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The new Zelda game, 'Tears of the Kingdom,' lives up to the hype

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The original Legend Of Zelda, the video game, first came out back in 1986.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOJI KONDO'S "THE LEGEND OF ZELDA MAIN THEME")

CHANG: In the next 37 years, millions have set out to save Princess Zelda from her evil captor in nearly 30 different Zelda games...

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LEGEND OF ZELDA NEW ITEM SOUND)

CHANG: ...By traversing a mysterious world, across sky and sea, all while defeating enemies, solving puzzles and finding the Master Sword.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANAKA KATAOKA'S "THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TEARS OF THE KINGDOM MAIN THEME")

CHANG: Well, today a new Zelda game is out for Nintendo Switch. It's called The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. And after 3 1/2 decades, Zelda is once again the talk of the gaming world. And Keza McDonald, video game editor for The Guardian, has played the new game and joins us now. Welcome.

KEZA MCDONALD: Hello.

CHANG: OK, so I don't play video games, like, ever, except maybe Ms. Pac-Man as, like, a 9-year-old. But I have heard that these Zelda games are a great place to start if you want to try getting into gaming. So let me ask you, what is it about this franchise that you think resonates with so many people no matter their gaming backgrounds?

MCDONALD: Zelda is one of those game series that's just fiercely, fiercely beloved by people who play it. You know, people who get into Zelda - it becomes a lifelong thing for a lot of them. For me, I started playing Zelda when I was 7.

CHANG: Wow.

MCDONALD: Yeah. And it was the first video game that I'd played that felt as rich, as deep and as interesting as the fantasy novels that I loved at the time, like "Narnia." And I think that's what Zelda still is now. It feels like somewhere you can take a holiday, you know? It's a game that feels really absorbing and it lets you explore and find your own way through. And I think that's the thing that's really compelling about it. It feels like your own adventure.

CHANG: Your own adventure. I love that. So, you know, I understand it's been six years since the last Zelda game, Breath Of The Wild, was out, which was this game that was so popular and so celebrated that now there's been so much hype about this new game. Let me just ask you, like, does this new game live up to all of that hype?

MCDONALD: I love that, like, seconds after releasing Breath Of The Wild, which was received rapturously in is now considered one of the best games ever - I love that, like, just after making that, the Zelda team thought, you know what we're going to do? We're just going to make something better. That's what's happening next. I think Tears Of The Kingdom is better in many ways.

CHANG: OK.

MCDONALD: Tears Of The Kingdom doesn't do so many new things, but it does everything that it does so well. And the big new thing that it does do is it lets you mess around with everything that you can find in the world. So you can create boats and cars out of wheels and platforms and makeshift sails, and you can cobble together stuff using a kind of magic arm where you can telekinetically move things around, so you can fuse your sword to an electric lizard horn just to make an electric sword. You can just mess around. You can do basically whatever you like within the world. You can create stuff. That's new for Zelda.

CHANG: You wrote something in your review that really struck me, because you said that this is a game that helped you kind of recapture the fun of adult life, which is pretty hard to do sometimes, right? Like, what is it about this game that made you feel that way?

MCDONALD: I think for me, it's the sense of adventure. It's the sense of there being a point to your curiosity. Like, Zelda always answers the question of what's over there, or what if I do this? It always answers those questions with something fun, something interesting. And as a result of that, it helps me look at the real world slightly differently. You know, it helps you find the fun.

CHANG: So, you know, I mentioned that the first Zelda game came out way back in 1986. I mean, I was still in elementary school. How influential do you think this series has been in the last few decades?

MCDONALD: Zelda is honestly one of the most influential game series. It was never Nintendo's bestselling series. Mario and Pokemon have dwarfed it in terms of sales. But Zelda is the series that's really admired and envied by other game developers and by fans. It's just a masterpiece of game design, and because they keep pushing stuff forward with every new entry, they've influenced generations of designers and players.

CHANG: Keza McDonald, video games editor at The Guardian. Thank you so much.

MCDONALD: You're most welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Kai McNamee