Tag Archives: nintendo 64

Do We Really Want a Nintendo 64 Classic?

N64-20th-anniversary-625x352You’ve probably heard by now about the SNES Classic coming later this month. If you’re even remotely interested in owning one, you’re also either happy you have a pre-order, concerned your pre-order could be cancelled at any moment, or absolutely furious that you couldn’t secure a pre-order. The NES Classic released in 2016 was notoriously difficult to obtain before being abruptly cancelled all together after just a few months of shipments. As a result, demand for the SNES Classic is at an absurd level as fans who want one are worried about having to pay the ridiculous scalper rates on eBay or else risk never getting one.

Wal-Mart was the first to release pre-orders for the SNES Classic in late July, only for the company to pull an “oops” and say they didn’t mean to release them when they did. All of those happy gamers who secured one that evening (they went live online at around 11 PM EST) were crushed when the company cancelled all of the orders. Things were quiet until the wee morning hours on August 22nd when Best Buy released pre-orders on their website. Amazon followed, but rather than post them on the placeholder page for the product, the company created a new listing and anyone that had signed up for alerts through Amazon or third party sites weren’t notified. That didn’t stop them from selling out in mere minutes. Later that morning, the other retailers went live and they too sold out in minutes. GameStop opened up pre-orders for instore customers only setting off a mad dash to all of the retail outlets. Many secured their orders, and many more were turned away. Eventually GameStop, as well as its sister site Think Geek, offered up expensive bundles for pre-order. Even though they were loaded with crap no one likely wanted and were thus much more expensive, those too sold out. Lastly, Wal-Mart released a few more pre-orders in the evening hours of the 25th, since then it’s been dry with pre-orders likely done.

If you did not get a pre-order then you’re likely holding out hope for release date, but getting one then will likely require hours camped outside a store hoping there will be enough for everyone in line. Toys R Us elected not to do pre-orders of any kind so they’ll likely have the most supply on September 29th. The other big box retailers are expected to have some as well, but no one is releasing numbers at this time and likely won’t until the 28th, if at all. Wal-Mart recently cancelled several pre-orders made by people attempting to order more than one device, so there’s perhaps a sliver of hope they’ll release a few more pre-orders, or perhaps they’ll just include those items previously spoken for in the launch day release. Amazon will likely do what it did with the NES Classic and reserve the bulk of its units for its Prime Now delivery service. It’s few brick and mortar locations may have some as well. And if you’re in New York City, the Nintendo Store will have probably the most SNES Classics in one place. Like Toys R Us, the Nintendo Store did not do any pre-orders.

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This goofy three-handled controller is possibly the determining factor on if we get a N64 Classic.

And all of this madness is to secure a plug and play gaming device that has 21 games built into it, 20 of which have been available in various forms for 20 years. It’s easy to be dismissive of the device as a gimmick, but if you’re a gamer it’s hard to argue that the SNES Classic isn’t going to be a pretty great way to experience some of the best video games ever made, which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s a limited release. Simply put, this is Nintendo’s fault. They’re making a device that people want and there’s great demand for, but they’re creating this scarcity by intentionally only offering it for a limited time. They’re emboldening scalpers and retailers like GameStop that will jack up the price for their fans, and it’s not as if Nintendo profits off of any of that. Nintendo could likely manufacture twice the amount of SNES Classics it plans to release and still guarantee itself a sell-through. There’s no reason to have even stopped production on the NES Classic! People want it, so why won’t Nintendo make it?

Naturally, as consumers prepare for the launch of the SNES Classic many are wondering what will follow it. Does Nintendo continue along with these mini retro machines? One would assume a mini Nintendo 64 would be next. The technology in the NES Classic is rumored to be powerful enough to handle Gamecube titles, so it’s not a question of if it can be done, it’s will it? And more importantly, as consumers do we want it?

Nintendo could continue making retro machines that aren’t the N64. A retro GameBoy that is both portable but can plug into a television is possible. Perhaps the screen would be too expensive to keep the current price point, though if the screen were the equal of the original GameBoy I can’t imagine it would be that expensive. Nintendo could release a Super GameBoy edition of the SNES Mini to get around that. Still, the most likely is a mini N64, but it too presents challenges. The NES and SNES controller is pretty simple and cheap to produce, but the N64 controller is more complex and likely more expensive to manufacture, especially if one wants to include rumble. And the software is a bit murkier as well. Game development windows were growing wider come the era of the N64 and fewer first party titles were available. After all, there was only one Mario game made for the N64. Rare, at the time a second-party developer for Nintendo, made a lot of the most popular titles for the N64 and the royalties may be a bit complicated concerning sales of the N64 Mini. Still, I suppose we should speculate on what would be included before getting dismissive. The SNES Mini has 21 games, 20 of which were previously released. The N64 Classic would likely have fewer, so for the sake of simplicity let’s speculate on 15.

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  1. Super Mario 64 – obviously. A launch title and the one everyone was talking about in 1996.
  2. The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time – one of the most beloved games of all time.
  3. The Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask – the NES Classic included both Zelda and Zelda II, so it’s likely the N64 Classic would include its two Zelda titles as well.
  4. Mario Kart 64 – another no-brainer. Many people still consider this the best in the series. They’re crazy, but it’s certainly a beloved classic.
  5. Paper Mario – the unofficial sequel to Super Mario RPG, an underrated classic, by Mario standards.
  6. Mario Party – I don’t think much of this series, but it’s been a big seller for Nintendo and it all started on the N64.
  7. Donkey Kong 64 – a Rare developed titled, but it’s Donkey Kong so they kind of have to include it.
  8. Super Smash Bros. – the one that started it all
  9. Wave Race 64 – a Nintendo developed racing title. It’s fine, but it was pretty popular at the time so it likely gets included.
  10. Kirby 64 – it’s not a great game, like most Kirby titles, but it’s also not a bad one. Nintendo likes to push Kirby (the SNES Classic has two Kirby games!) so it probably gets included.
  11. Pokemon Snap – in case you haven’t heard, these pocket monsters are pretty popular. Snap is a better game than it has any right to be, though few would miss it if Nintendo left it off.
  12. 1080 Snowboarding – it’s a Nintendo produced title so that gives it a leg-up on other titles. It’s a fine snowboarding game, if you like snowboarding games.
  13. Excitebike 64 –  a call-back to an original NES game? Seems like it would be included for that reason alone.
  14. Star Fox 64 – another obvious one to include. Probably the best game in the series (unless Star Fox 2 is a lot better than the leaks make it out to be).
  15. F-Zero X – it’s not a particularly good game, in my opinion, but since F-Zero is included on the SNES Classic I would guess it would be included here.
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It’s worth mentioning, despite how unlikely it is to be included.

Other titles worthy of consideration:

Yoshi’s Story – it’s not a good game, but it stars a prominent Nintendo character.

Dr. Mario 64 – Dr. Mario was included on the NES Classic, that’s pretty much the only reason to include it here though.

Banjo-Kazooie – the Banjo games were really popular on the N64, so they feel like they should be included, but Rare owns the characters and DK 64 is essentially the same game.

Pokemon Puzzle League – it’s Tetris Attack but with Pokemon. It’s an excellent puzzle game, but Nintendo left Tetris Attack off of the SNES Classic so they may do it again here. The Super Famicom Classic will have Tetris Attack, so maybe Japanese gamers would get it. I’d personally take this over Pokemon Snap any day of the week, but it’s just my gut telling me that Snap is more likely.

Blast Corps –  a pretty fun Nintendo/Rare game that probably should be included, but probably won’t be.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day – I probably don’t need to explain why this won’t be included, but it’s the best thing Rare ever did with the 3D platformer genre.

GoldenEye – it’s a beloved game for the N64, and it recently turned 20, but licensing issues will keep it, and it’s spiritual sequel Perfect Dark, off of any N64 Classic (though if an exception were made this is the game Nintendo would make one for).

Pilotwings 64 – certainly worthy of inclusion, but Nintendo didn’t see fit to include the original on the SNES Classic so it doesn’t bode well for the sequel.

Mario Golf/Mario Tennis – these are solid games, and would stand a chance at inclusion if Nintendo felt it needed a sports title to round out the mix.

WWF No Mercy – I just felt it merited discussion since it and the other THQ wrestling games were so popular, but licensing issues would keep it out

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A N64 Classic would be a great excuse to revisit this little gem.

After running through the games, I’m actually slightly more optimistic at the prospect of it. Nintendo published a lot of worthwhile software, more than I remembered, to easily ignore the holes left by third parties on the N64. While it’s crazy to exclude Capcom and Konami after both had such a large presence on the NES and SNES Classic, neither company really did much on the N64 that warrants inclusion. If Nintendo wants to completely ignore the contributions of Rare it probably could, though it would feel a bit dishonest since Rare came up huge for the N64.

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You kind of need to be able to have 4-player play, right?

Still, it begs the question, do I want nintendo to put out a Nintendo 64 Classic Edition? It’s not just about the games, wanting one also means dealing with intentional scarcity likely to follow. It also probably means paying a higher price. The NES Classic was $60, and the SNES Classic is $80, the N64 Classic could command $100. And unlike the other two, the N64 Classic practically requires four controllers to truly replicate the experience and spare controllers for the NES Classic were the only things harder to find than the NES Classic itself! Could Nintendo package it with four controllers to help soften the $100 price point? Maybe, but if those controllers are expensive to produce then it may not be possible. And do we really want to spend $100 or more on a mini N64? An actual one with multiple controllers would run you about the same and those cartridges aren’t super scarce and quite durable. It’s certainly not the nostalgia boner the NES and SNES induce. So really – I don’t know. I look at that list of games, factor in the cost and aggravation, and I really don’t get the same sense of want that the SNES Classic gives me. Part of that is just that the games from the N64 era haven’t aged particularly well, so my desire to revisit them isn’t particularly strong. On the other hand, I know me and I tend to want what’s new and what’s popular where games are concerned so there’s a good chance I’d try to get one. Unlike with the SNES Classic though, I don’t think I’d go above and beyond to secure one. I need the SNES Classic (obviously I don’t, but the level of want I’m experiencing feels like need) and will get one no matter what, but I could probably go without a Nintendo 64 Classic and not feel too bad about it.

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Ranking the Zelda Games – The Top 4

5caa2739-c222-443c-8d6a-dff6048064c4We’re down to the top four in our rankings for the best games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. As far as climaxes go, this one is probably fairly anti-climactic as there’s a pretty clear top two in this series that the majority of gamers agree on. Though, as these games collectively get older there is undoubtedly more affection for the more recent games as suddenly a title like The Wind Waker is a normal gateway for players in their teens and twenties. Nostalgia always plays a role in a subjective exercise such as this one, though I sincerely feel these four games are the most dense and most fun Zelda experiences that Nintendo has put out. And I’m also not beholden to them. I really hope the next game in the series dethrones our champ, or at least forces its way into the conversation. Time will tell.

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Link’s Awakening is the rare Gameboy game to utilize cut scenes.

4. Link’s Awakening (Gameboy 1993) – Of the three titles I’m going to highlight in this post, Link’s Awakening is probably the one with the least tenable hold on the number three spot and the most fluid of the titles. I mentioned it in part two, but games six through three are really interchangeable. The order isn’t that important, but I chose to put Link’s Awakening in the three spot because it’s a very unique entry in the series, an important one, and it’s also a damn good game. Link’s Awakening is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, which is probably why the cover art is almost indistinguishable from that of A Link to the Past. When it first came out, I actually thought it was just a Gameboy port, but I of course found out I was mistaken. It’s the first portable entry in the series and is quite easily the best game released for the Gameboy, and it’s color edition is the best on the Gameboy Color, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. It laid the groundwork for all of the portable Zelda titles to follow establishing certain trends like the ability for Link to jump and equip any combination of any two items he wishes. Want to walk around with bombs and the bow? Go for it! You don’t need to just carry sword and shield everywhere. It also features a totally offbeat approach to world-building. This game is pretty wacky, and of particular delight are the numerous cameos from characters common in the Super Mario universe, in particular the US edition of Super Mario Bros. 2. There’s a lot of genuinely funny dialogue and the plot is very care-free and loose. The Gameboy hardware has some obvious limitations when it comes to handling a Zelda title, but it’s surprisingly capable here. The only aspect of the game where the hardware limitations persist is really in the two-button control setup. It does become rather tedious switching between items constantly. There’s no shortcut to do so forcing the player to pause the action and access the items from the game’s menu. It’s an inconvenience, but a necessary evil. That’s really the game’s only negative for me. It’s challenging, provides a lot of replay, and is pretty unique among the other games in the series. If you never played it, it’s available on the Virtual Console. Go for the DX version as it’s in color and has a bonus dungeon. It’s truly one of the best Zelda titles around.

BreathoftheWildFinalCover3. Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)

The newest entry in the series has forced me to update these rankings. What was once a post about the top three, is now about the top four, and Breath of the Wild has forced itself into the top three, nearly top two. What made me rank it behind Ocarina of Time? Well, I think start to finish Ocarina is just a little more fun. It’s the perfect Zelda experience, but in 3D. – finding dungeons, collecting new gear, defeating Ganon. Breath of the Wild ditches that old formula in favor of a more relaxed approach that leans heavily on its vast map. It’s a phenomenal game and that approach may lead to a newer, and better, standard for the Zelda franchise, but right now it feels like it’s just scratched the surface of what makes an open world game so special. If you want more thoughts from me on Breath of the Wild, I made a nearly 4,000 word post on the subject right here.

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Hyrule may not look as good now as it did then, but many games from this era have aged worse.

2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 1998)  – Ocarina of Time has become perhaps the defining, and most popular, game in The Legend of Zelda series. Its use of three-dimensional polygons makes it modern, and since the game is almost twenty years old it’s become a popular introduction for many gamers to the franchise. It’s also a well-crafted, expertly paced, and visually impressive title for its era which has since been improved upon with a 3DS re-release.

Let’s go back to the mid 90’s for a minute and reminisce about the era defined by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. There was a battle for supremacy between those two consoles, and poor old Sega was left behind in the dust thanks to the Saturn. When Sega created the Saturn, they foolishly decided not to make the system natively capable of 3D graphics (it had no geometric processor and achieved 3D with the use of 2D sprites). It was a puzzling move since Sega had been at the forefront with such technology with titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. The Saturn was built to be a 2D powerhouse, and it was as it was the only title that could probably handle the Marvel VS series. Since it couldn’t do great 3D, consumers and game developers largely ignored it leaving Sony and Nintendo to duke it out for console supremacy. And when it came to 3D titles, Nintendo had an advantage with its more powerful hardware and analog control stick which Sony had to add years later. In this era, many popular 2D titles tried to make the move to 3D and fell hard. Eight and sixteen bit legends like Castlevania and Mega Man just couldn’t cut it in 3D, but Nintendo had great success with its properties. It started with Super Mario 64, one of the most well-received games in history, and it continued with Zelda.

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These guys were freaking terrifying in 1998.

Nintendo’s solution to making Zelda work in this new environment was to move the camera behind Link. The toughest challenge with any 3D game is the camera and getting it to be in the most optimal position, especially when negotiating jumps. Nintendo, realizing Zelda was never about platforming, decided to institute an auto-jump feature for Link. To attack enemies, the Z-trigger was used as a lock on mechanism where pressing the button would cause Link to lock onto an enemy. This was called Z-targeting, and once Link engaged an enemy no other enemies would pester him. As such, the combat was essentially a series of one on one affairs. While locked on, Link’s controls changed slightly allowing him to dodge left and right and hop away and towards enemies. This approach was called context sensitive actions, and it applied mostly to the A button on the N64 controller which was used for almost every action in the game. This all sounds elementary to anyone who grew up with the game, but at the time this was the kind of thing that stumped developers, but Nintendo figured it out.

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Another one of Ocarina of Time’s popular additions:  fishing.

Ocarina of Time’s defining trait, aside from the whole 3D thing, was the ability of Link to move back and forth through time. In the present he was just a kid, but in the alternate, dystopian future (does any other type of future exist in games?) he was an adult. The game didn’t require too much back and forth which helped keep it from getting stale. It also featured one of the better plots for a Zelda game that even saw the titular princess get her hands dirty. It introduced Ganondorf, the humanoid version of main villain Ganon, and even gave him a pretty interesting backstory. Gorons and Zoras also became more fleshed-out in Ocarina of Time and have largely remained unchanged since. The game has been so popular and so successful that every console edition of Zelda has basically played the same. That’s somewhat a weakness for newer games, but for Ocarina of Time I hardly consider it a weakness. Like the original Legend of Zelda, the game’s only real weakness is that it was limited by the technology of the time. The open fields of Hyrule are sparsely populated and pretty boring by today’s standards and it’s a damn shame the game was on a cartridge and not a CD as the score is too good for such compression. That’s all fairly trivial though. I’d tell you to go out and play the game if you haven’t already, but you probably already have numerous times.

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This world still looks beautiful to me.

1.A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo Japan 1991/North America 1992) – In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising A Link to the Past wasn’t titled Super Legend of Zelda, following basically every other naming convention of the time. It may not have received such a lazy title, but in many ways A Link to the Past is simply Super Zelda, because it feels like the game the original Legend of Zelda was trying to be. Not only does it look and sound much better, but it’s huge, boasting more items, more dungeons, and two whole maps! The Legend of Zelda felt like a beast of a game when it came out, and it’s crazy that in a relative short amount of time it could be bested and improved upon so completely. It makes me miss the days of old when a new console was clearly a new, and more powerful, entity.

A Link to the Past basically added everything that has become standard to the Zelda franchise. Running, tossing items, changing worlds, ocarinas, you name it – A Link to the Past has got it. The game also features a tighter narrative so gone are those cryptic messages and random puzzle switches. It might not be as hard, as a result, but it also isn’t an easy game. Be prepared to die and hear that horrid beeping sound when low on health as you try to make your way to the next dungeon. The path isn’t always clear, making the game feel like a true puzzle at times. Remember the shock of going to The Dark World for the first time and finding Link transformed into a rabbit? Or pulling the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time? A Link to the Past is full of classic moments and classic sounds. The score is legendary now and is probably still the best of the series, even if it’s not as grand in scope as the more recent entries due to limitations of the time. It’s also no less fun to play. I challenge anyone to play this game for an hour and not have a good time.

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One of the game’s many boss encounters.

A Link to the Past arrived early in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t a launch title, but gamers only had to wait about a year for it. And since the console launched with Super Mario World they had plenty of time to kill before Zelda dropped. It was a must have title when it did, and my friends that got the game first became very popular overnight. Playing through it and completing it felt like a serious accomplishment, because games just weren’t routinely this big at the time. The same phenomenon would repeat itself with Final Fantasy II and III. It wasn’t that games like this were overly difficult, they just felt like serious tests of endurance. In truth, they just highlighted how much time average gamers spent playing video games. We probably spent as much time on Super Mario Bros. 3, we just weren’t as aware of it.

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Atta boy, Link!

A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game because almost everything in it has been carried over into the games that have followed it, even more than twenty years later. It also holds up in every respect. It may not be in 3D, but it’s still easy on the eyes and possesses a lot of visual charm. I already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, and it’s suitably challenging and a bunch of fun to play. If I had to find a fault with it then I’d say its storyline isn’t very compelling, but that can be said of just about every Nintendo first-party title. They’re not storytellers at Nintendo, just game makers, and with A Link to the Past they may have created the greatest game ever made.


Ranking the Zelda Games Part 2

images-223Part 2 of this ranking feature for the games in the Legend of Zelda series should be less controversial than Part 1. Hopefully that doesn’t make it boring because we are just about at that point with this list where I’m splitting hairs. It’s probably not really a spoiler to say that the top 2 Zelda games are not really in question, and I think for many, the order is mostly agreed upon. I also think the next two games on our list are pretty clearly inferior to what follows, though some of that does depend on what your appetite for retro gaming is (suffice to say, if you were born sometime after 1990 the order of the following games is probably different from mine). Let’s move along though to take a look at these prestigious games which made it deep into the top ten.

67651-legend_of_zelda_the_-_oracle_of_seasons_usa-68. Oracle of Seasons (Gameboy Color 2001) – The sister title to Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages, has already appeared on this list. Seasons was to be the more action-oriented of the two titles, but it’s still a Zelda game and isn’t really lacking for puzzles. It’s a more balanced title that manages to challenge the mind just as well as one’s ability to wield an in-game sword. The gimmick here is obviously the seasons, as indicated by the title. Early on Link acquires the Rod of Seasons that he can use to change the season of the screen he is on. Each screen has a default setting that it will reset to once the player exits it. As far as gimmicks go, it isn’t too bad, but it is rather limited in terms of puzzle application. It’s often easy to see what needs to be done to reach a certain area or acquire a certain item and it’s mostly a matter of time when the player will acquire a dungeon item or open a new path to clear the way. It’s a fine entry in the Zelda series, but it’s lack of diversity and a missing ingredient or two keep it from being among the franchise’s best.

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If Link doesn’t take care of business this creepy ass moon is going to kill everybody. 

7. Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64 2000) – Released two years after Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask has the distinction of being one of the few direct sequels in the Zelda series. It plays more like a companion piece than a full-fledged entry in the main canon, making it similar to the majority of the handhelds in that respect. And like the handhelds, it’s gameplay is driven by another gimmick, but this time the gimmick is pretty interesting. Majora’s Mask takes place over the course of three in-game days as the moon is on a collision course with earth thanks to the actions of the Skull Kid, who has stolen the magical artifact Majora’s Mask. As Link, the player sets out to acquire other powerful masks that enable Link to change form in order to progress further into the game. Using the Ocarina of Time, Link is able to continuously reset time to avoid disaster while keeping the items he’s obtained along the way. Essentially, this means that as the player you’re constantly in a race against the clock to advance the plot as far as possible before having to reset everything and do it again. It’s a clever idea, but it naturally overstays its welcome towards the end of the game. The game takes place in Termina, as opposed to Hyrule, necessitating a new, but less interesting, setting. And even though it’s in Termina, expect to encounter the same types of characters that Link did in Ocarina of Time. Thankfully, the game is shorter than its predecessor, otherwise the time-rewind function would really get old, but it still offers a pretty meaty experience. The game was remade and released on the 3DS in 2015, much like Ocarina of Time, and that edition is probably better than the original, but mostly just because it’s nicer to look at.

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Link is able to get flat in this one and it’s a gimmick that actually works fairly well.

6. A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS 2013) – The next three games on this list I consider pretty fluid. I could have ordered them in any way and it probably would have pleased me, and that’s because they’re all great, but are just missing a little something which keeps them out of the top three. For number six, I’m going with the most recent game in the main series, A Link Between Worlds. Like Majora’s Mask and The Adventure of Link, A Link Between Worlds is a direct sequel to another game in the series. In this case, that game is the SNES classic A Link to the Past. If you’re a Zelda fan, then you know that makes this the only game in the series to be a sequel of a game that already has a sequel. That’s because Link’s Awakening also takes place after A Link to the Past. I have no idea how this one relates to Link’s Awakening, but since the plot of that game is basically a dream I suppose it doesn’t matter. A Link Between Worlds is both helped and hindered by its predecessor. It borrows heavily from A Link to the Past, and if you’re going to borrow heavily from a game it might as well be one of the greatest ever made. It’s main difference is in the item system. Instead of entering dungeons and uncovering a new item, they’re all made available early from a merchant to rent. The idea seems to be that the player would be exchanging items here and there with the merchant, but since they’re not very expensive and rupees are never that hard to come by in a Zelda game, most gamers probably rented them all at once fairly early in the adventure. So while the game does rightly attempt to change things up a bit, it’s mostly for naught. There’s another parallel world for Link to enter, Lorule (get it?), which is very reminiscent of the Dark World from the first game. Link also has the new ability to become a painting on the wall to access normally inaccessible areas. As far as Zelda gimmicks go, this one is solid as it’s not overly intrusive and does lend itself fairly well to puzzle solving. The game is a joy to play and it’s only major flaw is the difficulty. This is the only Zelda title I’ve ever played start to finish where I didn’t die once. I don’t need it to be as hard as The Adventure of Link, but I would like some challenge. There’s also really no point in the game’s progression that will tempt you to reach for a strategy guide or wiki, making it feel like a light, breezy, Zelda adventure.

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The color palette in this one is so earthy. Everything looks dusty/dirty. It reminds me of Resident Evil, believe it or not.

5. Twilight Princess (Nintendo Wii/Gamecube 2006) – During the press tour for Wind Waker, Nintendo assured those gamers irritated with the design choices made for that game that a more traditional, mature looking Zelda game was in development and would be released in the same console life cycle. As such, Twilight Princess feels like Nintendo’s reaction to the backlash they received for Toon Link. The game is visually dark and strikes a somber tone. Zelda herself is portrayed as a sad and somewhat tragic figure and the Twilight Princess hinted at by the game’s title is even more so. Link is his usual stoic self, but even he seems to sport a permanent scowl on his face and the moments where he appears to experience any semblance of joy are few and far between. Twilight Princess was developed on the Gamecube, but first released as a Wii launch title with some motion controls tacked on. They’re not overly intrusive, but only the aiming mechanic offered by the Wii-mote would be considered an improvement over a traditional control scheme. As such, most seem to consider the Gamecube version superior. The game largely plays like the previous 3D titles with the game’s Z-targeting combat system once again limiting Link to only one-on-one encounters. With Ocarina of Time, that went almost unnoticed at the time, but by now it was an obvious limitation of the Zelda style. Of course, the main difference between Twilight Princess and other Zelda titles is Wolf Link. When Link enters the Twilight Realm (yet another dark, parallel world to Hyrule) he takes the form of a wolf. As a wolf, Link can track enemies with his potent sniffer and tap into some twilight powers to kill Shadows. He is accompanied by Midna, a sort of cat like being that doubles as this game’s version of Navi. She’s just as intrusive, but I found her less annoying for the simple reason that she has a personality. And she’s not nearly as bad as that wretched sidekick in Skyward Sword. Twilight Princess is an appropriately grand adventure and another quality entry in the Zelda series. It’s main failing, aside from wolf Link being surprisingly uninteresting to play as, is that it feels far too familiar. Twilight Princess is to Ocarina of Time what The Force Awakens is to Star Wars. It’s very similar to Ocarina, almost to the point of deja vu. It even has a fishing hole with mostly the same challenges and goals of the one from Ocarina. It has a lot of the same themes for its temples, most of the same items, and so on. Had it come before Ocarina of Time, it’s possible it would be considered the better of the two, depending on how much you like or dislike the wolf and the Twilight Realm.

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Bosses were a lot smaller back then.

4. The Legend of Zelda (NES 1986) – Just outside of the top three is the one that started it all. It’s hard to explain to someone who didn’t experience this one in 1986 just how different an experience it was from other games. It’s a game design so perfect that it remains largely unchanged thirty years later. It’s rather incredible just how playable this game still is, and just how much fun it remains to be. It’s main difference from the modern games is mostly just how cryptic it is. It’s pretty clear where the game wants to send you in virtually every other Zelda game except this one. Here you’re just dropped into the fray and told to go beat the game. There’s a few hints along the way, if you happen to uncover them, and if you read the instruction booklet you get a few more, but that’s it. Word of mouth, and eventually Nintendo Power, was the way to beat this game back in the day as there was always a friend with an older brother, cousin, or cousin’s cousin that knew how to get into Level 6 or whatever. The game manages to be cryptic without being unfairly so, for the most part. There is one part where you have to find a specific bush and use a specific item on it that is pretty ridiculous, but it’s not on Simon’s Quest level. The combat is generally the same as the top-down Zelda titles that followed, but harder because all of the other enemies seem to be able to move much faster than Link. Some of the boss fights are so well constructed that Nintendo has returned to them over and over again. Really, if you grew up with one of the later Zelda titles being your gateway to the series then you owe it to yourself to go back and give this one a try. Once you get past the crude visuals and accustomed to how the game handles you’ll probably find yourself enjoying it quite a bit. The game is readily available as a downloadable title on basically every modern Nintendo device and will also be included with the NES Mini this fall. I’m obviously ranking this one somewhat on a scale to place it so high and affording it some deference for how important it is to the franchise and gaming as a whole, but I also genuinely love the game. I’ve returned to it over the years more than once, which is something I haven’t done for every game I’ve ranked behind this one (but something I have done for the ones ahead of it) which is a testament to its quality and its longevity. It’s really one of the greatest of all time.

 


The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time (1998)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

I never set out to make an entry on all of these Zelda titles, it just sort of happened.  It’s basically the end result of me not having any new titles to play on my portable gaming devices so I’ve revisited some classics.  I’ve already made entries on the first two Zelda titles, so naturally I should make one for the third game in the series:  A Link to the Past.  But wait!  This isn’t an entry on A Link to the Past, but the next game in the series (for home consoles):  Ocarina of Time.  That’s because I can’t play A Link to the Past on my 3DS (though I could have dusted off the old Gameboy Advance, I suppose) and never played the 3DS version of the Ocarina of Time:  Master Quest.  I played thru the normal quest on the 3DS version when it was released in 2011, and I have played the Nintendo 64 version (on a Gamecube) of the Master Quest as well, so this was far from a new experience.  And since the original version and the 3DS remake are largely the same, this can be considered an entry on both.

Ocarina of Time is considered by many to be the best in the series.  It’s usually a debate between that and A Link to the Past with the sides mostly split on age lines.  People who were introduced to the Zelda franchise during its formative years will mostly lean towards A Link to the Past, while those introduced to the franchise via Ocarina of Time naturally are slanted towards that.  And even though the two may not look all that similar, the core experience is very much the same between the two.  The player controls Link who must battle thru various dungeons collecting useful tools and items along the way.  There’s lots of wandering, conversing with non-player characters, and general adventure along the way.  The player also isn’t expected to just hack and slash their way to the end as there are lots of puzzles to challenge and frustrate as well.  Regardless of what position you may take on which game is superior, know that both are excellent and enjoyable games that should be experienced by all serious gamers.

The Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time 3D (2011)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (2011)

Ocarina of Time is regarded as a near perfect gaming experience, so if you’re expecting this to be a contrarian take, look elsewhere.  And while it does earn its reputation, it also has its share of flaws.  This game is nearly 15 years old, which blows my mind.  There are many games of that age that are still considered an excellent experience today, but naturally some things age less gracefully than others.  Ocarina of Time is perhaps most notable for being Link’s first foray into the world of 3D.  Transitioning from 2D to 3D is a challenge and it’s one that has stymied other famous franchises of the same era.  While Mario was able to adapt, gaming’s other titan of the 16-bit era, Sonic, still struggles with it to this day.  Both of those characters were transitioning from side-scrollers to the 3D platform genre, while Link had the benefit of moving from that top-down perspective of the first and third Zelda titles which is actually a much easier transition.  Both Mario and Sonic were expected to jump and navigate various platforms in their games, while Link didn’t have that expectation.  Because of that, Nintendo didn’t even see fit to provide a jump button in Ocarina of Time; Link just does it automatically when he needs to.  Instead of the camera being positioned directly above Link, it’s moved behind him but still retains a high angle in many sections of the game.  Where age starts to rear its ugly head is with this camera.

The camera is often the make or break portion of any game from the late 90’s.  It still can be problematic in modern games but it seems to happen far less.  For Ocarina of Time, Nintendo opted to not give the player total control of the camera as some games do.  The players has one camera button at his or her disposal which automatically centers the camera behind Link in most cases.  There’s also the Z-Targeting lock-on button that fixes the camera on an enemy and puts Link into a sort of battle mode.  This works fine in open spaces, but some of the dungeons in the game can get cramped and in those areas the player is often left to battle the camera.  There’s one section in the game that has Link in a maze trying to avoid sentries like one Solid Snake.  This moment is brief in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still an utter failure of game design that feels shoe-horned into the experience.  The camera is very limited and almost stuck to Link’s back.  Trying to peer around a corner is cumbersome and, if you’re like me, you’ll probably just say “screw it” and plow ahead.  The automatic jump can also be a problem at times.  I do appreciate that Nintendo did not want to turn Link into Mario and have him bounce all over the place, but not giving the player control over that aspect of the character does create a disconnect of sorts.  I can’t think of any other way to describe it other than it just feels weird.  It also creates the problem of Link jumping to his death on occasion by accident (usually brought on by shoddy camera work).  In many games where jumping is relegated to a button press, simply running off a ledge causes the character to fall and grab onto the ledge.  When approaching a ledge very slowly and carefully in Ocarina of Time, the same is true, but give Link any kind of speed and he takes a leap of faith no matter what lies below.

A nice comparison shot of the two versions.

A nice comparison shot of the two versions.

Another flaw, I suppose, resides with the lock-on system and enemy AI.  When Link is locked onto an enemy all other enemies around him will back off making the game a series of one-on-one contests.  This is obviously something that was implemented deliberately by Nintendo, but it’s still kind of odd.  Though I suppose it’s no less odd than turn-based battles in role-playing games.  A lot of the dungeons are also fairly clever.  They make it obvious to the player where to go, but leave it up to the player to figure out how to get there.  There are moments though where I felt cheated and the only way to progress is to strike an object that 99% of the time has no function.  This forces the player to resort to smacking everything and anything with Link’s sword at times.  There are also a few boss encounters that rely on magic power or a specific disposable item, and if you run out, you’re out of luck and either have to reset or let the enemy kill you.  And then there’s Navi.  Oh, how I despise Navi.  Navi is this little fairy that accompanies Link and is supposed to give him advice when needed.  She’s also a targeting reticule and a means of selecting which enemy to combat.  She’s also incredibly annoying.  I hate her existence.  She’s insulting as her primary function is to state the obvious, as if Nintendo didn’t think we were capable of getting thru this game on our own.  If you try to run off and do side quests, expect to be interrupted by Navi every ten minutes or so to remind you to head to the game’s next dungeon.  And each time she does you get to hear this annoying, high-pitched voice shout “Hey!”  In the 3DS version she’s even worse as she’ll pop in to tell you to take a break if you’ve been playing for long stretches.  She doesn’t seem to recognize when the system goes into sleep mode so you may actually have only been playing for a few minutes before she starts barking.  Nintendo, all too often, pulls crap like this with its games and it drives me nuts that features like Navi can’t be toggled on and off.

Young Link in the 3DS version.

Young Link in the 3DS version.

Those are my main sources of irritation when it comes to Ocarina of Time, the rest of the game is pretty awesome, to put it simply.  Yes, there’s still some age-related items in terms of the game’s presentation and mechanics.  Link certainly doesn’t handle as smoothly as more modern titles.  He can feel a bit stiff, and combat is mostly a hack and slash affair, but it gets the job done and is easily forgiven.  The visuals on the Nintendo 64 version have not aged gracefully, but are not horrid either.  The 3DS is a noticeable improvement here as it ups the visual quality to something akin to an early generation Gamecube title.  It won’t knock your socks off, and Hyrule still seems woefully underpopulated, but it’s far better than the original.  A lot of the enemies Link will encounter are lifted from the older games and it’s fun to see them presented here.  The iron knuckles are most intimating now, and the poes possess a lot of character.  The stalfos, one of the easier enemies in prior games, are far more challenging this time around and more menacing too.

A lot of the fun experienced in a Zelda game comes from the items and power-ups Link acquires over the course of his adventure.  Many make their return in Ocarina of Time and are engaging in this new 3D world.  Link can now toss bombs and even lock onto enemies when doing so.  The hookshot doesn’t just allow him to get over gaps in the area but turns him into an elven Spider-Man of sorts!  The hammer also takes on new meaning as it’s basically a giant cavalry hammer, though I feel like it’s underutilized in Ocarina of Time.  Some of the items are only usable by child Link, and others by adult Link. The boomerang is one such item, but there’s always an item that levels the playing field.  In this case, the hookshot used by adult Link can stun enemies and retrieve certain items just like the boomerang.  The ocarina is, naturally, an important item in the game and it allows Link to play songs.  A majority of these songs function as a quick travel feature and transport Link to another area.  Others are used for puzzles.  The mechanic worked so well that it’s basically been included in some form in all of the games to follow.

Ocarina of Time marked the debut of Epona, Link's trusty stead.

Ocarina of Time marked the debut of Epona, Link’s trusty stead.

As was the case with the previous titles, the game is somewhat light on plot.  It’s fairly straight-forward but there is a story present with the best portion of it devoted to giving the antagonist, Ganondorf, a backstory.  The inclusion of time travel is kind of neat but not really fully utilized as the game basically exists in two parts, the young Link portion and the adult Link portion.  There’s only one dungeon that requires the player to tackle it with both Links and only a few instances of Link doing something in the past to affect something in the future.  Link’s method of time travel is a bit cumbersome, so I suppose it’s a good thing the game doesn’t require the player to constantly travel back and forth, but I do feel like it could have been exploited further.  Boss battles are usually rewarding, but not often challenging.  There’s often a specific way to defeat each boss, and once the player figures it out, it becomes easy.  I’d be hard-pressed to pick out the most challenging boss as few stand out in that regard, though the most interesting boss encounter may belong to Phantom Ganon of the Forest Temple.

Even though the boss fights aren’t all that challenging, the game does present a challenge elsewhere.  The traditional quest is fairly painless, but the Master Quest ups the ante by making enemies much stronger.  This kind of slants the game a little as it becomes much harder early on when Link only has a small amount of hearts.  Once that’s built up it basically normalizes.  The only other changes with the Master Quest involve the dungeons being mirrored which does kind of throw you off but is easy to adapt to.  The gold skultulas are also harder to find but the heart pieces remain in the same locations.  The 3DS version takes the mirroring concept one step further and turns the whole game into a mirror-mode of the original quest.  I actually found that harder to adapt to than the dungeons as Hyrule Field is now flipped over so what was once east is now west.  Link’s handedness even changes from being a southpaw to a righty in the Master Quest.

Link and Sheik enjoying a jam session.

Link and Sheik enjoying a jam session.

Aside from the Master Quest and visual upgrade, the 3DS version does present some other modifications to the original game.  Most notable is the use of the touch screen for items.  Items can be mapped to the face buttons as well as two additional touch “buttons” which prove useful for certain types of items.  This also reduces the clutter on the top screen as Link’s health and magic is kept on the bottom screen.  There some drawbacks to the 3DS version though, such as the cramped space.  Z-Targeting is now L-Targeting and it can get awkward due to the dimensions of the 3DS.  Tight quarters also tend to feel even more claustrophobic on the 3DS screen and the gyro-controls for first-person view and aiming is just a so-so addition to the game.  The ending credits do have an updated song that’s fully orchestrated (something the N64 was incapable of capturing) which was a nice surprise upon completion.  All in all, if you’re looking to play this game for the first time there’s no obviously better version.  I would probably just go with whatever is easier to obtain, or if you know you want to play this primarily in front of your television, the original is more than sufficient.  You could also look up gameplay on a video sharing sight to decide if the visuals are a big enough reason to select one over the other.  And I guess if you love the whole 3D thing, that’s a factor too (I played the game in its entirety with the 3D feature turned off).

Ocarina of Time, no matter how or when you choose to experience it, is an excellent gameplay experience.  It holds up remarkably well, not just when age is considered, but just in how easy it is to come back to.  I’m mostly a one and done kind of gamer, meaning I beat a game once and that’s enough for me.  With Ocarina of Time, I’ve played thru and beaten it multiple times and each time the journey is an enjoyable one.  My only real concern with the game is for people who have never played it.  They may approach it thinking it’s a perfect game, but it’s not.  The game had some flaws when it was released in 1998 and some other flaws have been exposed due to age.  No one should approach any game expecting perfection though as there is no such game, just as there is no perfect movie or perfect book.  Our opinions and tastes are too broad as a people to ever declare any one game perfect.  We can only apply such absolutes in the broadest of strokes and at the highest categorical level:  Food is great.  Oxygen is excellent.  Zelda is fantastic.  Yeah, that sounds about right.