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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Preview: We Played Nintendo's Big Switch Sequel

The latest Zelda game feels a little like a Nintendo take on Minecraft.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
6 min read
A boy on a gliding hovercraft over cloud-filled skies, far above the ground in a screenshot of Nintendo's Zelda Tears of the Kingdom game

Link takes to the skies several ways (including a plane).


I'm gluing some random things to a mine cart. A few crates. A jet engine. A flame thrower. It looks like modern art. I walk up to it and hit it with my sword. The engines fire up, flames shoot out. It spins crazily, sets fire to the ground, and flies off a cliff. Well, that was something. 

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, arriving May 12, is a weird, very open-ended game.

I don't play Minecraft. Or Roblox. But my kids do. I bet yours do, too. Nintendo may have turned its newest, long-awaited Zelda game into a clever nod to the build-and-mod world that's already a second language for most kids, because my first hour in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom surprised me with just how... crafty it is.

Yes, it's also a game that takes place on a number of floating islands scattered all over, possibly infinitely. But I'm more focused on trying to figure out how the heck to craft a better rocket cart.

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I've been playing Breath of the Wild again, a game that, for the most part, is about patiently questing across tremendous spans of land, leaning on cooking and item collection for survival. My time so far in Tears of the Kingdom has been very short: I got to play for only about an hour and a half at a Nintendo loft space in New York, just a few weeks before the game's launch.

I didn't get to play from the beginning, so I have no idea what the storyline is. Maybe that's for the best. Instead, I was allowed to get my feet wet for about 20 minutes trying some of the game-changing crafting mechanics, and then applied what I learned to an hour-long session set on the ground and in the skies over Hyrule.

Yes, it seems vast

I flew in the air toward a sky island and, looking around, had absolutely no idea where anything ended. The ground extended far below, while I saw other islands nearby, far above, and also between the ground and where I was. Compared with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which introduced airborne sky-island-hopping gameplay back in 2011, it's probably a whole different level of intensity here. But I don't know yet. 

Jumping from one island to another and gliding down, I got almost dizzy with how far up and infinite the world seemed. Also, how would I ever get back to places again?

Nintendo has one answer: a medallion that, when placed somewhere, can transport you right back instantly in case you fall off (which I did, when fighting a large boss character made of blocks).

But there seem to be many ways to do things in this game. 


There are islands in all directions. Including farther up.


Crafting: Get ready to build

This time around there are a whole new bunch of unique powers that Link can use, and that play a heavy role in the game's changed style. It's clear that making stuff will be a major part of Tears of the Kingdom. A lot of my first session involved trying out Link's new skills. As seen in Nintendo's gameplay video, one allows for fusing objects onto Link's weapons. Another allows lots of objects to be glommed together into all sorts of unexpected creations.

The Fuse skill can upgrade weapons, and I tried a few things. A Keese eyeball on an arrow makes it a homing arrow, and you could attach other things to make explosions or do who knows what else. Unlike Breath of the Wild, which had specific arrows for specific needs, you could have a whole rainbow of arrow options here.

The bigger, more impactful tool is Ultrahand, which can stick together all sorts of objects. The controls can take some getting used to: Tears of the Kingdom uses all the controls on the Switch, and grabbing and assembling objects can take some 3D spatial awareness. The d-pad buttons handle rotating objects in different directions. (It would be easier in a VR headset!)


In our demo, we made a plane.


Sticking objects together is fine, but turning them into active machines is the goal. There are a number of individual, battery-powered magic tech objects that can power up constructions: adding a fan, or a rocket engine, or a balloon or a flame jet. Fans have steady blowing energy, while rockets blast and expire. Getting the angles right matters: I made some things that failed to launch, or fired in the wrong direction, or caused my vehicle to spin. It feels like Zelda Maker Lab.

I built a plane that I tried to glide toward a fort I was attacking, but I added a fire-fueled balloon and went too high and hit a bridge. Then I tinkered again, and eventually just found another way to get there.

Those magic tech objects can be gotten from massive gumball-type vending machines, as far as I can tell from my demo. You have to earn the parts. Then they stay in your inventory till you need them.


Rewinding things can save you, or help you rethink a strategy.


I felt kind of intimidated by the crafting freedoms here. But then again, I'm not a Minecraft/Roblox player. My kids would probably try these crafting modes and ask me why there can't be more. Maybe there can be more? I've only played for an hour.

The physics of setting machines in motion can be toyed with using Rewind, another new power. It sends one object back in time, allowing anything you do to possibly be undone. I rewound my exploding fire-spewing minecart machine and watched it vomit fire back up the cliff again.


Popping up randomly into a fight? It can happen.


Ascend, a power that shoots me through a ceiling if there's one above me, sends me flying way up high to pop through a bridge overhead. It's another reminder that going vertical is a major new dimension in this game.

All these powers show up in a wheel now, easier to access. But I also have to learn to juggle the extra nuance of Ultrahand, and its object-turning subtleties.

The new powers also mean new puzzle-solving tactics. I tried a few puzzles on one floating island, and found a variety of solutions. Grabbing things and moving them with Ultrahand is definitely a new key tactic, similar in feel to the Magnet moves in Breath of the Wild, but applicable to way more items.

Having the ability to make tons of items and machines may seem like a way to fast-track through a challenge, but I found that sometimes the answers weren't what I thought they were. Classic Zelda: an illusion of open-ended decision-making, with clear answers hidden underneath.


These vending machines give out machine part essentials.


A world of constructs?

I'm not the only one who's building things, I think. "Constructs" are a major presence in the game so far that I've played. These little cute ancient robots, seen in the Tears of the Kingdom trailers, are everywhere. They sometimes fight me. One massive boss at the end of my session, a giant being made of cubes, feels dropped right out of Minecraft. Its pieces form into new shapes but also shatter apart.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had robotic ancient Guardians and other remnants of ages past, but Tears of the Kingdom continues the explorations into a lost, decayed world of former tech glories with the Constructs, and the mysterious Zonai, makers of the pieces of tech you use to construct machines with Ultrahand. 

My first play demo was deliberately mysterious with the backstory. I love that, actually. Where does this ancient world of machines dovetail with the constructing Ultrahand powers I have? I have no idea, yet. I can't wait to find out. 


Sometimes rockets and other things get attached to platforms as parts of puzzles.


Does the Switch handle the graphics? Basically, yes

My demo revealed what you'd expect: Tears of the Kingdom looks like a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild, with similar graphics and vast vistas. That being said, the graphics didn't wow me like they did back in 2017. Consoles have moved way past the Switch's graphics punching capability, but it's also a reminder that the real joys of Zelda games have never been the graphics. They've been the brilliant gaming ideas and storylines.

I'd love to see some future Switch 2 that could make Tears of the Kingdom shine even better – I saw some moments where frame rate did seem to drop a bit – but I don't think it'll make this game feel any less fantastic for most players. The benefits of being able to take this game on the go still make it seem like magic.

May 12 is just weeks away, and so far I can tell you that it looks like it'll be worth the $70 and then some to play Tears of the Kingdom.