Most games have a very specific way that you have to use to solve puzzles or interact with the environment. In fact, we're almost conditioned to look at any problem in a video game in a certain way, to look for the telltale signs that games give when you're supposed to interact with something. I've even found myself in the immersion breaking situation where I just look for whether objects seem static or movable when it comes to solving puzzles in games. However, while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it became apparent that Nintendo crafted a game that has broken the mold when it comes to problem and puzzle solving and interaction with the environment.
Shrine, Shrine, Everywhere a Shrine
The primary locations in Breath of the Wild that you'll interact with puzzle mechanics are the shrines that are scattered about Hyrule. Each shrine features a challenge that you must pass to collect the Spirit Orb, a valuable currency for increasing stamina and health, and unlock the shrine as a fast travel point. Shrine challenges can consist of something as simple as a trial of combat against an enemy, or as complicated as using the gyroscopes of the Nintendo Switch or Wii U to guide a ball through a 3D puzzle. The magic of the shrine puzzles in Breath of the Wild though is that the game doesn't care if you break them.
Ne'ez Yohma shrine, just inside Zora's Domain, is an excellent example of this. You're confronted with a pachinko-like assembly with giant stone balls rolling down it. Your goal in this shrine is to get a glowing red stone ball from its perch in the upper left side of the board down to a hole in the lower right side. This puzzle stumped me, I tried creating blocks of ice to angle the ball towards the goal, I tried bouncing it off the other stone balls by using Stasis to freeze time, but nothing quite worked. Then it occurred to me: Why not just forgo the puzzle altogether?
There is a catwalk that surrounds the puzzle area that Link can walk on to navigate around. I figured that if I could get the ball onto the catwalk, I could just roll it down to the bottom and bypass the puzzle entirely. Was that the solution all along, or did I cheat the system? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes it to where the answer to that question doesn't matter. I didn't have to glitch my way through the puzzle, the openness of the game to let me use its physics system to my desire made it to where bypassing the puzzle was a valid way of solving it.
Other shrine challenges user Breath of the Wild's physics in a different way. Several challenges presented themselves using the gyroscope function of the Wii U or Nintendo Switch. Here you had to navigate a ball through a maze by tilting the controller. After several attempts to make it through the "right way," and having the ball fall off the platform before I could get it to its destination, I thought that maybe I could just bounce it over the small walls of the maze.
This is where Breath of the Wild truly excels as an emergent experience. I was able to bounce the ball right over the maze, without invisible walls or out-of-bounds resets trying to stop me. This interaction with the game world extends to the rest of the game as well. While some titles make features like using the environment against your enemies a forgettable gimmick, Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes this type of combat a viable alternative to using standard weapons. If you so choose, you can make extensive use of fire, logs, boulders, and even lightning strikes to give Link an advantage over his enemies.
This subtle interplay of game systems is so natural that it's possible to miss. You can unfortunately go the entire game with blinders on and not run into some of the cool possibilities that Breath of the World's open physics engine provides. The game is not tutorial heavy, and you might not discover that you can climb on a boat and use Magnesis to propel it forward by pushing on the mast with a metal object. You can also go without toying with the Octorok Balloons which allow you to send many in-game objects floating through the air. Do yourself a favor if you own the game and take the time to experiment and relish the vitality that the robust physics system brings to Hyrule.