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.

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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.

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…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.

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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.

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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?

007 Everything or Nothing – PS2, Game Cube, XBox

Jaws had some awkward first dates, much like I, myself, did.

Jaws had some awkward first dates, much like I, myself, did.

99? You don't look a day over 86!

99? You don’t look a day over 86!

While growing up, I never really cared much for super heroes. Something about the black-and-white morality of Superman made me think hero worship would send me down the path of joining the boy scouts or becoming an altar boy, and I had this policy of actively avoiding people who wanted to molest me. So barring a slight interest in Batman (fueled by more than a passing interest in my own mental stability), I had to look elsewhere for impressive super-humans. As much as I’d like to say my interest in spies came from picking up Goldeneye 007 for the N64, but honestly, ever since 4th grade I’ve held Get Smart as the pinnacle of television programming. To this day, 99% of the women I’ve fallen for have held more than a passing resemblance to Barbara Feldon. But since this blog focuses on video games….Goldeneye 007, N64, yada yada, cute story about my past, segue into James Bond games.

I love James Bond, from his Batman-like gadgets to his Laffy-Taffy-style wit, his flashy theme songs and cadre of beautiful women. I even bought the July 1973 issue of Playboy on eBay, hoping to see a different side of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Bond Girl (Come on, Barbara, you still have time to make an appearance!) So the fact that they only make new movies once every two or three (sometimes up to six) years, really gets under my skin. Damn it! I need regular doses of Cold War inspired action thrillers! Fortunately, I managed to find a copy of Nightfire….somewhere; I forget where…and I realized that original electronic Bond stories didn’t all have to end up as disappointing as Agent Under Fire. So let me tell you about Everything or Nothing instead.

Curse you, Spider-man!

Curse you, Spider-man!

Everything or Nothing marks Pierce Brosnan’s final and from what I can tell only video game appearance as James Bond. The story follows our super-spy tracking down a load of nano-macguffins from the Green Goblin. If Willem Defoe–whose name literally means “of the enemy”–didn’t particularly look like his entire raison d’etre amounted to playing a Bond villain, they named his character after Satan and gave him a chip on his shoulder because Bond killed Christopher Walken–the only human on earth voted “Most Likely to Play a Bond Villain” by his high school graduating class”–in A View to a Kill. Some girls show up. Bond travels the world. Richard Kiel reprises his role as Jaws, lending his voice to the infamously mute character. Things explode. Bond makes puns that would make Gallagher turn in his grave.

This mission employs Bond's talent for plummeting.

This mission employs Bond’s talent for plummeting.

The back of the box tries to sell the game on the merits of having “an unprecedented variety of missions,” which raises some interesting questions. For one, what precedents on mission variety have we already established? Will Everything or Nothing contain action shooter levels, a quick round of Tetris in Moscow, three levels of Bubble Bobble, followed by ten minutes of Goat Simulator? Unfortunately for those of us who always felt James Bond needed a goat sidekick, the purported variety means that in addition to the regular third-person shooter levels, you get to play levels where you drive along a road, drive around a map, drive around a track, drive a tank around a map, and drive along a road in your choice of vehicles.  Of course, since I had just finished playing–sorry, attempting to play–Grand Theft Auto III, I couldn’t help but notice some strong similarities, especially on one map where the game literally asked me to steal a car and use it to break into a factory. Naturally, the GTA driving controls in place, this mission–along with several timed segments–turned into a game of Ted Kennedy bumper cars, with Bond’s Aston Martin flopping around the road as though someone had entered a live tuna in the Indy 500.

Take that, old bean! Yes, very good. Indeed.

Take that, old bean! Yes, very good. Indeed.

The character combat…works? I guess. I did rather appreciate the full body view of the character, rather than floating through the game as a disembodied gun with severely impaired peripheral vision. The camera controls work with all the finesse and grace of Ted Kennedy’s Bumper Cars, and I didn’t find any option for auto tracking or even a Z-targeting method like in Zelda. Since no one seems to have told the aiming feature they scrapped the first-person perspective, it will only lock on to enemies if Bond faces the same direction of the camera and the enemy falls within a zone of sight that doesn’t include his immediate peripheral vision; after all, nothing says “international super spy” like unloading six rounds into a house plant because it looks more threatening than the man holding a glass bottle, eying up your head like a recycling bin. Granted, taking control of Bond gives players the chance to immerse themselves in the world of espionage, but can’t we give the character just a little credit for intuition? I mean, Bond may excel at hand-to-hand combat, but when someone shoves the barrel of an AK-47 in your face, you just might have a few more effective tricks up your sleeve than pistol whipping him with your very much loaded shotgun.

How many games did it take you to figure out how to not stand out in the open, trying to stop bullets with your lungs?

How many games did it take you to figure out how to not stand out in the open, trying to stop bullets with your lungs?

Rather than a traditional menu, Everything or Nothing gives you “Bond Senses,” which I guess attempts to make up for the otherwise oblivious senses he displays in combat. By pressing left on the d-pad (Gamecube version), time will slow down, you can cycle through your weapons, and anything in the environment you can interact with will radiate small red rings that you can target to tell you exactly how to interact with them. I found this a refreshing alternative to the standard flipping-through-google-for-a-walkthrough method, and rarely got stuck. I say rarely because I did spend the better part of a half an hour running through an abandoned hotel looking for a fuse box, only to find out later that I had to target a non-accessible area of the map to find it. Also notice I said “slow time down” rather than “stop time.” Note: bullets travel fast. Best to stay on your guard even in Bond Sense Mode if you don’t have a pressing need to aerate your spleen. I found that one out the hard way.

EA retained the idea of Bond moves from previous games. Any time you do something especially clever, witty, or otherwise on the lines of what James Bond would have done himself, the game awards you bonus points. These can include useful tricks like jumping a fence on your motorcycle, or shooting a ceiling connection to drop a catwalk onto a group of enemies. However, I think EA may have run out of creative mojo (crikey!) to think up new Bond moves, as occasionally they awarded me points for things like “hitting the badguy with your rocket launcher” or “touch the girl.” And while, yes, this might fall under the umbrella of “in-character,” it generally doesn’t take super intelligence to go massage the girl when she asks you to.

Look....I, uh, hope I wasn't out of line with the crack about the big ape.

Look….I, uh, hope I wasn’t out of line with the crack about the big ape.

Generally, I liked the game. The lame accent Willem Defoe adopted made me think he didn’t exactly put his heart into this performance, and while I thought the game challenged me just enough to keep me interested without chucking my controller across the room, the final stage spiked horribly, so that I probably spent a good 10% of my total play time dying over and over again until giving up and dropping the game to easy mode–at which point it still took me three attempts. Everything or Nothing feels a little light in the story department, and even the girls only seem to make appearance out of perfunctory need to follow a formula, but as a game it held together without seeming like the usual movie-licensed cash grab that these games often degrade into. Plus, the game also features Judi Dench and John Cleese (or as I call him, Funny Q), and who doesn’t love to take mission suggestions from Monty Python?

Mega Man 3 – NES / PS2, XBox and Game Cube (as Mega Man Anniversary Collection)

The series employs many rooms shaped like this because you damn well better start from the far left side of the screen!

The series employs many rooms shaped like this because you damn well better start from the far left side of the screen!

So I’ve gone roughly twenty months on this project, but I’ve only written about one of my favorite franchises–Mega Man–once. But do you honestly need any more than that? Capcom released six main titles, each with a Game Boy spin-off, then moved on to the Mega Man X series, changing at most a handful of tools and the line-up of characters. If any series epitomized the “If it ain’t broke” philosophy more than any other…well, Madden, FIFA and all those sports games pretty much nailed it. But Capcom did it first. And as an added bonus, Mega Man has the advantage over Madden in that you can’t easily turn the game off and go fight a legion of evil robots, taking their weapons as trophies like an Assimovian serial killer. But as the first rule of robotics doesn’t preclude the murder of other robots, our favorite blue Dexterbot has free reign–even permission and justification–to slaughter all the bad people-bots in order to save humanity. And he does, but much like his human counterpart, Mega Man faces the challenge of killing over and over again without going stale. To that end, we get Dr. Albert Wily, mad scientist extraordinaire, modeled after Albert Einstein and inspiration for Albert Wesker. As a human, Mega Man can’t harm him, which gives him license to keep throwing robotic Batman-villain rejects our way until contentment dawns on our 8-bit faces or Capcom gets bored and suddenly stops producing the games in favor of Resident Evil.

Yep. You totally beat the final boss by dropping snakes into the cockpit with Dr. Wily.

Yep. You totally beat the final boss by dropping snakes into the cockpit with Dr. Wily.

The story behind Mega Man 3 tries to preemptively answer the question of why Dr. Light keeps pumping out deadly robots if Dr. Wily will only steal them and reprogram them for evil. Well, fortunately Dr. Wily has “found his sanity,” to quote the instruction book, and has teamed up with Dr. Light to work for world peace the only way they know how: by constructing the largest, deadliest, most powerful robot the world has ever seen. That’ll keep everyone safe. However, a new batch of robots has appeared on mining worlds, holding the 8 macguffins required to get the new peace keeper up and running.  Light believes some anonymous “lunatic guy” has ordered these robots to steal the energy crystals required to activate the peace keeping robot, Gamma. Jeez, Dr. Wily, didn’t you just find your sanity? Maybe you could lend to this situation your expert advice which we obviously know contains no trace of mental instability whatsoever.

As if the kooky concept of themed villains didn't scream "Batman" enough, Dr. Wily built a giant penguin.

As if the kooky concept of themed villains didn’t scream “Batman” enough, Dr. Wily built a giant penguin.

Fans have long considered Mega Man 2 the pinnacle of the series, and I really have to agree. The game introduced a number of features that fans had never seen before, but apparently would never reach the same quality again. Except Mega Man 3 improved upon everything. How does that work? Good question! Let’s start with the original Mega Man. For those of you who haven’t had the luxury of living in Asia, I should explain that Rock-Scissors-Paper games constitute an iron clad and legally binding contract between anyone under the age of 20. Drawing on this, the first Mega Man introduced this principle in the form of a guy who chucks scissors at you from his forehead, who goes down pretty easily if you’ve already beaten the guy who gives you the power to hurl rocks back at him. But since “Paper Man” sounded lame even on his own medium of attack, and a three-level game didn’t quite justify the $50 price tag, they had to beef it up a bit. So you might imagine Capcom designed themes for their robots, carefully crafted around well-balanced and clever real-world principles…just kidding! They went for the cliched trifecta of video game alchemy; lighting, fire and ice.

So in Mega Man 2, they went all-out with the alchemy, what with water dousing fire, fire burning wood (actually the combination of Earth and Water, but hey, who actually follows alchemy these days?), wood…I don’t know…filtering air? And then the other four robots. Except that metal guy looks like he’d do a number on wood man. And bubble lead somehow damages the time-stopping robot. So that game turned out a mess in the rock-scissors-paper department. Mega Man 3 tried to restore the feeling of one weakness per enemy. Except to keep it interesting, they made two separate circuits of weaknesses, ensuring you’d have to fight at least two bosses with just your mega buster.

Capcom won an award for the design of Snake Man's stage. Then blew it by making the boss look like a green sperm with legs.

Capcom won an award for the design of Snake Man’s stage. Then blew it by making the boss look like a green sperm with legs.

Furthermore, this game marks Capcom’s foray away from the usual fire- and ice-themed levels. Instead, we get the dark, starry world of Gemini Man or the ninja-bot, Shadow Man.  One might question why anyone built robots around these ideas. The original six robot masters all had some constructive purpose to society. I can even think of some useful, productive ways to employ Mega Man 2 robot masters. But Gemini and Shadow Man don’t seem very helpful, and then…well…Top Man. Yes, this game introduces the Slippy Toad of Dr. Wily’s minions, Top Man. Who spins. And throws tops. After defeating him, you get the top spin, a weapon so difficult to use that I often deal more damage to myself than the enemy I hope to target. Seriously…I hate this guy so much I just want to punch him in the face! Wait, what? You defeat him by punching him in the face? Excellent! Who do I get that weapon from? …Hard Man? Did anyone at Capcom think these names through all the way? Seeing as how he appears in the same game as Snake Man, I’d say someone on the development team had just a little too much inspiration from bad porn.

Doc Robot gets wood. Really, did no one think this through?

Doc Robot gets wood. Really, did no one think this through?

The game also rectifies the too-awesome-to-use trope among games where you collect items. None of the weapons has a limited number of uses–you can always replenish them by camping out in front of a giant penguin or something. However, these weapons usually take too much effort, and simply blasting through levels with your arm cannon provides the quickest and easiest way to the end. In Mega Man 3, rather than going straight to Dr. Wily’s castle after fighting the robot masters, an enemy called Doc Robot appears. With as much bearing on the plot as Arwen in the Lord of the Rings films, Doc Robot merely gives you a chance to use your weapons more. He inhabits four previously conquered stages, although he alters them drastically. Facing you twice in each stage, he adopts the attack patterns of all the Mega Man 2 bosses. Because Mega Man hasn’t, apparently, proved that he can mop the floor with all of them. Meh.

Proto Man: Dick to friend and foe alike.

Proto Man: Dick to friend and foe alike.

Having a little more relevance to the story, Mega Man also faces off against the supposedly mysterious Proto Man. Of course, if you’ve ever heard the term “Proto” before, the figuring out his identity has all the challenge of pouring a glass of water. He appears in several stages, usually to fight a few rounds with Mega Man. Ostensibly, he does this as a test, but while certain things–such as practicing for the SAT–might help you out just before going in for the real thing, you may not want a practice bout against Mohammad Ali ten minutes before the fight. Unless, of course, you can move faster without all that cumbersome blood. And really, doesn’t having perfect vision only dull your other senses? Proto Man couldn’t come off as more of a dick if he had actually sided with Dr. Wily.

Man's best friend when lava pours into bottomless pits.

Man’s best friend when lava pours into bottomless pits.

Also noteworthy, Mega Man 3 introduces a new series staple, Rush. Taking the place of the items from the previous game, Dr. Light built Mega Man a dog that can morph into vehicles to increase your mobility. Rush makes a good companion; he does whatever you ask him to, never gets in the way, and he doesn’t poop so you never have to worry about where you step. Each of his three functions–two of which you obtain after beating certain bosses and the other you have from the get-go–increases your mobility, allowing you to spring to new heights, soar over dangerous ground, or swim through that one patch of water in Gemini Man’s level. So maybe the implementation could have used some more thought, but did I mention he doesn’t poop? That puts him ahead of a real dog in my book.

Otherwise, if you’ve played any game in the series, you should know what to expect. Run, jump. Enemy robots. Pew pew pew. Pretty standard stuff.