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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review: this sequel is blissful perfection

Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is, of course, the sequel to the mega-acclaimed title Breath of the Wild. With more than 30 million downloads and multiple awards to its name, it’s regularly hailed as one of the best video games of all time.

No pressure, then. But does the Tears of the Kingdom match up? As you can tell from the star rating: yes.

We start the action sometime after the climactic events of the previous game. Zelda and Link, now reunited, are living a life of peace and getting down to the business of ruling a kingdom.

Except, Zelda decides to investigate the catacombs beneath Hyrule Castle and unwittingly awakens an evil deity trapped in its depths. One supernatural explosion later, Link is missing both the Master Sword and his right arm, and Zelda has been sucked into the depths of the chasm that has opened underneath them both.

Link, for his part, awakens on a magical floating island in the sky, with a new robot arm grafted on to his body and a new mission: find Zelda (again), wherever it is she’s vanished to. And so begins the new game.

With great power…

As we already know, our pint-sized hero acquires a whole range of powers during the training wheels level (none of the ones from Breath of the Wild carry over), But hearing about them and getting to play with them is an entirely different kettle of fish.

There’s Ultrahand, which basically acts as telekinesis, except with the ability to stick items together when they touch (it’s this that allows you to build massive, elaborate constructions out of slabs of rock and wood). There’s Recall, which lets Link reverse time on items in transit, whether that’s a falling boulder or a shot arrow.

There’s Fuse, which, of course, allows Link to fuse items together — which mostly manifests as sticking new items on to his shield, sword and arrows to create all manner of weird and wonderful combinations. Boulder shield, anybody? Or how about a bomb-flower arrow — or, indeed, a Stalkoblin-arm sword?

Power up: Link’s new Recall ability (Nintendo)

What’s wonderful is how integral these abilities feel to the game. Much as I loved Breath of the Wild, I hardly ever used Link’s Remote Bombs or Stasis abilities; they felt fiddly and often weren’t useful.

These ones, on the other hand, are fun. Want to take down a stone-throwing big boss? Reverse time on his boulders and let them hit him instead. Ascend, meanwhile, makes travelling up mountains and getting out of sticky situations a whole lot easier. Meanwhile, Fuse massively increases weapon durability, which is a godsend after Breath of the Wild (though weirdly, you can’t fuse items to bows. Those still break pretty darn quick).

What this means is that Tears of the Kingdom often feel like a kid’s sandbox — even more so than Breath of the Wild.

There are an infinite number of ways to solve a problem here, or get from A to B, or to take down an enemy before looting their corpses for horns you can stick to your new Zora spear. It makes for a joyful playing experience, where the only limits are your imagination.

One especial highlight here is, of course, the transport options, which are a mix of puzzle solving and imagination. Using Ultrahand, Link can make use of random items lying around the world to create items straight out of your imagination.

Want to build a tank? You can. A flying aircraft? Also no big deal. There are rockets, ziplines — it’s giddy fun, and as the game progresses you get access to more and more stuff, again unlocking new options.

Head Ganon accepted

Whereas Breath of the Wild introduced the Sheikah race — a technologically advanced civilisation who ruled before the Hylians — Tears of the Kingdom is all about the Zonai, the inhabitants of the floating islands.

New gears: Link using Zonai tech to get around (Nintendo)

These guys basically take the place of the Sheikah: as a result of The Upheaval (the aforementioned supernatural explosion), a lot of Zonai rubble has fallen to Hyrule, including the new shrines, which are now Zonai rather than Sheikah-inspired.

The end result is the same. Link gets a bauble upon completion, which he can trade in for new hearts or stamina wheel chunks. But heads-up, Zelda purists: these mini-dungeons (or those that I encountered, at least) are most definitely not any harder, or much more varied, than their Breath of the Wild predecessors.

Unravelling the mystery of the Zonai (and their mysterious king, Rauru, who gifts Link his robot arm) is one of the central quests in Tears of the Kingdom — alongside the quest to find Zelda, of course, which, I’ll be honest, is not the most exciting part of the game. Though Zelda has a tad more agency in Tears of the Kingdom, the ‘find the princess’ quest feels a bit old at this point. Surely it’s time for something new?

At least Link has more places to look for Zelda this time, which brings us on to the other most exciting development in the game: the map.

Taking world-building to the extreme

The opening level of Tears of the Kingdom is so giddyingly exciting — an island! In the sky! — that when we return to Hyrule, it can feel like a bit of disappointment. Back here, again?

Worry not. This Hyrule is a delightful blend of new and old. Over the course of the game, Link will travel back to familiar places from the previous game — the land of the Zora, or Kakariko Village, for instance. But while these places look much the same (and we meet plenty of Link’s old friends over the course of the game), the landscape around them has changed dramatically.

The Upheaval has caused a cataclysm where open chasms lurk just out of sight, filled with nasties; the Zora are drowning in black sludge and volcanoes filled with explosive fire chu-chus await. Even worse, a supernatural red mist pervades the air, corrupting every weapon it touches — hence the need to reinforce them with Fuse.

Time to fly: exploring the archipelagos (Nintendo)

Instead of Sheikah Towers, what we have instead are the far more exciting Sky Viewing Towers, constructed by the mad scientist Purah. These, again, feel like a natural evolution of what came before: these towers shoot Link miles into the sky, which lets him ‘scan’ the area to add to his map.

More excitingly, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities: getting Link high enough to explore the sky islands dotted above Hyrule. Clustered in separate ‘archipelagos’ — one per each section of the map — these islands offer a wealth of new challenges for the Zelda fan.

Getting from one island to the other requires a decent amount of puzzle-solving, but the rewards are immense: new weaponry, new Zonaite technology that Link can use to power his contraptions (fans, for instance, that can be stuck to floating devices) and crystals from which he can extract energy. It feels like a whole other world, stacked on top of the first — a stupendous achievement, by anyone’s standards.

Find your fighting style

As might be evident from the trailers, the art style in Tears of the Kingdom isn’t too different from Breath of the Wild — and that goes for the gameplay, too. Link still runs, jumps and climbs like he used to; aside from a few superficial changes, his inventory and powers are laid out pretty much the same way.

This is great, at least in my book: it means you can skip the boring bit of getting accustomed to the gameplay and dive right in.

The only change is in the way combat is laid out — now, Link can easily parry attacks with his shield and return fire with a ‘flurry’ of blows (something it took me a long time to discover in Breath of the Wild). This is perfect for attacking the new and improved range of monsters he’ll be fighting against.

Such as? Well, there are the old favourites, such as the Bokoblins, the hulking Hinox or the serpentine Lizalfos — but even these guys have changed the way they operate (though there are still mini-fortresses to storm, of course). These days, Bokoblins tend to move in packs with a hulking Hinox-like leader, making taking them down quite a challenge. There are all manner of Keese, whose parts can be harvested to improve your arrows, and chu-chus of all shapes and sizes.

New bosses: a Zonai construct (Nintendo)

However, this time around there are also new Zonai enemies (such as Soldier Constructs) to fight; Zonai bosses that require Link’s new powers to defeat; and flying enemies such as the Aerocuda: essentially giant flying dragons that have a penchant for dropping explosives on your head.


There’s so much to say about this game — and I’m sure pages upon pages of words will be dedicated to it in the weeks to come.

However, the important thing is this: Nintendo have clearly cracked the formula here. Yes, the gameplay and world are both familiar at this point. But there’s still plenty to delight here, and plenty that’s been improved upon. Nintendo have managed to make the old feel new again: by any standard, it’s a triumph.

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