With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom dropping on May 12, Nintendo is looking back and sharing more details about its predecessor, Breath of the Wild. Those details include confirmation that the Wii U console held back the production of and content included in BotW.
As part of the eighth generation of consoles (alongside the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), the Wii U was Nintendo’s first attempt at bridging the gap between on-the-go and at-home systems. It wasn’t a success. Yeah, it had some great games, including Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, and Xenoblade Chronicles X, among others. But the confusion around how to actually use the console, coupled with the proximity with which the GamePad had to be to the Wii U itself, made it cumbersome and frustrating. Hell, I remember when it was revealed during E3 2010 and folks (myself included) thought it was some sort of add-on for the Wii.
It wasn’t, but Nintendo certainly didn’t do a good enough job of making the case that this was a separate console clear. Now, over a decade after its launch, the Wii U has only sold an estimated 15 million units to date, a far cry from the over 100 million the Wii pushed and the Switch’s 122.5 million.
Despite some heavy-hitter titles like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Maker, the Wii U was not the success Nintendo hoped it would be—or the success it’s used to. And although some of the better Wii U games are now on Nintendo Switch, the company’s home run handheld-console hybrid, Nintendo has admitted in a recent interview that BotW would have benefitted from being a Switch exclusive all along.
Some BotW features wouldn’t work on Wii U
Five Nintendo developers, including Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma, sat down to answer some questions about Tears of the Kingdom in a multi-part interview. In the latest segment, published on the official Nintendo website on May 10, the group was asked about how TotK has expanded in relation to its predecessor. Technical director Takuhiro Dohta explained that certain design elements couldn’t be implemented due to hardware limitations.
“Actually, the previous title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was originally developed for Wii U, so there were restrictions in development,” Dohta said. “There were a lot of ideas we wanted to implement during its development, but we made clear decisions on what we wouldn’t do in that game. For example, we decided that it wouldn’t involve flying. Then Aonuma kept saying, ‘If flying is out of the question, I want to dig underground!’ And we’d respond, ‘Oh no! Please don’t make us develop that too!’”
Now that TotK is a Nintendo Switch exclusive, though, those concepts left on the cutting-room floor—like cliffside caves that should present new exploration opportunities—are making an appearance. This is largely because the team is reusing the BotW map to streamline development.
“For The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, we began by compiling and implementing ideas we couldn’t include in the previous title,” Dohta said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do so had we made a completely new world, so developing in the same setting as the previous game was significant in this sense as well.”
Elsewhere in the interview, art director Satoru Takizawa confirmed that “traditional” Zelda dungeons are coming back as well. Although we learned this from the recent TotK leaks, it seems they will be more expansive than you saw in Link’s last outing.
“Making a ‘wide variety’ was pretty challenging,” Takizawa said. “The four Divine Beasts were the dungeons in [BotW], and they shared similar designs. This time, the dungeons are huge and each carry their own regional look and feel, just like traditional The Legend of Zelda games. We think they will provide a satisfying challenge for players. They were certainly a challenge to develop!”
Kotaku reached out to Nintendo for comment.
Tears of the Kingdom looks to be a huge expansion to Breath of the Wild, and not just because of the sky island you can explore above The Great Plateau. With Link’s plethora of new abilities, such as the Fuse skill that al mostly directly responds to weapon durability, it’ll be interesting to see what other ideas Nintendo has in store when Link’s latest adventure drops on May 12.