Saturday, August 22, 2009

Minigames in Zelda

While I was aware of that issue for a long time now, I currently have to deal with it again while replaying Oracle of Ages. For me a bad minigame in a Zelda game can be a huge problem. It's something that can really burn itself into your memories. It's funny, if I sometimes decide to replay a Zelda game, I usually think about the effort I have to put into sidequests and minigames first, because I of course want to get a 100% finished save file again. Bad minigames can be a huge turn off here, it's like "Oh no, I have to go through THAT again?" The problem with minigames is, that they can be completely different from anything you usually get in a Zelda game. You can expect Zelda fans to beat the hardest puzzles and enemies, but there's no guarantee, that they will beat a really hard minigame, especially if it doesn't feature any of the usual gameplay mechanics in the game. On message boards you will often hear people complain about certain minigames, mostly the same ones. Which is why I want to talk about this topic today.

There are three types of minigames distinguished by their level of optionality. There are the ones, that are completely optional, because you don't get anything, you can't get anywhere else. For example the gambling minigames. You usually can skip on those, except if you want to try them out once or have fun with them. Then there are the complete opposites, the mandatory minigames, the ones you have to go through in order to beat the game. Mostly they are part of a quest and normally also get harder afterwards, then serving as a sidequest. Everything in between are the minigames used as sidequests, which usually give you something like a Piece of Heart. Of course you don't need to play them, except if you want to get every item in the game.

The Legend of Zelda did have the "Money Making Game". Go look the current episode of Legend of Neil, if you want to know more. However, it was completely optional and only helped to win or loose rupees. A Link to the Past did have a similar game, as well was a completely optional shooting gallery, a digging game and an enhanced version of the gambling using a room full of treasure chests. The latter one and the digging game were basically the first sidequest minigames, because both were holding a Piece of Heart as the prize and you needed to beat them, if you wanted to get everything in the game.

Link's Awakening did a pretty good job at minigames. It introduced the Fishing, where you could get a Piece of Heart, and it had the Trendy Game. This one was mandatory in order to beat the game, but getting the Yoshi Doll was very easy and the items on the conveyors were completely optional. But if you got the knack, it was very helpful to get enough money for the Shovel and Bombs and even to get the Magic Powder early.

Ocarina of Time then delivered the next level like in so many things. There were plenty of different minigames here including shooting galleries, horse riding, fishing and the infamous Bombchu Bowling. The latter was really annoying, because it could be quite unfair and frustrating. Also, you got two valuable prices here, a Piece of Heart and a larger Bomb Bag, so you had to beat it at least twice. I also didn't like the horse riding minigames and the race with Dampe too much. Majora's Mask then really overdid it with more than a dozen minigames. I didn't like, that you also had to beat several minigames multiple times in order to get the prize, like the Beaver Race, which you need to beat FOUR times alltogether. Wasn't one already enough? Some people struggle with the perfect score in the shooting gallery in Clocktown, which gives you another Piece of Heart. When I was replaying the game recently on the Virtual Console, I even taped a large note with all the locations of the Octoroks next to my TV screen, so I could react and pre-aim accordingly without having to remember which formation comes next. Otherwise I simply couldn't beat it. And I remember that the Goron Race can be quite unfair.

But the award of being pinnacle of bad and annoying minigames in the Zelda series definitely goes to Oracle of Ages. This game really jumped the shark minigame-wise and I'm really concerned about Capcom's (or "Flagship's" at that time) definition of fun minigames. The worse thing is, that some of the bad games are mandatory to beat the game. Like the stupid Tokay tossing game, it took me like ten times to get the scent seedling. Or the repair ceremony, it wasn't really hard, but I just don't like it at all. But the worst was definitely the Goron Dance minigame. Especially if you wanted to get the Bomber's Ring. Frustration is NOT fun, Capcom, get that in your head. Oracle of Seasons on the other hand didn't have too many minigames, nor really bad ones. Except maybe for the swimming game to get the Swimmer's Ring in one of the linked quests, but I don't remember this one too clearly. Surprisingly the Subrosian Dance minigame was quite okay and forgiveable, like it being the exact opposite of the Goron Dance. Subrosians are the better dancers after all.

The Wind Waker then finally did it right again. There weren't too many minigames and most of them were either easily forgetable or quite fun. Especially the ones starring the amazing Salvatore, Sinking Ships and Barrel Shoot, were really good. So, I've got no complains about minigames here. I don't care too much about the Tingle Tower minigames in Four Swords Adventures, because they're all totally optional and you can't play them alone anyway. The Minish Cap was Capcom's last Zelda game so far, so you'd expect them to include some final cruelty. This job is probably fulfilled by the Cucco chasing game, which turned one of the best first time sidequests from Ocarina of Time into an annoyance. Seriously, I mean, why did you have to beat it TEN times to get the Piece of Heart? And why is there even a time limit? But on the other hand The Minish Cap offered the amazing "Mysterious-Dungeon Simulation Game". That one was awesome, because it did let you get into serious action almost instantly. The most insane fights in the entire game are part of this minigame. And it's almost totally optional, you get the Piece of Heart right at the start after the easiest fight, the rest is just for your fun and training. All Zelda games should have something like this. I mean, in Twilight Princess you have to beat 47 floors of the Cave of Ordeals again, when you want to have some serious fights (the ones with the multiple Darknuts + Aeralfos). Why aren't there any Secret Shrine / Triforce Chart arena type of minidungeons, where I can access those kinds of fights instantly. That would be nice.

Talking about Twilight Princess, this one was allright, especially the relaxing fishing was nice. It's nice to have something relaxing in a game, like in Wii Sports Resort, where people tend to go back to the Island Flyover mode after exhausting rounds of swordplay. The fishing is perfect, it's almost a shame that you didn't get anything useful for catching the Hylian Loach. But there's probably a pretty good reason for this. In order to catch the Hylian Loach you need the Frog Lure. In order to get the Frog Lure you had to beat Rollgoal. And Rollgoal is the hell of all minigames, a perfect example for how minigames never should look like. It's annoying, you have to beat it multiple times, it doesn't have anything to do with Zelda at all and it's not really easy. Seriously, I wanted to kill the fish girl for her constant "Oaahhh, oopssieee daisy, try again?" speech and it's never good sign when a game can make you enraged. Not as bad as Rollgoal, but still on my list of "minigames I wouldn't miss at all" is the Goat Herding. Because it's boring and you have to beat it two times in the stupid three day tutorial without getting anything for your efforts. But the overall awesomeness of Twilight Princess is a different topic.

Phantom Hourglass on the other hand, is a prove, that this topic can be of course highly subjective. Especially the shooting gallery was a matter of debate. But after I got the knack here, it was really helpful to get a lot of rare ship parts in a short time, so it turned into my favorite minigame of the game. But I thought, they screwed up the fishing, because it wasn't relaxing at all. And I disliked, that they turned the Salvaging into a minigame. The minigame is not hard or bad, but that you have to do it 32 times makes it easily annoying after a short time. Especially if you replay Phantom Hourglass for a second or third time, you just can't stand it any longer. It's never good, if you HAVE to beat the minigame multiple times. You can always go back and play it again, if you liked it, but you should never be forced to do so.

Overall I say, that minigames are more or less fuzz. If they aren't fun enough, Nintendo shouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt and include them. You can make a good Zelda game with only few minigames or even without any minigames at all. So, we basically could compile a list for Nintendo, the golden rules for minigames:

  • Quantity doesn't equal quality. Have less, but exciting minigames.
  • A minigame never should be mandatory to beat the game.
  • You shouldn't need to beat a minigame multiple times to get the prize. One time is more than enough.
  • Stupid minigames should at least be easy or even better - not in the game.
  • People enjoy relaxing minigames like fishing, be sure to add some of those.
  • But most important, a minigame should be universal FUN for everyone.

The last rule is definitely the hardest one to achieve, because everyone has a different opinion on what's fun. But since Nintendo achieved to make Wii Sports (Resort) a collection of minigames, which nearly everyone enjoyes, they should know how to do it. Well, let's see, how the minigames in Spirit Tracks will turn out, I will definitely take them into my consideration when reviewing this game.


K2L said...

I know this is almost 4 years late (came here from your 2013 article on the 999 Cucco second thing), but I thought this post would be more on-topic here than there:

For me personally, MM had the best collection of minigames. Yes, some of them have to be done multiple times and that can be tedious. But, in their defense, there are variations in each attempt. Such as the Deku Playground game, where the platforms move differently according to the day. The Honey and Darling minigames, of course, were completely different one from another, and I liked that. But I agree that having to do the Beaver race 4 times was overkill. I do wonder why Nintendo put that. On a related note, there was a minigame where you supposedly had to collect trunks to help them build a dam, but it was scrapped in the final version. I would have loved having that minigame right after the race one, what do you think?

One thing I like about MM's minigames is that they're basically revamped, more difficult versions of the OOT ones. Remember the simple Shooting Gallery from Market and Kakariko Village? The Clock Town gallery one alone beats it, and the Swamp one mops the floor with it. The kid-easy Bombchu Bowling game is replaced with the first Honey and Darling game, and the Treasure Game is replaced with the chessboard chest maze. The Dampé race in OOT is replaced with the longer and more difficult Deku Butler race, and the Epona race against one person in OOT is replaced with the race against two in MM. Heck, even the Ocarina minigame from Lost Woods gets a better version in the form of the Milk Bar concert that involves all forms of Link!

As you can notice, the minigames in OOT weren't really my favorite because they were much simpler, except the fishing and horsetrack games. Of course, it's all matter of opinion so there's nothing wrong if you disagree. I too think TWW and TP had fun minigames as well (except for the Cannon game from Windfall and Rollgoal, those can die a painful death). As for PH and ST, the ones I like the most are Maze Island, the train shooting gallery, and Take 'em All one; the shooting gallery in Molida Island is by far my least favorite one.

Finally, SS has the underrated harp minigame, Pumpkin Pull shooting game and Lightning Round as my favorites, and the one from Fun Fun Island as my least favorite.

Jeffrey Krieger said...

one thing I did not like about mm was the how the horse race was required to get the garo mask (it feels more difficult to win in the 3ds version) and the awful goron race (no thanks to rubberband AI). the swamp gallery hardly gave me much trouble, but the octorok perfect score was pretty bad. the beaver race became much worse in the 3ds version because of the nerfed zora link. also the treasure chest game in alttp appears to have a manipulative RNG trick where the RNG is still active even when you are in the room (i.e. entering does not stop the numbers from rolling and if you time the right chest after paying the rupees, you can get the heart piece at the same time).