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With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild now out for the Nintendo Switch, having been one of the most keenly anticipated games of recent times, Nintendo has taken one of their core franchises to an exciting new stage.
Breath of the Wild boasts an expansive, open world environment that will take many an hour to explore and appreciate fully. It’s a far cry from the series’ first installment, which featured just 128 map “tiles” in the overworld and took mere seconds to cross from one end to another.
Another feature of the games that has developed hugely over the years is the depiction of its protagonist, Link. From humble beginnings as a jumbled collection of pixels back in 1986, Link has undergone several cosmetic overhauls since, being realised in 3D in 1996 with Ocarina of Time, cel-shaded in 2002 in The Wind Waker, given a photo-realistic makeover for Twilight Princess and now shown in a hybrid realistic-cel-shaded style for Breath of the Wild.
The following infographic charts Link’s evolution from his earliest form to his current look.
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Link’s first ever appearance unsurprisingly came in the first game of the series, The Legend of Zelda, realised in all the Nintendo Entertainment System’s (NES) 8-bit glory. Few would have believed that this small, unassuming jumble of pixels would go on to become one of the world’s most recognisable and beloved video game characters.
Link’s second outing on the NES saw him given a cosmetic makeover, with The Adventure of Link being a rare foray for the series into a side scrolling style.
One of the series’ all-time greats and one of the greatest games of all time, A Link to the Past was the game that established the Zelda games as a true staple of the Nintendo canon. With the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) boasting double the pixel capability of the NES, Link himself was brought to life as never before, with vivid colours and animations.
Ocarina of Time was a major departure from previous depictions of Link. Firstly, it was the first time the hero had been seen in 3D, with the N64’s vastly improved power allowing Link to traverse a remarkably detailed Hyrule. Secondly, having been depicted as a child in all previous games, Ocarina of Time was the first time Link was shown as an adult for a portion of the game. This iteration of Link remained largely unchanged for the series' next game, Majora’s Mask.
Another new system meant another overhaul of Link’s look. Many had expected Nintendo to simply leverage the GameCube’s enhanced power over the N64 to create a better-looking version of the 3D Link seen before, and Nintendo in fact showcased a short clip of a 128-bit Link in a demo for the console in 2000. Instead, Link was rendered in a visually-striking cel-shaded cartoon style for The Wind Waker, a version that has been used multiple times since.
A release on both the GameCube and the newly launched Wii, Twilight Princess saw a return to the more realistic graphical style of the two N64 games, taking advantage of yet another increase in system power on the Wii to create the most photo-realistic depiction of Link yet. Twilight Princess’s Link is also depicted as a young adult, a departure from previous games in the series where Link had always begun as a younger child.
Having pioneered yet another look for Link in Skyward Sword, Nintendo built upon it with the series' latest feature length console quest in Breath of the Wild for the new Nintendo Switch. Given the enduring popularity of the cel-shaded Link competing with a clamour for the more photorealistic style, Nintendo opted for a compromise between the two aesthetics - with stunning results.
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