Month: February 2017

Boss Rush

I’ve got five days left to put together Zelda lists before Breath of the Wild launches and wrecks everything. So here’s the one I’ve been wanting to do for awhile about the Top 10 Boss Battles in 3D Zelda games. Don’t waste any more time reading this introduction, get to the list! We’re running out of time! Go go go go!

10-imprisoned10.) The Imprisoned; 2nd Battle (Skyward Sword) – The Imprisoned is a several-stories tall scaly black monster that you have to fight over and over again in Skyward Sword, a game whose biggest weakness is making you do things and go places over and over again. The Imprisoned fight, though, is one you won’t mind doing three times over… well, maybe… and of the three battles, the second is the hardest, and the best, because this is the one where he sprouts arms as he attempts to climb the spiraling hill out of the Sealed Grounds and into the Sealed Temple (spoiler alert: it’s the Temple of Time), and the one where Link’s Ace Ventura haired ginger frenemy Groose helps out by firing giant bombs at the Imprisoned from his Groosenator. I’m not explaining that; we have to move on. Breath of the Wild is almost here! Move!

09-scervo9.) Scervo (Skyward Sword) – Yeah, I know he’s a mini-boss, but I freaking love this fight… and you only have to fight him twice, which in Skyward Sword time is like not having to fight him at all! There’s no better use of Skyward Sword‘s motion controls than fighting a robot pirate on a plank and trying to knock him back and over the edge into the time-traveling desert’s sands-slash-ocean. That’s not a joke. It’s a dope fight. Next!

08-fyrus8.) Fyrus (Twilight Princess) – This should be further down the list, but it shouldn’t be, because the ones further down the list are all awesome, too. I love the Fyrus fight because it dares to remove 3D Zelda‘s signature move: Z-targeting. You have to shoot an arrow into in a big red eye in the middle of this giant on-fire Twilight-possessed Goron chieftain, and you can’t lock onto the target because his head is too big or some such nonsense… but having to stand your ground and motion-control aim your arrow as the thundering monster bears down on you is a great, great, in-the-moment… uh, moment. I’m not going back to find a better way to say that. No time.

07-twinrova7.) Twinrova (Ocarina of Time) – These two twin witches, one who shoots fire elemental magic at Link and another who shoots ice elemental magic at him, are the first boss fight in 3D Zelda history that asks you to pull off one of my favorite moves: using a mirrored shield to bounce energy back into an opponent like it was a goddamned proton beam from Ghostbusters. Then they merge into one ice-fire sorceress (let’s call her a “fice” sorceress) because why wouldn’t they? Who you gonna call? Number six, that’s who.

06-koloktos6.) Koloktos (Skyward Sword) – There’s two parts of the fight against Koloktos the clockwork man that I love. The first is using your motion controlled Indiana Jones/TRON whip to pull him apart piece by piece. The second is picking up Koloktos’ own six-foot long golden scimitar to hack him the hell apart by smashing him in a big red orb that’s in the center of his chest, because of course there’s a big red orb in the center of his chest. The big glowing red spot of weakness has become such a trope that Koloktos himself is in on the gimmick, keeping several of his multiple arms folded over his chest for the entire fight until you break him apart like a G.I. Joe with a snapped rubber band I’m taking too much time I CAN FEEL THE BREATH OF THE WILD BREATHING DOWN MY NECK NEXT ENTRY!

05-goht5.) Goht (Majora’s Mask) – Goht is a giant mechanical mask-wearing bull, but stop. It’s a goat. Give me a break. There’s two high-speed Zelda fights: this one, where you roll up in a Goron ball and race after Goht, leaping off of ramps to knock into him, and then the one in Twilight Princess, but that’s on rails, so this high-speed, high-flying fight gets the nod over that one. Also, it’s hella fun. Now let’s “roll” into the next entry ha ha this isn’t a joke. IT COMES OUT ON FRIDAY PEOPLE.

04-puppet-ganon4.) Puppet Ganon/Ganondorf (Wind Waker) – Yeah, there’s various forms of Ganon in three out of the next four spots. So? The last fight of the game SHOULD be the best fight of the game. One of those three actually isn’t even a last fight so I’m not sure why I said that, but this one is. First, you fight a giant marionette that takes the shape of the dark demon Ganon, then a Gohma, and then a giant Moldorm, words that mean something to you if you play Zelda games. Link and Princess Zelda (formerly Tetra the pirate) then fight Ganondorf… who’s now a samurai? Anyway… you fight samurai Ganondorf on the top of a tower while the ocean above you breaks through the invisible shield surrounding sunken Hyrule and threatens to… you know what? Forget it. Never try to put into words what happens in video games. It doesn’t translate well; you will sound ridiculous.

03-phanton-ganon3.) Phantom Ganon (Ocarina of Time) – What’s great about the Phantom Ganon fight in the first dungeon after Link travels through time and ages seven years… *sigh*… anyway, what’s great about it is that, it’s a fight that couldn’t have taken place in at all in 2D Zelda, as it requires you to turn in complete circles, watching a room full of paintings to see which one Phantom Ganon is going to jump out of on ghostly horseback. You then shoot him with arrows, and it’s a lot of fun. BUT IT’S NOT BREATH OF THE WILD FUN. AGGGGGHHHHHHH SO SOON!

02-gohma2.) Gohma (Wind Waker) – This is the one where you battle a giant lava-dwelling one-eyed centipede by throwing a grappling line onto the end of the tail of the dragon that’s sitting atop the volcano and down into the centipede’s chamber, and when you pull the dragon’s tail he freaks out and knocks a part of the ceiling down onto the centipede’s head until its armor breaks and you can stab it in the eye. You can’t make this stuff up, unless you work for Nintendo because they totally make this stuff up all the time. Also, this fight is gorgeous because it’s in Wind Waker so of COURSE it’s gorgeous C’MON WE’RE WASTING DAYLIGHT PEOPLE.

01-ganondorf1.) Ganondorf (Twilight Princess) – It’s, like, a four tier fight. First, you battle a possessed flying Princess Zelda. Then, as a wolf, you fight invisible Ganon in giant pig-beast form. Then, Link and Princess Zelda chase Ganondorf across Hyrule Field on horseback, shooting light arrows into him and hacking at him with the Master Sword. Finally, you have to best Ganondorf in one-on-one sword combat. In all seriousness, it is a spectacular endgame and hands-down the finest boss battle in the entirety of the 3D Zelda franchise…

… for now. This is the Calamity Ganon from Breath of the Wild. 00-calamity-ganonLOOK AT THAT THING. IT’S HUGE! THAT IS NOT WHAT SHE SAID! FIVE DAYS LEFT! I CANNOT WAAAAAAAIIIIIITTTTTT!

Featured image shared from Zelda.Dungeon.net.

This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but the Nintendo Switch is about a week away from hitting the stores. It is a very exciting time, but to be honest, it’s also a somewhat confusing one. How, you ask? For starters, I’d like you to look at the ridiculously long title of this column. I’ll repeat it for you: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Here we are, a week out from the launch of the Switch, and the above statement is all we really, truly know about it. We don’t know about how the Switch’s online ecosystem is going to be set up, we don’t really know how the Switch is going to interact with the new Nintendo Account system, we haven’t heard anything at all about the Virtual Console… let’s face it, we don’t know anything about this console outside of, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

By now, of course, it should be obvious: that was the entire point.

Let’s take, for example, the Nintendo Switch promotional tour, the one that launched in New York City (you remember; I was there and wrote stuff real good about it.) That tour was one hundred percent about the games that are coming out for the Nintendo Switch, and how great they are and how much fun they are. During the three hour showcase there were no speeches, no presentations, no information booths… just station after station of Switches playing demos of games, and Nintendo Brand Ambassadors reinforcing to the attendees that, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.” Not a single thing was whispered about any of the other stuff that, admittedly, people expect to hear about modern gaming consoles: online spaces, integrated media experiences, etc., etc. Truthfully, it was only a slip of the tongue that led a Brand Ambassador to reveal to me that Splatoon 2 would feature a spectator mode, a detail that is only relevant in the world of competitive online gaming.

(Thought and prayers to that ambassador’s family. I’m assuming Nintendo had him “taken care of.” He’ll be missed.)

Part of the reason Wii U failed is because Nintendo muddied up the console’s launch message, first of all by naming it after their previous console (to this day people think the GamePad is just an accessory for the Wii) and then by talking about how the Wii U was going to “revolutionize” your relationship with the TV… at a time when people were beginning to abandon their TVs, en masse. Nobody cared, nor should they have. That was not Nintendo at their best, something that was clear from the word “go”, and the Wii U never recovered from it.

The early Switch talk from Nintendo has been: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking,” and that’s it. Nothing else. And you know what? It’s working. They’ve sold out of preorders and the mainstream buzz is all good; hell, even Jimmy Fallon freaked out about Zelda on national TV. (To be fair, Jimmy Fallon freaks out about everything.) They’ve done this by telling us nothing but, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Face it: the last market Nintendo is going to win over is the hardcore PS4/XBox market, i.e. the people who really care about the deep functionality of their consoles. The majority of the people Nintendo is going to try and sell a Switch to look at gaming consoles as things on which you play video games. So when the marketing is nothing but, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking,” those people are all right with that. Those who follow the gaming industry on a day-to-day may complain about not knowing all the other details about the Switch, even just seven short days out from launch, but by now it should be clear: not telling us the other details was Nintendo’s ENTIRE launch strategy. They wanted nothing to get in the way of, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Nintendo has always been at their best when they are focusing on making great games first and putting all the other stuff second. With the Switch, the other stuff isn’t even second. The other stuff is buried under the mantra coming non-stop out of Kyoto and being broadcast across the world, say it with me: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

You had me at Zelda, Nintendo. You had me at Zelda.

Featured image by Wolf-64, posted on DeviantArt.net.

The 3D Zelda Games: A Definitive Ranking

Take the word “definitive” with a grain of salt, of course. When judging art, it’s never possible to completely remove subjectivity from the equation, but I’m gonna try my damnedest.

I’ve spent the past year and a half replaying all five of the existing 3D titles in the Legend of Zelda franchise (for the record: that’s Ocarina of Time 3D, Majora’s Mask 3D, The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess HD, and Skyward Sword.) Now, less than two weeks away from the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I want to attempt to break down each of these five titles into their collective components and rank them over nine categories. The stronger a game performs in a category, the more points it receives across a scale of five to one points. The game that has earned the most points in the end is, definitively and objectively and according to my own personal opinion which makes this whole thing the opposite of definitive and subjective, the best 3D Zelda game.

At least for another week or so.

Also, let me offer this disclaimer: all five of these games are Zelda games. So when one is ranked at the bottom of a category, keep in mind that they are being measured on a very harsh curve. These are Zelda games. Zelda games are all excellent. C’mon.

Let’s begin.

presentationPresentation – We begin with presentation: graphics, sound, and overall world-building. The Wind Waker HD (+5) easily tops in this category; no other video game ever has felt quite so much like playing a great animated feature film. Skyward Sword (+4) is next; even without HD presentation the water color impressionist graphics are a thing of wonder and beauty. Next time you play, stand in the middle of Faron Woods and stare at the Great Tree for a little while and you’ll begin to appreciate what I mean… turn up the volume and you’ll appreciate the orchestrated score. Twilight Princess HD (+3) is often touted as the “realistic” Zelda, when really it’s an amber-hued adventure done up like Resident Evil. Majora’s Mask 3D (+2) and Ocarina of Time 3D (+1) have both aged well but still show said age, and Ocarina in particular has a great score… but Majora’s edges its predecessor with its Third Day atmosphere: atonal music, a blood red sky, and a grinning moon.

combatCombatZelda‘s combat has naturally evolved over time, so let’s follow the evolution. Ocarina of Time (+1) established Z-targeting, perhaps the single most important mechanic ever created for 3D adventure games. Majora’s Mask (+2) improved on that system by granting Link three additional forms, each with their own unique attack styles. Wind Waker (+3) kept Link as a Hylian throughout, but added timed counter attacks to the Z-target system; Twilight Princess (+4) introduced advanced sword techniques in addition to the counter system. Z-targeting reach it’s arguable apex in Skyward Sword (+5). Some don’t like the game’s motion controls, but the 1-to-1 movement match allowed for depth of combat most games will never achieve; you learn quickly that every fight in the game, from the lowliest bokoblin up to the final boss, requires a unique combat strategy. If you don’t figure that out quickly, then you won’t get far in Skyward Sword.

pacingPacing – The flow of a game does a lot to dictate the enjoyment of the overall experience. Ocarina of Time (+5) is almost flawlessly paced. The endgame runs a little long, but other than that, the story and adventure keep moving. The Wind Waker (+4) takes criticism for its endgame Triforce quest, but if you’ve been treasure hunting while sailing the Great Sea for the whole game, odds are you’ll have most of the… *ahem*… “Triumph Fork” pieces by the time you reach that quest. Twilight Princess‘s (+3) cow-wrangling opening is looooong, but once the quest itself begins the game keeps moving at a proper clip. Majora’s Mask (+2) has an inherent flaw baked into its central design element: the Groundhog Day of Zelda games requires the player to repeat tasks multiple times after resetting the world every three days, and repetition in adventure games is almost never a recipe for success. Skyward Sword’s (+1) pace is wildly uneven and repetitive: Link must explore the same compact environments over and over, going so far as to have to re-enter some dungeons, and both the beginning game and endgame are long, drawn-out, seemingly interminable affairs. A direct quote from early on in my play-through: “I’ve been playing this game for three hours and I’m hunting squirrels in the forest. Eff you, Nintendo.”

narrativeNarrativeSkyward Sword (+5) is the first Zelda game to openly acknowledge the larger chronology of the series, for better or for worse. Its structure as the definitive origin story of Zelda lore and as the game with the deepest development of the Link/Zelda relationship combine to give it the strongest narrative in the series. Also: Groose. Ocarina of Time (+4), on the other hand, sets the standard for what a Zelda story is: three parts of the Triforce represented in a trio of figures, a sealed off golden land, a Hyrule (and an alternate Hyrule) to explore, etc., etc. The Wind Waker (+3) presents a pivot point in Zelda lore, effectively acting as an end point to the legend of Hyrule and the Triforce, a counter-balance to the origin elements in Skyward Sword. Twilight Princess (+2) is a self-contained story, but one that touches upon all the key elements that make up a Zelda game, and introduces a compelling new character into the franchise in Midna. Majora’s Mask (+1) has a strange narrative structure, in that it takes place outside of Hyrule and Link is, more or less, an observer to the fates of the inhabitants of Termina, the land in which the game takes place. Link has no… *heh heh*… link to Termina, and if he has no link to the land, neither does the player for whom he serves as an avatar.

overworldOverworld – There is no more serenity-inducing moment in all of video gaming than when you first strike out onto the open seas of The Wind Waker (+5), all set to explore the water-logged Hyrule (and sinking beneath the waves to visit ancient Hyrule) to your heart’s content. Majora’s Mask (+4) takes place in Termina, a land that is compact in geography but dense and deep, as you would expect from a game that lives and dies on the strength of its multitude of side quests. Another one of the greatest moments in gaming history was the first time the player, as Link, ran out onto Ocarina of Time‘s (+3) Hyrule Field and took in the wide vastness in which you could go anywhere and do anything, and then adventuring out into that wilderness and slowly pulling back the curtain on the varied regions of Hyrule. Twilight Princess‘s (+2) overworld is large, and takes some time to cross, but it’s sparse, designed for horseback traversal and mounted combat. Skyward Sword‘s (+1) overworld  comes in two layers. The first of those, the sky, is empty and dull, and the three sections of the surface to which you can descend are dense but repetitive, asking you to run around in them back and forth over and over again. For a game set in the open sky, Skyward Sword offers an annoyingly limited overworld experience.

dungeonsDungeons – If there is one area in which Twilight Princess (+5) excels, it is in the game’s dungeons. There are a lot of them, and they are almost all unique and original experiences. Skyward Sword (+4) also has some of the best dungeon designs in the history of anything, particularly Lanaryu Mines and Sky Keep, but as there are two dungeons in each of the game’s three geographic regions, the themes and puzzles in the region-locked dungeons actually repeat a bit. Ocarina of Time (+3) also has a whole bunch of dungeons, but there are a few that are outright annoying to get through… while there are others that are absolutely brilliant in design. Majora’s Mask (+2) has three “just okay” dungeons, and then one of the best dungeons in the whole series, Stone Tower Temple. The Wind Waker‘s (+1) biggest weaknesses are its polished-but-generic dungeons, which stands to reason. Nintendo cancelled a few of the game’s dungeons late into development and the game feels like it, as it if were one or two dungeons short, and the dungeons that remain are simply solid, not spectacular.

boss-battleBoss Battles – While Wind Waker‘s (+5) dungeons are comparatively weak, the game’s boss battles are excellent, with nary a clunker among them. They’re all fun and cinematic. Skyward Sword’s (+4) boss battles are much the same, but two of them repeat three times with only slight variations… fortunately, though, those battles are pretty good. Twilight Princess (+3) and Ocarina of Time’s (+2) have a similar pattern with boss battles: there’s a lot of them, some are great, and some are annoying. Twilight Princess gets the edge, though, because of its proliferation of excellent mini-bosses. Finally, Majora’s Mask (+1) suffers from its sheer paucity of bosses. Four dungeons means four bosses, two of which are annoying, one of which is very good, and one, against the mechanical bull Goht, is among the best battles in the entire franchise.

side-questSide QuestsMajora’s Mask (+5) greatest strength lies in its seemingly endless multitude of side quests. Filling up your Bomber’s Notebook to completion is probably the most exciting part of the game. That’s not a knock on the rest of the game; that’s a compliment to the depth of the side quest system. Ocarina of Time‘s (+4) side quests are worth undertaking; they grant you useful items like Biggoron’s sword or the hint-granting Mask of Truth. Twilight Princess (+3) only has two major side quests, but both (the search for golden bugs and the search for Poe souls) are engaging and fun to pursue in their own right. The Wind Waker‘s side quests are almost entirely mission based, short, vague, and the magnitude of the rewards earned rarely reflect the effort of undertaking the quest. Skyward Sword‘s (+1) side quests are barely worth the effort; most of them revolve around running errands for the residents of Skyloft, and your reward, more often than not, are the orange gratitude crystals that you exchange with Hylian Dracula for bigger and better wallets. Yippie.

final-battleFinal Battle – And now comes the endgame, both of our breakdown and of the 3D Zelda titles. The final battle matters; the thing that people see last is what leaves the strongest impression on them. Twilight Princess‘s (+5) final battle is exceptional, broken down as it is into four portions: Puppet Zelda, Dark Beast Ganon, Ganondorf (Horseback), and Ganondorf (Duel). Wind Waker‘s (+4) final battle is notable not only for the experience itself, but for the drama of its setting. You first battle Puppet Ganon in three forms, then climb the rafters to the roof of Ganon’s Tower to duel Ganondorf alongside Zelda, while the waters of the Great Sea come rushing into Old Hyrule from above. Ocarina of Time (+3) has a two-tiered final battle and a timed escape. The Ganondorf back-and-forth battle isn’t excepti0nal, and the fight with Demon Ganon isn’t terribly difficult, but the moment where Ganondorf transforms into Ganon for the first time in 3D is a breathtaking one, even twenty years or so after the fact. Skyward Sword (+2) has a three-tiered battle, and each tier is arguably less interesting than the one before. You first fight through a horde bokoblins on your way down into the sealed grounds, in a portion of the game that may have single-handedly inspired the creation of Hyrule Warriors. You then face Ghirahim in his final invulnerable form, battling to knock him off a series of platforms before taking him on in a final sword duel. It’s a fun fight, if not a terribly challenging one. And then you face Demise in another duel, and though he is physically imposing and the battle is visually impressive, it’s fairly simple: an extended series of shield strikes and fatal blows is all it takes to defeat him. Majora’s Mask (+1) final battle, against Majora’s Mask itself, is halfway decent as Link… but if you’ve claimed the Fierce Deity’s mask and don it, the battle is a button-mashing, seconds-long joke.

That’s it. That’s all of the categories. All summed up, the breakdown we’ve established looks something like this:

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-8-20-50-pm

Tension mounts. When you add up the totals, you get:

  1. The Wind Waker HD (+32 pts.)
  2. Twilight Princess HD (+30 pts.)
  3. Skyward Sword (+27)
  4. Ocarina of Time (+26)
  5. Majora’s Mask (+20)

See? Definitive and final. Completely objective. Well, okay, there’s two problems with it, I admit. First: you may disagree with my breakdown. Second: even if you agree with my breakdown, you may very well not care. Majora’s Mask is my lowest ranked of the 3D Zeldas, but it’s your favorite? Okay, well, then eff my stupid list; ditto if you absolutely hate Wind Waker or Twilight Princess.

Play what you like. Who cares? Rock on. Smoke if you got ’em.

Before U Go…

The Wii U has one foot out the door (or one foot in the grave, for the more macabre among you.) Its central conceit, the second screen of the GamePad, turned out to be a one-trick pony; second-screen home console gaming certainly didn’t catch on as Nintendo hoped it would, which may be the understatement of forever. With the GamePad and also the Wiimote both soon to go the way of the dodo, there are some hardware-reliant gaming experiences that will very likely die with Wii U, never to be emulated elsewhere ever again… unless Nintendo someday releases a Wii U Classic Mini, which I will be all over and which I can confidently say wouldn’t be greeted with a fraction of the demand that greeted the NES Classic Mini.

Now: if you’re like me, you don’t hoard consoles. If I’m not going to use a console anymore, I prefer it not to collect dust on a shelf. I sold my Atari 2600 to my sister’s friend for a slice of pizza, and I left my PS1 in my college rec room; finders-keepers. So in my household, the Wii U is going, going, soon-to-be-gone, and as the Wii era draws to a close, I find myself indulging in games that, due in many instances to a reliance on Wii/Wii U hardware features, are likely not going to be playable anywhere else anytime soon. These are the games that, if it all possible, you should try and play before moving on to the Switch.

1.) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Not exactly a low-profile title, Skyward Sword came at the end of the Wii’s life cycle and sold far fewer copies than one would expect of a Zelda game. There have been calls of late for Nintendo to deliver an HD port of Skyward Sword to the Switch, sans motion controls. I’m playing through Skyward Sword now and I’m here to tell you: that’s impossible. The entire game is designed around the Wii Motion Plus’s 1-to-1 motion controls, from interaction with keys, to swimming and flying around Hyrule, to combat with both dungeon masters and bokoblins alike. Remastering the game without motion controls would be like remastering Twilight Princess without the wolf sections: Nintendo may as well make a whole new game instead. The Switch’s Joy-Cons have motion control baked in, but are they capable of Wii Motion Plus-levels of movement mimicry? The Switch has no sensor bar; does that mean Wii-style gaming is impossible, or can the Joy-Con’s IR camera replicate the Wiimote/sensor bar relationship? Well, I’ll tell you: I don’t know. What I DO know is that Skyward Sword is the one 3D Zelda that may not be able to follow Nintendo consoles through iteration after iteration. If you haven’t played it, play it now, before you can’t.

2.) Star Fox GuardStar Fox Zero‘s awkward controls were the result of Nintendo tasking Shigeru Miyamoto with designing games to justify the GamePad’s existence, and that is a terrible place to begin designing art from. Zero‘s biggest problem was simple: you don’t take an arcade-style shooter and make controlling it MORE complicated, which is exactly what controlling your Arwing’s targeting reticle through the GamePad’s second screen did. Star Fox Zero, though, was just one of the games Miyamoto-san came up with for the GamePad. One of the others eventually became Star Fox Guard, a security-camera simulator that tasks the player with protecting a mining facility from attacking robots. On the TV are the feeds from the complex’s twelve security cameras: the large primary feed ringed by the other smaller feeds. On the GamePad screen is an overhead radar map of the facility, and the player uses this to control which camera’s feed is primary and to keep an eye on which class of robots are heading into the facility from which direction, as well as to reposition and refocus the cameras. It’s a multi-tasking action game that keeps the player swiveling their head from the camera feed to the radar map, but unlike many of Wii U’s split-focus games, it actually works. Star Fox Guard is well worth your time; it’s like Five Nights at Freddy’s, but with no cheap jump scares and with actual gameplay. If that doesn’t sell you on it, nothing will.

3.) Affordable Space Adventures – Along with ZombiU (now available on PS4 and XB1) and Super Mario Maker (now on 3DS), KnapNok’s blackly comic space exploration title, where the player steps into the shoes of an unseen tourist whose vacation has gone horribly awry, boasts some of the best usage of the Wii U’s GamePad to be implemented over the course of the console’s short life. Affordable Space Adventures sets the player off to explore a not-so-friendly (and not-as-advertised) alien landscape in a small, unarmed spacecraft that has, just before the start of the game, survived a crash landing. The GamePad plays the role of the craft’s engineering console, and as systems self-repair and come online, the player (or players; ASA supports up to three-player co-op) must manage engines and sensor arrays and other systems, powering them up and down as necessary to avoid confrontation for the alien inhabitants and weaponry that will destroy your craft in an instant should they detect its presence. It’s reminiscent of the old Rare designed NES game Solar Jetman (except ASA isn’t completely impossible) with the borrowed atmosphere of an HD side-scrolling Metroid… a beast that still inexplicably doesn’t exist. Affordable Space Adventures simply would not work on any other currently existing console, and it can be played over the course of two or three sessions. If you haven’t indulged yet, do so now or forever hold your peace.

4.) Splatoon‘s Single Player CampaignSplatoon‘s bread and butter is Turf War and its other multi-player arenas, and that’s an experience that’s going to transfer over to the Switch’s Splatoon 2. Splatoon 2 will also feature a single player campaign, but… if you’ve not played Splatoon‘s single player campaign, you should stop everything and do so now. Look: the campaign itself is a lot of fun. As others have said, it feels a little like a hybrid between Super Marios Galaxy and Sunshine. The reason that you simply must play through Splatoon‘s single player campaign before saying sayonara to Wii U is this: the final boss battle against the leader of the game’s enemy Octarians, DJ Octavio, is one of the best boss battles ever designed. It is lengthy and challenging but never feels impossible. It was one of the more satisfying boss-fighting experiences I’ve had in a very long time, and while a Switch port of Splatoon is more than possible (Splatoon 2‘s existence proves the franchise isn’t second-screen reliant), it’s not worth the risk. Go fight this fight before Wii U says goodbye for good.

So if you haven’t already, these are four of the Wii/Wii U titles you should play before you make the switch to Switch. Also: I’m already tired of Switch puns.

Of Myths and Midna

 

Today I would like to offer a service to the befuddled casual Zelda fans out there, the ones who are excited to play Breath of the Wild but wonder if they’ll need to be caught up on the story that threads throughout the whole of the series to truly appreciate this new installment in one of gaming’s longest-running franchises. Here’s the short answer to that question: no, of course you won’t, don’t be ridiculous. Breath of the Wild is a Nintendo game, where story always takes a backseat to gameplay. Besides, the long-form “story” that’s told throughout the Zelda franchise is a befuddling mess, and the full series timeline is an afterthought of retconning that Nintendo performed as fan service when they released Skyward Sword for the Wii.

So I’ve no interest in trying to dissect how the Zelda timeline fits together. What I DO have interest in, is the series mythology. Remember: it’s the LEGEND of Zelda. Legends change, passed down from generation to generation, always retaining a few key elements that define them. You want to prepare yourself for the story of Breath of the Wild? Ignore the timeline. Embrace the legend. Learn the mythology.

In order to do that, you need to understand: in the Legend of Zelda franchise, there two types of games. The first type are the ones that deal with the series’ chief mythos, the generations-spanning tale of a struggle for balance and dominance between the Hylian Princess Zelda, the thief Ganondorf, and the hero Link, who are, respectively, the personifications of Wisdom, Power, and Courage. These are the three virtues most favored by the goddesses who created Zelda‘s magical kingdom of Hyrule, and they are the three virtues symbolized in the Triforce, the golden relic (and series MacGuffin) that serves as both trophy and wish-granting genie to whosoever should claim it as a prize. Many of the titles in the franchise focus narratively on the elements of this established mythology.

The other titles in the franchise are about magical dream islands, wind sorcerers, choo-choo trains, a sword that creates three clones of whoever wields it, the worst lunar eclipse ever, etc., etc.

Those games are all well and good… and in many cases, very good. For today’s purposes, though, we shall pretend they do not exist. Presented instead, for your consideration, is a list of the Zelda games one should look to in order to get a firm grasp on the franchise’s mythology as we head into Breath of the Wild.

Let’s begin.

Skyward Sword – This is the game were Nintendo seemed to throw their hands up in the air and say, “All right, we give up, there’s a Zelda timeline. Are you guys happy now?” Well, no, of course not; when are gamers ever happy? Still, in Skyward Sword Nintendo created a game that was the definitive, no-bones-about it origin story of the entire Zelda legend. It starred the first ever Link and Zelda instead of one of the many reincarnated versions of the pair that populate the other games in the franchise, it presented the origin of the Master Sword, it introduced players to the dark energy that will someday empower Ganondorf, it depicted the first steps of the future Hylians out of the clouds and onto the surface of what would soon become their magical kingdom, and… most importantly… it served as the first in-franchise appearance of the Triforce. Remember, we are attempting to catalog the “mythology” games in the Zelda franchise, and in order to determine whether or not a particular game is a mythology game we need only ask one simple question: does the Triforce play a key role? If the answer is yes: mythology. If the answer is no: not mythology. Skyward Sword acts as an origin story for all of the most important elements of the Zelda franchise, including the Triforce. Therefore: mythology.

Ocarina of TimeOcarina of Time is easily the second most important game in the Zelda mythology. As the first released of the 3D Zelda games, it really takes its time unpacking the story of the three goddesses who created Hyrule and the Triforce, and it introduces the franchise’s primary antagonist, the Gerudo thief Ganondorf (who at some point further on down the road will turn into a pig demon named Ganon, naturally.) When Ocarina was initially released, it was also the first time players were really introduced to the trifecta of conflict that defines the Legend of Zelda franchise; namely, Princess Zelda and Link vs. Ganondorf. Yes, yes, our post-truth world likes to dump on Zelda games because of the sexist “save the princess!” motif. I’d like to present two counterpoints to that: first, fairy tales and folklore narrative structure are centuries old. They have always resonated with audiences and there will always be a place for them. There is a way to pay homage to these traditions of the past while still providing a viewpoint for the modern world, though… which, starting with Ocarina of Time, the Zelda franchise does. Link is the player-controlled protagonist of every game, it’s true. But from Ocarina forward, Zelda is presented as his equal in every way, if not his better. In most of her incarnations she is the more powerful of the pair, not to mention (as bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom) the smarter. Zelda and Link teaming up to take on Ganondorf, rather than a knight saving a damsel in distress, is an important part of The Legend of Zelda‘s mythology, and while chronologically on the franchise timeline that dichotomy first occurs in Skyward Sword, as an aspect of series development it began in Ocarina of Time.

A Link to the PastOcarina of Time may have fleshed out the Zelda mythology, but A Link to the Past first suggested it. Yes, The Legend of Zelda and Zelda 2 both technically dealt with the Triforce, but they both had little to no actual story aside from, “Get the Triforce and save the princess. Aaaaand… GO!” A Link to the Past opens with an ancient history lesson about Hyrule and the Triforce. This revealed history more or less fits as a rough outline for the events in Ocarina of Time, which would be released on the Nintendo 64 seven years later. Although the specifics of the official Zelda timeline (which, true story, branches into three alternate realities after the events of Ocarina of Time) are muddy and confusing, and despite the fact that it is the earlier of the two games, A Link to the Past can be played as almost a direct sequel to Ocarina, as the ending of Ocarina of Time leads very neatly into the opening of A Link to the Past.

A Link Between Worlds – And then you can play the game that really WAS designed as a direct sequel. Truthfully, A Link Between Worlds began life as a remake of A Link to the Past, not as the sequel it eventually became, but at some point in development Nintendo said, “Eff it; let’s just make it a new game.” A Link Between World feels like a natural conclusion to a trilogy that also includes Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, and repeats many of the themes of its two predecessors, such as Link’s travels back and forth between Hyrule and a corrupt alternate Hyrule, and the attempts of many of the game’s characters to break the Triforce out of the so-called Sacred Realm or Golden Land (a pocket dimension just to the left of Hyrule, sealed shut by the Master Sword, in which the Triforce is held.) It also fleshes out the lore of the Dark World first introduced in A Link to the Past, giving it a name (Lorule) and it’s own version of the Triforce legend… and if left alone, A Link Between World‘s ending could arguably bring an end to the entire franchise’s timeline. But it won’t be left alone, because people like these games, and so the timeline lurches on, unwieldy beast that it is. Huzzah!

The Legend of Zelda & Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link – I mentioned these earlier. The first two Zelda games laid the groundwork upon which the entirety of the franchise mythology has been built. Link, Zelda, Ganon, Hyrule, and the Triforces of Wisdom and Power, and then in Zelda 2, Courage: all are present, but only on a very basic level. Link exists only as a player avatar, Princess Zelda and the Triforce exist only as goals to attain, Hyrule only exists as an arena within which the game is played, and Ganon only exists so there is an enemy to defeat. So while Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 act as the birthplace for many of the most important elements of the franchise mythology, neither game does very much to grow the mythology beyond, “Here’s what this series is going to be about.” Which is, admittedly, a pretty important thing.

Twilight PrincessTwilight Princess is an odd bird. It tells a fairly self-contained story, and is a fairly traditional Zelda-mythology tale, but it introduces a few new, one-time players into the mix in the impish Midna and the Twilight King, Zant, both residents of the other-dimensional Twilight. Truthfully, when you take a step back you realize that the rough story of Twilight Princess unfolds in a fashion very similar to the story in A Link to the Past (done up in the graphical style of a Resident Evil game, of all things.) This is how legends work, truth told: similar stories told over and over, with new flavors added for a new audience’s enjoyment. I’m going to share a secret with you, gentle reader: human beings claim to want brand new stories told to them, but that’s a lie. What we as a species prefer are the same stories told to us in new ways. Twilight Princess is, at its core, a classic Zelda tale of light against dark and the trifecta of the Triforce, but it has been given a coat of fright make-up and the three-dimensional treatment. Also, you get to play as a wolf, so that’s fun.

The Wind Waker The Wind Waker might be the most unique of the Zelda mythology tales, and it’s not because of the cel-shaded graphics… or at least, not entirely. The sailing element is the big difference, of course, and traversing across an ocean-bound island kingdom is certainly going to lend itself to a different sort of story than padding across a traditional land-locked Hyrule. In Wind Waker, though, the “other” world is Hyrule itself, now a preserved ghost kingdom hidden at the bottom of the ocean. The stained glass windows and statues littered throughout the abandoned Hyrule castle tell the story of Ocarina of Time, so if Ocarina, Link to the Past, and Link Between Worlds function as a trilogy, The Wind Waker serves as a reboot of the Zelda mythology… or perhaps it’s the cherry on top. By the very end of The Wind Waker, the book has been closed on the land of Hyrule, and Wind Waker leads into two direct sequels of its own, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, two games that continue the story of The Wind Waker while establishing the mythology of NEW Hyrule, with nary a Ganondorf or Triforce to be found.

In closing…  The mythology of The Legend of Zelda is bookended nicely by Skyward Sword, where Hyrule begins, and The Wind Waker, where Hyrule ends. True, this line of thinking runs contrary to the three-pronged Zelda timeline Nintendo has established, but that hardly matters. Legends exist to be retold, bent, and twisted, the narrative loose so long as the mythos remains, relatively speaking. The tapestry of Hylian mythology is weaved through this small handful of game, which in a series of eighteen titles numbers only eight. Breath of the Wild will likely be the ninth, so if you want to get yourself ready for mighty number nine, focus on Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, and The Wind Waker (Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 are optional.) That’s it and that’s all… or, if you like, you can play the game where Link has to collect magical musical instruments to learn how to play “The Ballad of the Windfish” so he can crack the giant egg that sits atop Koholint Island.

You know what? For the time being, stick to the mythology.

Hyrule On My Mind

This isn’t a Zelda blog, I swear. It really isn’t. It’s an all-around Nintendo blog. It’s not for reviews, it’s not for reviews, it’s not for Let’s Plays… it’s for, you know, essays on the all-around Nintendo experience over the past thirty years.

That said… we’re less than a month away from Breath of the Wild, and over the next few weeks there’s going to be a lot of Zelda-themed shenanigans going on in this space. It stands to reason, I suppose. The Legend of Zelda is my favorite franchise, the biggest Zelda game since Ocarina of Time is about to drop, I have a cat named Zelda (true story), and I’ve spent the past year playing through all of the 3D Zelda games, not to mention a handful of the 2D games (The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda 2… which I FINALLY BEAT. I should write about that…) So, yes, I’m going to be jotting down a bunch of words about The Legend of Zelda over the course of the next couple of weeks. Some my planned posts include:

  • A look at which games one should play, and in which order, if one was to attempt to play through the franchise’s core mythology.
  • The top ten bosses in 3D Zelda games.
  • My attempt at scientifically determining which of the 3D games is the best, and which is the worst.
  • Some musings on what it was like to FINALLY beat Zelda 2. (See? I’m gonna write about that.)
  • Presumably some stuff about how awesome Breath of the Wild is.

And so on, and so forth. Once I get through all of that, however, and once I’m finished with Breath of the Wild, I’d expect to have a very long Zelda drought. I’ve spent the past year-ish playing through eight Zelda games, after all. I think after I’m done with Breath of the Wild, I’m going to need a breather.

Also, I refuse to play through the three Game Boy Color games. They’re awful.

… I should write about that.

Featured image original link: http://carrotpixel64.deviantart.com/art/Hyrule-Field-HD-435505706

The Cost of Heroism

Fire Emblem Heroes has landed on mobile devices, and I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news, console gaming fans: the mobile gamers have won.

They’ve won this particular battle, anyway, and let me explain what I mean by that (though some of you have already guessed). Fire Emblem Heroes is the second pure video game experience developed by Nintendo for mobile devices after Super Mario Run, and if the review trends on the iOS App Store are any indication (SMR has not yet hit Android devices) Fire Emblem Heroes is the bigger hit… for a very specific reason.

Super Mario Run, the tap-and-jump Super Mario auto-runner that puts a surprisingly deep spin on traditional Super Mario platforming, represented a line in the sand drawn by Nintendo. As has been well documented, Super Mario Run offered its first three levels for free. After completing those levels, users could then choose to pay a one-time “premium” price of $9.99 for the full game. That ten spot would be the only fee anyone would ever have to pay for a full (yet simplified) Super Mario experience on their mobile devices.

Customers hated it.

App Store users flooded the Super Mario Run page with negative reviews, and unscientifically speaking, about 200% of those reviews were some version of, “Ten dollars for an iPhone game? NO WAY JOSE!” In their most recent earnings report, Nintendo revealed that only 5% of people who downloaded Super Mario Run ended up paying the ten dollars to upgrade to the premium version, which is about half of what the Big N estimated, but still equals a cool $53 million in U.S. money. Not what they had hoped for, surely, but still: earning $53 million is certainly not anything to sneeze at. (Aside: if you’ve not yet paid the $10 for Super Mario Run, I highly recommend it. It’s my favorite 2D Mario game in quite some time.)

Fire Emblem Heroes has only been out for a few days now, and while raw numbers suggest that not as many users downloaded the app over its first few days as downloaded Pokemon Go! or Super Mario Run, that’s to be expected. Even though I recently declared (and so it has been written, and so it shall be done!) Fire Emblem has graduated to the A-List franchise level among Nintendo properties, let’s get real: Fire Emblem is not Pokemon, and it is not Super Mario. For that reason alone, it is likely to get a greater benefit of the doubt; nowhere near the same amount of hype or buzz comes alongside the first Fire Emblem mobile game as came with the first Super Mario mobile game or the “catch Pokemon in real life!” mobile game.

If the reviews are any indication, though, the REAL benefit of Fire Emblem mobile is that unlike Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem is a legitimate free-to-start experience (Super Mario Run is more of a free-to-sample experience.) I have played several hours of Fire Emblem Heroes by now, and I’ve yet to give Nintendo a single penny. It is a free download, and it is absolutely free to play the game for as long as you want.

So how is it that Fire Emblem Heroes has reportedly already grossed upwards of $3 million over its first few days?

One hyphenate sums it up: micro-transactions. Fire Emblem Heroes allows users to pay real cash for, among other things, “orbs” that can then be used to “summon” a random Fire Emblem hero (wait; do you think that’s where they got the title from?) to join your party of warriors on their quest to who really cares you’re just here to play Nintendo’s version of chess. If you don’t know the Fire Emblem franchise, you know there are dozens and dozens and dozens of potential warriors for you to summon, and you can summon duplicate versions of the same warrior at different power levels that you can then “merge” together (for the cost of more purchasable resources) to form an even MORE powerful version of the same character, and as you progress in the game it takes more “stamina” to participate in battles (fortunately, you can real-world buy a “potion” to “replenish” your “stamina”) and…

You get the point.

Okay, fine, here’s the TL;DR version: Super Mario Run asked players to pay ten dollars once, and mobile gamers lost their minds. Fire Emblem Heroes is one hundred percent designed to nickel-and-dime players well beyond ten dollars, and if the lack of negative reviews is any indication, mobile gamers are totally cool with it.

Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes are both the same thing, in a sense: they are really well-designed though streamlined versions of classic Nintendo franchises. One of them costs a lot of money (for a mobile game) up front, and the other could cost players a lot more money in the long run. It’s early yet, and Fire Emblem Heroes might still fall off a cliff in terms of user numbers, as many mobile games do… but the early consensus is loud and clear:

“Rip us off!” the mobile gamers shouted. “Make us pay forever!” And Nintendo looked at them in disbelief, the same way that the many mobile developers before them looked in disbelief at the howling masses, until finally they shrugged their shoulders and said, “Uh… if that’s what you really want.” The battle is over. The people have spoken. Get your nickels and dimes all lined up and ready to spend. We’ve asked for it.