It’s a little hard to believe, but we’re finally on the road to Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is set to launch on May 12, paying off what felt like a grueling wait following 2017’s genre-defining Breath of the Wild. In just one month, we’ll be exploring the Sky Islands and crafting some truly ridiculous weapons.
The final month before a game’s launch can be the hardest stretch of a long hype cycle, though. That’s especially true if you’re trying to fill it by playing something that’ll get you in the right headspace. Since Breath of the Wild is such a massive open-world game, there’s not enough time to start and finish something like Elden Ring or Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Luckily, Breath of the Wild’s influence hasn’t just been on enormous AAA titles. Plenty of indie developers over the last few years have created open-world games that draw inspiration from Zelda on a comparatively micro scale. These are games that capture Breath of the Wild’s sense of freedom, but only require a few hours of time to complete.
Games like these are a perfect way to fill the next few weeks. They’re quick little expeditions that’ll get you in the right adventuring mood before dropping into the vast fields of Hyrule once again. Consider these six mini open-world games a final reading list before Tears of the Kingdom launches next month.
If you only have time to play one game on this list, you should prioritize Tchia. The recently released open-world game is perhaps the closest cousin to Breath of the Wild on this list, doubling down on its freeform exploration. It even makes some explicit references to Zelda, with a ukulele component that functions similarly to Link’s ocarina. Beyond those comparisons, though, Tchia stands on its own as an inviting open-world game. Inspired by the real world New Caledonia, it’s a fun way to learn about the islands’ rich culture while feasting your eyes on some beautiful landscapes.
Plenty of games released since Breath of the Wild have tried to adopt its exploration philosophy, but none have done it as successfully as Sable. The game drops players into a vast open world with just a gliding vehicle and little direction. What unfolds is a truly freeform adventure that has players making natural discoveries in every corner of the map. Environmental puzzles are hidden in the sand and secrets lie in wait at the top of cliffs. As a cherry on top, that exploration is set to a fantastic original score from Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. That alone should be enough to get you gliding.
If you’re looking for something that subverts the genre in its own way, Dredge might be more your speed. The newly released fishing game lets players set sail in an ocean dotted with islands, not unlike the world of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Set entirely on a boat, the game has players catching fish, dredging up resources from shipwrecks, and upgrading their ship. Sounds cozy, right? Well, yes and no. Dredge is also a bit of a psychological horror game, with a splash of Lovecraftian eeriness hiding below the surface. It’s an unusual cross between relaxing and creepy that needs to be played to be fully understood.
“Open world” can tend to be a scary term, as it usually comes with a massive time commitment. A game that’s like Breath of the Wild doesn’t necessarily need to be huge, though. A Short Hike is proof of that. The award-winning indie about a bird trying to find cellphone reception only takes an hour or two to complete, but that doesn’t take away from its sense of wonder. Its little island is dotted with discoveries, from lovable NPCs to rewarding mini-games. It’s a lovely little digital vacation that you can kick out on a rainy April afternoon.
Why not kill time waiting for Zelda while catching up on your 2023 backlog? Released earlier this year, Season: A Letter to the Future is a meditative bicycling adventure about a world on the brink of change. While it features a linear opening, the bulk of it takes place in an open-ended stretch of land that’s filled with environmental clues as to the world’s history. Why is there a parking lot filled with sleeping soldiers? What’s with all the abandoned cars? Who are these Gods everyone seems to worship? It’s up to players to piece all these things together by simply observing their environment and listening to the world around them. It’s a more personal open-world experience that turns interpretation into play.
One of last year’s best sleeper hits also happens to be the perfect prelude to Tears of the Kingdom. That’s because it’s an explicit riff on what makes Zelda great. Lil Gator Game is an adorable adventure title about an alligator turning the world into a jungle gym. It’s filled with overt odes to Zelda, with the character getting to play with Link’s tools and wear his iconic outfit. It’s essentially a game about a kid playing Zelda in real life, using their imagination to turn sticks into swords and cardboard cutouts into fierce monsters. It’s a gentle reminder that some games are supposed to take us back to that simple childhood feeling, helping us keep our playful side intact. Hopefully, that’s exactly what Tears of the Kingdom will deliver (on a much grander scale) when it launches on May 12 for Nintendo Switch.