Ocarina of Time – N64, Game Cube, 3DS

OoT Shiek

Link rockin’ out with his total platonic effeminate ninja friend. Pretty soon they’ll be good enough to take their band on tour. We’re talking Ren Faire groupies, y’all!

“Sweet, merciful lady of the tortilla,” you’re shouting as you look at the title of this week’s entry. “He’s ready to sully yet another beloved classic with his foul outlook!” As valuable as suspense is to a writer, and as much as I’d like to keep you on-edge and tense as a drug deal in a donut shop, I liked the game. So much for my attempt to finally elicit comments out of you by enraging you so much that Bruce Banner thinks you need anger management. No, Ocarina of Time succeeded when the move to 3D ruined a lot of other games—Mario 64 stripped out a lot of the charm of blazing through levels with the murderous glint of a colonial-era explorer, robbing the land of its power-ups, slaughtering native wildlife, toppling their existing governmental structure by sticking a flag in their castle, and then turning your back on it and never returning to your devastation, while the Metroid Prime games felt like leaping blindfolded from timber to timber on the rotted remains of a dock while trying to juggle chainsaws. Rather, the only way the first 3D Zelda game backfired was by making people completely forget about 2D Zelda games.

OoT Pedo Tree

Judging by the Deku Tree’s stache, this is the fantasy equivalent of “Free candy in the back of my windowless van.”

To recap for the newcomers, Ocarina of Time works as an origin story for the franchise, as opposed to Skyward Sword who draws a paycheck and has an official title as origin story, but who got the job because his uncle works for Nintendo and spends most of his day sleeping at his desk and playing minesweeper without actually getting any better at it. The game opens with the Deku Tree, all-powerful guardian deity of the forest, who has about the same temperament toward spiders as my ex-girlfriend; he sends his fairy servant, Navi, to wake up a ten-year-old boy to come kill the spider while he stands there unmoving, jaw agape in fear. Thus begins Link v1’s quest to go find a villain to slay to save Hyrule. And he finds one relatively early on in Gannondorf, who he finds bowing down and offering his service to the king, despite the only things on his resume being “Overbearing patriarch of criminal enterprise / harem” and “Murdered all-powerful guardian deity of the forest.” Fortunately, the king’s ten-year-old daughter isn’t as easily as fooled as the…man entrusted with the safety and prosperity of the realm…and she sends Link to retrieve some magical macguffins, which gives Gannondorf just enough times to murder the king and pull off a coup that would make Cersei Lannister sweat.

When Link accidentally leads Gannondorf to the ultimate macguffin, the Triforce, the powers that be decide, “This may not be the best time, Link,” and seal him away for seven years, forging the perfect hero: a seventeen-year-old adonis who wields the Master Sword, the Triforce of Courage, and the emotional and mental capabilities of a ten-year-old. As a bonus, Link can drop the Master Sword back into its pedestal and turn into his ten-year-old self again, setting up a defining feature of the game, which you use exactly twice (unless you want to go side-questing).

The game works because it retains everything fun about the 2D Zelda games, and it just changes the perspective. You still trek through underground labyrinths looking for buried junk, and each one offers more uses than a Swiss army knife, unlike later games where Link’s tools amount to nothing more than an exotic and unwieldy key chain to flip through every time you get stuck at a dead end. Nintendo decided to split adult Link’s and child Link’s inventories into two nearly separate collections, for no purpose that I can see other than teaching players the value of Venn diagrams. Once Link grows up, he no longer can throw a boomerang and finds the slingshot a bit childish…but that bottle of Lon-lon milk has at least reached a good vintage, looking awfully tasty after seven years in the fridge. At any rate, while this should add challenge and variety to the game play, it ultimately just gives adult Link a few weapons that have more-or-less the same use as the ones he used as a kid, so they feel almost like upgrades instead of new weapons. But bonus points to Nintendo for running out of ideas for items and making it look intentional.

OoT Fish

Because who wouldn’t want to virtually simulate sitting still for hours on end, doing nothing but staring at the water with wet socks?

You still explore an expansive world although there are some limitations. Hyrule doesn’t seem like an easily navigable country, considering anyone who wants to visit the desert has to first engage in some deep-sea spelunking in order to find the proper tool, or that anyone wishing to attend a Sunday mass at the Shadow Temple has to find an enchanted ocarina, play the proper melody to teleport to the graveyard, and then magically light about six dozen torches at once. The original Legend of Zelda and a Link to the Past had a good deal of replay value by giving the player a certain degree of freedom to roam wherever and tackle dungeons in a number of different orders. By cracking down on that freedom, forcing the player to take the standard tour to see what the game wants you to see when it wants you to see it, Hyrule feels less like a fairy tale kingdom and a little more like a dystopian communist police state.

OoT Shadow Link

Shadow Link. Boss of the second game in the series. Still a bitch after all these years.

Of course, not many police states will arrest your protagonist, then throw them in an easily escapable dungeon with all their tools and weapons, just for a forced stealth sequence. Even in Ocarina of Time, this doesn’t work very well, especially considering that after proving himself against the most vile abominations Hyrule has to offer, he just throws his hands up and goes along politely with the Gerudo guards every time they catch sight of him from a distance. I get he has to prove himself to them somehow in order for the story to work, but honestly, I think he’s had one too many swigs of fermented milk to be such a pushover. Also like its 2D predecessors, Ocarina of Time puts its secrets in plain view rather than sealing them away in concrete like nuclear waste and burying them so deep you need a walkthrough to even know they’re there. I generally enjoy seeing my goal and using my wits to attain it, rather than trying to look up answers in order to figure out the secret handshake.

I’ve played this game enough that I’d like to think that I can speak Chinese in an alternate reality where I’d never heard of Zelda, with almost every moment of that time spent on the N64 version. This time I opted for the 3DS. Personally, I find the graphical upgrade an oddly mixed blessing. They packed more detail into the textures and more stuff into houses and other locations to make Hyrule look like a well lived-in kingdom, and it really let me take my invasive need to snoop through other people’s homes to a new level. “Hey, listen! Go save Hyrule from evil!” “Can’t, Navi. There’s a banjo on this lady’s wall, and I want to see what’s in this box.” The great fairies’ breasts no longer look like someone carved them out of rock, with the indentation they left behind literally becoming the uncanny valley, but I’m still convinced they’ve probably had work done. On a similar note, Ruto no longer looks like she’s wandering around naked inside Jabu Jabu, but the fact that Nintendo successfully made me stare at fish tits for so long has left me feeling deeply confused…and oddly aroused…but definitely confused.

OoT Ruto

Still about as much fish as your average mermaid, but trading the tail for the head? Meh. I’m game. Let me dive into your water temple, o sage.

After beating the 3DS version, you unlock the master quest. I have never played this and will probably save it for another entry some day, but in short, this parallels the master quest of the original NES game, with new dungeon layouts and increased difficulty. One of the features, which I gather is unique to the 3DS, is that the overworld is, for whatever reason, completely mirrored, much like the Wii Twilight Princess. Since most Wii players are right-handed, this made sense for motion controls. However, since the only motion controls here involve a weird gyroscopic aiming option that just sends your arrows off into oblivion while inducing a mild sense of nausea, the only thing I can see is that this is to make the game more difficult. The concept of making a 20-year-old game harder is a good one, but there’s a difference between making enemies deal more damage and putting a virtual pair of beer goggles on the player.

Honestly, I liked what they did with the 3DS remake. More than the graphical update, they’ve also tweaked a few mechanics, such as making the boots usable items instead of demanding they be equipped and unequipped every few seconds—honestly, you’re supposed to be the Hero of Time, not an asthmatic knight gearing up for a joust. So worry not, readers, I still enjoy Ocarina of Time and will not malign it.

Even if Link to the Past was the better game.

OoT Zelda

Just tell me you didn’t love me when you thought I was a man and I’ll go.

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Nightfire – PS2, XBox, Game Cube

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I’m currently having a bit of a Jonny Quest crisis when it comes to James Bond. In eighth grade, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was the standard by which I set my life up for disappointment. My yard wasn’t big enough, my life wasn’t adventurous enough, my friends weren’t close enough, and instead of making daily trips to Gibson-esque cyber worlds, the most technical, scientific thing I could do was set people’s VCR clocks for them. However, about ten years back, untreated depression, a vicious break-up, career uncertainty, and the entire Bush administration had given me new standards for disappointment, so when I dug up some old episodes of Jonny Quest, I could finally watch them objectively. Even if I ignore the fact that I’ve seen McDonald’s wrappers with more entertaining writing and character development less natural than breast implants, the first time they busted out a “Sim-sim-sala-bim,” I began to edge cautiously away from the series like it was a family member who always refers to Asians as “those little yellow people.”

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Visit exotic locales. Meet the local population. Then shoot them.

Likewise, James Bond always held a certain allure for me throughout high school and early college, allowing me to vicariously experience the frustration of not living a life of exotic travel classy parties, and the luxury of not being rejected by girls who would prefer I sequester myself in a hole somewhere because I wasn’t exotic or classy enough for them. Fortunately, Goldeneye gave me something to do while cloistered like a frustrated adolescent monk, thus fueling my frustrated fantasies—kind of like putting out a kitchen fire with a bottle of bacon grease simply because you like the way it smells afterward. I wrote about that last week, though, about how the Wii remake was a disappointing, linear, first-person-shooter without any elements of the spy-thriller genre. It was only after playing Nightfire and watching Tomorrow Never Dies that I came to the realization, “Oh yeah. They’re all kind of bad.”

But if judged by 007 standards, Nighfire blew me away on its release. It had a story as original and strong as any of the films (even if the films are formulaic and convoluted), it’s own opening sequence (even if the song sounded like a monkey trying to crush a termite running across a piano) and an overall look and feel that completely outdid the previous game, Agent Under Fire (even if that game was only a mediocre effort at best). The story has Bond investigating the theft of a missile guidance chip as it is turned over in secret to Raphael Drake, a man who heads the Phoenix Corporation that specializes in decommission of nuclear weapons. Sounds to me like they’re throwing Bond softball missions in his old age. A man with dead nuclear weapons who runs a company named after a bird that comes back from the dead in a fiery blaze wants control of nuclear weapons? I’ve seen episodes of Blue’s Clues that were harder to crack. Mix in your standard cocktail of Bond villain motivations (Part Hugo Drax from both the Moonraker film and Novel with a spritz of Blofeld’s New World Order) and you have a pretty good story that almost certainly doesn’t sound completely ripped off from the main series.

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The game gives you constant access to night and heat vision, which you will probably only remember when you search for screen shots for your blog post.

If you read my Goldeneye Reloaded review from last week, I lamented the fact that modern Bond games are practically indistinguishable from your average Call of Duty. Nightfire, fortunately, had not yet fallen into that trap, and thus has objectives a little more complex than “Go that way. Don’t get shot.” Stages have some areas that, if you squint just right, might be forcing you into it’s own predetermined Macarena of fantasy espionage, but mostly, they’re free-roaming and engineered like real world locations: buildings naturally have hallways with doors and rooms off of them, outdoor locations are reasonably open and non-constricting, and roads, like always, are long corridors with very few forks which all link back up to the main road and have boxes of missiles and body armor lying around on the pavement. This gives the game an aspect of exploration absent from the hallway-of-bullets style games. The player can find extra body armor, ammunition caches, or even weapons stronger than the ones Bond loots off corpses. This creates one of my favorite scenarios for video games—options for the player. Each weapon has an alternate method of fire for when you want to be accurate with your shot or just hit everything in front of you, when you want to be silent and stealthy or if you don’t care who knows where you are, or when you think an enemy is best brought down with a hail of bullets or a grenade launched into their face. Also unlike modern games, you can carry as many weapons as you find. Yes, it might take Medieval torture equipment to stretch my imagination far enough to picture Bond lugging around enough firepower to be legally classified as either a small-scale civil war or an NRA gun show, but this is one case where verisimilitude takes a back seat to being fun to play, and I’d rather have a steady choice of weapons than leave a trail of deadly breadcrumbs behind me for my enemies to follow every time I stumble across a new gun.

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Wait, this isn’t a screenshot from Nightfire…this is a photograph from my driving test.

The other benefit to the exploration is that the player can potentially change how the level plays. An early stage tasked me with skirting a castle’s security system. Halfway through I stumbled across a panel that controlled the spot lights. There’s something about zapping a single wire with a watch laser and then waltzing right in through the front gates that makes me feel like…well, like James Bond, to be honest. The player can discover moves like this several times throughout each level, and each one jacks up their score (towards unlocking multiplayer features). The game calls these “Bond Moves,” described in the manual as “Moves that only Bond would think of.” Disregarding the fact that any action taken by the player is, by definition, no longer a Bond move, some of these are a little disappointing. Sure, it takes some skill to launch a car through a diner to evade enemies, but I’m pretty sure that’s in the standard Blues Brothers playbook as well. And maybe it takes the keen eyesight of a super-spy to spot a weak support beam that would bring down a bridge on top of a troop of soldiers, but it takes less wit to realize that an explosive barrel makes a better target than the enemy huddling for cover behind it. And if it doesn’t, well, I’m assuming the NSA is monitoring this post, so please consider this my application.

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The game forges emotional connections with the characters by killing you constantly so you have to stare at Alura McCall for a combined total of three hours.

And, of course, what Bond game would be complete without his legendary charm, beautiful women, and we can only assume the unholy stench every time he unzips his pants that derives from the conglomeration of sex diseases he’s accumulated over the years? Nightfire views women less like Bond’s companions and more like dialysis machines, which he can’t be separated from for more than an hour at a time. In addition to having three named women and at least two random girls lining up to perpetuate his addiction to carnal spelunking, one later stage murders a love interest at the top of Drake’s Tokyo tower and gives him a fresh girl by the time he makes it to the ground, as though he got them in a buy-two-get-one free sale and just had the third one laying around unopened in his glove box. I know Bond has become so flat and formulaic he looks like a Loony Toons algebra book, but we are still talking about the character who went on an angry, vengeful killing spree when his wife was murdered, so it might have been nice to give him more time to grieve than it takes to acquire PTSD.

While I realize my reviews have gotten progressively cloudier and can only really be called reviews in the sense that I’m looking at stuff again, I’d like to state clearly that I liked this game. It has the classic Bond feel. The gadgets are actual spyware (not the stuff that the Internet installs on your computer)–the day you can download a grapple beam from Google Play is the day the spy thriller genre dies. The difficulty curve works well, although it’s a little depressing to watch your scores progressively drop off until the game stops giving you gold medals and unlocked items and handing out participation awards instead. At the end of the game, especially, you notice that checkpoints are rarer than nuns in a brothel, but with unskippable cut scenes, I can probably recite Drake’s final monologue the next time I audition for a play.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – NES, Game Cube, GBA

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After having retrocookie’s background set to a scene from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for maybe a year and a half, it occurred to me that maybe I should have an entry for the game itself. Zelda II, you see, has a number of notable distinctions, being the final game in the Zelda chronology (providing you don’t give yourself an aneurysm trying to figure out the official timeline), the first game to introduce a magic meter, the first appearance of Volvagia, Shadow Link and the Triforce of Courage, and it’s easily the most hated and least played game in the series because Nintendo completely abandoned the gameplay of the original to bring you Super Mario RPG. Oh, and it’s hard enough that King Leonidas could build a wall out of the Link corpses you’ll leave littered on the side of the road. But aside from the unfortunate fact that they mixed this game with 4 parts Mario, 2 parts Dragon Quest, 3 parts Castlevania with a shot of green food coloring to nominally call it a Zelda game, it’s actually a pretty good game in its own right.

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Link’s slides of his vacation to Easter Island.

The instruction manual describes the story like a heated debate between two Nintendo employees who couldn’t agree on why Link is still romping through Hyrule slaughtering octoroks like a burgeoning serial killer who hasn’t quite moved up to humans yet. Either an ancient prophecy finally got its act together, stopped drinking and sent its resume to Link, expressing an interest in a career of waking up narcoleptic princesses, or Ganon’s minions have put out a hit on Link, and he needs to stay alive long enough to get the Triforce, which I guess will scare them off. I don’t know. The game kind of leaves that point gaping like a meteor impact crater by the end. Link still has a hit out on him. If Ganon’s minions sacrifice him—which sounds as much like a sacrifice as giving up abstinence for Lent—and drizzle his blood over the pile of ash that used to be Ganon, the pig comes back to life.

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Fuck you, Nintendo of America Censors! Look what I got! Religious iconography! (But they insisted on renaming the temples as “palaces”)

But whatever the reason, Link sets off. The overworld map gives a top-down perspective, but unlike the first game, you don’t fight enemies on the map itself. Rather, you contend with random encounters. But unlike the jarring Final Fantasy shifts that hit you like the raptor you never even knew was there, these enemies appear as groups, wandering the map like a touring punk band, and if Link touches them he has to fight his way out of the mosh pit to escape. These encounters, as well as towns, caves, bridges, and dungeons, play out as a side-scrolling platformer. Yup. A side-scrolling platformer. Nintendo took the most original idea they’ve had since Super Mario Bros, and turned it into…well, Super Mario Bros. The side-scrolling combat is interesting, to say the least. Link can attack and defend in both upper- and lower-body positions. He can also learn a downward stab that lets him stomp his enemies like a goomba, or combine an upward stab with the power glove to let him break bricks above his head. But Link earns experience, while Mario doesn’t. (Although after rescuing the same damn princess for 25 years, it would be nice if he had enough experience not to leave Peach alone in turtle-infested waters. Or maybe he could put two and two together concerning all those kidnappings.)

Link also learns magic. In each town, he can gain access to an old man who adds another rabbit to his hat. Usually, though, they won’t just scrawl out avada kedavra on a sheet of paper and point you at the monsters threatening to enslave the world. Nope. Usually you have to do some chores. One old man lost his trophy to a thieving goriya, and I guess his high school basketball record is so important to him that he won’t teach the “jump” spell until he gets it back. Some requests make sense, like rescuing a child lost in the wilderness. But one woman wouldn’t let me in to see the elder until I walked over to the fountain next to the house, cupped some water in my hands, and poured it down her throat. Only two elders didn’t ask me to turn my pockets out to rifle through the results of my latest scavenger hunt. One gave me the shield spell freely, but I had to find the other old man, who had stuffed himself into a fireplace.

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If I had a hammer…

Dungeon items, on the other hand, are as disappointing as a bachelor’s degree in English: they’re time-consuming to obtain, completely useless, and only serve to let you move on to get another one just like it, but even harder to get. Out of the eight main items, six of which are found in dungeons, only the hammer and the whistle do more than create a passive effect, and only the glove and arguably the hammer do anything but open up a path to get to the next area of the map. All other items are used once or twice and then take up space in your inventory, like an Englebert Humperdink 8-track your grandma gives you at Christmas—you know you’re never going to use it, so it sits in a box doing nothing but preventing you from the crushing guilt of throwing out your grandma’s present.

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…it’s not what it looks like! Unfortunately. And did I mention that this, faeries, and a “life” spell are the only ways to regain health?

The game is as hard as a Cialis overdose, and while you can continue as many times as you’d like, after three lives you go back to the beginning of the game, starting over in Zelda’s bedroom as though you’re trying to fill up a punch card to get your tenth burrito free. I’ll attribute this to either a glitch or a translation error, as the instruction manual clearly states that if you continue from a dungeon, you’ll restart from the dungeon entrance. This only works in the final temple, but by temple four, the walk alone from the start of the game is enough to kill you out of boredom, if the monsters don’t mug you along the way. It’s a good thing that video games don’t need realism any more than the beef at Taco Bell, or Link might be tempted to skip town before the assassins find him and let the princess sleep for another thousand years or so. It’s not like anyone needed her for anything until now.

Luigi’s Mansion – Game Cube

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I had a teacher once say about procrastination, “If you put something off long enough, eventually something will happen that means you won’t have to do it at all.” He used to work at a mental health clinic, and said that there were some patients where it just didn’t make sense to file the discharge papers. They’d be back. Soon. And if their discharge hadn’t been filed, it would be like they’d never left. Still, I maintain this blog as a way to write on a regular basis and an attempt to have a bit more skill at humor than, say, a dead mackerel, Rush Limbaugh, a Perkins Mammoth Muffin, or Will Ferrell. As such, I sometimes struggle to keep things posted on time, and every game I play (and recently, every book I read) deserves equal attention online if not just for the purpose of buying me time. So even though I played this game months ago, I only got around to writing three paragraphs at the time, and now I really need to sit down and finish it. Bonus points to readers who can guess which three paragraphs I wrote immediately after, and which ones sound old and stale, like a dead Mackerel, Rush Limbaugh, a Perkins Mammoth Muffin, or Will Ferrell.

Luigi2Sometimes I question whether it’s healthy for me to write about every game I play, or whether I’m intentionally turning myself into a sour cynic, hell-bent on juicing every flaw out of a game for lame attempts at comedy. And after attempting a run at Mario Sunshine, I looked at the copy of Luigi’s Mansion I acquired with that same sad look I give the bathroom door at 4:00 in the morning–it’s going to happen, but I don’t have to like the inconvenience. But while it doesn’t happen often, occasionally I get so wrapped up in a game that I forget to think of anything funny to say about it. Which means I’m still in a tough spot, even though I liked the game. So I guess I’ll throw out one of my simplified reviews: It’s like Fatal Frame with a vacuum cleaner.

Luigi1

…he slimed me.

The game opens with Luigi on his way to a mansion that he won in a contest he didn’t enter. Inside he finds a bunch of ghosts and Professor E. Gadd, a goofy little scientist who seems to speak a dialect of Ewok. Gadd is experimenting with the idea of Ghostbusters’ nuclear-powered proton packs: namely, if a common, household vacuum cleaner wouldn’t be a safer, cheaper option. (Spoiler alert: it is.) When he meets Luigi, he recognizes hero potential, and not the kid-gloves and pulled-punches potential of Mario is Missing. But as it turns out, Mario is, indeed, missing, which happens to be the only time Luigi can get any screen time. So rather than leave his brother to rot and run off with the princess himself, Luigi straps a hoover to his back and starts sucking down all the ghosts that got loose in his mansion.

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“Jesus fuckin-a-christ! I sure-a hope I don’t get-a my face devoured by-a those skinless-a hell hounds!”

Luigi’s Mansion represents an odd foray by Nintendo into the world of survival horror. Screw you, Wikipedia, for listing it as action-adventure. Let’s run down a checklist, shall we? The character searches for a missing sibling. Check. Luigi wanders through a creepy mansion filled with ghosts, looking for keys that help him get into other areas. Check. When accessing a new area, the game shows a door “loading” screen. Check. Obnoxious footsteps that make you sound like a Dutch clog-dancing tournament. Big Check. For Bowser’s sake, Luigi can’t even jump—but the ghosts can. The game hits every cliché in the survival horror book like it was trying to get an “A” on the test. However, you don’t often see genres mixed into this one. If you play survival horror, you can damn well be certain the game will either try to scare the ammo out of you, ignite a passionate wrath…with awful controls…or lull you into a coma of boredom with horror tropes and jump scares. Luigi’s Mansion turns it into a cartoon, a rather amusing one, at that. The ghosts each have their own personalities (seemingly straight out of Ghostbusters). Luigi himself displays a level of fear that could give a whale a heart attack, which in addition to making him more endearing than Mario ever was, implies either a great bond of love and devotion to his brother, or a pretty severe case of codependency and/or Stockholm Syndrome.

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Am I interrupting something?

Tank controls have been a staple of the genre since Resident Evil. “We’ll have them fight zombies, but conserve ammo!” “But the zombies move more slowly than social progress in Alabama!” “Well, lets just kick the controls in the head. By the time they figure out how to run away, their brains will be Cap’n Crunch for zombies.” However, Luigi’s vacuum cleaner controls feel both challenging and meaningful. I absolutely despise fishing (constantly being told not to talk or I’d scare the fish…which I later found out was just a bullshit excuse to shut me up), and refuse to do it even in Zelda games. But I imagine the satisfaction of reeling in a ghost is a lot like what people who enjoy fishing must feel when they finally bring in that barracuda they’ve been stalking.

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The Flowers are Still Standing!

One last thing to say about this game, the music is catchy. So catchy in fact that every so often Luigi himself starts humming nervously along with it. It’s a nice little ditty, and if you decide to play the game I certainly hope you like it too…since it’s the only song they give you for the entire game. “Sorry, Luigi. Even Nintendo doesn’t want to waste time on you, so here’s something I plunked out on my piano this morning!” By the time you finish the game, that song remains the only truly horrifying thing left to face.

Super Mario Sunshine – Game Cube

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A few weeks ago I wrote about New Super Mario Bros, which I found more nostalgic than “new,” and except for the multiplayer, I found it rather lacking in the “Bros.” department. I happened to like that game, despite my usual disdain for Mario, who quite honestly, has become a bit of a sellout since his return from Dinosaur Land. Well, in my opioid haze of nostalgia, I happened to forget the mowing-the-lawn-with-fingernail-clippers experience of most platform games, and I thought I’d check out Super Mario Sunshine. After sitting in front of my computer for fifteen minutes trying to think how to cleverly introduce the game, the only thing I can really say about Mario Sunshine is how much it made me appreciate my Amazon seller account.

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Sure, they look cute, but try smuggling a box of them into a movie theater.

As I established in my New Super Mario Bros. post, attaching a complex story to a Mario game shows about as much understanding and respect for the series as a game of Pin the Tail on the Rembrandt. A quick glance at the ol’ timeline o’ Mario games reveals, well, two things, really. First, that Mario is replicating at the pace of a well-fed bacterial colony (despite the legion of pills Dr. Mario has been popping) and we should probably get a cream or something to treat the infection. Second, that Mario Sunshine was one of the first to attempt a rational story behind the “plumber takes mushrooms, sees flying turtles, talks to dinosaurs” scenario. After their last big adventure, Mario and Peach go on vacation, drawing a complete blank on what happened the last time they took a holiday arriving on a tropical island populated by morbidly obese nerds candies, they find a pile of sludge and a Mario impostor. Naturally, no one can tell the two of them apart, even though the evil Mario’s swirly blue texture from hat to boots would be enough to spark the light bulb over Lois Lane’s head. After a short trial, the Nerds slap Mario with community service, charging him with cleaning all the sludge and graffiti off their island.

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…Hermes?

While Sunshine obviously wants to piggy-back of Mario 64‘s success, I do lament the old days when Mario could wrap his legs around a pole and slide down like an ostentatious stripper, then put that level to rest. Instead, like every other game since the N64 era, it becomes a scavenger hunt. While you searched for stars in Mario 64, Mario Sunshine has you out collecting–you guessed it–all the M*A*S*H memorabilia available on ebay! Just kidding, you have to look for suns to resolve some side plot where half the island is covered in shadow, and you’ll do this by repeating the same half-dozen levels until the extended electrical strain melts your game cube and starts a minor house fire. The problem is, even in the revitalized, 3-dimensional Mario 64, which also repeated levels enough to give Dora the Explorer and aneurysm, it still felt a little bit like a Mario game. You stomped goombas, chucked koopa shells, and chased mushrooms that grew out of the foundation of Peach’s castle.

Mario Sunshine, on the other hand, removes the classic enemies, pipe transit system, and there isn’t even an airborne punctuation mark hanging out anywhere in this tropical paradise–but they retained precarious ledges over bottomless holes as though we only play video games because we have a gravity fetish and wish to simulate the deaths of 1930s stock brokers. Most of the gameplay centers around use of Mario’s water cannon, and using that to spray enemies and walls. 3D platformers almost always play like frisbee golf during a hurricane, but you’d have better luck putting out your house fire by grabbing the fire hose by the hydrant end than you would aiming the water cannon. Certain segments even require simultaneous running and spraying, both tasks operated by the control stick, and since the water cannon uses an inverted aim, it gets rather difficult to hold it both up and down at the same time.

MS3

Will someone explain to me how spraying a squid with water is supposed to hurt it?

I’ve often heard it said, though, that if you put enough monkeys in a room with typewriters, they’ll eventually pound out the proper coding to control a Mario game. Mario Sunshine controls entirely unintuitively. One lovely example is climbing around on wire grates, as in Super Mario World, but with an extra dimension. When climbing vertically, the B button flips the gate to the other side while the A button detaches Mario and launches him into the vast, empty sky like a bra at a One Direction concert. However, when climbing and/or dangling horizontally, the A button flips the gate and the B button detaches you. I spent a lot of time falling and climbing before deciding I really didn’t need that sun after all, after which I went back to the hub world and searched for more levels, hopping from rooftop to rooftop as though Mario would rather be playing Assassin’s Creed–and honestly, so would I.

While in elementary school, I harbored this deep, shameful secret: I had beaten Mario 2 and 3, but I could never get past world 8-2 in the original game! Only much later did I realize that Super Mario Bros. was harder to get through than Chicago during rush hour. However, at Anne’s insistence, I’ve recently begun to tell myself that I don’t need to finish games that make my hair prematurely gray (note: my barber has been finding gray hairs since I was in 11th grade). Redeeming features? Running around underneath the hub city is the closest we’ll ever get to see Mario doing actual plumbing. Also, I got a kick out of buying stars from a giant tanuki who we never see from the waist down (google “tanuki” images if you don’t get it. NSFW). Still, a 21st-century video game that still uses lives may become a self-fulfilling game feature. The more times it makes me restart at the hub world just to get to the one difficult ledge I keep falling off, the more I feel that the “Game Over” screen is a wise truth I must accept.

Marios

If a shot of penicillin won’t relieve the burning, I suggest fumigation. And stay away from fire flowers in the future.

On a related note, check Amazon for a new copy of this game, appearing soon!

Lego Star Wars – GBA, NDS, PS2, Game Cube, XBox, PC

Featuring the stars of Lego Schindler's List and Lego Moulin Rouge.

Featuring the stars of Lego Schindler’s List and Lego Moulin Rouge.

Months ago I played Grand Theft Auto III, and hated it so much that I didn’t finish. At the time I had another GTA game on my shelf, which you may have noticed never made it to this blog. I didn’t just set the disc on fire out of hatred for the series–although in an Odyssey of the Mind style hallucination, I did consider re-purposing it as a coaster, a wall decoration, a tiny stage for pet mice to perform on, a projectile to hurl at my neighbor’s overly-excitable dog, or a shim to level out my wobbly kitchen table. No, instead, I put it in my PS2, which immediately responded, “Ha, ha. Funny joke. Now put a real PS2 game in my tray, would you?” I tried repairing the disc, but apparently someone before me had re-purposed the game as a nail file. “Fine by me!” I thought. I didn’t want to play it anyway! And I moved on to a more interesting looking game: Lego Batman. Which promptly seized up at the beginning of the Penguin’s story arc. Moral of the story: don’t buy used games at Savers. But what can you expect from a store that would chuck Mega Man 2 in the trash for its age, but then try to sell six dozen Madden games for $4 each? Yesterday, I actually found high school sports trophies, engraved with the names of the winner. But Conker’s Bad Fur Day? Burn it! Damn cartridge!

I want a good clean fight. No severing arms. No blasters. No Force grabs below the belt. Oh, and your droids. They'll have to wait outside.

I want a good clean fight. No severing arms. No blasters. No Force grabs below the belt. Oh, and your droids. They’ll have to wait outside.

So to reign in my tirade, when I pulled out the Lego Star Wars disc and could not even with a generous heart refer to it as “round,” I didn’t have high hopes of finishing the game. But as you can see, God does have a sense of humor, and he chose to perform his miraculous Hanukkah Game Technique to keep the disc spinning for as long as it took me to finish, thus forcing me to write about a game virtually identical to Lego Star Wars II, which I reviewed only a few months ago. So here it goes…

Lego Star Wars covers the prequel trilogy, but otherwise bears no differences to Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.

Pretty good, huh? One of my best reviews yet. Oh! Wait! I’ll do it as a haiku!

Lego Star Wars has
No major differences from
Lego Star Wars II.

Special Ed...momma dropped him on his head...now he's not so bright, instead...he stars in the Phantom Menace.

Special Ed…momma dropped him on his head…now he’s not so bright, instead…he stars in the Phantom Menace.

But seriously, I should probably at least pretend to have some journalistic integrity (I’ll get it when someone starts paying me to write, damn it!) and try to say something worthwhile about it. Lego Star Wars marks the first of the licensed Lego games developed by Traveler’s Tales. Oddly enough, this rookie attempt actually makes it easier to write about, since it lacks a number of things that have become staples for the Lego licensed series. Characters can’t assemble bricks into objects to interact with. The Jedi sort of can, but only as part of their Force powers.  Also, you’ll notice that none of the levels have Free Play areas, places you can access only by bringing other characters into the level using Free Play mode. And now, a limerick:

Uh, Obi-Wan...maybe not use the Force on me for a while. That light looks like it might cause cancer.

Uh, Obi-Wan…maybe not use the Force on me for a while. That light looks like it might cause cancer.

When playing a Star Wars with bricks
the Jedi all play Pick-up-Sticks
The blasters shoot bolts
The Gungans are dolts
While the enemies all act like pricks.

While the other Lego games don’t exactly force you to look up walkthroughs, this attempt eliminates the need entirely.  It doesn’t really employ puzzles or more than a few secrets, instead focusing on a run-and-gun, Mega Man style of gameplay. The vehicle levels control well, surprisingly welcome from Lego Star Wars II’s underwater-shark-rodeo vehicle handling. It does result in a slightly too easy game, but they don’t exactly market these games to the World of Warcraft or the competitive Smash Bros. crowds. Beating the game in two days actually made the experience rather pleasant.

A 900-year-old arthritic ninja muppet and an 8-foot tall Wookiee, pissed off that he missed Life Day. I think we have either the makings of a buddy road comedy or an action cop drama here.

A 900-year-old arthritic ninja muppet and an 8-foot tall Wookiee, pissed off that he missed Life Day. I think we have either the makings of a buddy road comedy or an action cop drama here.

For licensed games, the Lego series don’t suck. I know that describing them like that equates to calling someone the world’s tallest leprechaun, or naming someone hacky sack champion of the hospital’s paraplegia ward, but unlike most game licensing, Traveler’s Tales doesn’t seem to do it for a quick cash grab, hiring three people to code the game and twenty-five to design the box and marketing material. Instead, they aim for humor, for ease of gameplay, and amusing moments like when Yoda, who hobbles at a snail’s pace, opens his lightsaber and becomes the God of All Ninjutsu. I know they all play pretty much identically, but look for a few other Lego articles in the future, since I can probably repair my Batman disc. And I bought Anne Lego Lord of the Rings for her birthday. And Lego Jurassic World looks fun…

Nope. I checked. Still no one wants cares about the pod race.

Nope. I checked. Still no one cares about the pod race.

…yeah, I just make my job harder for myself. Maybe I’ll have something to say six months from now. Oh, and Pod Racing? Still stupid.

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?