Thirty years after Link first ventured into Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda, he would return to save the day in real life. In 2016, Nintendo was still spiraling downward, experiencing a 27 percent decline from the year before and needed a big win with its new console, the Nintendo Switch. Nearly five million unit sales later, it’s safe to say that the Nintendo Switch is a hit—mostly thanks to its biggest launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
While it’s true the Nintendo Switch only launched with two titles—Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch—it is abundantly clear which title fans rushed out to buy. Having barely a handful of launch games usually spells doom for a console launch, especially since Breath of the Wild received relatively little in terms of marketing, but the Switch proved to be an exception. Breath of the Wild went gold in February, and by April had sold over 1.3 million units—outselling the Switch console itself.
These figures include more than 925,000 units sold for Nintendo Switch and nearly 460,000 units sold for the Wii U console.
“This high of an attach rate is more or less unprecedented, and we anticipate that this momentum may lead to a new sell-through record for the entire The Legend of Zelda series,” Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said in the company’s earnings report.
Originally announced only as a Wii U title, this new installment of the hit franchise was said to “rethink the conventions” of The Legend of Zelda series. Not much was revealed about Link’s new console adventure until E3 2016, when Nintendo transformed its entire 30,000 square-foot booth into a living, breathing environment. The floor was covered in real grass, life-sized props, ambient nature noises and even smells—transporting E3 attendees to the world of Hyrule and giving them a taste of their future game adventures. At the same time, Nintendo hosted a livestreaming marathon, showcasing the game’s graphics and many hours of gameplay to millions of people around the world.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first open world title in the series, allowing fans to freely explore the kingdom of Hyrule. Much like Pokémon GO, the game’s premise fulfills many childhood dreams of immersing themselves into the game environment. Nostalgia and excitement for Nintendo’s new console helped launch The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to the top of the charts.
“Nintendo wrote the book on the combo of new hardware with a hit title. Every console has had a Mario and Zelda game that drove the initial installs, and the Switch is proving no different,” SuperData CEO Joost van Dreunen told AlistDaily. “What is remarkable about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that it’s a masterpiece in its own right—more so than a game to merely show off the capabilities of a new device, like Wii Sports.
“More broadly, considering the disappointment following the Wii U and the initial skepticism around a portable console like the Switch, Nintendo has managed to hit a home run by delivering a rock solid game in Zelda. Yes, there weren’t that many titles available at launch, but Nintendo came through in a big way with such a high-quality title, reminding consumers and industry alike that it remains an undisputed leader. It’s the kind of magic that Sony and Microsoft have yet to replicate.”
Nintendo revenue is now up 148 percent and the company’s share price is up 46 percent since the Switch launched in March. As of June 2017, The Legend of Zelda is the second-best-selling title across all platforms in the US, according to NPD. Two expansions are on the way for the hit game, as well, so fans haven’t seen the last of Hyrule just yet.
Titles such as Splatoon 2 and Minecraft are helping to keep sales momentum strong for the Nintendo Switch, while upcoming games like Super Mario Odyssey keep the fans talking. Time will tell if the Switch will outperform the Wii, but it’s off to a strong start thanks to The Legend of Zelda.