Space World 2001: First impressions: GameCube Zelda

Read our impressions of the brief demonstration of Zelda for the GameCube shown at Space World.

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Nintendo gave a brief demonstration of Zelda for the GameCube at its pre-Space World press conference today. The game footage was introduced by Shigeru Miyamoto, who specifically asked the press not to release screenshots or movies of the game, so we will endeavor to respect his wishes. However, we are allowed to share our impressions of the demonstration.

The first difference that most will notice when seeing the newly redesigned Zelda for the first time is its artistic design. Instead of following the more realistic visuals found in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask for the Nintendo 64, the GameCube version of Zelda is the closest thing to a moving 3D cartoon yet seen on a console. Implementing an altered version of the cel-shading technique found in Sega's Jet Grind Radio, Zelda's flat, shaded textures make it look like some of Disney's greatest work in full motion. The character models used in the game are impressively rounded, with nary a jagged edge, but aside from Link, no familiar enemies or characters from the previous games were shown. The enemies that were shown were piglike creatures with long snouts, spears, helmets, and teeth that are individually modeled.

The most impressive visual aspect of Zelda for the GameCube is how special effects are incorporated into the cel-shaded graphics. Transparent plumes of cartoonlike smoke bellow out when characters stomp on the ground. Real-time lighting is both generous and impressively implemented. The very end of the demo shows Link's face being lit by several torches. As the camera pans around him, the light shifts across his face until the camera pauses and he winks at the camera. Another scene shows Link hiding around a corner as one of the pig enemies searches for him with a lantern. As the lantern swings toward Link, half his face becomes brightly lit while the other side of his face becomes darkened by a shadow cast by the wall.

Animation also seems to be one of Zelda's strong points, and it's obvious that a great deal of care has been taken to make the animations believable. It's nearly impossible to make out polygonal seams in the characters in the game, and several enemies were shown with fully animated faces that realistically stretched without any jagged edges. One scene shows Link running from several enemies toward a deep pit. A behind-the-back view shows a chandelier hanging from the ceiling above the pit, and the camera quickly switches to a frontal view of Link, who gets a sly look on his face. As Link runs toward the pit, he jumps for the chandelier, and the trailing enemies fall haplessly into the pit. It's hard to put Zelda's visuals into words, but its style is both refreshing and astounding at the same time.

While next to nothing is known about the gameplay at this time, we were able to pick up a couple of things from the footage shown. In contrast to past Zelda games, the GameCube version looks to take a more comical approach. Link can roll between an enemy's legs and come up on the other side ready to slash. Link also may attack enemies from behind. One scene shows him attacking an enemy's foot, and the enemy quickly grabs his toe and begins hopping around in pain. The lock-on feature found in the Zelda games for the Nintendo 64 has returned, and the screen switches to a letterbox mode while Link is locked on to a target. Additionally, the enemy that is selected has an arrow above it to denote which enemy Link will attack. Swinging Link's sword appears to be accomplished with the B button, and the demo shows a spherical menu system on the top right of the screen. Bombs, a bow and arrow, and another object that looks like a hammer are located within the sphere in the demo footage, but there's no indication of how cycling through weapons is accomplished. Link's health is again represented via heart containers, and rupees will apparently be used for currency within the game, as there's a counter for them just to the left of the weapon sphere.

While little is known about Zelda for the GameCube at this time, the footage shown at Nintendo's Space World press conference is enough to know that it's already one of the GameCube's more visually impressive games. Zelda for the GameCube is currently scheduled for release in Japan at the end of 2002. We'll have more information when it becomes available.

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