We recently caught wind of a rumor suggesting that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might not make it out in time for the launch of the Nintendo Switch. It's no surprise that most people's immediate reaction was negative, because Breath of the Wild looks like an astonishingly beautiful adventure and has been at the core of Nintendo's marketing for its new console. But as I continued to think about it, I realized that its delay may not spell doom after all - it gives Nintendo an opportunity to shine a spotlight on more innovative experiences only possible on the Switch.
Nintendo has an incredibly strong library of game franchises, to be sure. Mario continues to be the seminal platformer, Pokemon shows no sign of slowing down, and Animal Crossing will go down in history as the first game to make people excited at the prospect of taking out a mortgage. But one of the most appealing things about the Switch is the hardware itself: its design opens up a world of new possibilities for the way we play games.
We got a taste of a home console/handheld hybrid with the Wii U's off-TV play feature. Unfortunately, it was limited by two major factors: the GamePad needed to be within a short range of the console to work, and off-TV play was not a universally supported function due to the asymmetrical design of certain games. With the Switch, we're looking at a console designed around true portability, with games that should (in theory) play the same way regardless of which mode the player chooses. This is a pipe dream that gamers have been chasing for a long time - I still remember being frustrated by Sony's misleading marketing surrounding cross-save functionality between the PS3 and the Vita. Those issues could be eliminated with the Switch.
We're also looking at entirely new ways to play with friends using a variety of control options to suit any situation. The first Nintendo Switch teaser showed players gathered around a Switch tablet outdoors, controllers in hand, enjoying a head-to-head game of Mario Kart. That level of portability and ease-of-use are exactly what the Switch needs to compete with the litany of other games and devices begging for players' time. I'd love to play Breath of the Wild on the go, naturally, but I would rather spend the first month or two with my Switch exploring what makes it functionally distinct from its predecessors.
Above all, I want evidence that the Switch isn't just a souped-up Wii U. I want games that introduce new ways to play, not just iterative new entries in long-running series (though I do, of course, eagerly anticipate this generation's take on games like Metroid and Pikmin). Unless Nintendo makes some severe missteps, Breath of the Wild will undoubtedly be a must-have title. But fundamentally, Zelda games have remained much the same for decades, and even though Breath of the Wild looks like the biggest shakeup since Ocarina of Time, it remains predictable to a certain degree. Letting the Switch breathe a bit with its own new experiences first will give the game a greater opportunity to shine when it finally does release.
Wii U owners, particularly those who don't plan to buy a Switch, are the only group who unequivocally lose if Breath of the Wild truly is delayed. Many have been waiting ages for Nintendo to release a new Zelda title for the ailing console; HD remasters of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess have been the only titles in the series to grace it in the four-plus years since it launched in North America. It would be a shame for Wii U owners to be treated as an afterthought, much like GameCube owners were back when Twilight Princess became a Wii launch title. If nothing else, a Breath of the Wild delay means extra time to tuck away savings for a Switch... and that's something, right?