
PlayStation 4 exclusive The Order: 1886 is one such title that immediately comes to mind. Developed by Ready at Dawn Studios and released in 2015, The Order: 1886 was the “let us show you what the PS4 can do” kind of title. Having a string of hit PSP and Wii titles under its belt, it took the Ready at Dawn five years to develop and ship The Order: 1886 and one can only imagine the amount of money spent on the game’s development during that time.
When it came time to review, The Order: 1886 seemed to pull one consistent reaction from critics: an absolutely beautiful game, but everything else was pretty much… meh (we gave it an 8.5). This somewhat lukewarm reception prompted the Ready at Dawn team to save face through interviews and blog posts highlighting that the experience that they delivered was one of “quality over quantity,” especially when coming to the defense of the game’s six-hour (give or take) story with no additional replay value or incentive for additional playthroughs.
Six hours, yet the “quality” word was thrown around like a merit badge late into the game’s press cycle and following critic reviews. Which begs the question: if your game does nothing special, new, or outside of the box in regards to gameplay, is the quality measuring stick solely based on slick visuals? If so, that seems like a terrible way to judge a form of media like video games which, by design, involves some kind of interaction. Visuals play a big part, but it’s not supposed to be the part.
Not to harp on Breath of the Wild, but I will keep it real with you. During its best moments (and this is usually when things aren’t in motion), Breath of the Wild looks like an absolutely gorgeous game… from last-gen: early last-gen, even. But when you start playing it, it doesn’t matter. The shortcomings of the visuals go away when you start realizing the little details that went into the title.
Things like the weather having a direct impact on your gameplay experience (I’m looking at you: inconvenient rain storms). Or maybe that moment that there’s an item out of reach, and you’re scratching your head thinking “how can I get that down here?”: then you remember that everything is based on physics and a well-aimed arrow can cut the rope to release the goodies you’re after. These “ah-ha” moments make you remember why gameplay and experiences had should always take precedence over some extra fancy pixels.
This shouldn’t come off as me saying I haven’t enjoyed the plethora of titles we’ve seen this gen. Before “Switching it up” (terrible dad pun intended), I was freshly coming off finishing Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Titanfall 2 to name a few. All are great games in their own right: all technical showpieces, if you ask me.
But there’s just something about gaming on the Switch that has been extra satisfying. Maybe it’s Nintendo pulling at my nostalgic heartstrings. Maybe it’s because I can for the first time, really enjoy video games with my oldest child. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that I think we can stop worrying and being s****y to each other about resolutions and frame rates at this point, and get back to just having fun again.