Now Playing in Feb 2017

Beaten

Super Mario Land 2 – read about it here.

Super Mario Bros 2 – read about it here.

Fire Emblem Heroes – Nintendo’s latest mobile game is the game that I was afraid they’d make since they announced they were doing mobile games. For the most part their FTP games have been fairly consumer friendly, from Mario Run’s pay once for the whole game policy to Pokémon Picross’s hard cap of $30 it will take from the player. Fire Emblem Heroes looks like a FTP game targeting big spending whales. That doesn’t really affect me, since I am not going to spend any money on this game. Still, with no money spent, I have managed to clear all but the last couple of stages on the hardest difficulty. It is Fire Emblem light, with a mix of your favorite characters from across the series. While there is considerable depth in the game’s skill system, the maps and battles are so simplified that it hardly matters. It isn’t a true Fire Emblem experience, but it is fun enough to pull out for 10 minutes during my lunch break. Still, while I might check in occasionally as new content drops, I am pretty will done with it at this point.

Ongoing

Terra Battle – After fiddling around with Fire Emblem Heroes for a week or two, I redownloaded this FTP game that I had some fun with last year. There is a lot to like in this game, with its appealing mix of puzzle and rpg gameplay and a very deep lore and effective world building. However, like most FTP gatcha games, the monetization elements really get in the way of actually enjoying in the gameplay. I mean, there is a fun game in here, but it is hard to find it through a lot of junk. I think I’m done with these free phone games for a while again, at least until Nintendo adds plenty of more content to Fire Emblem.

Hyrule Warriors –

hw1

The combination of opportunity and hype for Breath of the Wild got me to spend some time with Hyrule Warriors. It is a Musuo game, sometimes those hit the spot but I have yet to play one that ends up being more than a middling experience. I only cleared the first four or five maps, but this is a lot of fun. There is a wide variety of playable characters and the game appears to be just full of Zelda fan service. I won’t be finishing this game anytime soon, since I am dumping it for Breath of the Wild as soon as I can, but I will come back to it.

Yakuza 0 –

y0

This seems to be the first Yakuza game that is becoming a hit here in the states and I am glad if this series is getting its long deserved recognition. I only played the first two chapters and this is more of what I absolutely loved about Yakuza 4 and 5. It has some minor improvements, but the games were already really good. I haven’t got far enough to really get into the game, but I expect I will love it when I finally do.

Dragon Quest VIII – I didn’t put as much time into this as I had hoped to. I just didn’t spend a lot of time with my 3DS and I let my brother take the cart for a week or two. I loved this game when I first played it more than a decade ago (? … !!!!!) and through the first half dozen or so hours it holds up. The loss of graphical fidelity hurts some. Dragon Quest VII isn’t the most complex game; a lot of its appeal is in its verisimilitude. It removes the abstractions of scale that many games have with their world map. DQ8 is mostly to scale. They kept that scale here, but the illusion doesn’t work as well when the game doesn’t look as good. Still, it is a solid game.

Super Mario Bros 3 – I started this and cleared the first couple of worlds. I should be done with it before too much longer; it is not a long game. Though the All-Stars version adds a save feature, the game was not designed with that in mind. I really haven’t changed my mind much about the game; it is absolutely one of the best games ever made.

Super Mario 64 – I skipped ahead a few games in my Mario series replay because as excellent as nearly all Mario games are, I needed a change of pace. Mario 64 is that change of pace. It has been a long time since I played it, long enough that many parts of the game don’t come completely natural to me like they do with Mario 3 or Mario World. Still, a lot of this game is purely iconic. I should be done with it not long after I finish Mario 3 and should have a post ready to go not much later.

Robotrek – I am progressing slowly, but I am still working on it. I will get this game beaten sooner rather than later.

Upcoming

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – I couldn’t be more pumped for this. I’m getting it for WiiU, where it will make a fine farewell to a tragically overlooked console and likely be worth quite a bit of money down the road. This is likely to knock everything else on this list around, because I will be playing Zelda forever.

Super Mario World – I am skipping around just a bit to play Super Mario 64, but I will get to this sooner rather than later.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – After World, I will move on to this. Playing the GBA version on Virtual Console, as that is the only one available to me.

Lufia 2 & Terranigma – I will get to these last few SNES games, but they are on the back burner a little bit. I mean, Breath of the Wild.

Advertisements

2nd Quest: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a very good game. It fixes all of the problems of its predecessor on the DS, though not without adding a few of its own new ones, while keeping that game’s strengths. Despite this, I would definitely consider Spirit Tracks to be one of the lesser Zelda games. It does everything it does well, but it lacks the one thing that makes the Zelda series so notable: ambition.

The_Legend_of_Zelda_Spirit_Tracks_box_art

Spirit Tracks is a small game. And a familiar game. This is not the smallest Zelda game, Minish Cap feels a lot more constrained. It is not the first game to build off the set up of its predecessor, Majora’s Mask plays almost identically to Ocarina of Time. But it is the first time that a Legend of Zelda game brings almost nothing new to the table. Ocarina of Time brought the series to 3D, Majora’s Mask has that whole 3 day cycle going for it, Wind Waker has sailing, Phantom Hourglass had a completely new control scheme, etc. Spirit Tracks is a refinement of Phantom Hourglass, but little else. It does have a new setting going for it, but other than switching out the ocean for the train that setting is largely the same as Phantom Hourglass. It’s only real innovation is the games obnoxious instance on using the DS mic for playing instruments and using weapons. That is also the games worst feature, by far. The biggest fault the game has not that it fails in any way; it is that it doesn’t try.

It does fix most of the problems from Phantom Hourglass. I thought the controls worked well in PH, but they are just that much more responsive and effective here. It is mostly slight changes, like a double tap rolls instead of drawing a curlicue, but they add up for a noticeably better controlling game. It also fixes the central dungeon idea that integral to PH. While there is still a central dungeon, but all of my complaints with it are fixed. It is no longer timed and you no longer have to repeat sections of it. The stealth segments are still there, but divorced from the other elements they work.

the-legend-of-zelda-spirit-tracks-train-boss-screenshot

While the first couple dungeons are rather simple, they ramp up to a satisfying complexity. It works with a limited array of tools to make the player think his way through obstacles. Instead of relying heavily on the tool found in each of the elemental dungeons, all the previously acquired tools are put to use. From the third dungeon on they are all excellent. The one fly in the ointment playing this game are the Locomo Flute Duets. I complained about them when I first reviewed this game, but this time I didn’t have as much trouble with them. In fact, I passed all of them but one on the first try. The thing is, I have no idea what caused me to fail the one time I did. The game does not provide any feedback as to what you are doing wrong when you fail. It just makes you start over The time after I failed I just about gave up since I did so badly, but the game decided I did it good enough to pass. What is most frustrating is not the failing, it is the lack of feedback.

zelda-spirit-tracks-forest-420

The one problem that wasn’t fixed is the overworld. It is still stifling and small; a chore to explore instead of joy. Having just played Twilight Princess the contrast could not be more stark. TP has an expansive, interesting world, Spirit Tracks has a series of rail, including some that only appear when you find certain items. It is no fun. And this game has a world that I’d like to explore, but I can’t because the game sticks you to the rails

The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks is not a bad game. For the most part, the game is excellent. It just lacks that creative spark that makes this series one of my favorites. There are other games that I would definitely call other games in the series failures, but none exhibit the total lack of ambition that Spirit Tracks does. It just feels kind of by the numbers, which is a huge problem.

2nd Quest 4 Swords

This series hasn’t really turned out liked I had hoped. Not the Zelda series, but my series of blog posts as I attempt to replay them all this year. I am about halfway through Link to the Past and have put some time in on Majora’s Mask, but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and play them that I had wished. It doesn’t help that I have been playing them on my Wii and it is currently unavailable to me. I have managed to play the free download version of 4 Swords on my 3DS, though. I know it really doesn’t come until much later, but I’ve played it and I might as well go over it while it is still fresh.

4 Swords began as a link up extra in the GBA port of Link to the Past. Nintendo was trying to sell connectivity, and 4 Sword was their way of shoehorning it into LttP. The version I played was rereleased as a free download as part of the Legend of Zelda’s 25th Anniversary. Essentially, it is Legend of Zelda: The Arcade Game. It is a mix of traditional Zelda dungeons with some Gauntlet like sensibilities.

Gone from 4 Swords are all of the series overworld and story parts. It is just dungeons. There is also no gradual accumulation of tools; you have a maximum of two at any given time. The emphasis is on getting the best use out of limited tools and on cooperation. 4 Swords is ideally a multiplayer game. I, unfortunately, was unable to play it that way. It is playable in single player, with one person alternating control over two Links. It is actually a lot of fun. The dungeons aren’t particularly complex, they are randomly generated, but there are some novel cooperation puzzles. The arcade game comparison comes in with 4 Swords goal of collecting Rupees. The player is scored on how many Rupees they collect. In multiplayer this adds a touch of competition, with each player trying to get the most Rupees, but in single player it just makes collecting the Rupees more important than usual.

It is certainly not the full Zelda experience, but there is certainly a lot to love. While the initial dungeons fall into the usual Fire/Forest/Ice variety, the bonus dungeons are neat. They are done in the style of previous Zelda games. One looks like LttP, another Link’s Awakening and the last looks like the original Legend of Zelda. It is really cool. This is a fun distraction rather than a full game. Definitely not an essential experience, but a worthy addition to the Zelda series.

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

 

Triforces and Choo-Choos

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks nearly brings the console Zelda experience to the DS.  I would call the console Zelda games my favorite game series, from A Link to the Past to Twilight Princess (I do like the NES Zelda games, but I don’t love them), so Spirit Tracks’, and its predecessor Phantom Hourglass’, attempts to bring that experience to a handheld is laudable, even though they ultimately fall a little short of the goal.  That is not to say that Spirit Tracks is a bad game, far from it, just that the sacrifices required fitting the game on the system robs it of some of what makes the console games so great.

Continue reading