Artist Matt Anderson, a graphic designer and illustrator who specializes in a simple, geometric art style, has an ongoing series called RetroMill, where he takes video game characters and reimagines them in colorful, minimalist prints. In a new spinoff of that series called RetroMill: Wild, Anderson has focused exclusively on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with some incredibly beautiful results.
The various prints capture Link, the Old Man, a tank-like Guardian, everyone’s favorite dancing tree spirit Hetsu, and more, all rendered in Anderson’s minimalist style, which perfectly captures the feel and art direction of the original game. As for the choice of characters, which notably doesn’t include Princess Zelda or most of the Champions, Anderson told The Verge over email that he found characters like Beedle or Kass, who appear in multiple locations across the open world, more interesting to depict. However, he is hoping to have time to make more in the future, citing Zelda, Mipha, Urbosa, and Kilton as characters he’d like to make in the RetroMill style.
Anderson says that he’s been a Zelda fan for a while, and fell in love with Breath of the Wild’s stylized look, which he described as resembling a Miyazaki film. “I grew up playing the Legend of Zelda games with my dad (the 1986 NES original was the first game I ever played),” he explained, “and I've always been drawn the unique items and distinct iconography in Zelda. Pretty much all of my notebooks in grade school were littered with Triforce and Master Sword doodles.”
Nintendo’s own art style in the Zelda games strongly speaks to Anderson’s own artwork; it creates a deliberate art style that will work just as well in 15 or even 50 years as it does today. As Anderson describes it:
“As a designer I have always appreciated Nintendo's choice to favor art direction over hyper-realistic graphics. That approach became especially apparent in Wind Waker which was stylized in a way that has aged much more gracefully than most games of its generation. To me, that is the essence of great design, using limitations to create something beautiful and unique.”
Anderson started sketching a Guardian while playing the game, using his own “rules and limitations to reinterpret the character designs using geometry and color,” and game quickly inspired more prints, to the point where they outnumbered his series, leading him to break them off into their own RetroMill: Wild collection.
In fact, looking at Anderson’s art, it’s hard to imagine a better way that Nintendo could stylize a smartphone Zelda game, as it’s rumored to be working on. While a full 3D Zelda game seems like it wouldn’t work nearly as well on mobile, Anderson’s flattened-down style feels like an ideal take on a two-dimensional Zelda game, instead of just falling back to the creative crutch of re-creating a 16-bit look. Anderson himself commented that he views the RetroMill style as somewhere between modern and classic video game art, noting, “I like to think of the RetroMill look as a 16-bit sprite style, but rendered in more detail and not limited by pixels.”
Even if we never see anything like it on an actual game, you’ll at least be able to enjoy the artwork for yourself: Anderson is selling a limited number of prints for $20 apiece from his website. There’s more to come, too. Anderson notes that he’d like to draw up illustrations of heroes such as Zelda, Mipha, Urbosa, and Kilton, as well as enemies such as the Lynels and Ganon. “The reaction to the series has been really humbling,” he says. “I've already gotten dozens of requests, so I'm hoping the community can help me pick what they'd like to see next.”