Resident Evil – Spin-offs, Sidequests, and Schlock

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Forget everything I’m about to write about. This is the most intriguing thing in any of these games. Ostrich Beer? Is it beer made from ostriches or for ostriches? How does one make a beer out of ostriches anyway? Or is it regular beer ingredients with ostrich flavoring? What does ostrich taste like? I need answers!

Resident Evil Outbreak, Resident Evil Survivor, and Resident Evil Gaiden

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Jeez, it was just a request. I guess some people would rather fake their own deaths than play “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Having finished Code Veronica, I’ve come to an end–of sorts–for this series. There are no more games with creepy atmospheres and pre-rendered backgrounds that emphasize weapons and item management while searching for tools to open up branching paths ahead. Of course Resident Evil 4 was a groundbreaking change that invigorated the series, but with its run-and-gun focus on shooting enemies and exploiting boss weaknesses (not to mention a mad scientist named “Albert”), the second half of the series has more in common with Mega Man than with its own predecessors.

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This would be a more horrific revelation were it not for the fact that THIS IS THE SCALPEL’S INTENDED PURPOSE. What other scary things are you going to tell us? That the bedpan is full of shit?

But before I move on, there’s a lot of schlock out there. And while I’m not really going to play every Resident Evil game–partially because I now live in New Zealand, which sells region-4 games for my region-1 systems, doesn’t seem to sell used games anywhere, and also has a tendency to censor things it thinks will hurt my delicate brain–I thought I should take at least a cursory look at some of the weird nonsense Capcom has chucked at its fan base over the years.

Resident Evil Outbreak doubles down on Capcom’s insistence that survival horror characters simply shouldn’t be alone. Although considering some of their partner mechanics and AI, it probably is scarier with some schizophrenic meat bag doing whatever the voices in their head tell them. Outbreak gives you all-new ways to be disappointed in your partner, by connecting you online with what I assume are children privately swearing at you like a sailor.

slus-20765-game-ss-36They also take out any pretense of plot, and instead of Leon, Jill, Chris or Claire, they cast everyone ever rejected from a George Romero film. Seriously, these characters are so mass-produced, I actually heard the first zombie victim shout out, “Hep me! Hep me! I was only three days from mah pension!” Jesus, do we want to black up our faces, bite into a watermelon and strum on de ol’ ban-jo while we’s at it? Whether they were woke to racism or just cliches, even RE2 knew enough not to kill the black guy first.

The first mission begins in a bar, and as such the controls feel half-in-the-bag, and the loading time between rooms is severely diminished. It’s a type of sluggish feeling that would make me say, “Give me your keys, Outbreak. You’re drunk,” but literally the only thing you do is find keys. Or so I thought. I made it to the end of the first mission only to find I needed to start a fire. That thing? I chucked it on the floor at the beginning of the level! Apparently the pocket technology of the Raccoon City Police hasn’t reached the general populace yet, so your pockets can fit a bag of M&Ms so long as you eat a handful first.

I couldn’t even attempt to light a fire with a bullet, since I was limping badly and these zombies are apparently afflicted with the Usain Bolt virus. So I had no choice but to die and restart, but even offering up my tender loins as a peace offering to the zombies ended up a sluggish, tedious affair. My character didn’t have the decency to die when he lost all his health. He just started crawling around like a roomba trailing a pile of cat puke until the viral infection took over and I enlisted in the ranks of cannibals, flesh-eating bacteria, and billionaire capitalists.


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Did…did I just wander into Silent Hill?

Resident Evil Survivor, it turns out, isn’t the steaming tyrannical hell dump I was led to believe. It’s not good, but it isn’t awful. Mostly, it’s just boring. You enter a room, start spraying bullets like you’re auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino film, rinse and repeat. The game is in first person, which is odd for the series, but does make it a little more shocking when a dog takes a surprise bit out of your ass (And that’s when the attack comes—not from the front, but from the other two lickers you didn’t even know were there.) It’s a nice attempt, but the fact that the only limitation on combat is a short pause to breathe every now and then really detracts from any sense of anxiety we might get. Like Outbreak, it’s frustratingly linear, and Capcom has boiled away the intricate escape-room design until the only thing left was a pile of keys, most of which enable you to open doors to access the next key you need. All in all, I’ve had more memorable bowel movements.


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We get it. You’re beautiful. I’d be to if I was scientifically created in a lab. Just put on some damn pants!

Sure, Resident Evil looks gorgeous and frightening with its beautifully rendered backgrounds powered by Sony’s hardware, but you know where it would really shine? A two-inch screen on an 8-bit system.” And, lo, by that conversation—most likely fueled by a combination of weed and NyQuil—Resident Evil Gaiden was born unto the Game Boy Color. I always forget that Game Boy technology is the Methuselah of video games.

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And I-EE-IIII will always love you–ooooo!

So honestly, I expected to play this game for less than an hour and tell you how bad it was in my usual style of strained similes…but I actually finished this one. Yeah. It turns out that this horribly ill-conceived notion of downgrading Resident Evil to processing power straight out of the 80s actually is surprisingly playable. Sure, you still end up unlocking enough keys to feel like you’re questing to become the world’s most powerful janitor, and the soundtrack sounds like a cat sharpening her claws on an old guitar, but the first-person combat system actually held my attention, and wandering around the undead cruise ship actually felt like exploring the Spencer Mansion or the Raccoon City Police Department. They’ve kept an emphasis on conserving bullets and trying to run past zombies without being eaten. The game was challenging without being frustrating, and I was almost all the way through it before I realized how far I’d gotten.

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…yeah, he’s definitely coming back.

Don’t get me wrong…it has some flaws. The story is basically a clip show of all the RE games up to that point: they rescue a young girl inexplicably linked with the boss monster, “Did Barry double-cross us? No! He actually triple-crossed Umbrella!”, “The boss just dissolved into a puddle? Obviously he’ll be back for more!”, and they even through in a cliched “Which one is the real Lucia?” scene at the very end of the game. After a few battles, the boss monster stops even pretending to die, and instead just backs away from you with a look on his face like he was trying to toss some spare change in your cup, but then realized you were some stark-raving-mad, diseased hobo.

Not to mention the twist ending, while befitting the horror genre, is inconsistent enough with the rest of the series that doubtless this moment will be debated indefinitely by obnoxious twats on the Internet who insist on hammering every detail of a fictional universe to fit some idea of what is canon. Is he dead? Is he alive? Who the hell cares?

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Forget the implications behind Leon having green blood…his lips look like someone kidnapped two earthworms, hog tied them, and threw them in the trunk of a car.

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The reputation of the sun deck is greatly exaggerated.


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…mostly just to chase those punk kids off his lawn.

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Barry is so hardcore paramilitary, this is how he has sex.

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And suddenly Cthulu bursts like a Xenomorph from the tyrant’s intestines.

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Any of you see that Venture Bros episode where they introduced Fat Chance?

Paperboy – Arcade, NES, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, DOS, etc.

Yea, though I bike through the suburbs of death...

Yea, though I bike through the suburbs of death…

By a show of hands…or comments, I guess…how many of you had a paper route as a kid? Any of you slip through the cracks of child labor laws that somehow determined that riding a bike around town during the pre-dawn hours didn’t constitute any form of endangerment or deprivation of education? Because if I wanted to strut through the fifth grade flashing huge bankrolls (usually dimes or quarters) the only options I had as a pre-teen involved walking the streets delivering our small town gazette riddled with spelling errors, inaccuracies, and menial events passing off as news, or I could lug bags full of steel clubs through a field dodging little white balls careening towards my head at 290 kilometers an hour (180 mph for my American readers). But alas, I never had a paper route. So ironically, instead of having a job to enable my horrible video game addiction, I played a video game to simulate the experience of having a job.

Include this under "signs you don't have a large enough news market to sustain a newspaper."

Include this under “signs you don’t have a large enough news market to sustain a newspaper.”

Released for the arcade in 1985, Paperboy faithfully re-creates all the obstacles and challenges of delivering newspapers, including urban terrain, rabid dogs, careless motorists, swarms of bees, runaway lawnmowers, zombies, and the specter of death. As the paperboy, the game tasks you with never stopping your bike–the newspaper doesn’t pay you to lallygag, after all–and chucking your papers at everything that does or does not move. For every bundle of papers you pick up, you may toss one or two at someone’s doorstep–or extra points for their mailbox–but the rest you need to take down zombies, stop lawnmowers in their tracks, and threatening and vandalizing anyone with the audacity to not subscribe to the Daily Sun. That last note raises a point of interest, since all the Sun headlines revolve around the paperboy himself–thus rendering it only slightly more interesting than my hometown’s Mining Gazette–usually commenting on either his failure to deliver papers or his attempts at vandalism. I’d think, given the scenario, non-subscribers probably wouldn’t feel all that compelled to spend money to learn about the destruction of their own property, and any subscriber who failed to receive a paper wouldn’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to figure out the content of anything they missed.

Accurately simulating all the targets, ramps, moving jumps, and mechanical spikes you'll encounter in your chosen profession as a delivery boy.

Accurately simulating all the targets, ramps, moving jumps, and mechanical spikes you’ll encounter in your chosen profession as a delivery boy.

At the end of each day’s route, you navigate through a training course, a testament to the 30-year vintage of the game, since no employer in 2015 would dare pay to ensure quality and competence in their employees. On the other hand, wasting money on newspapers for the purpose of cluttering up people’s yards and smashing windows to extort subscription money sounds exactly like current business practices. Still, the thought of putting money into researching a throwable paper with the power to stop a Model-A dead in its tracks sounds both wonderfully progressive and about as useless as a Jehova’s Witness knocking on St. Peter’s Basilica. But I guess all these little inconsistencies just help to make Paperboy a timeless classic.

All right! Just a few more customers to piss off and I won't have to lift a finger anymore!

All right! Just a few more customers to piss off and I won’t have to lift a finger anymore!

The game doesn’t pull any punches. Essentially an eclectic obstacle course, you have to correctly identify customers’ homes and place the papers precisely on their doorsteps or mailboxes. Just a bit off, though, and you’ll ensure the tunnel-visioned morons will never find the papers, and you’ll lose them as customers. Also, they’ll cancel their subscription if you break one of their windows, or just miss their house entirely. You can earn new customers by making perfect deliveries for one day. Allegedly. Developed for the arcade, Paperboy aimed to take your money from you as fast as you could throw papers to earn it, so you have about as much chance at making a perfect delivery as you have of finding a girl on an Internet dating site who doesn’t want to you to sign up for her webcam subscription.

Just a guy with his jack hammer out pounding the side walk. Completely innocent.

Just a guy with his jack hammer out pounding the side walk. Completely innocent.

Parents worried about violent games never even stopped to consider the vicious cycle in Paperboy–you play a paper-throwing simulator, thus compelling you to chuck newspapers like you brought a wheelbarrow full of rocks to an Old Testament stoning, only to earn more money to throw away at the arcade. Don’t you miss the 1980s? (Keep an eye on the skies…Doc Brown should show up with his DeLorean soon, if you want the chance to steal it) But as much as I enjoy Paperboy (with the arcade version slightly beating out the NES version), I don’t really like bikes much at all. My hometown–as well as my current town–both grew out of hillsides. So half the time I tried riding a bike, I’d either careen downhill in a sonic boom of panic, or slowly trudge uphill in a slow painful, slog, like a slave rowing a viking longboat. That might also explain why my local paper eventually replaced the traditional paper boy with a middle-aged woman with three teeth and an SUV, who would drive right up onto people’s lawns so she didn’t have to get out of the car to stick the papers in the mailboxes. So to celebrate my hatred of a transportation method that requires me to balance all my weight on a hard rubber knob under my testicles, next week I’d like to turn to a historically more traditional and far less painful mount: the ostrich.

Donkey Kong Country – SNES, Game Boy Color

Obligatory Ice Level Cliche.

Obligatory Ice Level Cliche.

Between applying for PhD programs, Evil Dead: The Musical performances, and preparing for next semester’s classes (while this post says “January,” I actually wrote it about the day my Evil Dead: Hail to the King entry posted), I’ve had just enough time to glance longingly at the pile of 20+ books that I may some day have a chance to read. Sorry to say, my to-do list requires a few sacrifices, but rather than ritualistically stabbing my Playstation until my hands run wet with sticky, electrical discharge, I opted to suck up my pride and whip out a platformer, under the assumption that the pain, at least, wouldn’t last long, and I could count on the popularity of Donkey Kong Country to garner a few more views per week than normal. Sadly, I think the entirety of this paragraph might tip my hand a little prematurely, but before you all start chucking barrels at me, I promise to remain as objective as I can. Even if game reviews inherently rely on subjective analysis.

Congratulations. You'll have more use for them than the Kremlings. But 99% of them will still rot before you can eat them. An illustration of wealth distribution in Ape society.

Congratulations. You’ll have more use for them than the Kremlings. But 99% of them will still rot before you can eat them. An illustration of wealth distribution in Ape society.

Anyway, Donkey Kong, after a ten-year hiatus in which he realized Mario had turned to completely lavish his attentions on Bowser, returns to his home island. However, Donkey Kong Country has its own reptilian antagonists, and they want bananas. Yes, for some reason, a crocodillian race of carnivores has need for a cavern full of bananas and will fight to retain their plunder from its rightful owners, a family of five apes who likely couldn’t eat that much fruit before it turned black and shriveled up anyway. So Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong–whom he finds stuffed into a barrel like he hadn’t paid his protection money to the crocodile mafia–set out on a banana-hunting quest, taking a path so roundabout that it would only make sense in an action platforming game.

Obligatory Underwater Level by character with infinite lung capacity cliche.

Obligatory Underwater Level by character with infinite lung capacity cliche.

Through my first impressions of the game, I reasoned that while Donkey Kong hadn’t participated in the Mario games since 1983, he at least spent a good deal of time playing them, and has learned much specifically from Super Mario World. I’ve established his cold-blooded baddies already. Much like Mario, DK takes out the majority of opponents via massive head trauma. When he can’t bring the full weight of a 300kg gorilla down on their skulls, he can throw barrels at them, a move clearly taken from the original game, but vaguely similar to Mario’s koopa shell kicking. Both Mario and DK travel from level to level through multiple zones of their respective islands. They can take up to two hits with appropriate power-ups–if we compare Diddy to an amanita mushroom–and collect either 100 of something, or a small number of level-specific items to get an extra life. They also ride animal pals–four of them–who each have unique abilities. They both shoot themselves out of cannons and find secret rooms with bonus games. Rare simply changed the characters, maps, and artwork from Super Mario World and called it a new game like an electronic Sword of Shannara, hoping we wouldn’t notice.

An illustration of Karma in Ape society.

An illustration of Karma in Ape society.

I don’t like platforming games and really can’t pretend to hide that. Years ago, before Final Fantasy VI introduced me to RPGs, I did play my fair share of Mario, and I’ll even admit that an afternoon playing Super Mario Bros. at Danielle Lehto’s house in first grade introduced me to a lifelong meth-style addiction to video games. But the idea of running through levels trying not to touch monsters except on their heads, all the while avoiding the plummet into bottomless holes appeals to me about as much as the thought of telephoning strangers at 11:00 pm to bring them the word of Lovecraft and convert them to the Cult of Cthulu. Simplicity, repetition, and pointlessness don’t make for great selling points, and much like religion, if you didn’t grow up with it, platformers just provide a tedious, time-consuming practice of learning thoughtless, reactive patterns with very limited returns.

I'll call him "Bright Eyes." Comment if you get the joke.

I’ll call him “Bright Eyes.” Comment if you get the joke.

Having said that, I recognize you may not agree with me. In fact, I know a lot of people out there think that nothing epitomizes enjoyable entertainment like trying not to fall into holes. If you like this, if you want to find a game with simple, bland gameplay that lacks all the cumbersome issues of a well-written story and the addictive, rewarding noises, flashes, and rewards of an iPhone game, then yes, Donkey Kong Country might deserve the 9/10 stars reviewers commonly give it. If you like Mario, you might want to try it. It does differ quite a bit, though. Rather than a hub design, DK Country lays out its world map like an air-travel montage from an Indiana Jones movie. Most levels run exclusively from left to right horizontally. They have multiple hidden bonus rooms, but no secret endings or branching paths. Some have stage-exclusive gimmicks like fueling up a moving platform, turning on lights, or traveling with a parrot holding a flashlight.

Donkey Kong and Diddy supposedly have different skills. Diddy can jump higher and farther–but still can’t quite make it to the hard-to-reach barrels and items. Donkey Kong supposedly has more strength, but has to jump on most enemies just as often as Diddy. Occasionally I stumbled across an item located deep down in a hole with absolutely no clear method of obtaining without winding up as donkey guts on a rock somewhere. For these, I took a few leaps of faith before converting to Donkey Atheism. I suspect the secret involves some of these character skills, but I didn’t have the patience to keep replaying levels just to figure out the puzzles. After a while I found an enemy that Donkey Kong could kill that Diddy couldn’t, but using this to proclaim uniqueness of character falls under the same category as trying to sell a new model NDS on the virtue of an upgraded picto-chat.

Uh...this just disturbs me.

Uh…this just disturbs me.

Due to Donkey Kong Country’s incredible simplicity, I can’t really find much to say about it. People love this game, but I don’t see it, and while I find alliteration light-hearted and cartoonish, whenever someone starts converting Cs into Ks for such a purpose, I generally eye them up with the astonishment I’d give to a banjo player performing minstrel tunes in blackface. Rare didn’t provide the easy access to save points that Mario has, but a skilled player could probably recover Donkey Kong’s entire banana hoard in two or three hours, coincidentally the same length of time a fresh banana in my possession usually takes to turn into a brown slimy pulp.

Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior – NES, GBC

Yep...she makes you carry her halfway around the world.

Yep…she makes you carry her halfway around the world.

In tenth grade, my school required me to buy a graphing calculator. My trusty TI-85 and I became inseparable when I realized it came with its own programming language. I spent days in my bedroom, hunched over my calculator with thumbs blitzing like epileptic clog dancers until I managed to program a simple, shoddy dungeon crawler with about 20 rooms and 4 or 5 monsters that could beat you into negative hit points. It filled the calculator’s entire memory, had more bugs than a gas station bathroom, and I only played it once, but I still loved it. The next year I upgraded to a TI-89 and shinier, newer games found their way to me, including Phoenix, a 4-level version of Mario, a version of Tetris where blocks fell all the way down when their supporting blocks vanished, and a four-screen-map sequel to Final Fantasy VII with two characters, one boss fight, not enough monsters to level-up, and an inconclusive ending.

Any of these math-class knock-offs released on a dedicated gaming console would have undoubtedly given the impression that the video game industry had replaced all their experienced developers with a team of lemurs who had a penchant for writing fanfiction. They glitched. They wasted memory. They ran poorly on systems not designed for games. I had a Playstation and an N-64 by this point.  I didn’t need these crummy games; yet I still played them. I mention this because my recent play-through of the 1986 RPG legend, Dragon Warrior, left me in a quandary, puzzled over how games with as much substance as a half-finished knock-knock joke written on a pizza box can gather a large enough fan following to inspire one of the most long-lived series in video game history.

GwaelinDragon Warrior (known in Japan as “Dragon Quest”) hails from an age where RPG developers wanted to re-create the Dungeons and Dragons experience without the dice, paper, or need for that pesky socialization, but hadn’t yet figured out that interactive storytelling doesn’t exactly work the same way with pre-programmed computer characters.  As such, you play as _______, and up-and-coming warrior with the charm, charisma and personality of Edward Cullen after eating his weight in magic brownies. The King of Tantagel, in a display of straightforwardness that most video game mystics would find offensive, gives you a simple task: 1) Find the princess and 2) Kill the Dragonlord. After which, young ________ ambles through the world, slaughtering the indigenous fauna until he feels confident enough to carry out the assassination the king entrusted to him.

As much as the simplicity sounds like a breath of fresh air, however, we play games exactly for the roundabout nature of questing. In fact, if you’ve spent any length of time with literature professors, they’ll remind you that the world’s alleged greatest, most classic piece of literature focused entirely on Odysseus gallivanting around the Mediterranean for years, cavorting with nymphs while “guilt” over his marital fidelity “tortured” him, when it may have only taken him two or three weeks simply to walk home. I get that NES cartridges didn’t have the capacity to store complex stories, but like most RPGs from the 1980s, Dragon Warrior has a problem with math. Leveling up to the point where the Dragonlord won’t vaporize you like a bottle of  Zippo fluid requires over 20,000 experience. The most reasonable enemy to fight while level grinding gives you 54. With nothing to do in-game, I hope you have a second TV in your living room because you may want to put on a movie while you grind.

I humbly accept this quest my liege, and...did you just take my wallet?

I humbly accept this quest my liege, and…did you just take my wallet?

Furthermore, your gold supply creeps up with an impressive lack of urgency, while weapons and armor can run as high as 14800. To add to the tedium, every time ________ dies, he wakes up in front of the King of Tantagel, who admonishes you for having the gall to allow the overpowered monsters of the countryside maul you to death. The first time this happened, I didn’t realize that I kept all the experience earned since I last saved because my gold stock had dropped substantially from the moment of my death. But Eventually I realized that in addition to chewing you out for your audacious apathy toward life, the King takes half your gold every time he revives you.

Is it to late to reconsider your offer?

Is it to late to reconsider your offer?

After my initial outburst of anger at having to replenish larger and larger sums of money at each death, this got me thinking. One of the inconsistencies in the design, only certain buildings have roofs and entrances, while the rest simply appear as walled-off areas with a gap to pass through. The fact that some areas have inside maps suggests that the houses without them actually remain open to the elements. With a king who rifles through dead men’s pockets for loose change, I began to wonder if the Dragonlord might actually want to enact social change in the land of Alfgard. Perhaps instead of the black-and-white good-versus-evil trope of the fantasy genre, the villain’s crime doesn’t extend beyond threatening the provincial villagers with scary, scary change.  Unfortunately, while the game does offer the chance to team up with him, taking that option will end in a game-over after days and days of piling up monster corpses for the scraps of stat bonuses necessary to get that far.

First the old man asks me to find his balls, and now this guy?

First the old man asks me to find his balls, and now this guy?

Another factor that compounds the tedium stems from the cryptic hints and clues as to how to finish your quest, gleaned from random townsfolk throughout the game. The King shoves you out the door with absolutely zero direction, and every step you have to take you have to guess based on riddles thrown at you. They’ll point you in vague directions, or suggest items that you must infer you need to progress, or even tell you to visit certain people in certain towns, most of the time leaving you to guess the names of each town because the game won’t label them in any way. Rather than send myself into an angry rant, let me describe it this way; Any game that forces me to look up a walkthrough to progress automatically earns one strike against it. If upon figuring out what I need to know, I still feel like I couldn’t have figured it out on my own no matter how much time I gave it, the game earns another strike. Dragon Warrior forced me to create a third category; games where I look up the walkthrough and still can’t figure out the puzzles.

Dragon Warrior boasts its artwork, done by Akira Toriyama (Dragonball, Chrono Trigger), which could have saved this game…if I had seen any of his influence in it. Maybe the designers based the sprites off the interesting, colorful designs that probably looked something like Goku, but the 16×16 pixel designs couldn’t even hint that Toriyama had any hand in the game development. Someone else clearly did the box art, and I even downloaded the original instruction manual, hoping for more than the second-rate fan art that often graced the pages of NES games intended for 8-year-olds. But no. Even Toriyama couldn’t save this game.

But still, as the first NES-era RPG released in Japan, the series succeeded. People there love it. They perform Dragon Quest music at major symphonic performances. Video games hold an advantage over movies in that their sequels don’t have to recycle the rotting corpses of the original, so I do trust that the later games in the series surpass the first by far. I can only explain its success via my calculator story; the portability and disguise of an education tool allowed me to take games into places previously forbidden, places I couldn’t exactly lug my Playstation.  Having it with me gave me an option. I enjoyed it more for the novelty of its existence rather than the value of its games, and Dragon Warrior can certainly claim the same novelty for its era and console. Still, the painfully slow pace of the grinding, also seen in Final Fantasy (released the following year in both Japan and North America, while Dragon Quest waited three years to cross the pacific…I wonder if that has anything to do with the popularity of each series in each region.), along with the dangerously unstable battery-backed saves of the NES cartridges, tell me I should put my time into the SNES-era games instead.

Link’s Awakening – Game Boy, Game Boy Color

Hey everyone, sorry again for the interminable gaps in posting.  I’m working through Shadow Hearts: From the New World at the moment, and only have a limited time to play. To make up for that, I’ll offer–when I can–reviews by guest writers. Anne recently finished an old Legend of Zelda Game (hey, I’m not playing this one), so she’s donated her time, and I’ve linked her name to her website. Enjoy!

Show of hands: who got stuck trying to figure out how to hurt this guy?

Show of hands: who got stuck trying to figure out how to hurt this guy?

Guest Writer: Anne Kendall

The character Link must be doing something right because everyone seems to think he’s trustworthy. It must be something in his face because, let’s face it, it isn’t his winning personality.  Unless I miss my mark there have been 16 original Zelda games and all use Link in some form or another (some weirder than others…Twilight Princess) as the endearing and trust engendering protagonist. Think back on any one of the games you might have played and you’ll notice that people turn to Link right and left with their problems from chasing down cuckoos, to saving Zelda…again, to spending countless hours slogging from watery ruin to firey cave in search of magical macguffins (and those are a bit of a Zelda trope all on their own). Now why does this matter you may ask? After all, he proves his worth every time he mops the floor with Gannon and gets the girl (oh wait, no he doesn’t). Well, here’s the thing, maybe we’ve all gotten it terribly wrong and I think the entire island of Koholint would agree with me. At the core of it, The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening is the story of Link’s journey into mass genocide, as he knows full well that his quest to wake the Wind Fish will result in untimely oblivion for the island and all its residents.

It's a leopleuridon, Charley!

It’s a leopleuridon, Charley!

Since this game review is coming out 20 years after the game’s first release I feel I won’t be blowing anyone’s mind and feel that the statute of limitations on Spoilers! has long since passed. The game starts with Link washing ashore on the Island of Koholint where he is greeted by a young woman who will later star as a Resident Evil IV Ashley replacement as you go on a babysitting quest to take her to the talking animal village (cue rainbow effects and sparkles). Link quickly finds out that his room and board on this island won’t be free as they’ve decided that he is the legendary hero who will wake the Wind Fish from its slumber, thus making the isle of Koholint vanish with his dreams; although why this would be a good thing for anyone other than Link is never fully explained. Speed forward through eight atmospheric dungeons that can be won only by using that dungeon’s brand new item and a trading sequence so long that it has it’s own mathematical cross stitch proof out on the internet (search ‘link’s awakening trading sequence cross stitch’ on Google and it’s the first image you’ll see).  Oh and did I mention that music in these dungeons leaves something to be desired? Imagine being on the world’s longest elevator ride with a five year old who is singing you a song that she just now came up with…for five hours! Finally with all the magical macguffins, sorry ‘musical instruments’ as well as the requisite ocarina (apparently when they said you needed eight instruments they forgot that the ocarina is by definition an instrument) in hand Link goes off to wake the Wind Fish. Unfortunately, his (or perhaps her) egg turns out to be full of monsters that, for the most part, are shadow clones of previous dungeon and game bosses that you’ll easily recognize. Without giving the exact ending of the game away, let’s just say the survival rate for anyone not named Link is rather low.

It's no longer a cute cameo when you tell Link to fight like Mario.

It’s no longer a cute cameo when you tell Link to fight like Mario.

All genocidal tendencies aside the game turned out to be incredibly fun to play. The designers thought up a lot of interesting characters (several of whom are making appearances from other games) and regions that keep the game from getting too bogged down in the go to dungeon A, get item B, use key C to get in and defeat boss D and get macguffin E, repeat, formula. I will say that in the original version of the game for Game Boy there were far fewer owl statues than in consequent versions for the Game Boy Color or 3DS, which led to several sections that you might never think of on your own without a stealthy walkthrough peak. The Color and 3DS versions also introduced the upgrade Link uniform quest that could either increase defence or offence depending on the player choice.

Note that the only instrument he's actually playing is the one he wasn't specifically instructed to find.

Note that the only instrument he’s actually playing is the one he wasn’t specifically instructed to find.

So, the final overarching question for this revue: Is Zelda: Link’s Awakening a game worthy of our time? Yes. The game has enough entertaining points to offset any minor problems (or irritating music). The game is not my favorite Zelda (that position is held by Zelda: Ocarina of time) but it is a close second and is eons ahead of Majora’s Mask and Spirit Tracks. If you liked the style of the old Zelda games and are tired of the oddities of current generation Wii mote flailing consider giving this retro gem a spin.

Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons / Oracle of Ages

Bringing back fond memories of old, enemies.

I’d like to kick off my new blog with a review an often overlooked installment of a classic series; The Legend Of Zelda, Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons.

So it’s actually two games. Kinda.

The games star Link (surprise surprise), journeying for some untold reason through the land of Labrynna in Ages and Holodrum in Seasons. The goddesses Nayru and Din appear as the oracles in each land, and are very soon after beginning the game are kidnapped by their respective baddies. Someone spots the Triforce symbol burned onto Link’s hand. They send him to talk to a tree, who tells him to find eight underworlds to find the eight macguffins to advance the story. In said dungeons he finds eight useful trinkets, he uses them, he solves puzzles, and fights bosses. It’s not exactly an innovative story line.

These games were released at the end of the life span of the Game Boy Color, which, please note, is a system that had only gone minor technical and aesthetic changes since it was released in 1989. Yes, the Game Boy Advance was released the same year, but it’s easy to see how Link’s adoring fans may have overlooked this game in favor of bigger and better systems. Even Nintendo didn’t want to give it much attention, as evident by the fact that they farmed the game out to Capcom for development.

Usually I’d shake my head in shame over an artist relinquishing control over their series–prime example would be how by casting George Clooney as Batman, Joel Shumacher effectively killed the franchise until they could reboot it into something that wasn’t embarrassed to call itself “Batman.” (And do you remember the Adam West TV series?)

Capcom, though, chose a different approach. The Oracle games play from a top-down perspective, Gannon is a pig again, bosses from the original game return en masse…I can’t help but think that they’re trying to make a statement. This is, after all, the company that created Megaman, where the most creative changes were eight new themes for robots which were cleverly named “insert-that-theme-here”-Man. This is why I think Capcom may actually understand the Zelda series more than other potential third-party developers. Change and innovation can spice up old series, well enough, but if players enjoyed a game, chances are they’ll enjoy more of the same in the sequel. No the Oracle games done push the envelope of storytelling, but I still go back and play the original NES game about once a year, and the only story that had was the paragraph or two you read out of the instruction book before your kid brother tears it to shreds and slobbers on the pieces. Even Ocarina of Time didn’t change all that much beyond the over-the-shoulder perspective and a more highly developed Hyrule than previous games. They certainly didn’t need to contrive some stupid gimmick to please fans, like, for example, turning Link into a werewolf.

As much as these games give off a more-of-the-same vibe, they’re generally fun to play. Capcom added their own flair, allowing you to play through the games sequentially a la Resident Evil 2, with a Link To the Past style fight with Gannon (who often avoids handheld games, probably out of fear of making them seem too much like a Legend of Zelda game) for those who complete both games. As I mentioned, they bring back all the bosses from the first game like Manhandla, Gleeok, and Dodongo (among others) that those of us who have had nothing better to do since the 1980s will remember fondly. Boss fights are constructed simply, yet cleverly, and having two of them in each dungeon actually improved the game. Even the retro bosses have new–or at least variations of old–attack patterns that Link can exploit using the dungeon’s item.

The game offers the usual trinkets: a boomerang, bombs, an upgradeable sword. And some of the new items–such as the magnet glove–are inventive enough that I’d like to see it return in the main series.

The roc’s feather, however, returning from the first handheld installment, Link’s Awakening, probably deserves to be locked up in a dungeon guarded by a ferocious beast. Yes, it’s a very interesting way to access new locations, but the game relies too much on complex use of it, jumping over pits, spikes, and onto moving ledges that are often placed over lava. Part of the appeal of the Zelda series has always been that it’s NOT A PLATFORMER. If I want to simulate the feeling of waterskiing through a hurricane wearing nothing but a broken skii and a live ferret, I have a copy of Super Mario 64 collecting dust. I don’t want experience points in Resident Evil, complex puzzles in RPGs, and I don’t want platforming in Zelda. Furthermore, the upgraded version has some serious mechanical issues, especially in the games’ side scrolling sections, which often end up with Link making a beautiful 9.0 entry into a pool of lava.

The concept of traveling between two different maps separated by time travel, dimensional shift, or what have you, has long been a defining element of the series. While the ability to interact with the environment–literally–by changing seasons provides the opportunity for new puzzles, the time travel in Oracle of Ages feels like a clunky mash-up of Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past, not to mention each transition requires Link to play a five to ten second little ditty, followed by a sequence of wavy lines and warpy noises. This can tend to be obnoxious when accidentally triggering use of the harps, and ate up more of my time than I care to admit as I tried to place myself in the right age.

Capcom did try to shore up a frequent annoyance of the Zelda series, which earns them brownie–er, fairie–points. All too commonly, the player finds themselves just nearing the end of the dungeon when all their hearts runs out, and they’ve used up all their bottled deus-ex-machinas. Introduced to the game over screen, they find themselves whisked back to the continue point, only to find themselves with three hearts, ill-equipped to actually continue the game. The Oracle games make an attempt to fix this by giving you a percentage of your total life upon continuing, which certainly reduces tedium, however, when all you have to do is grab a shovel and start digging until you kick up enough hearts to keep going, it makes the attempt fall flat. There’s no reason not to start off the player with full life at that point, and partial life doesn’t add to challenge; it just sends them off on pointless errands they have to accomplish before getting back to the part of the game they really want to play.
In the next game, I hear Link gets a metal detector to solve puzzles that require him to look like a dork at the beach.

For the most part, the game is challenging, but not beyond hope of solving problems yourself. A few sections, mostly near the end of the games, demanded a walkthrough, which earns a big red mark on their report card, That and the odd mechanic that Link has to equip and use his shield like an item pretty much wrap up my list of annoyances with the games. Other than that, they’re worth playing through.

Games in the Zelda series have always been fairly simplistic, and the Oracle games definitely embrace that simplicity. While I like to encourage pushing the envelope, I also enjoy games like this. The value that you’ll find in these games depends on exactly how much you like to stick with an unchanged idea versus how much innovation you demand.