keskiviikko 29. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past | SNES | 1991

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: November 1991
AVAILABLE ON: SNES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

"Zelda III", as it was informally called, was the most ambitious project Shigeru Miyamoto had involved himself with 'til 1988. After finishing his work with Super Mario Bros. 3, which in itself was a huge breakthrough game in its genre, he immediately started working on what was to become Link's next great journey, and how it would differ from its predecessors, and what kind of trends it would set. He focused on Zelda so strictly that he even passed on the development of a few Mario titles - with the exception of the 16-bit Super Mario World. By the time Super Mario World was finished, it had already been decided that the third installment in the Legend of Zelda franchise would also be a 16-bit game. The long-anticipated prequel to The Legend of Zelda finally hit the shelves in Japan just in time for Christmas 1991, and just like the very original game in the franchise, the game took every technical advantage of the platform it was released on - it was a mindblowing, extremely influential epic. The best part: it still is. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is not only my favourite game in the Legend of Zelda franchise by far, it's also one of the best video games of all time, and one of the great titles that made the SNES the most formidable video game console of all time.

The true gold standard

Years ago, Hyrule was barely standing as famine and plague had fallen over the lands. Then, a wizard named Agahnim appeared and used his magic to cure the land, becoming a hero and securing a place in the royal court of Hyrule. Now, Agahnim has usurped the throne and put in motion his grand scheme; break the seal the Seven Sages made centuries ago, and thus release his master - Ganon, the King of Darkness - from imprisonment. Princess Zelda, who is one of the direct descendants of the Seven Sages, and is now being held in the castle dungeon, telepathically calls out to a warrior sworn to protect the land. As the warrior dies in the line of duty, he passes on his sword and shield to his nephew - Link. The young boy sets out on an epic adventure beyond space and time to rescue the descendants of the Seven Sages, including Zelda.

Shall we begin? For sure.
The first interesting point I'd like to make is that I know exactly how I would've kicked off this review a year ago - you see, I did consider reviewing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but figured I'd have to do the rest as well, and I simply didn't want to. This is what I would've said: "Frankly, I think that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the only true masterpiece in the Legend of Zelda franchise, which makes it even more similar to Super Metroid than it already is, since Super Metroid is the only true masterpiece in the Metroid franchise." Well, I'll have to get back to Metroid later, but what I would've said about The Legend of Zelda, that has to be reflected on a bit more seriously. You see, a year ago me calling this game the only true masterpiece in this series, meant that I hated the other games, all of them. That's why I didn't want to review them. In time, my desire to finally review A Link to the Past got the best of me and I simply had to murder my pessimism, prejudice and hate towards the franchise - and whaddaya know, I already found a great game I never truly appreciated before in the original The Legend of Zelda! What it got going for it back in 1986, being so innovative and all, yeah, it could be considered a true masterpiece. I would even consider it a true masterpiece... IF A Link to the Past didn't exist. It wipes the floor, ten fold, with both previous games. It wipes the floor with most 16-bit games, and finally, it wipes the floor with dozens of today's finest. While The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time consistently bores me, occasionally even downright disgusts me with its visual style and never ceases to amaze me with all the wasted hype behind it, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past continues to be a visually satisfying, epic and exciting journey I would gladly embark on over, and over, and over again.

After the experimental Zelda II, Shigeru Miyamoto figured the third game should be a return to the roots, which would be fitting 'cause the story was written as a kind of a prequel to the original - it is still a subject of debate whether it has anything to do with the original story or not - but, what would a Zelda game, especially one to relaunch the franchise on a new platform, be without a fistful of never-before-seen features? Enter multi-level dungeons occasionally split into several separate buildings, diagonal movement, updated weapon, item and mana systems, and finally, most importantly, the concept of two parallel worlds to explore, which has since been rehashed in many individual, successful games, great franchises such as Silent Hill, Legacy of Kain and Castlevania, and which has also remained a trademark in the Legend of Zelda series. Reflecting on all of this and all of the other elements that make this game so huge leaves me without a fuckin' clue how in the hell they fit it all in such a small cartridge. And, if a '91 game looked this good, why in the hell did a whole lot of bigger (in bit size), later games look so damn ugly? Perhaps I don't wanna know. Industrial secrets. Real hush-hush.

The Hyrule Overworld in the game is kind of influenced by the one we travelled back and forth in The Legend of Zelda. Some of the same paths are there, even some of the same secret locations are there - not the same secrets, though - and key locations such as Death Mountain and the "Rupee-rich beach" are placed the same. Of course, A Link to the Past is a very different and more interactive game, so there are towns, castles and other inhabited areas which weren't in the original game. I know I already said this, but the game looks awesome, and I have nothing to add - just look at the screenshots and think a moment. This game was made over 20 years ago, it utilizes an updated, semi-scrolling version of the screen system from the original game and has a huge amount of those screens (two worlds, remember?!) and it drains a lot out of the SNES' capacity with its occasional Mode 7 effects and those multi-leveled dungeons I mentioned. If The Legend of Zelda was a marvel to behold, then A Link to the Past is a detective comic to behold. Eh heh heh heh heh... that was one horrible joke, I'm sorry. But, uh, I guess you get the idea.

The Legend of Zelda never lacked good music, but it did lack diversity before A Link to the Past came along. It was a capacity-related quirk, of course, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to one's ears. Koji Kondo worked his ass off with this game, coming up with several different themes for several different environments - the palaces, several different parts of the Overworld including the magic forest and the village of Kakariko, and also, the caves and of course, the Dark World, and different parts of the Dark World, and whatnot. In addition, the game has such a fast tempo in comparison to its two slow-churning predecessors that you can't possibly get tired with the music. Most of it's awesome to boot, one of Kondo's finest collectives. The original themes from the first game are resurrected magnificently, and I'm starting to enjoy the iconic main theme again.

Yeah. Who's your dentist?
What is it that makes The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past so great? What's the secret behind its lasting appeal? I do not know a sure-fire answer to that, but I do know things I like about it - although it would be easier to name things I don't. Whereas Zelda II had all these half baked RPG elements in it, A Link to the Past steers the franchise away from the role-playing mold, further than it had ever been at that point, but it does feature NPC's and dialogue, and sees the return of shops, and might look like a traditional 16-bit RPG at first glance. Just imagine this game in 2D, and you'll find a game much closer to Super Metroid than to any role-playing game of the 16-bit era - it's an adventure, in which key items dictate the order of your progress. Just like in the previous games, it's just a bit different. A bit different, as in less cryptic. Thanks to the addition of deep dialogue and an in-game world map, you never have to wonder where you have to go next, which key item you need to get to your next destination, or what the hell is going on in general. If all this sounds too easy for people who conquered the first two games - I don't believe you beat Zelda II before you prove it - let it be known that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has many secrets, as well, secrets all of which aren't indicated in any way by any NPC (most of them are, so listen to what people say to you!). These secrets might not be all that crucial to your progress, but they're sure as hell essential to know.

The first hour of the game is a scripted tutorial sequence all new to the series - and if you're going cold turkey from the pair of NES games, you're going to need that tutorial 'cause Link has a whole array of new tricks up his sleeve, which I will try to break down in a moment. After that, you're free to explore Hyrule as far as you can without the help of key items acquired later on. You can go straight for the first palace if you want, but all players with some self-respect will surely go for the available secrets first, and they might find them just by walking around enough. Walls that can be bombed to heck are clearly indicated - you need to find the bombs first, of course - and there are peculiar looking bushes hidden in corners just screaming out "there's a hidden passage under me!" After you're done with the intro, you have four full hearts of health; if I'm not totally off the chart, you are able to increase your max health up to six hearts before you make it to the first palace. Just a little example how far you can go just by "stepping off-road" a bit. Heart containers are still generally left behind by fallen bosses, but the world is full of well-hidden heart pieces, of which four make up for a full heart container. After nearly each palace, you are able to find more secrets as your new key item grants you access to a whole lot of places, meaning it's perfectly natural to spend hours between dungeons doing something entirely else than you're supposed to be doing. And it never gets boring, that's the best part; on the contrary, you'll be jumping out of joy once you realize you're finally going to be able to lift that boulder out of the way with the glove (POWER GLOVE!) or drive that annoying stake to the ground with the hammer. Which reminds me, the first thing you need to do when you start to play this game is surrender most logic - if I really needed to go somewhere, I don't think a five-inch wooden pole sticking out of the ground would stop me.

"Dude! I'm being attacked!" "By who?" "THE
FLOOR!" "Wow, that's some excellent level
design!" "...WHAT?!"
When you're done exploring (most of) the Light World, after the third palace and the one extra boss that follows you'll be able to explore the Dark World as well. The Dark World is structurally very similar to the Light World (since it's a past version of it), but there are some fundamental differences, and some items can only be found in one or the other. More than often you'll find yourself spotting a peculiar spot on the Dark World map, such as a well-placed circle of stones and teleporting back to the other world to see what stands in its place. You can only teleport from Light to Dark via a teleport square, but you can come back from the Dark World at any time using a magic mirror, and use the temporary teleport square the mirror leaves behind as a quick port back if you made a mistake. It's a very intricate system, difficult to explain, and it's easy to be led to believe that the designers must've made some mistake with it. There simply MUST be some way to fool the game and get somewhere you're not supposed to get at a specific point in the game, there MUST! ...But there isn't. 'Cause the game is fuckin' genius. OK, there is at least one glitch I know of, to be perfectly honest, but it's still fuckin' genius.

I have a bad feeling about this.
Wanna hear something even more genius? Well, let me tell you about the dungeons in the game. At the very first glance, they look like updated versions of the dungeons in the first installment. The rooms are no longer strictly shaped, and you can't see everything just by taking one quick look at the screen. But, it all goes much deeper than that. The dungeons in this game are like giant puzzles, from the beginning to the end. At first, you'll be fine as long as you concentrate on what you're doing and where you're going - but keep in mind that the Light World strongholds are like practice for the real thing. The palaces in the Dark World are HARD, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if you need a pen and paper to jot down every route you've taken, every floor switch you've stepped on, every "block switch" (you'll see) you've hit, and every hole you've fallen down... or of course, a walkthrough, if you're in for exploration, not puzzle-solving on a giant scale such as this. The dungeons look crazy, they are crazy, and the closer you get to the end of the game, the crazier they get. It isn't all limited to multiple floors, the floors also have multiple levels, million doors to pass through and enigmatic passages. It's very easy to miss something, and if you've missed something to the point you can no longer proceed, don't be surprised if it all depends on some really simple matter. Just double-check EVERYTHING, from doors to walls to holes, to places you could go to by using your key items. Some of the palaces follow elemental themes, such as the palace of water and the palace of... here goes... ice. I know you're thinking that this isn't a platformer, how in the hell is ice a problem in this game? Well, it just is. Diverse level design is one of the keys to this game's bombshell reception when it came out... as well as Link's design as an action hero.

Link came a longer way than he necessarily had to from the tails of Zelda II to A Link to the Past - yeah yeah, he's not the same Link, I know. Maybe that's the official explanation as to why he's suddenly such a badass though this is supposed to be a prequel to the first game. At first, you can do little besides picking lightweight stuff up and throwing it around, but once you gain the sword, shield and lantern, you can do a lot. First of all, your shield reflects most head-on projectiles. The advantage of diagonal movement enables you to shield yourself from just about every arrow, spear or fireball (once you've upgraded) - it takes a little practice, of course, and won't do you much good when surrounded, which you often are. You have a special area attack, and once you gain the Master Sword - an important plot element - you'll be able to use the classic sword throw attack, provided your health's at maximum, and it actually works unlike in Zelda II - just at an approximate 50% efficiency. Dying often is not an impossibility, actually it's a probability 'cause the game can be quite unpredictable at times. Just like in the first game, if you die in the Overworld you'll be hauled back to a safe place - you can choose your starting point from a few options, though. If you die in a dungeon, you'll start at the beginning, with all the items you've gathered still in your possession. However, if this game worked exactly like the first two games, it would be simply impossible to beat. Magic bottles let you store potions, and more importantly on my account, fairies. A stored fairy will resurrect you and rejuvenate your health up to seven hearts automatically at the event of your demise. Having at least one along at all times will tip the scales to your benefit by a huge shot, so don't underestimate the power of fairy dust.

Seriously, what's up with Nintendo and eyeballs?
Carrying mana over from Zelda II was a good idea to further diversify gameplay, and heavily upgrading the system was an even better one. On your travels, you will find a few spells you can use in tight situations and to solve some certain puzzles, and you will need mana to use many key items as well. As the game progresses, you can lower mana cost with a a hidden upgrade and enable multiple uses of the same expensive spell off the same meter. In case you're wondering, using an arrow no longer costs you a rupee like it did in the first game, which was quite retarded now that I think of it. The arrows are items just like bombs, and they're always found in sets of five to ten, they're not nearly as easy to run out of as in The Legend of Zelda. Now that I got to it, your money limit is increased from 255 to 999, and money is one thing you CERTAINLY won't run out of, IF you're of the explorer type at all.

What else? Well, maybe I could mention the enemies, since they've been in the shadowy spotlight in the last couple of reviews. Generally, the enemies and their behaviour is just fine by the ways of a genuinely challenging game. There are many enemies that will annoy you to pieces, like the Wallmasters (which are more like "Ceilingmasters" this time) and any flying bastards, especially in the Dark World where just one of their wandering projectiles can smack you in the ass and take one to two whole ticks of your health at once - it takes an eternity to upgrade your armour to the point these enemies are no longer an immediate threat. The worst of the lot are these orb-shaped enemies with legs, that the dungeons are crawling with, that are constantly trying to push you into chasms. They're a nightmare in hordes. Well, perhaps EVEN worse is the Anti-faerie, that not only damages you on contact, but also takes away your mana, and it's a bitch to hit since the only thing that works on it is the clumsy key item Magic Powder. The good thing about it is that it turns into a regular fairy upon defeat. Fairy? Faerie? Nah, I don't give a crap.

Don't I know those guys from somewhere?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a very difficult game, but during most of your travels, it indeed shows you the way. When in doubt, you can always explore for secrets that might help you. If finding secrets don't cut it, you just have to push forward, and you'll get there eventually. The difficulty level of boss fights changes constantly, there are relatively easy boss fights even towards the end of the game, most of those boss fights also consisting of encounters with classic Zelda enemies, updated to the point that these encounters are quite damn epic at their best. It all comes down to whether or not you can push the final boss back to the pit where he came from, and that's definitely not easy - you won't just need everything you've got, you need pretty much everything the game's got. So, do not underestimate those secrets! ...I can't imagine anyone not enjoying searching for them.

This was my eighth trip through "Hyrule '91", but only the second trip which has come to an actual conclusion. Everything I've ever said about the game still rings very true. Well, perhaps there are some issues that bother me, but in the end game, they're so small and insignificant that there'd be no point going over them in a written review, they're exactly the sort of things that I created the Ups and Downs system for. They have a risk of ruining the tone of the review, which is supposed to be a very upbeat one - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a true 16-bit milestone, which all gamers need to experience for themselves.

+ At last a great story which is easy and fun to follow
+ Excellent graphics and music
+ The magic of exploration...
+ ...Which expands to two worlds
+ Innovative level design (which might get on your nerves from time to time ;) ) in both interior and exterior areas
+ Great puzzles, that sometimes have the most humiliatingly simple solutions
+ The game offers us a guideline to follow, which does not limit the open-world experience

- Environmental controls, specific info below
- Swimming is a constant struggle throughout the game
- Narrow walkways (from which you can fall down) are very unforgiving with the addition of fully diagonal movement; be patient, big-thumbed people
- Moving stuff - such as statues or blocks - is slow to initiate and execute, and tediously precise to boot

< 9.7 >

lauantai 25. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link | NES | 1987

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / RPG
RELEASED: January 1987
AVAILABLE ON: GBA, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Fundamentally different - some would say completely unorthodox - sequels have been made throughout history, but for some reason, my mind always returns to the most shocking sequels of the 8-bit era. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest looked the same as its excellent predecessor, but it was a completely different game - not a platformer, but an adventure game, and not a good one. The game we non-Japanese folk learned to know as Super Mario Bros. 2 was a platformer like its predecessor, but a totally different one, and still a great game. What encouraged game developers to take such drastic risks that could go both ways? In 1987, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka presented us the sequel to one of the most innovative video games in history - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Miyamoto once again had a strict vision of what he wanted the game to be like - and it was something completely different from Link's previous journey. Although the game is a side-scroller for the most part, which alone makes it one of a kind in this franchise, it is closest to an RPG out of all Legend of Zelda games. Oh, and it is also the sort of game that will have your balls for breakfast, self-esteem for lunch and very soul for dinner. Those expecting a pleasant, relaxing journey and perhaps a little good old dungeon-crawling on the side can turn to any other game in the franchise. This is hell, little man, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the devil.

Zelda II: The Inferno of Dante

What this game will always be remembered for.
The now 16-year old Link notices a strange mark on his hand, which closely resembles Hyrule's royal crest. Startled by Link's discovery, Impa takes him to the North Palace, where Princess Zelda's namesake ancestor has been sleeping for centuries, under a powerful spell accidentally cast upon her by her brother. Impa tells Link that the mark on his hand is the mark of the hero chosen to awaken Zelda, and gives him six crystals that will open the path to the Triforce of Courage - when this part of the Triforce is combined with the Triforces of Power and Wisdom, the spell will break and Zelda will awaken. Link sets out to collect the missing piece of the Triforce with Ganon's remaining minions following his every step, aiming to resurrect their master using Link's blood.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is one of the most difficult games I've ever played. Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Batman, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and every other 8-bit game I might've or might've not reviewed... it's right up there with 'em. This is not how I remember it! I remember a relaxing game that was different from the first Legend of Zelda game, yes, but still relaxing, more of an journey than a really demanding, sweaty hack. It was better than the first game, too, 'cause it was a side-scroller - I already mentioned this in the previous review. Well, I must've been more patient as a kid than I thought, 'cause Zelda II is far from a relaxing game, and far from being better than the first game. I also must've not made it very far in the game. My brother disliked the game due to the remarkable differences between it and the rest of the series, but I guess he felt somewhat obliged to push forward with it, since he was a Zelda fan; I remember him specifically cursing the third palace down to the sort of depths unvisited by the big evil himself. Two decades later, I myself must admit: I cannot do it. I cannot complete the third palace out of the total of seven in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I yield. Here are my balls. The game won.

Yeah, and I think he's a total douche, but if
knowing him's enough, then... lead the way!
But, is it a bad game? Some people downright hate this game for the black sheep that it is. Some consider it another innovative game on par with its predecessor when it comes to being a trendsetter, but not a very good game in itself. Some people just love Zelda, and can't bear to say anything harsh about any official game - these kind of people save all their criticism for the unofficial CD-i games. Hell, I think they even consider Link's Crossbow Training a masterpiece of its kind. Sorry, Zelda fans, it's just how it has looked to me since Ocarina of Time came out - it's nothing personal, and I don't mean to offend you. I'd also like to say that the person I've had the most quarrels with about Zelda games is my best friend.

Back to the subject: is Zelda II a bad game? I'd have to say no, it isn't, but it is a notably weaker and less enchanting game than its predecessor. It isn't just because it's so frustratingly difficult - from the very beginning, I might add - it simply isn't the genius mix of elements from different genres, or nearly as innovative as the best games in this decorated franchise. By first impression, it has a good and interesting concept, and basically I have nothing against it being totally different from The Legend of Zelda, but you don't need to play it for more than 20 to 25 minutes to see that the magic ain't all there. The proper word to describe the game? I would say "incomplete". As an RPG, it could be more diverse, more intricate, and more open-ended. As an action game, it could definitely use some better controls and even a small semblance of forgiveness. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link demands a lot more than the player can possibly offer - it's like the levels and enemy behaviour were designed by whole different people than the character of Link and his abilities.

Heeeeeere, fairyfairyfairy...
Zelda II has a huge Overworld map bigger than that of its predecessor, but no action takes place on it, it's literally just a world map. The many towns and palaces are replicas of each other; just the colours are different and the textures are switched around. There are many different settings for "random" encounters, many different sprites, and perfectly distinguishable items. I guess the game looks good for a side-scroller of its time, but honestly, I think the first game looked better, and less outlined. There's more different music than in the first game - perhaps it's not as legendary, but at least it changes every once in a while! The new, quite mediocre variation of the Overworld theme makes me miss the original, but I guess it's healthy to listen to this one after just having suffered such a long stretch with the original one.

The game starts from the North Palace, this game's "Screen H-8"; the nominal place to begin your journey. The problem is the game ALWAYS starts from the North Palace. You see, you have three lives to spend. Each time you lose a life, you start from the last checkpoint, which is the beginning of an encounter on the world map, or the last exit in the palace dungeons. When you lose all of your three lives, you are no longer taken to the beginning of the dungeon, you're taken back to the North Palace, and you have to fight your way back to wherever you died in. You might not sweat at first, since like in The Legend of Zelda, you get to keep all your items, including the items you managed to get from the dungeon before your ultimate demise. You will start to sweat when you figure out you've lost all the experience points you've accumulated since the last full level. Even if you had 1,499 out of 1,500 collected, the game simply doesn't give a shit. It's basically saying "try not to die next time, asshole". You'll sweat even more when you realize that even though you certainly don't have to replay the whole dungeon and break your neck trying to get every item again, the roads to bosses are LONG and filled with the nastiest sons of bitches you could possibly imagine - ones that respawn EVERY TIME.

The bosses aren't that bad. Getting to 'em is.
There are extremely annoying enemies, I can't even put my frustration into words. Remember Darknuts? They're called Ironknuckles this time, and since no enemy ever turns his back on you, the previous strategy you had for killing these fuckers doesn't work anymore. This is something much worse, double that if you're dealing with a blue one. They use their shields to randomly cover up the upper and lower parts of their bodies, what you need to do is to somewhat figure out their pattern and stab them in the current weak spot, and repeat this about a million times, all the while trying to cope with the fact that if they manage to stab you (which they will) they take a whole tick of your maximum health with just one single pinch. Dealing with one Ironknuckle in a wide open area is nothing - it's just that you won't see many of those advantaged situations. In fact, usually you fight the most annoying and persistent enemies in narrow hallways where you simply cannot jump or dodge out of harm's way. All you have on your side is luck, and luck is known to be fragile. Imagine a situation where you're faced with two of these guys in a narrow hallway, getting sandwiched between them, drained out of all your mana and forced to fight them with a sword that has ridiculously short range. Can't happen, you say? It certainly can. The range of your attacks is PATHETIC, and if you try to escape from an enemy 'cause you have low health and/or mana, you'll most likely lure another enemy to the mix to brew up some more trouble. Often, the game teases you with the thought that you have an option whether or not to fight some bastard of an enemy, but 99% of the time, you have none.

Shit, must've taken a wrong turn! Simon?!
I mentioned mana, so I might as well explain the whole HUD. From the left to the right, there's the attack meter, mana meter, health meter and EXP meter. Every time you manage to farm up the indicated amount of EXP - which grows by hundreds with each new level - you are presented with "a choice"; that choice being whether to upgrade an attribute the game tells you to, or not upgrade at all. Yeah, what a choice, huh? A true role-playing game, yeah. Anyway, the EXP is used to upgrade your attack power, and lower mana and health costs. You'll gain the most EXP while wandering around in the dungeons - that's why it pisses you off so much each time you die down there - but I guess you can gather up a nice amount of EXP just walking around off-road areas on the world map and kicking every ugly piece of ass you see. Just takes a lot of precious time, though.

There comes a time for us all when we have
to just sit back and say "Fuck it."
There are many towns in Zelda II where you can roam around and talk to people, go heal your wounds at some young girl's place - yeah, it's a bit suspicious, I know - and fill out your mana meter at an old woman's shack, which is even more suspicious. The dialogue in the game looks pretty whacked, but most of it makes sense to some degree, and there are even genuine clues in there, unlike in Simon's Quest in which most of the dialogue was cryptic gibberish that could not even be perceived as clues. There are no shops, which also means there's no money to be collected in this game. Every key item, and every heart and magic container, has to be fought for. As for the abilities, they're taught to you by town sages, who are always in need of a personal favour, so it all goes back to fighting your way through some cave to get some seemingly mundane relic. All for learning a spell you might or might not need beyond one specific use. Or a clumsy downward thrust that doesn't work on most enemies. Neither does throwing your sword, by the way. It's a fancy trick, sure, but not much more than a special effect in this unforgiving drivel. Why in the hell would we even need a fully functional projectile weapon in this game? ...Sense the sarcasm here? Oh yeah, and since we went back to our pathetic range of attack, let it be known that the only weapon is that pathetic sword of yours, from the beginning - which I've seen LOTS of times - to the end - which I will never see.

I can be a pretty persistent guy. I have beaten many difficult games - in the years I've written these reviews, I've actually beaten a few games I never thought I'd be able to beat. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a game I really wanted to beat, and I thought I could do it with sheer persistence and nothing else - I thought enough level farming would do the trick. It wouldn't. I can't imagine what would. I've got to give a hand to a worthy opponent, but at the same time, I must criticize Zelda II for its actual flaws which unfortunately add to its difficulty, making it difficult for a lot of wrong reasons. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link isn't a bad game, but I'm a long way from considering it a classic.

+ An intriguing game in its remarkable difference from the rest of the series
+ I'm still finding myself a fan of side-scrolling action on the 8-bit...

- ...I just wish it would play out a little better, as the level design and combat situations don't mesh at all, resulting in regular battles that are nearly impossible to ace without a stroke of extremely good luck, the controls are a bit clumsy and the range of Link's attacks is pathetic, and doesn't match that of the enemies' at all
- The game isn't a fully functional RPG, nor it is a fully functional action game; the game is not nearly as well synchronized as the first one
- It would be great to have at least some practice before descending into hell
- The loss of EXP after death is disheartening, to say the least; always starting from the same spot is OK once you've cleared a shortcut

< 6.9 >

perjantai 24. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - The Legend of Zelda | NES | 1986

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / RPG
RELEASED: February 1986
AVAILABLE ON: GBA, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

26 years, over 20 different games - over a half of those games widely regarded the best, most important and innovative video games in the world. There's no greater legend in the video game business than The Legend of Zelda. In a time when video games were commonly considered simple-minded, straightforward children's entertainment, The Legend of Zelda came to blow skeptics' minds and shook the foundations of the video game business to their breaking point. The very same people who gave us Mario and Donkey Kong, gave us Link, a young swordsman on an epic, complex quest to find the mythical Triforce and save Princess Zelda from the clutches of the Prince of Darkness. Here's where it all began... and where it almost ended for me. Ladies and gentlemen, after beating around the bush for two years, I will now give you the biggest, longest and perhaps most important 8-bit review in the history of this blog.

Mark of the triangle

The land of Hyrule is in complete chaos. Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, has emerged and stolen the Triforce of Power, part of the Triforce relic which grants its holder ultimate strength. In an effort to prevent Ganon from also acquiring the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda splits it into eight fragments and hides them underground. Before she's captured by Ganon, Zelda orders one of her maids to seek for someone brave enough to challenge Ganon. On her journey through Hyrule, the maid is ambushed by a pack of Ganon's henchmen, and saved by a young boy named Link. After learning of Zelda's fate, Link sets out to find and reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom, challenge Ganon and save the princess.

Killing the first boss is honestly the last thing I
remember doing before abandoning the game for
the first time.
I'll burn in hell for this, but I dislike the Legend of Zelda franchise. I don't hate it, I don't despise it, I dislike it. That doesn't even mean that I dislike the games, I dislike the franchise. Sounds complicated, huh? Well, let's start from the beginning, from 1990. The Legend of Zelda was the first NES game I ever played. At least I tried to play it, it was complex as hell! After getting my ass kicked for the 23rd time within five minutes, and not getting ANYTHING done, I moved on to Super Mario Bros.. I loved that game's simplicity and straightforward nature - I don't know if anyone ever figured out that it basically has the same plot as The Legend of Zelda! The only thing I loved about The Legend of Zelda was the golden cartridge it was stored in. I never bought the game. My brother (him again) rented the game a few times from the local video store - he loved it. I could never understand why. He hated the totally different Zelda II: The Adventure of Link; I actually preferred that game at the time, 'cause it was dominantly a side-scroller. I was a sucker for those. They were my kind of games.

Well, then came the third game - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - which looked awesome and was full of innovative stuff that made it an early killer app. Even though I initially didn't like playing it, I loved to watch it. In time, when I got struck by the RPG bug, I finally started playing the game and it turned out, to my complete surprise, one of my favourite games of all time, and it has remained that to this day. Sadly, it was the only 16-bit installment in the franchise. The fourth one was exclusive to the Game Boy, and the fifth one to the Nintendo 64. That's where I came to a boiling point. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often spoken of in such fashion, that I feel people are completely forgetting how great A Link to the Past was and still is. It's like people are saying the franchise was nothing before "the best game in history" came along. To me, Ocarina of Time is the MOST OVERRATED game in history, bar none. The very vocal love just about everyone else but me has for the game watered down the whole Zelda legacy for me. For a spell, I downright hated the franchise, all because of Ocarina of Time. Also, I felt that each subsequent Zelda game was rated a perfect ten without any sort of reserve, just because it was of the same series as the picture-fuckin'-perfect, seamless, omnipotent Ocarina of Time. I don't hate the game. I dislike it for where it stands, as I honestly think it is far from the best game ever made. 22 years after first trying The Legend of Zelda and deeming it too complex and too tedious, and 14 years after first losing my mind over the ridiculous deifying of Ocarina of Time, I'm willing to give the Legend of Zelda franchise another chance. I'm satisfied with my decision already; after all these years, the very original article has finally struck a good nerve - which is something I believe Ocarina of Time will never do for me.

Uhh... not likely, sir.
If you sided with Sega during the first true console wars, or have been living under some other rock severing your slightest connection to Nintendo for the last 20-25 years - that's quite all right, I'd love telling you what this game is about. The Legend of Zelda isn't of any strict category - it's rather a functional mix of elements from different genres. Requirements for both an action game and an adventure game check out just fine. Although it's such an early game from a time when a top-down view and fantasy setting were associated with RPG's, The Legend of Zelda is NOT an RPG. It has some slight references to role-playing, such as "leveling up" by gaining more maximum health from heart containers, which are usually yielded by fallen bosses, or finding upgrades to your basic equipment, but it misses out on many important elements of a true role-playing game of that era. If The Legend of Zelda was made today, I think Shigeru Miyamoto would go for an RPG. Back then, it was all about his vision, and there weren't many RPG's on consoles to show the way, anyway.

The Legend of Zelda was a truly innovative game, the kind which hadn't been seen on consoles. The Legend of Zelda was at least one of the first games to have an open world for the player to explore in his/her own peace and pace, and according to his/her own preference. The actual levels of the game, the eight shrines of the Triforce, are scattered across the map - some are extremely well hidden, and I believe the late Nintendo Power had a huge hand in helping people beat this game, 'cause even while clues actually make sense in this game, it's still just as cryptic as the next 8-bit adventure game (the "creative" grammar in the opening narrative kicks some serious ass...). Unlike in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, which came out a while later, everything can be found, though, with sheer persistence. You don't need to do any non-sensical stunts, you just need to explore every corner of Hyrule and try absolutely everything - bomb every wall, scorch every tree. Finding everything's possible that way... it just takes tens of hours.

Dungeon surfin' my way to victory...
The Legend of Zelda was also one of the first games to have special items that have multiple uses. For example, the Holy Candle can be used to burn some enemies, scorch trees and bushes, and finally, light up dark rooms, while the Recorder can be used as a warp or shortcut item, as a tool to reveal essential secrets, and even as a weapon. The Boomerang has no use as a weapon if you're going for direct damage, but it can be used to stun enemies, and collect consumable items left behind by enemies somewhere you can't reach. So basically, The Legend of Zelda was the first 8-bit game in which you could experiment a little. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, The Legend of Zelda was the first 8-bit game to include an internal battery for data saving instead of a tedious password system - or better yet, no save feature at all. The system is extremely primitive, the battery is known to break down after its expiration date - in this case, even if the game was brand new, as it's very delicate - but back then, since specific instructions were provided in the manual and in the game itself for how to use the battery properly, it was the best thing since sliced bread... and The Legend of Zelda was the longest adventure since Columbus' journey.

Graphically, the game blew out of the usual proportions. The world map comprises of a whopping amount of 128 screens; in addition, there's a total of nine dungeons - the "shrines" - all of which comprise of at least 20 screens. Well, sure some elements are a bit blurry - but not to worry, you'll know exactly what each item is, 'cause the game is generous enough to give us a rundown on each item in the opening narrative. Wish it'd be generous enough to provide us with (one of) the proper usage(s) for each item, as well, but we can't have everything, I guess... anyway, the game was a graphical marvel, the best-looking and biggest NES game of its time, and it's totally irrelevant to start judging it by what it looks like today. If it has to come down to that, I can honestly say The Legend of Zelda from 1986 looks a lot better and bigger than many NES games released after 1990. Koji Kondo's praised music... well, Super Mario Bros. only had a few tunes, and since the game was divided in such brief, even levels, you never got tired of the music. Counting out the main theme, the closing theme, the "found it!" jingle, and similar fanfares which play in pre-determined phases of the game, The Legend of Zelda has a total of three different loops - the Overworld theme, the dungeon theme, and finally, the Ganon's Lair theme, which never plays until Level 9. Completing The Legend of Zelda without a walkthrough or prior experience will take tens of hours. Do the math. To put it simply: the music is epic and legendary, but that doesn't make it any less repetitive and on long terms, pretty damn annoying.

This is what it's all about. A freakin' triangle.
You start from a valley on the Overworld map, with absolutely nothing to your name except a small, pathetic shield. Thankfully, there's a door right in front of you, and behind that door, is one of the most memed video game characters ever - the unnamed old man - who, for some reason, hands you a wooden sword, because it's dangerous outside. I know what you're thinking - "it's made of WOOD!" - but you have to start from somewhere. The old man will appear a couple of more times and give you a better weapon once you're ready for it, so don't trip. Now you're ready to begin your journey and the world is quite open for you to explore. You can get to quite a few places right away, but the usual bottom line is that you have to beat the levels in the numbered order they're arranged in. There's usually a key item hidden in every dungeon that will help you a great deal in the next one - sometimes you won't be able to even find the next level without it. Towards the end of the game when you have everything you could possibly need to make basic progress, the key items are replaced with extremely useful upgrades, such as a master key that will render standard keys completely useless. Some key items are only found in shops all around Hyrule, for ridiculous prices. There are a few secret rooms where you can make a lot of money fast and effortlessly, but the most effective way to collect money is to just prance all around the kingdom and bring death and destruction upon Ganon's demonic henchmen - with your ever so ridiculous wooden sword. Enemies actually take quite a while to respawn, which is another innovative element in this game - it seems that the most annoying ones always do, though.

While The Legend of Zelda starts off relatively easy when it comes to the enemies, ignoring the facts that you have lousy equipment and a pathetic amount of maximum health, it eventually turns very, very ugly when enemies called Darknuts (...) and Wizzrobes are thrown into the mix. Add in some Bubbles, Like Likes, Lynals and Wallmasters, and you're up Shit Creek. These enemies were made to annoy the hell out of the casual player, and that alone. Darknuts do heavy damage regardless of your armour level, they take a million hits to go down, AND they are only vulnerable from the back and the side. Doesn't sound too bad, perhaps, but enemies in general move extremely unpredictably, which makes battling a horde of these guys, especially the blue ones (blue is the colour of ultimate strength, except in the case of Link) that much harder. Wizzrobes are a nightmare. They're wizards who look quite a bit like Orko from Masters of the Universe. They have ranged attacks and the power of teleportation on their side - the blue ones can move in any direction and also take a million hits to go down. Bubbles don't do any damage, their sole purpose is to blast some electric current up your ass that prevents you from using your sword for a couple of seconds. Like Likes are like these "flesh baskets" or something, that capture you, prevent you from moving and cause consistent damage until you can break free of their hold. Lynals throw swords at you in the similar method you can use when you're at full health, they do a lot of damage, especially in packs. Finally, Wallmasters sometimes appear when you're close to a boss to simply grab you and take you back to the beginning of the dungeon. How does all this sound like? A fun trip? Sure, it's fun, but it can be pretty damn frustrating. It largely depends on the size of the dungeon. Anyway, when it comes to placing frustration and genuine challenge involved with the action- and puzzle-oriented side of the game on a scale, the scale definitely tips in the direction of the latter; The Legend of Zelda is a genuinely challenging game. But, there is one small matter that was worked on later on in the series, but which would surely be of some use in this game as well.

There's something kinky about those fairies.
I talked about all things cryptic a while back. Well, finding secret passages on the Overworld map isn't the most cryptic thing about The Legend of Zelda. You see, in the later dungeons, there is - without exception - more than meets the eye. Weak walls that can be blown to bits with bombs start out concealing secrets, but later, they start concealing the correct paths to the boss and the Triforce piece - in other words, success. There is never the slightest indication of a weak wall, unlike in A Link to the Past where you can see them clearly. There wouldn't be a problem if the bombs weren't limited, or if you didn't need at least two bombs every time you encounter a certain type of enemy! Let's say you go and try to bomb every wall there is, come face to face with a Dodongo and all doors close around you, indicating that you have to beat the enemy to proceed. Well, if you don't have the proper amount of bombs at that moment, you're as good as dead! It's funny... when I first played A Link to the Past years ago, I wondered why they made weak walls stick out so obviously. This is the first time I've ever actually beaten this game, and now I know the exact reason why they did it. It's enfuriating to waste perfectly good explosives, and sometimes wasting them spells your doom, even if you've acquired the few bomb upgrades.

"Doom" in a free-roam NES game usually means "dying in the last level and being forced to start over from the first screen". Luckily, that's not the case here. First of all, there's a teleport room you may unlock during the second half of the game, and which you can use to fast travel around Hyrule. If you die in the Overworld, you always start from the first screen of the game, yes, but actually, that screen is placed quite well, so that travelling just about anywhere is fast - you get to keep all your items, weapons and money, all that you gathered right up 'til your moment of death, nothing is lost except for your health. If you die in a dungeon, you're taken back to the beginning of the dungeon, but all paths you've opened remain open, and all the items you've gathered are still in your possession, enabling you to take the shortest possible route to the boss, or wherever you met your demise. I talked about the graphics being better in a 1986 game than in many games released in the 90's - well, The Legend of Zelda is also a much more intelligent game than many games released in the 90's. BY FAR, now that I think of it.

Don't celebrate just yet. There's another
challenge coming your way.
I guess there ain't much more to say after all... except that you shouldn't feel TOO proud of handing it to Ganon, saving Zelda and restoring the Triforce to the omnipotent way it was. You see, getting through the game is only getting through the FIRST QUEST. Yeah, as you might've guessed, the second quest is a "hard mode", in which everything's scrambled, from item locations to enemies. Beating this second quest in addition to beating the first quest gives you the proper right to boast. If you're not feeling up to a second quest - can't blame you for it - keep in mind that it's totally optional and for hardcore gamers only. If you're a casual gamer and manage to complete the first quest, you've beaten the game in my books.

After all these years, I can no longer deny the greatness this game once represented, and the permanent mark it left on video game development. The Legend of Zelda is a true 8-bit classic - there, I said it - but do I now consider myself a Zelda fan, now that this game finally unfolded and I still consider A Link to the Past a true masterpiece? Not yet, but we'll see how the story develops as I take on the rest.

+ An all-around positively nostalgic, innovative experience
+ Looks great and epic for such an ancient title; Hyrule is a marvel in both visual performance and gameplay
+ Secrets... lots of secrets...

- ...Some of them very cryptic, including secrets that are required to be found in order to make progress
- A whole bunch of purely annoying enemies with sudden, totally unpredictable moves
- No proper indication of weak wall structures
- The music will probably start to get on your nerves a few hours into the same loop
- Not enough things to seriously criticize!

< 9.1 >

torstai 23. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - Olympic Summer Games | SNES | 1996

GENRE(S): Sports
RELEASED: June 1996
PUBLISHER(S): Black Pearl Software, U.S. Gold (GEN)

I have one more game to go within the confines of this recent Olympic stretch of mine, and I might as well tell you right now that it's not a good one. Olympic Summer Games was the official game of the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta. Two different versions of the game were made, both were published by U.S. Gold - one for the 3DO, PlayStation and PC, and one for the dying pair of 16-bit systems, as well as the Game Boy. Neither one of these games or none of the versions were very well received, nor were they even noted, since Konami's long-anticipated International Track & Field came out around that same time. Well, you all must know what I think about that game by now. Olympic Summer Games doesn't call for any more celebration, but it has its own reasons beyond the button-alternating.

Bummer games

I told you before about my friend boasting how he got International Track & Field from his dad, when he actually got Olympic Summer Games. Now that I think of it, we actually had an argument. He had a PlayStation, so it could've been possible that he had International Track & Field, but he specifically said he got the game for the SNES. I told him International Track & Field wasn't available for the SNES, but he kept his head about it, and I went over to see if it was true. I had read about Olympic Summer Games, and it didn't look that promising, but I was very interested in the Atlanta games, so we started playing and I was in high hopes. I hated the game. The button-alternating system drove me nuts, and every nerve on my right hand screamed for mercy because of it. To this day, I had no recollection of any other major peeve related to the game, and since I've somewhat gotten used to (...) this crappy control scheme, I thought I would be in for a decent experience, especially after bearing that Winter Olympic Games garbage.

Oh Javelin, how you used to be my favourite.
The game isn't exactly ugly - from a strictly technical angle, it looks passable - but the colour palette is downright depressing, in the core sense of the word. I seriously don't know how to explain it in words rather than pictures. As for the music, there are just a couple of songs, playing over and over on an endless loop, and they will drive you nuts.

There are ten events of the usual caliber: Sprint, Hurdles, Pole Vault, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Javelin, Discus, Archery and Skeet. Hell, it's like the first Track & Field for the NES, with Pole Vault and Discus thrown in to annoy. Even with those two immediately ringing some hell's bells, the list of events feels generally comfortable for an old Track & Field fan. Without further due, let's move on to the problems - there ain't a lot of shiny spots here.

You know what would be cool? Replacing the
skeets with copies of crappy games.
Since I no longer have the energy to DISCUSs problems with individual events (see what I did there...?), my attention automatically turns to common problems present throughout the whole game. "Lucky" for me, Olympic Summer Games has them. The control scheme is one, but it's not the worst one. The controls are also bad - in the sense that it feels like we're not in complete control of the game. This problem presents itself in many, many ways. While some events are just impossible to master - not to mention that they seem to be suffering from very random response to the player's actions, once again - some are RIDICULOUSLY EASY. I thought there'd be no need to mention individual sports, but breaking the record in Archery, Skeet, Long Jump and High Jump EVERY SINGLE TIME is completely effortless, double that if you've ever played just one game like this.

Well, that's about it. The bottom line is that Olympic Summer Games is more playable than its wintry predecessor, but it's still pretty much a worthless game. Digging up info on this game from MobyGames, I found a review with a header that said "Could be better, but could be a lot worse". That's exactly what I was about to say, having the memory of the last game carved on my spine, so I checked the reader review to see what conclusive rating he ended up with - to get a pointer. He gave it 3½ stars out of 5, which would be something between 7 and 7.5 on my scale. That's way, WAY too much. It's not totally awful, but it sure is a huge bummer, and I can't bring myself to rate the game over the following number.

+ It can be fun for a while, in a certain mindset

- Looks and sounds depressing
- The events' difficulty level changes between ridiculously easy and frustratingly difficult; it would be nice to have at least something from the between
- It feels like you're not in total control
- The control scheme itself keeps on sucking

< 4.2 >

REVIEW - Winter Olympic Games: Lillehammer '94 | SNES | 1994

GENRE(S): Sports
DEVELOPER(S): Tiertex, U.S. Gold (Amiga, PC)

Olympic Gold: Barcelona '92 apparently made enough money for the International Olympic Committee to begin licensing official video game merchandise on a standard basis. Back in '93, the next summer games were still a few years away, but the Lillehammer winter games were coming up. A game simply entitled Winter Olympics was released on home computers, and just in time for the Olympics, on choice consoles as well. As an official product of the Lillehammer games, it goes by many names, but if any of this following rant about extremely crappy and tedious gameplay rings a bell, I guarantee it's the same game you cursed at as a kid.

Cold and damp

I have to say I have no idea what this event is.
There are no less than four options.
I remember this game. A few hours ago, I had never played the console versions before - from the 3rd to 6th grade, there was a computer in our classroom, which anyone could use to play games. It ran on Windows 3.1, and there were many educational games installed. Well, no one really played those besides The Incredible Machine, which could be categorized as an educational game - we played Tetris, Jurassic Park, Wolfenstein 3D, the classic unofficial Mario game that still circulates on some abandonware sites, and finally, this game. It was a mildly entertaining winter sports title. We even used to have ski jump tournaments.

First, I'd like to state my honest opinion on Winter Olympics; they suck. All forms of skiing, alpine skiing, skating... I can't stand that shit! I don't get what's so God damn exciting about any of it. I remember my dad watching biathlon from the TV like it was some of the hottest porn ever - I didn't even get the goal of the event back then, and even if I did, watching it would've bored me to death in two minutes. Ski jumping and ice hockey, now there's a couple of exciting events - the only ones I just might watch if there's nothing else to do.

So, the PC game was quite all right in its boring framework. Something went very wrong when Tiertex ported it over to consoles. "Ported" isn't really the proper word to use here, as not only is the name of the game different, the whole game is quite different. Different, and much worse. Much, much, much worse. Whatever you call this game, it's horrible. Might as well call it "shit".

I come from the promised land of ski jumping,
I know my business.
Let's get the audiovisual nightmare out of the way first. At first glance, you might think the game looks quite decent - you have to take note of a couple of things, though. One, the game was made in 1994. Two, that's two years after its predecessor, which was released on a technically inferior 16-bit console. It looks just as bland as it is to play; actually, the rough edges of the text make the game look like a very early draft, a test version. The music is inspiring stuff as per usual, but since it plays virtually all the time, it's bound to get on your nerves sooner or later. Most likely sooner, since if you've got respect for good gameplay, you're not going to be able to withstand this game very long.

The game has a very similar structure as Olympic Gold; there's a Training Mode, and the main modes - short and long versions of the actual Olympic games. There are ten different events... wait, let's rewind. There are ten events, but honestly, about five different ones. It's not that the game alone is repetitive, Winter Olympics really ARE this repetitive! There's a total of four different variations of alpine skiing, and even in this case, the only difference is known by someone who knows the rules of the actual events - they all play out almost exactly the same. While in the PC version - at least, I don't know about the others - these events were viewed from behind the player character, in this one, you move towards the screen. Just one of the bad ideas in this bad idea of a SNES cartridge.

Hey. Seriously. What the fuck makes biathlon
Unlike most games of the type - including games in this very series - Winter Olympic Games is not a button-masher. There's some of that traditional style of gameplay going on, but mostly, this game is about timing and navigation, and these elements combined - and none of it works! Ski Jump, which was my favourite event in an all-around playable PC game, is now the ONLY remotely entertaining event in the whole bunch, since it really has none of the game's basic elements and therefore, does not suffer from horrible controls as the others do. On top of being a bitch to control, the game refuses to admit being one - it's unforgiving. For example, just one tiny nod to the wrong direction in any alpine skiing event will cost you the whole game, there's no way to repair your one single mistake once you've done it. Bobsleigh and Luge... well, as if it wasn't enough that the 3D environment keeps magically changing and flickers all the time, you're very easily thrown too far high up the sides and turned face down on the track. You'd like to think you have a say in it, but you certainly don't. It's not your fault; it's purely the designers'.

All in all, Winter Olympic Games is a terrible disgrace. It's even more boring than its theme, and an uncontrollable, unforgiving, ugly, utterly unplayable piece of shit. No need to be fancy about this one - try it and see if you can come up with something more constructive. I doubt it.

+ Ski Jump is very remotely entertaining

- It looks as good as it feels, and the 3D graphics are disorienting on top
- The controls are horrible
- Tedious and repetitive events

< 2.5 >

REVIEW - Olympic Gold: Barcelona '92 | GEN | 1992

GENRE(S): Sports
RELEASED: July 1992
PUBLISHER(S): Sega, U.S. Gold

The idea for this one actually came from a reader, an Olympic enthusiast, who presented the question: if Track & Field, why not official IOC-licensed games? I thought: yeah, why the hell not. After leaving Epyx's sports games out of the fray for now, and some random tryouts by several developers, I'm left with only three official games. They're easy and quick enough to review... I hope! 'Cause I've never played the first two games before. Let's start with the very first officially licensed olympic game ever made, and hope that it packs at least some punch, besides being such a historical game - here's Olympic Gold: Barcelona '92 for the Sega Genesis.


Remember: shooting your opponent in the ass
is considered cheating.
The late 80's were Sega's primetime. With the release of the 16-bit Sega Genesis/Mega Drive system, they established a solid base of followers, who might've sworn to Nintendo's name and that only in the past. When Nintendo struck back with their own 16-bit system in 1990, Sega suffered quite a blow and could not get their hands on many exclusive deals. They needed games like Olympic Gold, officially licensed games that were sure to sell based on the size of the license alone. Naturally, the first question is: how does a game, officially licensed by the International Olympic Committee, stand up to Konami's Track & Field - which was pretty much the only serious alternative at the time? Actually, it's the only important question. Besides "Que?"

Where to start...? Olympic Gold does not feature anything new when it comes to the events. Actually, it's like a collection of events from all of the Track & Field series; Dash, Hurdles, Archery, Hammer Throw (I'll get to it...), Pole Vault, Freestyle Swimming, and finally, one of my personal favourites from Track & Field II (at least when I was a kid), Springboard Diving. Just reading through the list of events gives off a warm, familiar feeling of a good way to pass time. It's just that simply understanding this game takes you the same time it takes you to run through the whole of the first Track & Field game. Oh, and guess what? You know that annoying button-alternating system I criticized very heavily in the case of International Track & Field? Guess where that shitty idea was used for the first time? "Que?"

Uhh... what was I supposed to press again?
Well, doesn't matter anymore...
The graphics are quite good and polished, and the music is awesome at its best - very inspirational stuff, I could listen to the lead track all day long. Well, not quite, but it's good shit. I'm not too surprised they invested in the audiovisuals, and I'm not surprised they invested less in casual playability, either. Disappointed - yes - but surprised - not really.

Training Mode will spill out the essential beans - you don't even have to try out the actual main mode to deem this game kinda sucky. I said "kinda", 'cause while it has all the elements of a bad t 'n' f game, it's not the worst one around. For example, the button-alternating system used in most events is much easier to manage with a Genesis controller than a PlayStation controller; it's more ergonomically suited for different holding and pressing techniques by a far lot - arguably, of course, as people have different hands. The Hammer Throw - I know you've waited for this - is actually a pretty fun event in comparison to all its all-out horrible incarnations. The release window is more forgiving, and your guy doesn't spin around like a fuckin' propeller to totally obscure that window. This time, it's the button-alternating system (A-B-A-B-A-B, tap C) that pisses on the event just like it pisses on the whole game. Yeah, I know just tapping one button might sound boring, but it simply works better and results in much less physical trauma! I don't know when they stopped getting that fact.

What a mess! If I got this right, you're supposed
to pick a certain type of dive and nail it perfectly,
or else you're going home, no matter how great
your dive looked.
Archery is a tough one to understand, but the complicated button presses of Pole Vault, the strict strategy of Freestyle Swimming, and the mess that is Springboard Diving take a split No. 1 spot on the list of "Que the fuck is this?" Sports games with several different events are meant to be easily comprehended by casual players, regardless of their age or any similar factor. Anyone should be able to just pick up the controller and go. That's what Track & Field taught us. Olympic Gold isn't that kind of game. Each event has some complicated strategy, that might take hours to sink in, and even more hours to work on cue every time, if you're doing it right. I'm not a sports enthusiast myself - I'm a casual fan of this video game genre, and I expect every game of this video game genre to be a casual game with easy access. Olympic Gold is far from it. I don't feel the need to talk about Springboard Diving, just look at the screenshot. Kinda different from the basic simplicity of the event in Track & Field II, don't you think?

Like I said, even with the enfuriating and rough button-alternating system and the sheer difficulty to learn all aspects of the game, Olympic Gold isn't the worst and most tedious Olympic game out there - it has some subtle, attractive qualities. When it comes to what it has on my favourite game in the genre - Track & Field on the NES - unfortunately, the answer to that is nothing.

+ Good graphics and music
+ Consistently annoying events from sports games are worked on...

- ...While entertaining ones are flushed with a ridiculous learning curve...
- ...Or the scourge of the button-alternating system introduced here for the first time on a home console

< 6.2 >

One more

Three new reviews are slated to be published today, but before that - and while you're waiting - you might want to take a look at VGArchive's new updates.

keskiviikko 22. elokuuta 2012

The dragon lies slain...

I haven't had the best of luck lately. Just yesterday I was celebrating over buying Blue Dragon to bring my Sakaguchi collection one step closer to a full circle. Well, I started playing this morning. About ten minutes into it, and immediately feeling it - that good old sensation of a classic J-RPG - the game completely froze. I reset the game and started over, only to get the startling message "This disc is unreadable." Well, I did all the usual stuff; I wiped the disc (looked like someone wiped their ass on it, by the way), let the 360 cool down for a while before restarting the console, and I even tried the old Final Fantasy trick and tried to load the game from another disc. Well, Disc 2 was ALL banged up, even the print on the disc face had worn out some. Disc 3 was OK, and it loaded the game up just fine, but when it came time to insert Disc 1, I was back at the dashboard, getting the same "fuck you" treatment from the 'box. Well, after confirming that the console was fine, and other games worked fine, I marched back to GameStop.

This is where it got interesting. I already knew the sad fact that they didn't have another copy of Blue Dragon in store; like I said, the game is hard to come by. Well, the clerk asked me if I wanted my money back, or use the defective game as an incentive to buy some other game. I couldn't resist the latter option, I had my mind set on a sleeper RPG. He figured that I must know my RPG's, so he listed quite a few items I might be interested in, and which were priced about the same as Blue Dragon; Tales of Vesperia, Infinite Undiscovery, The Last Remnant, and finally, Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Finally, he said that I could get a Limited Collector's Edition of the last game mentioned at the same price as a standard edition. I started thinking about Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, which I used to own on the PlayStation 2 (for some reason, I forgot to mention it in the "lost" part of my collection last year), and recounting why I quit playing the game, although I liked it quite a bit. I couldn't come up with a good reason; it was a big game, it looked fantastic... the combat system was a bit quirky, but I remember getting used to it. Also, that offer for the Collector's Edition sounded too great to pass up, so I replaced Blue Dragon with this:

So, before tomorrow's updates, I'm going to take a swim in Star Ocean, for the first time in about five years. I'm at least hoping for a game easy to drown my sorrows with.

tiistai 21. elokuuta 2012

You want to update, Snake?

It's crazy how time just flies by! It feels like it was just yesterday I wrote those Track & Field reviews and the Castlevania DLC Guide, but apparently it's been a while. I'm very sorry, and I promise to deliver new reviews this week, as I'm currently enjoying my holiday. Actually, "enjoying" is not the proper word to describe it, as it's freakin' cold in here. This has got to be the worst summer of my life, in terms of weather at least.

Well, enough about the weather, let's take a look at what's happening in my fruitful relationship with the video game scene. First of all, I bought Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360 today. I wasn't supposed to buy any new games this month, but Blue Dragon is a Sakaguchi game, which automatically makes it a must-buy for me, it's not very easy to come by these days, and finally, it was on sale for €9.90. I spent the night at a friend's house, and took a bus home, and it stopped right in front of the mall the local GameStop is housed in. From this day forth, that bus stop shall be called "the bus stop of doom". Anyway, in its overtly anime/manga-influenced style, Blue Dragon is really not my tastiest cup of tea, but I think it will make for a very interesting review one day, considering my (cult) infatuation with Final Fantasy and the more recent Mistwalker game Lost Odyssey.

Some time ago, as prompted by the long-anticipated Trophy support patch for the first true PlayStation 3 masterpiece, I teased the thought of going back to one of my favourite video game franchises of all time - Metal Gear. I've been working on some sort of a solution to how this Metal Gear "retrospective", if you will, should go down, and it's still going to take me some time. The only thing I can state for certain is that you're going to see new reviews related to the Metal Gear franchise in the near future - I'd love to do a REAL retrospective, but I'm not sure where to start or what kind of a basic concept such retrospective should have. I'm guessing I'll get back to this. I'm currently replaying Metal Gear Solid 3, and I have at least four more games to go after that (including the newly Trophy-imbued Metal Gear Solid 4), so there will most likely be a lot of unrelated reviews in the between to fill in some gaps - one does not simply rock through Metal Gear.

What I personally consider VGArchive's most important function is nearing completion; I've finally grasped what I want the Collection to look like. I'm aiming to publish the Collection in its final basic form around the same time I publish my next reviews. I'm not nailing a date here, but from the looks of things at the moment, I dare to guess Thursday.

Finally, in a note totally unrelated to everything, I'd like you to take a peek at a band I've liked for many years, but grown to LOVE in the last few months; they've climbed my charts faster than any artist, ever. I'm listening to their whole backlog as I'm working on the Collection, and I thought to share the pleasure with you. They're called Evergrey, they're from Sweden, and they play their own, distinctive style of melancholic, progressive power metal. This is the namesake lead track from their 2006 album Monday Morning Apocalypse.