This Zelda fan game takes the fun of Breath of the Wild to 2D

Forget emulating, you can experience a small sliver of Breath of the Wild right now.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a fascinating and genre-defining game, but what's equally as fascinating is its origins as a simple 2D prototype. At the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, Nintendo revealed how it conceptualized some of Zelda's core ideas using a simple demo harkening back to the original NES game. And now, thanks to the efforts of one devoted fan, you can play a rather faithful replica of that demo for yourself.

Available through Itch.io, Breath of the NES recreates the look of the prototype while adding its own unique twists—and that's just the start. "The [first version] is very very basic," creator WinterDrake told me. "I've already worked on improving physics and adding more interactive elements to the world. In addition to music and better art, I'm really hoping to add a lot to the environments that you can interact with in creative ways. Also, of course, a bigger world, more items, and so on."

While it has the look of the classic Zelda, all of the DNA of Breath of the Wild is present, and the two make a fascinating mix. I was able to cut down trees or light them on fire and watch it spread to nearby plants. A simple physics engine let me use Korok leaves to blow enemies back and roll toppled logs to run them down. It's actually a lot of fun to experiment. And, just like it is in Breath of the Wild, it's challenging too.

WinterDrake has no plans on stopping there, though.  "I definitely don't feel bound to copy Breath of the Wild directly," they said. "I love the spirit of it, the way environments are totally responsive to your actions, and that sense of discovery. However, I think that whole sense of discovery and adventure would be lost if this was just a clone completely devoid of creativity. I've already added a few items in the game that are totally original, and I plan for many more."

One example is the 'Byoki Berry,' an item that enemy octoroks find so alluring that they'll do anything to eat one. WinterDrake suggested players can use them to lure octoroks into traps or distract them while they sneak by. "That's the sort of creativity I loved in Breath of the Wild, having so many options to find your own way out of a situation."

The demo is worth a download, but it's certainly far from a complete game. What is immediately apparent, however, is how well Breath of the Wild's open world and physics-driven designs fit inside of a 2D space. There's plenty of room for a game to explore these ideas, and WinterDrake plans on doing just that—unless Nintendo has something to say about it, of course.

I know that Nintendo has a bit of a track record shutting down fangames. I'm fully prepared to remove the borrowed assets if they ask me to.

"I know that Nintendo has a bit of a track record shutting down fangames," WinterDrake admitted. "I'm fully prepared to remove the borrowed assets if they ask me to." Fortunately, even if that is the case (and who are we kidding, this is Nintendo after all), WinterDrake intends to keep developing the game with original art and characters. "Of course I'll have to seriously improve the gameplay to keep people's attention without the nostalgia of having classic Zelda sprites, but I'm fully prepared to bring that level of improvement."

The WiiU emulator CEMU has made some stunning progress in getting Breath of the Wild running since launch, but it's also stirred up its own drama thanks to the legally grey area emulators are seen to exist in. For now, at least, you can still play Breath of the Wild and Breath of the NES on PC.

If you want to follow Breath of the NES's progress, you can follow WinterDrake for updates on Twitter