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Stellar Zelda Reviews Point to Big Things for Nintendo’s Switch

We don’t yet know exactly how successful the Friday launch of Nintendo’s new Switch console/handheld was. But the reviews for its headline launch title are in, and they suggest a bright future for not only the console, but the company as a whole.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is being nearly universally described as one of the greatest video games ever made. GameSpot praised it as a “breathtaking masterpiece.” Kotaku calls it “triumphant” and “groundbreaking.” The game’s aggregate score on Metacritic makes it the fourth-best reviewed game of all time, behind Grand Theft Auto 4, Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater 2, and the previous benchmark Zelda game, Ocarina of Time.

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This level of excitement is about much more than the fate of one game. Breath of the Wild is the only day-one Switch game featuring a core Nintendo property, and its runaway artistic success points to big things for the console, since industry conventional wisdom puts game quality at the top of the list of motivators for buyers of new consoles.

The most obvious historical parallel is the critical adulation heaped on Bungie Software’s Halo when it launched with the then-unproven Microsoft Xbox in 2001. That single game has been given substantial credit for helping the Xbox catch on, and the franchise tha followed continued to fuel subsequent editions of Microsoft’s console. Bill Gates’ company became living proof of one of his most famous adages – Content is King.

And Nintendo, as luck would have it, is the King of Content. The company’s characters – Link, Mario, Donkey Kong – are anchored deep in the hearts of adult gamers. We got a taste of how powerful that nostalgia could be with the surprise success of the NES Classic last fall. Breath of the Wild, at least according to critics, represents a best-case melding of that rock-solid IP with innovative gameplay.

In the weeks leading up to the Switch launch, analysts have made a wide range of sales projections for the Switch, but they’re clustered around 5 million units for 2017, which is low. If the critical hype around Breath of the Wild gets traction with the broader public, we could see those conservative projections blown away.