I died a lot, but it was a process that taught me a valuable lesson about the new Zelda game.
Let me tell you about the time I got stranded on an island floating in the sky.
Much like its predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom begins in a sort of training area. In this case, it’s a series of interconnected islands high up in the sky, where you’re able to not only unlock your initial abilities but also learn the basics of how to use them. There are even helpful ancient robots around to give you tips.
It’s here that I first got access to Ultrahand, an ability that lets Link magically pick up objects, including stuff much too big for him to hold, and fuse them together. It looks something like this:
One of the first and most obvious uses for this skill is to build bridges. You chop down some trees with an ax, use the Ultrahand to stick them together with magical glue, and then pick the whole thing up and place it gently across a chasm so you can walk across it. It’s very simple — or so I thought.
Soon after getting access to the Ultrahand, I jumped down a series of platforms and landed on a fairly isolated little island. All the other surrounding islands were too far away to jump to, and the platforms that got me there were now too high to reach. Perfect time for a bridge, I figured. I spent a good 15 minutes cutting down every tree around me and carefully connecting them to make a nice, straight bridge. I was very proud of the result. And then I picked it up, placed it on the ledge of the island closest to me… and watched it tumble off the edge into the void below because it wasn’t flat enough.
So there I was: trapped with no resources to get me out of the situation. I ended up jumping off the edge and was lucky enough to respawn on the mainland. But that was far from my only tragic mistake as I learned to come to grips with Tears of the Kingdom’s new toolset. Later, I spent what felt like forever trying to get a metal hook to lay flat on a plank of wood so that I could use it to ride down a rail to an area below. And once I finally got that down and hung the hook over the rail… it slid right down without me on it. The same thing happened later on, when I tried to ride a glider down to a lower area, and it kept flying off before I could hop on.
And when I did finally get on? I stood on the wing, causing the glider to spin out of control as I plunged to my death.
It was frustrating, and at first, I thought I was struggling with understanding what the game wanted me to do. Every time I tried something, it seemed to end in my death. It didn’t help that the game’s controls take quite a bit of getting used to, so all of my experiments took a while to actually pull off. But then I remembered something Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi told me a few years ago about the way the developers at Nintendo approached the concept of death and failure in the game.
“There’s actually kind of a fun to be had from falling and dying,” he explained. “You learn to be careful and to be cautious. And we felt that that gave a lot of players the emotional preparedness to take on the rest of the world. So we ultimately decided that we should let them die.”
And that’s exactly what happened to me. What all of those failures ultimately taught me is something that is key to Tears of the Kingdom: there’s always more than one way to do something. I was so fixated on doing things right that I didn’t try anything else, which is what usually led me to those comedic deaths.
This has helped me countless times now that I’m out and about in the wider realm of Hyrule. With a full suite of Link’s abilities at my disposal, I’m able to do things that seem completely wrong but manage to get the job done nevertheless. For instance, my favorite strategy for getting up to high areas has been to use the Ultrahand to cobble together a haphazard structure that’s tall enough to reach where I want to be but that can’t actually stand up on its own. I then prop it up to where I’m going, watch it fall over, climb on top, and then hit it with the rewind time feature, turning it into an unwieldy elevator.
The moment when something like this works feels like a hack or a cheat. It’s not the kind of clever solution that Zelda games usually require. There was definitely an element of this in Breath of the Wild, but the new building mechanics and abilities in Tears of the Kingdom offer a lot more room for creative problem-solving and often forced me to really think about new ways to approach situations. I was worried when I first started playing, after seeing trailers full of incredible in-game builds that I knew I would never pull off, that this game would be too tough for me.
But it turns out that you can still be bad at building and successful at Tears of the Kingdom — it just took a few early deaths for me to realize that.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom launches on the Nintendo Switch on May 12th.