Final Fantasy Explorers – 3DS

Ex

With this elaborate and detailed box art consisting of…the logo against a white background…you know this is going to be good! No, wait, the other thing. A minimal effort on Square’s part to blandly cash in on the nostalgia that should be driving their major titles.

The Final Fantasy series has always carried a lot of charm. They use colorful characters, fantastic creatures, and surprisingly deep stories that make them fun to play. Unfortunately, the last main series game I played, FFXIII, has all the charm of a conversation with that angry uncle at Thanksgiving—it’s overtly racist, you know it will only go in one direction, and after fifteen minutes everyone is pretty sure they’d rather be doing something else. FFXV isn’t shaping up to look much better, what with replacing chocobos with cars, castles and kingdoms with modern urban landscapes, and women with a strongly worded letter to the fans about how girls are icky and should probably put down the PS4 controller and go back to making them a sandwich. Since the main series of late seems afraid to use all the assets that made Final Fantasy a hit—such as the job system, iconic creatures, exploration and estrogen—the only place I can look for that classic charm is in spin-off titles.

Ex Yuna

Dress up as or transform into your favorite FF protagonist! Or just go play that game instead!

Final Fantasy Explorers certainly doesn’t shy away from the classics. The game starts as your personally designed character is looking for a crystal and is instead attacked by a tutorial level. However before you can press Y to attack, they realize that Bahamut, Legendary King of the Dragons, Recurring Series Icon, and Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, might not be a great monster to start you out on. So you run away, find yourself in the lone town on the continent of Amostra, and sit there and read an instruction manual as some NPC tells you all about the battle system. It won’t likely win any awards for most cleverly designed tutorial level, but fortunately the combat never strays from “Press a button to attack, press two buttons to use a special attack and press three buttons to use a super special attack.” You push the control stick in the direction you want to move and the D-pad swings the camera. Again, it doesn’t intend to train anyone for brain surgery (save that for Trauma Center), but too many games I’ve played act so desperate for innovation that the characters can only move in a straight line if you hold R while alternating between B and Select while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to a nude photograph of Betty White.

Ex Alex

Be our guest, be our guest. Fight a castle. Feel impressed!

The plot of Explorers is a Neo-Orwellian examination of the deepest parts of the human psyche as told through archetypal representations of fantasy beasts. Just kidding! You’re on an island looking for shit. Crystals, eidolons, random junk you find on the ground, pathways to find more junk on the ground: it doesn’t matter! It’s all good. Naturally, like many quest-based RPGs, exploration always entails a decent amount of of violent slaughter. Video games tend to follow the philosophy of British Colonialism in that if they haven’t murdered something wherever they go, they can’t say they’ve truly been there. So once you’ve traveled around, rolling up an island’s worth of random shit in your Final Fantasy Katamari, you return to town, buy abilities you’ve upgraded from v1.01 to v1.02, forge yourself some new armor with a few extra coconut fibers over the vital areas, upgrade the small chocobo feather scotch-taped to your sword to a large feather with duct-tape, and then set out into the world to upgrade to v1.03, replenish your coconut supplies, and hunt around for an exceptionally fluffy black chocobo.

Ex Knight

Of course, considering the rarity of items required to forge job-specific armor, we’re probably looking at a white mage.

Most of the story takes place off-camera, with NPCs reporting missions and events that sound way more exciting than “Quest: Defeat 5 Malboros.” Even the big, climactic break-into-the-final(re: only)-dungeon scene happened while I was out sparring round 4 with the same eidolons I’d been fighting since my very first stroll to the end of the block. So much happened outside of my direct involvement, that when the NPCs started singing my praises as though I’d just single-handedly sacked the city of Troy, I started wondering if they only dubbed me the Great Hero so I’d be flattered enough to accept a quest named “Coal Miner’s Canary,” so they could judge how strong of a hose they’d need to wash explorers’ innards off their prize crystal.

Ex Gyrados

Save yourself the time leveling up your Magikarp and go straight for the Gyrados.

Yes, the game gets pretty repetitive after a while, and the endless, pointless quests seem to continue Square’s latest trend of having no confidence in themselves if they can’t make their games at least partially resemble MMOs. But here I should point out that I didn’t play the game as intended, multiplayer via internet connection. Maybe I ruined the game with my stubborn refusal to play with 11-year-olds who are convinced that misogyny and racial slurs are terms of endearment. Explorers comes with a travel phrasebook full of things to say to other players, and much like a foreign language phrasebook, you can’t say anything else. Personally, though, I’ve seen people act like jerks playing Journey, where the only method of communication is honking at each other. Still, the socially averse can still fill out a party by taking a break from Katamari junk collecting and spend some time playing Pokemon. Sometimes instead of the regular item, a monster will drop an “atmalith,” which I presume to mean you drag their bloated corpse back to the Poke-hospital in town in order to revive them to fight for you, or Frankenstein them onto another monster to make them stronger. Fighting with monsters has some advantages, as they revive themselves after being defeated and can occupy enemies long enough for you to recharge some AP. On the other hand, I couldn’t use anything larger than a cactuar since demons and malboros in my party kept photobombing the camera, blocking the view of my character.

Ex range

Judging distance for ranged attacks is not easy. If ONLY there were some way they could have used the 3DS hardware to make it easier to gauge depth…

Even if it might be nice to have one or two other aspects to the game, the combat itself works pretty well. You change freely between classic Final Fantasy jobs, purchasing skills to perform in combat. By evoking the super-special abilities in combat, you can permanently enhance these skills, although these enhancements tend to feel like gluing tea candles to the Bat Signal. Combat skills and dashing use AP, which regenerates slowly over time or quickly when using the basic physical attacks. This mechanic works well when using physical fighters, but my Time Mage felt a bit like a ponce running up to Bahamut in the heat of battle and slapping him with a book—the sort of thing I imagine fundamentalist Christians dare each other to do as teenagers. Even in less dire situations, such as traveling from one side of the island to the other, it sometimes gets bothersome to stop periodically and mercilessly beat unsuspecting animals to death just for the privilege of running instead of walking. Use of an “airship” allows you to start each quest from strategic points around the island, but once you’ve begun there is no fast travel option, so you pretty much have to settle in for the long haul and pretend you’re watching the Boston Marathon with cosplay.

Final Fantasy Explorers wins points for reviving the feel of earlier Final Fantasy games—even while FFXV promises to revive the feel of Cloud’s Group Room adventure at the Honey Bee Inn—but loses them again for designing a game that churns out quests on an assembly line, repetitively performed by a character with the growth rate of a pine tree.

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Lego Jurassic World – 3DS, PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One, PC

Clever meme...

Clever meme…

We here at RetroCookie pride ourselves in our preservation of vintage games, which compels us to give credit to game makers who do the same (although don’t ask us what compels us to speak in the Royal We, as we still have much evidence to support the idea that we only have one body and very little control over household pets, let alone entire nations). To that end, I’ve covered modern 3DS games such as the Majora’s Mask remake, the Ulitmate NES remix, and even newer games based around the charm of the classics, such as the Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. With that spirit at heart, I’d like to introduce a new 3DS game to the notches on my belt, Lego Jurassic World, which falls under the retro gaming category for reasons I will expound upon now.

A needlessly huge cast of characters in which more than one person will routinely dive up to their ankles in shit deeper than Spielberg's first plan for Jurassic Park 4!

A needlessly huge cast of characters in which more than one person will routinely dive up to their ankles in shit deeper than Spielberg’s first plan for Jurassic Park 4!

(Don’t rush me! I’m still thinking!)

Okay, you caught me. I just don’t have a PS4 or a WiiU. But with games like Bravely Default and Link Between Worlds on the horizon, and all my other NDSs worn almost to the breaking point, I figured a 3DS would be a wise purchase. Plus it doesn’t have creepy, voyeuristic tendencies like the XBox One. So to tell the truth, I own that one modern game system, and I do occasionally play it, and I struggle to get through games quickly enough to write a weekly entry with enough time left over that I don’t have to give my students lessons on metaphor and character development in Bubble Bobble. So this week, I give you Lego Jurassic Park, a coincidentally perfect game for playing in the ten minute breaks between classes.

...whassaaaa!!

…whassaaaa!!

If you read my review on the Lego Star Wars games, you’ll know the series has one or two issues with originality in game play. Inevitably, the games degrade into a process of collecting studs to purchase unlockable characters which help you collect more studs, and I strain to think of anything that such a cyclical experience might augment other than a walk down a moebius strip or a finely tuned, professional relationship with a prostitute. However, like the prostitute, Lego games may need to offer something other than a sense of humor and playing fast and easy if they want to keep my interest and coax me out of 20 bucks for cab fare. (Ah, comparing Legos to professional sex workers. It’s times like this that I wish anyone actually read this blog.)

I want a good clean fight. No bites below the...uh...belt?

I want a good clean fight. No bites below the…uh…belt?

Don’t get me wrong, though, there is something very zen about the act of romping through tropical environments, smashing everything into a zillion tiny lego bricks at the slightest touch, especially considering that realistically your characters would spend five minutes prying each piece loose with a butter knife that won’t fit into the crack and walking away with sore hands. Lego Jurassic World takes this stud collection (and as I say that I resist the urge to continue making sex worker jokes) very seriously. Traveller’s Tales games has always treated combat in their Lego series as more of an irritating formality, like renewing your driver’s license, waiting for a waiter before eating at Old Country Buffet, or telling your friends that their newborn babies don’t look at all like someone dipped George W. Bush in a bathtub full of Nair. In Lego Jurassic World, though, they have almost eliminated combat entirely, save for a few levels in Jurassic Park II and III where you punch a few compies and trample a few InGen workers with a stegosaurus.

Goin' down to Nublar, gonna eat a lot of people.

Goin’ down to Nublar, gonna eat a lot of people.

That last bit, though, adds a much needed touch of originality to the series. In addition to wandering around as your choice of any of a million worthless characters (When the novelty of playing as Dino Handler Bob loses its lustre, spice it up by having an affair with Dino Handler Vic!) , the game also lets you control most of the movies’ animals. Furthermore, you can unlock access to the Hammond Creation Lab, where you can play with genetic coding to mix and match different features into custom dinosaurs, thus proving that Traveller’s Tales missed the point of all four movies about as much as those people who think Harry Potter promotes devil worship. Certain secrets actually require this genetic Frankensteinery, as do two bonus areas that allow players to take full control of hungry dinosaurs as they eat, trample, gore, or hawk poisonous loogies at unsuspecting park staff.

Must drive faster...must escape terrible addition to poorly adapted Michael Crichton novel...

Must drive faster…must escape terrible addition to poorly adapted Michael Crichton novel…

Lego Jurassic World has more of a puzzle-oriented design than other Lego games. Normally, puzzles would earn the game a black mark by its name, followed by a swift hammer blow to the cartridge and, if I feel especially generous that day, a steady stream of urine. However, puzzles in this game simply means picking the right character to activate whatever interactive element might block your path at any moment, more of a formality than a puzzle: “Hello, there, Jake. Do you have a character willing to dive head first into this steaming pile of triceratops shit? Oh, I’m sorry. Here, fill out these forms and pay a small fee to unlock a character with a severe hygiene deficiency, then come back on a later playthrough.” Now, my regular readers (almost typed that with a straight face) might remember my Twilight Princess review where I described such mechanics as needlessly enforcing a developer mandated sequence of events without actually giving the player anything fun to do. Well…okay, so I have a point, and that point still stands here.

LEGO-JURASSIC-WORLDHowever, I played this game through to completion, so it must have some strong points. Earlier, though, I mentioned that Traveller’s Tales previously treated (and other companies still do) combat as a requirement for games, as though making a game without some type of fighting would create a vacuum that would implode, sucking the console, player, and northern hemisphere into oblivion. And since there’s no combat in oblivion, they’d like to avoid that. But as it turns out, games don’t need violence (I know…crushing news to all those bloodthirsty Tetris fans.), and Lego Jurassic World seems to have figured out how to replace that. Stud collecting, for one–simple, yet fun, and for whatever reason human beings have brain signals that light up on hearing a pleasing sound and watching dozens of small objects transmogrify into a score total ratcheting ever upwards. The humor, of course, makes us wait for the next cheeky thing the game will do–I’d recommend the game entirely based on the talking raptor scene from JP3. Also, did I mention you get to rampage as dinosaurs? Those segments might feel short and underdeveloped, but it does include a minigame that lets you target-spit at Newman from Seinfeld.

Hello, Newman!

Hello, Newman!

Ultimate NES Remix – 3DS

Uh...I don't think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Uh…I don’t think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Question: If you could go back and fix or improve a classic video game, what would you change? Would you add save points to Castlevania? Give more experience per battle and an MP magic system in Final Fantasy? Extra stages in Super Mario World? Put Mega Man in the Adventure of Link? Or would you instead chop the game up into tiny bits so as to focus on minute, mundane tasks that have no relevance without the context of the full game, making them so pathetically easy that a comatose lemur could earn a 3-star rating for each challenge? I’ll give you one guess which option Nintendo chose for their Ultimate NES Remix.

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

With every new significant advance in video game technology comes an inevitable onslaught of ports from systems that had less computing power than my living room carpet. Nintendo develops the SNES and gives us Mario All Stars, Playstation devises a 32-bit disc based console and Namco immediately releases Pac Man for it, a move later followed by Midway Arcade Treasures for the PS2, and now that we have an awesome hand-held system with WiFi communications and 3-D technology without the need for glasses, Nintendo has decided that among all it’s remakes and ports of N64 games, it would give us the option of regressing all the way to the 1980s, but only in 30-second intervals with challenges less entertaining than most tutorial stages. No, If you must know, I didn’t exactly fall in love with this game. In fact, this sort of regressive nostalgia and half-assed attempt at creativity merely reinforces my decision not to buy a PS4 and comes dangerously close to forcing me to get up off the couch and go outside. But that would take too much effort, so let’s see what the game has to offer.

NES5Ultimate NES Remix contains selections from 15 well-loved Nintendo masterpieces and also Balloon Fight (a game that forces me to retract my statement about Joust from a few weeks ago: it didn’t need more variations of game play to make it worth playing for more than five minutes. It just needed to not control like a stack of Kleenex in a hurricane). Each game has between 6 and 25 miniature challenges, such as asking Samus to cross a room without taking damage, having Pit battle Medusa, or Link to find a secret entrance. However, while challenges sound like a lot of fun, Ultimate NES Remix hits their target about as well as a dart player on a carousel.

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

First, no matter what challenge you undertake, your score (from one to three stars, and on random occasions for no apparent reason, stars with rainbow outlines) depends entirely on your time. If Samus has to cross a room and enter a door, for example, you could opt to deftly weave through a crowd of monsters like a high-class thief stealing a diamond in a room full of lasers, but that might take time, and even if you got to that door, you’d probably get a lower score than the player who imagined themselves as Mongo from Blazing Saddles and just hopped in the pool of lava and waded across, hitting the goal on the verge of death. I enjoy timed challenges once in a while, but games that constantly hold me to a tight schedule just takes away the option to stop and smell the fire flowers. (an act I imagine would bear a strong similarity to snorting Tobasco) Dead Rising 2 timed everything, and that game completely took the fun out of beating heads and hacking limbs off zombies.

Second, who cares if Mario picks up the fire flower? If the challenge ends before you get to indulge in some freelance arson, the goal could have just as easily asked Mario to jump to a block, or walk forward, and it would have entertained just as much. One challenge put Link in the 2nd Quest dungeon room with the old man who offers, “Leave your money or your life,” with the instructions that you need to choose the latter and sacrifice one of your heart containers. The entire point of forcing a player into that decision depends on living with the consequences, but the game doesn’t ask Link to do anything afterwards, so we don’t have to consider our sacrifice, and whether or not we’d rather give up that blue ring we’ve saved up for, or if we want to bleed a little and tough our way through the rest of the game. And we didn’t have to go through an entire game to get to that heart container, or Samus’s screw attack, or Mario’s frog suit, so when you get these items, the level of satisfaction you receive almost reaches that of a hand job while under the effects of sodium pentothal.

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Finally, I may have employed an undue level of generosity by using the term “challenge” to describe the tasks Ultimate NES Remix asks of you. If you’ve ever learned to ride a bike, at one point an adult probably touted their implicit level of trust, claiming they would never consider letting go of the bike while you pedaled, and–of course–let go, thereby shattering your eternal trust in them in exchange for the knowledge of how to balance precariously by your genitals on a knob of hard rubber moving at thirty miles an hour. Well, Nintendo, rather than letting go of the bike like most parents would to prove that you won’t fall over, instead puts on an extra pair of training wheels, then straps you to their back and rides the bike for you. As the challenges rarely last more than 30 seconds, they have a difficulty akin to poking a dead raccoon with a stick. In fact, a few of Link’s challenges, such as “find the secret entrance!” begin mere moments after he has set the bomb or cast the fire that will reveal said entrance, and if the game feels you can handle it, you only have to walk him into the newly revealed secret. Sound too hard? Don’t worry. The game imposes a bright yellow circle over the goal and often includes a yellow arrow pointing to it.

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

So knocking out three stars in each category didn’t take a whole lot of effort, so I thought, “Why not?” Well, I suppose I also had to consider Anne’s family reunion happening around me, and thought the game would give me an excuse not to talk to anyone. but still, I took a few days and earned each star in each challenge. I believe–although don’t quote me on this–that earning stars opens up more challenges for play, and that you also open up the truly remixed levels, but once I received all stars in each category, I opened up a new mode of play, the “Ultimate Famicom Remix”! Awesome! I know they made major changes when they brought these games to the US, so maybe I’ll get to experience their original difficulty levels, or play Doki Doki Panic instead of Super Mario Bros. 2.

Instead, I can sum up all the noticeable differences as follows:
1. Text in The Legend of Zelda reverts to original Japanese.
2. You can only pick up the trophy in the Adventure of Link by stabbing it.
3. Pit doesn’t fly automatically during his fight with Medusa
4. At the end of Kid Icarus, Pit no longer stands against a Grecian backdrop.

…”Congratulations! You’ve just mastered the art of classical piano and performed at all the major world concert halls. History will revere you as a virtuoso musician…now this note here sitting between the lines? We call that ‘C’…”

Exploit the glitch!

Exploit the glitch!

So I bought the game because the back of the box looked interesting, showing a stage in Super Mario Bros that ran from right to left instead of left to right, and Link climbing Donkey Kong’s scaffolding. I should, in all fairness, point out that Ultimate NES Remix does include three unlockable categories of actual remixes, for a total of 75 challenges, but like the rest of the game, you can’t play any of these long enough to enjoy them. Seriously, Nintendo…I have an SD card the size of a toenail clipping that stores 32GB of memory. If you want to swap out some graphics and data in a handful of 300KB roms, at least have the decency to give us the option of playing the entire fucking game. And that full version of SMB you gave us that plays at double speed? Yeah…I’d rather just go play Sonic the Hedgehog.
For my money, the true “Ultimate NES Remix” remains Super Mario Crossover, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Go play that.

(If they change the link…you can still Google the name)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – N64, Game Cube, 3DS

Link, who signed on with the Happy Mask Company in Ocarina of Time, learns that pyramid schemes often shake down their employees for money.

Link, who signed on with the Happy Mask Company in Ocarina of Time, learns that pyramid schemes often shake down their employees for money.

So…uh….I…I honestly don’t know how to start this one. Having harbored an unnatural obsession with the Zelda series since it only contained two games, I really can’t fathom why it took me so long to play Majora’s Mask. Back in high school, my income range fell in the category of “nothing” to “whatever rupees I could earn cutting grass,” and the idea of paying for the N64 expansion pack just to play two games didn’t seem like an efficient use of money. In college, Walmart pulled a nasty trick on me, forcing me to wake up early on Black Friday, risk my life in a fluorescent dungeon of shoppers under the promise that their Game Cubes would come bundled with the Zelda collectors’ pack. After defeating the boss (re: paying the cashier) and escaping, I found the dungeon item did not quite live up to said promises (seriously…fuck you, Walmart, even a decade later). So I didn’t even own the game until 2009 when I bought the collectors’ pack on eBay, and I didn’t get around to playing the game until Anne got bored at the Mall of America and bought the 3DS Remake. So finally, nearly fifteen years after its release, I can stand here confidently to say:

“What the fuck does everyone love about this molderm-infested pile of dodongo shit?”

Yes, I know people revere Majora’s Mask as a fan favorite, an original idea, darker in tone than any other game in the Zelda series. But I played it. The game plays like a fan hack of Ocarina of time. They used ideas so original, they must have programmed them into the game before even putting them down on paper, making them about as effective as applying hemorrhoid cream using an angry hedgehog. And while the story has a handful of dark moments, I suspect that the true popularity of the game stems from the “Ben Drowned” urban legend and the “Dead Link” game theory.

Uh...Goodnight Moon. I'll just close my curtains now...and pass up my usual night lite in favor of a 10-gauge shotgun.

Uh…Goodnight Moon. I’ll just close my curtains now…and pass up my usual night lite in favor of a 10-gauge shotgun.

The story begins by implying that Link has embarked on a quest to look for Navi, who ditched him after Ocarina of Time, most likely annoyed beyond reason at the obnoxious elf-kid’s refusal to look at anything or listen to a word she had to say. Link falls into a hole in a tree and comes out in Termina, Hyrule’s own version of wonderland, where the Skull Kid from OoT has stolen Majora’s Mask, a powerful artifact cursed with a complete and utter lack of back story or explanation, and wants to use it to pull the moon (which apparently has suffered from a raging steroid addiction and a series of botox injections gone horribly wrong) to Termina, terminating everyone. And Link only has three days to stop him. Fortunately, Link had caught Hyrule’s Bill Murray Marathon before he left, and decides to pull a full-on Groundhog Day to get the job done.

Up yours kid. You made me wet in the last game. And it took so long to bake that cake, too.

Up yours kid. You made me wet in the last game. And it took so long to bake that cake, too.

The game reuses a number of graphics from Ocarina of Time, giving the impression that Nintendo hacked their own game to develop a new one. A number of characters appear identical to characters in OoT, including the Spirit Temple boss, Twinrova, both apparently alive and well (or not, if you subscribe to the dead Link theory), running a brewery in a swamp like redneck moonshiners. OoT revolved around magical songs that affected the environment, so Majora’s Mask does too. Except it wants to revolve around the use of masks to solve puzzles, so the game spreads these elements a bit thin. Except for a few core masks and the bunny hood (the greatest time saver since the Pegasus shoes), I used each mask once or twice, if at all, and except for the three songs recycled from OoT, I never memorized any of the music–of course, since they have all the melodic appeal of a dog jumping on a piano, that may account for my lack of interest–and since most songs have very limited uses, I needed to glue myself to a walkthrough to realize when the game wanted me to play one.

Link busts a move to commemorate the only time he will ever use the dance mask.

Link busts a move to commemorate the only time he will ever use the dance mask.

And the rest of the game felt just as convoluted. Also like a lot of fan hacks, the designers nail technical aspects of coding the game felt, but they lack the art required to design a well-flowing story and logical gameplay. Actions and items required for progressing in the story don’t usually make themselves apparent until you wander in circles enough to finally piss you off enough to find a walkthrough online and read through that instead of the game. In addition, they made the challenge platforming-heavy. Majora’s Mask includes a number of sections that require careful jumps, precise timing, and dodging enemies and obstacles, and if you screw up, it rewards you with a long fall and the chance to replay a good section of dungeon all over again. I spent hours hopping from platform to platform, only to miss by a hair or get broadsided by an enemy only to go through a half dozen rooms, re-solving the puzzles in each one.

The Bunny Hood: Because continuously rolling across Hyrule field didn't actually make you move faster.

The Bunny Hood: Because continuously rolling across Hyrule field didn’t actually make you move faster.

Most sources I found praise this game for introducing unique concepts to an otherwise formulaic franchise. I agree, they used original ideas that had a lot of promise, but you could force Epona to ride link and praise it as an original idea, but it still forces Link to bend over to let a horse mount him. Most noteworthy, Link has to use the Song of Time to replay the three-day period prior to the moon apocalypse. Props to Nintendo for taking the time loop idea straight out of the X-Files, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Stargate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, The Twilight Zone, Once Upon a Time, Sesame Street, and dozens of other TV shows and calling it “original,” but they didn’t do it carefully enough. Tracking down people and items with virtually no hints or logic in a four-dimensional space just ends up in–my old nemesis–pulling up a walkthrough online and periodically glancing over at the game to monitor your progress.

And on the note of progress, the Groundhog Day mechanic usually means if you don’t entirely complete a story event, destroy the temple boss, find all the faeries in the dungeons, receive a major item or learn a song before the moon falls, you have to start over from the very beginning. To add insult to injury, you lose all your bombs, arrows, rupees, and other minor items and key items every time you reset the timer. Only major items, like the bow or the hookshot, stay in your inventory. Even temple bosses come back to life. I had to defeat one three times because his death transformed one area from winter to spring. At this point, Nintendo, just admit you only wanted to pad out the play time. I don’t like games with timers, especially when they add to that stress by forcing you to replay pointless sections and puzzles.

Ever play Ocarina of Time and wish you could play as something cool like a Gerudo or a Sheikah? Well good news, in Majora's Mask, you can fulfill your lifelong dream of playing as a dried out bush!

Ever play Ocarina of Time and wish you could play as something cool like a Gerudo or a Sheikah? Well good news, in Majora’s Mask, you can fulfill your lifelong dream of playing as a dried out bush!

I found the game boring, tedious, and repetitive. But in light of the hoards of fans ready to lynch me for not liking the game, I guess I could summon up the kindness and good will to use only the phrase “kicked in the head.” My opinion on the story–which focuses more on side-quests than, well…the focus of the story–did change after completing the “Anju’s Anguish” quest (finished courtesy of my laptop battery, which allows me to keep a walkthrough open for three full hours without plugging in!). The moment between Kaefi and Anju, just moments before the moonfall apocalypse, drew me in enough to completely change my mind on the story, and I resolved to search for more of these quests…only to find just one other listed in the walkthrough. Then I ended up playing the same four rooms of the Ikani Fortress on repeat for two hours, and I rescinded my previous change of opinion.

I’d rather play Spirit Tracks. At least the boredom of riding a train for a 25-hour game doesn’t raise my blood pressure and bother my neighbors with me screaming at the game.

Oh yeah. This douchebag shows up. Suddenly Navi doesn't seem so bad, does she?

Oh yeah. This douchebag shows up. Suddenly Navi doesn’t seem so bad, does she?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – 3DS

Now in two stunning dimensions!

Now in two stunning dimensions!

Change scares people. Let’s face it, Obama ran for president on a platform of change, and despite his as-yet-unfulfilled promises, half the country still envisions him with a pair of horns, sitting around a lavish palace of flames adorned with the skulls of aborted fetuses, plotting the upcoming battle with the Messiah (who also has some as-yet-unfulfilled promises to return). But whilst I mock Republicans, the Tea Party and Fox “News,” let’s not forget yet another group of people so resistant to change that they quail in terror around public wishing fountains: Shigeru Miyamoto and the Legend of Zelda development staff. I’ve written a handful of articles about other games in the series, and I’ll probably write several more, but even I have a limit of how many different ways I can comically discuss the same damn elf throwing the same damn boomerang at the same damn octorok.

Also returning to series roots: Link's sideburns.

Also returning to series roots: Link’s sideburns.

However, if the cesspool of Zelda ideas has grown a little too stagnant, the 3DS installment, A Link Between Worlds, has come along to develop new and exciting ways to re-create the same games that earned them so much adoration in the past; namely, to re-create the same game that earned them so much adoration in the past. Let me explain: with minor changes, the map for Link Between Worlds replicates the overworld maps from A Link to the Past, whilst purging any possible secrets you hoped to find by virtue of having played Link to the Past twenty years ago. The player can use many–but not all–of the items from Link to the Past, with two or three new ones tossed in for fun. And probably most absurdly of all, one of these new items allows Link to change into a portrait and merge with walls.

Let that sink in. The Zelda team took a device praised for innovation in three-dimensional viewing…and featured a game with a two-dimensional hero. I don’t think a game company has missed the point by quite this much since Midway started porting its classic arcade games for the Playstation. What other technologies can we downplay horribly? Side scrolling platformers for the Wii? Pong for the PS4? Microsoft Word for the Occulus Rift? (And yes, I do realize that they intended for the 2D aspects of the game to emphasize the 3D. I just wanted to clear that up before anyone leaves any nasty comments. Or any at all…)

Because Moldorm. Zelda games seem to have developed an addiction to this guy.

Because Moldorm. Zelda games seem to have developed an addiction to this guy.

Actually, though, I only make fun of the philosophical irony of glorifying two dimensions when you have three available (four, if you have an hour or two) because I actually can’t find anything else to make fun of. I loved the original, right up from its worm-infested Death Mountain tower right down to the bottom of its cold, frozen, dungeon eyeballs. And while at any time I could fire up my SNES and slog my way through its surprisingly expansive dungeons, I sure would appreciate if someone could concentrate the pure essence of Zelda-y goodness, then market it in a nice, easy, just-add-water powder to mix in with something new. Okay, yes, I tried a little to hard for that one, but the point remains that the game took the best parts of Link to the Past…and then stopped. Everything else, they added fresh for Link Between Worlds, and it works.

Bunny man, capitalizing off of end-of-the-world sensationalism.

Bunny man, capitalizing off of end-of-the-world sensationalism.

So what can I actually say about the game? You go through dungeons. You rescue sages. You travel from one world to the next. You look for the Triforce–courage, of course. But rather than finding items in dungeons, you have access to nearly all of them almost from the beginning of the game, to either rent or buy from some weird dude in a rabbit costume (spoiler alert….remember what happens in Link to the Past if you don’t get the moon pearl in the Tower of Hera?). Renting lets you access them until you get yourself killed, at which point the profiteering bastard sends his fairy companion to swipe them from you without so much as a “Look!” or “Listen!” Buying circumvents this entirely. All items work on a rechargeable gauge, which saves the time scrounging the bushes for refills. I guess it makes sense that Link might get exhausted pounding things flat with a hammer, but I don’t really know if I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept that bombs recharge and arrows grow back.

I get it! Because you can walk on the walls and it looks like Link wearing Majora's mask! Clever. No, wait...the other thing. Pointless.

I get it! Because you can walk on the walls and it looks like Link wearing Majora’s mask! Clever. No, wait…the other thing. Pointless.

The dark world has survived, mostly unscathed, although it now bears the painful moniker “Lorule,” a pun that in itself can curdle milk within five minutes, stronger than any of the bad puns the internet can muster. Like the swamp and death mountain in Link to the Past, the entire Lorule….[sigh]….can I just call it the Dark World? The entire Dark World map prevents Link from moving from area to area, a tactic to force you to look for warp points (i.e. slits in the wall) in different locations. This has all the purpose of a male nipple, though, considering they don’t exactly take Carmen Sandiego level skills to find. Overall, though, I rather enjoyed the difficulty. It may have coddled me somewhat, but you know what? It turns out I really have a good time playing games that don’t require me to staple a walkthrough to my wall for easy reference. I know I can get, uh…somewhat temperamental…over the appropriate level of challenge, but for the first time in ages I felt like I had bought a game, rather than a Nazgul of Capitalism, attempting to force me into the limbo world of shelling out cash for strategy guides and DLC. Such a novel feature, the ability to play a portable game system without constant access to the internet. They may almost make this a useful system if they don’t watch out.

Fatter cuccoos = even more 3Ds! So many Ds, it will awe even the most rabid of chickens!

Fatter cuccoos = even more 3Ds! So many Ds, it will awe even the most rabid of chickens!

But in the last two years of writing, I don’t think I’ve encountered a game that I can actually praise as much as this. I felt as though they fully revitalized one of my favorite games of all time, making it into a brand new experience. But not too new. We wouldn’t want another Adventure of Link on our hands.

…Or would we?

Star Fox 64 – N64, 3DS

What worries me more; that someone built a plane with a mid-air brake, or that Fox accepted a deadly mission without knowing how to fly it?

What worries me more; that someone built a plane with a mid-air brake, or that Fox accepted a deadly mission without knowing how to fly it?

“Do a barrel roll!”

Now that I have the formalities out of the way, let’s talk about Star Fox. The SNES game reached an incredible zenith of popularity, earning it a permanent place in the hearts of its fans probably for life. Clearly, in order to top that record, Nintendo only had one option: get more than six people to play the game. So the original didn’t live up to the hype, and maybe people didn’t fully appreciate the technical implications of what looked like a kindergarten acid trip. And yes, maybe with a canceled SNES sequel, Star Fox didn’t show much promise as an up-and-coming game franchise. But now the series boasts…five whole games. And a remake. And the canceled project. And one slated for release next year. So that…raging…popularity must have come from something, right?

If you’ve kept with me for at least that last paragraph, you probably already know why: Star Fox 64. This game sold both the franchise’s name and the N64, even showing us the system’s potential for multiplayer games–at least until Rare released Goldeneye, which made Star Fox’s dogfighting look as bare bones as, well…the SNES game. It came bundled with the rumble pak, Nintendo’s most popular useless add-on since the oh-so-bad Power Glove flopped like a dead carp and R.O.B., unable to find anyone to play games with him, had to take a side job as Fox’s secretary. Uhh…okay. So in retrospect, maybe Nintendo bamboozled us all with a stealthy, ninja marketing attack. But clearly that didn’t work with the original, so obviously something must have gone right with the game, right?

...uhh, Falco, maybe we can cut back on the racism a bit?

…uhh, Falco, maybe we can cut back on the racism a bit?

More of a reboot than a true sequel, Star Fox 64 introduces a more refined story for the game. Evil Monkey Scientist Wizard Thing, Andross, has invaded Corneria from his charming, elegant gated community on planet Venom, a world known for its atmosphere of pure smog and oceans of corrosive acid. General Pepper of Corneria, convinced that he’ll suffer no negative consequences from banishing a telekinetic evil genius to an unpleasant and inhospitable world, shows the utmost faith in his men-in-uniform by hiring a team of mercenaries to assault Andross. James McCloud, Peppy Hare and Pigma Dengar fly to venom, where Pigma turns them in to Andross. James, not as gifted as his cousins Connor and Duncan, dies, and Peppy escapes to tell Fox about his father’s demise. General Pepper, certain that a new team consisting of a) James’ obviously less-experienced son, b) a Star Fox member who clearly failed the same mission on his first attempt and c) an obnoxious mechanic with with a high-pitched whine and zero combat aptitude will certainly save the day, sends them off to Venom to make as much headway as they can, then presumably to die so Pepper doesn’t have to pay the bill.

You mean 9 million, right? Please tell me you actually know how hot stars can get. Slippy...you dumbass.

You mean 9 million, right? Please tell me you actually know how hot stars can get. Slippy…you dumbass.

The game shows more refinement than the SNES installment, but I might as well say that the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto shows more refinement than a dead log. While still basically made from rendered polygons, the objects in the game make up shapes more complex than a box of tinker toys, and have textures that clearly took more effort than figuring out to work the “fill” tool in Microsoft Paint. High-quality sound recordings let the characters talk to each other and tell a story; a story about three pilots who constantly need their boss to rescue their inept asses without ever bothering to shoot down any enemy pilots themselves. That really sums up the game right there. Very minimal character development–none, if Peppy didn’t occasionally comment “You’re becoming more like your father,” who, I’ll remind you, died. Pretty steady conflict, with no escalation. Every so often you’ll run into an old friend or rival mercenaries, Star Wolf, but while that may affect events in subsequent levels, it doesn’t really add anything to any semblance of “plot.” No, as Fox, you fly straight through the levels, shooting down monsters and enemy pilots alike, while your three wing men kindly offer themselves as bait to lure occasional enemies into your line of fire, and then demand you immediately save their lives.

...I mean, get the three behind me. And also this one.

…I mean, get the three behind me. And also this one.

Also new to the game, Star Fox 64 introduces “all range mode” for certain boss battles and a few stages. In this mode, the tips of the arwing’s wings will extend slightly outward, which any physicist can tell you gives a plane the ability to fly in more than just one direction. Fox has a square field to engage in dog fights, sometimes literally as all your battles with Star Wolf occur in all range mode. Most of these battles involve trying desperately to brake, bank, roll, u-turn or somersault only to discover the enemy outmaneuvered you and still enjoys burning you with lasers from behind. Perhaps more descriptive than “all range mode,” they should have called this “always turning around mode.”

Star_Fox_64_MapWhile in the first game, the controls reacted on a timeline akin to plate tectonics, Star Fox 64 controls allow plenty of time to dodge, collect power-ups, and do however many barrel rolls you wish with a reasonable response. The game offers more power-ups and a reasonable amount of health-refills, even if Fox has the tendency to hoard them all to himself when Slippy might find better use for them. But the game really shines in its adaptive difficulty. While at the beginning of the original, you picked a hard, medium or easy path from Corneria to Venom, Star Fox 64 allows you to proceed to more difficult levels depending on certain events or your performance in the stage you just completed. Small tweaks to levels, such as guest characters showing up later if you play certain stages, and dozens of different possible paths to take introduce a surprising amount of replay value. Even the final boss changes depending on which direction you approach Venom from. And if you get through the difficult final stage, the game even graces you with a visit from Ghost Dad. Er, James McCloud, not Bill Cosby.

Because why would you attack a train with a vehicle that can travel at mach-3 and shoot lasers and bombs when you could follow it at 10 mph and fire bullets?

Because why would you attack a train with a vehicle that can travel at mach-3 and shoot lasers and bombs when you could follow it at 10 mph and fire bullets?

I really enjoyed this game, which shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, in high school, I’d often visit friends houses, and due to my ability to wake up completely alert at any hour of the day, I’d have to keep occupied while waiting for my friends to wake up…so I just might have the high score on three or four different cartridges out there. But that had nothing to do with the fact that I never got invited back again. I should say, though that most people enjoyed Star Fox 64. Nintendo really screwed up one thing, though; they didn’t try to replicate this game play at all. I’ve avoided Star Fox Adventures for years because it doesn’t look like a Star Fox game–which, considering the two previous releases in the franchise, only makes a small amount of sense. I enjoyed Star Fox Command, but only for a little while, and for some reason, Star Fox Assault didn’t even show up on my radar until recently. But if I ever get my student loans paid off, I have them on my list, and maybe I can say more about the newer games than I can about this one. I usually try to write two full pages on each game, but I can only find so many ways to point out how the SNES Star Fox felt like Star Fox 64 in beta.