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Tears of the Kingdom glitch hunters aren’t just breaking the game — they’re expanding it

Inside the international community trying to stay ‘one step ahead’ of Nintendo.

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A screenshot from the video game The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Image: Nintendo

It took an international collaboration to begin cracking Tears of the Kingdom open. For the first few days after the game’s release, glitch hunters had been trying to break it using techniques similar to those used in Breath of the Wild, but nothing was working.

“Everyone was kind of scratching their heads,” recalls one glitch hunter who goes by the name Mozz. Then, on day three, a breakthrough arrived on Discord, courtesy of the Chinese community’s discovery of a number of duplication bugs. Sure enough, Mozz and their fellow glitch hunters were able to replicate them. One thing led to another, glitches got stacked upon glitches, and the effects of the exploded code began to cascade.

Since Tears of the Kingdom’s launch on May 12th, a committed group of glitch hunters has dedicated much of their spare time to trying to break the game. Some do it in service of speedrunning, finding movement exploits that let them traverse the game’s 198-mile map at lightning speed. Others seek out glitches for the sheer subversive fun of it — the thrill of seeing the game spit out seemingly impossible outcomes. “The ability to take a game and expand it in ways that not even the developers could have imagined is so much fun,” Mozz says. Another glitch hunter, called Yoda39, describes the central appeal as “seeing the game react to the ridiculous circumstances you put it in.” 

So far, these “ridiculous circumstances” have produced all manner of bizarre and useful outcomes, from the duplication of items to combat exploits like “zuggling,” which lets players fuse together multiple weapons to wield a supercharged blade. In fact, Link’s Fuse power is the basis for another powerful glitch, called “Fuse entanglement.” When applied to a shield and spring, it causes something called “springboarding,” thus letting players bounce across Hyrule to their heart’s content.

You can find all of these glitches and many more in a collectively authored document that it’s no stretch to describe as the “Tears of the Kingdom glitch bible.” This open-source document offers an overview of what glitches do, how to activate them, the versions they’re compatible with, and who should be credited with their discovery. (So far, Mozz has unearthed 12 of the 68 glitches recorded.) 

While the moment-to-moment action of glitch hunting is a mostly solitary pursuit, an act of virtual transgression directed from the player toward the game, what happens after — the refining, replication, and formalizing of such glitches — is the result of a gargantuan community effort. For Tears of the Kingdom, one of the key forums for this activity is the game’s speedrunning Discord, within which you will find the “glitch hunting” channel.

Its chat is home to a constant stream of discussion from a relatively close circle of high-level glitch hunters who actually find the glitches, record them, and then cook up theories about how they might be applied elsewhere. When a new glitch is discovered, it’s a momentous occasion. “Almost like a scientific discovery, the field of study being this game,” says Mozz. Yoda39 offers a less sober interpretation: “sometimes I’m just over here freaking out, like, ‘Oh my god, this is insane.’” 

“Sometimes I’m just over here freaking out, like, ‘Oh my god, this is insane.’”

Once the initial excitement of a discovery wears off, a crack team of glitch hunters from Discord enter the game to try and replicate it. Then, says Yoda39, “People play around with it, test slightly different variations, and do it in slightly different places. Over time, the community gets a sense of what the glitch is, how it works, and, just as importantly, why it works.” He points to what happened with “zuggling,” the investigation of which occupied a large portion of the community’s attention for a few days, inspiring a “whole thread dedicated specifically for Zuggle research.”

While “zuggling” is unambiguously a glitch, others resist such straightforward taxonomic definitions. Take, for example, what the community has called “Recall launch,” the act of fusing a plank of wood to a weapon, using the Recall ability to reverse time, and then using the momentum to launch Link into the air. Is this a glitch or simply the game’s sandbox systems being pushed to their absolute limits? After all, Tears of the Kingdom is a game intended to be exploited. The Ascend ability is essentially “no clip mode,” letting Link move freely throughout wall, earth, and rock. Ultrahand and Fuse grant the elven protagonist powers bordering on the divine. Use them all at once, and the effects are naturally going to get a little wild. 

What’s different about Tears of the Kingdom is that its glitches, unlike those in games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, can feel like part of the world rather than an unwelcome interruption of it. Perhaps it feels like this because there are so few glitches that seem to appear randomly. (Skyrim’s floating wooly mammoths, gigantic chickens, etc.) Rather, they mostly have to be set in motion by players themselves. Indeed, director Hidemaro Fujibayashi seems all too aware of the lengths glitch hunters will go in order to bend the game to their chaos-inducing will. “I have to admit there is a little part of me that’s a little bit scared,” he told Wired. “But of course we did create this game in a way that is meant to be broken, that is meant to really push the envelope in terms of how people express their creativity.”

Still, it’s unlikely Fujibayashi could have imagined players breaking the game through such an arcane route as the inventory menu. That’s what happened with “Master Sword Not Found,” a glitch that lets players obtain the Master Sword from the game’s prologue and wield it in the main game. Crucially, says Mozz, the method used to obtain this glitched Master Sword — of exploiting the inventory menu — is one that’s been used for countless other glitches. “It all stems from opening, closing, and reopening the menu really quickly,” they say. “We try to find the weak spots and branch from there.”

“It’s definitely a race”

And yet, all of this hard work can be undone the moment a new patch arrives. When Nintendo updated the game to version 1.1.2 on May 26th, duplication glitches, “zuggling,” and other fan favorites like “Autobuild Cancel Slide” and “Weapon State Transfer” were wiped (except for those who had purposefully not downloaded the new patch or own multiple copies of the game). It’s a reminder of both the impermanence of the medium writ large and the way corporations can reshape these virtual worlds in the blink of an eye. As such, glitch hunters must stay nimble and alert, outthinking even the programming wizards at Nintendo.

“Ever since we found the duplication methods, and I was like, ‘Nintendo’s gonna patch these,’ I’ve made it my focused effort to try and stay one step ahead of Nintendo,” Mozz says. “Especially now with ‘Fuse entanglement’, which we’re finding a lot of glitches related to, there’s a worry that they’re going to patch it. I’m trying to look into other areas — it’s definitely a race.”

Moving forward, perhaps the best-case scenario for the community is that Nintendo doesn’t just raze all of Tears of the Kingdom’s glitches to the ground but exudes a more discerning approach. Or as Mozz puts it, “The hope is that Nintendo has a brain, that they only patch out glitches which significantly impact the casual players’ experience — not just going after glitches for the sake of it.”