We first played Zelda: Breath of the Wild in among the halls of the E3 gaming expo in summer 2016. But despite the hugely impressive space dedicated to the game at that show - an escape from the bustle outside, with its own real grass and trees, a day-to-night lighting system, sound effects and all Nintendo's usual quirk running to the maximum - it's a game even more impressive on the Nintendo Switch.

At the Hammersmith Apollo in London on 13 January 2017, Nintendo set up its base for the Switch launch. And Breath of the Wild stole the limelight. After all, this game is a big deal and has been in the making for what seems like forever. But, finally, it'll be here on 3 March 2017, the Wii U's swan song that hands the baton over to the Switch. 

It is, therefore, a game on which Nintendo is hanging huge hopes. It has to succeed. And, after playing another 20-minutes on top of the initial 35-minutes we dabbled in Hyrule last year, we have no doubt that it will.

While the Wii U running the game shows its age and fidelity limitations, the Switch amps things up level. Finally our hero Link is presented in ultra-crisp high-resolution at adecent frame-rate.

What really makes Breath of the Wild stand out is how it's presented Nintendo has dunked Zelda in a bucket of style and painted a new feel for the game; one that feels at once truly Zelda and sincerely beautiful. Sweeping reeds, a painterly style, lingering backdrops that tease the lands you'll be exploring later in the game. It's almost calming at first, before you get into battle.

The game begins with Link awaking in a pool, having been in a slumber for 100 years. Calamity Ganon, depicted as a dark force around Hyrule Castle, is about to become all powerful. It's typical Zelda stuff. Link doesn't know it yet, but he'll be tasked to stop that happening.

Story set, it's time to get to the controls. Thankfully we don't have to hold the giant Giant GamePad of the Wii U this time around. Instead the pro controller for the Switch is a far more comfortable setup. The arrangement of buttons feels awkward - run and jump sit at total opposites as one example. There's that Nintendo quirk again.

But once we've got used to shooting arrows, slashing through the undergrowth and clubbing bad guys (whose deaths are realised in a kid-friendly puff of smoke) it's manageable. We didn't get to use the Switch tablet mode on this occassion but believe it will operate in the same way as the Wii U's GamePad: three-dimensional controls can be used to aim arrows by facing the pad itself at the target (which, as we found at E3, is awkward and hard to control).

Nintendoscreenshot_5-768

There are heaps of controls to get accustomed, given the breadth of Link's arsenal this time around. It's the most RPG-like Zelda ever. For example, clothing plays a more integral role than before, as climate is now a factor - you can't go into the icy hills wearing a thin shirt, for example, you'll need a proper padded top for that. Other items and food can be collected and crafted, too, with cooking playing a role this time around too.

Amiibo - Nintendo's real-world toys that instigate in-game characters - is also compatible. At E3 we synched the Wolf Link Amiibo, a lone wolf who can help with hunting and attacking enemies (this wasn't available to test on the Switch at the time of writing, however). It's not possible to designate tasks to him, which we thought would have added an additional layer of tactics, but then it's not essential to use Amiibo to play the game, hence keeping the game accessible for all. Wolf Link can only be summoned once a day.

Combat-wise Breath of the Wild feels more free-flowing and less locked-in the some Zelda games before it. The usual shielded defence, timed weapon attacks and skipping about to avoid bad guys is at the game's core. Weapons wear out, so collecting spare clubs and tree branches might come in handy.

But in this Zelda the environment can be used too: we set fire to some bushes, for example, while rocks can be rolled down hills to strike enemies. There are all manner of possibilities, such as lanterns which can be shot down to explode and, we suspect, Nintendo will have gone fully creative on other ways to despatch the bad guys.

Nintendoscreenshot_2-768

The game is huge too. Looking into the distance and it's possible to pick-our mountains and a volcano, all of which will be accessible. Open the map (which happens on the Switch tablet) and this giant world makes itself apparent.

Big doesn't always mean best, of course, so we'll have to see how fast-travel and horseback riding are integrated to expedite travel when it's needed.

First Impressions

From combat to puzzles, shrines and runes, collectibles and puzzles, Zelda: Breath of the Wild has all the make-up of a classic Zelda title, wrapped into a different, stylised skin.

Despite slightly fussy controls it's certainly shaping-up to be the best Zelda ever. And with the power of Nintendo Switch behind it for the game's launch, we're doubly excited to dig deeper into the title when it launches on 3 March.

If this game fails then, quite simply, so does the Nintendo Switch.