I’m a real sucker for retrospectives, especially year-end recaps. That being said, even though we’re almost a month into the new year, residual statistics concerning Nintendo’s gaming output of 2023 are still coming in, which I’ve happily gobbled up. The latest is about the game giant’s IP and its trajectory. According to recent data dispensed by NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, Nintendo’s best-selling game was none other than The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, surprising no one.
Still, it’s a nice chunk of information, and makes me hark back to Tears of the Kingdom’s, ahem, legendary release weekend. Upon its debut, Link’s latest adventure raked sold a whopping 10 million copies in just three days, and, from Nintendo’s quarterly investor report, that number had risen to 18 million copies by the end of the quarter. The report gets a bit deeper with an analytic bombshell, revealing that Tears of the Kingdom’s digital and physical consumer base not only included those who’d played the game’s predecessor, Breath of the Wild, but also those who’d never played it. Me? I fall into the latter category.
Don’t ask me what I was doing on March 3rd 2017, but it sure wasn’t joining the throng of Nintendo enthusiasts in ushering in a new era of Zelda games. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for it. In fact, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was my first foray into Hyrule’s open world and its meticulously detailed landscape.
It felt a bit like cheating – something akin to skipping Star Wars: Episode IV and starting with The Empire Strikes Back, but soon all was forgiven. While it probably would’ve been helpful, previous context was actually unnecessary. As has been reiterated by producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, each Zelda game acts as its own separate entity, requesting its players to take timeline irregularities and inconsistencies with a grain of Hylian salt.
Looking closer at Piscatella’s analysis, we can see that Tears of The Kingdom also beat out a slew of Super Mario Games, new and remastered, including the award-winning Super Mario Wonder. This in itself is interesting to see: two of Nintendo’s biggest and oldest IP jockeying for position. Granted, Super Mario Wonder was released in October, about five months after Tears of the Kingdom to its own noteworthy numbers – 4.3 million copies in its first two weeks – but the plumber’s newest 2D adventure just hasn’t packed as big of a wallop.
It wasn’t that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was just a superior sequel with a tried-and-true formula – rescue Zelda, fight bad guys, save the day. No; arguably, the main selling point was something way more liberating.
In what is the closest we’ll get to a Zelda “sandbox” game, Nintendo gave fans unprecedented creative control and freedom with Link’s new abilities. “Go on and have some fun”, they said. I mean, some of the Ultrahand and Fuse abuses of power have been downright bonkers: a Godzilla reenactment, a Tony Hawk-style skate park and even a brilliantly-engineered powerless airship.
Literally the sky and the depths are the limit, which is what keeps players still fiddling around in Hyrule long after defeating Ganondorf. Am I surprised it was the year’s highest-selling game? No. Am I still playing Tears of the Kingdom in 2024? Absolutely. But am I any good? Ask me again in 2025.