Friday, January 1, 2010

The Zelda Decade

Happy New Year, or shall I say "Happy New Decade"? The last ten years have been very rich for the Zelda franchise. After the success of Ocarina of Time the series got ten more main titles, a series of re-releases and edits, and several spin-offs. That's more than two thirds of the franchise. Well, let's take a look at what releases we got in the last ten years (European release dates):
  • 2000
    Majora's Mask (N64)

  • 2001
    Oracle of Ages (GBC)
    Oracle of Seasons (GBC)

  • 2003
    A Link to the Past: Four Swords (GBA)
    The Wind Waker (GCN)
    Ocarina of Time: Master Quest (GCN)
    Collector's Edition (GCN)

  • 2004
    NES Classics: The Legend of Zelda (GBA)
    The Minish Cap (GBA)

  • 2005
    Four Swords Adventures (GCN)
    NES Classics: Zelda II - The Adventure of Link (GBA)

  • 2006
    Twilight Princess (NGC, Wii)
    The Legend of Zelda (WiiVC)

  • 2007
    Zelda II - The Adventure of Link (WiiVC)
    Ocarina of Time (WiiVC)
    A Link to the Past (WiiVC)
    Tingle's Balloon Fight (NDS, Japan only)
    Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland (NDS)
    Phantom Hourglass (NDS)
    Link's Crossbow Training (Wii)

  • 2009
    Majora's Mask (WiiVC)
    Tingle Pack (DSiWare, Japan only)
    Color Changing: Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love (NDS, Japan only)
    Spirit Tracks (NDS)
There hasn't been a single year without a new release worldwide with the exception of 2008 (in 2002 Four Swords and The Wind Waker were released in the US and Japan respectively). Which is impressing, you basically got a new Zelda game every year.

The high number of new releases was made possible by multiple teams working simultaneously on the Zelda franchise. Aonuma's big team at Nintendo EAD3 made all the big 3D console titles including Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and as a small side project Link's Crossbow Training. They are now currently working on Zelda for Wii. Split up from that team there's a smaller team working at Nintendo, which has created Four Swords Adventures and both Nintendo DS Zeldas, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Before the Nintendo DS Zeldas were in the making Capcom's team Flagship helped Nintendo out by creating several handheld Zeldas for GameBoy Color and Advance. They made Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, the first multiplayer Zelda game Four Swords and based on all that one last game called The Minish Cap. Additionally the small Japanese software developer Vanpool made three Tingle spin-off games over the years, but only the first was released outside of Japan so far.

Majora's Mask opened this decade and it was the first Zelda game to reuse the entire engine and all graphics from a previous Zelda game (not counting Ancient Stone Tablets) and to add different twists to the overall Zelda mechanics like the three day cycle, the masks and the focus on sidequests. The goal was to create a new Zelda game within a year and this is how they accomplished it. While it wasn't the best selling Zelda game, it is now remembered as a fan favorite and a very special entry to the series.

Majora's Mask opened a decade of "Gimmick Zeldas". Basically each new Zelda would built on what the franchise did before and add a special twist, a gimmick, to it, so it would become unique in the series. The Oracle games were mere Link's Awakening copies with the "Zelda Red and Blue" idea behind them, additionally one of them was about changing the seasons and the other one was about travelling through ages. The Four Swords games were the multiplayer Zeldas and became the least played and worst selling Zelda games in the series. The idea of the multiplayer was similar to the successful New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but the connectivity problems were a big issue. The Wind Waker was the Toon Zelda game on the ocean, where you would control the wind. The Minish Cap is the game, where Link can shrink and explore small worlds. Twilight Princess is the game, where Link transforms into a wolf. Phantom Hourglass was the touchscreen controlled Zelda with a boat and a master dungeon. Spirit Tracks then added the train and the co-op puzzles to it. You get the picture.

While this is all fine and makes every Zelda game an unique experience, the core of Zelda never changed since Ocarina of Time. Even with all the big twists behind every game you're starting to feel, that you've seen everything before. You'll get your Forest and Fire Temple and your Bow and Bombs, the same puzzles and ideas. While I love Zelda and I love every new game, I hope that this decade will start something new with "Zelda Wii". Aonuma already announced that it won't just be the "MotionPlus Zelda", but that they will also try to alter the traditional flow of the game. If they do it right, they can create the next Ocarina of Time leading to a new era of Zelda.

If you look at the release list above, you will also notice, that it was a decade of re-releases. The Collector's Edition, the NES Classics series and the Virtual Console offered you the Zelda games from the past on present systems. Of course the long time Zelda fan already played all those games and some even do despise re-releases for whatever reason, but I'd say they are a good thing. They help Zelda newcomers, who have won interest in the franchise, to catch up easily and play all those classics without wasting lots of money and time at ebay. For me personally those re-releases are always a good reason to replay older Zelda games, for example I've enjoyed Majora's Mask on the Virtual Console last year. The GameBoy games are by now the hardest to get Zeldas, but Nintendo will probably make them downloadable on the Nintendo DSi or one of their future handheld systems in the future.

We also got some spin-offs over the years, though it has been an appropriate rate, especially compared to other big gaming franchises like Final Fantasy or Mario, where you got more spin-offs than anything else. So, we can basically call us lucky, that it has been only one real spin-off title, Link's Crossbow Training, and a small spin-off series, the Tingle games. Tingle was a character in the Zelda series, who was introduced at the beginning of this decade in Majora's Mask and who enjoyed to annoy the Zelda fans in the Western market, while he became quite popular in Japan. Which is why Nintendo decided to give him his own games in Japan and cut him out from the main games. The last three Zelda games only had small references to him like the Tingle statues in Spirit Tracks. This was probably the best solution and I can say, that at least Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland wasn't too shabby, but I didn't have the chance to play the others yet.

Well, it has been ten nice years. Ten interesting years. But I would say, the best thing was, that you always had something to look forward to. I love the feeling of a new Zelda game on the horizon. Ten years ago I would buy videogame magazines, just because there were some small screenshots of Majora's Mask or the Oracle games in them. Ten years later I would crawl the internet every day looking for new infos about Spirit Tracks and blogging about it. Anticipation can be a beautiful thing and in the end it's always nice to see, how a new game plays out and how it does fulfill your expectations or not. So I raise my glass to ten new years full of anticipation and exciting new Zelda games.

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