Video Game Archaeology: Burai Fighter

It’s back, hopefully as something regular. Video Game Archaeology is my monthly exploration of an artifact video game found during my excavations of various bargain bins and yard sales; an examination of a game cast off and long forgotten.

This entry in VGA is Burai Fighter, yet another NES game. I discovered it while looking up information on Low G Man. Both games were made by KID, a smaller NES developer whose output I am coming to really appreciate. Once I turned the game on, I realized I had played it a little at some point in the past. Probably at a friend’s house for a birthday party. Burai Fighter is a solid NES game, not quite spectacular, but definitely better than the average. Burai Fighter was published in America by Taxan in 1990. It is a shooter with less of a focus on the shooting and a greater emphasis on navigation. KID, the developer, also made the GI Joe games, as well as Low G Man and more recently some visual novels. They never really had that big breakout hit, but all of their games that I have played are good. KID also developed the well-regarded shooter Recca, which I have never played. One thing worth noting outside the game is its amazing boxart. The cover to this game looks awesome. According to the game’s manual, the Burai are the are Super-Brains bent on conquering the universe.

Burai Fighter is quite a bit different than the average scrolling shooter. Instead of the usual ship, you play as a man in a flying space suit. Instead of just scrolling to the right or up, Burai fighter scrolls in all directions. Usually it does go in just one direction, but there are places where if you push against the screen at the right time the direction will change. Unfortunately, looking for these can get you squeezed into trap corners. Still, the way it does it is pretty neat. Stage 5, I believe, is kind of a trick stage, where the game scrolls a little way before changing direction and trying to trap the player. Like most shooters, it requires some memorization to beat, but for the most part you can just play. Stages 3 and 6 are completely free scrolling. At the start of the stage it shows the player where the boss is on a grid and it is up to the player to go find it. Those stages are interesting in theory, but the best that can be said of them is that they are better than the bulk of NES special stages.

The controls take some getting used to. You shoot the direction you were pushing, eight possible directions, when you started shooting. As long as you hold the shoot button you will shoot that way. To change you aim you must stop shooting. The other button unleashes a screen clearing attack as long as you have collected enough red whatevers. There are three different weapon upgrades, with a well thought out system behind it. There is the ring, which isn’t very strong but does shoot through walls. Then there is the missile, which shoots right all the time but us very strong. Finally there is the laser, which can shoot through multiple enemies. You collect upgrades and the game saves all the upgrades you get, with three different levels of power for each weapon. When you die, you only lose the one you currently have. The only way to change weapon is to pick up an upgrade for that weapon.

There are a lot of friendly features in Burai Fighter, at least for an NES game. Infinite continues, fairly regular checkpoints, multiple difficulties, keeping weapons after death. Those are all good things. The problem with the game is that the levels are rather simple. Outside of some scrolling tricks, there is just not a lot going on. There aren’t many different enemies and few different patterns. The game is largely simple. It looks good, it plays good and it sounds good. The music for level 2 is especially good. Fans of 8-Bit games should at least give it a try.

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After 13 Games You Know It’s Never Really Final

Final Fantasy XIII is a smoking hot mess of a game. For everything it well or exceptionally well, it does another thing either poorly or fails to do it at all. The game has one of the most well-realized main casts in the genre paired with a plot that never even tries to make sense, as well as a complete lack of a supporting cast. It streamlined plenty of the tedium that plagues JRPGs but also loses many useful or necessary conventions in the deal. Playing FFXIII is like watching a play through a telescope; you see some things in magnificent detail, but it is nearly impossible to form a context for what you’ve seen due to the tiny field of view.

Final Fantasy XIII odd dual identity is easily seen in its story. FFXIII main characters are a well-rounded, engaging group. Sure, some of their characterizations fall back on the usual anime tropes, but there is more depth to them than the majority of video game casts. Lightning tries to be the stoic badass, and is for the most part, but in becoming that badass she has forfeited her connection to her sister. She is out for redemption, to atone for not being there for her sister when Serah needed her. Sazh, apparently a favorite of many though not me, is a father out of his depth trying to save his son. Fang and Vanille have a relationship that echoes Lightning and Serah’s, an older sister trying to protect the younger. Hope starts as a whiny brat and matures into a somewhat less whiny brat. He faces the trauma of seeing his mother die in the opening minutes of the game, and must process that grief and grow beyond it. Snowe, while not one of my favorite characters, is certainly an entertaining one. He is the peppy JRPG hero, like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia or Lloyd from Tales of Symphonia, in a game that has absolutely no use for him. He wants to protect his love Serah, but fails. He tries to find meaning in their becoming L’Cie, but there is none to be had. He is forced to confront the wreckage inadvertently left in the wake of his can do attitude. Unfortunately, there are virtually no supporting characters. The game starts to build up some villains, but they promptly disappear after a few scenes, with the exception of Barthandelus. Any other supporting character is lucky to get so much as a name and two scenes. The plot, to put it nicely, is an indecipherable mess. The party is made L’Cie at the start. What exactly being a L’Cie means is never clearly explained. The player must infer it from the small amount of context available. The important thing is that people do not like them. The must obey the fal’Cie, which again are entities with no clear explanation, just that they are powerful beings. There are mentions of Cocoon and Pulse, but for the longest time no explanation of just what those two are. Countries? Cities? Planets? Once more, though never all, becomes clear the party finds a new goal. (Big Spoilers) The villain wants them to kill the fal’Cie powering Cocoon, but they refuse. Then, they kill it anyway and everything works out. Because it does.(End of Big Spoilers) The story game plays out in blunt, yet effective character bits intertwined with often visually amazing but nonsensical plot scenes. It is baffling how they got one part so very right, yet flubbed the others so very badly.

The rest of the game is the same way. The battle system seems to be another take on many of the same ideas that power FFXII’s battle system. Individual attacks are automated, but the player gets to choose what actions the characters can take. The control is another step back, with players making sets of classes for their party and switching class make up on the flay to handle dynamic battle situations. While the lack of direct control can seem off putting at first, once the game lets the training wheels come off it is rather entertaining and there is more strategy involved than most games in the genre. All other parts of usual JRPG gameplay are gone. There are no real towns to visit, no shops, nothing but tunnels to run through. Some of the losses are good. The genre, led by FFVII, had become bloated with mini-games and tedious sidequests. Those are all gone. Their loss helps streamline the game. But the loss of towns and shops hurt, making it harder to get a sense of this world and the people in it. Everything is done by a computer that pops out of save points. Despite the very real characters, the world of Final Fantasy XIII feels the most artificial. This world exists just to tell this game’s story. The crazy tunnel land suddenly ends when the player reaches Gran Pulse, a wide open plain full of strong enemies and optional missions. Instead of being a welcome change, at first is feels crippling. The game has held the player’s hand for so long that the sudden lack of direction is almost overwhelming. After a little bit of hesitance, though, Gran Pulse shows itself to be the best part of the game. The battle system has a near perfect combination of fluidity and strategy that running around fighting monsters is actually fun.

It is initially hard to get past FFXIII’s obvious terrible flaws. But the core of the game is very very good. That with the fine level of polish helps keep Final Fantasy XIII entertaining. I’d put it near the middle of the series in terms of quality, there with the other middle of the road Final Fantasies like 7 or 8. It is a flawed gem whose flaws are all the more obvious due to how large of a gem it is. It is not my favorite, and with what is essentially a 20 hour tutorial to start I can’t see myself replaying it soon, but I really did like this game.

Some thoughts on Downloadable Games and Samurais

One of the best things to come out of this console generation has been downloadable games. Not DCL so much, though I don’t begrudge companies trying to soften the hit of skyrocketing development cost with some cheap extra revenue. But full downloadable titles are great. Not every game needs to be a blockbuster, that kind of thinking leads to skyrocketing development costs. Some games can just be short diversions, worth an afternoon or three of enjoyment and priced accordingly. That is exactly the sort of game Sakura Samurai is, and I like it.

Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is basically Punch-Out! with a sword. It is not so much an action game as it is a rhythm game. Much like Punch Out, the player must watch the enemies movements and dodge or counter accordingly. With the exception of the bosses, though, the enemies have much less complex move sets, as does the player character. You can dash in any direction and swing your sword, but that’s about it. The advantage it has over Punch Out is that you face more enemies at once. Instead f just one opponent, there are as many a five squaring off with you.

It is simple, but it is fun. This is a game with personality. It is addicting, as you get into a rhythm dodging and slicing you won’t want to put it down. And I lasts, if what I assume is the last boss is the last boss, just about as long as its simple gameplay warrants. No padding to excuse its price, it last just long enough to fully explore its mechanics. This is the kind of title download services were made for. Short, sweet and fun.

And the best part, the best part of the 3DS’s downloads specifically, is that it is always on the system. The biggest drawback of portability of portable games has been the desire to have more than one game. It is often not convenient to carry extra game carts around. But downloaded games are always right there. I might just have Ocarina of Time in my cart slot, but I have a dozen games sitting on my system if I’m traveling and want a change. It is a perfect combination. Now that its here I can’t imagine ever giving it up.

First Impressions of Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade, to my knowledge, is the first game to actually follow up on  Final Fantasy XII’s attempts to breath life into the stagnating RPG genre. It may be too little, too late but nevertheless Xenoblade makes an admirable attempt at moving forward.  I am not necessarily referring to the traits from MMOs that both games adopted, though I think the streamlined battle system is used to great effect; I am talking about a shift in focus from the story to the gameplay.  Not by just adding increasing opaque and complex systems, but changing the way the games are actually played. This is not just what I think, this sentiment is echoed by Xenoblade’s director in an Nintendo Power interview.  The story is the usual anime-inspired pap, but the entirety of the gameplay pushes the genre somewhat closer to its western brethren while not losing any of its eastern charm.


Even if it were a by the numbers, vanilla exercise, Xenoblade Chronicles would be somewhat remarkable.  Sprawling JRPG epics are not so common as they once were.  In the previous two console generations big games like this abounded, but like Bison they are now quite rare. The craving for an epic made it hard to accept the hubbub around Xenoblade’s disappearing reappearing release date.  Was the actually good enough to warrant such attention?  For once, the answer is yes.  Most games get that great reverse sour grapes reputation, that the game we didn’t get was actually really great, but only a few times has this been true.  It was true of Final Fantasy V and of Mother 3.  Fortunately it was also true of Xenoblade Chronicles.


I haven’t actually played it enough to make any lasting judgments.  The first twenty hours are fantastic.  The story isn’t great, but it is more than tolerable.  I’m still not sure how some of the more complex battle mechanics will work, but so far battles are engaging.  Where the game shines, though, is in the scope.  I have played games like Skyrim or Fallout 3, but I still say that Xenoblade has the most impressive landscapes I’ve encountered in a video game.  They are not quite as expansive, though they are far from small, but they a significantly more interesting.  Xenoblade is a serious attempt to create a world, and it succeeds in spades.  The first three open areas: around Colony 9, the Guar Plains and the Satorl Marsh, are all interesting, well populated landscapes.  The grassy hills and cliffs of the plain, occasionally beset by torrential downpours and the moody, foggy marsh are especially entrancing.  I was impressed by the big, empty Sandsea in FFXII years ago, but that has nothing on this.  Even if all other part of the game fall apart before the end, just exploring the world makes Xenoblade worth the price of admission.  Fortunately, so far the rest is pretty good too.

Video Game Archaeology: Low G Man

It is time for more Video Game Archaeology! Video Game Archaeology is my monthly exploration of an artifact video game found during my excavations of various bargain bins and yard sales; an examination of a game cast off and long forgotten. This month’s game is Low G Man: The Low Gravity Man, an action game from Kid and Taxan for the NES.

 

Low G Man was released in 1990 by Taxan. Before playing it for VGA, I was not familiar at all with it. I had heard some people refer to it as a joke, as though Low G Man was a comically awful game, only worth remembering for how badly it failed. Knowing nothing else, I was content to leave my knowledge at that. Then I learned that KID had developed it and it jumped to the top of my list of old games to play. Though they stayed alive into the 2000’s making Japanese visual novels, KID was best known to me as a solid developer of NES action games, specifically the GI Joe games. Since I enjoyed those games so much, I was eager to see more of their oeuvre. While I wasn’t overwhelmed by it, Low G Man wasn’t disappointing either. It was just a kind of good NES game.

Low G Man is a middle of the road NES action game, generally well made but Lacking the polish or spark of a truly great game. There is nothing brokenly wrong with the game, but neither does it do anything to distinguish itself from the multitude of similar games for the system. Low G Man tries, though. The first part of the attempt to give Low G Man an identity is right there in the title. The title character has a “low gravity suit” that allows him to jump incredibly high. As in about 2/3 of the screen to start with, and power ups that increase it significantly. It takes a bit to get used to the height of the jumps, but it works. Except that most of the levels are not designed to incorporate the high jumps. Yes, the player can jump higher than the screen, but there is little reason or incentive to do so. The second distinguishing characteristic of Low G Man is the two part fighting system. The player has two main weapons, a freeze ray and a spear. The ray, which I assume is supposed to be some sort of EMP gun since the enemies are mostly robots, doesn’t actually damage enemies; it merely stops them. The spear is needed to damage enemies. So first the enemy must be frozen, the stabbed to death with the spear. The problem is that the spear and gun share a button, making it easy to accidentally use the wrong one. While it is satisfying to freeze an enemy, then jump on its head to stab it repeatedly, it mostly just grinds the action to a halt. It works for boss battles, but for most of the rest of the game it is tedious and awkward. What keeps Low G Man from being great is that its signature gameplay features are either badly implemented or simply bad ideas. It feels much like the first Mega Man game: all the parts are there for a classic, but it doesn’t quite come together. Unfortunately, there was no Low G Man 2 to sand off all the warts.

Though there was no sequel, this game does share a lot with the GI Joe games, especially the first one, on the NES. Both games have 3 part stages, with occasionally controllable vehicles. The music is similar, and the graphics are almost identical. Really, the graphics are very good. Though too often the background is black, when out in the open you can see the player characters long hair wave as he jumps. Both the GI Joe games and Low G Man feel the same. I am willing to consider GI Joe the polished classic to Low G Man’s rough draft. The only thing that was really dropped was the cumbersome spear fighting. Though the emphasis on jumping high is gone, Snake Eyes still jumps absurdly high.

Low G Man is not a must play. It is just another competent action game in the veritable sea of action games on the NES. For fans of KID’s other NES games, though, it is worth checking out Low G Man. Just remember that it is an NES game, and therefore quite, frustratingly difficult.

Its a Monster Tale

I’ve just beat Monster Tale, a fun little game from the makers of Henry Hatsworth that should be better than it is. Not that it isn’t good. It’s very good. But Monster Tale does a lot of things so very wrong that I have a hard time not feeling disappointed. It had gorgeous 2D graphics, pitch perfect control and mechanics and possibly the worst map I’ve ever seen in a Metroidvania style game. The map is only the start of the games problems. Still, it manages to be simply fun to play.

Monster Tale is about a young girl, Ellie, who is sucked into Monster world and finds a monster freshly hatched out of its egg. So she teams up with the baby to try to find away home, quickly running afoul of the other children in monster world, who are less eager to return home, instead being content to rule over the monsters with an iron fist. It is fun and childish in wonderful video game tradition. The abilities Ellie gains as the player advances all fit seamlessly into her moveset. In the end she is an easily controlled destructive force.

The game is set up like Metroid or recent Castlevania games, with a large connected map rather than separate levels. While running around is fun in and of itself, the map design is atrocious. Instead of the having some exploration available at all times, Monster Tale forces players along the one path that can open up more of the map. The openness is not there to facilitate exploration, but to pad the game length. The game hides power-ups behind doors that you need another power-up to open. Not a chunk of map that also has a power-up, just a room with a power-up. Meaning that to get power-up A, you must acquire power-up B and then backtrack all the way across the map. The game is about 40% backtracking. But as I said, it is a lot of fun to just run through the world.

At least its fun for the first half of the game. After that the enemies start taking so many hits to kill that it becomes a chore. Maybe its because I never got all the purchasable upgrades (because they cost so much) but the enemies take way too long to kill. My problem may also lie in how little I used my monster companion. I did use him some, but while the idea of the A.I. controlled monster is great, he seemed largely pointless through most of the game. I gave him whatever items I found, leveled him up in forms that seemed useful, but mostly I used him to solve switch puzzles that he is required for.

In the end, Monster Tale is a charming, if flawed game. It is more fun than it is frustrating, but it is somewhat frustrating. At times there are glimpses of the great game this could have been, the second coming of Symphony of the Night or Super Metroid. Most of the time it is hard to escape the egregiously bad map design and hit absorbing enemies. It is definitely a game to grab if you find it for cheap, but don’t expect great things.

Second Quest Part 1: Legend of Zelda

Playing the Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword (see here and here) and hearing the wildly varying impressions of it and the rest of the Zelda series made me want to go back and play all the games. It seems that while most people think that Zelda is going wrong or has gone wrong at some point, but no one can agree how or when. I am of the opinion that the Legend of Zelda is one of the few series that has no real missteps. To see if I am right I plan to replay, or in a few cases play for the first time, the entire Zelda series to see how it holds up. So let me begin the Second Quest, starting of course, with the original Legend of Zelda.

I wrote a thing about Zelda as a part of my 25 Years of NES, but I didn’t play it much before I wrote that. I think the last time I played it back in 2004 or a year or two earlier, on the GBA. I stand by the complaints I made about the game in my previous post, but replaying it recently has given me a greater appreciation of just how good Zelda 1 is, even now.

The Legend of Zelda is deceptively simple. No jumping, no scrolling, slow action. However, the wealth of sub weapon options is staggering for an NES game. It is a thinking man’s action game. The question is not “can I?” but “how can I?” There is combat, hard combat sometimes (screw you blue darknuts!) but it is rarely a question of whether or not the player can defeat the enemies. It is about whether the player can figure out which enemies need to be killed, which walls need to be bombed or which blocks need to be pushed.

Playing it again after so long was like coming home. Everything is smaller and a bit shabbier than I remembered, but after a few minutes it all came rushing back. I knew where to find most of my hearts, though I sometimes forgot which bushes hid secrets from everybody and which hid door repairs. I didn’t have to search for the dungeons, except for dungeon 2, which I can never find. It is still often obtuse, still somewhat primitive, but Zelda 1 is a lot more fun to go back an play than I remembered.

The single best thing about it is how it encouraged players to explore. In a time when most games were reliant on limited lives and limited continues to artificially pump up the difficulty and playtime, Zelda instead used a relatively large and complex game world to keep players in front of the screen. Instead of a ‘Game Over’ screen upon death, players were allowed to restart with all hearts, rupees and items as many times as they wanted. There was effectively no penalty for death, encouraging players to push the boundaries. Since simply reaching a destination was rarely the goal, letting the players get back there easily did not lesson the challenge.

Even now I’d say Zelda 1 is a very good game. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but the core of the game is still as fun and addictive as it ever was. It is actually very similar to Skyward Sword. In both games you are constantly going through a dense, maze-like over world. It is also more combat focused than most games in the series. Despite that, it is still very much a game about the puzzles. Zelda 1’s puzzles are simpler than in the later games, but are still hard by being more vague. Considering that it is more than 25 years old, the Legend of Zelda is absolutely deserving of its classic status.

all pics from vgmuseum

 

It’s a G-g-g-ghost!

While my relationship with the traditional, PC style adventure game genre is contentious at best, there have been a sizably number of adventure games that don’t quite fit that mold, but that do definitely scratch an itch for me. Most of them are for the DS. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective may be the best of the lot.

Ghost Trick is very obviously made by the same people behind the Ace Attorney series. They share a dark yet whacky tone, flitting seamlessly from slapstick to grimness. While Ghost Trick is about people being murdered and trying to unravel a conspiracy that has ended the life of numerous people, the characters spend a lot of time joking around. It can be jarring at first, but after a few minutes the tone becomes easier to read. It is certainly helped by some of the best writing in the video game industry.

Most adventure games lose me because I’m never quite sure of my goals. Oftentimes being able to sole a problem requires knowing well in advance that problem exists. Ghost Trick’s unique play systems avoid this problem. While the sorts of puzzles the player faces are largely the same, Ghost Trick presents players with a focused, limited set of options and leaves the player to solve it from there. It is probably easier, but it doesn’t necessarily feel easier. It does a great job of making the player feel like they’ve passed a humongous, difficult trial, whether they have or not.

The closest thing to a problem I can point to is something entirely subjective. I do not like the cast of Ghost Trick as much as the cast of Ace Attorney. I only bring it up because many of the characters have direct analogs. Sissel is not much different from Phoenix, Lynne is much like Maya, etc. It really isn’t a problem, just one way that I liked another, similar game better.

Ghost Trick is a great game. Plain and simple. This is the kind of game that made the DS the best video game system. It is a mostly unique, wonderful experience. Play it.

Blogging plans for 2012

Yeah, I took a week off with the new year. I have plenty of big things planned for the blog in 2012. My goal for the year is 150 posts, which is actually a few less than last year. I just don’t see myself having the time I had last year to write here. Also, I think aiming for slightly fewer posts will help me make the rest better. We’ll see about that.

I intend to continue my monthly projects, like Video Game Archaeology and What I Read. I would like to bring back the comic book character spotlights, but those are a lot of work and will probably have to wait until the second half of the year. There will still be movie reviews and frequent video game thoughts. Most of the stuff I did last year. I don’t plan to continue doing comic issue reviews. I’ve just never been comfortable reviewing incomplete chunks of stories. I do want to keep writing about comics, but I don’t like the review format.

As far as new things, I have planned a complete reread of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series to coincide with the release of the final book later this year. I also am planning a series of posts as a complement to VGA that will look at popular, important games, starting with a replay of the entire Legend of Zelda series. Another new thing is my planned continued reread of the Johns/Goyer JSA, the first part of which I’ve already posted.

One last change is that I’d like to make my blog a bit more personal. It is my blog, damnit, I want to write about me. I still plan to focus on video games and other supremely unimportant things, the subtitle to this blog is still my mission statement, but possibly a more me-centric way.

LoZ Skyward Sword Review

This post was supposed to be more of a well-considered review than the unabashed gushing that was my previous Zelda: Skyward Sword post but now that I’ve beaten the game, I realize that all I want to do is gush about it some more. I absolutely loved The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. There are some flaws, there are with every game, but they are tiny, negligible things barely worth mentioning and only worth noting so that they might be cleaned up in the eventual sequel. Skyward Sword is exactly what I love about video games.

Among the game’s many strengths, perhaps the greatest is that it never forgets that it is a video game. Unlike most of the series 3D entries, Skyward Sword is more closely descended from the original Legend of Zelda, rather than from Ocarina of Time. Ocarina and its ilk, as good as all of those games are, try to make Hyrule seem like a real place. OoT’s Hyrule Field is big and empty, impressive for its time and great hub for that adventure, but ultimately barren. Skyward Sword dispenses with the notion that this is a place that could exist outside of the confines of the game. The areas are no longer one large, connected place, but discreet sections. This may seem a blasphemy to longtime Zelda fans, but what it loses in cohesion, it more than makes up for in playability.

Each of the games 3 main overworld areas feels more like a section of Zelda 1’s world that any other game in the series. It isn’t just a path to lead you to the next dungeon, with the odd puzzle and token enemies to deal with. They are intricately designed gauntlets of puzzles and foes that are nearly as meaty as the dungeons themselves. There is a fine attention to detail apparent when you return to each area later in the game, armed with new items and able to discover new shortcuts and areas previously unavailable. While exploring the worlds of previous Zelda’s was fun, they were always empty, even with the number of secrets hidden about. (While something of an exception for Majora’s Mask, that game too was dense.) In Skyward Sword, any time you are on the overworld it is game time. No more running straight through an area, at least not the first time. This makes each section feel as intense and satisfying as the dungeons themselves.

The dungeons, the most important part of any Zelda game, are satisfying as well. After the first few simple dungeons, they really expand into true meaty obstacles. They also have some of the best, most innovative designs in the series. The dungeons feature effective use of the item found there, but aren’t wholly reliant on them. There are a few straight dungeons, but there is also an old abandoned pirate ship and dilapidated factory. The best dungeon is probably the Ancient Cistern. There are only two floors, but one represents heaven and the other hell, with completely different challenges on both floors. And the boss is one of the best in the series. Which makes it an anomaly in this game. If there is a weakness to Skyward Sword, it is in the boss battles. Several are repeated, several are boring, and one is downright laughable. Many of them are still decent from a gameplay perspective, but their look and how easy it is to beat them make sure they are a disappointment.

On the presentation side of things, Skyward Sword also excels. The graphics are some of the best I have seen, no need for qualifications about that being for a Wii game. Regardless of what it lack in technical power, Zelda looks good. The art design covers any deficiencies it might have. The soft, impressionistic backgrounds are magnificent, popping with life in color as it goes from vague dots to full clarity. I wish all games could look this good. The music is amazing as well, which is no surprise. Every Zelda game since the first has sounded wonderful.

The story and setting are likewise excellent. It is the usual Link must save Zelda stuff, but it is better told than normal. The first hour or two of the game, which are a bit slow, are used to set up an actual relationship between Link and Zelda. It also sets up the people of Skyloft, who are easily the best incidental characters of the series. Each of the townsfolk is well characterized and feels more real than most games, despite Zelda’s lack of voice acting. With just a word or a grunt, Skyward Sword imbues its characters with more life than games with hours of cut scenes, whether it is Peatrice’s bored grunts or the nervous jittery Fledge. The real star is the buffoonish, bombastic Groose. He starts as the school bully, who has a crush on Zelda and is jealous of Link. Over the course of the game, he develops into one of the greatest ally any Link has had. While the town of Skyloft in not especially big, the characters therein fill it with amazing life.

It all comes together into a game, that while not without flaws, is one of the greatest gaming experiences of the year, if not the generation. It shows that Nintendo still is the best at crafting exciting, innovative, lengthy adventures. No one comes close to offering an experience similar to Zelda.