Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Review

Twilight Princess HD

These past few years, Nintendo has found some great success in remaking the 3D Zelda titles, with Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask being remade from the ground up on the 3DS, and Wind Waker seeing an HD overhaul on the Wii U for its tenth anniversary. It makes sense that Twilight Princess, which served as both the swan song for the GameCube and an introduction to the Wii back in 2006, follows suit with Wind Waker by getting a Wii U re-release in its tenth anniversary year as well. But does Twilight Princess’ HD remake live up to its predecessors?

Whether or not you like or dislike Twilight Princess HD will probably depend on how you felt about the game the first time around. Though it should be said that this HD release does provide a few technical improvements, and if you haven’t played Twilight Princess before, it provides a hefty adventure that’s definitely worth a playthrough.

Twilight Princess HDThat adventure is identical to what it has always been: Link is a young farmhand at the beginning of the game, but gets caught up in an epic adventure when his village is attacked by monsters. Link soon learns that the land of Hyrule is slowly being corrupted by the “Twilight Realm,” and manages to get corrupted by it himself, which transforms him into a wolf. In his new form, Link encounters Midna; a strange, impish creature who serves as Link’s guide, and is a central character in the story.

Twilight Princess has some solid storytelling, though the story itself may be overly familiar to anyone who’s used to Zelda titles. In fact, that familiarity has always been Twilight Princess’ biggest shortcoming in many ways. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say Twilight Princess is essentially a continuation of Ocarina of Time. That’s certainly not a bad thing from a technical standpoint, since Ocarina of Time is one of the most mechanically sound games out there, but Twilight Princess is arguably the safest entry in the franchise from a creative standpoint.

Rewind back to the early 2000s, and Wind Waker received an unfathomable amount of unwarranted backlash for trying something different with its unique, cartoony visuals. It can be easy to see Twilight Princess as a means to pander to those who cried foul at Wind Waker’s cel-shading. Twilight Princess is certainly a “darker” game than Wind Waker (or most other Zeldas for that matter), but many of its dark and “mature” elements can feel a bit forced. It’s never laughably bad like, say, Shadow the Hedgehog, but there is a sense of pandering about it. And structure-wise the game is essentially a bigger Ocarina of Time, right down to the locations and story elements.

So Twilight Princess plays things safe. That’s always been the downside to the game. That, and a few pacing issues with the game’s opening chapter and some of the segments between dungeons (though they aren’t as severe as those in the later Skyward Sword). But when taken by its own merits, Twilight Princess is still a thrilling adventure, and this Wii U version is probably its best realization.

Twilight Princess HDFirst and foremost, the game has never looked better. Its art style may not exude the timelessness of The Wind Waker, but the HD overhaul makes it a much prettier game than it ever was before. The character designs and some of the textures do make it obvious this was originally a game from yesteryear, but the HD update does hold its own.

The greatest bonus in this remake, however, comes in the form of the Wii U Gamepad itself. The game does give players the option to use the more traditional Pro Controller, but the Gamepad comes as the more recommended mode for playing due to how it smoothens out the Zelda experience, much like it did in Wind Waker HD before it.

With the gamepad, you no longer have to pause to cycle through Link’s items and maps, as the second screen has all of that covered. You simply use the touchscreen to swap items, look at maps, and cycle through menus. It may not sound like much, but it really makes the gameplay of the series feel more immediate and fun.

There are other, smaller tweaks to the game as well, with some of the fetch quests between dungeons being trimmed and streamlined to help smoothen out the game’s pacing. And of course there’s Amiibo functionality, with the Zelda-themed Amiibo replenishing Link’s health and Rupees, while the Ganondorf Amiibo ups the game’s difficulty by making enemies do double damage. Additionally, the Wolf Link Amiibo unlocks a brand-new side challenge.

Twilight Princess HDAgain, there aren’t a whole lot of changes here, so if Twilight Princess wasn’t your cup of tea before, it won’t be now. But the HD version does add an extra dash of polish to the experience. For those who do love Twilight Princess, or have yet to play it, the game does have a lot going for it. It’s still the biggest and lengthiest Zelda to date, and includes some of the series absolute finest dungeon and puzzle designs (Snowpeak Ruins and City in the Sky rank among the series’ most inventive dungeons), and the core gameplay is fluid and polished, as you would expect from the series. Those who are fans of the series’ story elements should also find Midna to be one of the series’ best-realized characters (which really makes one wonder how her successor, Skyward Sword’s Fi, failed so miserably).

Twilight Princess HDCombine the game’s top-notch level design with its grand scope, great soundtrack and well-executed gameplay (which, again, is better than ever on Wii U), and Twilight Princess makes for a truly compelling adventure. The flaws are still there, with the aforementioned in-between dungeon segments often dragging, and many of the long-going sidequests having underwhelming rewards. Not to mention it sticks to Ocarina of Time’s rulebook so closely that it loses some of its own identity.

If you didn’t love Twilight Princess before, then Twilight Princess HD will probably only lighten your attitude towards it so much. That is if you’re willing to buy it all over again at all. But if you did love Twilight Princess before, then Twilight Princess HD will make you love it more with its fine-tuning of many of the game’s elements. And for those who missed out on it ten years ago, Twilight Princess HD is definitely an adventure worth taking.

 

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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Impressions

Twilight Princess HD

I picked up my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on the Wii U a few days ago, and although I’ve only gotten so far into the game (I’ve barely finished the first dungeon), I figured I’d share some opinions of this re-release of the 2006 title.

I should say that, for a number of years now, I’ve considered Twilight Princess to be the weakest of the 3D Zeldas. Though a technically polished game, it has none of the creative ambition of Wind Waker, or the deviation from series norms like Majora’s Mask. It is, from a creative standpoint, the safest Zelda ever made. It’s essentially Ocarina of Time 2.

This doesn’t just apply to the game’s setup and structure, but even in its story elements. In cinematics where we’re introduced to Zelda, or it’s revealed that Link is the “hero chosen by the gods,” it feels so cliche it comes off as comical. Not to mention Link’s expressionless face can make him come off as a total dope.

With all that said, the game still had excellent dungeons with some really fun puzzles and combat. And those aspects really do hold up after nearly ten years. Twilight Princess controls better than ever with the Wii U Gamepad, with item menus being cycled through on the touchscreen which, like WInd Waker HD before it, makes the gameplay more instantaneous and fun now that you don’t have to keep pausing just to swap items. That was always a big problem I had with Zelda games, so it’s great that Nintendo’s newer hardware are finding ways around that.

It should also go without saying that the game looks way better than ever. Sure, the art direction is still largely generic, and many of the character designs are flat-out unappealing, but from a technical standpoint the game looks great. Maybe not timeless like Wind Waker (even with the HD overhaul, it’s obvious Twilight Princess is a game from yesteryear), but the enhanced visuals do give the game a new aesthetic life.

Twilight Princess HDCurrently, I’m very much enjoying this revisit to the world of Twilight Princess. Some of the flaws are still there (the opening segment drags on and on), and being a remake, it’s not going to add any additional creativity to the core experience. But the gameplay not only holds up, but has been made better than ever thanks to the gamepad. And its new visual sheen help bring the title a little up to date.

Here’s hoping the improvements continue through the adventure, as this HD re-release may prove to be the definitive version of this classic Zelda adventure.

Is Ocarina of Time Holding the Zelda Series Back?

Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time is a great game. It transitioned a series from 2D to 3D almost flawlessly, and provided a polished, groundbreaking experience that remains influential to this day. However, it seems that in some ways, Ocarina of Time’s legacy has become something of a double-edged sword for the series.

In a way not dissimilar to how Final Fantasy VII has lead many fans to turn their heads away from subsequent entries in the Final Fantasy series, it seems there are a number of Zelda fans who are ready to dismiss newer entries in the Zelda series on the sole grounds that they aren’t Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t matter how good these games might be, so long as they aren’t the 1998 N64 title, there are gamers who will indulge in their biases against them.

If Ocarina of Time is still a favorite game for many people, that’s all good and fine. But the whole “Ocarina of Time is the unapproachable best game ever and no other game will ever compare to it” attitude that often seems to surround the game is nonsense. It’s just detrimental to subsequent Zelda games (and other games in general) to deny them the possibility that they could be as good as Ocarina of Time.

The Wind WakerThis attitude was never more prevalent than it was with The Wind Waker. I’m one of the few people who actually loved Wind Waker’s ambitions from the get-go, but for most gamers, the “cartoony” graphics were some kind of act of blasphemy against Ocarina of Time’s relatively brooding atmosphere. Wind Waker went through countless ridicule upon its reveal, and a number of gamers outright refused to play it. It didn’t matter how good the game might have been (I personally would say it outdoes Ocarina in every category by quite some margin), the fact that it was different than Ocarina of Time and did things its own way meant it was poison to many gamers. Thankfully, most have warmed up to Wind Waker in the years since its release, and a growing number of journalists and critics have slowly began praising it as the best 3D Zelda game. But there are still those out there who claim Wind Waker, and other such Zelda games, are simply inferior to Ocarina of Time by default.

Twilight PrincessWith the kind of backlash Wind Waker received, it shouldn’t be too surprising that its follow-up, Twilight Princess, looked to appease these critics. Twilight Princess, though a technically great game, ultimately suffered due to its pandering to Ocarina of Time’s fanbase. It had a few nifty ideas of its own, but too much of Twilight Princess seemed like a retread of Ocarina of Time. It became a “me too” experience that could have been something more if it had the courage to branch out and do its own thing like Wind Waker (and Majora’s Mask, for that matter) did. In trying to cater to the “Ocarina or nothing” crowd, Twilight Princess – great as it was in terms of polish – lacked much of a creative identity of its own.

Skyward Sword2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skywayrd Sword was a brave departure from Ocarina of Time’s influence. And although Skyward Sword had some notable stumbles in terms of progression later in the game, it seems many of its missteps are magnified to gargantuan levels by those who compare it unfavorably to Ocarina of Time. Perhaps Skyward Sword didn’t have the expert pacing of Ocarina of Time, but at the very least it was willing to rewrite how Zelda games are played. One could argue that Ocarina of Time simply copied and pasted A Link to the Past’s blueprints, put them in 3D, and called it a day.

Unfortunately, to many gamers, none of the accomplishments of these “other” Zelda games matter. To them, Ocarina of Time is simply perfect. And that’s fine, until it gets in the way of acknowledging any merit in other games. Having a favorite game is one thing, but punishing other games for not being that game is another.

It probably doesn’t help that Eiji Aomuna, who has helmed the majority of Zelda titles since Ocarina of Time, continues to claim that Ocarina is still the Zelda he strives to “beat” with every new entry. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto or Yoshiaki Koizumi when they create a new Super Mario title. They acknowledge Mario’s hefty past accomplishments, but they never seem as though they are intimidated by any beloved fan favorites of the past. New Mario games seem approached with a “back to the drawing board” mentality, why should Zelda be any different? Why should Zelda games be in the shadow of a singular predecessor?

Yes, Ocarina of Time is a great game, but that shouldn’t stop other Zelda games from reaching that same level of greatness. Mario has Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, 64, and Galaxy all sitting at the peak of its series. Meanwhile, it seems many of Ocarina of Time’s fans want to ensure that The Legend of Zelda’s mountaintop is an isolated one, with Ocarina of Time sitting all by its lonesome.