Post Game Wrap-up: The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds

Zelda - ALBW

Since I consider A Link to the Past to be one of my all-time favorite games, when this sequel was announced, I was as excited for it as anyone could be. The thought of journeying back to the Hyrule of A Link to the Past gave me great joy. The big question though: is there any way a sequel could possibly meet the standards set by A Link to the Past?

The Set-up:
While attempting to deliver a sword from the blacksmith he’s training with, you, as Link, stumble upon a sinister man named Yuga, who, upon your arrival at the Sanctuary, turns the Priest’s daughter into a painting before knocking you out and fleeing. After awakening back at your house with an odd merchant named Ravio, you are tasked with gathering three pendants that will allow you to retrieve the Master Sword and pursue Yuga.

The Story:
After the events of A Link to the Past, the Triforce was split up among Link, Zelda, and Ganon (this is where each piece resides in the narrative) so as to avoid another plot to use the power of the combined Triforce such as Ganon attempted to in Link to the Past. As this game picks up, the Triforce is still split and Ganon is long dead.

As the game proper begins, much like in A Link to the Past, you find yourself attempting to free some kidnapped citizens of Hyrule, including Princess Zelda, in order to stop a looming evil. After gathering the required pendants and securing the Master Sword, you’ll do a brief battle with Yuga before he retreats. Upon pursuing him into a strange crack in the wall, you’ll be introduced to Lorule and Princess Hilda. Lorule is a reflection of Hyrule in many ways, and it is here that you must rescue those kidnapped by Yuga in order to gain the power to confront him. Without spoiling anything, Lorule is a dying world, with large cracks dividing up the land, meaning you can’t journey from one end to the the other without returning to Hyrule. The cause for this is directly related to the plot, a plot which hums along quite calmly for most of the game, before rearing up and taking control towards the end, much to my delight. There were a few revelations that caught me off guard, and one in particular that I can’t believe I didn’t see coming beforehand.

An example of Lorule's impassable chasms.
An example of Lorule’s impassable chasms.

As an aside, Lorule is extremely similar to the Dark World of A Link to the Past. This is never discussed in-game, but I wonder if the similarities between the two point to Lorule actually being the Dark World. There’s a span of 100 years between the two games, which would explain the structural differences that do exist. Just a thought that doesn’t affect the game at all.

The Gameplay:
On its surface, the gameplay is virtually identical to A Link to the Past, and reminiscent of most Legend of Zelda games. You attack with your sword while equipping different key items to the other buttons as needed. Heart pieces and rupees are collected, and fairies can be caught in bottles to act as extra lives.

Once you get deeper into this game however, there is quite a bit of uniqueness, all of which starts with the wall merging ability. In A Link Between Worlds, Link is given the ability to merge into a wall and move across it on a 2-D plane. This ability allows you to move through barred windows, across chasms,  hitch rides on moving platforms that you would be unable to stand on, etc… Nintendo also took advantage of this key ability by incorporating it into many puzzles, some quite clever and mind bending. The merging mechanic also comes into play during a few boss battles, with one requiring you to use it in quite an ingenious manner. It’s the kind of revelation that makes you smile when you realize what you’re supposed to be doing to win.

Zelda - Wall Merge

The second unique change from previous games is that you no longer find your equipment in the game’s dungeons. Instead, you can rent them at anytime (provided you have enough rupees) from Ravio, the merchant I mentioned above, who has set up in your house. You may rent more than one item, which is something I didn’t realize when I started playing the game. My assumption was that you could only rent one at a time, but you can actually rent every item available, again, assuming you have the rupees. The items are not cheap to rent, running a few hundred rupees for each, and should you die at some point, and don’t have a fairy to revive you, you will lose all rented items, making death quite costly. Once the game advances to Lorule, you will have the option to buy the items, which is double the cost of renting, if I remember correctly. By the way, if you’re worried about having enough rupees, don’t. The developers placed many opportunities in the game to collect rupees. It may take some time, but buying all of the items is not a difficult task to achieve.

Zelda - Ravio Shop

Not content with just these two changes, Nintendo came through on their earlier promises to make a more open world Zelda game. A Link Between Worlds is very similar to a Mega Man game in this regard. You can see on your map all of the dungeons you need to visit, but the order you visit is entirely up to you. Some may require certain items to complete, but outside of the dungeon, there is usually a pylon with a symbol for any item needed to complete the dungeon. I really, really loved this aspect of the game. It was a very freeing experience to guide Link to where I wanted to go next and not have it dictated to me. I’m not complaining about this in past games, understand, I’m just stating that it was like a breath of fresh air to complete the game in the way I wanted.

One thing I noted that I believe happened as a result of the open world design is that the dungeons felt very short. I wonder if not having direct control over the items you would have caused the developers to shorten the dungeons to be sure they could be completed with minimal items. This isn’t a complaint and could actually have been an intentional design choice as this is a handheld game, and the developers may have wished to make the game more playable in quick chunks. This doesn’t detract from the game, and there are a couple that are more lengthy, but it was something I picked up on fairly quickly. Again, I’m not saying this is a negative aspect. On the contrary, I rather liked being able to complete a dungeon in about 15 or 20 minutes.

The Ice Ruins continued the tradition of making you hate ice in a Zelda game.
The Ice Ruins continue the tradition of making you hate ice in a Zelda game.

While these all sound like very radical changes to the Zelda formula that so many people know and love, it blends seamlessly with the traditional Zelda gameplay. The exploration and discovery aspects are all fully intact and as good as you’ll find in any other Zelda game. Also, while all key items are rented and/or purchased, there are still items to be found in the dungeons and elsewhere, such as Master Ore, used to upgrade the Master Sword, flippers for swimming, a new set of clothes, etc… The ever present search for heart pieces is here as well, completely unaltered. From the first moment until the credits roll, there is no doubt that, despite the changes and new inclusions, this is still a Legend of Zelda game first and foremost.

To put it simply, I loved this game. It was just so easy to slide back into the familiar Hyrule of A Link to the Past. The dungeons, while seeming shorter than usual (and hey, maybe that’s just me), were still extremely well designed and still had puzzles that challenged me and had me scratching my head more than a few times, particularly a switch and wall rotating puzzle that confounded me for some time. I’ve been writing recently about sequels and how they are sometimes criticized as being too similar to their predecessor. It would be easy to criticize here since the overworld maps feature only minor changes from A Link to the Past, but if you look deeper, you’ll see that while the paint job may look similar, there is an entirely new car waiting underneath.

Zelda - Master Sword


My Top 8 Video Game Sequels

Zelda II

With my recent writings on sequels, I’ve decided that a good Top 8 would be one on the best sequels. My personal rule for determining this list was to take into account my enjoyment of the games as well as what they did for their respective series. Also, I’ve limited myself to sequels that are directly related to other games in the series (essentially, no Final Fantasy games) and have decided to include only one entry per franchise. Really, I don’t think anyone wants to see a list full of Metroid and Castlevania games.

Fable 2 Xbox 360 video game image8. Fable 2
Neither Fable or Fable 2 were ever going to live up to all of the expectations and hype created for them, but Fable 2 was a valiant effort. While I do feel that the use of magic took a hit in Fable 2 (as opposed to the original), the rest of the game was wonderful and represented an advancement over Fable (itself a great game in my opinion). Albion actually felt quite large, thanks in part to the game being on newer hardware, and the story was intriguing, if a bit predictable. Really, this game just felt like it took everything in Fable and upped the quality and depth. Considering that I consider Fable to be a great game, that makes Fable 2 quite the feat, and one of my favorite games on the Xbox 360.

Castlevania IV7. Super Castlevania IV
This was a tough one simply because I love all of the Castlevania sequels. While I’m a fan of the exploration based installments, I have a major soft spot for the level based games, and I think Super Castlevania IV is just about the perfect level based Castlevania game. The platforming is extremely well designed with a few stages throwing some interesting changes at you, the music fits the mood of the game wonderfully (which is the case for most Castlevania titles), and the level of difficulty is perfectly measured. This is a game where everything seems to just come together perfectly to make an incredibly stellar game while also displaying what the Super NES was capable of over the NES.

Mega Man 36. Mega Man 3
While popular opinion holds that Mega Man 2 is the pinnacle of the series, it is 3 that always stands out in my mind. I feel that Mega Man 3 perfected everything about the series, the bosses, the platforming, even the “Wily didn’t do it” fake out. It also introduced Rush, who has been a constant presence in every Mega Man game since, and the slide, which while simplistic, allowed for more complex stages to be designed. I must also mention the soundtrack here. Mega Man games generally all have good music, but this one is at the top for me.

Arkham City5. Batman: Arkham City
One of the reasons I’m listing this here, aside from the fact that it’s just a great game, is that it managed to recapture the allure of Arkham Asylum in a way that managed to feel completely fresh and new, despite having many of the same mechanics as Asylum. I’m on record as preferring the previous title, but that takes nothing away from this game. The gameplay and design of Arkham City is simply staggering in it’s scope and application. Gliding from one end of Arkham City to the other is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had in a video game. Backing all of this up was an epic storyline that visited nearly every member of Batman’s rogue gallery, culminating in a final boss battle that I never saw coming, but enjoyed thoroughly.

Mario 34. Super Mario Brothers 3
As important a game as it is, Super Mario Brothers is a very, very basic game. Super Mario 2 was either exactly like it (Japan) or radically different (America). Super Mario Brothers 3 was the first sequel to stick to the Mario formula while adding so much to the game that it completely dwarfed the original in every conceivable way. Heck, there was even a movie built around it’s launch (no negative words will be said about The Wizard on my blog). Not only was this sequel an instant classic, but has influenced Mario games to this day, over 20 years later. Quite a bit of the excitement for the release of Super Mario 3D Land was because the logo had a raccoon tail on it, which immediately inspired memories of the classic leaf power-up. The same can be said for New Super Mario Brothers 2, which featured the Leaf power-up as well (though as raccoon ears & tail and not the tanooki suit found in 3D Land). Few games before or since have had the impact of this final Mario outing on the NES.

RE43. Resident Evil 4
I’ve already praised this game once, in My Top 8 Gamecube Games, but I have to repeat here just how important this game was to the Resident Evil franchise, and gaming in general. Resident Evil was still popular at this point, though I believe that was beginning to wane a bit due to the repeated tank controls and fixed camera angles. Showing some inspired creativity that has been mostly absent since, Capcom completely changed up the play style of their well-known series, not only shifting the course of Resident Evil, but popularizing the “over-the-shoulder” style third person shooter that has been seen in many games since (including fellow horror titles Dead Space & Dead Space 2). I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that without this title being the massive hit it was, we would not have seen many of the titles that imitated it’s style and became hits themselves.

ALttP2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Sure, Ocarina of Time is regarded by the masses as the best Zelda (by the way, I’m not the masses), but it was this title on the Super NES that cemented the franchise’s top tier status for Nintendo. After what some people saw as a misstep in Zelda II on the NES (by the way, I’m not some people), A Link to the Past returned the series to the familiar top-down perspective seen in the original title. A Link to the Past also crafted one of the deepest and most intriguing worlds to be seen at that point of time. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. The realization upon entering the dark world that you’ve only explored half of the map of the game and really only just begun your adventure? One of the most joyful surprises I’ve ever had in a game.

Prime1. Metroid Prime
This was a tough one. Super Metroid and Metroid Prime are so close in my mind that it was tough to pick one, but I went with Metroid Prime for two reasons. Firstly, it is just an amazing game. Metroid has generally had a sense of isolation about it, and I think that moving that experience to a first-person perspective managed to make it more striking while also keeping the trademark exploration aspect of the series. Secondly, it made Metroid a relevant franchise again. Super Metroid is widely heralded as one of the best games ever made, but after skipping the Nintendo 64, people were beginning to wonder if we had seen the last of the series. Prime not only “revived” the franchise, but managed to elevate it to the elite status of Nintendo franchises such as Mario and Legend of Zelda. A well deserved elevation given the brilliance of this game.

What Gamers Want in a Sequel

With Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze getting called out a bit last week for offering few new ideas that differentiate it from its prequel (not my opinion, just a tidbit from a few reviews), I think this is a good time to break down game sequels and what people generally seem to look for in a good sequel.

From what I've read online, not this.
From what I’ve read online, not this.

Ultimately, outside of sports games, I think there are three types of sequels:

  • The More of the Same Sequel: A game sequel that advances the story and/or mechanics of its prequel while not drastically altering the gameplay. Examples would be Bioshock 2, Dead Space 2, and the Mega Man titles.
  • The Change Up Everything Sequel: A game sequel that is definitely linked to the prequel, but which makes drastic changes to the gameplay in order to differentiate it. You don’t see this type of sequel happen much anymore. Examples would be Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Super Mario Brothers 2.
  • The Totally Unrelated Sequel: A game sequel that shares a name and genre, but little else with a prequel. Generally a title that is numbered, but could otherwise stand as its own story and title. Most of the Final Fantasy games fall into this category.

I’m immediately dismissing The Totally Unrelated Sequel from this discussion. Even though those may be fantastic games, they truly exist under an umbrella title. The world of one Final Fantasy has nothing to do with the next numbered Final Fantasy and everyone knows this to be the case. Therefore, the game developers have more freedom in changing up gameplay elements without alienating fans. I could probably have called these Sequels in Name Only.

Okay, so Final Fantasy games all seem to have dragons in common.
Okay, so Final Fantasy games all seem to have dragons in common.

While I’m not going to entirely dismiss The Change Up Everything Sequel, it’s worth pointing out that games like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest are generally viewed as the “weak link” of their series. For the record, I think both of these are better than their namesakes, but I’m trying to think in terms of general popularity for this post. In regards to the general opinion, I think most gamers don’t want radical changes in their sequels.

Yes, I still think it's better than the original.
Yes, I still think it’s better than the original.

This leaves us with The More of the Same Sequel. Extremely successful game series such as Call of Duty, and older titles such as Mega Man, mentioned above, indicate that what gamers want in a game is a few gameplay tweaks with a new skin pulled over them. There is really nothing wrong with this. Movies work in much the same fashion. Besides, if I play a great game, why would I not want more of that game. When Metroid Prime 2 came out, I would have been extremely disappointed had it played in a manner similar to Other M. It was Metroid Prime 2, so I wanted a game that played like Metroid Prime, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Anyone want to pick which Halo this is from?
Anyone want to pick which Halo this is from?

This brings us full circle to the criticism of Tropical Freeze being just more of the same. I will defend reviews that state this, so long as it is a consistent criticism. There are people that genuinely don’t like for sequels to stay within the boundaries of their predecessors. The primary problem with this criticism isn’t hypocrisy, but the fact that sequels that color within the lines will, as a general rule, sell better than a new IP or a radically changed sequel. Why innovate too much if you have a successful series on your hands? A look at a list of best selling games will confirm this. The top 30 (all time) list has multiple entries for Pokemon, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto sequels and I’m sure that a glimpse of the top 100 would reveal even more names, such as Castlevania (the GBA & DS titles), the Batman Arkham games, Halo, Bioshock, and Dead Space, just to name a very few. When you hit upon a winning formula, it would be foolish, from a business point of view, to not milk it for as long as it works. Yes, it can be irritating to see an original game or idea flounder while a game with a new coat of paint moves millions (think The Wonderful 101 versus Call of Duty: Ghosts), but such is the landscape of gaming.

I want to reiterate that I’m not calling out similar sequels as a bad thing. Many of the games I love fall into that category. At the same time, I can see the frustration behind a game being called out for that when so many others are guilty of the same. Especially when it seems that some games get a pass, whether that’s a true pass or simply an implication because it isn’t directly addressed in a review. Whenever this does begin to eat at me (not very often), I step back and remember my love for the Metroid Prime trilogy. How is it any different from any other sequel that doesn’t push the boundaries of the series gameplay? It’s not, and even though I’m not a Call of Duty fan, millions are, and are just as excited by a sequel to their game as I would be to see a new Prime game coming down the pipeline.

Come on Retro, let's make Prime 4 a reality.
Come on Retro, let’s make Prime 4 a reality.

In Defense of Game Reviewers

Earlier this week, when the reviews on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze were released, I was surprised to see some people get upset with the few outliers that gave it a less than stellar grade.

Grumpy Cat

Yeah, not really. I totally expected that, and the internet did not disappoint. I won’t quote anything here because that would seem to be calling people out (but I will note to my Twitter friends that none of you were guilty of this, I had to venture into the wilds to find the truly absurd comments). I also won’t link to any of the “offending” reviews for the same reason. See, I have more of an issue with the complaints about the reviews than I did with the reviews themselves, therefore I’ve decided to give a bit of a defense to the reviewers that are now drawing the ire of some irate and vocal Donkey Kong Country fans. I would like to also point out that I read numerous game reviews so I could write this post for you guys. If that doesn’t show how much I care, nothing will.

One of the prevailing complaints against the reviews in question was that they claimed that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was simply an extension of Donkey Kong Country Returns. That it didn’t innovate or add enough to the game to distinguish it from the original. Now, I haven’t yet played the game, so this may very well be the case. The further implication of the complaints were that this game gets called out while a series like Call of Duty, often ridiculed as being the same game in a new skin, gets a pass with high review scores and multiple statements of praise.

They are a few similarities, I suppose.
There are a few similarities, I suppose.

You know what, this is a fair point. They are vastly different games, but there is a certain amount of repetition in sequels, so why punish one but give another a pass. My problem here is that reviewers are being very generalized. A review is written by one person for a web site, generally, but then that person’s score or review is simply referred to as “Blank Web site’s” review. For example, I looked a bit at the history of one of the reviewers that gave Tropical Freeze a lower than average score. His top games of 2013 were very varied and contained no sequels that I can recall being accused of mailing it in. As a matter of fact, it included Super Mario 3D World, a game that I myself called tired and more of an extension of Super Mario 3D Land than a new game in my Post Game Wrap-up. Obviously, this doesn’t exonerate every reviewer, and I’m sure that some of them do have double standards from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that all reviewers can be accused of that without looking into their individual bodies of work. I also need to point out here that Tropical Freeze got mostly high scores in reviews, so more than a few people must not have minded having more of the same.

The second main complaint I saw was that Nintendo games, especially in the WiiU era, are held to a different standard than most games. I can agree with this, actually, but I don’t believe it’s because they dislike Nintendo or the WiiU. Again, some of them probably do, but I think there’s a fairer reason for this happening. Because we dealing with review scores, I looked at Metacritic’s top rated games of all time, with a cut-off score of 96 and above. Nintendo has developed 10 games with a score of 96 or above. That’s really absurd when you consider that it’s at least twice as many as any other developer. Not to mention the fact that 96 is a ridiculously high cut-off point.

Including the best reviewed game of all time.
Including the best reviewed game of all time.

The point I’m making here is that I think Nintendo games may be held to a different standard because historically, they’ve been extremely well made games. To put it another way, when a new Zelda title is being reviewed, it’s not being judged based on the newest Call of Duty or Madden game. It’s being held up against Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. When a new Metroid is released, it is placed beside Super Metroid and Metroid Prime and evaluated in the light of those titles. What has happened is that Nintendo has set an extremely high standard for their games and game reviewers examine them based on that standard. It’s not wrong to say that this may seem like an unfair standard, but it’s also easy to understand why this happens.

Ultimately, in addition to the more specialized complaints I’ve addressed above, the bottom line in reading reviews is to remember that they are extremely subjective. Two people can play exactly the same game and come away with totally different impressions. My experience with Bioshock Infinite was a mixed one. I found the story wonderful, but the gameplay mundane. Most of the people I’ve encountered that played thought it was game of the year material, with much of that opinion based on the gameplay. Likewise, I’ve played many, many games that received negative to mediocre reviews, and still thoroughly enjoyed those games. Oddly enough, a dissenting opinion, or a dissenting popular opinion, didn’t enhance or detract from my experience. Reviews are, by and large, opinion based. A dissenting opinion can be discussed, examined, and analyzed, but it can rarely be called wrong.

Now, I’ve mounted a bit of a defense of reviewers, but there is one aspect of a review that I’m extremely unforgiving on. I’ve written about it before, actually (NIER – The Power of a Narrative). It is a reviewer’s job to take what a game offers and deliver an assessment of it, however, when a reviewer docks a game review points because they erred in playing the game? That is inexcusable. A game review should never suffer because the reviewer was just bad at the game. You either halt your review or turn that over to a colleague, you do not publish a negative article because of your own shortcomings. I read a few comments that claimed a reviewer essentially stated that Tropical Freeze was just too hard for him/her to play and dropped the score because of that. I have not been able to find that review, so I can only treat it as a rumor, but if that is the case, then that review should be removed. Again, a reviewer’s limitations should never be blamed on a game.

I mean, really? This was not a hard mechanic to grasp.
I mean, really? This was not a hard mechanic to grasp.

I want to reiterate that discussing or debating a review is fine. I enjoy it actually, but there is a line that exists and many of the criticisms I saw of the Tropical Freeze reviews seemed to cross that line by simply calling the lower reviews wrong or by claiming that they were a result of a bias against Nintendo. Those kinds of claims do nothing to advance a discussion and only serve to make most people dismiss any other opinions you may state. Reviews are only one person’s opinion. There’s never a reason to let those ruin your day.

Finally, I want to quote two reviews here to really show just how differently two people can view a game. Both of these are from reviews for Tropical Freeze.

If the regular levels were as inventive as the boss battles, then Tropical Freeze would be a surefire hit, or at least a game that demands more of your attention. – Gamespot Review

A truly frustrating misstep in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is not in its obligation to the lava level (which is good!), but to the tedious boss fight. – Joystiq Review

Opinions guys, all opinions.

Cranky is not amused.
Cranky is not amused.

My Top 8 Nintendo DS Games

Nintendo DS

Note: You’ll notice that no DS Legend of Zelda title appears on this list. In spite of both Zelda entries on the DS receiving high praise, I found the forced touch controls to be garbage. I attempted to play a title, but absolutely could not adjust to the control method. Nintendo is often accused of forcing system gimmicks into a game, and I think these two games are the most egregious examples.

Couldn’t stand with the Titans: Ys Chronicles, Aliens Infestation, Electroplankton, The Legendary Starfy, Final Fantasy III, Contra 4, Okamiden, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero, Pokemon Black/White

Mario 64 DS8. Super Mario 64 DS
I’ve pointed out in the past that I’m not big on remakes, but I feel that enough was added to Super Mario 64 DS to justify it’s presence on this list. In addition to including 30 new stars to find, three new playable characters were added to the mix: Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi. Aside from those additions, this game is simply a sharpened up version of the Nintendo 64 classic. One issue I do hold with this title is the use of the cross-pad to control the characters in a 3-D space. It feels quite awkward, but, if you have a 3DS, the circle pad is perfect for this kind of title, so if you never tried this on the original DS and currently have a 3DS (or 2DS), this is an older title that is well worth picking up.

Children of Mana7. Children of Mana
The Mana games have been very hit or miss since the sublime Secret of Mana on the Super NES (and the well received Sieken Densetsu 3, which I’m apparently never going to get to play). This title is no different. I won’t even pretend that this game matches what Secret of Mana was able to accomplish, but if you take this game on it’s own merits, without comparing it to its namesake, you’ll be very pleased. In this title, you take on missions from a HUB town, then journey to different locations by selecting them from a world map. The destinations are randomly generated, meaning that each experience is new. Also included is the weapon wheel, allowing you to play in a style that most suits you for the most part. As I said, this game does not rival Secret of Mana, but stands on its own very well.

Age of Kings6. Age of Empires: Age of Kings
I’m not a big fan of strategy games and, frankly, think the main reason I even gave this game a real chance is because I’m such a fan of the Age of Empires series. While this game did challenge me more than it probably should have, most likely because of my own limitations in the genre, I still found it quite fun. Unlike the real time battles of the PC games, this game allows you to construct units and move them in turns around the map. Each unit has attributes and limitations that you must take into account when positioning them. The game is constructed so that you have a goal for each level, and can only advance by completing said goal. The PC games definitely have more depth than this DS offshoot, but that doesn’t mean that this title isn’t still fun.

Yoshi's Island DS5. Yoshi’s Island DS
Much like Super Mario 64 DS spiced things up by adding new characters to it’s remake, this sequel to the Super NES classic, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, did the same. In this title, you can carry Baby Mario, Baby Peach, Baby Wario, Baby Donkey Kong, and Baby Bowser, with each having different powers (DK can climb vines, Peach can float, etc…). With each character having a unique power, the designers were able to build puzzles around the element of switching out the babies to utilize each one’s individual abilities. Yoshi’s Island also takes advantage of the dual screens by expanding your view of the level vertically. While this can be hard to get used to, ultimately it is a very helpful mechanic. Really, the best compliment I can give Yoshi’s Island DS is that it very much reminds me of it’s namesake on the Super NES. High praise indeed.

NSMB4. New Super Mario Brothers
This is the selection that I questioned the most on this list, mainly because every sequel in the “New” series since this title has surpassed it, in my opinion. That said, I had to go back and really think about what this game meant when it was first released. While it seems a bit tired and predictable in hindsight, upon it’s release, it was very much a breath of fresh air for the series, and returned Mario to his “run left to right” roots. Also included were new power-ups and the well hidden secret exits we’ve come to expect in this type of Mario title. I may prefer later games in this branch of the Mario series, but this one will always have a special place for me.

Portrait of Ruin3. (tie) Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
How can you possibly choose between three superb Castlevania games? I couldn’t, so I’m giving all three of these #3 on my list. Portrait of Ruin introduced us to multiple characters, which you could swap at will (or use to unleash a Dual Crush attack) anytime with a button press. Each played differently which gave you some options as to how to attack the game, though some puzzles had you swapping out the characters or using them together. Despite having levels that were accessible via paintings in the main world, Portrait still maintained the very popular Metroidvania feel. I also give this game bonus points for connecting directly with Castlevania: Bloodlines, the strangely forgotten, yet wonderful title from the Sega Genesis.

Order of Ecclesia3. (tie) Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The last of the Metroidvania titles published (so far) before Lords of Shadow hit the scene (I suppose the 3DS title may count), Order of Ecclesia certainly took the style out on a high note. A bit like Portrait of Ruin, Ecclesia offered a map screen with various locations, and frankly, reminded me a bit of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest on the NES in how you moved from locale to locale. Much like Portrait though, Ecclesia maintained an open world feel despite a world map and levels. Ecclesia also included Glyphs that could be placed on Shanoa to vary her attack abilities. These were also her only way of attacking, and is a bit reminiscent of the Souls feature from Aria & Dawn of Sorrow. Speaking of…

Dawn of Sorrow3. (tie) Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
The first DS Castlevania game was a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow, and somehow manages to be even better than Aria. The soul system returns, mostly the same as it existed in Aria (you acquire enemy souls that offer new abilities when equipped), and the level design is top notch. Unlike my previous two entries, this title was purely an open world title, allowing you to move around the castle at will, assuming you had the correct abilities to reach new areas. Dawn of Sorrow also introduced some touch-screen integration, having you clear obstacles on a few occasions and forcing you to draw a seal to ultimately defeat a boss. It’s obviously shoe-horned in to take advantage of the touch-screen, but it doesn’t hurt the game at all.

Pokemon Black 22. Pokemon Black 2/White 2
Really, there isn’t much left to write about Pokemon at this point. I liked this title just a bit better than Black/White, which is why those aren’t making an appearance here. Black 2/White 2 have a ton of Pokemon to catch, allowing you numerous options to shape your team, and the game region is a blast to explore. What can I say? It’s a very well made Pokemon game that continues to deliver for the series. I have to say that I find it amazing that a series that truly lives on a very simple and repeatable premise still thrives as this one does. It is a testament to the designers that these titles still sell the way they do.

Pokemon Platinum1. Pokemon Platinum
It was close, but I believe that Platinum was just a bit more well designed than the Black/White games. That said, it is another Pokemon game. I’m not sure how the same premise can still feel fresh, entry after entry, but Platinum (and Black 2/White 2) pulls it off. Really, there is nothing more I can say about the Pokemon series. It is quite an amazing series of games, and continues to impress in the newer entries.

Post Game Wrap-up: NES Remix

NES Remix

As someone that’s long complained that Nintendo should do more to take advantage of their massive library of older games, it was quite refreshing to see the announcement and release of NES Remix for the WiiU. It was exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that I like to see from Nintendo. The question is, does this game take full advantage of those NES games which made Nintendo what it is today.

The Set-up:
NES Remix is an oddball game. Each of the NES games presented are given in small chunks with a challenge attached. Sometimes, you’ll only need to complete one challenge when you choose a stage. Other times, you may have to complete numerous challenges. You’ll be given a certain number of hearts, generally three, to finish each stage with. If you fail a challenge or die, you’ll lose a heart. Fortunately, you ranking isn’t based on this, but is instead based on how long you take in each stage, meaning that being speedy is the key to getting the best rating (three stars with a rainbow border). Gaining more stars unlocks more stages and games for you to attempt.

NES Remix - Level Select
The Gameplay:
The roster of games included in NES Remix are:

Balloon Fight   /   Baseball   /   Clu Clu Land   /   Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong, Jr.   /   Donkey Kong 3   / Excitebike   /   Golf
Ice Climber   /   Mario Bros.   /   Pinball   /   Super Mario Bros.
Tennis   /   The Legend of Zelda   /   Urban Champion   /   Wrecking Crew

I’ll point out immediately that Baseball, Donkey Kong 3, Urban Champion, and Tennis are included in a bonus mode with only a few challenges per game.

There are really two game types in NES Remix. In the first, you will select a specific game, and then a particular challenge. Early on, these are extremely easy. In Balloon Fight, for example, in the first stage, there are three challenges, all consisting of popping an enemy’s balloon. And, with NES Remix, once the challenge is completed, it ends. I actually died while achieving a challenge, and it counted it with no negative effect on my ranking at all.

As you advance, the challenges do get harder. One of my favorites was from Super Mario Brothers. Each challenge is a particular section of the game, such as warping to world 4 via the warp zone. What was so entertaining about this was that each challenge was moving you through the actual game, culminating in getting by Bowser in world 8-4. It is challenges like this that make NES Remix shine, and it has quite a few of them.

As for completing the stages, as you complete one, the next will open up, though this also seems to happen even if you fail a stage. I’m assuming this was done to allow players to skip a particular stage that may have been giving them trouble, a feature I’m that I’m happy was implemented. There were a few that were very frustrating for me.

This was not one of them.
This was not one of them.

The second mode is the actual remix mode. In these stages, you’ll attempt a challenge from one of the games, but there will be a twist to it. For example, you may have to finish a level with a Mario that is constantly running forwards, or a level in Excitebike where all you can see is a small headlight spot in front of the bike. A few stages mix-up the challenges, meaning you’ll have to complete a challenge from one game, then a challenge from a different game. These stages are unlocked as you accumulate stars from completing stages in the first mode and will continuously unlock whether or not you’ve attempted the preceding stages.

In addition to gaining stars, with each stage you finish, you accumulate Bit Points which unlock stamps for use in Miiverse, much like Super Mario 3D World. These points are awarded even if you are replaying a level in an effort to improve your ranking.

Ultimately, NES Remix is a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed it for the most part. The challenges range from being ridiculously easy to quite tough while the incentive to get a three star/rainbow border rating and new stamps increases the replay value.

Where I felt the title was lacking is in the choice of video games chose to include here. Some, like Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Brothers were a given, while others like Ice Climbers, Mario Brothers, and Clu Clu Land are head scratchers. The problem is that these games are all presented as they were on the NES, but games like Ice Climbers and Mario Brothers have very finicky controls that render them almost unplayable now (totally my opinion here, if you played them in the NES heyday, I’m sure you’ll find them playable here). Given time with both games, I’m certain that issue would disappear for me, but in this setting, you’re not given that time, you’re thrown right into the mix. After a couple of tries, I completely stopped doing any Mario Brothers stages. There was no fun to be had there for me, only frustration. Their inclusion is made worse by the absence of Metroid, Kid Icarus, and other classic NES games that have held up very well as time has passed.


I feel that I must also cite the lack of true “remixing” of the games. The only crossover among games was two levels in which you play as Link in Donkey Kong. That’s what I would have loved to see more of, and it was almost like a tease that those two levels were included in this. The remixed levels, other than than two I mentioned, consist of odd twists to otherwise conventional levels. I realize that we were not promised a crossing over of game characters, but what little was included makes the absence of more such crossovers all the more glaring. I’m not saying this to diminish the twists added to the games, they were very clever and quite enjoyable.

NES Remix - Link Donkey Kong
Still, as I said, I did enjoy the game. There are enough stages and challenges for the games I did enjoy playing to keep me busy for sometime, and I’m still going back to it to retry stages where my ranking isn’t so great. It’s really a case of the idea being so intriguing that you can’t help but think of where it could have gone, and wonder why it didn’t go there, which is what I’ve spent quite a bit of time on here. Make no mistake though, this is quite a good game and if you are a WiiU owner, you are missing out if you haven’t purchased it. At $15, it’s a steal for what it offers, especially if you are already familiar with many of these games from your childhood, as I am.

In their most recent Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced NES Remix II. Judging from the trailer, it appears that virtually everything I had an issue with in the first installment has been addressed in the second. It makes you wonder if the first was more of a testing ground for the idea, whereas the second installment is the result of that testing. The trailer is below.

Nintendo Direct (2/13/2014) – Recap

Nintendo Direct

3DS & WiiU News

  • Little Mac (from Punch-Out) in Super Smash Brothers for 3DS & WiiU

I actually expected this to happen in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, so am not that surprised to see him join the roster this time around. I’m happy that his stature is accurate in the game. He could be the Oddjob of Smash Brothers.


  • Kirby Triple Deluxe

Brings new powers for Kirby, as well as multiple collectables, such as 8-bit key chains, and streetpass functionality.
Launches in the US on 5/2/2014

  • Yoshi’s New Island

While I like the new powers shown for Yoshi in the latest trailer, the use of tilt controls remind me of those found in Wario Land: Shake It on the Wii. This is not a good thing. I hope that d-pad controls are an option, but doubt they will be. Maybe these sections will be few or at least forgiving. I wills ay that I’m digging the art style, even though I’ve seen quite a few criticisms of it.
Launches in the US on 3/14/2014

  • Professor Layton & the Azran Legacy

Launches on 2/28/2014

  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Like Monster Hunter Tri, will allow group hunts online, while introducing new moves, which appear to be acrobatic in nature, judging from the trailer. The only down side here is that it launches in early 2015.

3DS e-shop

  • Steeldriver: Sub Wars

A submarine FPS that is being referred to as a contemplative FPS. Launches immediately for free, with limitation, or can be purchased to access all parts of the game. I think launching this for free was a very smart move as it could lure more sales to people that will be enticed by the free version, then want to upgrade.

  • Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball

So, this is initially a free title, but has new games in it that can be purchased, except you can haggle with Rusty to bring the price down. This is real money, so that’s an interesting concept. The actual game consists of baseball based drills, but, from what I’ve seen, there is no actual baseball game to play. This reminds me of the trials in Mario Super Sluggers on the Wii, which I detested.

  • Pokemon Battle Trozei

Initially I dismissed this as a Tetris or Kirby’s Avalanche clone, but it seems to be deeper than that as you’re doing the puzzle while also battling. It appears that the Pokemon you line up will battle, and type match-ups are key. I need to see more of this, but it could be an interesting game, especially as it has every Pokemon through X & Y in the game. Just a thought, but having the game give you a Pokemon for your X & Y game for doing extremely well would be a great selling point.
Launches in the US on 3/20/2014

  • Weapon Shop de Omasse

An odd little title in which you run a weapon shop for RPG heroes to rent weapons. Weapon tempering is rhythm based and the quality of your weapons determines the heroes success. If they fail, you don’t get paid. Interesting, but not a title I can see myself getting into. Looks a bit redundant.
Launches in the US on 2/20/2014

  • Inazuma Eleven

It will have it’s fans, but I have zero interest in a Soccer RPG. Available immediately.

  • Treasurenauts
  • Moon Chronicles
  • Shovel Knight
  • 1001 Spikes
  • Retro City Rampage

These titles were just briefly touched on in an Indie Developer portion of the Direct. There’s truly not much I can say about any of them at this time, except that the snippets of each that were shown were intriguing to me, so that’s a very good sign.

WiiU e-shop

  • Child of Light

A fairy tale RPG that seems big on puzzle solving. It can be played with a second player controlling your guiding firefly (appears to be the quiet version of Navi). The trailer shown reminded me of Lost Winds on the Wii, which I found to be very fun, only this game has combat whereas Lost Winds did not.
Launches in the US on 4/30/2014

  • NES Remix 2

I intend to do a Post-Game Wrap-up for the original NES Remix soon, but let me say that based on what little we saw of NES Remix 2, it addresses every single complaint I have about the original. It uses “newer” NES games such as Super Mario Brothers 2, Lost Levels, & 3, Metroid, Zelda 2, Kirby’s Adventure, and Kid Icarus, to name a few. It also does more actual remixing. Levels showing Samus and Link in Mario levels is exactly what I hoped to see. It truly is like Nintendo took the criticisms of the first Remix to heart in making this sequel. One of my favorite moments from the Direct.
Launches in the US on 4/25/2014

  • Virtual Console

Finally, confirmation that GBA games would be coming to the VC starting in April with Metroid Fusion, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (which begs the question of why not just put out the Super NES version). I’ve hardly been silent on Nintendo’s neglect of the VC, so hopefully this will inject some life into it that has been sorely missing since the launch of the WiiU.


  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

While I’m very excited about this game, at this point there is very little new information that a new trailer can give us. Rambi is back, as are the stylized silhouette type levels, which I think are very neat. Both Cranky and Dixie Kong are playable characters. The newest trailer did highlight some more of the 3-D type levels that will be present, including an overhead minecart section. I have the utmost faith in Retro’s work, so I’m planning on getting this title soon after launch.
Launches in the US on 2/21/2014

  • Mario Kart 8

Muck like DKC: Tropical Freeze, there is little more we can learn about this game, though the inclusion of the Koopalings was a nice little surprise. I do realize that there are three weight classes, and beyond that it’s mostly a palette swap on MK characters, but I have a major soft spot for the Koopalings, ever since their introduction in Super Mario Brothers 3.
Launches in the US on 5/30/2014

  • X (Tentative Title)

Instead of another trailer, we were shown actual gameplay, which consisted of a battle. The combat appears to be very similar to Xenoblade. There are bonuses for timed button presses at the start of and during battle, the arts icons are present and seem to have cooldown periods, and multiple characters were shown attacking.

New is the use of guns for the characters, and it appears that you can swap out a gun for a sword on the fly in battle. Also, the main character boarded a Mech in battle and began attacking. I did notice that the main character seemed to be able to dodge attacks by moving around. I don’t know if that’s the case or if the enemy was focused on another character. The developers have stated that the battle system was inspired by Xenoblade, as I noted above, but that it was deeper in this game. This game will be a day 1 purchase for me…whenever that may be.

  • Bayonetta 2

In the newest trailer, more story elements were shown, as was more over-the-top action, which is a trademark of not just Bayonetta, but of Platinum Games. Everything seems very chaotic, but in this case, that is a compliment. There also seems to be another playable character, but that could have simply been a cutscene from the game that I’m misinterpreting.

I’ll admit to never having played Bayonetta, but the best thing I can say about what I’m seeing of the sequel is that I now feel the urge to remedy that. Unfortunately, no launch date was given.

And that was it. No real new information, but then we weren’t promised anything new. It’s nice to know that games like X are still in development, as it does show Nintendo’s continued commitment to the WiiU in spite of the mediocre sales. One noticeable absence was the Yarn Yoshi game. I’ve been quite excited by what little we’ve seen of it, but the lack of information about it has me concerned. All in all, this was a traditional Nintendo Direct, more info about upcoming games. That’s never a bad thing.

Instead of littering this with YouTube videos you may not be interested in, I’m just linking to Nintendo’s web site where you can view the entire direct or selected previews of the games mentioned above:

My Top 8 Video Game Couples

Zelda heart

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I’ve decided to honor the “holiday” with a love/couple focused Top 8. You will not find Mario and Peach on this list. I’m still not convinced they’re an actual couple.

Be warned, there are some spoilers in these entries.

Adv Island8. Master Higgins & Tina (Adventure Island 2 & 3)
Who hasn’t dreamed of being on a tropical island with a bikini clad female companion? Really, just me? Oh well. In the original Adventure Island, Master Higgins had to rescue a princess. It wasn’t until Adventure Island 2 that the Princesses sister, and Master Higgins’ main squeeze, Tina became the subject of the alien kidnappings. Despite the constant trouble, Master Higgins and Tina are always shown as a nice happy couple and he is willing to take on all dangers and ride dinosaurs to save her.

Starfox7. Fox McCloud & Krystal (Starfox Adventures, Starfox Assault, Starfox Command)
First of all, I am not a furry, I just think they deserve a mention. Ever since rescuing her in Starfox Adventures, Krystal has stayed by Fox’s side, even learning to fly an arwing to be of assistance to the team, leaving behind all she knew on her home planet. While there are numerous alternate endings in Starfox Command, including one in which Krystal leaves for Starwolf, I choose to believe the one that keeps them together. Hopefully Nintendo will give us a sequel at some point letting us know exactly where the Starfox team currently stands.

FF6. Locke & Celes (Final Fantasy VI)
Probably not the most well known couple from a Final Fantasy game, but my love of FFVI compels me to pick them. They’re very different people, but eventually come together as the game moves on. The deal is sealed when Locke’s lost love, Rachel, comes to Locke and Celes, to encourage Locke to move on from her and giving Celes her blessing over their relationship. This game always makes me emotional.

Ninja Gaiden5. Ryu Hyabusa & Irene Lew (Ninja Gaiden Trilogy)
I’m referring here to the original NES trilogy. The appeal of this couple is that both are very capable people. While Ryu’s abilities are well-known, Irene is a CIA agent that can clearly take care of herself for the most part. They have been through many difficulties, including what appears to be Irene’s death at Ryu’s hands in the third game, but in the end, they are still there for each other, despite the forces trying to pull them apart.

Dead Space4. Isaac Clarke & Nicole Brennan (Dead Space, Dead Space 2)
Yes, I realize that Nicole is dead, but it’s her apparition (or Isaac’s hallucination) that drives him through the first game, and provides him with motivation in the second. You have to respect a relationship that drives the protagonist even after he realizes the person he’s been attempting to save is beyond his reach.

Shadow of the Colossus3. Wander & Mono (Shadow of the Colossus)
In this case, Wander’s love interest has already passed and his driving force (and the point of the game) is to revive her. Anyone that’s played this game knows what the character has to go through to achieve this. With only the guarantee of a powerful entity, Wander sets out and slays multiple towering creatures, constantly putting his own life at risk. When, at the completion of his tasks, he is slain (essentially) and Mono is revived, you feel that even had he known this would be the result he still would have done it to have her live.

Xenoblade2. Shulk & Fiora (Xenoblade Chronicles)
Xenoblade Chronicles is a tale of vengeance. While the relationship between Shulk and Fiora is evident to everyone except Shulk at the beginning of the game, it is her apparent death that sets up the entire reason for the game to exist. Shulk (and a few of his companions) is completely driven by vengeance, even saying so much within the game. There is no nobler cause or reasoning by him, his entire reason for embarking on his journey is to destroy the one that killed her. While there is more meat to the story as you progress in the game, it is this one act that starts all the gears moving. Also, I’ve never been happier to see a plot twist as I was in this game and the truth behind what has happened to Fiora.

Legend of Zelda1. Link & Zelda (The Legend of Zelda)
While it’s widely assumed that these two generally end up together, it’s very confirmed in Skyward Sword. After defeating Demise, both Zelda and Link decide against returning to Skyloft and choose to stay on mainland Hyrule to populate the land. This also sets up all future relationships between the two; the princess and the chosen one. While all of the couples on this list are interesting, this is the only one that is meant to exist by fate, and for that reason, it claims the number one spot.

So…Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom

Last week Sega announced their next game for Nintendo’s WiiU and 3DS.

The games will be based on a new cartoon being launched under the same name. The series will be coming in the Fall of 2014, whereas the game, which will reportedly serve as a prequel to the television show, has not yet received a release date, or window. This game will complete Sega’s three game exclusivity agreement with Nintendo regarding the Sonic franchise. From the reveal trailer above, the game will feature Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy in a new land that appears to be very open world-ish.

First things first. Let’s take a look at Sonic and company’s new design.

Sonic Boom characters

Well, that’s certainly a new design. While Tails and Amy are pretty status quo, maybe a bit more detailed, but lacking any major differences, Sonic is kind of…leggy. I feel like this is what we’d get if Sonic cross bred with an arachnid but remained bipedal. When he’s standing crouched, with his legs bent, he looks downright spider-esque. For Knuckles, I think we need to go to Twitter.

That about sums it up. I do realize that no one opinion is prevalent about anything. If I said that killing a kitten is a bad thing, someone, somewhere, would disagree with me. That said, the popular opinion that I’ve seen is that these are some really, really ugly designs, and I would agree with those opinions. There’s just a whole lot of leg and scarf and bandage wrapping going on. I feel like they’ve all been put on one of those torture devices that stretches people, except they escaped with no ill-effects other than looking a bit whacky. But, how does this affect the game, Sonic Boom? To answer that, let’s look at another game that created some controversy with character design.

I still think it's ugly.
I still think it’s ugly.

Yep, when unveiled, the Wind Waker was pretty heavily criticized for it’s graphical design. When people played it, however, they found a very well made game. It’s still considered a very popular Zelda title and was recently remade in HD for the WiiU. I would call that lasting appeal.

Now, I’m not saying that Sonic is The Legend of Zelda or that Sonic Boom will go down in history as a title that is equal to Wind Waker. What I am saying is that even though many people may think this is an odd design choice by Sega, ultimately it’s the gameplay that will decide how well Sonic Boom fares. On that front, I must say, the title is actually looking pretty good. There does seem to be an open world quality, which is something that I, personally, find very appealing. In the snippets we’ve seen, the trademark Sonic speed is present, as is a unique play style for each character, which harkens back to the Sonic Adventure games.

Another early plus for the game is that the voice cast from the television show is very strong, based on the short video that was released. Sonic, Tails, and Dr. Eggman/Robotnik all sound appropriate for their characters. As for the dialogue, the little banter heard between Eggman and Sonic is witty and well-written. My assumption is that with this game being a prequel and tie-in to the show, the voice cast and writing team will lend their talent to the game.

Now, again, all of this is based on the barest of details and video, and is therefore very subject to change. That said, even though I still think these redesigns look extremely goofy, I have to counter that reaction with what appears to be, so far, gameplay that appears to be fun, engaging, and interesting. This is a game that I can see myself getting some enjoyment out of. I just need to keep in mind that character and graphical design are only the icing of a video game, the gameplay is the cake.

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