Breath of the Wild, the 19th game in the Zelda franchise, has been universally praised for its massive (and, sorry, breathtaking) open-world environments, and for injecting life back into a 30-year-old franchise. But something else sets the Nintendo Switch’s moonshot launch title apart from previous installations: The Hero of Time has a goddamn iPhone.
Warning: Mild Breath of the Wild spoilers ahead.
Nearly every Zelda game has a map of some kind—usually one for the overworld and one for each dungeon—that reflect how much of the game the player has explored. Not Breath of the Wild. Instead, our amnesiac hero is given a new item approximately 40 seconds into the game called a Sheikah Slate, which is described as such:
A mysterious tablet with a glowing center. You’ve never seen this device before, and yet... there’s something familiar about it.
It looks familiar because it’s a bulky-ass smartphone.
How do I know this? For starters, the game calls it a “device” which gets “authenticated” before learning new abilities. Moreover, enterprising fans are already making actual phone cases that look like this thing, which is evidence enough that other people have picked up on the parallel.
Then there are the Sheikah Slate’s actual features. First off—a glowing center? Lets call it what it is. It’s a screen, Link. We call them screens. That’s already a huge departure from the sword-and-sorcery setting of absolutely every other Zelda game where technology takes a backseat to magic.
But wait, there’s more! Early in the game the Slate reveals The Great Plateau in its entirety, rather than obscuring unexplored regions in darkness. This—in addition to knowing exactly where Link is at all times—suggests some kind of GPS. Why is the rest of the map greyed out? Maybe it’s an in-app purchase. Maybe it’s a matter of Hyrule’s national security policies. Maybe the game’s non-player characters need to launch another satellite into orbit. Who knows.
But while the Sheikah Slate fails terribly at routing directions, it does have some preinstalled movement capabilities that allow you to teleport to known locations. You might say that sounds more like magic than technology. Arthur C. Clarke would say it’s just sufficiently-advanced technology. Also, it’s a goddamn iPhone.
You’re also instructed to look through the Slate rather than at its screen for various purposes. Yup, this big ugly phablet has a camera—a really, really good camera. Far-off locales lose hardly any definition or sharpness, suggesting a high megapixel count, and possibly some ungraded version of the iPhone 7's dual lens gimmick.
Similar to Apple Pay, the Slate also has a tap-to-authenticate function that allows Link to enter Shrines and such, and which could also allow it to serve as some kind of digital wallet. (Link, in my current save file, is poor as shit, so commerce hasn’t really come up yet.) Oh, and just for kicks—it’s fucking waterproof.
And true to form for an elderly man, Link wears his ancient future iPhone clipped to his belt like a dad on vacation. Need I say more?
Is all of this ridiculous speculation? Not really. The game begins with Link being awoken from cryo-stasis after a century. Since cryonics are not a branch of science we’ve been able to master yet, at some point, the world this game takes place in had technology slightly (or vastly) better than what we’re familiar with.
I’m only a fraction of the way into this marvelous game (my Wii U buyer’s remorse has all but disappeared) and there are surely many more useful Slate functions and apps yet unknown to me. Besides turning meat into cooked meat or learning to move metal through force of will, I can’t wait to spend many in-game hours subtweeting Calamity Gannon.