Hands-on with Tears of the Kingdom's Zelda-meets-Minecraft construction set
For decades, solving puzzles and figuring out how to advance in Zelda games followed a well-established pattern. You'd hunt around a dungeon for a key item, use that item to get around some obstacle and/or beat a new boss, then explore the overworld until you found an area that was newly accessible with your shiny new item.
It's been over six years since Breath of the Wild turned that basic design on its head. Traversal abilities like climbing and floating made it much easier to carve your own path through the game's wide open world, to the point where players can technically run to the final boss after completing the tutorial area. The game's early introduction of Link's magical new abilities has also led players to craft some incredibly inventive and unintended solutions to the game's shrine puzzles and combat challenges.
BYO puzzle solution
One section in particular during our demo seemed to exemplify this open-ended design. In it, Link is faced with a climbable tower similar to the kind you might see dotting the landscape in Breath of the Wild, with its base guarded by a group of somewhat bored-looking sentries. In Breath of the Wild, Link would simply run up to the group of enemies, take them out with various breakable weapons, and proceed with his climb.
That basic combat option is still available in Tears of the Kingdom. But what makes this challenge different is a pile of wooden planks and posts sitting in a pile on a hill overlooking the tower.
Using his new Ultra Hand ability, Link can pick up those planks and arrange them into a makeshift platform (arranged however you want, with walls, a ceiling, stabilizers, etc.). With that base structure in place, Link can reach into his inventory and graft on some giant fans or balloons (for lift), rockets (for thrust), and a control stick (for, uh, control). These pieces convert the inert structure into a floating vehicle that can take Link directly to the top of the tower, no combat required.
Constructing this floating device was more than a little awkward in my demo, though. I had to pick up each individual piece in the Ultra Hand's magical floating tractor beam (by holding down a shoulder button), then slowly maneuver Link with both analog sticks to get that piece into the perfect position. I could use the D-pad to rotate each object around its axis, but adjusting those angles felt a bit like manipulating a Rubik's Cube with a couple of missing fingers.
All told, this piece-by-piece arrangement required a lot of careful and complicated controller manipulation that felt a bit out of place for a madcap action-adventure game. And while I'm sure these building controls will get more comfortable with practice, it still feels like they may be a bit intricate for players who aren't intimately familiar with a Switch controller.
Once you have a component in the desired position and orientation, tapping the A button instantly attaches it to your structure at the nearest point with a cute bit of sticky green goo. You have to be careful, though--without a solid base, an unbalanced structure can fall over or lose its alignment with your target, requiring careful repositioning (or a frantic trip to recover the pieces that fell over a cliff, as happened with one of my structures).
You also have to worry about the durability of your component parts--during one laugh-inducing demo moment, I accidentally lit my entire wooden platform on fire while trying to inflate a hot-air balloon. And beyond the individual parts, the integrity of your built structures also depends heavily on how solid your connection points are. During another memorable part of my demo, one of my makeshift vehicles flew apart as the strong thrust of a rocket caused it to detach from the rest of the structure and spiral off into space.