As I promised at the beginning of this year, here's my review about the most bizarre installment of the Zelda series (not counting the CD-i games), Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland or just "Tingle RPG" in short. This game was released for the Nintendo DS some time before Phantom Hourglass hit the shelves, but it came out in Japan and Europe only, since the game wasn't very successful and the Americans aren't the biggest Tingle fans in the world. Well, I live in Europe, so I guess that's not a problem for me. It was developed by Vanpool, which is the second time Nintendo employed a third party developer to create a Zelda related game since Capcoms handheld Zeldas. I won this game on a German Zelda quiz, otherwise I probably wouldn't have played it, since I was a huge Tingle hater. That changed however in the moment I laid my hands on this game.
Well, what's the goal of this game? You start as a lazy character, you can name yourself, but who gets then turned into a "Tingle" by Mr. Rupee, who tells him the tale about rupeeland, where he swims in money, never has to work again and where beautiful women fall for him. Well, this is enough motivation to get on your feet and make your way to Rupeeland. For this you have to feet a magical tower with lots and lots of rupees, causing it to grow larger, so you can reach new territories after each step with your balloons. On the other hand after becoming a Tingle rupees are your life energy. If you loose all your rupees, you die. However, this game comes up with some awesome plot twists and it explains, where Tingle's weird behaviour comes from, including his love for rupees and fairies, as well as his catch phrase "Kooloo-Limpah". And it's all freaking hilarious, if you still hate Tingle after playing this piece of art, something is seriously wrong with you.
Rupeeland actually feels like a Zelda game except for the facts, that you're playing Tingle, that the combat system is quite different and you have this weird bargaining system. In terms of controls and graphics this game is pretty much the opposite of Phantom Hourglass. You control Tingle with the D-Pad and interact with the environment by touching things with the Stylus. Basically you just do "clicking", this game is not as touchpad intense as Phantom Hourglass is. Also, most of the graphics are in 2D, except for some boss battles and cutscenes. The 2D graphics are all nicely made and the environments look fine. I think, people who prefer a classical 2D Zelda over Phantom Hourglass are going to like this. The music is actually quite good, if there's one. Most of the overworld areas in the game only have some kind of an introduction fanfare, but then it switches to ambient sound effects. But most of them sound like they came from the Nintendo 64 Zeldas, which produces a very special atmosphere, even if there's no music.
What makes "Tingle RPG" different from a Zelda game are these weird combat and bargaining systems, maybe deterring the diehard Zelda fans, so let's begin with those. Fighting isn't done like in Zelda, you basically drag enemies in a cartoony dust cloud battle and click on it to support Tingle or his bodyguards in the fight. Since Tingle isn't the strongest fighter, you have to hire bodyguards to do most of the dirty jobs. The trick, which makes this whole combat system actually very addicting, is to drag as many enemies as possible into one single cloud, because the spoils and profits become much better then. The more enemies you defeat in one battle, the more and rarer items you get. The bargaining system on the other hand isn't as much fun, actually it sucks. Everything in this game has a price, even conversations about special information. But unlike in the games of the main series, you don't get to know the actual price, so you have to bargain. You pay too much rupees, you loose money, you pay too low, you loose even more, because all the bargained money will not be credited. This can be seriously annoying and leads to lots of turning the NDS on and off. Your best chance is using a guide like this one, which shows you all the prices in the game. This saves you a lot of trouble, money and nerves and makes this game actually quite enjoyable.
I already mentioned the bodyguards, there are 30 in the game, while you only can hire one bodyguard at a time. You get them in three times three categories, there are three weight classes and three classes of behavior. There are small, medium and large bodyguards, as well as passive, aggressive and smart ones. So, you get nine different types of bodyguards, which repeat themselves on every of the three continents, which makes 27 in total. A small and passive bodyguard is the cheapest, while a large, smart one will cost the most. You can hire those guys in saloons, where some kind of weird robed race lives, which resembles the Subrosians from Oracle of Seasons. However, the different sized bodyguards have different abilities, a small one can creep in holes and recover treasure chests out of them. Medium bodyguards can open closed doors (there are no keys in dungeons) and heavy bodyguards can destroy certain types of obstacles. So there's a lot of backtracking in Rupeeland, because you have to revisit every dungeon with different types of bodyguards to get all the treasures. Also, there are three more "Drifter Bodyguards", which are hard to get, but are the strongest bodyguards in the game. They don't use potions, you can't hire them in saloons and you can't rehire them, if they loose all their energy, but they are cool and do have some special abilities. Since you keep lists about all your bodyguards, to find all the drifters is basically a sidequest.
Talking about sidequests, let's take a look at the items in the game. There are tools and supply items. Tools are the actual useable items and include a shovel, the Bone Ocarina and 23 bottles. Yes, you heard me, 23 bottles. You can fill up the bottles with lots of stuff, including molotov cocktail style bombs, healing potions for your bodyguards, perfume, sleeping gas, hand potion as well as juices, soups or stews. The latter ones are for selling only, you can earn a lot of rupees by selling these items to the right persons. The Bone Ocarina calls a cursed pirate ship on docks, which crew reminds you of the skeleton pirates in Oracle of Seasons. You can also use the Bone Ocarina to open the ten hidden pirate treasure chests. About the hand potion, this one calls a Wallmaster, which transports you back to the entrance of a dungeon. Much like in Zelda, but this time on actual purpose. The perfumes are inspired from the Scent Seeds in Oracles (again) and help you to lure enemies. All this stuff can be cooked in your cooking pot at home, but you need the recipes. There 31 recipes in the game for pretty much everything including all the stuff I've mentioned above, which means that even the bombs are made from a recipe. You need to collect ingredients for the recipes, which are listed in the supply item menu. There so many of them, you can hardly count them all. There are also other non-ingredient supply items, which can be sold for a lot of rupees to specific persons. For example the blacksmith loves rare weapons from your enemies. Also, drawing maps is part of the sidequests. Of course, since this was Tingle's initial task in Majora's Mask. Well, you basically buy maps and add some missed details to them like special sights by just circling them with your Stylus on the map. Then you can sell the finished product.
Now, the best part about Tingle RPG are the environments and dungeons. You have to discover 11 different regions in total, including a pirate island, the Lon Lon Meadow with its scary alien cows reminding you of the abducted cows in Majora's Mask, the Deku Forest, swamps, an ice island, the large Mt. Desma, the mystical Auros Ruins and Fairy Garden, a beautiful fairy paradise which turned into a deserted wasteland. Every time the tower is growing, a new area can be visited. This may sound very linear at first, but the actual quests on the different islands and areas are totally non-linear. It doesn't even matter, what you do to get enough rupees for the rise, so for example if you want to skip a dungeon, that shouldn't be a problem. Apropos, every second area is home to a dungeon, all of them being well designed and mostly non-linear. I especially liked the Deku Temple with its dramatic remix of Saria's Song as background music, it holds a great atmosphere. Also, the Insect Cavern with its pitchblack rooms and poison gas areas was a real nightmare and the large Desma Labyrinth provided some clever puzzles. I wish, the real Zelda games would have dungeons like that. At the end of each dungeon you will find a large treasure chest, which holds the boss of the dungeon. Each boss has his own unique design and features a different style of gameplay, you can consider the boss fights to be the minigames in Tingle RPG.
There are also some more downsides next to the whole bargaining. First thing is, that you can only save at your house. Well, actually this wasn't an issue for me, since you can get back to your house every time and basically get everywhere from there pretty fast with the help of the tower. The second issue is, that it's sometimes pretty hard to get the required amount of rupees to procede in the game, since the tower starts shrinking after a while. But even this can be handled with the right strategies, so overall I had a lot of fun with this game, especially with its genius sense of humor and its style. For example when you solve a puzzle and your bodyguard takes a subwoofer out and plays the classical Zelda "riddle solved" jingle on it, it definitely puts a smile on your face. This is one of the moments, where the game really shines. Well, I would recommend Rupeeland to every Zelda fan out there, who think, that their Nintendo DS system didn't get too much attention. It's not as good as most of the actual Zelda games, but if you're looking for a new fix, because you've played all the Zelda games up and down, then this is for you. I especially recommend this game to the Tingler haters, because I promise you, he won't annoy you anymore after playing this very bizarre and funny Zelda spin off.