Series I Love – The Legend of Zelda

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When I was younger, picking which games I wanted to play was simple. I was a pretty damn spoiled kid, so I usually saw something in the store and my mother bought it. While she objected to some things, she typically got me anything my heart desired.

Walking into our local Toys’R’Us one evening in 1998, I happened upon a flyer for an upcoming game called Zelda. My reading comprehension wasn’t as astute as now, so I didn’t even catch the subtitle underneath. To me, the golden sheen and shield crest were enough to hook my interest.

Over the next few months, I played my N64 as usual and kept my obsession with Goldeneye 007 going. At such a tender age, nearly any game would get its hooks into me and engulf my imagination. I kept thinking back to that sword and shield and wondering what dangers awaited me.

As the release date drew closer, Nintendo began their marketing campaign on TV and in movie theaters. I distinctly remember sitting in the theaters and seeing the “WHILST THOU SUCK?” advertisement. It put a fire in my eyes and made me determined to prove those ads wrong.

A night or two before the games release, I heard from a GameStop employee that the cartridge for Ocarina of Time was going to be gold. My little mind was blown. I couldn’t let this thing escape me. I needed to have this game in my collection. It felt like a rite of passage.

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After getting home with the game, I couldn’t wait to play it. I nearly ripped the box apart with excitement, but I saved my enthusiasm for the journey. I didn’t want to sully the experience by destroying its case.

As soon as the first chords of the theme played, I was in love. The game felt legendary even without its namesake. For 10 year old me, this was the most important game of my life. It was almost as if I became an adult as I stepped in Link’s boots and set off to save the land of Hyrule.

I had never played anything like it at that point in my life. My childhood was full of video games, but the 90’s were dominated by platformers and beat-em-ups. Fighting games were a big deal after Street Fighter, but not many besides that and Mortal Kombat stuck around.

Something like Zelda encompassed all of the exploration I loved from Mario with puzzle solving and dungeon diving. It was literally being placed into darkness with some tools and being told to figure it out. You had no guide and your worth was measured in accomplishing the mind benders in front of you.

I don’t remember how long it took my younger self to finish the N64 classic; I do know that I nearly missed the bus ride to school one morning since I was nearing the end and refused to skip the cutscene. My mother also nearly fell asleep listening to Zelda’s lullaby after a long night at work.

That same year, Nintendo had a double whammy for young me. A colorized version of the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening, was released for the Gameboy Color. I always brought the device with me to school for recess and the bus rides, so clearly I had to have this other Zelda title.

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When I’d leave home for the bus stop, I’d pack Link’s Awakening with me. From one to the other, my adventures with Link never ended. I’d sketch doodles of Link tackling foes, exploring ruins and finding treasure. I would fantasize about being in those dank caverns and surmounting the colossal beasts.

Since those games, The Legend of Zelda has become my favorite series. I’ve beaten each game in the series more than once (save for a couple of them) and I even get excited hearing about re-releases of past games. It’s strange to be excited for an HD version of a game you’ve finished 3 times and still own.

Even the dreaded Zelda 2 I’ve managed to complete twice. When playing it, I find the game amazing. For that matter, during any of the Zelda games, I’m awestruck. How Nintendo manages to craft such a varied world with intricate puzzles and hidden treasures is just awesome to me.

The mixture of thought provoking puzzle design and grandiose combat scenarios with a classic tale of good versus evil just keeps me coming back. I dig all of the variations the series has seen. Wind Waker is my favorite and I love bringing a friend along in Four Swords Adventures. The more recent Triforce Heroes is a solid co-op puzzle game and Skyward Sword made me a believer of motion controls.

Honestly, there isn’t a title in the series I truly dislike. I may complain about the issues that Twilight Princess has wit pacing or how superfluous most of Skyward Sword is, but I can’t get enough of those worlds. They are filled to the brim with interesting content.

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More importantly, they make me feel like my actions matter. I know that gaming has always placed your character as a hero, but those exploits weren’t as personal until The Legend of Zelda came along. With Zelda 2, Link was now directly helping people with their requests.

Running menial tasks shouldn’t be that gratifying, but I’ve always been drawn to the side quests in Zelda. Fishing for hours to get a stupid scale or holding onto a chicken and floating down to Earth is utterly captivating to me. That each activity rewards the player with something useful also makes those tasks feel less tedious.

I also just plain love exploring. Hyrule has had such a rich landscape, but even the extra worlds of Termina and Koholint are filled with nooks and crannies to delve into. As much as I may associate puzzles with Zelda, spelunking is a big part of the formula.

I’m not opposed to change and I do wish that some of the tropes would be put to rest, but I’m always eager and ready for a new Zelda title. Each one is like stepping into an actual legend. That I get to be the hero who overcomes adverse odds is just icing on the cake.

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Here’s to the future of Zelda.

Integrity Vs Monetary Gain

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens just opened up worldwide and a big question has been on my mind; where does art end and money making begin? One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my life is dealing with the fact that, to make a living, I need to accept money from people.

All I’ve ever truly wanted to do was exist in this world and help others. That I need to constantly be searching for work and getting paid puts me in a sour mood. That some of my favorite entertainment properties also exist to make cash also gets me agitated.

I wasn’t alive at the advent of film, but I can’t imagine that visionaries who saw the format were immediately thinking of monetary gain. Artistic integrity had to have been present for some of them.

To take it back even further, what of famous authors or composers? Was Shakespeare simply churning out comedies and dramas for cash? Did Mozart take his talent for music and use it solely for personal gain?

When I review a film or game, I tend to look at it like a piece of art. I certainly understand that not everything is created to stimulate the mind, but most works have a purpose. Someone doesn’t come up with an idea and then pause their train of thought to consider how to market the thing.

I’ve always believed that film makers and game developers create to express themselves more so than inflate their pockets. It sickens me when I read stories about selfish producers or greedy corporations churning out endless amounts of trash for misinformed masses.

The Force Awakens happened to actually be good, despite existing solely for money. The film makers behind the project put a lot of passion into their craft, but that doesn’t excuse the film’s cynical nature. This is a nostalgia vehicle with plenty of fan service and a vague connection to what came before.

Does that mean I shouldn’t enjoy it? Are the themes present in the film not worth discussing? Do any of the people involved truly care about the project beyond launching it? It’s tough to think about.

Nintendo seems to be riding the nostalgia train of the Legend of Zelda as hard as they can. That series is my personal favorite game franchise, but even I am beginning to feel queasy. Nintendo definitely is whoring it out with re-releases and updates.

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Don’t forget your amiibo! *additional fee of $13.99*

Big publishers like Activision and EA have relied on their “flagship” franchises for over a decade now. Call of Duty has become a November staple despite negative feedback from the more current titles. Battlefield hasn’t gone away since 3, even with skipping one year for a Medal of Honor title (made by the same developer, no less).

Mario has turned into a bloated excuse to keep a legend around. Sega won’t put Sonic out to pasture. Capcom is trying their damnedest to copy everyone else. What happened to the games made with love and care?

I know indies exist (in both the film and game industry), but those are hardly getting the attention they deserve. You also have indie developers like Double Fine who are leaning on their own pasts to create a sequel to a game that don’t really need one.

It feels like artistic integrity has long been forgotten. To create any kind of brand recognition takes too much effort for studios to invest in. Gigantic budgets and record breaking sales aren’t required to make something successful, but companies tend to close down without positive reception.

The cost of production for films and games has ballooned out of control. To stay in the business that one may love, they have to compromise their own desires to work on something that is devoid of integrity. Artistry and revenue don’t co-exist.

It breaks my heart to see this. Maybe this is all a part of growing up and following the development process so close, but I’m really becoming jaded to films and games. I want to see brand new things, but even I am afraid of buying into a game that I know nothing of.

When I pick up a new Zelda, I at least know the general premise of what I’m getting into. If I go for something like Undertale, what the fuck am I supposed to expect? The name doesn’t really make sense to me and the small glimpses I’ve seen of it are ambiguous. That doesn’t instill confidence in me.

Is it possible to make something with your heart and soul and then demand people pay you for it? I personally don’t agree with that. The reason I gave up pursuing a  career as a gaming journalist was because of the struggle I had with asking for money.

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I love to discuss my thoughts on games and what I feel playing through a new experience. To tell people that they need to pay me before I do that is gross. Why should anyone be required to fork over their hard earned money for my stupid ramblings?

I want my message to get to other people, not have it locked within a cage. Stories that intrigue me always have some kind of deeper message or meaning. They pay respect to their viewers and don’t compromise their creator’s being. That is what I’ve always sought out.

That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Anything truly new will be swept under the rug to make way for the corporate machine. Visionary ideas will be buried in favor of guaranteed success. Maybe I should just fall in line and accept my check.

Link Play

People love to claim that the Legend of Zelda series is basically the same game over and over again. While this is failing to take into account all of the handheld titles, even the main console entries have enough differences to differentiate themselves.

Still, Nintendo must have really taken that criticism to heart as the Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes is completely different from the classic Zelda mold. The game is more akin to Four Swords and not it’s Gamecube sequel.

While I enjoyed the game, I think it was mostly due to me being a die-hard Zelda fan. The singleplayer mode is hot trash and the weird requirement of three players kind of ruins local multiplayer with just a single buddy. Download Play is very generous, so at least you don’t have to have friends with copies of the game.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I may consider this the weakest Zelda game in the series. That isn’t to say anything is particularly bad about it, save for it’s netcode; I’m mostly just saying that nothing is quite original about it.

Since the game bears a huge resemblance to Four Swords, it’s easy to compare the two games. For starters, you progress through areas that are basically small rooms. There isn’t an overworld or any kind of dungeon exploration; you are placed in an area with some items and small puzzles.

“Puzzles”

Successfully completing the puzzle gets you to the next room and so on until a boss fight. It is fun, but it becomes pretty routine in a very short time. There are stylish touches like some graphical effects, 3D and great music, but without the costume changing mechanic, the game would be a bit dull.

Costumes are what define this Zelda experience. Changing to and fro makes for some great times. Having Link cross dress or putting on a replica of Marth’s outfit is well and good, but unlocking some of the more badass costumes (like Sword Master or Fierce Deity) can make replays and challenges trivial.

Four Swords was incredibly rudimentary in design. While having three friends help you through puzzles was a blast, all of it’s dungeons are randomly generated. At some point, you begin to see repeat room designs and immediately know the solution. I guess that takes awhile, but it also leads to a game that has no distinct or memorable moments.

That game got it’s fun out of being novel. The DSi re-release added some much needed content to spruce up the endgame, but it’s original state is a bit of a throwaway gimmick. Can Zelda multiplayer work? Four Swords said yes.

The sequel, Four Swords Adventures really went to town with the whole concept. You were required to have Gameboy Advance link cables for multiplayer, but each person could be exploring a small room on their own. Main puzzles had players taking divergent paths to find items and culminate in some grand solution.

Or a daring escape!

Everyone emerged from their GBAs and provided the steps necessary; Triforce Heroes doesn’t really have that. I can accept the lack of 4 players, but often times you can beat an entire room by yourself. It makes the concept of multiplayer feel like it was forced upon a different execution of the Zelda formula.

While online play should make up for lacking friends or having differing schedules, Triforce Heroes has some really unstable netcode. Seemingly perfect games can end suddenly for no reason and most people have no idea how to setup a WiFi connection; I’ve had lag so bad that my sword wouldn’t swing for 5 seconds after pressing the attack button.

At least with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, you had to be in the same room. It might have limited the chances most people had to play the game (not to mention the outlandish price required for such a feat), but the game worked at all times. Triforce Heroes sometimes fails at multiplayer while simultaneously failing at singleplayer.

The original Four Swords never even had a singleplayer component, but Four Swords Adventures allowed players to summon the extra Link’s in different formations. That kind of gameplay feels akin to some classic Bioware RPGs like Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate. Why the same type of mechanic wasn’t utilized in Triforce Heroes is beyond my comprehension.

Singleplayer has you tapping the bottom screen to switch between dopples of yourself. It makes for tedious progression; every time you get somewhere with one Link, you need to completely stop and redo it for another. The totem mechanic almost seems to come from frustration in solo play rather than any genuine multiplayer advantage.

There is also a rather limited method of communication for online play. You get emoticons that you can press which are supposed to tell other players what to do. They rarely work. There are no icons for “Do not use item” or “Stop”. You just have a generic “NO!!!” to warn players of anything wrong.

Where is the “Stop Dying” button?!

Trying to specify what needs to be done in a given situation to a totally clueless player is an exercise in frustration. You wouldn’t even believe how many times I ended up yelling at my 3DS when a solution came to me in seconds. To watch others shrug and bumble around like a doofus is maddening.

When everything does click into place, Triforce Heroes is fast and fun. I like that there is actual puzzle solving instead of just murdering enemies like in Four Swords. This feels like a compromise between the two previous multiplayer Zelda titles. It also has a vibe similar to Skyward Sword’s upgrades.

I also can’t stay mad at a Zelda game that calls back to the 2D gameplay from yesteryear. People love to worry about how Nintendo has basically forgotten “classic” Zelda, but they still make these games for us to enjoy. They never buried that tried and true game system.

If anything, I think Triforce Heroes has shown me that I just prefer to take my Zelda alone. To me (and a lot of people), Zelda has been about exploring a new world and conquering it’s many dungeons. It’s been about guiding Link through treacherous paths and perilous situations.

Traveling “literally” anywhere.

Sure, sharing that fun is great, but the real joy comes from figuring out a solution and putting it into action. Without the ability to verbalize that to a friend (or get them to read your mind), the game becomes an exercise in patience and insanity.

Having like minded players makes all the difference. With friends who actually understand Zelda (or being in the same room), you can accomplish what is being thrown at you. Local multiplayer saves the day yet again.

All in all, Triforce Heroes isn’t bad. I rather enjoy it. I just don’t know if I’d ever see myself playing through it again.Four Swords exists mostly as a way to kill time on long flights and Four Swords Adventures is an epic journey with friends.

Triforce Heroes kind of feels like a short trip to an amusement park. It’s fun while it lasts, but you really want to get home after you’ve had your fun. It also sucks to have to deal with people who lack common sense.

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.