Tag Archives: Nintendo

How Super Mario Odyssey is Kind of/Sort of Like Dark Souls

Okay, so perhaps part of this is wishful thinking on my part – seeing as Super Mario is my favorite Nintendo series, and the “Soulsborne” series has probably become my favorite non-Nintendo franchise in gaming – but I can’t help but notice that Super Mario Odyssey seems to have at least a slight influence taken from the Dark Souls games.

It was announced last week that Super Mario Odyssey will be the first Mario platformer to not feature extra lives or game overs. The penalty for dying in Super Mario Odyssey is the loss of coins, which are more important now than they’ve ever been, as Mario actually purchases outfits and hats which aid him in his adventure by means of gold coins.

This all sounds closer to Dark Souls than it does the traditional Mario game. In Dark Souls/Bloodborne, the player loses their hard-earned souls/blood echoes whenever they die, which is troublesome, as those are needed to level up and to purchase weapons and items. Granted, there is a big difference here in that, in the Souls games, the player loses all of their souls when defeated, but can potentially gain them back, should they make it back to the place of their death and retrieve their lost souls. Meanwhile, in Odyssey, Mario merely loses a handful of coins at a time. Though considering that the Mario series is obviously more aimed at younger players than the Souls games, it makes sense than its penalties are a little less extreme. Nevertheless, it does seem that Mario has done away with 1-Up mushrooms in place of something a little more “Souls-esque.”

The funny thing though, is that I found another similarity to the Souls games in Super Mario Odyssey back when I played the E3 demo. Though Odyssey returns to the more open-ended format of Super Mario 64, it also notably contains the checkpoint flags found in many of the 2D Mario titles. But these checkpoints don’t simply serve as places to respawn when defeated, but can also be used for fast-traveling across the rather large stages found in Odyssey.

In Super Mario Odyssey, the player can open up a menu, and select any previously discovered checkpoint flag, and immediately send Mario to said checkpoints, similar to how you can fast-travel between lit bonfires in Dark Souls or the lanterns in Bloodborne. Granted, you could also compare this to other games (including the shrines and towers of Breath of the Wild), but when combined with the aforementioned coin-loss penalty system, I can’t help but think that Nintendo has taken a few notes from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s works when designing Super Mario Odyssey.

Once again, I could easily be overthinking things, due to my love of both series and my longing to see the Souls games (or a new “Souls-like” game by FromSoftware) make their way onto Nintendo platforms, but hey, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time a game borrowed elements from the Souls franchise. I might even say that Dark Souls has proven more influential to subsequent games than any other modern video game franchise. And I can’t help but think there’s a little something “Souls-like” about Mario’s highly-anticipated, upcoming adventure in Super Mario Odyssey.

If my suspicions turn out to be true, well then, it would be something of a dream come true.

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ARMS Review

Nintendo has really been venturing out of their comfort zone lately. Not only has the famed developer ben revamping its major franchises in recent times – such as was the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – but they also seem to be more onboard with creating new IPs now than they were just a few short years ago. 2015 saw the release of Splatoon, Nintendo’s quirky take on the multiplayer shooter. And now we have ARMS on the Nintendo Switch, a 3D fighter that once again puts Nintendo’s unique spin on the genre.

The schtick here is that the characters in the game all have extendable arms, with the camera faced behind the characters, as opposed to a side-on view as in most fighting games. This makes ARMS feel like something of a fighter with third-person shooter elements, as the stretchy arms make battles more distanced than in other games of the genre.

“My favorite character, Twintelle. Such a magnificent view!”

ARMS features ten different playable characters, each with their own distinct personalities: Spring Man is the typical super hero-esque main character, while Ninjara – as his name implies – is a ninja-themed fighter. There’s also Byte and Barq, a robot policeman and his robot dog, and Master Mummy, whose extendable arms are his mummy wrappings. There’s also Mechanica, a young human girl who has made a robot suit for herself so she can face her stretchy-limbed opponents in combat; and Kid Cobra, an odd character who seems to be comprised of sporting equipment. My two favorites are Helix, a blob-like experiment, and Twintelle, a famous human actress who uses her extendable hair in place of the other characters’ robot arms.

Each character has their own special abilities (Mechanica’s robot suit allows her to hover shortly, and more resistant to knock-back; meanwhile, Byte can use Barq as a jumping platform, with the robot dog also attacking independently from time to time). But what makes ARMS a unique entry in the genre is that it features some interesting character customization, while still retaining a fair competitive edge.

All ten characters initially have three different types of arms, and you can equip both of a characters arms with any of the three different types as you choose. However, by earning in-game currency (by playing through the story mode or playing multiplayer), you can play a mini-game that gives you the opportunity to unlock different arms for the different characters. Though the fact that each character eventually shares all the same arms means it takes a little something away from the characters’ uniqueness, it also means that you have the ability to customize characters without completely breaking the game.

Once you unlock more arms, you can replace any of the characters’ three existing arms as you please. Some arms might have further reach, others might be stronger and block incoming attacks easier, and others still might cause status effects (electricity temporarily stuns arms, while ice shortly freezes an opponent in place). It’s fun just to try out different arm combinations and see which ones you take to.

The core gameplay is simple enough, but surprisingly deep. Players can launch each of their arms individually using different button presses or motion controls, (I use the ZL and ZR buttons myself), and using both at once grabs your opponent for a throwing attack. Players can slowly build-up a power meter during a match that, when full, can power-up your character to unleash devastating strikes (if you manage to land the first hit after powering up, that is).

ARMS isn’t a fighter filled with intricate combos and vast movesets. You really do only have your two fists, and your grapples. But the depth of the combat comes from combining different arms and figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, as well as learning to best predict your opponents’ movements, so that you don’t throw your arms in vain and leave yourself vulnerable.

The gameplay itself is a whole lot of fun, though the learning curve in the controls may be something of a caveat for some players. Thankfully, ARMS provides various control methods, though it may take some time before you find which one is right for you. I’ve noticed a lot of comments praising the motion controlled method, though I personally found it tough to aim my arms with that setup. I first tried using the A and B buttons to throw punches with the more traditional Joycon setup, before I found that the shoulder buttons just felt more intuitive.

Your typical matches are one-on-one affairs, but matches between three and four players are also available. There are also two-on-two matches, as well as modes that change up the gameplay. Hoops sees players trying to slam dunk each other in a basketball hoop for points, skillshot has players competing to break the most targets, and V-ball works like a game of volleyball…only the ball explodes if it touches the ground. An additional mode that occurs in some online bouts sees two or three players facing an exceptionally powerful, six-armed AI opponent.

The game modes are all fun in their own right, but the core fighting matches definitely stand tall over the others. There is a bit of a downside to the team matches though, with both members of a team being tethered together, and unable to move too far apart from one another. It’s not terrible, but you have to wonder why being linked together is the only way to do team matches.

If there’s any other issue with ARMS, it’s simply that the process of unlocking new arms can be a bit tedious. As mentioned, you have to pay in-game currency to play the mini-game just to get the opportunity to unlock more arms. A short game costs 30, a medium-length game costs 100, and a long game costs 200. The problem? Winning an online match (which is surely where you’ll spend most of your time in the game) only nabs you three coins.

Sure, you still get a single token even if you lose a multiplayer match, which is generous, but with how expensive it is just to get the opportunity to win more arms, merely getting three tokens for winning a match makes this a long process. It’s true, you can get additional points if you can keep a streak of wins going, but that’s easier said than done when coming in second place in a four-person free-for-all is tantamount to losing, or if the aforementioned six-armed AI manages to withstand the time limit breaks your streak. You always do have the option of replaying the story mode over and over (each playthrough nabs you roughly 40 coins), but that doesn’t exactly make the process less arduous. Perhaps this wouldn’t even be so bad if you had control over which arms you unlock. But the mini-game will reward you with random arms for random characters. This makes the whole process even more tedious than Overwatch’s loot boxes.

Still, these are ultimately minor gripes for what is a fun and addicting fighter, and no doubt the next notable franchise from Nintendo. The core gameplay is a lot of fun, and I have yet to experience any technical issues when playing online (with lobbies juggling twenty players and assigning them to different matches at a speedy pace). The characters give the game a fun and colorful personality, the visuals are rich and detailed, and the soundtrack is appropriately boisterous.

It may not quite have that same level of freshness that Splatoon had when it arrived in 2015, but ARMS is most assuredly a worthy follow-up to the ink-based shooter as a new, off-the-wall member of the Nintendo family.

 

8.0

Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate Review

“Caesar! Caesar!”

If you choose to play Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate on the Nintendo 64, be prepared to hear those words often. Why? Because one of the characters in this 3D fighter – based on the popular television series from the 1990s from the studio that brought the world Superman 64 – is Caesar, and one of his moves involves him raising his arms in the air, to which an unseen audience shouts “Caesar! Caesar!” which inexplicably knocks any opponents to the ground. This move can be spammed repeatedly, and though it doesn’t do any damage, the fact that you can just repeat it non-stop to incapacitate your opponents gives Caesar an insanely unfair advantage.

It’s a broken move from a gameplay standpoint, but it also doesn’t make any sense. What’s knocking the opponents down, exactly? Are the thunderous roars of Caesar’s fans so loud they push Caesar’s opponents to the floor with force? Or could the crowd be stomping their feet in support of Caesar with such enthusiasm that it causes a small tremor, thus causing Caesar’s foes to lose their footing? In either case, shouldn’t Caesar also be affected by this, considering he’s standing on the same ground as his opponents?

I may be going on and on about a single move, but said move somehow sums up Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate as a whole (though “from the publisher of Superman 64″ might also explain everything). This is a fighter that’s sloppy, clunky and broken in pretty much every regard.

As stated, this Xena video game adaptation is a 3D fighter, with players being being able to choose from a variety of characters from the TV series. Among them are the titular Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and *sigh* Caesar. Battles can take place between two to four players, with team options also being available.

The controls are a mess. The four C buttons are used for attacks, Z ducks, R jumps, and A and B switch targets. There’s nothing about the control setup that feels intuitive. It’s a game that just feels awkward to play. Combine the poor controls with clunky character responses, and it becomes an utter mess (some characters have magic moves, but good luck hitting anyone with them with how long they take to activate).

“Gee, I wonder how he won?”

The graphics are similarly horrible. Now, the N64 is not one of the better-aged consoles of yesteryear, so dated visuals are to be expected. But even by N64 standards, the game is ugly. The characters look like blocky shapes tied together, and only vaguely resemble the characters they’re based on. The arenas are just wide, empty spaces that don’t stand out in terms of visuals or stage design.

I will admit, however, that the music – though not necessarily what I would call good – adds a bit of personality to the game. The “best” of the musical lot being the theme music for Joxer, the series’ comic relief character, which is intentionally annoying to such a way that, when coupled with the disastrous gameplay, makes for a good laugh if you’re playing with friends.

Really, there’s not much else to talk about here. Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate is one of the emptiest, most poorly-designed fighters I’ve played. It fittingly sits alongside its fellow Titus-published brother Superman 64 as one of the worst games on the N64. Between the two, Xena might be marginally “better” if only because, unlike Superman 64, it may put a goofy grin on your face at its own expense, as opposed to driving you mad with rage.

 

“Caesar! Caesar!”

 

1.5

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

One of the most popular and iconic video games of all time, Street Fighter II, returns once again, this time on the Nintendo Switch. Ultra Street fighter II: The Final Challengers brings the beloved fighter to Nintendo’s current hardware with a lavish transition, though it does come with a few caveats.

In terms of gameplay, this is very much the Street Fighter II we all know and love. Capcom has claimed they made a few balance tweaks, but only the really dedicated competitive players will probably notice. Otherwise, it plays just as well as Street Fighter II always did, which is both a good and bad thing.

It’s good because, for the most part, Street Fighter II has aged pretty well. This is the fighter that gave us combos, and added so much intricacy to the genre’s mechanics. It’s still a satisfying fighter. But this is bad because (unpopular opinion approaching), while it has aged well, Street Fighter II is much stiffer and less fluid than its successors. Ultra Street Fighter II works like Street Fighter II always did. It certainly gives the game an authentic feel, but if you’re more used to Street Fighter III or IV, it’s going to feel a little bumpy by comparison.

You can play the game in two different visual styles: the classic, pixelated style found in the original, or a modern, HD look. Though it’s nice to have the retro look available, there’s a smoothness and visual pop to the contemporary look that makes it my preferred mode.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers does bring a few new tricks to the classic, with the most obvious being the additions of two “new” characters in the form of Evil Ryu and the hilariously-named Violent Ken. Though it’s nice to have additional characters brought to a new version of a decades-old game, it is a bit disappointing that the new characters are just alternate versions of ones that already existed in Street Fighter II. I understand that Capcom wants to keep the game close to its original incarnations, so I wouldn’t expect them to go all out and add a whole roster’s worth of new characters, but it would have been far more interesting if they pulled one or two characters from the Street Fighter sequels and placed them into this most iconic installment, instead of simply popping out two re-skins of the two most ubiquitous characters in the series.

Of course, being on a modern console, Street Fighter II now features online play, with ranked and casual matches available. It’s your standard online features for a fighter, but no doubt the ability to face people from all over the world for a few rounds of Street Fighter II is enticing.

One of the more enjoyable new features is the ability to create your own custom colors for the characters, though this too has a few drawbacks. Each character has ten different color sets, which you can alter however you like. On the downside, you can only equip one of your custom colors for any given character at a time. So you can’t show off your rainbow of Zangiefs to a single player online. Instead, you have to go back to the main menu, return to the color editor, select the character, and then equip one of the other color sets. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the characters have so many color sets to begin with, why can’t you equip more of your custom colors and swap them out in between matches? Still, being able to play as blue Cammy is always awesome.

There is one new feature that the game could have (and probably should have) done entirely without: The Way of the Hado. While the base game can use different control methods, the Way of the Hado mode uses the motion controls of the joycons, as players take control of Ryu from a first-person perspective to defeat onslaughts of Shadaloo soldiers. Simply put, it’s poorly-implemented, with the motion controls hardly ever working as they should. Ryu can perform a variety of moves in this mode, but it seemed like no matter what I did, he just threw Hadoukens at opponents. Only by sheer, random luck did I ever perform anything different.

When all is said and done, Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is another fun iteration of Street Fighter II’s unique “brand within a brand.” It core fighting plays as well as it ever did, the new visuals and updated music are a pleasure, and you can definitely have fun playing online or at home in the game’s multiplayer modes. But perhaps a little more tweaking to make things move a little smoother might have brought it a little more up-to-date (at least with the new visual mode, the game could have used a little more modernization in gameplay). The “new” characters are also a tad disappointing, and some of the new features aren’t fully-realized, with the Way of the Hado mode being a complete mess.

Still, Street Fighter II is Street Fighter II. No matter how many versions it’s seen over the years, it still remains one of the most playable games of its era, and is still a surprisingly deep fighter even by contemporary standards.

 

7.0

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 was not only the best-selling game on the Wii U, and one of the system’s best titles, it was the best Mario Kart to date. It abandoned the luck-based nature of Mario Kart Wii, and gave it a sense of polish like the series had never seen before. There was, however, one glaring flaw with Mario Kart 8.

Despite all the improvements MK8 made to the core racing mechanics of the series, it somehow managed to butcher the series’ beloved Battle Mode of all things. Gone were the arenas where players did battle. Instead, players had to pop each other’s balloons while wandering around the racetracks, hoping that they could manage to even find one of the other players.

Thankfully, it seems Nintendo realized they made more than a little bit of an oopsie with Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, and decided to revamp it entirely for the game’s relaunch on the Nintendo Switch. By taking an already exceptional game, rectifying its one great flaw, and sprinkling in several other small changes, Nintendo has ensured that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is as essential to the Switch as its original incarnation was to the Wii U.

This being a re-release, the core mechanics of the experience are nearly identical to what they were in the original Mario Kart 8. The racing is as tight and intricate as it was back in 2014. You still get boosts for drifting and for performing stunts, the racetracks still posses anti-gravity sections, and the items are still more balanced than in previous entries in the series.

There are, however, a few subtle changes that improve the already smooth experience. You can now drift longer for even greater boosts (represented by pink sparks flying from your wheels), and the infamous “fire hopping” trick (which gave an advantage to those who could pull it off) has been removed, making the racing all the more balanced.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in gameplay is that you can now hold two items at once, a returning feature from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. You can even find double item boxes, to immediately gain two items at once.

These may all sound like small changes, but you’d be surprised just how much they change things up. This is particularly true for the double items, which make getting and maintaining first place a greater challenge than before.

There are other changes present as well: Beginning players can now enable “Smart Steering,” which prevents your kart from falling off track (though this feature disables the pink sparks, and makes certain shortcuts harder to reach, should they require you to jump from one track to another). You can now change characters and karts in between online matches, instead of going back to the online lobby in order to do so. Additionally, the randomization of items seems to have been tweaked, with speed-boosting Mushrooms – while still the most common item – no longer feeling annoyingly frequent, while more useful items aren’t quite as rare, though not common enough to ruin the game’s balance.

We even get two items returning from older entries in the series: Super Mario Kart’s Super Feather allows players to jump over obstacles, and Mario Kart 64’s Boo turns players ethereal, making them impervious to enemy items, while also stealing an item from a random opponent.

To top it all off, the game includes every character from the Wii U version, including the DLC originals like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Tanooki Mario, and Dry Bowser, as well as five brand-new characters: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr. and the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon.

On the downside of things, the only unlockable character is Gold Mario, who is merely an alternate color for Metal Mario, who already seemed like an unnecessary character to begin with. Mario Kart 8 had a mixed bag of characters as it was, with every timeless video game icon like Mario, Bowser and Donkey Kong being countered with a throwaway addition like Baby Daisy and the creative low that is Pink Gold Peach. The five brand new characters do bring a bit more proper franchise representation to the game, but the more lackluster characters still sour the roster a little.

Of course, the big news here is the Battle Mode, which has been brought back to its former glory, and features five different gameplay styles.

Naturally, there’s the traditional Balloon Battle, where players fight in an arena and try to eliminate the other players’ balloons by using items. Then there’s Bob-omb Blast, which is essentially just Balloon Battle, but where every item is replaced with Bob-ombs, making for pure chaos. Coin Runners sees players trying to hold onto the most coins by the time the clock runs out, with players losing coins every time a weapon strikes them.

One of my personal favorites is Shine Thief, a returning mode from Double Dash!! that sees every player fighting for a single Shine Sprite. Whoever can hold the Shine Sprite for a count of twenty is the winner. As you can imagine, holding the Shine Sprite makes you the target of every other player, and though reclaiming the Shine Sprite will continue your counter from where it left off (until it reaches five or below), getting it back after losing it is easier said than done. The hectic action of Shine Thief is matched only by Renegade Roundup, a brand-new Battle Mode that is divided into teams. One team takes the role of “The Authorities,” identified by the Piranha Plants with police sirens attached to their karts, while the others are the “Renegades.” The goal of the Authorities is to capture all of the renegades via the Piranha Plant, while the Renegades simply try to survive within the allotted time. This may sound like it heavily favors the Authorities team, but the Renegades can free their captured teammates by driving into a switch, making things much more competitive.

Having a proper Battle Mode rectifies the one big mistake Mario Kart 8 made the first time around, and the fact that it comes in five variants makes it feel like Nintendo went out of their way to make up for its omission in the game’s original release. Battle Mode gives a great alternative to the racing, and all five versions of it are extremely fun.

If there’s any disappointment to be had with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s simply that there are no new racetracks added to the game (not counting the battle arenas). Yes, the track design in Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series, and the fact that Deluxe comes with all the original’s DLC tracks out of the box means there’s no shortage of variety. But considering how Nintendo went above and beyond the call of duty for the Battle Mode, you can’t help but wish they’d have done the same for the core racing by including a new cup or two.

Even with the lack of new racetracks, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has in store. Mario Kart 8 already had great gameplay, and more polish than any entry in the series before it. But now the few kinks that were present have been ironed out, making it the smoothest and most polished kart racer around.

You also couldn’t ask for much better in terms of presentation. Mario Kart 8 was always a gorgeous game. Though it’s hard to tell if the graphics have been improved at all, that’s just a testament to how stunning the game always looked. Its colorful characters and locales, fun and varied art direction, and sharp graphics come together to make a game that looks simply stunning, and whose visuals perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s an outright beautiful game to look at, and the orchestrated soundtrack is just as pleasing to the ears.

Combine all of this with the more streamlined tweaks, and an online mode that is sure to keep you coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves to be one of the finest of multiplayer games. Mario Kart 8 was already the closest thing the series had to a definitive entry, and now as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it undoubtedly belongs on any list of the best Nintendo games.

 

9.5

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful contradiction. It is at once the grandest adventure Nintendo has ever made, and their most minimalistic. It defies the established conventions of the Zelda series, while simultaneously celebrating the franchise’s legacy. It’s Nintendo’s first foray into the open-world genre, and yet it’s the best game said genre has ever produced. In short, Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the new standard for the Zelda franchise.

When Nintendo claimed they were making this newest Zelda title an open-world experience, it was all too easy to assume Nintendo had done something they rarely choose to do, and caved in and conformed with more contemporary gaming conventions. Nintendo is usually known for going by the beat of their own drum, but it seemed Nintendo had finally opted to do what everyone else was doing. Though titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim earned their place in gaming history, the open-world genre has been teetering on overexposure for years now. Did we really need Nintendo to throw their hat in this ring?

As it turns out, Nintendo was still doing their own thing in regards to Breath of the Wild, as it redefines the very definition of open-world gaming in a way that makes the genre truly live up to its name.

Breath of the Wild begins with Link, the series’ iconic protagonist, awaking from a hundred-year slumber. His memories of his past are wiped clean by this mysterious sleep, and he is only awakened by the distant sound of a woman’s voice.

Link follows the echoing voice, which leads him out of his rejuvenating chamber, and grants him the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious tablet that becomes an invaluable tool in the upcoming adventure.

Link soon learns that, during his slumber, the evil Ganon has been sealed away within Hyrule Castle by Princess Zelda, with the princess having trapped herself within the castle to hold Ganon at bay.

Ganon – now more of a physical, evil presence than a man or monster – will soon break free from his century-long prison to wreak havoc on the world. Should Ganon break free, it would spell certain doom for Zelda and all of Hyrule.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it plays to the game’s benefit because – as is the case with the gameplay itself – it employs both a grand scope and a sense of minimalism, with the details of the plot being unfolded piece by piece only if the player seeks them out. The story has a certain sense of mystery about it, and searching for the pieces of the story to rekindle Link’s memories gives it a sense of personal intrigue.

The truth is, you are able to go straight to battle Ganon as soon as Link awakes from his slumber if you choose, as ill-advised as that may be. The way the adventure unfolds is left entirely to the player, making Breath of the Wild the most open-world of open-world games.

The very foundations of the Zelda series have been rearranged. No longer does Link need to go from one dungeon to the next, grabbing specific items in each dungeon to solve its puzzles, and be rewarded with a Heart Container and a story item upon felling its boss. Those elements are still there – the dungeons, the items, the puzzles, the Heart Containers, and so forth – but Nintendo has completely overhauled how they all fit together.

Link now relies on the myriad of weapons he finds along his journey, or picks up from defeated foes, instead of simply finding a new toy in each subsequent dungeon. Even the iconic Master Sword is an optional component of Link’s arsenal. There are no mandatory weapons, only what you can find.

The weapons can break upon repeated usage, leaving the player to take to battle more strategically than ever before. But certain enemy types may favor particular weapons, and certain regions may be more keen on particular elemental items than others, leaving the player to learn the best places to acquire their favorite weapons.

Similarly, the more puzzle-oriented items in Link’s inventory have found a new life, as they are simply abilities provided by the Sheikah Slate, and are all acquired within the game’s introductory segment.

Bombs – which now come in round and cuboid shapes, leaving players to contemplate the physics involved with the item and environment – are now magically produced through the Sheikah Slate, so there’s no need to stock up on them or to be teased with the traditional bomb flowers early on. The Shiekah Slate can also produce icy platforms in bodies of water, manipulate metallic objects like a magnet, and temporarily freeze objects in time, allowing Link to strike with a bevy of hits. Later on, the Sheikah Slate even gets a camera function, allowing you to take photos of the people and creatures of Hyrule to fill up an encyclopedia.

A Link Between Worlds gave players the opportunity to buy any of Link’s items from the get-go, but Breath of the Wild takes that idea a step further by turning Link’s most unique items into different abilities provided by a single starting item. It streamlines the Zelda experience for the better, simply by condensing Link’s abilities, which are used in various ways, as opposed to many tools that have singular functions.

Link can no longer find hearts hidden in grass or clay pots for health. Instead, Breath of the Wild is given a survival element, as Link has to find and craft his own means of healing within the game’s world.

You can hunt animals for meat, find various plants around the world, and collect monster parts from fallen foes. Though eating some of these items as they are can restore a little health, cooking items together can create meals which can not only recover a large amount of health, but also provide temporary bonuses, such as extra hearts or stamina, stronger resistance to heat or the cold, or boosts in defense or attack, among others.

This gives the Zelda series a whole new layer of depth and challenge. Now players have to take notice of the environment and its elements (you don’t want to be wearing metal armor during a thunderstorm), and will have to make stronger preparations before heading into enemy territory.

When your journey first begins, Link may seem pitifully weak, with only three hearts, a small bit of stamina, and barely enough space to carry weapons and shields. This is where Breath of the Wild once again changes up the Zelda formula.

Though Heart Containers are still found by conquering the story-focused dungeons, Link no longer has to search for four Heart Pieces to increase his maximum health. Instead, players can travel Hyrule seeking out Shrines.

Shrines are either found lying around Hyrule, or materialize after finishing a sidequest or meeting a certain requirement. The shrines work like smaller dungeons, usually consisting of a handful of rooms, each containing their own puzzles and hidden treasures. The puzzles involved in the shrines are one of the game’s greatest highlights, as most can be tackled in different ways depending on the player’s thinking. The creativity and brevity of the shrine puzzles really bring to mind the various chambers of the Portal games, and I’d even say their consistent brilliance makes Breath of the Wild arguably the closest thing we have to Portal 3.

Once the shrines are completed, Link is awarded with a Spirit Orb. Every four Spirit Orbs Link obtains can be traded to goddess statues for greater maximum health or stamina, giving a whole new life to one of Zelda’s most recurring traditions. Stamina is used for running, climbing, swimming and gliding, thus making increasing your maximum stamina a worthwhile alternative to giving Link more health.

Similarly, there are Korok seeds that can be found by finding the many playful Koroks, who are hiding all over the place. Koroks may have you do something like lifting a rock at the top of a mountain or shooting flying targets from a certain standing point to make them appear. The Koroks will reward you with the seeds for finding them, and the seeds can be traded to a particularly large Korok for extra space in your inventory.

Finding things like a new shrine or a Korok hiding place (among other things) help fill Hyrule with things to do. This is a great thing, because the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is absolutely massive, but that size wouldn’t mean anything if there were no substance to it. Thankfully, Nintendo really thought about how to keep things fun and exciting at every turn, so no matter what pace you choose to tackle the adventure, there’s always something to be accomplished, and a strong sense of discovery to be had.

Speaking of the size of the game’s world, it would have been easy for the simple act of traveling around it to become a chore in less capable hands. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild’s developers have streamlined the ways Link can get around Hyrule, meaning that traveling never becomes tedious.

Link can climb virtually any surface in Hyrule, and a paraglider gained early in the adventure means you can climb one mountain and glide to the next, if you so desire. The only surfaces Link can’t climb are found in the aforementioned shrines. Otherwise, player’s can find many clever ways for Link to get from one point to the next.

Additionally, Link can fast travel by teleporting to discovered shrines, as well as Towers (which unlock more pieces of the map when successfully ascended). So if you need to get to the other side of Hyrule in a hurry, you can simply bring up the map screen to teleport there, provided you’ve discovered a means to do so.

Unfortunately, this all brings me to one of Breath of the Wild’s few disappointing elements. Along Link’s adventures, Link can find wild horses, which can be tamed and registered to stables for later use. As you might expect, horses can move faster on foot than Link, but they might be stopped in their tracks by a large rock or tree, whereas Link can simply climb over it. It makes sense, certainly. But because Link is already a more versatile traveller, I rarely went through the trouble of taming horses, even if they are faster on foot. It’s ultimately a small quibble, but I do wish I had more incentive to claim a new steed.

Another highlight of the game are its more traditional story dungeons, which are only traditional in the sense that they are part of the main story, involve puzzles and enemies, and end with a boss. Otherwise, they greatly deviate from the series’ norm.

The dungeons are wonderfully creative, and come in the form of giant, animal-like constructs that would make the Power Rangers jealous. You usually have to go through a mini-adventure just getting to the dungeons through one of the lands of Hyrule’s different races (Gorons, Zoras, Rito and Gerudo), then you have a miniature showdown with the dungeon itself before making your way inside. Once inside, you’ll notice that the dungeons are as open-ended as anything else in the game, as they each contain five terminals which must be activated, but can be activated in whatever order the player chooses.

The best aspect of the dungeons is that, rather than a straightforward layout, the player can actually manipulate them from the inside. Rearranging the positioning of the dungeons and changing the perspective of their puzzles is a beautifully realized bit of creativity, and helps elevate the dungeon design as some of the finest in the series, despite their relative short length.

If there’s any complaint to be had with the dungeons (and I’m grasping at straws here), it’s that – despite the wonderfully varied locations they are found in and the creativity of their level design – the insides of the dungeons are all aesthetically identical, and their bosses also share similar appearances with each other.

Though that’s a non-issue in the long run, as the art direction and graphics, as a whole, are quite stunning. Aside from the Wii U re-releases of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this is the first true Zelda game presented in HD, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The environments are relatively realistic in appearance, and the game is so detailed that you can even see the differences in weather between different lands in the distance. The characters are cel-shaded a la Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, which adds to the game’s visual charms, and serves as a unique contrast with the environments.

There even seems to be something of a Studio Ghibli inspiration emanating from the art direction. Ancient robots (called Guardians) are strangely reminiscent of those found in Castle in the Sky, while many of the environments might remind one of Princess Mononoke. Even the walking dungeons may bring Howl’s Moving Castle to mind. Breath of the Wild feels as much like a Studio Ghibli game as Ni no Kuni, and it only adds to the game’s appeal.

Breath of the Wild is equally pleasing to the ears, with a beautifully minimalistic soundtrack that also seems evocative of the soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films. I’ve seen a number of comments disregarding the soundtrack as not sounding “Zelda enough,” but I find it to be a perfect fit for the nature of the game, with its gentle piano melodies and ambient tunes bringing the game world to life.

Similarly, the game features some exquisite sound effects. The different armors and weapons, as well as Link’s interactions with different environments, all have their own sounds, which helps add to the atmosphere and life of the world in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls.

Perhaps more notable is that Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game to feature voice acting during its major cutscenes. Though Link is his usual, silent self and Ganon’s status as an evil substance means that two pieces of the franchise’s trifecta remain voiceless, Zelda, along with various other characters, have speaking roles. The voice acting may not go down as some of the best in gaming, but it’s solid and works when it needs to.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fine tunes the gameplay and combat first introduced in Ocarina of Time, and similarly perfects the explorative elements of Wind Waker. In the process, it also throws in a little bit of Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal, Uncharted, Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli. The end result creates an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure that allows players to tackle it however they choose (I put more than 30 hours into it before I attempted the first story dungeon). Its execution is so well done that Breath of the Wild should rank along the likes of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past and the Super Mario Galaxy titles as one of Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Despite all of its inspirations, Breath of the Wild is still very much the Zelda experience we all know and love. In fact, it may just be the best of the legendary lot.

 

10

Tetris Battle Gaiden Review

Tetris Battle Gaiden

Sometimes, the simplest video games are the best ones. Look no further for a testament to this than Tetris, the original falling-block puzzler which remains one of the most timeless classics in the medium. Tetris is essentially perfect as is, but its iconic status (as well as its simple formula) also means that other games have tried to put their own spin on its gameplay. One of the better of these Tetris spinoffs is also one of the most obscure, and comes in the form of Tetris Battle Gaiden, a puzzle game released exclusively on the Japanese Super Nintendo, the Super Famicom.

This Japan exclusive, released in 1993, features the same addicting gameplay as the perennial classic, with the same exact block shapes that the players must construct in such a way as to complete a row, which eliminates those blocks and prevents them from stacking too high. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, you lose.

Tetris Battle Gaiden changes thing up with one simple yet profound addition to the formula: magic spells.

In Tetris Battle Gaiden, players can select a small variety of cute, colorful characters (like a ninja, a wolfman, a princess, and a strange rabbit-like creature, to name a few), each one boasting four different magic spells.

Tetris Battle GaidenSpells are used by collecting orb-like crystals during the gameplay. These crystals are found on some of the falling blocks, and if you manage to eliminate a row of blocks that houses a crystal, you gain that crystal. Casting spells is performed (somewhat strangely) by pressing up on the D-pad. If you have only one crystal, your character will use their level 1 spell. Two crystals for level 2, three for level 3, and four for level 4.

These spells all work to either aide you or hinder your opponent. The Wolfman, for example, can make his opponent’s blocks fall in slow-motion for a short time, while the Princess can duplicate the current block setup of her opponent.

The spells are a whole lot of fun, and come complete with fun little animations for each individual spell for each character. But these spells also work as something of a double-edged sword, which prevents them from being too overpowered. For example, if the Wolfman slows down an opponent whose stacks of blocks aren’t as high as his own, it means the Wolfman has to work twice as fast as the other player if he hopes to eliminate his own blocks. And should the Princess’ opponent have a higher stack of blocks, it’s obviously not a great idea to duplicate it.

This may sound like a small addition to the classic Tetris formula, but it really does add a new level of competitiveness and strategy to the equation. Not to mention it’s one of the very few instances in which selecting a different character in a puzzle game actually makes a difference to gameplay.

Tetris Battle GaidenThere are some minor annoyances with the game, like the inability to select the background stage or music (it simply goes with the stage and music of the character selected by player 2). Nothing major, but the ability to actually select the background visuals and music would have been nice, especially the music, since the soundtrack is insanely catchy and fun.

Tetris Battle Gaiden may not reinvent the formula, but it puts a fresh twist on an all-time classic and gives it a whole new dimension. It’s an incredibly addictive puzzle game that makes for some terrific multiplayer fun. If you can somehow get a hold of a Super Famicom, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a must-have.

 

9.0