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In praise of Tears of the Kingdom's most underrated design decision: muddle buds

The muddle bud makes foes attack one another in Tears of the Kingdom, making it by far the most entertaining way to fight

Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

June 28, 2023

3 Min Read
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom screen of a purple muddle bud flower growing in the dark
Courtesy Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has been praised for many reasons since its May release. It's a brilliant open world game with jaw-dropping physics implementation, allowing players to really play with (and sometimes, delightfully break) the entire world before them. It has nooks and crannies to explore for months, enjoyable side quests, and a tight core gameplay loop for exploration, combat and crafting. It's not a perfect game, by any means (I find the dungeon design very dull), but it does so many things well, and some things so well it's hard to even find comparison points.

An aspect that bored me initially (and never wowed me in Breath of the Wild, also a game I consider an all-timer) was combat. Sword slinging has never been my favorite part of the Zelda series: for me, it's simply one part of a glorious flow state. Most of the games in the series feature a cycle of exploration + puzzle solving + fighting + chill side adventures/village time. No one single part of this is complete (or even great) in itself, but pieced together with clever dungeon and world design, the experience is elevated. To linger too long on any given part of this cycle is to invite fatigue, but the linear design kept most players in the flow.

Starting with Breath of the Wild, the more open design did away with the prescribed order, for better in many cases (I love flying and climbing around the world and discovering this gorgeous landscape in my own way), and for worse in others—the aforementioned dull dungeon design is a side effect of this. So is combat, if you don't mix things up for yourself. In TOTK, the prospect of smacking four thousand bobokins with a sword (mostly for crafting parts) seemed tedious. It was, at first, until at last, I saw the light.

muddle bud plant in tears of the kingdom, growing in the dark

Well, it's more like I saw the dark: muddle buds grow (prominently so) in the vast, creepy underground of Hyrule.

Once I started experimenting, I switched from a “bomb everything” mentality to making muddle buds my go-to for anything other than the occasional single-enemy fight. It's glorious: I'll shoot the strongest enemies with muddle… spores (I think?), run around to get a nice view and enjoy watching — as my colleague and fellow muddle bud enthusiast Holly Green said in Slack the other day — as the chaos ensues. I'll watch big old moblins thrash at everything around them and practically eat the weaker enemies for dinner while I take my merry time gathering resources. Then I like to turn the strongest enemies against one another, and eventually finish off the fight myself.

Importantly, it's not like an automatic win button—that'd be very boring. You still need to actually manage the battle (and the effect doesn't last long), pulling enemies towards one another and picking targets carefully. But it converts something that feels (to me) like chore into a more dynamic and fun system of managing minor chaos.

Two enemies fight one another under the muddle bud effect

This isn't meant to be a knock against the game's overall combat systems: I'm kind of like this in most games that I play. I'd simply rather do the “work” of setting up traps or directing forces from an armchair quarterback (armchair muddle bud tactician?) position than engage in one to one fighting mechanics. I'm like this in immersive sims (the Hypnotize power in BioShock was always my favorite, as was setting up traps in its sequel and using Mindjack in Prey, another all time favorite game of mine). Set-up, execution, and making adjustments from afar when things break bad just tickle my brain better, for whatever reason. I suspect it's because I'm pretty spoiled from real-life combat sports, and just enjoy playing with various systems in a more puzzle-oriented way.

Maybe I just like chaos!

Honestly, I'm delighted that Tears of the Kingdom allows this (and frankly, encourages it, with how easy it is to stock up on the buds).

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About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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