Part of me is afraid we’re never going to get another game on Nintendo Switch quite as great as launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But that’s only because Nintendo’s open-world reinvention of its staple franchise is so lovely, creative, elegant, exploratory, and just plain magnificent. It’s the best Switch game, the best game of this nebulous generation, and the best Zelda game.
However, Breath of the Wild is also a very different kind of Zelda with its sheer openness and experimentation replacing the crafted bespoke adventures of past games. And there’s something to be said for those old styles of Zelda, too, even if they did begin to wear out their welcome. Fortunately, Zelda has been just so influential that other great games have used those old templates for their jumping off points. And Okami and Minit, two very contrasting takes on what are still ultimately Zelda formulas, have just arrived on Switch now that you’ve surely exhausted all Breath of the Wild has to offer.
Okami on Switch is the HD port that also landed on other modern console a few months ago. It’s got some nifty Switch specific bonuses like touch screen and motion controls (reminiscent of Okamiden on Nintendo DS and the Okami Wii port, respectively). But at its core this is a prettier version of the 2006 Capcom PlayStation 2 classic from the folks who would later start Bayonetta studio Platinum Games.
And Okami is a beautifully, lovingly made new creation painted on top of a blank Zelda canvas. As the wolf sun goddess Amaterasu you venture across ancient Japan ridding the land of the demon curse. Often times this involves typical Zelda action-adventure gameplay like solving environmental puzzles in huge dungeons, interacting with NPCs in the lush overworld, and wailing on enemies in basic but satisfying combat. Even the signature hook of painting with the Celestial Brush to change the real world feels like a particular magical Zelda item. Instead of throwing bombs just draw them.
But Okami never feels like a clone if only because of the sheer craft and creativity on display. The living painting Japanese art style is as stunning as anything in The Wind Waker, especially now in HD. If anything the abstract design just makes the world feel that much more real and lived in, like you can see the hand of the old-world artists telling this fairy tale. The lengthy plot itself is a little too chatty and has about three false climaxes. But the themes of renewal and faith adds a warming spiritual element to what would’ve just been a stirring adventure. Playing it portably does even more to blend the epic and the intimate. The ending song “Reset” still gets me.
Okami is definitely a riff on the huge, sprawling 3D Zelda adventure. Ocarina of Time and its direct descendants basically. But that’s not the only valid take on Zelda. Plenty of people first fell in love with the series when it was a modest top-down 2D franchise about exploring caves. Fortunately, tons of indie games are carrying on that tradition as well, and Minit (now on Switch) is one of the most inventive examples.
Minit starts out like an old Zelda, and we mean really old given the monochrome color and basic pixel graphics. It’s got major Link’s Awakening vibes with the modest scope and offbeat humor. But once you get your sword everything gets flipped turned upside down. You see, Minit actually means “minute” as in you only have one minute in the world before you die. And as you can imagine, this changes your entire approach to a game genre known for lengthy, persistent adventures.
Fortunately, death doesn’t bring progress to a screeching halt, What do you think this is, a roguelike? Items and currency collected carry over. Completed quests stay complete. And as you find new safe houses to respawn in, you can get a head start in that area. But really your progress comes from your increasing understanding on the world, finishing crab puzzles more quickly and finding better routes through snake mazes. One of the most crucial items is a pair of sneakers that just lets you run faster and get more done in those unblinking sixty seconds..
One of the most intimidating parts of Zelda games, even 2D ones, is the sense that you’re lost and don’t know what to do next because there are so many options for where to go next. Minit’s brilliant solution to this is using runs to get players to focus on what you can accomplish in the time frame. You feel good when you succeed and don’t sweat the stuff you have to put off until later anyway. Progress is always in sight and it’s thrilling. Paradoxically, you just have to slow down and take it one minute at a time.
Okami and Minit just add to growing list of great Zelda experiences on Nintendo Switch, which also includes games like Oceanhorn and Blossom Tales. Nothing is taking the crown from Breath of the Wild any time soon, but it is nice to have a big royal family.
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