Old-school gamer. I started gaming with the Atari 2600. I became an addict with the arcade release of Street Fighter II at my college. The SNES release pushed me into buying that system and a lame arcade stick. I haven't looked back since then. I still consider the 16-bit to be the Golden Age of gaming. The current generation is keeping me pretty happy, especially with the fighting game renaissance that's happening lately. And, yes, I'm old.
Proud owner of: Kiwi Gameboy Color, Purple GBA, GBA SP, GBA Micro, PSP 3000, Clear NeoGeo Pocket, purple SwanCrystal, SNES, Genesis, N64, purple Gamecube, slim PS2, Dreamcast, Wii, PS3, Red 3DS LL,Blue 3DS XL and Wii U.
Favorite Games: Last Blade, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Mark of the Wolves, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda: Minish Cap, King of Fighters Ikaruga, Macross: Do You Remember Love, Raiden Trad, Valkyria Chronicles, Professor Layton, Killer7
Games on my mind: Ridge Racer 7
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
The stars aligned last week! I had a house full of friends, a GameCube, 4 GBA SPs, 4 gamelink cables and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
I bought this game when it originally released but never really had the chance to play it with three other players. I eventually sold it and, upon meeting some new people a few months back and starting to plan this evening, I repurchased the title. Sure, the hardware overhead is pretty insane, but damned if this isn't the most fun I've had with a multiplayer game since Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons series was in arcades.
Graphics The sprites in Four Swords Adventures look a lot like those in Minish Cap. They do look a bit blocky on an HD screen but are overall quite pleasing. The lighting and special effects applied to the sprites are nothing short of amazing. I absolutely loved the effect of transporting to the Dark World; it has a very flat, Paper Mario sort of feel but is quite whimsical and charming.
Gameplay As much as I love The Legend of Zelda series, sometimes the combat is a bit slow. Fighting a few enemies at a time is cool but sometimes I want more. For reference, I loved fighting the horde in SKyward Sword. This game mostly follows tradition but the group is sometimes tasked with fighting tons of enemies at once and that sort of chaos is nothing short of amazing. Honestly, arrows are flying, swords are swinging and bombs are exploding; it's a visual orchestra of violence that has to be seen to be believed. Nintendo wisely limited the amount of gear Link can carry; each Link has a sword and one item. This streamlines the game in such a way that no menus are needed. Such a change would have gone a long way in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
Staying true to the series, this game isn't all combat. In fact, the group spends more time solving puzzles and trying to figure out where to go next. While that is very "Zelda," having a group to help out really makes this game feel unique. I've often thought using GBAs as controllers was overkill but I've definitely changed my mind after playing with the group. I loved having the ability to explore different regions than the other players while trying to figure stuff out. It also added a new level of depth to the game.
Verdict The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure is the best multiplayer game I've ever played. The designers of the game made some very controversial decisions but they all pay off in multiplayer. There's nothing else quite like this game. All of that praise aside, the single player is pretty awful.
With the Wii U gamepad and Nintendo Network voice chat, Nintendo needs to release a new version with higher definitions sprites and online play. That would be the game of forever.
So, I finally finished Skyward Sword. To be honest, I cannot recall any other game leading me to such disparate feelings. In fact, Skyward Sword is both the best and worst game in The Legend of Zelda series.
Controls At the beginning of the game, the 1:1 combat seems slow and tedious. Once the player masters the controls, combat becomes amazing, especially the last few battles in the game. There's nothing in the series quite on the level of these fights and that speaks volumes about the design and effort put into the combat engine.
On the other hand, the motion controls outside of combat suck, specifically the skydiving parts. The first time Link skydives, I had to stand to get the Wii to register my movements. When I had to use the mechanic later in the game, I had to sit and, still, the mechanic didn't quite work. It was also annoying that Link's items like the Beetle needed to be recalibrated constantly. Far too often, Link would start to move in the opposite direction of the Wiimote movement. I found myself frequently wondering why the analog stick was so heavily ignored. The skydiving would have worked so much better if the analog controlled the direction and the tilt of the Wiimote controlled his speed.
Level and puzzle design The levels in Skyward Sword are amazing. There's not much else to say about that. But there is a lot to say about the structure. I've joked several times to my wife that SS should be named "The Legend of Zelda: Everything Link Needs to do is Fucking Difficult" because that's the truth. In order to reach a dungeon, Link has to navigate tricky landscapes which are littered with brain-straining puzzles. His reward for successfully reaching the dungeon? A short dungeon made up of rooms filled with mind-meltingly difficult puzzles. And I couldn't love it more. There's such a sense of accomplishment at solving each puzzle thrown at you and then moving to the next. This challenge is softened a bit by the inclusion of generous save points. It's quite a brilliant decision and an approach to the series that I hope to see in future games in the series.
The cast The Zelda series is defined by character like no other series in gaming. Thanks to Ocarina of Time, "Hey! Listen!" is essentially part of the cultural lexicon. SS is no slouch in this department and, in fact, it ups the ante over previous games.
Some of the characters seen in SS are so unique to the series that I cannot help but love them. The Old Lady in the Sealed Temple has the same presence as the monk in those old Kung Fu films. She speaks in riddles and pushes Link to spiritual growth. Fi is my second favorite companion character; Midna still holds that title. I really enjoyed Fi's character arc and her interpretive dance was always fun to watch. By the end of the game, Groose had evolved from a complete douchebag to a likeable character. I love the scene in which he realizes that he's not capable of being the hero like Link is. He seems a bit bummed, but moves beyond it and becomes a better person.
That brings us to the most fabulous villain ever, Girahim. Link has never had such an interesting and fun villain to interact with. Ganon/Ganondorf is plain evil and, honestly, not that interesting. Girahim, on the other hand, is a Bond-styled villain. He oozes confidence and menace. There's nothing quite like him in the series; thus, he's quite refreshing and I enjoyed seeing him whenever he appeared.
Challenge If I had to name one major disappointment with the Zelda series of late, it would be the difficulty level. Rather, it would be the lack of difficulty. As much as I love Twilight Princess, those boss battles were fun but in no way challenging. Skyward Sword returns the series to its previous level of difficulty and then intensifies that with much more challenging puzzles. I really hope that Nintendo keeps this level of challenge in future titles. I really enjoy games that challenge players to improve and then reward that growth. I thrive on it.
In conclusion Eiji Aonuma's team has done a superb job on Skyward Sword. It has some of the best design and creativity the Zelda series has ever produced. They've created an amazing groundwork for future titles in the Zelda series. I cannot wait to see what they create next, free of the constraints of the Wii hardware.
So, I'm late to the party on Skyward Sword. I traded my Wii in shortly after the release of Warioland: Shake it! due to the lack of interest I had in any upcoming games. I recently purchased a Wii U for a nice price and wanted to go back and check out Skyward Sword.
I believe that Nintendo has a series for everyone. For my wife, it's Fire Emblem. For me, it's The Legend of Zelda. With every new Nintendo system I buy, I'm thinking about the next iteration. The most recent title I've played in the series is Twilight Princess and it's tied with A Link to the Past for my favorite game in the series. As stated in my blog about it, I quit the Wii version of the game out of frustration; I loved the GameCube version.
So, how do I feel about the first purely motion controlled Zelda game? It's a harder question to answer than you'd think.
On the one hand, I find the level design, at least in the first dungeon, to be exquisite (Note: I just finished it). Solutions to the puzzles are not that obvious and are sometimes perplexing until the player stumbles across a hint or the actual solution. I love that about this game; it just feels like an authentic exploration scenario. And, honestly, this is the second-best looking Zelda ever. It doesn't quite beat Wind Waker but it has its own beauty and really proves that art design can overcome the hyper-detailed approach of HD graphics. I really respect that.
With all of that said, this game's controls infuriate me to no end. I'm about 5 hours in and the combat is starting to feel better. That's a serious problem. In Twilight Princess, combat felt amazing right away and, in a game with as much combat as Zelda, it should fell great right away. The other constant source of frustration is using the Wiimote to control flight of the Loftwing and the Beetle. It feels a bit more natural to control the Loftwing via Wiimote as it is a large animal, but the Beetle really shows off the lack of accuracy of this control scheme. The Beetle is a small item and should not corner like a school bus and, when that happens, I cannot help but wonder why I'm not using the analog stick on the nunchuk. My thumb is resting on the stick and ready to go.
What does this mean for motion controls Does combat feel more realistic? It does but it's also more meticulous and less enjoyable. This control scheme also drives home the point that motion controls are less precise than traditional controls and come with their own set of problems for the player to overcome. They're not better; just different.
The way I see it, Skyward Sword is both the best and worst argument for motion control that Nintendo's ever made.
That said, I'm interested enough in the game that I'll continue the adventure. Maybe, at some point, something will click and I'll love this game as much as I love the other games in the series. Here's hoping that happens sooner than later.
One week ago Sony announced the PS4. I've given myself a week to digest and contemplate all of the information. Here are my thoughts broken down by topics.
First off, RIP XMB. I really love the PS3/PSP UI. It was nice that both systems worked in a similar fashion and that really drove home the identity of the systems. What's really scary is that the PS4 interface looks a lot like the new PSN Store. And that's a bad thing.
Gaikai and streaming Sony made a big deal about their online services via Gaikai. All of this sounds very cool but also begs the question of cost. Sony recently acquired Gaikai for $380 million last July. Thinking logically about Sony as a whole, I would guess this purchase price will be passed on to consumers. After all, Microsoft has taught the industry that you can charge for online play and, despite PS+ being so popular, Sony is really good at making awful choices. I will never pay for online play for one simple reason - performance. The United States is a large country and has lots of subpar internet and not all connections are equal. No matter how good the online service is, the experience is limited by the worst connection. I have little patience for laggy online play when it's free; I'd get high blood pressure from paying for it.
Games and graphics I will miss backwards compatibility. I know it's a controversial topic but that's the reality. There are a lot of great PS3 games out now that I want access to and there will be more coming. One credit Sony deserves is that their systems usually get a decent amount of support after a new console is launched. BC to older games is less important to me since they look pretty bad on HDTVs but PS3 games were built for that environment.
The biggest issue I had regarding the conference were the games. Honestly, none of them looked that good to me. And not a single one looked as good as this:
At lunch on Feb. 20, I played the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 demo and it was nothing short of amazing. It's fast-paced, looks amazingly beautiful and really makes me question why we even need a new generation at this point. Neither the PS3 or Xbox have hit any sort of limit on the hardware unlike the NES to SNES transition. It seems a shame to abandon a generation before that point. Maybe I'm drunk on the Naruto demo, but the PS4 presentation did not impress me in that regard.
Final thoughts Going into the PS4 presentation, I was skeptical. There were a lot of rumors that put me off of this next generation. Fortunately, the biggest issue - games being locked to a single console - was debunked. But that begs the question: for how long? Remember when the PS3 could install Linux? Remember when PS3s were backwards compatible with PS2? Sony has a short but disturbing history of removing features. That makes me nervous.
How do I feel about the PS4 after the announcement? Meh sums it up nicely. There's nothing about it that excites me. The games didn't seem very fresh or exciting and several of them will also be available on PS3. The integration of Move is cringe-worthy and I just find myself uninterested. So much so that I looked again at the Wii U and I find it a far more enticing system.
The Wii U is a real step up from the Wii, both graphically and in terms of power and interface. The promise of new Zelda, Mario and Mario Kart games is pretty exciting and The Wonderful 101 has me drooling. Oh, yeah, the Wii U will play my old Wii games as well. Sure, the Wii U is less powerful but, as a designer, I feel some of the best creations happen when you have to work within constraints.
There's a lot of talk about the handheld video gaming market. Nintendo and Sony seem to be struggling in the U.S. and the Vita is dying in both Japan and the U.S. Luckily for Sony, the PSP still seems to have a bit of life left in it in Japan and, in the U.S., the PSN is helping to expand the life of that system. So what does it all mean and what should these companies do?
The answer: look to the past.
The Gameboy Advance was the king of the market for a long time and, in my estimation, still has the best library on any handheld. The main reason is that the GBA didn't try to be a replacement for home consoles. There were a lot of SNES ports to the GBA to varying degrees of success but the games made specifically for the system were amazing. Consider the Advance Wars series. These games are meant for short bursts of gameplay and the game can be saved at any point. The graphics and animation are as good as they need to be but the system was not trying to be the GameCube. The majority of the GBA library was made up of battery-friendly pixel-based games and titles that were unique and lower budget. It's hard to argue that the Vita is trying to bring a PS3-like experience to the portable space and the price is a system that is barely portable and an abysmal battery life. Seriously, 3 hours between charges?
The other big problem with the 3DS and Vita are the operating systems. When you start up a Gameboy Advance, you get the GBA logo, a ding and then the game starts. These new systems take a few seconds to get you to the OS screen and then require navigation to start the game. By the time I launch a 3DS title, I could be on world 1-2 of Super Mario World on GBA. That's a real issue for portable play. There's a purity to handhelds that just play games. Why should my handheld do more than play games? Most people, me included, already own a smartphone that does everything else we could possibly want.
Speaking of smartphones For one thing, Nintendo and Sony shouldn't sweat the smartphone market. I don't think smartphones are eating up that much of the handheld market. Sure, they're great for casual games but, in my experience, most games on smartphones are hindered by the lack of a physical controller. Touch interfaces work very well for some puzzle games and Angry Birds but suck for most video games. Who the hell wants to platform or play fighting games with a digital d-pad? Not me. That's horrible. I tried Final Fantasy on my phone and while it looks pretty good and the touch screen is great for combat, I have to navigate the overworld using a fake d-pad. In fact, most of the games I've played on smartphones skip over the obvious uses of touch screen interfaces and add in fake d-pads. Maybe when touch game developers learn to properly use touch screens, smartphone games will improve. The question is how long will that take? In the case of platformers, shooters, action and fighting games, the answer is pretty much never.
Instead of trying to integrate every part of our digital lives into your handhelds, try this: Make portable game machines that play games. Let players get into the games quickly and without using odd methods to navigate through content. Give us decent battery life and actual portable form factors. These were done to great effect several years ago and I have faith you can do it again.
I'm skipping information on characters and story to avoid spoilers. Spoiler: I love the characters and the ending gave me goosebumps and made me feel sad to leave this world behind.
Controversy. If there's one thing video games, especially Zelda games, create, it's controversy. Whether I like or dislike a specific title, there are tons of people on the internet ready to publicly humiliate me for my opinion. There's a reason I bring this up: I both hate and love Twilight Princess. I hate the Wii implementation of the game. The pointer controls were okay but waggle sword fighting was awful. The mirrored world also felt a bit odd and that was before I played the GameCube version. Now that I've played the GameCube game, I love Twilight Princess. In fact, it is my favorite Zelda game of all time.
My history in Hyrule Like many gamers, the Zelda series is my Nintendo franchise. While others love and excitedly wait for every Mario or Pokemon title, Zelda has been the main reason I purchase Nintendo consoles. My first Zelda game was A Link to the Past which was bundled with my Super NES. Everything about that game is bliss; I clearly remember how amazing it was to guide Link through the rain in those glorious 16-bits. At the dawn of the 32-bit era, I bought a PlayStation. It died upon completion of FFVII and, since Ocarina of Time was on the way, I purchased a Nintendo 64. As good as OoT is, I never felt that it lived up to ALttP. It was just a bit less fun to me, though still an amazing title.
My favorite Zelda games: A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Minish Cap and Twilight Princess. These are the titles I revisit frequently. I haven't played much of Majora's Mask, which I will remedy soon. Wind Waker misses the list due to the momentum stopping Triforce fishing expeditions. If not for that, WW would be one of my favorites. I love that art style.
But we're here to talk about Twilight Princess, so let's get to it!
Why Twilight Princess became my favorite I'm an old school sort of gamer. I love me some pixels and, by and large, don't like polygons. Some games benefit from polygons, specifically racing games and mech/Gundam titles. If you had asked me two weeks ago if Zelda is better in 2D or 3D, my response would have been 2D followed by a sarcastic "duh" sound. Twilight Princess changed my mind.
Sure, TP is not the first Zelda to be rendered in polygons but I would argue that it is the first true 3D Zelda. I say that because many of the puzzle solutions were found above your head or below the ground and the player is forced to think and analyze the full 3D space. The player is trained to do this starting with the first dungeon and it remains relevant throughout the duration of the game.
Another aspect of Twilight Princess I adore is the sheer joy of the boss battles. Are the boss battles difficult? Not really but they are damned entertaining. The fight with the Stallord is one of the most exhilarating boss battles in video games. The bosses in the Lakebed Temple and the City in the Sky were also quite amazing. Both are heavily influenced by Shadow of the Colossus and that's a good thing. Even the mini-bosses are amazing and dripping with personality. I love that the Dark Nuts lose their shit and throw a bastard sword at you.
I'm glad that the Zelda team has looked at other games and taken inspiration from them and, in some cases, made improvements to great ideas. Link's wolf form is clearly inspired by Okami but I don't recall Amaterasu ever having to deal with door handles or other purely human interaction methods. And Epona is sooo much better than Agro in Shadow of the Colossus.
Items and combat I love that most of the equipment upgrades in Twilight Princess are optional. I didn't get the Giant Wallet or the Magic Armor and survived the game. Zelda games are true RPGs to me; I'm on a mission to save the world, I don't have time to go fishing, catch bugs or anything else. I'M TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD!!!!!! This alone makes the game much more enjoyable for me.
The items for this game are nothing short of amazing. The spinner added a level of fun that cannot be described. All of the old favorites are there but some have been tweaked. One such item is the dual hook shot is a work of pure genius and creativity.
The combat in Twilight Princess is sublime. I only learned three of the techniques but that made fighting deeper than in most games. There's nothing quite like rolling behind a heavily armored foe only to hit them with a shoryuken type move and beat them senseless. The finishing move is both brutal and fitting for the type of fighting in the game. Kudos to Nintendo.
The world I don't think Hyrule has ever felt so realized to me than in TP. Everything about it just feels real and that feeling is heightened by its rendering in true 3D space. The characters are all amazing and emote completely through animation and some non-language vocals. I really missed that in Skyward Sword. There's a way that Nintendo tells story through minimal exposition and cut scenes that I find utterly charming and beautiful.
Controls Ultimately, the real reason I love this game is the gameplay and the GameCube controller.
I adore the GameCube controller; not just for that fact that it can be purple or orange, but because it is the most expressive controller ever made. All of the buttons are not made equal and, due to that, the buttons can communicate the designer's intent to the player. In Twilight Princess, the standard attack is B and the big, green A button is the heavy attack. This lets the player know that the heavy attack is like a giant exclamation point, a stopping point, to the sword combo. The X and Y buttons are easily accessible but remind the player that these are your secondary weapons; the sword is the focal point of your combat arts.
The GameCube controller also has what I call the Nintendo analog stick. It has more resistance than a PlayStation pad and the divits at each point on the circle let you know precisely where the stick is at any moment. It reminds me of why I love square restrictor gates on arcade sticks.
The crisp controls married with the GC controller are a match made in heaven and a large part of why this game shines.
Conclusion When I played Twilight Princess on Wii, I quit and said the standard "Fuck this game" as I did so. Upon revisiting the title on GameCube, my mind was changed drastically. I love this title. I think it's the best Zelda game ever. I truly believe that Twilight Princess is so much better on GameCube because that is the system it was designed for originally. Everything about the game communicates that fact and it's an incredible experience because of it.