Saturday, January 30, 2010

Metroid: Other M Website online

The official Japanese Metroid site changed it's layout from the Metroid Prime Trilogy layout to a simple teaser site for Metroid: Other M with some sad piano music in the background. The image was already shown in the offical trailer.

I don't know. I despise movie like games and I didn't like Metroid Fusion too much, Metroid is about exploration and action. Discovering alien worlds all alone and blasting all alien lifeforms away on the progress. Collecting hidden Energy Tanks and Missile Packs. That's Metroid. Metroid: Other M looks more like some schmaltzy movie. Team Ninja's cutscenes will be absolutely beautiful, no doubt about that, but there's much doubt about if the game will be as satisfying as any game of the amazing Metroid Prime Trilogy. The gameplay isn't even defined yet. Is it 2D or 3D, 3rd person or 1st person? It looks like it's all of it. But how will that work out? And with all the focus on story, will it be as terribly linear as Fusion was? Because that would be disappointing.

Well, I'm very skeptical about this game. But I'll definitely give it a chance, when it comes out. It's Metroid after all. It's reported that the game is scheduled to be released in summer. (Source).

About the site. What happened to the "Another side story coming soon, from the perspective of the Space Pirates" teaser? Remember? That was a year ago. They just can't tease us like that and then give us nothing at all.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Anticipating Monster Hunter Tri

The next game, which I will probably get when it comes out, is Monster Hunter Tri. I've never played any other Monster Hunter game before, because I never owned a Playstation, but this game really looks promising. And it's for Wii this time. Just check out this trailer and look for yourself.

It's an Action RPG and you might know that I'm always interested in good Action RPGs, that play close to Zelda. Terranigma would be a promiment example. I'm especially interested in this game, because Aonuma and the Zelda team is very interested in it as well. Aonuma mentioned at one point that at least the graphics of Monster Hunter Tri were a huge motivitionial push for the Zelda team to make Zelda Wii look even better. And who knows how much this game inspired the Zelda team otherwise. It's definitely worth a look.

As far as I know there are no experience points involved, which is good. You hunt down monsters and from there body parts you can make stronger weapons and armor. And with the stronger weapons and armor you can hunt down stronger monsters. It's an easy, but probably addicting concept. And the landscape are very beautiful. Probably quite empty except for the monsters, but the look is stunning.

It will be released in April 2010.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Iwata Asks: Zelda Handheld History

There's a new Iwata Asks interview and this time it's about the history of handheld Zeldas. He was sitting together with Aonuma, Nakago and Tezuka and it's definitely worth a read.

They were chatting mostly about the development of Link's Awakening. Since this game is one of my absolute favorite Zelda games and games in general, it was really interesting. The project started as a port of A Link to the Past for the GameBoy, but since it was on the GameBoy they thought that they had more creative freedom, which is why there are Mario characters and enemies and Kirby appearing in the game. Also, they illustrated how with the handheld Zelda games made by Capcom there were many Zelda games in parallel development.

As a bonus they were looking at old documents from the development of The Legend of Zelda, the first Zelda game.

One of my favorite parts here was the one about the dungeon maps. You probably know, that you can puzzle the dungeons together, so they would fit into a rectangle. This was because of the size limitations, multiple dungeons were stored on one map. However, Tezuka screwed up and used only half of the size available to draw the dungeons. This is how the 2nd quest was born, since they had another half left, they could do nine more (difficult) dungeons. So, Zelda I would have never had its infamous 2nd Quest, if Tezuka wouldn't have made this mistake. Quite the story.

I hope that they don't just look at these documents for fun, but that studying the successful roots of Zelda is an important part of the development of Zelda Wii. Watch and learn, Aonuma.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 2010 ONM Aonuma Interview

We can now finally read the interview with Aonuma by the Official Nintendo Magazine, which has caused much confusion lately with its contradicting statements that Zelda Wii is well into development, but that on the other hand they haven't even decided the graphical style yet. Well, but he's really avoiding the questions about Zelda Wii in this interview and I think he definitely didn't mean, that there's still the option to go back to the style of The Wind Waker. It's clear that they are going to use a realistic and more mature style for the game, the artwork from E3 2009 has already shown that. But there's still the possibility that they might try something different than Twilight Princess, like realistic cell-shading for example. Which is good, because I hope it won't be just a simple copy of the graphical style of Twilight Princess. But overall he just totally dodged the question about the graphical style for whatever reason.

About the artwork, this is the interview where Aonuma confirmed, that some of the speculation on the internet is correct. Since the most common speculation is about the fairy girl being the Master Sword or your sword in general, you can assume that any rumors stating otherwise are most likely wrong.

He also talks about the new structure of the game again. There are no new details about how the course through the game will change, but the goal is to surprise long-time Zelda fans. And that's certainly a good goal. The question at the moment is, whether the new structure will help with the lineariy problem or not. I've discussed this yesterday and I want to see Zelda games becoming more non-linear again, so they would offer more free exploration. About that, Aonuma talks once again about Monster Hunter Tri and how this game made an impression on him. I hope that the open gameplay of this game will inspire him to make Zelda more open and non-linear again, to add more choices to the gameplay of Zelda.

What is interesting are the statements about the Nintendo DS Zelda team. He seems to be skeptical about including the DS Zelda team into the development of the new Wii title, but he also says that right now there are no clear plans for what they could do on the Nintendo DS next. But a third Nintendo DS Zelda, while they made only one real Zelda game for the Wii? I would still say, that the most interesting thing the Nintendo DS Zelda team could do right now is some classic 2D Zelda game for Wii or WiiWare. After all their first project was Four Swords Adventures for the GameCube. I would like to see another Zelda in the upgraded A Link to the Past style, though with much more focus on the singleplayer experience.

There is also some talk about the plane idea again. Aonuma already joked about this in an interview with, there he said this his son asked him, if Link will fly through the sky after he now used boat and train. Well, I could certainly imagine Toon Link with aviator goggles, flyer clothes and a scarf flying in some old biplane. Definitely could be funny. But that would of course lead to yet another Zelda game in the style of The Wind Waker with its empty ocean/field style overworld, which would be in this case the sky with some sky islands probably. And we had enough of that lately.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Zelda and Choices

Yes, I'm really in the mood for "how to improve Zelda"-articles lately. This one was inspired by one of Sean Malstrom's latest posts. There he says, that the content of a game is all about the interesting choices you can make. Like in a FPS game it's all about what weapons to use or if you play more defensive or offensive. Tetris is all about where to place the next block. These choices define the fun of the game. And the problem with Zelda lately is that fails to offer interesting choices. The only part of Zelda that offers choices are the sidequests, but these aren't essential for the main game. It's like in Spirit Tracks, where I said I enjoyed looking for the hidden stations and solving some of the harder puzzles, but going through the dungeons was mostly boring, because it was so linear. It didn't offer any interesting choices like the simple choice of "where to go next?". And this isn't simply something that should be added to the Zelda franchise, it's something that already has been an important part of the franchise and something what made earlier Zelda games so great. It's something that has been lost over the time and now should be regained.

First of all, when I talk about "choices" I don't mean any game-altering choices in dialogues and events like in Role Playing Games. I know, a lot of Zelda fans want that, but something like this always leads to missable stuff and I personally prefer it, when I can see and get everything in my first playthrough. The Oracle games for example did that with the choice of what game to play first, only if you play the games in both directions you can experience all events and get all 64 rings. And the Oracle games had the animals, you can only have one and this alters a part of the overworld. If you want to see all possible results for the overworld, you have to play through both games three times. It adds something to the replay value, but I should want to replay a game, because it was awesome and fun and not because I missed something.

The most important and interesting choices in Zelda always have been "where to go next?" and "what to do next?". The main concept of the first Zelda game was creating a non-linear game experience in contrast to the mostly linear Mario games. It was all about freely exploring a world. It was your choice, where you would go first, which dungeons you would play in what order and what items to get next. Twenty years later the game (Twilight Princess) tells you all that and you have no freedom anymore. You have no choice, you have to go to this place, play that dungeon and solve this puzzles with that item. You can't even explore the overworld freely, the overworld exploration itself is just as linear as all the dungeons in the game. It's aweful.

If you go to a Zelda forum and talk about that, you get laughed at and they say that Zelda has always been linear with the exception of the first game (take a look here for example). But they have no idea and they couldn't be more wrong. The games don't have to be as non-linear as the first Zelda, but they should at least offer some freedom. Take Ocarina of Time as an example. The game really shines here. Sadly a lot of people don't notice, how non-linear the game actually is. Like the guy in the thread above, they think that Ocarina of Time is totally linear, but it isn't. For example the moment you will leave the Kokiri Forest is a moment full of interesting choices. You're told to go to the castle, but you don't really have to. You can go to Lake Hylia and do some fishing. You can go to Gerudo Valley and catch some Pieces of Hearts, you can visit the farm and Kakariko. It's freedom and it feels great.

Try doing that in Twilight Princess. There you have the exact same scene after you leave Faron Woods. The northern path leads to the castle. Awesome. But wait, you can't go there, the road is blocked. The path in the west (or east in the Wii version) leads to Lake Hylia. No wait, you can't go there either, because the road is blocked again. The only road left is the one to Kakariko. This is where the game wants you to go next and you have no other choice than following this path. It's boring. I'm not saying, that I want Zelda to become a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto, Zelda games always have a clear goal. But that doesn't mean that everything on your way to this goal has to be experienced in a linear order, that you have no freedom at all. It's the right mix, that is important.

But I'm not done with praising Ocarina of Time yet. The moment, where you enter adulthood is the most non-linear part of the game. What to do first? Most people will play the Forest Temple. But you can also choose to rescue Epona and then you can play the Gerudo Fortress. Or you can play the Ice Cavern first or go for the Fire Temple. Or you can play the Water Temple before the Fire Temple, even though this would be a bad choice. But it's your choice. Most people don't notice this, simply because they're told by the stupid fairy to visit the forest first and so on. But the constant hand holding is a different issue. After you've beaten the first three dungeons, you can choose between Shadow and Spirit Temple. However, try playing dungeons out of order in Twilight Princess or The Minish Cap or Spirit Tracks. It doesn't work.

But a non-linear overworld design and dungeon order are not the only important things when it comes to non-linearity in Zelda. The dungeon design is important, too. The second half of Phantom Hourglass is very non-linear, you can get the third and the fourth seachart in one run. Then you can basically go straight to the fourth sea, play Mutoh's Temple and finish it, then play the Ice Temple and then the Goron Temple at the end. It's entirely possible. Also, you have lots of optional islands to visit. That's great. But still Phantom Hourglass is hardly remembered for its non-linear game design and for its freedom. That's because the dungeons theirselves are totally linear and boring. You have a locked door, you solve a puzzle to get a key, you go to the next room and the process repeats itself. You're always guided through the dungeons and it's totally boring. Link's Awakening on the other hand has a linear dungeon order, but the dungeons are really great. There are multiple ways and solutions through all of the dungeons. A speed runner really has to map his perfect route and some dungeons can be beaten without even visiting 50% of them. You also can get totally lost in those dungeons and a dungeon should be able to do that to you.

These dungeons are interesting and fun. They offer choices. You can also do "dungeon breaking" by just getting the item and proceeding to the next dungeon. Some people choose to do that in the Eagle's Tower, so they can beat the Eagle boss more easily with the help of the Magic Rod from the next dungeon. You can't do that in games like Twilight Princess, The Minish Cap or Spirit Tracks, because there they make sure that you've completed the last dungeon, if you want to go to the next. Mostly because there are some stupid cutscenes waiting for you. Or some people choose to play Misery Mire in A Link to the Past first, so the Ice Palace becomes easier, because with the help of the Cane of Somaria they can skip the nasty block puzzle at the end, that requires tons of backtracking through the dungeon. These choices are what makes the classic Zelda games so much more interesting and magical.

Of course non-linearity is not all there is to offer choices in Zelda games. I said the most interesting choices in FPS games is what weapons to use. In Zelda games it was once interesting to choose what items to use. Now you use your sword for the next Chuchu and the Bow for the next distant crystal switch. The bosses all have an obvious weakpoint that requires a specific item (mostly the item from the dungeon) to expose it. Then you have to use the sword to attack the weakpoint. So, you mostly don't even have a choice here and all the bosses became boring. Well, you were getting some alternative weapons like the awesome Ball and Chain or the Whip. But there should be more of that and more use for them, there should be more variety when it comes to combat in Zelda.

There are probably many other factors in Zelda that can lead to interesting choices, like how to solve a puzzle. But I think the most important one will always be the level of non-linearity in a Zelda game. The feeling of freedom and exploration, the choice of where to go next, the choice to explore the game all by yourself. It has been one of the most important elements of Zelda. And if the Zelda team can't manage to bring this back, the Zelda games will more and more lose their appeal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Zelda Wii has to be revolutionary

Do you remember the time, where the Zelda games were some of the most influential and revolutionary video games? That was back in the 90s. Since then we got ten more Zelda games, which just sustained what Ocarina of Time and the other classics had created. Of course each game got its own big twist, which they have added to the classic Zelda formula, but none of it was something fundamental. The most influential things the Zelda series did in the last ten years were probably the cell shading style of The Wind Waker and the touch screen controls of the Nintendo DS Zelda games, which inspired multiple other Nintendo DS games to feature similar controls. But that's it and Zelda isn't on the pinnacle of gaming anymore.

What made Ocarina of Time so great was that it influenced 3D gaming unlike any other game at its time. It's not only the controls and Z-Targeting, but the overall presentation of a 3D world. The looks, the feel and the atmosphere were unprecedented, the game was an unforgetable experience full of fresh ideas. What the Zelda series needs is a second Ocarina of Time. And with that I don't mean a game, that just tries hard to be like Ocarina of Time. We already got our "Ocarina of Time 2" with Twilight Princess, but no one would call this game revolutionary. What I want is a game, that is as revolutionay and influential as Ocarina of Time was, a game that just makes you marvel in it's own way. You can't do that anymore by simply pushing the graphics and making larger worlds. Graphics in video games became already so good and so realistic, that you can't impress anyone anymore with visual presentation alone. So, how can Zelda ever be revolutionary again?

The key is MotionPlus.

The two best motion control games right now are still Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort. And those are mere demos of what's possible with the Wii. No one tried to get the full potential out of the system yet, not even Nintendo. All Mario needs is a d-pad or a control stick and two buttons. This is where Zelda comes in, Zelda can be different. A game that fully immerses you into its adventure world just by letting you hold sword and shield in your own hands. Wii Sports Resort was already quite fun, but you can do so much more. If they do it right, Zelda Wii could become the most amazing and fun gaming experience in a while.

That's also why you can easily dismiss the rumors about Zelda Wii lately as fakes. None of them say anything real about the gameplay except for the already known fact, that it's going to use MotionPlus. But how does it play? How does it feel like? We wanna know! Instead they talk about bullshit like the Hero of Time coming back or the timeline placement. Only diehard Zelda fans care about something like that, but not the average customer. Games like New Super Mario Bros. don't sell twenty million copies because of their not so awesome story. New Super Mario sells, because it's a great platforming game. Good games sell because of good gameplay and the content related to its gameplay. And Zelda Wii will sell because of its hopefully awesome motion control gameplay and the content that comes with it. The idea of taking sword and shield into your own hands. Fighting monsters with your own hands. Twilight Princess didn't really deliver that with its gimmicky controls, but Zelda Wii can.

And of course Zelda itself has to change, too. Aren't we tired by getting a Forest, Fire and Water Temple again and again? And why does it even has to be always "temples"? Aren't we tired of empty fields and oceans that we simply cross with a horse, a boat or a train? Aren't we tired of getting the same puzzles all the time? Aren't we tired of getting essentially the same game again? The Gorons are actually a nice example that illustrates this problem. They were introduced in Ocarina of Time among lots of other races. And everyone loved them, because they something new and strange, something we had never seen in any game before. It was exciting and it was great. But then we got Gorons in every new Zelda game with the exception of Four Swords. Does anyone still get excited about the Gorons in games like Spirit Tracks? No? I didn't think so. And the Gorons are just one example of how stale the Zelda series has become over the last years.

What Nintendo wants to do right now to bring some fresh air into the overall Zelda formula by changing the overworld-dungeon-overworld mechanics. I'm guessing something more like Metroid Prime and that Retro Studios had some big influence here. But it's one step in the right direction. Zelda Wii should be fresh and should be able to surprise us with unique ideas. Again the fake informations don't talk about this. They are mentioning the change of the dungeon-field-dungeon gameplay and that there will be lots of new ideas, but they don't go into detail. How does the world structure in Zelda Wii actually change? What are those new ideas? If you really want to trick someone with rumors about Zelda Wii, make sure you talk about how the motion controls play out and what new ideas the game actually delivers instead of listing trivias.

Zelda Wii has the chance of becoming a revolutionary game that brings Zelda back to the zenith of gaming. A game, where everyone talks about it and where everyone wants to play it. Being the first game, that makes extensive use motion controls to immerse the player into its world, and some fresh air in the Zelda franchise are the key.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Zelda Wii Rumors

Another day, another rumor. Might be the new trend sport, to come up with a list of information about Zelda Wii. Well, it's part of the fun, but something tells this will go on until E3 2010 or at least until we know something more about the game. Someone over at GoNintendo posted a list of rumors from the Italian gaming site Spaziogames. Here's what it says:

  1. The development of the game began in Febraury 2006
  2. The development team is the largest ever used by Nintendo for the realization of a game
  3. The game will implement many ideas never met in a video game ever
  4. The use of the Wii Motion Plus will be a imprenscindibile component for the dynamics of the game
  5. The new Link will be much more mature, but the dark atmospheres of Twilight Princess will be left
  6. The Master Sword will play a key role in the history of the origin of the Legend, there is a reason if it not appear in the artwork
  7. At now is the only game that uses 100% of Wii hardware, at the same time the current power of Wii is not enough to achieve that result
  8. The appearance of Link will be renovated but not be completely unprecedented
  9. The plot will be the most articulate ever devised for an episode of Zelda
  10. may be the last chapter of the saga

Well, the last point probably means that it's the last game in the time/storyline and not the last Zelda game. Because with such a comment the whole thing would be easily dismissed as a fake, Nintendo won't end one of their biggest core franchises just like that. The rest of the list is pretty much, what everyone expects from the game. "The game uses MotionPlus." - "No, really?!" Anyone could compile such a list. Just let's take another look at it:

  1. Well, Nintendo once stated that the development started about a year before the release of Twilight Princess.
  2. I like that one. My theory still is, that Retro Studios is also working on Zelda Wii together with Nintendo EAD3. Which would be one awesome team.
  3. Vague statement. Without an example this means nothing.
  4. "No, really?!"
  5. Someone saw the artwork.
  6. Someone saw the girl on the artwork.
  7. Yeah, after the news, that the Zelda Wii team feels pressured from the graphics of Monster Hunter Tri, everyone expects the best looking Wii game now. Whether or not it will be is left to be seen.
  8. Someone saw the artwork.
  9. Again a very vague statement. "The story is going to be epic." Woah. But why the most articulated? What does that even mean? Like the articulation is awesome, but the story itself sucks.
  10. Some cool timeline placement statement to make the whole thing look more credible. Not.

See? It's nothing. Nothing that we didn't know or expect already. And what makes the whole thing fake to begin with is the fact that the these news nowhere appear on the said Italian site. Various sources confirm that. It's basically just an example, how everyone can easily come up with such a list.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First Zelda Wii Rumors

It's interesting. This fake leak information from 2chan is more than two months old now, but no one noticed or cared about it, then suddenly someone decides to post it at IGN as big news and now it's all over the place, ZeldaUniverse, ZeldaInformer and probably every big Zelda site out there. There's no way around it now. Well, this is, what it says:

  • The game will diverge from the established dungeon-field-dungeon gameplay style (confirmed by Aonuma)
  • You can select whether you're right or left-handed, and Link will have the same handedness as you
  • The basic mechanics and gameplay elements are done, and they're currently working on the story and developing characters. Among them are an innkeeper in the town where Link lives and her young son, who looks up to him
  • [The girl] is not the master sword, and as of now there are no plans for Link to get the Master Sword in the game. Her name is Aderu (maybe Adelle), and she's not your typical companion like Ezlo or Midna, in that she's rarely there with you. What you see in the piece of concept/promotional art isn't her real face (this isn't elaborated on)
  • Link's main weapon is a sword with different unlockable abilities, which Aderu communicates with you through
  • Horseback combat is back, with a more intelligent Epona that is better at avoiding obstacles
  • The character models for Link, Epona, and the Gorons have all been modified and touched up, but they're the only ones, suggesting no Zelda or Ganon (or entirely new models for them)
  • This Link is the Hero of Time (presumably grown up after MM, but he didn't say)
  • There is time travel (again, he didn't delve into it)
  • The game does NOT take place in Hyrule

What's funny is, that the guy at IGN claims he found and translated it himself, while he just copied something from GameFAQs boards, which is more than a month old, look here. According to GameFAQs the post on 2chan itself was posted in early November, three weeks before Aonuma actually mentioned the change in the dungeon-field-dungeon formula, which makes the first point the most interesting one. Either this was a very good guess or Aonuma mentioned it somewhere else in Japan before IGN got to hear it.

But overall the whole thing sounds like it was written by some angry fanboy. The Hero of Time part especially, every second Zelda fans on internet boards whines, that he wants the Hero of Time back and wants to know what happened to Navi. But Nintendo never went back there, the Nintendo 64 era is over. And of course the girl can't ever be the Master Sword, it's unacceptable. Aonuma already said, that some of the speculation about the artwork was correct. Since the most common speculation was that the girl is the Mastersword or at least your sword, it doesn't make sense, that "Adelle" is now something entirely else and Link gets some fancy upgradeable sword. Then why doesn't he hold this sword on the artwork?

Also, the comments about the character models don't make any sense. Does he suggest, that they reuse the models from Twilight Princess and just modify them? I doubt that, especially after they wanted to push the graphics, because they were flashed by Monster Hunter Tri. After all they are designing the game from ground up for the Wii. And they talk about little details, where just Zelda fans normally complain about like Epona hitting obstacles or the left-handedness. But they don't talk about the important stuff. Like how exactly does the game course actually change? How do the MotionPlus controls play out? These are the interesting questions, but of course they aren't answered, because the author of this fake doesn't know the answer. It's a fan fiction and not a good one.

They want to give the information more credibility by saying, that leaks on 2ch were right about other games, too. But you have to know, that 2ch is full of fakes. For example there are many fake leaks for the popular mangas in Japan every week and you can only trust certain reliable sources. But we don't have any reliable sources when it comes to Nintendo games and especially Zelda, the probability that this is just some sort of fake is too high at the moment.

So, I'm very skeptical about this and I will dismiss this is a fake until some official information from Nintendo proves it to be right.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I got Gannon-Banned

I assume that most of you know GANNON-BANNED, a funny joke site by Mike "TSA" Damiani, a Zelda fan who is known for various Zelda speedruns and fansites as TheHylia and who currently works at GameTrailers. The site contains a series of rules, what a Zelda fan should never say or claim. It starts with the rule, that Ganon isn't spelled "Gannon", which is where the term "GANNON-BANNED" came from. You shouldn't take the site too seriously (like I do here and now), but it's worth a look.

Well, I agree with most of the rules, but not all of them. For example I really like Zelda II - The Adventure of Link for what it is and I enjoyed it a lot back in the old days, but it's certainly not my favorite game in the series. And I have no problems with people dissing the CD-i games, because I think it doesn't matter anyway. Nintendo doesn't acknowledge these games as official Zelda games and neither should you. It doesn't really matter if these games are garbage or not, they don't count more than any fan game.

But I broke one rule, the newest rule to be exact, which was probably added with the latest update at January 1st 2010. This is what it says:

26. Claiming that Zelda is always first and foremost developed around gameplay, not story.

I can't tell you guys enough how many times I've been trolled or laughed at for even suggesting the notion that a Zelda game was developed around a story before the gameplay. It seems that Zelda games are always developed around a gameplay idea first, and story always takes a backseat, right? Head on over to the 5:21 mark of the video below. Listen and weep. Twilight Princess was developed first and foremost around a STORY, and without it, the gameplay couldn't have existed.

Yeah, I wonder what the initial "story" was like, other than "Link will transfrom into a wolf. The end." Of course Twilight Princess was a very story-heavy game. This even made it probably the most linear game in the series, because the developers wanted you to progress through the story exactly like they planned.

But the most important aspect of the story was Midna. She was the center of the story and even the game was named after her. And if you've read the Iwata Asks interviews, you know that Midna was created simply because they wanted to have something that rides on the wolf. Miyamoto suggested that a wolf alone looks boring, so something should ride on it. The wolf itself was a gameplay idea and most of the story was written around it. The Twilight Realm idea was there, because they needed something to force you into the wolf form. It basically came from the Dark Realm idea in A Link to the Past, where Link was turned into a bunny. Of course the final story then influenced a lot of parts in the game and was responsible for the game course, which is probably what Aonuma meant here.

But I don't know, why the guy is so obsessed with Zelda games being developed around story anyway. It's not like the stories are really good, most video game developers are really bad story tellers. Nintendo does the right thing by always focusing on the gameplay, because video games should be foremost about the gameplay. If I want a story, I read a book or watch a TV show. I never played a Zelda game for the story – the stories are nice but not the real deal. It's not the primary focus of these games. Last year TSA stated, that Zelda Wii is going to be developed around story, when they will most likely focus on Wii controls and MotionPlus... and whatever story the game has, it will only further the motion controlled gameplay elements.

And I can't think of any Zelda game, which wasn't developed around big gameplay aspects and where the story didn't really come first. The majority of Zelda games was not developed around a story, but around big new ideas like the three day cycle in Majora's Mask, the ocean in The Wind Waker or the wolf in Twilight Princess. It always has been that way and I see no reason to think otherwise. So, I get Gannon-Banned...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Change for the Overworld

This post isn't about Aonuma's plans for Zelda Wii to change the dungeon-overworld pattern. This is about something more general, something that has become a major issue in the series since Ocarina of Time. I'm talking about that Nintendo always uses the same field/ocean style overworld design, where you would travel with a horse, a boat or a train and where all the other places are just islands in the water or the grassy fields. They've done that for the 3D and the Nintendo DS Zeldas. And the overworlds became much more empty and boring.

It's really obvious in The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, where you use artificial means of transportation and where you just travel over an ocean to the next island. While the islands are fine, do we really need the filler landscapes between them? But the best example to describe this problem is probably Twilight Princess, where it isn't so obvious at first hand. Who else was disappointed by the overworld? That there were no open forests? That the fields were mere rooms surrounded by rocks? That the fields were empty and that there was nothing to do? Zelda fans especially were disappointed, that there was no open forest, like the one shown in the E3 2004 trailer. So, let's picture something like it:

Beautiful, isn't it? I believe it's from Fable 2, but I'm not an expert. So, why can't Zelda look like this? And I don't mean the graphical details, of course the Wii isn't powerful enough to begin with and doesn't have to be. I'm talking about the overall environmental and visual style, it has a certain magic to it. You want to explore it. And that's how environments in Zelda games should look like, like something that makes you want to explore every corner of them. Well, instead of making a similar open forest in Twilight Princess, Faron Woods was just paths through tree covered cliffs again, much like the woods in the Nintendo 64 times. Probably because it's easier to navigate through these areas with Epona, while in an open forest you would bump into every second tree. The same would go for rocky areas or mountains or swamps. There are areas in the game, where you can't go with Epona, but these are basically just islands again in an ocean. An ocean of grassy fields made for Epona. That's all there is to it. Epona is your boat and Hyrule Field is the ocean. It's just a little prettier and more interesting than the Great Sea in The Wind Waker, but it's basically the same thing.

Well, I'm not saying that we should get rid of Epona and the fields entirely. Epona is an icon of the Zelda series and fields are of course a natural part of a landscape. But it shouldn't feel like it's 90% of the overworld and there should be more to it than just some Poes to collect and maybe some hidden hole caves, which all look the same. In Twilight Princess they could have added some more interesting stuff to every single field. For example some single buildings like a windmill here and an hermit's hut there could have added so much more. Or the ocean in The Wind Waker feels not only empty, you get the same small islands everywhere, as well as those pirate lookouts. It's repetitive and not very inspired. Where are the big islands? Why am I the only boat on the ocean? And in case of Twilight Princess, the warp system spoiled both Epona and the fields anyway. It was too powerful. So, we have the massive fields made for the horse and you don't ride through them, because it's much simpler to teleport between the villages and key areas. A tighter overworld with a restricted warp system, something like the warp holes in Link's Awakening or the warp gates in Ocarina of Time, could help to utilize Epona much better. Epona could even work in an open forest, if you have some paths like in the picture above. You just can't go with her everywhere, but her purpose should be to get from A to B faster and not to explore the overworld.

Of course the fields and forests and the ocean are not all there is to the overworld in a Zelda game. What's also very important are villages and towns with life in them. Something like Clocktown or Windfall Island and not something like Hyrule Castle Town in Twilight Princess. But this is a different chapter, which I will open in a later article.

Also, the exploration of the overworld itself should be as non-linear as possible. I can't repeat it often enough of how much importance non-linearity is. Ocarina of Time did it right, in the moment where you leave the woods you don't have to go straight to Hyrule Castle. Go fishing to Lake Hylia, if you like. Or fly through the Gerudo Valley with some Cuccos. Explore the farm or Kakariko. It's your choice. It's an open world and a massive playground. The feeling of freedom and exploration. Games like Twilight Princess or Spirit Tracks don't offer that, you proceed through the overworld exactly as the developers want you to. This takes away the feeling of freedom and exploration.

As a conclusion, the overworlds in games like The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are massive, wide and impressing on first glance. But they are also empty and filled with repetitive things. And this is something, that has to change. What I want for Zelda is dense overworld with large open forests, where I can get lost, rivers running through them, lakes, mountains, all open for exploration. And where everything is intertwined and connected. With a certain magic to it that says "explore me". This magic was lost over the course of the newer Zelda games and has to be regained.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Spirit Tracks

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Final part:
Spirit Tracks

Phantom Hourglass finally managed to offer a multiplayer with the right approach, a small battle mode that can be played online as an addition to a main singleplayer adventure. My biggest complain about the multiplayer in Phantom Hourglass, however, was that it wasn't symmetrical, that it's too complicated for beginners and not much fun overall. Something like Shadow Battles from Four Swords Adventures, a "Deathmatch" Zelda mode, would have been better. And that's exactly, what the Nintendo DS Zelda team probably thought, too. So, the new battle mode has four Links battling against each other. A dream!

Well, it's the only multiplayer mode in a Zelda game, which I haven't tested so far, so I can't tell much about it. But from all the materials I have seen, it looks great. You can play with up to three more players and everyone plays with Link, so everyone is in the same sitatuon. The four Links have the colors from the Four Swords games, but they don't have swords or other weapons. Your goal is to collect Force Gems and the player with the most Force Gems at the end wins. But you aren't slowly carrying them into bases like in Phantom Hourglass, you're collecting them more like rupees. It's similar to the Coin Battle modes from various other Nintendo multiplayer games. There are no weapons allowed, but there are various traps and hazards all over the different themed arenas. Phantoms are chasing you, there are Phantom Eyes, you can use trap doors and throw bomb flowers and there are power ups to collect. It's chaos, but the kind of chaos, that can be tons of fun.

Sounds good, doesn't it? It probably could have been more fun, if the players had swords and could use other items from the main game, but I can't really judge and tell, because I wasn't able to play it yet. And here's the problem. For some unimagineable reason they decided to cut out the online mode this time. You can only play it locally with Multi Card or Download Play modes. It's Four Swords all over again! It's useless and a huge backstep from the last game. None of my friends has a Nintendo DS, not to talk about the pure interest in playing Zelda. So, how am I going to play this, Nintendo? And I'm not the only one with this problem, just check some Zelda fan boards out there. Also, Phantom Hourglass worked online, so why not this game? They were SO close of giving us the first flawless and playable Zelda multiplayer mode, but they had to screw it up again. This is not awesome and there's no excuse, why removed the online mode, except for them being lazy.

About the other criteria, I'm not sure if the game rewards you with rare treasures for winning. But there don't seem to be any "Big Plays" like in Phantom Hourglass. And there's always the trading via Contact Mode as a motivation. But I'd say, the multiplayer mode looks fun enough, so you probably don't need any motivation to lure you into playing it. And since I can't play it anyway, I at least can't complain, that I'm missing out any rewards.

Update: After I actually was able to try it myself, the mode wasn't much fun after all, where I can even understand that they didn't bother with adding online functionality. You have to worry more about the Phantoms than the other players, where something like the Shadow Battles certainly offers more fun.


This was the last part of my "Zelda and Multiplayer" article series. In conclusion you can say, that there were six different games and six different approaches for a multiplayer mode in Zelda. But none of them is perfect, the biggest overall problem is the connectivity and finding other players, only one game so far managed to offer an online mode. And the concepts ended up being too big or too complicated. They tried to make standalone multiplayer Zelda games, but they ended up being unaccessable. They tried to make small battle modes, but they were either not fun enough or didn't support online play. But one thing, which Nintendo always did right, was learning from their past approaches. They are learning very slowly and they even tack backsteps, but they are learning. And my hopes for the future are, that they will be finished with learning at some point and then magically be able to give us the right multiplayer experience in one of the upcoming Zelda games.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Phantom Hourglass

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Fifth part:
Phantom Hourglass

What did we learn so far? First of all, that a Zelda multiplayer mode should come as an addition to a solid Zelda singleplayer game and not as a separate game. We probably don't even need some full blown large scale multiplayer Zelda, a small but fun battle mode could do the job as well. There should be some rewards for playing the multiplayer mode as a motivation, but on the other hand players don't want to miss out something in the singleplayer in case they can't play the multiplayer. And most important, make sure that they can play the multiplayer, an online mode is a necessity for something like Four Swords, because it's hard to find other players in your neighborhood.

And all of that is exactly what the team, which made Four Swords Adventures, thought when they were making Phantom Hourglass. Instead of making simply another Four Swords title for the Nintendo DS, they focused on a new singleplayer adventure. But they added a small Battle Mode as an addition, where you even could win four of the rare golden ship parts for the main game. But you also could get those on your own, in case you weren't able to play the multiplayer. That's perfect, there's motivation, but you don't miss out anything like a secret dungeon just in case. And even the best, the game is playable online and you can battle with other Zelda fans all around the world. A dream!

So, how did they screw it up? The problem is not the overall setup, the problem is, that the multiplayer mode itself isn't too much fun. It's entirely based on the new stealth concepts from Temple of the Ocean King, a dungeon which got mixed reactions from the fan base. I personally thought, that the stealth sections in the game were a nice challenge, but it's not like it's so much fun, that I would want a multiplayer mode based on it.

Well, how does it work? There are only two players in this mode, one is red and one is blue. One player controls three Phantoms by drawing paths on the map and the second player controls a Link, who wears either red or blue and who doesn't have a sword or any other weapons. The players take turns as soon as Link gets hit or the time for the round runs out. Your goal as Link is to collect Force Gems and carry them to your base. There's one base for both players on the map, a red and a blue one, and you can even steal Force Gems from the other base. It's basically a mix between Capture the Flag and Pacman. There are also items like the Pegasus Boots, that make both Link and Phantoms walk faster. It's very strategic and it's not easy to get into it. You have to know the maps like the back of your hand to win a match. The Phantoms has to be placed in strategic positions in order to catch Link. As Link you do, what you've done most of the time in the Temple of the Ocean King, the problem just is, that you can't see the Phantoms all the time, you only see them if you're carrying Force Gems.

The mode isn't too appealing, because it puts the players in different positions. A good multiplayer is always symmetrical. Chess wouldn't be so popular, if one player only has pawns and the second player gets three queens. Which is exactly like the multiplayer of Phantom Hourglass feels like most of the time, one player attacks and one player is always on the run. It's also too strategic, like I said, as a beginner this mode can be a huge turn off. For example one time I couldn't find anyone with my rank, so I had to play vs. anyone and I of course ran into some very experienced player, who "pwnd" me hard. It was humiliating and I stopped playing (against anyone) right after it. Normally Nintendo manages to create a multiplayer like Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Mario Kart Wii, where you can even have a lot of fun as a beginner and where it's fun to play, even if you lose. But not here.

The bright side is, that this mode is playable online. It's the only Zelda multiplayer game so far, that supports online. There are some minor problems with it, sometimes it lags a little bit and some players like to disconnect, when they lose. But there's some sort of punishment for disconnecting often and you always have the option to play against friends, where this shouldn't be a problem at all. So, overall these aren't reasons, why you should remove the online mode from the next game. Next to online, Phantom Hourglass also supports local multiplayer and even Download Play, where you only need one card to play the game. So, it covers all possible multiplayer options for the Nintendo DS.

There's also some kind of an achievements system as a motivation to play the Battle Mode. These achievements are called "Big Plays" and include several tasks like not to dribble the Force Gems or to have a flawless victory. There are 16 of them and each time you collect four of them, you receive one more golden ship part from Eddo's apprentice in the Adventure Mode. Funny thing is, that a lot of people help each other out to get those Big Plays and the golden ship parts. It's cheap, but it somehow brings Zelda fans all over the world together and this is wonderful. And even if you can't play the multiplayer mode, you can still get the golden ship parts somewhere else, so you don't miss out anything unlike in A Link to the Past - Four Swords. As an addition, you also can trade treasures and ship parts online and offline with the help of the Contact Mode in order to complete your collection much faster.

So, overall Nintendo took with Phantom Hourglass some big steps in the right direction. It's a small battle mode as an addition to a new singleplayer adventure. There are rewards for the singleplayer in form of rare items and you can play it online. But the problem is, that the mode itself isn't symmetrical and too complicated for beginners. Something similar to Shadow Battles from Four Swords Adventures would have probably been more appealing.

Last part: Spirit Tracks

Friday, January 8, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Link's Crossbow Training

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Fourth part:
Link's Crossbow Training

Before talking about the Battle Modes of the Nintendo DS installments, we should take a small look at Link's Crossbow Training, a spin-off title to the Zelda series. After Twilight Princess the Zelda team experimented a lot with the first person perspective and even made a first person demo of Twilight Princess. What later came out of it was Link's Crossbow Training, which was bundled with the Wii Zapper and was supposed to be an introduction this piece of plastic. Much like WiiPlay came bundled with a second Wiimote. It's similar to games like Duck Hunt with the big difference, that it uses most of the environments and enemies from Twilight Princess and really looks good that way. It's surprisingly entertaining and fun, but only lasts for two or three hours and that only if you go for all platinum medals.

But it could have lasted much longer with an appropriate multiplayer mode. There is a multiplayer mode, where players take turns and compete for the highscore. But that's boring, because it's not much fun waiting for the other player(s). It's okay, if you only have one Wiimote, but otherwise it would have been much more fun, if the players could play simultaneously. Much like in the Shooting Gallery in WiiPlay. It would be much more chaotic, of course, but that's the point. Trying to break other players' streaks by shooting targets before they do and so on. It probably would only work with two players, because it would get too much with three or four, but that's still better than just playing alternately. This and a couple more levels (like Forest Temple, Goron Mines and Lakebed Temple) would have worked wonders on this game. It probably could have been a Wii title, which I would play regulary with my friends.

Well, Aonuma said recently, that he wanted to make a "Link's Crossbow Training 2/Plus", that does exactly that. But Nintendo ordered him to focus on Zelda Wii right now and considering, that they want to release the game this year, that's the right thing to do. They can still make a better Crossbow Training in 2011. And to be totally honest, they should have already done a real multiplayer mode in the original and there's no excuse, why they didn't.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Four Swords Adventures

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Third part:
Four Swords Adventures

After the release of Four Swords a small part of the Zelda team was assigned to create something similar for the GameCube, while they were focusing on the possibilities of the GameCube to GameBoy Advance connection. Two Zelda games were announced on E3 2003 then, a new Four Swords (Hyrulian Adventure) and Tetra's Trackers, which were later bundled into one game called Four Swords Plus together with a third game mode called Shadow Battle. Sadly enough, Tetra's Trackers (or Navi Trackers) was only part of the Japanese version and didn't make it into the version released on the Western market, called Four Swords Adventures. But I've already posted an article about this topic a couple of months ago (here).

There are two big differences between Four Swords Adventures and the original Four Swords, the game doesn't come with a solid singleplayer game, but the Hyrulian Adventure mode is on the other hand entirely playable alone. You can control all four Links all by yourself and you don't need a second player to experience all of this game except for some minigames hosted by Tingle and the Shadow Battle mode. This is a big advantage over Four Swords. But alltogether it feels more or less like a "Party Zelda", since there's no real singleplayer Zelda experience.

There's no real singleplayer Zelda experience, because the game is divided into levels and stages much like a Mario game. The only thing you carry over from one stage to another is your number of collected Force Fairies, which are equal to the lives in a Mario game. There are 24 stages alltogether, which is six times more than Four Swords had, but the stages are all static and unlike in Four Swords not randomly generated. Also, there are no difficulty levels. So, while there are much more stages, the replay value of the game is much lower. It sort of balances it out.

But an advantage of the division into different stages is, that Four Swords Adventures offers Zelda gaming for in between. You can't just simply pick any of the other Zelda games up and play a dungeon. You are either playing the full game from beginning to end or not. But if you want to play a little round of Zelda in between times, this game is the best choice. Just pick a level and play through a dungeon or some forest. You can't do that in any other Zelda. Well, at least not yet. If they really include a scene mode in future Zelda games, where you can replay any parts as to your liking, you don't really need levels.

The gameplay is pretty much equal to Four Swords except for one crucial difference. There's no competition between the players. In Four Swords everyone wants to be first place, because everyone wants to get a Medal of Courage for A Link to the Past. But here it's not like you're getting new items for The Wind Waker, there's no real reason to want to be first place except for pure competition between the players theirselves. But it changes the gameplay and the way you play the game a lot, because you don't go on your own much and you don't fight fiercely for Force Gems or other items. Well, there are still the Heart Containers and Blue Bracelets, which are worth fighting for, but it's not as much. That you can solve the game alone by controlling all four Links at once also restricted the game a lot in puzzle and enemy design. There basically can't be any puzzles, where two Links do something asynchronous at the same time like pulling an enemy apart or using those nice little handcars going on tracks. And most of the time the Links just stay together, there's not much alone time.

The best thing about Four Swords Adventures is probably, that it uses nice updated 2D graphics from A Link to the Past. Overall the game is full of references to the SNES Zelda and it even somehow tells its backstory, the Imprisoning War. Well, the ending doesn't fit, because Ganon wasn't banned into the Dark Realm, but the theory that he later was banned with the help of the Four Sword was backed up by the Four Swords version of A Link to the Past on the GameBoy Advance, where the broken and cursed Four Sword resides inside the Pyramid. But this article isn't about timeline theories, let's just say, that fans of A Link to the Past will like this game a lot.

What I also liked was the small battle mode, Shadow Battles. It's basically Zelda Deathmatch, but with Last Man Standing rules. The last player alive wins. You can use your sword, all items from the game and even traps to kick the other players asses and it's a lot of fun. I would say, if you want to do a Zelda multiplayer, this is the best way. Zelda fans prefer to play the game alone anyway, so don't waste time with making some big standalone Zelda multiplayer games and just add something fun like this to the main games. (Which is basically, what they tried to do in the Nintendo DS Zelda games.)

The main problem with Four Swords Adventures is pretty much the same again, the connectivity. To play this game with two or more players, you need one GameBoy Advance and one GameCube to GameBoy Advance connection cable for each player. Seriously, how? The GameBoy Advance connection maybe was an interesting idea on the paper, but this game really jumped the shark. And I'm thankful, that this whole handheld to console connection thing is over and that Nintendo doesn't use the Nintendo DS for every second Wii game. The only bright side is, that you don't need any other players to play this game and that you don't even need a GameBoy Advance then. And this is how most Zelda fans experienced the game. Which shows, that there was absolutely no need for Nintendo to make this game. An A Link to the Past classic Zelda game with the addition of the Shadow Battle mode probably would have been much more successful than this "Party Zelda" mix. (Also, if you really have to make a Party Zelda mix, be sure to include all game modes and not to cut something like Navi Trackers out.)

But I doubt, Nintendo will ever do anything similar again. The game was a failure, the sales numbers speak for themselves, it only sold 250.000 units worldwide, which is underselling for a Zelda game. It's the only Zelda game, which didn't break the million. As a comparison Link's Crossbow Training sold 2.75 million copies, which is more than ten times more. Four Swords at least sold 1.81 million copies, but most of them probably because of A Link to the Past.

The Four Swords games are the worst selling and least played Zelda games in the series. Both of them were released ahead of their time and suffer from a heavy connectivity problem, on the Nintendo DS and Wii and their online capabilities they probably would have been more successful. But maybe the approach of making a standalone multiplayer Zelda game was wrong to begin with. A multiplayer mode as an addition to a fine and solid singleplayer Zelda is okay, but something like Four Swords just won't sell well. Zelda is all about the singleplayer.

Next game: Link's Crossbow Training

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Zelda Wii Release in 2010

In an interview with a Japanese newspaper Iwata just gave us the heads-up, that they plan to release Zelda Wii at the end of 2010. A dream. I said, this would be the case, if we're very lucky, but it's entirely possible considering the fact, that they are working on this game since 2006. It just seems surprising, because we haven't seen or heard much about this game besides the artwork and some contradicting news about the state of development. Also, remember that Twilight Princess was planned for the end of 2005 and then got postponed an entire year so they could polish the game and make the cheap Wii port. So, don't get too excited, it's still possible, that they will delay it until 2011. But the delay of Twilight Princess was rather an exception and we will see at the E3, how well the development of Zelda Wii was going. And everyone, who was expecting a Christmas 2012 release or something that late, should get ready a little sooner. It doesn't get any higher than Iwata and if he says, it's coming out this year, the Zelda team is probably under fire right now to get it done.

But I personally think, that Nintendo wants to ship a new, big MotionPlus title as fast as possible. We had WiiSports Resort and that's it. And while Zelda Wii probably won't drive the Wii as crazy as a 2D Mario does at the moment, since a lot of people already bought the Wii for Twilight Princess, it certainly will drive MotionPlus. I wouldn't say the game is simply being dumped like a certain famous blogger does, a 2010 release date is legitimate considering the fact, that they are working on this game since 2006. Nintendo wants to deliver some more MotionPlus action and that's why Zelda has to come out as soon as possible.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Four Swords

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Second Part:
A Link to the Past - Four Swords

This was the first real multiplayer game in the series and gameplay-wise it's still the best. After creating the interesting twin games for the GameBoy Color, Capcom experimented more and created the first Zelda multiplayer game. They called it Four Swords and it came as an addition to an edited version of A Link to the Past, re-released on the GameBoy Advance. Two games on one cartridge, which is just fair, after they basically split up one game on two cartridges with Oracles.

Both games interact with each other, so your achievements in one game may influence the other. Sword techniques learned in A Link to the Past can be used in Four Swords and if you beat both final bosses, Ganon and Vaati, the new secret dungeon opens in A Link to the Past, the Palace of the Four Sword, which is host to some of the most difficult boss fights in the entire series. (Well, you can enter this dungeon by using some glitches, but officially you can't without playing Four Swords.) Also, collecting ten Medals of Courage in Four Swords allows you to participate in the new Riddle Quest, where you can learn the Great Spin Attack. So, most of the new features in A Link to the Past aren't accessible without playing Four Swords. Which means there's a reason, a proper motivation, to do so. This can be important. See, most Zelda fans want to get everything in their Zelda games, find every little secret there is. So, they're motivated to play the multiplayer and to earn ten medals on their way. But the disadvantage of course is, that when they simply can't play the multiplayer for whatever reason, they miss out even more than just the multiplayer. And this makes Zelda fans pissed.

Four Swords is divided into four levels not counting the tutorial one, a forest area, fire caves, ice caves and a sky temple. The interesting thing here is, that the levels are randomized. There are certain pre-built parts, but how they are mixed up together is different all the time. So, every time you play the same level, you will get a different expierence. Also, the game offers three different difficulty levels with the help of the keys, that are gotten from the fairies at the end of the dungeons for collecting a certain amount of rupees. To enter Vaati's Palace you need the three silver keys from the dungeons. If all players already have the silver key from a certain dungeon and play this dungeon again, the difficulty increases and they have to collect more rupees, but they will get a golden key at the end. Repeat this again for the Hero's Keys. If you have golden keys or Hero's Keys from all the dungeons, you can choose to enter Vaati's Palace for harder versions, too. The random level creation and the difficulty levels really add something to the replay value of the game, even though there are just four levels. And replay value is very important for a multiplayer game.

The gameplay is overall that of a normal 2D Zelda game, so as a Zelda fan you will instantly feel at home. The main difference is, that you only keep one item next to your sword and that there are other players around. What makes this game so unique, is a mix between co-operation and competition. This is where the medals come in. To win a Medal of Courage, you must be the player, who has collected the most rupees at the end of the level. So, every player wants to be first place, which leads to some fierce fighting for treasure chests and alike. Throwing other players into pits just because you want to get to the rupees before them? A normal situation in this game. On the other hand you have to cooperate in order to solve puzzles, beat enemies and bosses and so on. This can get really interesting. If you played the Coin Battle Mode in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you pretty much already know, how crazy this type of multiplayer gameplay can be. You also get quite some freedom as a individual player. A level is divided into two or more "floors", but on a floor you can basically go wherever you want and try to find hidden treasures on your own. Of course there are points, where you need the other players to progress, but there's always some free roaming. Additionally there are different upgrades to find for a player like Heart Containers and seeds. The seeds are inspired by the Oracle games, can be found under grass, bushes, rocks and alike and include the Razor Seeds, the Armor Seeds and the Pegasus Seeds, which increase your sword power, defense and speed. Of course you want to get them, before any of the other players does.

The game features the graphics and sounds from The Minish Cap, so it feels and looks very familiar. However, it's more the other way around, The Minish Cap was based on this one. After this game was released, there was a lot of fan demand for a real new Zelda singleplayer game on the GameBoy Advance, so Capcom decided to create a singleplayer game based on what they had with Four Swords. They basically took all of the graphics, as well as most of the enemy sprites and items and made a solid singleplayer Zelda game out of it. The innovative Gnat Hat item turned into the main item and idea of the game, the Minish Cap. (But as a side note, the Gnat Hat in Four Swords is basically more powerful, since you can shrink and grow back to normal everywhere and not just on portals.) But overall The Minish Cap is just Four Swords turned into a singleplayer game. Which is okay, because otherwise it would have been a waste of beautiful graphics and nice ideas.

So, classic 2D Zelda gameplay, unlockables for A Link to the Past, random level generation, difficulty levels, backstabbing and co-operation mix, The Minish Cap style? Sounds really good, doesn't it? But there's one big problem. How many Zelda fans out there were actually able to play this game once? I thought so, not very much. How many were able to finish it or even get ten or more Medals of Courage and all the Hero's Keys? Even less. Four Swords is probably the least played and least known game in the Zelda series. For me personally it's the only Zelda game, I couldn't finish, I only had the chance to play it once. The problem is, that in order to play this game you need at least a second GameBoy Advance, a second copy of the game, a GameBoy Advance Link Cable and a second player, who is actually interested in playing this too. The last requirement is probably the most troublesome. See, I have two GBAs and I even bought a second copy of the game on ebay, which is enough to test the game a little, but not enough to really play it. You need a Zelda fan, who wants as badly to finish the game as you do. And that's not so easy to find. Zelda forums are so popular for a reason, if I knew Zelda fans personally, I wouldn't spent so much time talking about Zelda on the internet and writing this blog. None of my friends are interested in Zelda and I'm already happy, that I could get them to play Mario Kart and Wii Sports. But Zelda? Not a chance. And since the GameBoy Advance doesn't support online, there's no way to play it. The game was basically released a couple of years too early, on the Nintendo DS it wouldn't have been a problem thanks to online gaming. The only solution at this time would have been to make this game playable alone. The levels were generated randomly and they adapt themselves to the number of players, so they basically could have added one player versions, though many of the puzzles and enemies then couldn't be used anymore. Still better than nothing. But overall I don't know, what they were thinking, when they made this game. Zelda always has been a singleplayer game and the only reason, why this sold, was because it came bundled with A Link to the Past.

Overall Four Swords is a picture of a Zelda multiplayer game, but the requirement of a second player, who also wants to play this game, made it unplayable for most Zelda fans out there including myself. It's worthless.

Next part: Four Swords Adventures

Monday, January 4, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Tingle Tuner

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

I decided to split this article up into smaller parts, one part for each game.

First Part:
The Wind Waker

The first attempt for some multiplayer gameplay in the Zelda series was offered by The Wind Waker. The game doesn't have a real multiplayer mode, but a co-operative mode in form of the Tingle Tuner, which uses the GBA connection. The thought behind this was, that you often hear about people watching someone else playing Zelda. Nintendo wanted to give those the opportunity to step in the game and have some "fun" too. This idea has been later used for the "Co-Star Mode" in Super Mario Galaxy, where a second player can also use a Star Pointer. But overall the second player is taking the back seat, while the first player gets the real fun. In case of the Tingle Tuner it might even better, if the second person just keeps watching instead of using this thing. Because the only thing you can really do with it is annoying the person playing the game by constantly pressing A to call him or blowing him up with bombs, which even costs him rupees. But luckily you don't need a second player to operate the Tingle Tuner, you can easily use it by yourself. Also, the implementation of this feature was quite cheap. The graphics on the GameBoy Advance are mediocre and the Tingle Tuner deals with lots of invisible stuff in the environment, which you can't sea in the game. You only see the results, you need the Tuner to unlock Knuckle and the five Tingle Statues from the dungeons.

Well, you can definitely say that is not the way to include multiplayer into a Zelda game. The second player doesn't want to play the second fiddle, the execution of this feature was pretty cheap and more or less it's just a gimmick to advertise their great GameCube GameBoy Advance Cable. What we want, is a real multiplayer mode.

Next game: Four Swords.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Extra Entry

Okay, this is nothing too interesting, but more a note to myself. Over the holidays I played some more Spirit Tracks, like ten minutes every day. It became a small ritual. My main goal was to get the Diamond Membership level in the Beedle shop for a real 100% completion and to collect some more treasures on the way, especially rare ones.

To get the Diamond Membership level I bought the treasures, which were offered every day in the Beedle shop, and three packs of bombs. The treasures always were a 150 rupee treasure and a 500 rupee treasure sold for a higher price. (Well, I've already complained before, that the offerings in the Beedle shop are quite bad, so I won't do it again. :D) Every membership level gets you a new letter with a price and a new membership card, which gives you a higher discount in the Beedle shop. This is a list of the prices:
  • Silver Membership: Freebie Card (200 Points)
  • Gold Membership: Heart Container (500 points)
  • Platinum Membership: Quintuple Points Card (1000 points)
  • Diamond Membership: Regal Ring or maybe Alchemy/Priceless Stone (2000 points)

You get one point for every ten rupees you spent in the shop, which means you need to spent 20.000 rupees (!!!) alltogether. I got a Regal Ring for the efforts and I'm not sure, if you can also win an Alchemy Stone there or if it's always a Regal Ring. I've never used the Freebie or the Quintuple Points cards, because I want those items to stay in the menu (gives me more a feeling of completion). And I could have fastened this process by changing the internal clock of the Nintendo DS, but I enjoyed the small sessions every day, so I didn't do that.

I've also collected some more treasures during the days just for the fun of it. I always play the lottery, I repeated the Lost at Sea Station minidungeon some more times (always gives you a Regal Ring), played some of the minigames and blowed some leafs in Whittleton/Mayscore. By now I've already got six Alchemy/Priceless Stones and ten Regal Rings left over, which is more than enough to buy the entire golden train set three more times. So, if you're patient enough, collecting enough treasures shouldn't be a problem.