Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “zelda”

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch

I had thought that Mario Kart 8 was as close to perfect as the series could get, but it turns out I was wrong because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe manages to improve upon it. Wii U owners, such as myself, may be frustrated that they’re getting a re-release rather than a new game, but I’ve seen Mario Kart 8 take-off on the Switch on a way it never did, or ever really could, on the Wii U.

I won’t talk about the general handling or the tracks or anything like that, because I’ve already covered that in my review for the original game (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/mario-kart-8-for-wii-u/) and the two DLC packs, which are included here (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-one-for-wii-u & https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-2-for-wii-u/). Suffice it to say that the handling is perfect and the tracks diverse, exciting and wonderful.

I’ll focus instead on what is added. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial additions, the introduction of ‘smart steering’ to keep you from falling off the tracks and an auto accelerate option. Some people (utter pricks) have criticised their introduction, saying that it ‘plays the game for you.’ Having these features on do not give you any real advantage, as you will always skip shortcuts and never really power slide or boost effectively. You might win in single player 50CC matches but that’s basically it and I don’t think anyone will consider that to be the core Mario Kart experience. It is something which allows the very young, or perhaps disabled gamers, to access and enjoy the game. How anyone could view this as a bad thing is beyond me. However, one tiny niggle is that the smart steering is put on automatically when you start, and this isn’t really indicated to you. It should default to off and then need to be turned on, not the other way around. This is literally the biggest flaw in the game by the way.

There are a couple of interesting changes to the core gameplay from the original. The first is the ability to hold two items at once, Double Dash style. In practice it doesn’t really change things too much, but it’s something nice to differentiate itself from the original product. I suspect that the more significant change will be the introduction of a third level of boost on the power slide, this time sending up purple sparks. The tracks aren’t designed for its use, with few corners lasting long enough to activate it, but the boost is massive and it feels amazing when you do pull it off. Neither of these changes mess with the almost perfect mechanics of the original game, but offer something a bit different nonetheless.

Easily the biggest difference in the re-introduction of a proper Battle Mode, which has been somewhat neglected after it’s arguable heyday in Mario Kart 64. There are plenty of different modes, from the classic balloon battle to the shine catching game from Double Dash. There are new courses too, with the most striking being one based on Splatoon, complete with soundtrack. The Inkling boy and girl are also introduced as racers in this game. The new Battle Mode rounds out and expands an already rewarding package.

All said though, the best addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is more a function of the Switch console than the game itself. Portable, instant local multiplayer is a game changer. The Switch’s appeal may not be as immediately obvious as the Wii’s, but I think this feature is a system seller. Each player can use a separate Joycon to split0screen race, anywhere you go. The single Joycon isn’t the most comfortable controller in the world and I don’t think anyone will be preferring it to a Pro Controller, but it does work, much better than you might expect. I’m not a fan of online gaming generally; I love multiplayer, but I usually only get that rush of excitement when I’m in the room with whoever I’m competing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows me a vision of a bright future for local multiplayer, something which for many years has been steadily dying.

As a final point, I’ll share a video of what I was doing on Saturday night. For clarity’s sake, I’m the guy who’s amazing at Mario Kart, not the guy who’s amazing at rapping. I’m a good rapper at best. This guy is called Mega Ran by the way and he’s great, go see him. Support independent musicians.

https://www.facebook.com/MegaRanMusic/videos/10154717487563473/

I love this console and I love this game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential.

 

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch and Wii U

I don’t even know how to go about reviewing this game. Zelda is my favourite game series, but it’s hard to deny that it’s been stuck in a rut. I think the last genuine classic is almost 15 years old; Wind Waker. The following games have been good, even great, but have not captured me as much as the games that preceded it. There were two major transformative moments in the series prior to this year; 1991’s SNES classic A Link to the Past and the seminal 1997 Ocarina of Time on the N64. Since then, the series has stayed roughly within the established formula. Now, almost 20 years later, the third transformative moment for the series has arrived with Breath of the Wild. It’s not perfect, there are definite roughs around the edges, but Breath of the Wild is a game changer both for the series and open world game design in general.

I think Breath of the Wild has the greatest open world ever made because it is truly open. Even in GTA you can’t enter all the buildings, but if everything you see in Breath of the Wild is attainable, everything is reachable, everything is tangible. There was a moment I headed towards a shrine which had popped up on my sensor. I later realised that the story would have taken me to its location eventually, outside a gate near one of the main villages. Instead, I climbed up a mountain and down again to my destination, seeing a glimpse of strange ruins I would come to later. On my way up the mountain I came to a plateau upon which I had a perfect view of Death Mountain, Hyrule laid out before it. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit teary; this was the Zelda game I dreamed about as a child, the game I wanted Twilight Princess to be and it never could. The plateau I was on served no real purpose, it wasn’t how you were clearly intended to reach this shine, but it was there and it was gorgeous and I think Nintendo put it there on purpose. The world is massive, but still feels handcrafted. I don’t think Nintendo have even heard the word procedural generation. This is the Nintendo difference, this is why I will always love this company, for all they can be infuriating.

There has been a rigid Zelda formula since A Link to the Past. You explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss, you explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss etc. There’s usually a major focus shift a bit of the way through, like A Link to the Past’s Dark World or Ocarina of Time’s 7 year timeline jump, and then you do the same thing. It’s not a bad structure by any stretch, but the spirit of adventure of the original NES game was missing. Breath of the Wild abandons the formula almost entirely. Dungeons don’t really exist anymore and are replaced with Shrines scattered around the map. There are 120 in total and most contain some kind of puzzle. Some a very brief and some are like mini-dungeons and each give you an item which can either put towards giving yourself a Heart Container or expanding your stamina wheel. There are four larger dungeon-like areas, the nature of which I will not spoil, but they never reach the scale of the previous games’ dungeons. The puzzles themselves work very differently; you no longer have a set of equipable items you use to solve a dungeon’s puzzles. That design locks you into a particular path and you can tackle Breath of the Wild’s challenges in any order you like. Instead, you are given almost all of your tools in the first hour and sent out into the world. These powers are linked to your mythical Shiekah Slate and can do things like manipulate metal objects, pause time for a moving object, freeze ice and others. The puzzles are much more physics based and designed differently to traditional Zelda puzzles, often with multiple solutions, reminding me more of something like Portal or The Talos Principle.

Zelda games have long had a clear divide between exploration and puzzling, with the two halves of the games kept distinct through the dungeon structure. Breath of the Wild unifies the two, with a little and often approach to puzzling rather than dense and lengthy challenges. Initially I saw this an entirely positive thing; some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, but as time went on my opinion shifted somewhat. There may be 120 shrines (and the four mini-dungeons), but many of these shrines (too many) are combat focused and for a lot finding the shrine itself is the puzzle. All shrines have the same visual design and music, meaning that by the end I was feeling a bit like I’d seen it all before. A few fewer shrines and more themed and expansive dungeons may have been a better approach and I hope this is what they do with the sequel. The shift to shrines from a few massive dungeons is a good thing, but I think a slightly better balance could have been struck.

Link is the most manoeuvrable and fun to control he’s even been in 3D. Almost any surface is climbable, limited only by your upgradable stamina wheel, and any height can be used as a platform to glide from with your sailcloth. This is the most tangible open world since Metal Gear Solid V. Since I finished Zelda I’ve started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and whilst I’m enjoying it, it feels limited after Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is entirely laissez-faire about how you approach its world. If you want to climb over the mountain in front of you rather than following a path wending round it, feel free. Many open world games use mountains and rivers to guide and block your exploration, to provide barriers, but Zelda simply places them as another challenge. Exploration is almost always rewarded, maybe with a shrine or with a Korok seed which you use to expand your inventory. If you see an interesting looking spot and wonder if there’s something cool up there, there almost always is. I love exploring in games, but many open world games are unwilling to remove the leash. Even games I love like The Witcher 3 would be very hard to play without waypoints, with a world designed in such a way that you need a map to get around. Early in the game, you will be sent to go through a valley between two mountains and then get directions. You don’t need a glowing marker to show you where to go, you can just look at the key landmark. There are more HUD options if you want them, but I played very minimalist, navigating by directions from passers-by and environmental clues. The last game I bothered to do this with is Morrowind.

This openness extends to the combat, which is another significant departure from previous games. In previous games you would generally have one sword, two at most, with which to fight. I mean, sure you could whack things with the Biggoron Hammer in Ocarina of Time, but why would you when the Master Sword is better and quicker? Breath of the Wild has an aggressive weapon durability system, which has been controversial. I totally get why people would hate it: I thought I would and sort of did myself at first. Your weapons are ridiculously brittle, with many weapons barely surviving a single protracted encounter before they literally shatter, never to be seen again. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about acquiring loot and becoming more powerful; the difficulty curve instead fluctuates. There will be moments where you are powerful, fully buffed from food, quiver filled with arrows, powerful weapon at your side when you can take on the world. There will be times when you are low on health, depleted and with no weapon of any value. Breath of the Wild nudges you away from playing one particular way, from simply approaching each encounter by charging in with a sword. You don’t want to waste your finite resource of the weapon for no reason. You are instead encouraged to be clever, using the environment or stealth to clear areas. There’s something of Metal Gear Solid V’s vast toolbox of tricks in Breath of the Wild’s design. Some may find this nudging oppressive; if I want to charge in and just use a sword than why should the game stop me having fun? I see their point, but I don’t think I would have experimented as much as I did if I didn’t have to by necessity. Other games would teach you these mechanics through pop up or tutorials, Breath of the Wild teaches you to play smart by necessity. The actual melee combat itself is pretty basic, and feels like a step backwards from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, although the game is more about encouraging you to approach enemies in a variety of ways. Using the bow feels better in Breath of the Wild than it ever has before.

The biggest issue with the combat is a lack of enemy variety compared to previous games, with creatures like Re-Deads, Darknuts and Dodongos missing, with the world populated almost entirely with Bokobins, Moblins and Lizfalos.

One element I was very dubious of before release were the crafting and survival mechanics. I generally hate these in most games, but there’s a tactile charm to everything which makes even these irksome mechanics somehow delightful. Rather than collecting hearts from chopping grass, you heal from meals that you cook over a fire, which can also provide other buffs. Most games would just do this through a menu, with the outcome of your cooking clear based on your ingredients. Zelda is cheerfully chaotic, with cooking literally done by holding up to five items, dropping them in a pot and taking what comes out. Experimentation is rewarded and the buffs are considerable. There are areas which are too warm or cold for Link to survive, so these can be alleviated with particular outfits or foods. Zelda did something impossible; it actually made me enjoy crafting and survival. It’s essential that you take these mechanics seriously too because this game can be hard. It’s the hardest Zelda game since…Link’s Awakening maybe? It’s never cruel or capricious however and generous with autosaves.

Breath of the Wild doesn’t have the protracted opening for which most 3D Zelda games are guilty. Link awakens in a strange chamber and emerges into a Hyrule devastated by the arrival of Calamity Ganon. No clear timeline placement is offered, but the implication is that Breath of the Wild may be late in the timeline, as Ganon has abandoned any vestige of humanity or intelligence as Ganondorf, descending instead into as primal force of sheer evil. 100 years before, Hyrule had been overrun when Calamity Ganon turned the kingdom’s own highly advanced defensive Guardians against their masters. Link must piece together what happened 100 years ago and put an end to Calamity Ganon as it lurks in the ruins of Hyrule Castle.

Zelda has never had complex plots, but at their best they tap into a sense of epic destiny. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, post-apocalyptic, and there’s a sense of melancholy and loss which pervades the whole thing. I had worried before release that Breath of the Wild would be a barren wasteland and would lack the loveable cast of weirdos which help make the series so special. Happily, this is not the case, with a cast as entertaining and eccentric as we’ve come to expect. Standouts include the charmingly positive Zora Prince Sidon and the intimidating Gerudo warrior Urbosa. The minor cast has some real stars too; I’m glad to see that the proud Zelda tradition of ridiculously effeminate carpenters is alive and well. Still, the actual plot is a bit underwhelming. We’re introduced to a key supporting player in each of the game’s four main dungeon locations, with their own subquests attached and I had been expecting, and hoping, that the game would return to them in the conclusion. The open structure and ability to approach the goals in any order make a story which feels more like a series of vignettes than an epic adventure. Nothing much can really change or grow. The lack of a true villain doesn’t help, with the mindless fury of Calamity Ganon never making anywhere near as much as an impact as Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker’s Ganondorf, or the titular Majora’s Mask.

The majesty of the open world would be nothing if it didn’t look incredible, but it really does. This is the best looking Zelda since Wind Waker, with an art style which falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. I played it on the Switch and it looks amazing both on the TV and on the little screen, with beautiful bright colours and truly stunning art direction. The characters are also brilliantly expressive and funny, with charming animations. The music is minimalistic but wonderful. This isn’t a triumphant soundtrack I’ll listen to over and over again like Wind Waker and I don’t think it’s going to inspire complex tributes like Majora’s Mask, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the game it is. A booming orchestral score would feel out of place in this Hyrule, but there are some lovely tunes in a lot of the towns and villages. Some are entirely new and some are truly stunning re-workings of songs from previous games. There are some problems; Breath of the Wild introduces voice acting to the series for the first time and the result is…mixed. Some supporting characters, particularly in the Gorons and Gerudo sound perfectly fine, but a few too many major characters are very stilted. I hated Zelda’s voice, which was breathy and a bit pathetic sounding. There are also regular framerate drops, particularly in chaotic scenes and when docked in TV mode. It’s not awful and anyone who tells you it ruins the game is an idiot who doesn’t deserve videogames, but it would undeniably be better if the framerate was more solid.

So, in summary. Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, because no game is. What it does do is transcend its flaws, offering something which feels truly new whilst respecting the storied past of this great series. It’s a wonderful experience and Nintendo’s best game since Super Mario Galaxy. People may knock the Switch line up for only having one big game, but if you must launch a console with only one game it might as well be one of the greatest of all time.

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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for Wii U

The 2004 Nintendo E3 press conference is something I’ll never forget. I’m aware of just how geeky that sounds. I miss the drama and bombast of those old conferences and it was a particularly strong one for Nintendo, with the unveiling of the original Nintendo DS. The moment when Nintendo closed off the conference by announcing that they had one more game, showing footage of the Zelda game that became Twilight Princess, was genuinely magical. Twilight Princess was launched with a huge amount of excitement already invested in it and although the reaction was immediately positive (remember the ridiculous backlash when GameSpot gave it an 8.8/10?), Twilight Princess’ ultimate legacy hasn’t been particularly positive. Replaying it on Wii U has essentially confirmed what I expected; it is a very good game but not a great one, which suffers too much from living in the shadow of the past rather than building its own future.

Twilight Princess opens in the serene Ordon Village, where Link works as a goat rancher. Link stumbles into a wider conflict where he is pulled into an encroaching shadow and turned into a wolf. He is paired with Midna, a strange imp who seeks to drive back the ‘Twilight’. After a group of children (and Epona, Link’s horse) are kidnapped, Link sets out into Hyrule to rescue them and drive back the dark forces assaulting the land.

Some elements of Twilight Princess’ plot are successful, most notably Midna, who is comfortably the best companion character in the series. She’s sassy, funny and sad and goes on a genuine character arc, something the Zelda series usually misses. There are some great supporting characters, with my favourite being the weird, angry baby Malo. All said though, Twilight Princess lacks the same wide cast of bizarre weirdos that makes games like Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker so great. The biggest weakness is the lack of any sense of looming threat. Zant, the usurper to the throne of Twilight is a memorable and strange villain, but is undermined by the predictable reveal that Ganondorf is behind everything. After playing pretty much no role in the plot, the final confrontation with him feels deeply anti-climactic. Compare this to the unforgettable encounter we have with Ganondorf as Young Link in Ocarina of Time, which builds him as a true threat to give the final encounter as Adult Link greater stakes. A lack of stakes is an issue overall. I don’t think Ocarina of Time gets enough credit for it’s environmental storytelling. The transformation of the vibrant, joyful Hyrule Castle Town of the child era into the nightmarish, Re-Dead populated hell hole of the adult era is striking and upsetting and creates a real sense of stakes and tension. Twilight Princess doesn’t have anything like this.

Twilight Princess can essentially be summed up as great dungeons, with a poor overworld. This game contains some of the most inventive, satisfying and clever dungeons in the 3D series, but the world created here in the least alluring and exciting of any of the series. I liked some of the new items, particularly the bizarre spinner, which we haven’t seen again since. They’re not really used enough, but they’re fun while they last. From a core mechanic point of view, Twilight Princess is very strong, with easily the best combat of the series with a greater range of moves and techniques at play. The puzzles are good and the boss fights fun. It’s pretty easy, but I don’t really mind. I’m not playing Zelda for the challenge. The moments between dungeons are just as important as the dungeons to me and it is here that Twilight Princess suffers most. Majora’s Mask was the best for this, but I think Ocarina of Time did well too. Wind Waker gets a lot of flack for its Triforce hunt, but at least the world of Wind Waker is gorgeous. Sailing around the Great Sea for a few more hours didn’t feel like nearly as much of a chore as galloping through the dull, muted world of Hyrule we have in Twilight Princess. The wolf stuff is fine, but ultimately inessential. The transformations in Majora’s Mask were more interesting from a gameplay perspective. It isn’t bad, it all works, but I couldn’t really work out what the point was. I still pretty much always wanted to just be plain ol’ Hylian Link.

The visuals have been tarted up for the HD release, but there’s only so much that can be done. Parts of Twilight Princess can be beautiful and striking, such as the snowy and desert regions, but the core sections in Hyrule are bland and lack character. Even Hyrule Castle Town, now with additional NPCs rushing everywhere, can’t rival the simple charms of the town in Ocarina of Time. The music isn’t particularly good; the Twilight Princess theme is my least favourite of any in the 3D series, being mostly bombast and lacking the subtle beauty and character found in the others. There are some great character designs though. Twilight Princess was never going to age as well as Wind Waker, but it’s striking how antiquated elements of its design and style are.

This sounds very negative, but I want to make clear that I still like this game a lot. Does it live up to the promise of that 2004 E3? No, not really, but what could? In Twilight Princess Nintendo gave the fans what they want, but it turns out that giving fans something weird and polarising is better. The bizarre and oppressive world of Majora’s Mask and the beautiful, vibrant world of Wind Waker are now pretty much revered and Twilight Princess’ murky, soulless Hyrule simply cannot compete. The core of the experience is still great though, with outstanding dungeons, great combat and a wonderful character in Midna.

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D for Nintendo 3DS

So…Majora’s Mask is one of my favourite games of all time. That said, there were all kinds of things I didn’t like. Unlike the pretty much flawless Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask had a lot of things wrong with it. It was always a diamond in the rough. This is the best kind of remake, one which fixes almost all of those niggling flaws to mean that Majora’s Mask can now confidently stand as not just one of the best Zelda games, but as one of the best games ever made.

Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time and picks up with Link searching for a lost friend, strongly implied to be Navi. While riding dejected through the woods, Link is knocked from his horse by an imp known as The Skull Kid in a mysterious mask who steals Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Link pursues through a strange environment before being transformed into a Deku Scrub and emerging into the strange parallel world of Termina, where things are similar to Hyrule in some ways and utterly alien in others. The Skull Kid has summoned Termina’s moon to crash into the central city of Clock Town in three days and it’s up to Link to manipulate time and save this strange new world.

Majora’s Mask has essentially identical core mechanics to Ocarina of Time, but wraps them up in surprising and interesting ways. The most obvious gimmick are the masks; most are simple and used gathered in the impressive number of side missions, but it’s the masks which turn Link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron and a Zora which are the most interesting, with all three offering interesting new traversal mechanics. Switching between masks feels like a natural addition to the Zelda puzzle tool box; I wouldn’t mind them returning to the concept some day. The real star of Majora’s Mask will always be the 72 hour time system, which seems Termina living the same three final days of their lives over and over again. At the end of the 72 hours, you can play the Song of Time and return to the beginning, losing any of your non-core items in the process (including Rupees which must be put in the bank). It may sound high pressure but it’s really not; you can slow down time by playing the Song of Time backwards and there’s more than enough time to complete every dungeon in the time given. The 72 hours isn’t a time limit, it’s essentially giving the player a fourth dimension to work in. You no longer just have to navigate the 3D space, but also time, with each character keeping a schedule which changes throughout the three days. Catching them at the right moment is key to many of the side quests. This Groundhog Day-esque use of time as a mechanic is fascinating to me and not something I’ve ever seen elsewhere.

Since this has always been a more rough around the edges experience than it’s more illustrious predecessor, Majora’s Mask has been tweaked much more than Ocarina of Time 3D was. The boss fights have all been significantly altered, with the addition of a big red eye making the weak spots better. The changes for the first two bosses feel a bit pointless but the second two are massively improved. The Great Bay Temple is still a pain, but like the Water Temple the whole thing has been made a bit clearer. There are a couple of new fishing ponds, which is a neat little addition and gyroscopic aiming makes archery challenges much easier. The Bomber’s Notebook has been tidied up too and it’s now much easier to keep track of side quests, which is pretty much a must in a game like this.

There’s been some online controversy about certain changes ‘dumbing down’ the game. Saving now doesn’t bring you back to the first day which makes this a game much more able to pick up and play and the Song of Double Time can now bring you to any hour rather than just speeding up time. The long waits of the original game are no more. Sure, some will moan and claim that all of these things were what made Majora’s Mask great but…well, they’re just wrong. Those annoying challenges weren’t good, they were annoying and if it did make the game more challenging it’s that irritating kind of challenge that just wasted time. That much waiting was fine if you were a kid or unemployed and I was the former when I first played Majora’s Mask so I wasn’t bothered. As an adult with a job Majora’s Mask would have been borderline unplayable without these changes and they were right to do it.

I’m pretty much as big a Zelda fan boy as you can get, but there aren’t many Zelda games with genuinely good plots. They can be enjoyable in their own way, but I’m not about to claim that Zelda is about to give Dragon Age a run for its money any time soon. Well…apart from Majora’s Mask. This is a truly dark game. I’d wondered before playing the remake if Majora’s Mask is as sad and weird as I remembered and it really is. One particular scene in a house shaped like a music box genuinely terrified me as a kid and gave me a strong case of the jibblies now, although I now find that whole scene rather moving. Majora’s Mask is a game about helping people, but it’s all wrapped up in the sick knowledge that all the good you do is undone whenever you play the Song of Time and return to the Dawn of the First Day. There’s an edge of hysteria to the world of Termina, with the gradually arriving Moon being a textbook perfect method of using the environment to immerse you in the story. Majora’s Mask is a sad but tender experience, one that is fundamentally about emotion. Zelda is usually about arch conflicts between icons of good and evil and that’s ok, but Majora’s Mask was the time Nintendo made a Zelda game about people.

As with Ocarina of Time, Grezzo have done a fantastic job at making Majora’s Mask look beautiful all over again. The character models are very much improved, although admittedly most of them are recycled from Ocarina of Time with the general art direction being left intact with the smoothing over of the rough edges. The music is still fantastic, with the shift of the Clock Town theme from a cheerful ditty on the first day to a madness tinged carnival nightmare on the final still being brilliantly unsettling. Grezzo really are good at this remake stuff; these could be the guys for future Nintendo remakes. Mario 64 3D please!
Nintendo and Grezzo have smoothed off some of the rough edges to Majora’s Mask to leave us with the definitive version of this strange, divisive game. It was a fantastic game before, but now it’s a masterpiece.1423905246-9791-card

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

Call it a first world problem, but holding out for this game was tough. The 3DS version was so damn enticing, but I knew playing the inferior version first might dampen my excitement for the Wii U game. No criticism intended of the extremely impressive 3DS version, but I knew that the Wii U would be what delivered the true Smash experience for me. Super Smash Bros. is a lot of things to a lot of different people; for some it’s a casual party experience and for some it’s an intense eSport. I fall comfortably in the middle. I need a Smash game to be simple enough that anyone can play but with extra depths to master and Super Smash Bros for Wii U comfortably does that.

Mechanically, Smash Bros hasn’t changed a huge amount. Perhaps it’s just the glossy newness of it all, but I feel that it meshes the best of both worlds from Melee and Brawl. Despite being much maligned, I don’t think that Brawl was a bad game by any stretch. A lot of the new characters were brilliant and I like final smashes, but it was an undeniably sluggish experience compared to the zippy Melee. This new Smash isn’t as fast as that, instead raising the more deliberate style of Brawl to a much more enjoyable speed. The new characters are generally really good as well and fun to play as. Some characters like Rosalina & Luma, Little Mac and Shulk have interesting mechanics of their own to play with, such as Shulk’s ability to switch Monado Arts to buff different stats and Little Mac’s dominance on the ground but uselessness in the air. Although many clones are gone, almost every move set from previous games is back. The only exceptions are Snake and Ice Climbers, which is a shame, but with a roster this size it’s hard to complain. The core gameplay is simply superb, nothing much else to say.

Online multiplayer will be a big draw for many people. Not for me though; Smash Bros. will always be about local multiplayer. The whole thing is as obscenely customisable as ever so you won’t struggle to get your perfect style of game. One minor, but nice, change is that all the stages now have an ‘Omega’ mode, which essentially turns it into a standard Final Destination style level. This is a very nice touch for people who want a stripped back skill based experience when playing Smash but are sick of the Final Destination visuals and music. The Smash Tour mode is a fun diversion, adding a Mario Party-style mode where players circle the board collecting characters and skill buffs which are all put together in the end for a winner-takes-all rumble. I like this mode and will probably come back to it occasionally, but the actual board game part is quite dull, leaving me itching to just get back to regular battles.

One area which left me a little disappointed is the somewhat lacklustre variety in single player modes. The Classic and All Star modes are back and they work fine as a way to get you to grips with the characters. There are also a handful of mini-games and the Master Orders and Crazy Orders, which see you completing a bunch of challenges and then fighting either Master or Crazy Hand. The Event mode is the best single player mode, which sees you completing little challenges, often based around amusing scenarios Nintendo have concocted between the different characters. My biggest issue with this game is the lack of any kind of Adventure or Story Mode. I think we call all agree that Brawl’s Subspace Emissary left a lot to be desired, but I can’t be the only one who felt that it was pretty incredible seeing all these characters come together in a story context. Rather than throwing out the concept entirely, I wish Nintendo had instead worked to make that original concept better. That said, this is a game utterly packed with stuff, so criticising it for what it’s lacking seems unfair. I wasn’t particularly interested in the customisation stuff; I never am in multiplayer games, but some people I’m sure will get a massive kick out of customising their fighters to their hearts content.

After Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8, Nintendo are gaining a reputation for technically astounding releases on the comparatively weak Wii U and Super Smash Bros for Wii U continues that trend. Running at a slick and consistent 60FPS, Smash Wii U is gorgeous and packed with those little details and charms which make Nintendo so special. Everything from the stages to the character animations is perfect. The collectible trophies are compelling fan service, but the absolute highlight of the presentation for me has to be the music. Featuring a cross section of music, some taken straight from the game and some remixed, this game is guaranteed to make me happy. Whether it’s the fantastic Ocarina of Time medley to the uplifting and sweeping music of Super Mario Galaxy, I’m in. There are some goofy choices too, such as Ashley’s Song from Wario Ware and City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. I pretty much love them all. There are even songs from games which don’t feature in the game; I was pretty thrilled the first time I heard the battle theme from Golden Sun: The Lost Age on one of the Metroid stages. This is the way to do fan service.

There’s much more I could say about this game, but I’ll leave it here. I’ll end this review with a brief story. A friend of mine, my number one fellow Smash enthusiast where I live, was in hospital when this game came out. We’d planned a long night of playing for release day, which didn’t get to happen. I later decided to bring my Wii U to hospital with my Gamecube controller adaptor, and on the Wii U gamepad screen we spent a couple of really good hours playing Smash there in the hospital room. This wouldn’t have been possible on any other console and that is the Nintendo difference.smash-bros-wii-u-release-date-super-smash-bros-4-wii-u-3ds-unlock-all-characters-stages-in-one-hour (1)

Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack One for Wii U

Ok, hyperbole time. This is the best value DLC ever released. Let’s do some maths. New, Mario Kart 8 cost about £40. There are 32 tracks in the game. Since the tracks are the main draw, let’s call that about £10 for 8 tracks. This DLC and the next (which will be released sometime in the spring next year) can be bought together for £11. There are 8 tracks in each DLC so 16 tracks overall. A reasonable amount to charge would be about £20, since these DLCs contain about half again the content of the full game. Instead, we get both for a little over half that. Maths alone is reason enough to buy it.

This DLC pack adds two new cups, the Egg Cup and the Triforce Cup, all of which are replete with the usual stuff like the different CC speeds and Mirror Mode. The eight new tracks include three classic levels; the original SNES Rainbow Road, Yoshi Circuit from Mario Kart DS and Wario’s Gold Mine from Mario Kart Wii. These are all good tracks and it’s nice to have them back. There are also two entirely new courses; Ice Ice Outpost is a fun level of two intertwining tracks and Dragon Driftway is a slightly nauseating level which mostly takes place in anti-gravity. The real highlights are, of course, the tracks based on other Nintendo titles. Excitebike Arena is a surprisingly fun level, made up simply of a loop and jumps, which has the novel gimmick of being randomly generated every time you play. It’s the closest Mario Kart 8 gets to my beloved Baby Park from Double Dash. Mute City is an F-Zero themed level which is simple but fun, although it does just whet the appetite for an actual F-Zero game. The highlight and biggest draw of the pack is Hyrule Circuit, a Zelda themed level which sees you cross a part of Hyrule Field before entering Hyrule Castle. There are some great Zelda details, such as the mini-puzzle which sees you knocking three crystals which opens a shortcut, complete with the classic Zelda puzzle solving jingle. On top of these levels are three new characters, Link, Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach and a few new vehicles, such as the Blue Falcon and a Zelda themed bike. These are all levels showing Mario Kart at its finest.

Nintendo doesn’t half-ass stuff and this DLC is stuffed with charming detail. From the animations when Link and Tanooki Mario do a trick to the fact that the coins are replaced with rupees in Hyrule Circuit, this DLC is every bit as packed with love and attention as the main game is. The music is great, although I wish Nintendo had refrained from yet another electric guitar version of the Zelda theme; Hyrule Warriors was enough of that, thanks.

If you still play Mario Kart 8, buy this. This is how you do DLC.Mario_Kart_8_DLC_14091061197762

Hyrule Warriors for Wii U

I was really nervous about this game. I’m pretty much as big a Zelda fan as you can get, but I wasn’t particularly well versed in Dynasty Warriors and what I had encountered I didn’t like. I picked up Hyrule Warriors to be fan serviced hard and that was about it. I was pleasantly surprised; maybe I do like Dynasty Warriors (or perhaps I’m such a Zelda fanboy I’ll enjoy anything with Link on the cover).

Hyrule Warriors shows Zelda in command of her kingdom with Link in training as a member of her army. Dark forces attack Hyrule Castle, and behind them is the evil witch Cia. She seeks to gain the power of the Triforce and conquer Hyrule, and in the process she opens a portal to three different time periods; the world of Skyward Sword, the world of Ocarina of Time and the world of Twilight Princess. Link and a collection of Hyrule’s greatest heroes from across time unite to stop Cia and the dark force which lurks behind her.

So, the story of Hyrule Warriors isn’t exactly interesting, but its fan service-y with plenty of appearances from classic characters. I enjoyed it, but this may again be due to my lack of ability to be objective about Zelda games. The only real disappointment is the focus on merely three games; elements from others appear, but I’d have loved to see more influence from games like Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask and A Link to the Past. Hell, I’d like to see them go for the underrated classics like Link’s Awakening and Minish Cap as well! This focus on three games means that Hyrule Warriors isn’t quite the complete Zelda fan service you may have been hoping for, but it is undoubtedly nice to see characters like Darunia and Midna again.

You’ll spend pretty much all of your time in Hyrule Warriors hacking and slashing through huge armies of foes as one of several characters, including obvious choices like Link and Zelda, but also fan favourites such as Impa and Midna and even a new character, Lana. Each character has a different move set, with each having a special attack which can be charged up. The move sets vary drastically, from Link’s standard sword and shield to Sheik’s harp to Darunia’s hammer. They all control pretty much the same though, and what works with one character will likely work with another. Some characters have multiple weapons, with completely different move sets. For example, Link can be equipped with either a sword and shield or the Flame Rod, each playing differently, with loads of hidden weapons to be found. Although the grunts can just be torn through, the stronger enemies require some Zelda-esque locking on. These enemies will be hard to damage with regular attacks, but can be damaged after dodging their attack, filling up a meter which unleashes a special attack on them. It’s a great system which manages to capture what makes Zelda combat good but in a Dynasty Warriors context. The boss fights are great as well, often using items you discover throughout the game. The final boss fight is actually one of my favourites in any Zelda game, it’s that fun.

Whatever your weapon, each level of the main campaign sees you seeking to dominate a battlefield. This can be done by capturing enemy keeps by defeating a certain number of foes, or by killing enemy captains or simply by following mini-missions the game throws your way. Defeat will normally find you if your home base falls or certain allies are forced off the battle field. Hyrule Warriors is often called mindless, and while it’s no strategy game, I don’t really think that’s true. As you rush around the battle field you frequently have to make decisions about what to prioritise. Do I rescue my ally who is in danger or do I shore up home base? Do I attempt to end this quickly by taking out the boss or do I play it safe. These aren’t complicated decisions, but they are there, and underpin the gloriously over the top combat nicely.

There’s a huge amount of content in Hyule Warriors. Each character levels up, and can be upgraded with ‘badges’ which bestow battlefield advantages. You can also create new weapons by fusing old ones together to make them more powerful. The story mode is a reasonable length, bringing you to a variety of locations. The ‘Adventure Mode’ is a real treat, showing us the map from the original NES The Legend of Zelda. Each square holds a different short challenge with a different reward. Sometimes these are just mini-fights in the style of the main game, but sometimes the challenges are a bit more interesting, such as the ones which upgrade you and your enemies weapons to insta-kill. The rewards can be new characters, weapons or items from Zelda, which are used to unlock secrets on the map. It works surprisingly well, and it was a lot of fun making my way through this mode.

Hyrule Warriors is far from the prettiest game around, with some fairly hideous environments which fail to capture those of their source games. Some are better than others; Skyward Sword’s Skyloft feels about right, but Gerudo Valley feels way off. The character designs for the classic characters are much better, although there’s a streak of over sexualisation (e.g massive boobs) in Cia which felt a bit out of place in a Zelda game. The attacks look incredibly cool, to the point that they almost carry the simplistic combat. I never really got tired of some of these moves despite having looked at them dozens of times. The music is good, mostly cheesy rock remixes of classic Zelda tunes.

Hyrule Warriors is a very generous package and a pleasant surprise to boot. This is a better game than it really had any right to be, and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, it could turn me into a Dynasty Warriors fan. If you actively hate Dynasty Warriors which, to be fair many do, give this a miss, but if you’re a Zelda fan on the fence, I really recommend taking the plunge. I wasn’t sorry and I don’t think you will be either.zeldaHyruleWarriors_featuredImage

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for Nintendo 3DS

A Link Between Worlds is a bit of a contradiction. In some ways it represents the greatest shake up of the Zelda formula in many years, but the crutch of its predecessor, the seminal A Link to the Past, holds it back from being everything that it could have been.

A Link Between Worlds takes place hundreds of years after A Link to the Past, although Hyrule is largely unchanged. The effete villain Yuga appears and turns a young maiden into a painting as part of a plot to resurrect Ganon and take his power. Link ends up drawn in to stop him, and in the process is dragged into Lorule, a parallel Hyrule torn apart by dark powers.

The final 15 minutes of A Link Between Worlds contains more plot than the entire rest of the game which…really isn’t great storytelling. Some potentially intriguing plot points appear, but little interesting is done with them. Zelda games never have complex plots, but the best ones tap into broad, stirring emotions, using its own mythology to convey a sense of wonder, history and grandeur. Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker probably did this best, but Majora’s Mask deserves a large amount of credit for its twisted and dark narrative and setting. A Link Between Worlds takes the same minimalist approach to plot that has characterised the Mario games recently, but where the loss of plot from Mario is no great loss, something feels missing when it is stripped from a Zelda game.

Thankfully, A Link Between Worlds makes up for it where it counts; the gameplay. It’s really difficult to describe just how much of an improvement in control there is in A Link Between Worlds compared to other 2D Zelda games. Link moves with a degree of precision that he never has before, and for the first time in the series, each death is definitely your fault. The dungeons are beautifully designed; not necessarily that challenging, but so clever. There are two main schools of thought as to what makes a good Zelda dungeon; for some it’s the fiendishness and complexity of the puzzles, which is fine, but for me playing through a good Zelda dungeon is like watching an artisan making a beautiful object; I just marvel at the cleverness of the design and how wonderfully it fits together. If you’re like me, A Link Between Worlds offers the best Zelda dungeons in years.

However, it’s not the dungeons that really make a Zelda game for me. For me, Zelda games are all about adventure and exploration. It’s the reason that Wind Waker is one of my favourite games, despite the fact that it arguably has some of the weakest dungeons in the entire series. Sure, there’s a lot to see in Hyrule and Lorule in A Link Between Worlds, but nothing that we haven’t seen before. I suppose it all comes down to nostalgia; my first Zelda was Ocarina of Time, so it’s that game that will always mean most to me, but for the people whose first Zelda was A Link to the Past, this return to Hyrule must be nostalgic ecstasy. I love A Link to the Past, but I first played it when it was remade on GBA, so the nostalgia isn’t really there. The reusing of this Hyrule holds this game back from true greatness, since there’s nothing new to see or discover. It’s a shame, because A Link Between Worlds makes so many wonderful additions to the series, and I’d have loved to see those additions in a new setting.

So, about those additions? The most obvious is the ability for Link to meld into the walls and shuffle around. Although it’s a little gimmicky, it looks really cool, and forces you to completely reassess your surroundings. It adds a whole other layer to what Link can do, and is used in some really fun and interesting ways, particularly during the final boss fight. The biggest change is the shake-up of the typical linear Zelda structure; after the first two, each dungeon can be tackled in any order that you like, and new items are no longer discovered in each dungeon. Instead, they are lent out by Ravio, a merchant who sets up shop in Link’s house. The player can rent items for a small fee, although they are lost if Link dies, but for a higher price they can be bought outright and kept forever. When owned the items can also be upgraded by finding Maimais, strange little creatures which must be returned to their mother. The item renting/non-linear structure is the most radical shake up in the series for years, and unlike gimmicky motion or touch screen controls, they genuinely improve the experience. I’m not saying that every Zelda game should go this route, but it sure as hell works here, and I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Now, the graphical style has many detractors, and whilst A Link Between Worlds isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it gets the job done. Everything works fine. The 3D is probably the best for the system, and the game would be extremely difficult to play without it. The dungeons are much more vertical than before, and when I turned the 3D off I found it very hard to judge where I was…so, sorry 2DS owners, I fear that this game may be more or less unplayable for you. The music is wonderful, of course. It’s mostly made up of tracks from A Link to the Past, but the handful of new ones are great too.

A Link Between Worlds does so much right, but in the wrong world. I suppose in that sense it’s the opposite of Wind Waker, which was a much more technically flawed game but in a truly epic and magical setting. Being completely honest, A Link Between Worlds was, for me, an enjoyable but forgettable experience, something to tide me over until Zelda on Wii U. I’m well aware that this is mostly due to my personal tastes in Zelda games, and being objective A Link Between Worlds is a wonderfully crafted game, but it just wasn’t quite for me. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I didn’t love A Link Between Worlds, but don’t listen to me, because there’s a very good chance that you will. original

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for Wii U

With every passing year, nostalgia becomes more and more powerful. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was first released in 200 and is one of my favourite games of all time. The visuals, the sense of adventure and the heavenly soundtrack combined to create a truly magical experience, and a peak which I believe the Zelda series has yet to reach again in any of the subsequent games. Replaying the HD remake for the Wii U I’m more canny, and notice the flaws and the areas where the game was clearly rushed, but nonetheless The Wind Waker holds up as a truly incredible experience.

The Wind Waker has one of the better plots of the Zelda series, taking place in a post-apocalyptic flooded Hyrule, after the three Goddesses saw no alternative to halt the resurgence of Ganon. Hyrule is gone, and in its place is the Great Sea, a massive ocean populated by a few tiny islands. Link is a young boy on the idyllic Outset Island, whose peaceful existence is shattered on his birthday when a massive bird swoops in and kidnaps his sister Aryll. Link joins a crew of pirates, led by their tenacious captain Tetra, to rescue his sister and along the way discovers a greater threat looming over the Great Sea.

Ok, so the Zelda games never have the most complex stories, but at their best they can tap into an epic, mythical vibe, telling a story by showing rather than telling. Although the apex of this was, of course, Majora’s Mask (duh!), Wind Waker does this better than most. For a game so vibrant and joyful, Wind Waker conceals some seriously dark themes, and some of the most interesting and nuanced characters in the series. Wind Waker’s Ganondorf isn’t the power hungry maniac of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, but instead a melancholy and faintly tragic figure too far gone into evil ever to return. Wind Waker is one of the games which most closely builds upon the plot of a previous game, and it’s ties to Ocarina of Time give this game a much more epic and dramatic vibe.

The sheer joy of sailing around the Great Sea is intact, and there still really hasn’t been a game like it since. Nintendo are constantly being accused of ‘remaking Ocarina of Time over and over again.’ I think this is incredibly unfair, and the only game that this might be accurate towards is Twilight Princess. Although the core mechanics are the same, the Zelda series is generally wonderful at building utterly surprising and original experiences with them. Ok, the basic gameplay of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker may be the same, but the melancholy and oppressive world of Majora’s Mask couldn’t be further from the joyful and uplifting world of Wind Waker.

Although basically the same, there are a handful of additions for the Wii U. Some of these are a silly and fun, like the ability to share photos through MiiVerse and the ability for Link to take selfies, but there are a couple which do fundamentally improve the game. The infamous Triforce Hunt is vastly improved, with far fewer maps to be decoded by Tingle, with many mini-dungeons which once gave charts now giving the Triforce piece directly. The best addition is, for reasons that I cannot fathom, hidden in an obscure and dull mini-game and barely advertised in the game itself. The swift sail, which ratchets up the speed of the King of Red Lions and eliminates the need to use the Wind Waker to change wind direction, improves the pace of this game by a staggering amount. I occasionally switched back to the old sail, and I couldn’t believe how slow the boat went. The epic and huge feeling of the Great Sea remains, but the tedium is cut out. It’s a shame that the sail can only be attained through the auction on Windfall Island, as many players are going to miss it. Still, those who do get the swift sail will find the game’s pace markedly improved. The Wii U touch screen speeds up item management, and gyroscope aiming for the bow markedly improves accuracy.

Things aren’t all perfect, and coming at this game a decade later I’ve noticed issues that I hadn’t on the Gamecube. It’s clear that The Wind Waker was rushed, with some very clear moments where further content was planned. As wonderful as Wind Waker is, I can’t help but wonder what it could have been with another year of development time. Whilst Wind Waker’s musical combat is some of the best of the series, the targeting is a mess, particularly when compared to modern games with similar control schemes such as Darksiders. Wind Waker has one fairly key deficiency; none of the dungeons, or even the bosses, are series standouts. They’re fine, don’t get me wrong, but a Zelda dungeon at its best is a symphony of devilishly clever game design and planning, and they all feel just a little bit basic in Wind Waker. It’s amazing that, despite these fairly glaring flaws, Wind Waker still manages to stand as one of the best in the series.

Wind Waker is ironically the game least in need of a visual makeover, and whilst the HD looks lovely, Wind Waker already looked lovely. The more recent Twilight Princess is much more in need of a visual overhaul than Wind Waker. There’s a little too much bloom for my tastes, but by and large the HD update is well done, and helps to make Wind Waker even more beautiful. Probably the biggest disappointment in this update is the lack of remastering of the original music. Wind Waker has one of the greatest soundtracks in any game ever, but the actual sound quality was very low, and only the most marginal improvements are made to this. Super Mario Galaxy taught us how powerful a fully orchestrated game can be, and for a remake this might be asking a bit much, but maybe they could have at least done the Great Sea theme?

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a game that has genuinely earned the often hyperbolic appellation of timeless. It’s a beautiful, stirring and swashbuckling experience, and one which really hasn’t been rivalled in a long time. The Wii U update adds some new strength, and even if it exposes a few old flaws, I think that Wind Waker will never stop being a wonderful experience. Wind-Waker-HD-1

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