E3: In Zelda Battle Quest fun is other people’s inexperience.


At E3 Shigeru Miyamoto suggested a full Legend of Zelda game for Wii U won’t be coming anytime soon. The company did, however, show a smaller Zelda game built into NintendoLand, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. The game is a strange hybrid of classic Zelda mechanics combined with Nintendo’s isolated gestural controls and Mii aesthetic. 

Battle Quest is a 4 person game played with a mix of archers and swords people. It is presented from a tight third-person perspective with the Mii character appearing translucent. It’s a straight-forward on-rails action game in which two swords people in front hack away at moblins while two archers in back target long distance enemies and switches that open doors to new areas. 

Like all on-rail games, there is an instant familiarity that sets in with the environments that makes the thought of playing any given level more than once tedious. And yet, playing the demo a few times over the course of E3, each time with a new batch of people offered an interesting counter-phenomenon to the tedium of already knowing what was behind the door and where the moblins were going to come from.

Going though these familiar beats turns a player into a spectator of other people’s reactions, which become the the reward for another 10 minutes of repeated activity. Play becomes less about learning the attack patterns of enemies and more about seeing how other players react to the stresses and surprises of their first time. 

The experience makes an eerie comparison to many of the Wii U promotional videos released by Nintendo for E3, featuring running commentaries from those watching someone else play. It’s as if one’s own susceptibility to surprise can be nostalgically recreated by simple observation.