I first got into gaming through a NES I'd begged by mum to buy me for my birthday after playing Mario & Chip Dale Rescue Rangers at a friends house. I remember how bright the colours were, the crispness of the sound, and the sheer unputdownable nature of those games. It taught me how to rescue princesses, save worlds and shoot ducks. It also started my love affair with games.
What I'm playing now:
Red Dead Redemption
Mass Effect 2
Super Street Fighter 3D
Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Ocarina of Time
Black & White
I thought I'd write this opinion piece as a reply to Jim Sterling's article "The Question: Does The Legend of Zelda need an overhaul?"
There are a lot of things I personally want from a Zelda game: fully orchestrated music and full voice acting (apart from Link who should forever be mute) being the tip of a titanic iceberg. It's not that I don't love Zelda, every time a new Zelda game is announced I'm more excited than Stewie from Family Guy going to Disney Land. It's just that I feel Zelda could be so much more than what it is, and there's a lot of story elements that aren't explored as well as game mechanics that could really change things up for the franchise whilst still keeping the core mechanics and ideas of what makes a Zelda game.
I've already mentioned fully orchestrated music and full voice acting (Link excepted), but there's still a lot that can be done with the Zelda series. One idea I had was co-op. Now, before you all go up in arms of the idea of “co-op in mai Zeldas?!” just hear me out. Player 1 is Link: his skill-set is largely unchanged from previous games – master sword, shield, boomerang and various cool items. Player 2 is Zelda whose principle weapons are the bow, kunai and smoke bombs, but is also very focused on using magic and various disguises. Zelda would play completely different to Link and would focus on stealth and keeping your distance from the enemy for more effective attacks. What also appeals to me is the concept that each town you go to Zelda is in a completely different disguise, whether that be pirate, ninja (Tetra and Sheik costumes!) or whatever and that the disguises get progressively more absurd as the game goes on, which prompts eye rolling from Link that he's the only one that finds these disguises completely unconvincing and obvious.
I know what you're thinking: what if I don't want to play Zelda in co-op and I want to play single player? I don't want some dumb AI companion gumming up the works and messing up my enjoyment of the game! Well, there's a few solutions to this as I see it. One of which is you have a similar mechanic to Enslaved which allows you to give Trip a set amount of simple instructions, which means you aren't constantly having to save your companions arse whilst you get completely massacred. Another of which is just make it possible for co-op to just be disabled and that there is more than one way to solve a dungeon/kill an enemy depending on what character you play as. Personally I'd prefer the first option, as I feel it works more organically for the story and doesn't get n the way of single-player fun. Plus I like the idea of drop-in/drop out co-op online and couch co-op for a Zelda game.
There are other ideas I've been playing around with that would streamline the game a lot more, such as a map that you can mark things on, DS style, like item locations/treasure chests, even write on the map – which if the Café controller does have a touch screen you could maybe type letters or just draw an item on the map or even trace a route with your finger – all of which would be cool. Whilst I'm talking about maps, please, for the love of god get rid of the compass, it's completely unnecessary – if I see a big locked door with a skull on it, I know it's going to be the boss room, OK? Good.
Another bugbear of mine is the items in Zelda – I just think a lot of items are used for one dungeon then become an afterthought and you never use the damn things again outside of that particular dungeon (spinning wheel from Twilight Princess I'm looking sternly at you). We need more items like the dual hook shot and boomerang that are useful everywhere, or just have items that are upgradable and be able to use them for multiple things, ala Arkham Asylum.
I also think that in a lot of ways Zelda has strayed a lot from it's open world roots of the first Legend of Zelda, and I'd welcome an option to wander into the seventh dungeon after the first and get my arse completely kicked. Although I did love the challenge dungeon in Twilight Princess – that was a master-stroke of masochism wherein the greater reward was in the fact you cleared it rather than he measly item it gave you. Whilst we're back onto the subject of items, I would love to see some of the cool optional items from A Link to the Past Return, such as the Pegasus Boots and Cloak of Invisibility – stuff that's not necessary but is nonetheless cool and makes traversing the game a lot more fun. I also think the Master quest should be a reward when you clear the game and no a separate game you have to buy – the first Zelda game had it, hell, even the first Mario had a new game + which changed all the koopas into buzzie beetles and changed things up. This should be standard with Zelda.
Another big thing for me is the story. Nintendo deliberately hints at things that have happened in the Zelda universe but never expands upon them, justifying this by saying they want the player's imagination to fill in the gaps. This is all well and good until you understand the only reason they're doing this is so they can keep the story as loose as possible so they can insert Zelda games at any stage of the time line without restrictions. There's so many unanswered questions: why did the Hyrule royal family betray the Sheikinah? What was the war that made Link's mother flee from Hyrule to leave Link in the care of the Kokiri? Why is the eternal champion always mute?How did Majora and the Fierce Deity Mask come to be created? Who is Dark Link – is he simply a magic clone made by Ganondorf to stop Link? Is he Link's darker nature stripped from him by the Triforce of Courage when he becomes the Hero? Or is he the representative of the fourth piece of the Triforce that is only personified as a blank spot, a shape in absence? Whilst we're on that subject, why the hell is there a gap in the Triforce? Look, I know tri means three, but isn't it strange to have a gaping triangle shaped hole in the thing? These questions and more bear closer examination by Nintendo, but without making the story elements the equivalent of midicholrians and ruining the mystery of the Zelda universe. In conclusion, I still think you can keep in a lot of familiar aspects of Zelda but that the series needs evolution and not revolution. Nintendo have a lot of great ideas that if they expand upon and explore could make a great series a true Epic.
I've been playing Smackdown vs Raw 2011 on the PS3 on and off again recently, although to be honest it's been more off than on. Although it's still a fun game, it just seems like a game that hasn't evolved since the PS2 days, and even then the PS2 games seemed to take something away for every small enhancement it made to the game play. Although the season is more open and gives you more freedom about how you arrange your matches and with who it just feels like playing a series of soulless singles matches with the occasional ring invasion by an enemy rather than a fleshed out storyline. Also I'm convinced Yukes/THQ used the PS2 character models and just uprezzed them a bit by giving them better skin textures, giving the game the look of a slightly more polished version of a PS2 game rather than being on par with other games such as Fifa 2011 or the sumptuous looking Enslaved.
So this got me thinking, rather than just sitting whining about it, why not write an article saying how I think it could be improved and refined by borrowing techniques/ideas from other game engines? There are a lot of simple things that should be fixed such as the poor collision detection that the series still suffers from, a greater list of moves to draw from, a bigger selection of clothing and parts for your created wrestler, and less of an emphasis on constant reversals of moves. However the biggest two issues they need to address are the graphics and how to reinvigorate the season mode and make it fun to play. The graphics are an easy fix, they just need to actually make the effort rather than just reusing the same engine they've used since the PS2 days. I'd love or them to use something like Unreal 3 or something of equivalent power that can make the game not look last-gen. I think the best way to achieve this goal is to stop making Smackdown games an annual release. I know THQ makes money off it each year, but let's face it: annual releases are what killed the Tony Hawk franchise(for now at least), and the same goes for the Guitar Hero games. The point being annual releases of a franchise can make people fatigued and fed up, as for the most part they're just getting an expansion pack of the previous years game with a few negligible add-ons. This would help them refine the graphics and also give them enough time to work on the season mode, which brings me to my next point.
The reason I play Smackdown is to make my own ridiculous created character and cut a swath through all the greats and the jobbers in the WWE roster, getting them to tap out with a well-placed Hellsgate or Crossface can be immensely satisfying. But aside from facing off against other people's wrestlers it's the season mode that's the bread and butter of the game. Smackdown 2 on the PS1 still has one of the most satisfying season mode I've ever experienced in a WWE game, which is pretty damning considering the amount of Smackdown games that have came out since. You'd start off at the lowest rung, going against random low carders like Billy Gunn or Road Dogg, and work your way up the ranks to dethrone the current champions, and then spend the rest of your time defending your championship. In that time you'd make alliances and enemies and have some measure of choice in who you'd help and who you'd hurt. It also had an ingenious way of unlocking moves and costumes, in which you fought wrestlers called “Unknown A” who looked like wardrobe disasters, being composed of costumes and body parts you could unlock, and sometimes having that one killer move you had to have.
This is what I propose should be done: Year One of our season you are an up and coming rookie on Tough Enough, the season acts as a tutorial on how to pull off the moves as well as starting off your character. Your wrestler would start as a complete and utter noob with only basic moves such as arm drags and dropkicks and would be extremely underpowered. The aim of the first year would be to face off against the trainers/fellow contestants and prove your mettle. At the year's end if you'd progressed enough you'd win a WWE contract and be hired to either Smackdown or Raw and start off at the bottom of the ladder against a series of jobbers, proving your worth one fight at a time.
However, if you fail the season doesn't end, it just goes a different route. Imagine, your character is knocking a few back in the bar, a miserable never-was dwelling on what could have been. Your character is approached by a heel, say Jericho, who says he sees your potential and thinks that you were screwed out of the chance to get hired. How would you feel about getting even and proving the WWE they were wrong at the same time by interfering in a match? You'd say “yes” and it'd jump into the match in which you're in the crowd and you jump in and interfere in Jericho's match to much controversy. You're hauled into Vince's office by security and he demands an explanation, and this is where I'd offer branching dialogue options. Depending on what you'd say in this occasion Vince will either be pissed off, impressed or amused, either way Vince will put you in a different match dependant on your answer. i.e., if you pissed him off he may put you in a Triple Threat match, if amused he might put you in a singles match against Jericho suspecting it was him who got you to interfere in his match giving you approval with Vince but negative points with Jericho, and if he's impressed he may enter you in King of the Ring for a minor title like the Intercontinental title or the European title.
The option for branching storyline and dialogue has a lot of potential to be well implemented in a WWE game, and RPG elements have proved to have a successful fusion with the FPS and third person shooters such as Fallout 3, Bioshock and Mass Effect. We can only hope in future installments that Yukes and THQ don't just settle for evolution when they should be shooting for revolution.
I'm sure I'm one of many people who was disappointed in Metroid: Other M. Although I still enjoyed Samus's latest adventure on Wii, there is a lot of flaws that prevented a good game from being a great game. Call me a fanboy if you will, but when Nintendo releases a game I come to expect a great game rather than a good game. This obviously sets my expectations so high that I'm going to get let down a lot. Even though none of the flaws are game breakers (apart from that buggy save thing earlier on in the game), these points do lessen the game.
The awful dialogue, Samus's monologing, not using the nunchuck to navigate in 3D space, lack of any music for most of the game, no energy/missile pick-ups and the decision that Adam had to authorise the suit functions (ok, not using powerbomb was understandable, but having to run through the lava sector for 15 or twenty minutes before Adam goes "um, Samus, I notice you're on fire! You can use your varia suit now!" was ridiculous), also the transition of going from third person into first person just to shoot missiles was immersion breaking for me, and seemed like a cheap tactic of ramping up the difficulty, especially when against a swarm of enemies or the later bosses.
A lot of people lay the blame squarely at Team Ninja's door for the hammy writing of the game - it's an easy thing to do, right? Team Ninja aren't a first party dev team, and Nintendo rarely make bad games. But if this was the case, how do you explain the stellar Metroid Prime trilogy by Retro? Granted, they were a second party dev owned by Nintendo, but the games were not developed in-house by Nintendo themselves, they were handled by "shock horror" outsiders.
The truth is that the buck stops with Sakamoto. Yes, I know he's directed all of the side-scrolling Metroid's since Metroid 2, and in many ways he fleshed out the Samus we came to know and love in Super Metroid. In truth I have never played the original Metroid on NES, Zero Mission or Metroid 2. My first Metroid was Super Metroid for the SNES, and I'll always remember the voice at the beginning telling me "The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace" followed by the Metroid theme and Samus giving a summary of her story so far. And I'll always remember the sacrifice the hatchling Metroid made to save Samus, saving the woman whom it thought wasit's mother ad practically crying out "No!" at the screen, despite the fact I'd spent a good portion of the game devoted to erradicating the little jellyfish-like buggers. Samus to me, and I think to a lot of people, was defined by her strength and her determination to complete the mission at any cost.
An impression that was swiftly shattered by Samus's portrayal in Other M. I have no objection to a character speaking if they have something vitally important to say, if it's relevant to the story, or enriches the experience by interacting with other characters. What I got instead was Samus reading "diary entries" about her feelings to a captive audience who reached for a skip button that wasnt there. This was not the Samus Aran I had grown to know and love.
By today's standards it's below subpar to have a character monologing, telling you about their feelings rather than just letting the story unfold. It's acceptable to have a character narrating action in a book because that's all you have to describe the action. But in video games and movies it comes across as lazy and largely unneccessary seeing as both are visual mediums. For example, if you compare the banter between Drake and Sully in the Uncharted games, it moves the story along by interaction between the character rather than the "dear diary" narration that makes Samus sound little better than an emo. Just to clarify: I'm not against Samus having emotions or a voice for that matter, it's just she should have been handled with more respect as a character. You can still write a character as fragile but still strong without making her sound weak-willed and without making her sound like a herp derp space marine.
I'm not saying take the franchise away from Sakamoto, but when a guy pulls a George Lucas and is clearly out of touch with the motivations and nuances of the character, Nintendo should at least get someone in there who knows dialogue and story to co-write/direct with him to make sure he doesn't repeat the flaws of Other M. As I said earlier Other M was a good game hindered by big flaws that prevented it from being the great game it deserved to be. Also, Sakamoto was originally only a co-creator not the sole creator of Metroid. Maybe if Makoto Kano returned to the series in a supervisory position Samus could once again beome the character I personally connected to.
Just to reitterate: I am not against change in Metroid, I just want the changes to improve the gameplay and enrich the story, not to hinder it. Changes they could implement to make Metroid better:-
- Have Samus voice by Jennifer Hale who voiced her in the Prime series (Well, her grunts anyway)
- Keep the 2.5D aspect of the game and the dodge mechanic as they worked well. Get rid of the forced 1st person point of view and the forced 3rd person point of view. They add nothing to the game.
- No more monologing! Only have Samus talk when she is interacting with another character, and it is important to character development or story progression.
- Bring back exploration in Metroid. Games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 show that you can still have exploration and side-quests and still have a compelling main story arc. Christ, even Super Metroid excelled at this.
- If the next game will be motion controlled, have the shooting mapped to the wii remote and the moving in 3D mapped the the nunchuck. I would've loved to have been able to shoot wherever my pointer was whilst moving with the analog stick.
The literary critic Roland Barthes once said “birth of the reader must be at the death of the Author” , meaning that no matter what message the author/creator wanted to convey by his story, once that story is read/watched/played, it doesn't matter how the author intended the story to be interpreted, the true interpretation(s) of the story and the characters within lie solely with the audience. We as the audience are as much the writer of Samus Aran's character as Sakamoto is, let us hope in future Sakamoto's vision is married with our own and that we get a great Metroid game we all deserve.