Thursday, October 20, 2016

Breath of the Wild: Reign of Giants

With the reveal of the Nintendo Switch we got some glimpses of new footage from Breath of the Wild, which features what seems to be either a giant Moblin or Bokoblin:

We also could spot other gigantic creatures in the E3 footage, including the Steppe Talus monster and some beast roaming Death Mountain. And I suppose having such a vast landscape invites this evolution of enemy design in Zelda, which may even remind you of Shadow of the Colossus. Since there is a lot of space, just fighting small Bokoblins all the time might get boring quickly, so they have to release their big brothers.

But with Calamity Ganon I keep having this vision that the final boss fight of Breath of the Wild will be massive and take place in the wide, open landscapes. Picture some gigantic Ganon running around wild. It's just a question, of how you would fight such large beasts, because those slow motion bow shooting leaps off your horse surely have a height limit. But Aonuma said at E3 2014 that this is exactly the type of fights that they want to create with the new Zelda - something where you're overwhelmed by the enemy at first and you have to figure out how to beat them, while potentially running away at first.

Nintendo Switch Downgraded Breath of the Wild

It's official now. Back at E3 we could have our suspicions about why there was no usage of the Wii U GamePad in Breath of the Wild anymore with hypocritical explanations from Aonuma's end about this big change with the interface.

But now we know for sure. While the Nintendo Switch has a huge advantage in portability over the Wii U GamePad, it received an equally huge downgrade with its interface. The screen doesn't seem to be a touchscreen anymore, there's no camera and you can't use the thing in addition to your TV screen. In fact, if you play at home on the TV, the portable screen hides within the docking station:

Apologies Master, but this device is not compatible with your Sheikah Slate.

So, all the GamePad functionality that Breath of the Wild could have offered, like navigating maps with your fingers or selecting items in your Adventure Pouch on the fly, wouldn't be possible with the Nintendo Switch. And so Nintendo decided to downgrade the Wii U version to not offer all the features that originally were advertised as selling points for The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD.

They don't want the Wii U version to be superior over the Switch version in any way. They don't want to give you a good reason to play this game on the Wii U. And that's a shame, because the Sheikah Slate item, which seems to be essentially the new Ocarina of Time in this game and an important part of the story, really looks like it was designed around the Wii U GamePad. After all it's the Sheikah Slate that Link uses ingame to study maps and to look around. And that makes full sense.

What doesn't make sense is that they suddenly castrated the game and removed a valuable part of the interface that had been shown two years ago at the Game Awards 2014. It only makes sense in the realm of marketing.

I wouldn't be surprised, if the Switch version also received additional content just for the sake of it...

Nintendo Switch Revealed

Marvel at the Wii U 2.0! Marvel at it! It's the Wii U! Just without the misunderstandings! But with crampy controllers! And no dual screen usage! And the same old games! Yay!

First of all, there was no surprise whatever. Patent sketches, leaks and rumors by Emily Rogers and co. already have shown and described the exact the same thing many months ago. Even the launch line-up was revealed a while ago, so you really have to ask, why Nintendo hid the Switch for so long. They already should have shown this at E3 to reduce the blow and even be able to react to feedback.

But the cat is out of the bag now and I didn't drink the Kool-Aid. And this might be for one simple reason: I'm not the main target audience of the Nintendo Switch. But who is this anyway?

The target audience of Nintendo Switch seems to be people, who rejected the Wii U. The Wii U had three major issues. One was the name, which confused the main street. People thought of it as a Wii add-on or something. The other was that the GamePad looked like a handheld console, while it really wasn't. You can hardly play in the next room with it. And the third was that the 3DS became its biggest rival with a totally redundant software library and many ports between the systems.

Now, Nintendo saw these flaws and eliminated them. It has a new catchy name and a unique logo. You get a real handheld device with the system now (correction: the handheld device is the system). You can play games on the big screen and on the go. You don't have to buy two different Nintendo systems just to get very similar games in the end. And that's all really good, but only at first glance.

As the faithful (and easily manipulated) Nintendo costumer that I am, I already bought the Wii U and a New Nintendo 3DS. The latter even only gets used for one game, really. But I have these systems already, while Nintendo just tries to sell their successful Wii U games on the Nintendo Switch again. There's Mario Kart 8.5 with new characters and double items, there is a new version of Splatoon with what seems to be new content. There is of course Breath of the Wild and I wouldn't be surprised to see Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Switch at launch as well.

And Nintendo knows how to sell the same games again and again. All these re-releases and remakes with little additions, where you can't help it but buy them again, just because you loved the games so much on earlier systems. But that's just something that I may or may not pick up with a new system, it doesn't make me want to buy the new system. It needs fresh and exciting games to come with it. We had similar ports like these in the past, but not in such a majority and not so many at launch. It just really is a "buy all the games that you've missed with the Wii U" campaign.

The presentation of the Switch also doesn't want to make me buy it. I previously thought that it would be a good idea to combine handheld and console, but the Switch just doesn't look good. The constant plugging of the "Joy-cons" seriously annoyed me during the trailer, while these things look very cheap and uncomfortable. My hands start to cramp by simply looking at them, while I always was very comfortable with the Wii Remote and Nunchuks and even the Wii U GamePad. So, that's saying something. The lack of a D-Pad is also bad, even if I understand the design choice to create mini controllers for multiplayer.

But I couldn't identify with the whole "let's meet in some abandoned warehouse and play on tiny screens" thing. Who does that? Usually you just invite people over to your house to play on the big screen. And if my dog needs attention or people want to socialize with me on a BBQ, I put the game away, instead of bringing it with me. The multiplayer and portable gaming aspects are great, but do we really need something like the Switch for this? The whole trailer didn't convince me.

It tries to be both a console and a handheld at the same time, while it doesn't seem to do a good job at being either. The controller design is questionable and it's probably much more expansive and much larger than previous portable systems. And these are issues.

For me as a Nintendo fan it doesn't all matter much in the end, because my love for Zelda, Metroid and co. will make me buy this thing eventually anyway. But I won't buy what they have shown so far, I do need new and exciting games that I really want to play. Or they could just lure me with Zelda themed hardware in a Limited Edition bundle. The latter really is my weakness and the only thing that could make me buy the Switch at launch (which I probably shouldn't say to give Nintendo ideas). Otherwise I'll just enjoy Breath of the Wild on my Wii U for now.

Hyrule Warriors Legends: Grind Fest

The good news about Hyrule Warriors - Legends is that you don't need excessive grinding in order to complete its Adventure Mode. So far the difficulty always stayed at a moderate level, so that character levels above 100 or even carefully built weapons aren't really necessary. The bad news is that grinding takes a lot longer than on the Wii U, if you still decide to bring your characters to the absolute maximum.

Leveling got slowed down significantly. If you try the typical "Rack up your K.O. count!" or "Put an end to the enemies' divisive plan!" missions that were best for leveling on the Wii U, you will only get around two fifths of the Experience. Also, the new 4 and 4+ weapon ranks are much rarer to obtain. So, overall the whole process takes a lot more patience than previously on the Wii U. Still, I decided to go for 100% completion and beyond, where I will now share some of my current impressions and strategies.

My first goal was crafting all the Badges for all characters. For the most part I was just missing materials from King Dodongo, Gohma and Ganon, where all of them can be found together in one mission on the Adventure Map, the one in the Death Mountain area with a Heart Piece for Ganondorf (there is the same mission on the east coast on the Master Quest Map, but the bosses have more health there). However, Toon Zelda needs so many Ganon materials that I had to resort to the "Final Battles!" of both the Twilight and Koholint Map (with double material drops). These missions take longer to play, but you're almost guaranteed to get Ganon materials, while in the Challenge Battle mission you often get weapon or food drops from Ganon. So, in the end it got the job done much faster.

After completing the Badge Market I set the following three goals:

  • Getting all characters to MAX Level
  • Obtaining and building best possible weapons (where applicable)
  • Creating a complete Fairy

I'm still in the middle of all of this, but it's going strong thanks to the new Grand Travels Map. It has not only one, but four "Put an end to the enemies' divisive plan!" missions in red zones. These missions can be beaten within under a minute and they will score you about one Level, three weapons, two food (gold or silver) and a few materials including a golden one, if you're lucky. This used to better on the Wii U, where you would gain around 2.5 levels per run and get drops from every clone, but it's still one of the most effective missions for grinding.

If you're just trying to level your characters, the various K.O. or Rupee competitions with their constantly respawning dark enemies are probably the fastest way to do so, but the "Divisive plan" battles will net you much more stuff in the same time frame. I'm essentially hitting all three birds with one stone here, because I'm not only leveling characters, but also getting good weapons and lots of food. For the process you'd ideally want a weapon with a 25.000 Legendary seal on it, as well as the Stars+, Slots+, EXP+ and Materials+ weapon skills. The Materials+ helps with getting gold materials, which you then can invest into a Rank III mixture, which helps you with getting those precious 4 and 4+ weapons. One run will score you around 250 K.O.s, so essentially you can grind around 100 levels with a Legendary seal, which got quite some of my characters from 100 to 200 in the process and also got them many, many good weapon drops.

Most people were suggesting the "Stop the enemy merger!" missions on the Koholint Map for grinding best possible weapons with highest rank, five stars and eight slots, but I had far more success with the above method. You will only get three weapons per run, but since you're also doing it for the levels and the fairy food, you won't mind as much, if you're not getting anything right away. But ultimately you will accumulate quite some good weapons - in fact this works so well that with some characters I've gotten a full collection of TEN best possible weapons. All highest rank, five stars and eight slots.

They key is using Focus Spirit, where it's much easier to unleash the 130 K.O. weapon bonus on a large group of enemies at once in the "Divisive plan" mission types. You also get the Experience and Material bonus. What's nice is that in these missions you can find lots of Magic Vial drops everywhere, so it's easy to pull this off and keep Magic up for a while. If you've already gotten the Magic Fountain Rental Skill, it will be much more convenient, but it's not necessary to have this for the same results.

For it to work you want to lure all dark character enemies to the same location. In the beginning you already have one dark enemy following you and another one nearby. You can make the other dark enemy nearby follow you by attacking him so that he splits once. This has to be only once, not twice, or else the dark enemies will stay in place. Doing so will also cause the third dark enemy to approach, but usually it works best to go to him with the others following you. As soon as everyone is in one place, you can unleash Focus Spirit and get to 130 K.O.s thanks to the many small enemies that get dragged along with the dark foes.

If you want to try this for yourself, you can find the four missions on the following squares of the Grand Travels Map:

  • Lvl5 on B06 - Tingle (Fire, Hot Spring Water)
  • Lvl6 on F01 - Toon Zelda (Darkness, Hot Spring Water)
  • Lvl7 on D11 - Medli (Darkness, Elixir Soup)
  • Lvl8 on D10 - Twili Midna (Light, Ordan Goat Cheese)

I wish that Medli would have been replaced by Ruto or made weak to the Lightning element, because the elemental weakness plays a big role in it. You can do this with any character and weapon, but only if you have the elemental advantage, the dark enemies will go down quick enough. So, use characters with Fire weapons on Tingle, characters with Darkness weapons on either Toon Zelda or Medli and characters with Light weapons on Twili Midna. Hopefully the Map in the upcoming A Link Between Worlds DLC will feature missions like these for the Water and Lightning elements (e.g. Volga and Ruto), so that characters with such weapons can have an easy time as well. But thanks to the 4+ dual element weapons most characters are covered by this anyway.

Volga just slayed twelve Tingles. And he feels good about it.

You want to do this on the Grand Travels Map (as opposed to similar missions on the Twilight and Master Wind Waker Maps), because of the double food drops. These are tied to the enemies, so you will always get the same food, silver or gold, sometimes even two gold. There is a limit of 255 pieces per food and you will hit this after a while, where it's time to take a pause and convert them into Gratitude Crystals. Those are not strictly necessary to unlock all skills on a fairy, but they are very helpful. Depending on the element of the fairy that you want to built, you are going to have to chose two other fairies of the same element and essentially keep replacing them with each other. Feed them with your accumulated food amounts (the element doesn't matter) to get them to Level 50 and then do the replacement in order to score a golden Gratitude Crystal of their element.

Right now I got a Fire Fairy (the one that looks like Din from the Great Sea Map) with all the important Rental Skills (Water Wall+, Magic Fountain, ...) and I'm waiting for the next update to complete her. I'm sure that Koei Tecmo will add more Rental Skills in the final update, probably even more rainbow color skills (maybe even Magic Fountain+ for double usage). So, it's best to wait for me right now and just simply collect many Gratitude Crystals in the meantime, where later I can use them to unlock all Rental Skills efficiently. And it's also possible that they might add a "Unlock all Rental Skills on one fairy" medal a with the last update, where building a complete fairy would then even count towards 100% completion. In any case, the food from the above "Divisive plan!" battles are mostly Fire type and one Darkness type, which is convenient if you're working with Fire or Darkness fairies.

Additionally you can get quite a lot of gold food from the Linebeck Trading Companies. After while you get into a cycle, where every nine battles a two-for-one sale will be happening and there's always exactly one Linebeck and one Songstone around. But still this gives you some additional free food, which might be useful for unlocking skills. (More about Rental Skills and My Fairy in a later post!)

There is other things you can't do yet before the final update. The level maximum will surely rise one last time to 255 and there are still multiple 4+ weapons left missing. I did get a best possible weapon for every weapon type, where the highest tiers are already available. But grinding weapons like the Hylian Sword, the Great Swords or the Crossbows will have to wait until the update.

Keep in mind that this process is rather slow and dull, so it's best to do this while watching a TV show or listening to a podcast in the background. Once you get the hang of it, the game doesn't need your full attention, except for when you're selling weapons, because you don't want to accidentally sell good ones or ones with skills that you still need. Actually a big part of the grinding time is spent within the Bazaar to buy mixtures and to sort through your weapons. Most of your Rupee income will be from weapon sales and this money can be put into leveling characters that you don't want to play or to built perfect weapons. Removing weapon skills is still ridiculously overpriced, but you will easily be able to afford it all thanks to constantly selling high-tier weapons.

That's it for now. We will talk more about Hyrule Warriors, as soon as the A Link Between Worlds Pack has been revealed.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Replaying Ancient Stone Tablets, Dubbed

Well, this was certainly an interesting experience. I've played through Ancient Stone Tablets several times now, but never before with the full program. Thanks to the efforts of the BS Zelda Homepage you can now listen to an English version of the broadcast while playing the game, which includes orchestrated music from the Sound & Drama album next to the voice acting.

Unlike with the first BS Zelda game you get a larger cast of voice actors including Kira Buckland as the lovely voice of Princess Zelda, who has a lot more to say this time. (Kira is actually a professional voice actress, who already lend Zelda her voice in other fan projects, such as Zeldamotion or Four Swords Misadventures!) Even the Old Man in the form of Aginah (Sahasrahla's brother) isn't as bad as previously, but he creates a comedy duo with the really awkward sounding Fortune Teller. And this can be quite fun, even if some of the funnier parts may not be intentional.

"Master Aginah..."
"What is iiit...?!"
"I see something happening somewhere..."
"Is that sooo...?"

This dialogue gets repeated so often that you could turn it into a drinking game. The Fortune Teller always talks in a very strange voice that you just want to mock and Aginah seems constantly annoyed by everything and everyone. It gets even sillier, when Zelda takes over Aginah's role in the 3rd week and then suddenly adopts his "Is that sooo?" catchphrase. It's essentially the "Excuuuuse me, princess" of the BS Zelda games and thanks to Aginah's gambling addiction it's not even the only running gag in this. Also, just like in Hyrule Warriors you have useless soldiers calling for help. Better let a kid with a sword do the job!

Anyway, with the audio they do give you a five second countdown before the Bombos and Ether power-ups, they explain other power-ups like infinite Bombs/Arrows and they will tell you, when the Gold Potion becomes available and when the weekly minigame is open for business. The rescue missions are also part of the broadcast, so you can hear Zelda scream, when she's in danger...

They won't tell you about the Mole, however, so that's probably just something you're ought to discover at random. His position will be at a random location, but I would have expected to at least learn about his existence and at what time he's going to appear. This is the one thing that you still have to look up to get it right, otherwise you now can play the game blind without missing anything important.

The Mole on the 4th week is the worst, however, because he doesn't appear until the 34 minute mark. There is no warp point at the summit of Death Mountain (where the Mole opens a cave with 1400 Rupees inside), so you can't just go back later. You have to find the Mole and then start the Level 8 dungeon, which cuts things extremely close.

In fact it was so close for me that I experienced a very weird scenario. I beat Ganon, but right after he was defeated, the time ran out and the bad ending of the game played, where Ganon laughs maniacally about having conquered Hyrule. But he was killed! I saw it! Game, what are you doing...? Well, at least I could take a look at the funny Game Over screen:

Luckily I had a quicksave right before Ganon's Tower, so I could just try again and beat the giant pig a little bit faster, which then counted. It's my own fault, however, because I'm really obsessed with getting everything in this game, opening all the chests in all the rooms, even if it's just for a silly highscore. I didn't manage to beat my score from the last time, but it was close:

As you can see, I played as the girl and if you think about it, this game was ahead of its time in so many different ways, not just the orchestrated music and the fact that you were downloading content onto a video game console in 1997. Exactly 20 years before the release of Breath of the Wild you already got voice acting of important (and less important) characters and the choice to play as a female hero.

I can only advise everyone, who's reading this, to try out the BS Zelda games for themselves. With Nintendo's current habits of "intellectual property enforcement" they may not be available in their current fan-restored form forever.

Now the Master Sword really sleeps forever... until A Link Between Words!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Replaying BS The Legend of Zelda, Dubbed

Originally I didn't have the BS Zelda games on the list of my 30th Anniversary replay session, but things changed with the BS Zelda Homepage finally releasing the pinnacle of 17 years of amazing restoration work: fully dubbed versions for BS The Legend of Zelda MAP1 & MAP2 and earlier this month also for Ancient Stone Tablets.

In case you don't know, what I'm talking about, let me give a short summary. In the late 90s the "Broadcast Satellaview" add-on for the Super Nintendo existed (yep, "BS" doesn't stand for what you might think at first), which let you receive satellite data. And with this came actual video game broadcasts, where for a fixed time you could play different Zelda episodes from three games in total:

They were divided into four episodes each, with each episode featuring two dungeons. If you want to know more, just check out the links above. The important thing is that these are in fact official Zelda games made by Nintendo with the usual level of gameplay quality. The way of presenting and distributing the games just was very unusual and they would be completely inaccessible today, if it wasn't for the team of the BS Zelda Homepage.

Well, I played their restoration project several times now, last time back in 2011 for the 25th Anniversary, but this time they outdid themselves by also adding fully translated English voice acting based on the original broadcasts. Now you finally are able to experience the games exactly like they were supposed to be played in full glory. If you play 16-Bit Zelda with the Legend of Zelda song from the Akihabara Electric Circus playing in the background and some Old Man talking to you, this will you magically teleport you back into the 90s.

However, this can also be as annoying as the annoying Bubbles that constantly get mentioned by both the Narrator and the Old Man to tell you, how annoying they are. "Those Bubble, they are the most annoying thing..." - I get it, Old Man! With important information the game even pauses and makes you listen to the sloooow and obnoxious talk from some person, who is obviously not old enough to dub an Old Man. I guess, he has to talk so slow to stay in sync with the original broadcast, but it's a little nerving. The Narrator dubbed by RetroDan, however, does a great job, his voice is pure gold, I could listen to him all day. Zelda also seems to have gotten a lovely voice, but sadly you can only hear her talk one sentence in the beginning of the game...

Good thing about with the narration and the calls from the Old Man is that you get a much better sense at what's happening in the game world. When I first played the BS Zelda games I heavily relied on the available guides, so I wouldn't miss anything, like the Heart Container washed ashore at a certain time on the first episode. But this time I could go in "blind" and still find everything. Of course later versions already added text boxes for the announcements, but here you get all the info. The whole game feels more "tutorialized" with the broadcast in the background, where everything gets explained quite well, even the hidden locations of some items in the dungeons, so you're not missing anything important in the limited time frames.

The biggest advantage, however, is gained with the announced Power-ups that happen at certain times. One of them destroys all enemies on the screen and this felt rather random before. But here the Old Man gives you a warning upfront, so you can potentially use it on some Darknuts or whatever.

Of course the timing of these Power-ups can also be rather comical. For example, when I reached the end of Level 8 on the first Map, I had to defeat a set of Triple Dodongos with only six Bombs left, so there was no room for mistakes. I somehow made it, but my victory became meaningless about ten seconds later, when I suddenly got the Infinite Bombs Power-up among others. Or the Old Man might send you fairies, when you're at full health, etc.

One Power-up I liked was the "people sensor", which basically worked like the Compass from Link's Awakening on the overworld - it plays a tone, whenever there is a hidden cave nearby, so you can potentially find all the caves behind walls and under trees just by listening. Together with the infinite bombs and Red Candle you can easily uncover everything within the time limit.

I also discovered that you can actually bypass the "desert storm" west of the Lost Woods to get the White Sword early in the 2nd chapter. You have to dodge the whirlwinds and it might take you a couple of tries, but after hours of practice from the Endless Cucco Rush, this comes off rather natural...

However, it's not so easy on MAP2, because there you have little to no room to dodge, and ultimately it comes down to luck, where in this case you're literally wasting your time and should just wait until the end of the chapter, where the Old Man makes the desert storm disappear.

Apropos wasting time, if you're worried about the time limit in this, don't be. Overall there's more than enough time to beat two dungeons and collect everything within the 50 minutes that you have per episode. Usually I even go grind Rupees to kill the time at the end of an episode. Only with the 4th chapter of MAP1 I was having some trouble, because Level 7 turned out rather large and disorienting compared to the rest. Often with these dungeons you also won't find the Map early on, which can get frustrating, if you have no clue, where the hidden rooms could be and you're short of bombs (and time). And some stuff is easy to miss, where you then might lose a lot of time later on to track it down. But otherwise it's quite enjoyable to play and also much easier than the NES counterpart.

I've played through both Map 1 and 2, where the voice acting and narration didn't seem to be much different between the episodes. It's the same events and the same hints, it's just that the layout of the overworld is different, which doesn't have any impact on the narration (e.g. the Lost Woods are still in the East). Considering that you actually have to download 4,4GB of pcm video files in order to play this, things could have been made more compact, maybe...

Anyway, I'm looking forward to play Ancient Stone Tablets in its dubbed state next, because this game was a lot more fun and had quite some interaction with Zelda.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eagle's Tower in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Inspired by the above wallpaper by BLUEamnesiac I created another stage for Super Smash Bros. for Wii in addition to my previous stages. It's the top of the Eagle's Tower, one of my all-time favorite dungeons from my all-time favorite game Link's Awakening:

Eagle's Tower
  • Music: Tal Tal Heights
  • Size: Large

Gameplay-wise this is probably not the best stage ever, but it does re-create the original boss level accurately. It does look better on the ingame preview than on the above Miiverse image, because you can't actually see the cropped bottom of the tower, only the ocean background. So, if you try to re-create the stage in the Stage Builder, use a large stage and start at the very bottom.

There are no ladders available in the Stage Builder of Smash 4, but using platforms for the ladder to the top was visually the better choice anyway.