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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BreathoftheWildFinalCoverIt has taken me quite a few months, but I’m finally ready to offer up my full thoughts on the latest entry in The Legend of Zelda series:  Breath of the Wild. I first wrote about it as part of my initial thoughts on the Nintendo Switch. I was able to secure a unit at launch and naturally Zelda was the title I paired with it. Since its release, Breath of the Wild has been almost universally praised as not just one of the best titles in the series but as one of the greatest video games ever made. Currently it ranks fourth all time on game rankings.com, right in between Grand Theft Auto IV and Super Mario Galaxy 2 with an aggregate score of 97.28%. On metaritic.com, the game is in a massive tie for 6th all-time with a score of 97. The highest score of all time just happens to be 99, held by The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time.

The Zelda series is accustomed to tremendous accolades upon release. In some ways it’s Nintendo’s most pure franchise. While Mario will dabble in virtually every genre imaginable, the Zelda franchise is content to largely remain the same with some tweaks here and there. I’ve argued the franchise was starting become stale because of its reliance on its classic formula. The last main entry on a home console, Skyward Sword, was the tipping point for me as I found the game to be an un-fun chore that drew out the worst in the franchise. Perhaps Nintendo felt some of that as well as Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda title on a home console since maybe Zelda II to really try and break the mold.

As some have pointed out, part of what makes Breath of the Wild feel so fresh for the franchise in 2017 is an approach to the gameplay that’s reminiscent of the very first title in the series. In The Legend of Zelda, the player is dropped into the world with very little direction on what to do. There’s a cave immediately in front of the player’s character inhabited by the famous old man who bestows upon the player the sword they’ll most likely need to get their quest underway. After that, it’s basically figure it out, kid. Breath of the Wild begins with Link awakening in a cave. He’s an amnesiac with no knowledge of why he’s there. He’s immediately given the Skeikah Slate, a device that bares an uncanny resembled to the Wii U’s Gamepad that will play a pivotal role in the journey to come. Aside from that, Link merely possesses some ragged clothes and a voice in his head. That voice belongs to the princess Zelda, and she’ll urge Link to leave the cave and stop Calamity Ganon, who has overrun Hyrule Castle and imprisoned the princess 100 years ago.

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If the world looks big it’s because it is.

As is the case with most Zelda titles, plot isn’t always important. When Link emerges from that cave the game’s primary objective is clear, but overcoming it is not. An old man emerges to act as a bit of a guide in the game’s earliest portion. He’ll introduce Link to the towers that dot the landscape. Climbing them allows Link to download a map of the surrounding area to his Sheikah Slate (similar to the map function of Assassin’s Creed) and survey the land for shrines. The first part of the game takes place on a giant plateau that Link cannot leave. There are four shrines on this plateau Link must visit before departing. Each shrine contains a new function for his slate, and these new powers are what Link will rely on to complete his quest.

The shrines are not quite the dungeon replacement some though they would be. The shrines are mostly small areas that are puzzle driven and each one typically utilizes one of the powers of the Sheikah Slate. Those powers are:  remote bombs, cryonis, stasis, and magnesis. The remote bombs are straight-forward and reminiscent of the bombs in virtually all Zelda games. There are two shapes for the bombs:  rectangular and spherical. These bombs can be placed one each at a time and then detonated remotely. There’s a cool-down meter after each detonation to prevent spamming of the bombs and they’re about as useful as bombs usually are. The cryonis ability is mostly limited to being useful in the game’s early going. The ability allows Link to create up to three ice pillars on the surface of the water. Early in the game when Link’s stamina is low, this ability comes in handy to traverse large bodies of water he wouldn’t have the stamina to swim across. It also can be used to lift floating objects, such as a wooden treasure chest, out of the water by creating a pillar beneath the item. Stasis allows Link to freeze an object in time. When the object is frozen, Link can smash it repeatedly which stores potential energy in the object that will be unleashed all at once as kinetic energy once the stasis wares off. This allows Link to move heavy objects he can’t pick up. Later, it can even be upgraded to work on organic objects like enemies, which comes in handy for really tough enemies like the Lynels. Magnesis basically turns Link into a lesser version of Marvel’s Magneto as he can magnetically move and manipulate metal objects. He can’t, unfortunately, use the ability on himself or something he’s directly standing on for flight (though if you stack two metal objects on each other you can kind of create a rudimentary flying machine). This ability has pretty obvious uses and is probably overall the most useful ability Link acquires.

Zelda-and-Link

The game tries to inject some true emotion into the plot, but it’s not all that successful.

Unlike past Zelda games, those core four abilities are pretty much it for Link as far as acquiring new abilities is concerned. There are no main dungeons to conquer containing a new permanent item, which is probably the most radical departure. Instead, Link can acquire equipment constantly throughout his journey. Armor is the only permanent equipment Link can acquire and he does so through conventional means such as buying it or by finding it in hidden treasures and shrines. Armor typically comes in sets with a head, torso, and leg component. Often these bestow abilities upon Link aside from just damage resistance and they can be upgraded at Great Fairy Fountains a maximum of four times each. Typically an armor set allows Link to resist elemental damage or move stealthily. Some of it is also just to look neat. Link’s offensive equipment, and shields, all have a durability score and will eventually break. Link is not a blacksmith and cannot repair his equipment, nor can seemingly anyone in all of Hyrule so once it breaks it’s gone. There’s basically no point in getting attached to anything. In addition to swords, Link can wield poles, axes, hammers, great swords, wands, and bows offering up some distinct combat style approaches. The only problem with that is that most gamers will naturally prefer one over the other, but sometimes all you have is one weapon type. Basically every enemy will drop whatever weapon they were using and Link can claim it, so weapons are easy to find, but good ones are not. There is, of course, a version of the Master Sword in this game. It too can break, but unlike the other items, once it breaks it just needs to recharge so at least you don’t have to go back and find it.

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The lumbering Hinox has one very obvious weak point.

As I mentioned before, the shrines are a main focus of this game though completing them all is not necessary to beat it. Once you leave the game’s first area, The Great Plateau, you’re actually free to beat the game whenever you wish. Completing all 120 shrines obviously is a help as each one gives Link a shrine sphere and those spheres are how Link expands both his maximum health and stamina. Health is self-explanatory, but stamina is just as vital as it allows Link to run, climb, and glide. Climbing is a huge part of Breath of the Wild as exploration is the name of the game with such a vast map. Link can climb almost any surface, as long as it isn’t raining, and the player is often rewarded for doing so. The map is gigantic, so crossing it on foot would take an extremely long time. When Link completes a shrine, it becomes a fast travel point adding even more of a necessity to find them all. Many are hidden in plain sight from the several great towers dotting the landscape, but several others are well-hidden, some even behind a side quest.  Most are fun, if not all  that challenging. They tend to be puzzle-like in nature, but the kind of puzzle where the objective is clear, but pulling it off is tricky. Some of them are strictly combat shrines where Link has to defeat a certain enemy to clear it. These were my least favorite as the combat never changes, it’s always the same enemy, and there are way too many combat shrines. Three shrines are hidden in large labyrinths which is kind of fun, and one great one exists on an island that setting foot on causes Link to lose all of his equipment. It’s definitely the most inventive out of all 120 of them.

Breath of the Wild subboss guide

The spider-like guardians are probably the best of the new additions to Link’s cast of foes.

Separate from the shrines are the guardian beasts. These four beings are the closest things to dungeons the game has, aside from Hyrule Castle where Ganon resides. They’re colossal mechanical beasts that Link must first gain entry to in some cinematic fashion. Once inside, Link can manipulate the movements of the beast to make certain areas accessible. This is necessary to not only find treasure, but also activate nodes inside the beast to gain entry to the boss. As you may have guessed, these beasts are more puzzling than anything and it’s a test of mind more than a test of strength. Clearing each one gives Link a special ability, some more useful than others, and also weakens Calamity Ganon for Link’s final confrontation. As such, they’re optional, but only by clearing them will you experience the full story. And they’re fun, so why not?

Breath of the Wild’s defining feature is clearly its size. The world is vast and rewarding to explore, even if it’s not as exciting as some other open worlds from other games. There isn’t much civilization for Link to find outside of a few towns, it’s just mostly vast emptiness. Link will encounter a lot of the same enemies throughout his journey, but there are always some super-powered beings lurking here and there. These include the centaur-like Lynels, probably the most challenging foe Link will cross paths with. There’s also large ogre-like beings called a Hinox, and the very durable stone-beasts known as the Talus. While it does get tiring fighting moblins over and over, those three at least liven things up when they’re around. There’s also the guardians which can be pretty challenging at first, though like basically every enemy, once you figure them out they’re not as bad. Combat is largely the same as it has been in all of the 3D Zelda adventures. The notable distinction is that locking onto an enemy doesn’t protect Link from being attacked by other enemies anymore. Well-timed dodges allow for a special follow-up attack which is very useful against tougher enemies, though not essential for clearing the game. All in all, the combat is fine, but it’s definitely one area where Breath of the Wild feels perhaps too familiar as combat sometimes feels like an obstacle to exploration, and not just as a fun game mechanic.

 

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Look at me; I’m Link:  home owner!

Breath of the Wild is unquestionably a great game, but I can’t help but feel that Zelda sometimes gets too much credit for the changes it makes. The open world format is a great addition, but it really shows that this is Nintendo’s first real stab at this type of game. The land is huge, but lacking in variety. Sure there’s your typical layout of snowy landscapes, deserts, and lush forests, but the NPCs don’t bring much life to the scenery. There are not scores of diversions as there are with a Grand Theft Auto game, nor is there the wonder of encountering something really special like there is with an Elder Scrolls game. The game has numerous side quests like most open world games, but they’re painfully boring fetch quests with little or no pay-off. The crafting system is also cumbersome requiring Link to hold the components and then drop them into a pot. The end results aren’t particularly worthwhile either, and I know many people who basically ignored the cooking component in the game all together. Once I saw everything the game had to offer, I basically busied myself farming resources to better my equipment. This meant chasing down the mystical dragons (not as cool as that sounds) and hunting Lynels, the latter of which appear in only certain spots and once killed you need to wait for them to respawn. The whole map gets reset by the moon cycle, a red moon will rise and all defeated enemies rise with it. The sequence is particularly annoying since a cinematic comes along with it that also brings load times.

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The great fairies allow Link to upgrade his armor, as long as he has the necessary components to do so.

The game does boast weather affects and a day/night cycle, like Zelda titles before it. At night is when the skeletal stalfos emerge from the ground and serve as more annoyance than anything. The weather in most parts of the game means very little, but in the desert the nights get extremely cold necessitating Link to wear appropriate clothing or use an elixir to keep warm. And during the day it naturally gets quite hot requiring Link to do the opposite. Lightning storms can pose a problem if Link is wearing anything metallic, and rain is the biggest obstacle of all as slick surfaces are essentially impossible to climb. I mostly like the inclusion of these effects, but the rain one is extremely annoying as if you’re in the middle of scaling a mountain or tower you either have to give up or wait it out, and who plays a video game just to stare at the screen and wait for the rain to go away? In that sense, the rain is a lot like the weapon durability. It’s kind of neat and certainly adds realism, but does it make the game more fun? I don’t think so, and I hope the weapon durability in place here is never repeated. Same for the more realistic approach to horses. In past games Link had Epona who could be summoned when needed, in Breath of the Wild Link has to capture and train horses and stable them at one of the many stables. He can’t though, just call on his horse whenever he wants which, for me, resulted in me basically ignoring the horse component of the game. On the plus side, Link can ride bears and deer, which is kind of fun.

Technically, this version of Breath of the Wild is essentially a port. The game was developed for the Wii U and ported to the Switch for a simultaneous release on both platforms. As a result, the game looks like a Wii U game and it even possesses a few relics of bygone eras. I can’t recall the last time I played a game with this much pop-in as the game sometimes struggles to populate areas, especially when gliding. Frame-rate drops are frequent, those most noticeable when the Switch is docked, and there are a lot of vast open areas to likely limit the strain on the processor. Artistically speaking, the game is nice to look at and is similar in style to Skyward Sword. Voice acting has been introduced, but only sparingly and Link is still mute. What’s there seems fine to me, but I know some have been very critical of the voice acting. The music, often a major component of Zelda games, has been de-emphaiszed as well. I assume it was a style choice to emphasize how large the world is and how alone Link is, but I’ve also seen a few complaints in this regard. I for one was fine with that aspect of the game. As for the final dungeon and battle with Ganon, I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s thankfully not a re-tread battle. While not the best, I found it satisfactory, if a bit on the easy side. Hyrule Castle, on the other hand, is pretty fun to explore. The only drawback is that it does make me wish the game had more dungeons like it, instead of just the one.

On the Switch, I mostly played the game in portable form. Playing it docked with a pro controller is probably a slightly better experience, but being able to just play it off TV is too convenient for me at this stage of my life. As a portable, it’s not the greatest as open world games tend to want to demand at least an hour, if not more, per session so playing in 20-30 minute bursts during a commute isn’t very rewarding. The game does allow you to save whenever you want and the Switch seems pretty good at conserving battery life when in sleep mode. I could basically get a little over 2 hours out of the console in handheld mode before needing to charge it. The back of the system does get pretty hot though after just a half hour, but so far I’ve seen no signs of over-heating. The game does offer gyro-scoping controls for aiming the bow and looking through a scope, which I find cumbersome in handheld mode. Disengaging the two joycons does minimize this, and even comes in handy for a couple of gyro-puzzles as you can move the controller while keeping the screen stationary. Doing those puzzles any other way is practically impossible.

Breath of the Wild Best Recipes Header

Cooking is part of the game, though not a particularly fun or essential part.

Criticisms aside, Breath of the Wild is one of the best Zelda games made and it feels like the most important since Ocarina of Time. Many reviewers rushed to give it a perfect score when it was released alongside the Switch, but I think the extra months have given me some clarity. It’s by no means a perfect game, and some of the changes made to the old Zelda formula are not for the better, but the overall product is still excellent. After playing Breath of the Wild I can say i never want Zelda to not be an open world experience. I never want a map to be smaller than what is here. What I do want though is more dungeons, refined combat that is actually fun, and for some of those old items to return. This game badly misses the hookshot which could have made mountain climbing more tolerable, especially in the rain, and some more inventive enemies would really add to the wonder of the experience. And while I never expect much from the storyline of a Nintendo game, I do still want the ultimate goal to be something more imaginative than simply saving the princess from the bad guy. Calamity Ganon is a step back for the Ganon character as he’s just an ancient evil in this world who exists to cause destruction. Though really, all he did was take over the castle and unleash his incompetent minions across Hyrule. The towns and villages seem fine, and I bet they don’t miss those expensive Hylian taxes! Seriously though, this is a game that’s not to be missed. If you have a Switch, you don’t need me to tell you to buy it because you already have. If you have a Wii U, but no Switch, I don’t think you need to wait for a Switch to experience it since it’s a port. And if you’re on the fence about getting either of those consoles, I can say this game is probably worth it, but it’s totally understandable to wait for the Switch’s library to expand or for the Wii U’s price to come crashing down further. I’ve also updated my Zelda rankings to include this game, and I do think it’s one of the best in the series, just don’t expect perfection when you go to play it or else you may be setting yourself up for some mild disappointment. Hopefully Breath of the Wild is the game we look back on as Nintendo’s baby steps into the open world genre that was but a precursor of the greatness that was yet to come.

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

images-194One of the greatest games of all time has to be The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo.  Following the misstep that was Zelda II:  The Adventure of Link, Nintendo put out what I consider the true sequel to the original Zelda.  A Link to the Past took the gameplay model established in the original game and expanded upon it tenfold.  A parallel world, new items and power-ups, a much better and more powerful gameplay engine.  Simply put, A Link to the Past was Zelda perfected and no title in the franchise has exceeded it, though some have come close.  As is the case with most Zelda games, A Link to the Past did not have a direct sequel (unless you count Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy) and subsequent games in the franchise basically function as a retelling of the Zelda legend.  That is, until now, with the release of A Link Between Worlds last fall for the 3DS.  Creating a direct sequel now for A Link to the Past could be viewed as an immense challenge on the part of Nintendo, or a sign that the company is running out of ideas and looking to cash-in on a classic game.  As far as I’m concerned, an all new Zelda title for the 3DS is a good thing regardless of what ties it has to other games, but I won’t deny it tickled me to go back to the Hyrule I knew over twenty years ago.

As best as I can tell, A Link Between Worlds takes place generations after the events of A Link to the Past.  The map layout is the same though and fans of the old game should feel right at home in this one.  Plot wise, it’s basically tried and true Zelda:  an evil wizard kidnaps the princess and wreaks havoc across the land and only Link can reunite the three components of the triforce and save the day.  Replacing the dark world from the first game is Lorule, an alternate Hyrule that uses a similar color palette to the familiar dark world but is broken apart with large chasms sealing off routes.  The game is quite pleasing to the eyes without being a graphical powerhouse.  Character and enemy designs from A Link to the Past are recreated here with more detail and more color.  The soundtrack is upbeat containing many familiar tunes as well as some new compositions.  It often suits the setting exceptionally well, and rarely ever does a Zelda soundtrack disappoint.

Link's newest ability allows him to become a painting on a wall and move around on it.

Link’s newest ability allows him to become a painting on a wall and move around on it.

A Link Between Worlds not only looks familiar, but also plays familiar.  Link obtains most of the items from the first game with really only one or two new ones playing any kind of significant role.  Link is controlled with the circle pad this time around instead of a directional pad, which is to be expected and functions fine, though I did find it challenging to be precise with projectile weapons, something I don’t remember being a problem in A Link to the Past.  There’s some emphasis placed on the early dungeons to show multiple levels at once for Link to traverse, presumably to take advantage of the 3D, but is mostly abandoned quickly.  I did not play the game in 3D, but I suppose it’s fine for those who like it.  As one can probably deduce from that statement, there are no 3D-specific puzzles in this game such as the ones found in Super Mario 3D Land that force the player to switch on the function, which is fine by me.

Where A Link Between Worlds looks to separate itself from other Zelda titles is with the merge ability Link acquires early in the game.  Merge allows Link to become a painting and move along walls.  He can go behind some objects this way or slip through cracks and around corners, as well as apply the power in other creative ways.  It did take me some getting used to, but overall I found it to be an enjoyable addition to the game and one of the better gimmicks to be featured in a Zelda game.  Utilizing the power is easy, but it does take some time to get one’s brain trained in a way to make use of it.  There were a few times I was stumped on how to reach a treasure chest or other location only to realize the solution was pretty obvious once my mind caught up and applied the merge ability correctly.  Aside from that, most of the other challenges and puzzles should feel familiar to Zelda veterans as they’ll know when to use the hookshot or drop a bomb.

Veterans of A Link to the Past should feel right at home here.

Veterans of A Link to the Past should feel right at home here.

The setup for A Link Between Worlds is basically identical to A Link to the Past.  The game starts off in Hyrule with Link having to make his way through three early dungeons before a confrontation at Hyrule Castle opens up a path to Lorule.  Link is able to traverse worlds via fissures that appear in walls and various structures that require him to merge with the surface and slide in.  As these fissures are found, they’ll appear on the map permanently and some areas are only reachable by exploiting them.  Surprisingly, only one dungeon requires the player to bounce between worlds which is something I thought would be exploited further.

The other heavily advertised feature of A Link Between Worlds is the non-linear nature of the game’s dungeons.  Once the player reaches Lorule, they can conquer the dungeons in any order they wish (save for one, which requires an item obtained from beating another) before heading off to Lorule Castle for the final battle.  This feature is enabled by having all of the traditional Zelda items available to Link from the get-go.  Very early in the game, a merchant by the name of Ravio opens up shop in Link’s house.  Here Link can rent any item for a small fee and hang onto it until he falls in battle.  Link can rent as many items as are available, so if the player enters a dungeon that requires the ice rod, for example, the player can simply go rent it if he hasn’t already.  Most players, myself included, will probably rent every item right away and risk having to rent them all again should a game over screen rear its ugly head.  Making the game non-linear in this way is kind of fun, but does lessen the reward for getting through a dungeon.  Each one still has something for the player to find, but not really on the same level as the usual.  It would have been nice if Nintendo added more items to the game for players to find to make-up for this, but oh well.

Many of the game's bosses feel familiar too.

Many of the game’s bosses feel familiar too.

A Link Between Worlds has one other distinguishing feature when compared with its predecessor:  it’s exceptionally easy.  Aside from Zelda II, no Zelda title really has a reputation for being a hard game, but most of them are challenging and have at least one dungeon that sends gamers running to the nearest FAQ.  A Link Between Worlds contains no such dungeons and most Zelda veterans will never see a game over screen when playing it.  I do not consider myself an exceptional gamer, but I did not die once while playing this game.  In addition to that, I had no trouble finding every heart piece, each of the lost maimais (little squid-crab hybrids hidden around Hyrule and Lorule), or toppling the game’s gauntlet scenario twice.  The dungeon puzzles are clever at times, but aren’t likely to leave gamers stumped for any significant length of time.  As for the enemies, I think many are made easier this time around because just about all of them can be taken down with the sword.  Even some enemies from A Link to the Past, such as those statues with a central eye, that required a certain item to fell can be taken down with the sword.  It’s also the type of game that starts off harder than it finishes, mostly because adding hearts remedies any challenging enemies or bosses weak.  Most of the bosses also are retreads of past ones, so there’s less trial and error.  Also making every item available at the start contributes to an easier game.  All of them consume stamina when used, which regenerates over a short period of time, so players can spam the powerful fire rod if they so desire and most enemies are susceptible to the freezing powers of the boomerang and hookshot (and if they aren’t, there’s the ice rod).

Difficulty issues aside, A Link Between Worlds is an enjoyable Zelda title that I was sad to see end.  It’s about as long as most handheld Zelda titles.  Playing at a very deliberate pace and obtaining all items, chests, and so on, the game lasted exactly 20 hours and 2 minutes for me according to the logs on my 3DS.  It was a fairly swift 20 hours with most of the game’s dungeons lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour at most.  A lot of my time was spent roaming Hyrule and Lorule and at least an hour was spent on the Octorok baseball mini-game.  Once the game is finished a harder hero mode becomes available.  I haven’t tried it, but apparently the only difference between that and the regular game is that enemies do more damage, which should help to make the game at least a little more challenging.  If Nintendo set out to eclipse A Link to the Past then it came up short, and from that perspective A Link Between Worlds is a disappointment.  As a Zelda game though, it’s great entertainment and something all 3DS owners should pick up.


The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda series tends to be late to the party when it comes to Nintendo’s newest technology.  The only exceptions I can recall would be A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess.  Twilight Princess should come with an asterisk though considering it was in development as a Gamecube game (and even released on that platform too) before being ported to the Wii to make that system’s launch.  Typically gamers have to wait a couple of years for Link to grace their latest console or handheld.  That was especially the case when it came to the Gameboy Color.  Nintendo, partnered with Capcom, focused on making a set of three games that would take place in the world of Zelda and interact with one another to form one grand adventure.  This would take time, and to placate eager gamers to have a Zelda adventure on the go and in color Nintendo re-released Link’s Awakening with some minor color enhancements and a new dungeon (which took full advantage of the new color palette).   Development was delayed on the series with Capcom, and eventually the three titles became two.  Worse still, they didn’t arrive to market until after the Gameboy Color’s successor hit retail; the Gameboy Advance.  Did this stop people from picking up the old tech?  Of course not, this is Zelda after all, Nintendo’s most consistent franchise.  And for those who upgraded to the Gameboy Advance, the system was backwards compatible so as long as gamers could get passed the fact that they were playing a fairly low tech set of games it was a pretty easy thing to convince them to go out and pick up the latest Zelda titles.

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (2001)

There are exceptions though, and for whatever reason I became one of them.  I was a day one purchaser of a Gameboy Advance and I was eager to upgrade my portable gaming.  I had a Gameboy Color and primarily only used it for Pokemon (I had a copy of Shantae and never got into it, and I ended up trading it in at Gamestop which proved to be a mistake).  After over a decade of playing sub-NES quality games on a Gameboy I, and many others, were more than ready for the GBA.  Plus I knew the eventual A Link to the Past Advance was on the way and figured I’d get my Zelda fix then, so I completely overlooked the two GBC games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.  It took a long while, but finally Nintendo has released both titles on its e-shop and both are playable on the Nintendo 3DS.  A good portion of my summer has been spent on these two titles, and in short, they’re quality Zelda experiences.  You don’t want short though, so feel free to read on for more!

If you’re an owner of a 3DS and are thinking of playing these games I would recommend that you play Link’s Awakening DX first, if you have not done so already.  While the games are not connected in a narrative sense, the three play pretty much identically to one another with the Oracle games feeling like sequels.  I imagine the fact that the groundwork was laid with Link’s Awakening is what allowed Nintendo to feel comfortable about handing the series over to Capcom.  These portable Zelda games all feature diminished visuals when compared to most of the series, with the only exception being the original Legend of Zelda.  Link can have two items equipped at any one time via the A and B buttons, and they can be any two items the player wants making it theoretically possible for Link to go thru the bulk of the game without a sword.  These games also are unique in that they allow Link to jump once a certain item is obtained.  Link could jump in the side-scrolling Adventure of Link, but not in his other top-down adventures.  The portable games also bring back the side-scrolling screens present in the first game often as a basement of sorts throughout the various dungeons.  There are some sequences where Link has to swim and some familiar faces from the mushroom kingdom make appearances.  I actually prefer Link’s Awakening to the Oracle games in large part because of all of the Mario references which just give the game this offbeat feel.  There’s even a sequence where Link needs to take a chain-chomp for a walk.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of.  Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of. Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons distinguish themselves from the prior games with their special items, the harp of ages of rod of seasons, respectively.  In Oracle of Ages, Link is able to use his harp to move thru time.  Early versions of the harp only allow him to do so at certain patches of soil but later versions allow him to move thru time at will.  Since there are only two versions of Labrynna, where the game takes place, it’s bound to evoke a similar feel to the light and dark worlds from A Link to the Past.  As expected, changing things in the past affect the present, which is sort of the nature of the game.  It’s not real specific though, and sometimes the past or present is different from each other seemingly just for sake of it (sometimes a wall is bomb-able in the past, but not the present, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense).  As such, I was actually kind of disappointed with the whole time-traveling aspect of the game and it started to feel like a hassle.  In Oracle of Seasons, Link is able to manipulate the seasons with the rod of seasons.  This has obvious applications such as lakes becoming frozen in winter or dried up in summer.  A weird type of mushroom is only harvestable in the fall, and certain special flowers only bloom in the spring.  Having to cycle thru each season one at a time is a bit of a chore, but overall I felt the application of the seasons worked better than the time-travel in Ages and it also offered a fun visual change as well.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that sections of the overworld map are arbitrarily broken out and are assigned a default season.  This results in the player changing the season on one screen, and then having it switch to another season by going as few as one screen over.  The designers obviously did this to make it easier on them to block off certain sections of the map until Link obtained a certain item, but it feels lazy.

In addition to their gimmick, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are often distinguished by type of gameplay present.  Ages is often described as being the more puzzle-centered game with Seasons being more action-oriented. I found this to mostly be the case, but make no mistake, both are tried and true Zelda experiences.  There are still plenty of enemies to take down in Ages, and there’s also plenty of dungeon puzzles to solve in Seasons.  I expected to enjoy Ages more as I usually like the Zelda puzzles, but I actually ended up preferring Seasons.  The problem I have with Ages is just that a lot of the puzzles felt really drawn out and the constant switching between items (since there are only two action buttons on a GBC, everytime you need to re-assign something you have to go into the menu and do it) could get tiresome.   There are also plenty of “Zelda Puzzles,” which to me mean puzzles with no logical solution that forces the player into trial and error mode.  These types of situations seem to crop in every Zelda title and are often the result of the game just not being consistent.  There was one dungeon where I got stuck for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to get a pot onto a floor switch that needed to be pressed in order to open a door.  I tried all kinds of different things and just couldn’t get it.  Then I just stepped on it with Link and walked off and the door stayed open.  Every other switch in the game necessitates an object being placed on it to keep the door open.  I was so annoyed.   That’s a Zelda puzzle.  There were some of these in Seasons too, but they just felt more prevalent in Ages.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game:  Twinrova.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game: Twinrova.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons share many of the same dungeon items.  Both also have a trading game which leads to an improved sword for Link and both feature seeds.  All around the map are soft patches of soil where Link can plant a seed.  After a certain amount of enemies are slain a tree with a nut will sprout and inside the nut will be an item.  Usually this item is a ring, which is the only equip-able accessory for Link in both games.  They usually add some function or improve another such as Link’s throwing distance or damage output.  They’re not all that essential to the experience, and both games seem to have the same rings.  There’s also a password system that allows players to transport items back and forth between games.  This is the only way to get some traditional Zelda items like the mirror shield and master sword.  These items just make the game easier, and to be honest, they’re easy enough as is, so I never did much with them.  I did take advantage of the game-link where beating one game provides a password for the other game which alters the story.  The story in both games is basically crap, but if you want to face the ultimate boss you have to link the games and it does add a little more fun to the experience.

I’ve been a bit nit-picky with these games, but both are enjoyable and worthwhile entries in the Legend of Zelda series.  If you were to play only one, I would recommend Oracle of Seasons as I found it to be the better overall experience.  One thing I liked about Seasons over Ages is how it’s a total nostalgia trip for gamers who played the original Legend of Zelda.  Oracle of Ages is basically just as good though, and if you can, you really should just play both.  These two games, together with Link’s Awakening, are among the best portable games ever created and are still the best portable Zelda games ahead of The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.  Hopefully, the upcoming A Link Between Worlds is able to give them a run for their money as these games have reigned supreme for long enough.


The Legend of Zelda (The Animated Series)

Title screen from the Zelda cartoon (1989).

Title screen from the Zelda cartoon (1989).

Back in the 1980’s you could not get away from Nintendo.  The Nintendo Entertainment System was flying off store shelves and Super Mario was turned into a household name.  It only made sense that Mario and other Nintendo properties would have a lot of marketing power.  There were toys, pencils, lunch boxes, cereal, soda and so on.  It was Mario Mania!  Not surprisingly, Nintendo licensed the stomper of koopas for television and it wasn’t long before kids were sitting down in front of the tube to watch the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.  Hosted by former WWF personality Captain Lou Albano, as Mario, and Danny Wells (Luigi), the Super Mario Bros. Super Show began with two in a live-action setting before leading into a cartoon.  The live-action segments are probably the best remembered parts of the show because they’re quite absurd by any standard, especially for people who didn’t live through it.  The theme song was also pretty memorable, “The Plumber’s Rap,” and the ending theme “Do the Mario!” has enjoyed a second life on youtube.

The show only ran from September 1989 to December of the same year but since it aired every weekday afternoon it spawned 65 episodes worth of content.  It would be replaced with new Mario cartoons that didn’t feature the live-action segments and were based on later games in the Super Mario Bros. series.  They would be featured with another Nintendo cartoon, Captain N:  The Game Master, as part of the Nintendo Power Hour on Saturday mornings.  Before that though, Mario was on five times a week in live-action form, and four times in cartoon form.  The cartoon was mostly based on the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 but with some differences.  The creators wisely left out the whole vegetable tossing angle in favor of fire flowers and the antagonist of the series was King Bowser Koopa instead of Wart.  It was basically an adventure type of show where Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess Toadstool would travel to different parts of the Mushroom Kingdom while foiling the schemes of Koopa.  There would often be a musical number and many episodes were parodies of popular movies and stories.  It was a very gimmicky show, like a lot of cartoons from that era, and it’s one that really hasn’t aged that well.

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?

Now the show aired five days a week, but the Super Mario Bros. cartoon only aired four days a week.  That’s because every Friday Mario took a day off and made room for another hero:  Link.  Link, of course, is the hero of the Legend of Zelda games who was also pretty popular at that time.  The Zelda cartoon was different in tone from the Mario one.  Yes, it was still geared towards kids but it shunned a lot of the tired chase sequences and movie parodies that were commonplace in the Mario cartoon.  The show revolves around Link, the hero of Hyrule, as he defends the castle and its coveted Triforce of Wisdom from the forces of the evil sorcerer Ganon.  The show is based off of the first Zelda game with some references made to its sequel as well.  Link is pretty clearly modeled after the character illustrations from those booklets and wields the same dinky little sword he has in Zelda II.  Ganon, on the other hand, looks to be more of a concept.  In both games, he’s pictured as a big green/blue pig who does have some magical powers.  In the show, he has more of a wizardly look with an ugly pig-like face.  He’s actually more menacing looking this way, but he’s not going to get in there and mix things up with Link.  He’d rather stand back and let his minions do the fighting, who are not surprisingly incompetent.  He’s in possession of the Triforce of Power (the show makes no mention of the Triforce of Courage) and has an endless supply of Moblins and Stalfos.

Other characters include a fairy named Spryte, who is likely modeled after the generic fairies from the Zelda games.  She is kind of the Tinker Bell to Link’s Pan in that she likes Link, but he only has eyes for the princess Zelda.  Zelda appears in each episode and is portrayed in a way that probably surprised viewers at the time.  Zelda shuns the traditional princess attire and instead sports trousers and tunic much like Link.  She’s not the typical damsel in distress and seems pretty capable of taking care of herself.  She does have a snotty side, and because she’s the target of many of Ganon’s schemes, she does often require saving from her “hero.”

Zelda is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Zelda is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

The portrayal of Link in this series is what many fans dislike about the show most.  Link, in the games, really had no personality.  Even in the modern games, he doesn’t have much of a personality so I don’t know what fans were expecting from the character, it just wasn’t this.  Link is a brash, cocky, and kind of lazy character.  He views his title of “hero” as a job and one that just gets in the way of his pursuit of Zelda.  Not an episode goes by where Link doesn’t beg the princess for a kiss, and because viewers need a reason to tune in, he never gets one.  He’s also been given a catch phrase, “Excuuuuuse me, princess!”  Some day I would like to watch the entire series and count how many times Link says that line (according to Wikipedia, it was 29 times).  The show only produced 13 15-minute Zelda cartoons, but I’m willing to bet that Link easily averaged more than two occurrences of that catch phrase an episode.  Sometimes the line makes sense, and sometimes it’s just shoe-horned into the script.  It even occurs during the opening credits.  Link may have said that stupid line more often than Michelangelo said “Cowabunga” on the TMNT cartoon, on a per episode basis.

Ganon and the two things he covets most.

Ganon and the two things he covets most.

Anyways, that aside, the show is of a better quality than the Mario cartoons, though that isn’t saying much.  In general, each episode features Ganon executing a new plan to capture the Triforce.  Some of these are more clever and entertaining than others.  There’s one where Ganon goes Robin Hood and to sneak into a magic contest, there’s another where a Zelda clone infiltrates Hyrule, and there’s even a frog prince story-line where Link finds himself the victim of a magic spell (and if you’re wondering, no, Zelda doesn’t break the curse with a kiss).  That said, there isn’t anything in the writing to this show that’s going to impress.  It’s pretty standard fare for the period.  One thing I can appreciate though is the attempt of the writers to explain a few loose ends from the video game.  Namely, how can Link carry so much crap around with him?  Apparently, he has a magic pouch that causes items to shrink down to micro size to fit in.  Throughout the series he and Zelda will often pull out items from the games like the boomerang, bow, and bombs.  Other enemies make appearances too like the octoroks and just about every boss character from the original game.  If you’re watching it to spot items from the game, you’ll have some fun with the show.

Animation wise, the show is mostly crap.  It’s not awful to look at but this is a DiC produced show and DiC liked to put out lots of licensed cartoons on the cheap.  They would get a large amount of cartoons made in a short amount of time so that the shows could go direct to syndication and exist for a few years and bounce around several channels.  I think, on average, the animation here is better than what’s in the Mario cartoons but that’s not saying a whole lot.  The audio is okay though and the Zelda theme is used throughout, which doesn’t hurt it.  Link’s voice, when he’s not saying that regrettable line, is all right.  Ganon is voiced by Len Carlson who should be familiar to fans of 80’s and early 90’s cartoons as he got around.  He uses a shrill voice for Ganon that works for this portrayal of the character.  Zelda is voiced by Cynthia Preston and I always enjoyed her voice.  I don’t really know why but I was drawn to it as a kid.  Maybe because Link sexualized her and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing that in other kid shows of the time.

She's such a tease.

She’s such a tease.

The Legend of Zelda cartoon is not something that is remembered because it’s a wonderful companion piece to the video games, it’s remembered for nostalgic purposes only and is a kind of humorous reminder of how games were marketed back in the day.  A lot of fans prefer the Zelda themed episodes of Captain N to this show because Link was more of a hero type in that show than he is here.  That show really isn’t any better on the whole as it was just another marketing tool (and all of these old cartoons are basically shunned by Nintendo today) to move video games.  This isn’t a show that most adults can turn on and digest over an hour as it’s pretty damn bad.  It’s kind of funny to laugh at, and I can say I do enjoy it more than the Mario cartoons, but if I didn’t watch it as a kid there’s no way I’m making it thru more than one episode.  The complete series was released by Shout a few years ago and can probably be had on the cheap for those looking to experience it.  Those that have never seen it would probably be better off just watching some clips on the internet as opposed to spending real money on the series.


The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

It likely comes as no surprise that the author of a blog titled The Nostalgia Spot enjoys playing old games.  I love having old consoles laying around the house, either hooked up to a television set or even just sitting in a closet waiting for a rainy day.  It’s almost a sort of nostalgic high to snap a cartridge into a Sega Genesis or hear that familiar spring when pushing a cart into place on a Nintendo Entertainment System.  Because so many of these systems are existing in a closet or attic, it can be a bit of a chore to relive the old days but thankfully digital distribution is here to make things easier.  Sure, nothing is better than the original experience.  Often times if there’s an old game I feel like I missed out on I’m more apt to find a used copy on the internet than download it.  The one exception is in the portable realm.  Nintendo is one such company that has released a lot of its old titles for download onto portable gaming systems.  I’d actually argue the company hasn’t released enough.  It has a tendency to focus on old portable games when selecting new ones to release and not enough on old NES or SNES games.  A lot of the classics are available though, and that’s why I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with an old favorite recently:  The Legend of Zelda.

I’ve actually had a copy of The Legend of Zelda on my 3DS for awhile now.  I bought the system at launch only for Nintendo to drop the price dramatically not long after due to lackluster sales.  To avoid ticking off the early adopters Nintendo released 20 free games to these “Ambassadors,” as they called them.  They were ten NES games and 10 Gameboy Advance games.  Among those ten was The Legend of Zelda.  Initially these releases were bare-bones lacking some of the features of the typical downloadable games.  As the games were released to the public though, Ambassadors were able to re-download them for free with the save state feature.  The feature is certainly a nice one to have, especially for a game like The Legend of Zelda which popularized the save feature in console games.  The feature was rather crude by today’s standards, but the re-release fixes that and allows the user to save whenever he or she wishes, which is a necessity for gaming on the go.

The boss of the first (and 8th) dungeon is a cake-walk.

The boss of the first (and 8th) dungeon is a cake-walk.

For the most part, I don’t blog about the all-time classic titles, there’s just enough of that stuff all over the web.  Sometimes a game becomes so old though that people tend to forget about just how good it is.  No one I know would say The Legend of Zelda is a bad game, bust most would the caveat that it’s “good for its era.”  That is just not true.  This is a title that does not need to get by on reputation.  Before playing it I had spent a few weeks playing a recent RPG released for the 3DS:  Paper Mario Sticker Star.  The Paper Mario series is a pretty good one, but Sticker Star is not a very good game.  It’s far from awful, but it’s so tedious and needlessly gimmicky that I just found it tiresome.  I saw it thru to the end but really wanted to wash the stink away.  I didn’t have a new game lined up, so I dug into those ambassador titles and settled on The Legend of Zelda.  Now, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to jump right into.  There’s always a bit of a culture shock when going back nearly 30 years with an old game.  That’s when one realizes just how used to today’s comforts they’ve become.  With The Legend of Zelda we’re talking about an early generation NES game.  It’s not even considered good looking for an NES game.  The backgrounds are pretty sparse, all of the dungeons look the same (save for the color), and Link (the protagonist, for those unaware) doesn’t have much personality.  Pretty much the entire plot to the game was contained in the booklet that came with it, so don’t expect much in the presentation department.  This is just a really simple looking game.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the gold NES cart, but fewer are aware that in Japan the game was originally released for the Famicom Disk attachment.  This was never released in other parts of the world, which is what necessitated the inclusion of a battery for saving in the American cart.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the gold NES cart, but fewer are aware that in Japan the game was originally released for the Famicom Disk attachment. This was never released in other parts of the world, which is what necessitated the inclusion of a battery for saving in the American cart.

Despite that though, it really didn’t take me long to get sucked in.  It actually didn’t take me as long as I would have guessed.  Once I got my feet wet and found that first dungeon I was off and running.  Things started coming back to me, I started getting used to how to approach each enemy again, and I started to have fun.  Lots of fun.  This game has no business being this good still.  It’s also crazy how similar it is to every game in the franchise.  It’s easy to forget where the series started when chasing down Ganondorf or watching Link turn into a wolf, but the same basic game design has remained the same since 1986.  It’s funny to me, and a bit misguided, how Nintendo has tried to give gamers a new experience by adding some silly gimmick to recent Zelda titles but has never really attempted to change the experience.  Majora’s Mask is probably the lone exception on console games, while the portable titles have mixed things up to some degree while maintaining a familiar interface.  Though even there, Nintendo has still muddled things with gimmicks like touch controls or trains.  Nintendo consistently fails to realize that it often implements change, like touch controls or the waggle controls on the Wii edition of Twilight Princess, for the sake of doing so and rarely addresses the actual gameplay experience.  Whether gamers are pressing a button or flicking their wrist, they’re still making Link swing a sword.

Tangent aside, it’s actually a great deal of fun to be reminded of where the series started.  I always liked this title back on the NES, and the sequel only reinforced that, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I still like it.  The game probably would be less fun for someone who has never played it.  There are so many little things one has to do to make it thru to the end that the game just doesn’t even clue you in on.  Throughout the game there are these old hermits living in caves that offer advice.  Some of it is cryptic but does have value.  Some of it seems like nonsense, a mistranslation perhaps.  Then there are other secrets that just have no indication whatsoever.  The entrance to Level 8 is one such thing where Link has to burn a random bush on the overworld map.  Most bushes aren’t affected by the candle item Link has to use to burn this one particular bush down, but the player is still expected to figure it out somehow.  I suppose this bush isn’t completely inconspicuous, but others are.  There are a few hidden stores or caves that a player isn’t going to find without help.  And that may have been the idea as there were numerous tip hotlines and the like for games back in the 1980’s.  Nintendo would get in on the action with Nintendo Power though this game arrived before that.  And Zelda games weren’t the only offender, but it’s something that really isn’t heard of in modern games.  We’d consider it poor design.  In other words, if this is your first time playing this game, expect to be in need of a walkthrough at some point.

The ones in blue are a pain to deal with.

The ones in blue are a pain to deal with.

Aside from some confusing moments, the game actually isn’t too difficult provided you know what you’re doing.  If one never upgraded the sword or Link’s armor then the game would get really hard.  I actually got the magic sword one dungeon later than I could have and that last dungeon with the mid-level sword was a bastard.  The game takes some getting used to in order to figure out just how close Link needs to get in order to defeat enemies.  Early on I found myself taking unnecessary hits but once I found my bearings I was okay.  Most of the enemies move faster than Link, and since this was before the invention of his spin attack, it can be challenging to keep them at bay.  The boomerang becomes Link’s best friend and remains so for most of the game as it freezes enemies on contact.  Keeping Link’s health maxed out is also a tremendous asset as that lets him shoot beams out of his sword.  Some enemies though are just plain hard to defeat without taking damage.  The wizrobes are probably the most challenging as they take 3 hits with the magical sword to defeat.  Striking them also doesn’t interrupt their movement or attack, and they can teleport all over the screen.  Needless to say, getting out of a room full of them without taking any damage is a true challenge.  The boss encounters, on the other hand, are all pretty easy as long as you know what you’re doing.  The final boss, Ganon naturally, can only be killed with a silver arrow and it’s entirely possible to reach him without ever finding said arrows making survival an impossibility.

Ultimately, I’m making this entry because I’ve been surprised with how much enjoyment I’ve been able to squeeze out of this title recently.  If you’re a younger gamer who never played the original Legend of Zelda then I suggest you do.  There are many options for playing it in this day and age as it’s been re-released more times than I can remember.  The easiest way to get it is via download from Nintendo and I think it only costs five bucks, but I’m not certain.  This is one title that has withstood the test of time, Zelda II on the other hand…