There are certain games and characters that are synonymous with particular eras and consoles. Take Capcom’s Mega Man, a chap who has featured in scores of games since his debut on the NES. The popularity of the Blue Bomber has endured for years but he will always be most closely associated with Nintendo’s big grey box from the 80s. If you want proof look no further than Mega Man 9 and 10, modern downloadable iterations of the series presented in nostalgic 8-bit style. During the NES’ lifespan no fewer than six Mega Man games were released, each with fresh ideas that built on the original’s solid framework of run n gun platforming but popular opinion singles out the second as arguably the best of the bunch. Continue reading
You have to give credit to Capcom for ignoring the numbers and focusing on words. When Okami was released on PS2 in 2006 it became an instant classic. More than just another Zelda clone the game built on the strong foundations of that series’ structure and wove a powerful identity of its own with its gorgeously stylised graphics, innovative gameplay and superbly realised sweeping story based on Japanese Shinto mythology. Continue reading
Well, quite a lot has happened since my last post. First the Nintendo 3DS was released to immediate success with an underwhelming day one software lineup and the inevitable knee-jerk media backlash over a handful of reports of the 3D causing mild sickness following soon afterwards. More important than that, for me at least, I moved to London and hit the reset button on life itself. It should have happened the day after the 3DS release but the house being without a gas safety certificate, just one of a million problems surrounding this move, delayed me for a week. So my new housemate, AntBuoy, and I have spent the last few weeks dodging cockroaches and mice, transporting bits of furniture through Lewisham and going to the cinema, a lot. With Astarico moving in with us today the three of us will soon be starting our theatrical careers. We’re all three Dick Whittington, seeking our fortunes. If only we had a cat to deal with the mice.
Now that we have the interent (it took a while to organise) I find myself with a lot of blogging to catch up on. AntBuoy and I have both bought Unlimited Cineworld cards allowing us to see as many movies as we want for £15 a month. Looks like I’m keeping my new year’s resolution then. In the coming days you can expect reviews of Source Code, Sucker Punch, Rango, Winnie the Pooh and Your Highness, but first there’s the small matter of a new Nintendo handheld to cover.
It’s always a bit difficult to judge a new platform so soon after its release. I could talk about the various features and built-in software but what really defines a console is its games and I’ve only played one so far. The stereoscopic 3D is obviously the big new development and it certainly works well although it took a little while to fully adapt to. The only real problem with it is the way you need to hold the machine in the exact right position to get the effect. You can train yourself to keep your hands steady but this is obviously going to be harder to do in some games than others, case in point, Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition.
I’ve never been particularly big on fighting games. Yes, I’m a Nintendo man so I love me a bit of Smash Bros. but Street Fighter is a different beast. It’s relentless popularity thrives in spite of the fact that very little of the gameplay has changed in nearly twenty years. The fourth generation of the series featured beautifully stylised and very colourful 3D graphics on the HD consoles. Naturally the 3DS can’t replicate these graphics in the same detail but the vibrant colours look great and every character and mode from the original SSFIV remains intact. Capcom have clearly spared no expense in bringing this title to the 3DS and as such it is clearly the pick of an otherwise forgetable launch lineup.
You know the drill by now. You pick a world warrior and guide them through an arcade style gauntlet of foes, hadokening your way to the final boss. Punches and kicks are mapped to the four face buttons and two shoulder buttons and each charcter boasts a wide range of tircky-to-pull-off comboas as well as a handful of Super and Ultra combos, requiring some deft finger-gtmnastics to activate. It’s as cathartic as ever and fun for casual players and veterans alike due to the various difficulty settings. Each charcter has their own extremely loose story told in animated cut scenes complete with cheesy voice work but the basic structure doesn’t change. In fact it hasn’t changed since the early nineties, even the bonus levels are the same as ever. This edition does feature a few notable additions to the gameplay. First and most controversially is the mapping of moves including super and ultra combos to the touch screen. Purists inevitably and rightly point out that this is cheating and potentially makes the game too easy but at least its optional and playing online you can elect to choose only opponents who fight with this setting switched off. Does it dumb the experience down? A bit but it depends on the individual. Secondly there’s the 3D mode which lets you fight in an over-the-shoulder perspective, which is the game’s best showcase for the stereoscopic 3D but feels a bit confusing when you’re used to the classic side-on view. Then there’s the Street Pass support which pits collectible figurines against total strangers but I can’t comment on this mode as I’ve never used it.
So what about that 3D? Does it enhance the experience? No, is the short answer, but a fighting game played on a 2D plane is not the kind of title best suited to sterescopic 3D. There’s just no depth to it. It serves as a giddy thrill for a little while but once you’ve got over the novelty you’ll no doubt realise that the game actually looks sharper and better in 2D. We’ll reserve judgement on the console’s 3D feature until the main event, The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D, comes out in June.
Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition is an admirably ported title but I have little doubt that the HD versions are a lot better despite having never played them. It looks and sounds good and it’s fun and if you’re industrious enough to complete a hundred per cent it could potentially last ages. I got bored much sooner than that though. The game needs a deeper, more involving one-player mode to fully frame the gameplay which isn’t quite perfectly suited to the 3DS button layout. The frantic nature of the fighting means maintaining the 3D sweet spot is nearly impossible but aside from these gripes it’s a quality title and the best thing available for the 3DS so far.
Presentation – 7
Audiovisually superb but the limited number of modes and eccentric stories fail to set the title alight.
Gameplay – 8
Iconic but not best suited to the handheld platform.
Graphics – 8
Consistently lovely to look at but 2D is better than 3D.
Sound – 7
Tunes are decent, voice acting mostly lame but the battling sound effects are great.
Difficulty – 9
Brutal if you want it to be.
Longevity – 6
It really depends on how into it you are but there’s not enough variety to maintain attention for a significant amount of time.
A succesful miniaturisation of a conservative classic that doesn’t quite feel at home on the console but nonethless excels in its ability to entertain.
out of 10
Ten years, that’s how long it’s taken me to see this game’s proper ending. I described in my Oracle of Seasons review how the two titles link together to unlock extra content including an alternate finale and how I missed them both on their initial 2001 release. I’m very happy to finally tick off another item from my video game to do list. So now it’s time for the verdict on Oracle of Ages, the better of the two games.
Like Seasons the story of Oracle of Ages sees Link being sent by the Triforce to a land in need, this time Labrynna. No sooner has he arrived than Nayru, the Oracle of Ages is snagged by the evil sorceress Veran. Pretty soon mischief goes on in Labrynna’s history, affecting the present as calamty befalls many of the people. It’s up to Link and Nayru’s overenthusiastic guardian Ralph to save the day, which means travelling across the mysterious land in search of the eight Essences of Time for which they require the assistance of Labrynna’s female Maku Tree.
Oracle of Ages does nothing to slter the Zelda formula, combining open-ended exploration with combat and puzzle solving in cleverly conceived dungeons. Ages takes a leaf out of Ocarina of Time’s book for its standout feature by representing the recurring light/dark world mechanic as matter of chronology, although here the two time periods are divided by four hundred years instead of seven. By playing the Harp of Ages you can travel from present to past and vice versa, an act that opens the way to some great puzzles. Landscapes change between the two ages adding strategy to where you choose to make the jump and your actions in the past have a marked effect on the present. One town you visit has been desecreated by a past calamity but travel back and avert said calamity and the place becomes peaceful and colourful in the present. It’s a trick that’s used again and again to staisfying effect.
Labrynna itself and the stories to be found there are more mysterious than Holodrum. The past is dominated by Queen Ambi whose sad story sees her building a tower in the centre of the map. While she’s not a bad guy there’s an unmistakble sense of menace surrounding her that the game slowly teases you with as you progress. Most locations offer some fairly memoraqble challenges from having to reclaim your pinched equipment at Crescent Island to exploring the watery depths of the ocean near Zora’s Domain and the maze of caves and passages at Rolling Ridge.
While Oracle of Seasons placed the focus on action and combat, Ages bombards you with puzzles and they are what really stand out about the game. In addition to the clever organisation of the overworld the dungeons are simply fiendish featuring one that sees you raising and lowering the water level rather like Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. The eight dungeon in particulr is a real test of spatial awareness and complex thought. They’re a great set of dungeons, clearly better than Seasons’ somewhat forgetable offerings. Even the bosses feel like puzzles challenging you to work out how to beat them using the many items you gather through the quest.
Indeed the items unique to a Zelda game offer one way in which to judge them. Oracle of Ages does reasonably well in this regard. The game’s best new piece of equipment is the switch hoon a hookshot-like device that allows Link to swap places with objects and even enemies, again making for some clever puzzles. Other standouts include the mermaid suit which greatly increases your swimming ability and the seed shooter, a range weapon that lets you shhot at an angle and lets you bounce your seed projectiles off walls.
I have to make a confession and admit that neither of my Oracle reviews have been that good. This is simply because having missed them upon their original release I’ve never felt a very deep connection with the two games. I’m of the opinion that games can only be accurately judged at the time of release and although I rate both games highly I think my appreciation of them took a hit by not playing either for so long. What else can I say? These are two magnificent games full of things to discover. That’s all you really need to know and the strange block I seem to have about writing about them shouldn’t matter.
Presentation – 9
It’s a Zelda game and there’s a standard the entire series never falls below. The limitations of the hardware transcend the game’s ability to immerse you and the ideas are packed in.
Gameplay – 10
Like I said it’s a Zelda game and there’s a standard. This formula is timeless, deep, balanced, satisfying and rewarding. Ages’ puzzles lend it an edge over Seasons. Anyone who likes brainteasers will be in heaven.
Graphics – 8
It’s a mark of the quality of Link’s Awakening that the same design can still be full of charm years later. The use of colour really paints a vivid difference between the two ages.
Sound – 9
The same sounds as Link’s Awakening but haunting tunes like Nayru’s song make it really shine.
Difficulty – 8
The puzzles demand a a high level of concentration but the combat is much less punishing than Oracle of Seasons.
Longevity – 9
Just as long as it’s partner with an equal amount of secrets to explore. Zelda always gives you value for money.
The superior of the two games is a cerebral and mysterious affair with a deeper story, better characters vastly more engaging dungeons and a million different reasons to love it.
out of 10