Five Nintendo Franchise I Want to see Receive the Mario Maker Treatment

Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is undoubtedly one of the best modern Nintendo games. In recent weeks I’ve found myself playing it as extensively as I did when it was first released. That’s the kind of longevity and replayability most games couldn’t hope for.

Why is it so addictive? It’s like I’ve said in the past, it turns the process of level editing into something that’s not only accessible, but fun in its own right. And playing the levels of other players provides countless surprises (some pleasant, others not so much).

While there were some limitations when the game first launched (and there still are a few that could be addressed), Super Mario Maker’s updates through the months have smoothened things out all the more, and added some great new features (the Fire Koopa Clown Car allows for more accurate shooter levels, for example).

Playing Super Mario Maker again has made me think about what other Nintendo franchises I’d like to see receive similar treatment. So here are five other such Nintendo series that I would like to see get a “Maker” of their own. They may not all be realistic options for one reason or another. But I want them anyway. Continue reading “Five Nintendo Franchise I Want to see Receive the Mario Maker Treatment”

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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.

The Legend of Zelda Review

The Legend of Zelda

With the exceptions of Super Mario Bros. and Tetris, there is perhaps no other game that has had such a longstanding influence as The Legend of Zelda. The 1986 NES title not only started one of gaming’s most heralded series, it also served as a forerunner for both the action/adventure and RPG genres, and can be seen as the originator of sandbox games, as Zelda introduced a greater sense of player freedom than what had been seen before. Though this trailblazing title remains fun in a number of respects, age has magnified how prototypical it was towards the greatness that would later stem from the series.

As you would expect, The Legend of Zelda laid the groundwork for the series, with many of the franchise’s established elements showing up in more primitive forms.

Link must traverse the land of Hyrule collecting weapons and items as he tackles dungeons to collect the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom in his quest to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. Later entries would add stronger storytelling into the mix, but the basic premise of the original makes for a more open gameplay experience.

While there is a recommended order to tackle the game’s dungeons, player’s are actually free to take them on in any order they see fit. Those who have mastered the game can even face the final boss without gaining the sword! The Legend of Zelda boasted a level of freedom that was unheard of at the time, and as the series has become more story focused through the years, it’s easy to say this is the most open-ended Zelda title to this day.

The Legend of ZeldaThe dungeons are the highlight of the game. Every time Link steps into a dungeon, the adventure becomes more focused. Take out enemies, collect the dungeon item, as well as the map and compass, work your way to the boss, and defeat it to gain a Triforce shard. The dungeons don’t take more than a few minutes, but they each feel like their own complete adventures.

Traveling across the overworld is considerably less fun. Many of the areas look similar, other parts are maze-like, and others still serve as continuous loops unless you can figure out the required pattern to make it through. It can feel confusing and tedious. There are also barrages of enemies, many of which pop out of the ground as you’re passing by, making them difficult to avoid, and others who use ranged attacks that fly passed the entire screen. It’s just way too easy to die when you’re just walking around. There are fairy fountains scattered here and there to heal your health, which helps ease the difficulty a bit, but that’s when you can actually manage to make it to one.

Combat is simple and fun, with the sword and various items being incredibly easy to use. Though Link’s limited movements of up, down, left and right can feel a bit stiff at times, especially when you’re bombarded by those aforementioned waves of enemies.

The graphics have understandably aged, but remain charming. Meanwhile, the music is a highlight in NES soundtracks, and laid the groundwork for the legendary music of the series.

As a whole, The Legend of Zelda can still provide some good, old school fun. But the difficulty can be frustrating, and it goes without saying that the elements it created were bettered a number of times over in the sequels. It doesn’t feel entirely obsolete when compared to its successors, however, due to its more open-ended nature, which gives it a unique flair for the series. Its unique place in its series means that it’s aged better than Metroid. But it also feels incredibly prototypical and “for its time” when compared to later entries, so it doesn’t boast the timelessness of Super Mario Bros.

The importance of The Legend of Zelda is difficult to understate, but I’d be lying if I said it holds its own against other Nintendo greats. Its contributions to gaming are close to unrivaled, but there’s a reason why when people discuss the greatness of 2D Zelda games, they’re usually referring to A Link to the Past.

 

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The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Review

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Though The Legend of Zelda is more renowned for its single player adventures, the series is no stranger to multiplayer games. The Four Swords sub-series introduced co-op mayhem to the land of Hyrule, while Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks featured multiplayer modes of their own. Tri Force Heroes is the latest multiplayer entry in the iconic series, and puts some new spins on the concept on the Nintendo 3DS. Though for all the fun Tri Force Heroes brings to the table, it brings just as much frustration with it.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force HeroesFrom the get-go, it’s clear that Tri Force Heroes isn’t like other Zeldas. The story takes place in a land called Hytopia, a kingdom that takes pride in its fashion sense. When their princess is cursed to wear an ugly, unremovable bodysuit by a witch simply called “The Lady,” the kingdom falls into despair. A prophecy tells of a group of three pointy-eared heroes who will save the day. The call for a hero is answered by Link – apparently the same Link from A Link Between Worlds – as well as two other unexplained Links. Link, looking to hide his heroic origins for some reason, dresses in many fashionable Hytopian outfits during the adventure, with Link’s wardrobe ranging from Goron costumes to Zelda’s dress.

It’s a strangely un-Zelda-like setup that kind of takes away from the series’ usual tone. Even when Zelda has been more humorous and lighthearted in the past, there was still some sense of seriousness to the equation. The plot might be a little more forgivable if this were a spinoff like Hyrule Warriors, but this is the official follow-up to A Link Between Worlds, which just makes things feel misplaced and goofy.

Tri Force Heroes retains the same top-down gameplay from A Link Between Worlds, so there’s no problems with how Link controls. Meanwhile, the setup is something new for the series, with the kingdom of Hytopia serving as a kind of hub world, with a primary shop that sells Link his outfits, as well as additional shops that sell other items. The center of the town is the castle, which is where Link is sent on missions in the “Drablands” and meets up with the other heroes.

The castle is essentially an online lobby, and the Drablands are where the brunt of the action takes place. The Drablands are separated into eight “worlds,” each consisting of four levels. Every level works like a condensed version of the series’ dungeons, and have four floors, the last of which being a boss fight or a horde of enemies.

Every level houses three items such as the boomerang, bow and arrow, hammer, bombs and other such Zelda mainstays. Some levels feature three unique items, while others have multiple copies of the same item. But there’s always one item for each player, and every level’s puzzles are built around the items.

The level design is smart in this regard, continuing the series tradition of keeping players thinking of new ways to utilize the mechanics. Having three players trying to figure out how to work together to solve puzzles can be a joy. That is, when you can manage to find a team who’s willing to learn the ropes and not just throw their teammates off cliffs or quit the first time it takes more than a few seconds to solve a puzzle. All three players share a pool of hit points as a means to demotivate trolls, though you’d be surprised how many players still insist on team-killing. Finding a good team to stick around can take a good while, and the game makes little effort to make the process easier.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force HeroesCommunication proves to be a major problem in the game, simply because there’s so little to work with in this regard. Your only means to communicate with other players is by tapping icons on the touch screen. It’s a nice little mechanic that, in concept, allows players to give each other an idea of what they’re supposed to do instead of outright giving it away, but the icons are just too few. You have the options to say things like “hello” or “item” or “no.” Or you can give each other a thumbs up or cheer yourselves on with pom poms. They’re cute, but they’re so limited that they provide no help if your teammates are at a loss. A few more helpful icons could have made a big difference.

A key feature in the game is the Links’ ability to stack on each other’s shoulders to form a totem pole. It’s a simple feature, but it’s used in a few inventive ways with a number of the game’s puzzles and boss fights. Though it too can become hindered with the lack of communication.

It is possible to play the levels in single player, but it’s not recommended. Not only does it defeat the purpose of the game, but it also proves to be tedious and boring. In place of two other players, Link is accompanied by two dummies called Dopples. Players can take control of either Dopple and their original Link at any time by tapping the touchscreen. As you may have guessed, it proves to be an arduous process, and having one person switch between characters to solve puzzles that were intended to be done by three people just feels slow and clunky.

On the bright side of things, if you can find a capable group of people either online or locally, the game can actually provide some fun. The many outfits you get throughout your journey also add variety to the gameplay, since they not only change Link visually, but also grant him special abilities. The aforementioned Zelda dress, for example, makes hearts appear more frequently, while the Goron outfit allows Link to swim in lava.

Revisiting levels with different outfits allows you to approach them in different ways and keep things fresh. Similarly, defeating the boss of a world allows you to select new sets of challenges within the levels in that world. So in theory there is incentive to go back to stages once new costumes are unlocked, though the levels aren’t smart or creative enough to make revisits too desirable.

Tri Force Heroes does look great, combining the aesthetics of A Link Between Worlds with Wind Waker-inspired character designs. The soundtrack shares a similar sense of quality. It’s far from the best Zelda soundtrack, but it’s more memorable and serious than the rest of the game’s tone, which adds a decent sense of adventure despite the awkward plot.

If you can find the right group, Tri Force Heroes can provide some fun. Though just as easily you find a group that makes things more frustrating than anything. And if you go it alone, it’s outright boring. Under the right circumstances Try Force Heroes can be a little treat, otherwise it’s simply the most uneven Zelda to date.

 

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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.

Hyrule Warriors Review

Hyrule Warriors

There was a moment at the very end of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which pitted Link against army after army of monsters in order to reach the big bad (and the captured Princess Zelda) at the end. It was a barrage of action and spectacle, akin to being the Nintendo equivalent of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. If that moment left you wondering what an entire Zelda game built around such moments would be like, then Hyrule Warriors gives you a bit of an idea, if maybe not entirely fulfilling on its promise.

While Mario and friends regular deviate from their core series for some karting and a few rounds of tennis, Zelda rarely takes the opportunity to shy away from the series’ primary timeline for the sake of a fun little deviation. But Hyrule Warriors basks in the opportunity to tell its own side story in the series, throwing in as many references to past entries as possible without worry about how it might effect the series’ canon.

Primary and supporting characters from the Zelda series make a return, with the likes of Link and Zelda being joined by Impa, Midna and Darunia, among other familiar faces from the series. Some original characters also make the playable roster, but they feel a tad misplaced and don’t mesh well with the established characters. The new editions end up feeling more like anime cliches than members of the Zelda cast.

Hyrule WarriorsIt’s not just the characters, but the world, story and scenarios of Hyrule Warriors are all swimming in Zelda fanservice. The story tells of an ancient witch who watches over the Triforce, until she gets possessed by the spirit of Ganon (who else?), corrupting her heart and mind. She then uses the Triforce’s power to open portals throughout time to search for the fragmented pieces of Ganon’s soul, which have been scattered throughout time.

Of course, this plot really is little more than an excuse to cram all the aforementioned characters together, and to recreate some of the series’ iconic moments. But it works for what it is, and who am I to argue about something that’s basically a love letter to one of gaming’s most revered legacies?

But alas, the fanservice is all this game has to connect it to that legacy. The game is titled Hyrule Warriors for a reason. While the game is a loving tribute to the Zelda series, as a game it is, first and foremost, a Dynasty Warriors title. And while this Dynasty Warriors gameplay can be fun, it’s best played in short bursts, as longer play sessions reveal Hyrule Warriors to be a repetitious affair, lacking the depth of design that Zelda is known for.

Hacking and slashing through hundreds of enemies at a time is thrilling, and gives you plenty of opportunities to try out the various combos you’ll learn as you level up, but every character -despite having aesthetic differences – all play the same, and they all get the same bonuses as they gain experience, and the enemies similarly lack variety. A little bit of life is added to the equation by some light strategic elements, such as overtaking enemy outposts and making sure your own bases don’t become overrun, but even these strategies end up being performed by the same hacking and slashing of enemies.

Hyrule WarriorsThere is a good deal of content to the package, however. There are numerous secrets and bonus objectives to be found on any given stage, and the plethora of playable characters means the game has a bit more replayability than it might otherwise have should you wish to level all of them up. Additionally, an aptly-named Adventure Mode provides a different experience, not to mention retro charm.

In Adventure Mode, players guide an 8-bit Link through a grid-like map, where each square is a mission where Link has the opportunity to win items and unlock new areas on the map. The Adventure Mode and the game’s various challenges add an addictive nature to the game, but none of them individually provide the depth to make Hyrule Warriors a truly compelling gaming experience.

As a love letter to The Legend of Zelda, Hyrule Warriors gets top marks: It reintroduces us to many beloved characters, recreates some epic scenarios from the past, and includes some top-notch remixes of classic tunes. The aesthetics inspired by Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword make this a kingly piece of Zelda fanservice (though being the Wind Waker fan that I am, I can’t help but feel left out of the loop).

But in terms of it own merits, the fun of Hyrule Warriors is hampered by repetitious gameplay and an overall shallow experience, not to mention some technical issues like long load times and an inconsistent frame rate (somewhat forgiveble, given the sheer number of characters on-screen at any given time).

Hyrule Warriors captures the spectacle of that climactic moment of Skyward Sword, but it’s entirety lacks the heart and emotion of that single moment. Is Hyrule Warriors fun? Yes. But it’s no legend.

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