The Legend of Zelda – NES

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Let me hold it up to the light here…what, did you make this yourself? You really want to send me off to rescue your wrinkly ass with…what is this? Balsa wood? Yeah, some great hero of Hyrule I’ll be. “He could have saved everyone if it weren’t for that nest of termites.”

“Is he actually going to do it?” you ask. “Is he going to take pot shots at the Legend of Zelda?”

Yes, fictional reader who asked a question no one was thinking so that I could begin this entry the way I wanted. Yes I am.

But let’s face it, while the game is the orgasm in the orgy of fantasy, adventure, catchy music, and 8-bit eye candy, but to pretend that Nintendo ironed out all the flaws and created the paradigm of video games with only a 64kb cartridge is like saying a four-year-old scribbling out the alphabet has a literary prowess to rival Tolkien.

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Whoah, Ganon, dude…you gotta get out more. Lift a few weights. Cut back on the like-like steaks. I almost feel bad fighting you in that shape.

As usual, though, let’s start with the story. The Kingdom of Hyrule keeps a powerful source of magic, the Triforce of the Gods (or the Triforce of the Nintendo of America Secular Censorship Authority, depending on whether you’re American or Japanese). However, this is like eating in bed, and the crumbs of magic tend to attract vicious monsters, evil wizards, giant pig demons, and republicans to the kingdom. Currently, the demon king Ganon has seized command of the kingdom (despite losing the popular vote), the Triforce of Power, and in true villain fashion, Princess Zelda (we’ll not ask how he seized her). However, before her capture, Zelda decided to desecrate a sacred artifact—for its own good, mind you—and scatter the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom around Hyrule. Furthermore, she put out a hit on Ganon and sent her servant, Impa, to track down the perfect assassin.

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Tink? Is that you? Come a little closer…there’s something really interesting in this bottle…

But Impa, being old enough to remember when the alphabet first came out, had a bit of a senior moment and came back with Link, an unarmed, prepubescent elf dressed like Peter Pan. Link, who apparently thinks he’s going to fight like Goofy from Kingdom Hearts, sets out with naught but his shield. His quest: wrest the hidden Triforce pieces away from Ganon’s goons and take them to the demon king himself to do battle. Wow. Where do I begin with that one? First, Zelda darling, your heart’s in the right place, but next time consider burying them in unmarked locations rather than hiding them in your enemy’s living room. Second, Ganon, I know you authoritarian types generally regard education with as much fondness as the scent of a burning skunk, but if it never occurred to you or your underlings to, you know, put the Triforce back together on your own, you may want to raise the standards on your help wanted ads. After all, it takes more than a few extra chromosomes to think that the hero would assemble it for you and waltz right into your office with it.

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What kind of fantasy world is this where I still need a prescription and a part-time job as an exterminator just to get medicine? I’m going to rescue Zelda, not roofie her!

So Link isn’t the sharpest edge on the sword (or judging by those tights, the straightest arrow in the quiver), but he gets the job done, much to the chagrin of the Hylian populace who, despite being forced to live in caves while packs of wild octopi devour people just beyond their threshold, seem to take every action possible to bolster the status quo of their predicament. They lure him into their casinos to take his cash, outright extort repair fees from him to maintain their shoddy housing, gouge prices on vital necessities, force him to obtain a reference letter before providing him with emergency healthcare, and refuse to give him the means to defend himself until he jumps through pointless hoops. But on the plus side, at least there are no background checks or five-day waiting periods. I guess, though, that dealing with an uneducated, right-wing group of victims is what separates true heroes from people applying for Canadian visas.

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…let me guess, the Democrats are in charge again. Don’t you know that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a sword is a good guy with a sword?

So by now, those of you who haven’t actually played the game are probably either confused about what I’m talking about or pissed off that I’ve just forced you to read three paragraphs of political satire veiled so thin that it could be sent home from school for violating the dress code. I promise that one of these days (preferably when national diplomacy no longer resembles poorly-scripted WWE smack-talk) I’ll go back and write a straight entry on this game. But for now, let’s talk about early sandbox games.

Most fans probably know the series through either Ocarina of Time or games that came out afterwards. These games and I have quite a bit in common—completely straight, even though no one seems to know just by looking at it. The original game is notably different in that right from the opening, the player has access to most dungeons and all but two of the grid squares on the map. In addition, you can collect items in whatever order you’d like, providing you can collect the cash to buy them or that you have the prerequisite items to obtain others. The result of this is a remarkable freedom as to how you play the game. We’re talking the type of freedom that makes Mel Gibson characters get teary-eyed. The type of freedom that George Bush wishes he could force upon the Middle East (sorry, but just try making a joke about freedom that doesn’t involve one or the other!)

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No, dude, this’ll totally work. I saw a cartoon rabbit do it on TV.

Like every other Zelda game, Link collects tools to help him, except instead of following the using-the-tool-to-beat-the-dungeon-it’s-found-in routine, most items just make regular tasks a little easier. Items range from the vital (swords, shield and bombs) to the mostly useless (raft, bow and arrows) to the completely worthless (red candle, wand, skeleton key), and the more difficult the dungeon is, the more likely you are to put the item you found there in a $1 bin at your next yard sale. So while the 1 to 2 hour game gives you several paths to choose from, those paths tend to lead to your choice of Detroit, Rio de Janeiro, Pyongyang, or Disney World.

Fortunately, for those of us who can’t quite strut around AGDQ with a girl on each arm like we’re the Jackie Chan of Zelda, there’s an intermediate option. For any player who finishes the game—or more likely had a friend on the playground who told them to name their save file ZELDA—the cartridge holds a second quest, with entirely new dungeons, a partly rearranged overworld map, new obstacles, more challenging bosses, and a red bubble enemy that might only be defeated by a prescription for sedatives and blood pressure medication. Oddly enough, I never played the second quest much when I was younger, so I found it more challenging than juggling hedgehogs. Dungeon layouts are confusing in part due to invisible doors, some of which work only one way, so between the doors and the onslaught of monsters I usually wound up feeling my way through the dungeon like a drunken roomba with an inner ear infection.

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It’s a good thing that Hylians don’t speak in cryptic riddles or this might be really hard to figure out.

Unfortunately I don’t have a playground full of kids to help me figure out the secrets of the second quest, but I do have the Internet, and I’m not ashamed to use it. Not only because Shigeru Miyamoto specifically wanted players to share information, but because otherwise the only way to find anything is to play the game like a Verizon commercial with bombs.

Ultimate NES Remix – 3DS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploit the glitch!

Exploit the glitch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Wii

Damn...I feel sorry for that bird in about twenty minutes. I had a lot of girl problems in high school, but thankfully I never had to worry about a sentient car.

Damn…I feel sorry for that bird in about twenty minutes. I had a lot of girl problems in high school, but thankfully I never had to worry about a sentient car.

Let’s run an experiment. Take out a piece of paper and a pencil (I’ll wait…you good? Good) and write down as many words or phrases as you can that should describe a Zelda game. My list includes things like “adventurous,” “open-world exploration,” “beautiful and grand,” “colorful races and characters,” “excellently designed bosses and dungeons,” or my personal favorite, “clever use of items and tools.” Now make a list of words and phrases that should never under any circumstances describe any installment of the series. To throw out a few examples, try “fetch quests,” “overly linear,” “monotonous transportation,” “small, repetitive world,” “a species of testicle-shaped fruit creatures, “tedious puzzles lurking around every corner,” “Jar-Jar Binks” and any combination of the terms “motion controlled” and “Parkinson’s disease.” Congratulations, you now have a standard for judging Skyward Sword!

...okay, so I'll admit I find her kind of endearing. But I liked the elegant princess-goddess of wisdom better. At least for the purposes of a Zelda game.

…okay, so I’ll admit I find her kind of endearing. But I liked the elegant princess-goddess of wisdom better. At least for the purposes of a Zelda game.

Traditional Zelda games emphasized the open-world exploration, allowing the player to tackle dungeons in virtually any order (save for the few that required specific items to access or complete). I loved this. It let me plan out my game as something unique each time. Maybe I want to get the white sword before going into the first dungeon, or pick up the power glove before any thing else so I could access any location in the Dark World. Or not. Maybe I want to pick up the bow first, or scour the land for 250 rupees to get the blue ring. Maybe I want to ignore the swords entirely and get through as much of the game as possible with just the bow. Despite limitations on graphics and memory, the early incarnations of Link made replaying the game more fun. And while I somewhat understand why they required a linear dungeon order in Ocarina of Time, I would have preferred otherwise, and at least they left plenty of overworld quests open to choice. Sort of.

Unfortunately, each progressive game has doubled down more and more on this linear progression, and in Skyward Sword you don’t seem to have any say in what you do at any given time, as though you asked Nintendo to help you with a science fair project, and three hours later they run out of things for you to hold in place, so they send you upstairs to get it coffee so they can finish the project for you. And remember when you said you liked the fact that the game made you think? Well guess what, they’ve installed plenty of puzzles! Challenging, obtuse, and tedious puzzles lurking around every corner. Convoluted puzzles that make you feel stupid. And if overestimating player intelligence didn’t go far enough, they also manage to underestimate it, too.

Oh no! If only someone had designed this game in a way that let me swing my sword sideways! Like every other Zelda game!

Oh no! If only someone had designed this game in a way that let me swing my sword sideways! Like every other Zelda game!

Seriously Nintendo…two hours of tutorials? You put a motion-controlled sword in our hands and then need to tell us how to swing it left, right, up and down (yet no tutorial for the bug net, which handles about as well as you could expect…assuming Link had an advanced case of Parkinson’s disease)? Did you think we didn’t hear the constant beeping tone denoting low health, that we needed our sidekick to remind us that we need to find hearts? Did you? Really? Because of all the game’s sins, nothing tops saddling you with a companion so obnoxious that you’ll yearn for the halcyon days of “Look!” and “Listen!” and even Jar Jar Binks seems like a step up.

Apparently Nintendo felt the ambiguously gendered Zoras no longer creeped out players enough.

Apparently Nintendo felt the ambiguously gendered Zoras no longer creeped out players enough.

Link’s companion for Skyward Sword, Fi, grated on my nerves like a a block of soft cheese shoved through a fine mesh made of razor wire. Unlike Navi, who would point out useful objects and locations, the King of Red Lions who gave interesting back story and helpful objectives, and Midna, who gave Link super powers, Fi’s main objective compels her to repeat what other characters have only just finished saying. The Chief of the Kiwkis (a species of testicle-shaped fruit creatures) tells you the other kikwis have wandered off and he needs help finding them? Enter Fi to tell you that you should go look for the kikwis. The water dragon asks you to obtain sacred water to heal her wounds? Fi shows up to tell you that you can heal the dragon’s wounds by finding sacred water. Have you encountered your fiftieth time-shift stone, which you’ve used to solve all the previous desert puzzles? Don’t worry! Fi will explains that you can use time-shift stones to solve *this* puzzle. And notice that I didn’t say “how you can use time-shift stones.” That might actually venture into the realm of useful information. Even when you ask her for hints or for mission objectives, she’ll only paraphrase what another character told you, or give you such vital information as “Find hearts to refill your health” or “Bombs help you blow stuff up!”

I like sword fighting as much as the next guy, but this doesn't quite seem grand enough for a Zelda boss.

I like sword fighting as much as the next guy, but this doesn’t quite seem grand enough for a Zelda boss.

As the spirit of the sword and a creation of the goddess–yes, we apparently have a fourth goddess that no one will ever talk about again–she does serve a role in the plot. Namely, every time Link retrieves the MacGuffin currently in vogue with the latest dungeon, a message from the goddess will awaken in her memory banks. She then zips around the chamber like Tinkerbell on Ice because apparently she can only communicate these messages via interpretive dance. Still, for all it adds to what little story I found, I would have preferred walking up to the altar to find a note pinned to the treasure; “Dear Hero: Fire temple next. Eldin Volcano. Best Wishes. -G.” Oddly enough, though, Fi annoyed me the most when she calculated statistics. “Master, I calculate a 95% probability that this enemy guards the item you seek.” “Master, I calculate a 85% chance that you will need a sword to attack these monsters.” “Master, I calculate a 90% chance that if we go to the next dungeon, the game will progress.” Dear Nintendo, you can’t have a character rattle off probabilities like C-3PO (Yes, I just compared Fi to the two most obnoxious characters in the Star Wars universe) without that 5% chance that she gets it wrong!

This skulltula requires precise physical manipulation to expose and hit its weak point. Fortunately, the controls work so perfectly it almost feels psychic! No motion sensing problems at all!

This skulltula requires precise physical manipulation to expose and hit its weak point. Fortunately, the controls work so perfectly it almost feels psychic! No motion sensing problems at all!

But in other news, we all remember all those hours spent sailing the Great Ocean in the Wind Waker, and how Nintendo took those complaints and doubled down on them, giving us the Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, each one delivering even more monotonous transportation than the one before. Well, fear not, as Skyward Sword offers an airborne mode of tedious travel. As a resident of Skyloft, Link flies a Crimson Loftwing, a giant bird who soars leisurely through the sky in an attempt to arrive fashionably late. The Wii motion control gives you all the precision and handling as flying a stack of Kleenex through a strong breeze, and any quests or games that require the bird rely more on you getting lucky than getting better.

The overly linear design places obstacle after obstacle in Link’s path, each one requiring something you’ll find somewhere else. None of these fetch quests progress the plot or even make game play interesting. Curiously enough, though, I clocked in at roughly 40 hours by the end, a number quite common for RPGs and adventure games. That and the four hours it took to get to the first dungeon give off a strong vibe of Nintendo having nothing to put in the game. After the first five or six hours of chasing Zelda, I got through the first dungeon and came face-to-face with an honest-to-Nayru “Your princess is in another castle” message. Well, you get honesty points for all but admitting that you have absolutely no new ideas.

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

Now in two stunning dimensions!

Now in two stunning dimensions!

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

Also returning to series roots: Link's sideburns.

Also returning to series roots: Link’s sideburns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Or would we?

Link’s Crossbow Training – Wii

Walking. How novel!

Walking. How novel!

As one of my earliest memories of watching video games, I remember thinking the bait and the bombs from The Legend of Zelda looked like a toy soldier. I moved mountains to buy my own copy of A Link to the Past, and bought a shoddy old NES from a secondhand store just to try to play The Adventure of Link, which I never had as a kid. I bought an N64 just so I could play Ocarina of Time, and recognized that I’d have to buy a Game Cube solely for Wind Waker. I have used arrows, boomerangs, bombs, bottles, bows, candles, canes, capes, deku leaves, deku shields, deku sticks, gauntlets, giant’s knives, gloves, and on and on through Zora’s flippers and Zora’s scales. And in all the code brought to life as Hyrule, I have never seen Link use a crossbow. I suppose though, if he had any experience in it, he wouldn’t need the training.

A latecomer to the Wii, I picked up Link’s Crossbow Training for 49 cents (43 cents after my Gamestop member discount!). Before playing it, I decided to do it right, so I bought a zapper on eBay for about $8. That ought to make Nintendo feel good. Probably a year’s worth of development and an entire disc full of coding, and people spend 16 times the value of the game on a mostly solid hunk of plastic. Meanwhile, I see someone online trying to sell used Madden games for $10 each, and I think our planet has officially lost touch with the concept of “value.” To top it off, after buying the zapper, I found a bunch of reviews complaining about it. Yes, I believe you when you say ditching the zapper makes the game easier. And I got to level 99 in Duck Hunt once by playing six inches away from the screen–when I should have played it next to an unshaded lamp. I liked the zapper. I couldn’t quite look down the sights because of the Wii’s setup, and I didn’t exactly sneak around my house like James Bond on a stealth mission, but for the sake of virtual realism, it felt like holding a crossbow, and I figured “Why the hell not!!”

Link would make King Edgar proud.

Link would make King Edgar proud.

Anyone who ever swore furiously at the old man who wants to “play money making game” will know that the Zelda franchise has embraced mini-games right from the get-go. Fortunately, they’ve gotten a little less random and a little more fun as time has moved on. Link’s Crossbow Training feels like a mini-game that grew too big for its bottle. With no story of its own, the game utilizes scenes from Twilight Princess, finding excuses for Link to pump all manner of monsters, targets and…gorons wearing targets on their stomachs?…full of lead…tipped arrows. Okay, so the lack of a story kind of excuses the absurdity of friendly races standing confidently as targets without the luxury of cast iron underwear (or so much as a ragged loin cloth). But the crossbow itself, a stylish, well-built fully-automatic number capable of firing 30 rounds per second, really crowns the achievements of this game. After all, not only does it let me indulge my desire to mow down cuccos like a gangster with a tommy gun, but the sheer mechanics of a crossbow working that fast make me think we ought to have Link head up NASA for discovering materials and/or mechanics that work that way.

I...uh...the gorons seem to trust...uh...why would they do this? Do gorons even have groins?

I…uh…the gorons seem to trust…uh…why would they do this? Do gorons even have groins?

The game organizes itself pretty predictably. Each level has three stages. Link usually shoots at targets in the first, fights off enemies coming at him from all sides in the second, and then wanders around a map blasting unsuspecting monsters in the third. They do vary the pace, sometimes letting you hit targets while stationary, or moving like a rail shooter, or chucking skulls into the air like skeet (keep it classy, Link). Near the end, the game introduces bosses, one darknut and the stallord. They both go down rather easily, though, and I finished the final level on my first attempt and with a higher score than any of the other eight levels.

He looks nasty, but flash him your big, twinkly eyes and he melts to big, soft putty in your hands. Then you plant a quarrel in his fuckin' face!

He looks nasty, but flash him your big, twinkly eyes and he melts to big, soft putty in your hands. Then you plant a quarrel in his fuckin’ face!

Each stage lasts roughly a minute or two (insert sex joke of your choice here). Sometimes the wild blasting of monsters gets exciting, and the length of the level feels frustrating when you have a pile of bolts left and several dozens of monsters without quarrels in their foreheads, but when the game sets your target score at 40000 and you get 300, the brevity doesn’t discourage you from replaying the level. However, this also makes the game short, and with a steady arm you could get through it in about two hours, less with prior practice. But hey…49 cents. Otherwise, the only disappointment comes from the cucco, who deducts points from your score when you shoot it. I expected nothing less than a swarm of rabid chickens set out to re-enact Hitchcock movies. But no.

Link’s Awakening – Game Boy, Game Boy Color

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

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

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

Guest Writer: Anne Kendall

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

It's a leopleuridon, Charley!

It’s a leopleuridon, Charley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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