Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Retro and Donkey Kong

Well, pretty much since I opened this blog, I've been speculating what Retro Studios' newest project would be. My guess was, that they worked together with the Zelda team on the newest Zelda game for Wii. This even might have been true at one point. After the release of Twilight Princess the Zelda team had experimented with first person gameplay in Zelda (with Link's Crossbow Training as the result). And they probably consulted Retro Studios at one point for their experience with the Metroid Prime Trilogy. However, the First Person Zelda idea probably didn't turn out so well and was dumped at one point.

With Nintendo been saying, that Retro is doing what they do best, I guess a lot of people including me jumped to false conclusions. What is Retro doing best? At that time you might thought it's first person gameplay, adventure and exploration, since that's what they've done for years now with the Metroid Prime Trilogy. But that's not what's their biggest strength is. What they do best is reviving old franchises, they are able to understand the essence of the franchise and make a game, that brings this essence back to life. They know what the fans of the franchise want and how to attract new players at the same time. It's what they've done with Metroid Prime and it's what they do now with Donkey Kong.

It's entirely different from everything Retro has done in the past decade, no one would have expected that from Retro. But we all agree that this is absolutely the kind of game, that brings Donkey Kong back in the spotlight. Well, it's a similar approach to New Super Mario Bros., but good 2D platformers on home consoles became a rarity since the Super Nintendo times and there's tons of demand for it (New SMB Wii sold over 14 million in half a year). The Donkey Kong Country games were very successful on the Super Nintendo, but since then there wasn't any other good Donkey Kong game. Well, I guess Retro did it again.

I personally haven't played any of the Donkey Kong Country games yet, but this might change with Retro's new game. They are that good. Nintendo really has found quite the ace in Retro, Retro is now what Rare once was for Nintendo in the 90s. And Retro making a new Donkey Kong Country game is symbolizing this very well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ocarina of Time Not Number One Anymore

For longer than an entire decade Ocarina of Time was considered to be the best video game ever by many. It held the title of the best rated video game of all times. And in all these years not a single game could come close to the greatness of Ocarina of Time. Not a single game until now...

Ocarina of Time is finally beaten. Beaten by a game, that also comes from a long time running Nintendo video game franchise. The title of best video game of all times is well deserved for this game, it's a game that changes video gaming forever and moves the masses. Ocarina of Time was epic, was massive, was an unforgettable experience, but this game is just better. Of course I'm talking about no other game than:


Items in Skyward Sword

Skyward Sword seems to follow the trend from the Nintendo DS Zeldas and keeps the number of main items relatively small. Less items, but all are used much more intensely and with greater variety during the game. This makes sense, on the Nintendo DS the Zelda team focused on items, that fully utilize the touch screen. Now with MotionPlus they focus on items, that make good use of the MotionPlus device. But of course then many old items won't make the cut. The game will have eight items in addition to sword and shield, which is one more than in the Nintendo DS Zelda games and the same number as in the original Zelda game, though there was one spot "wasted" on a potion and another on the bait. Potions will have their own menu in Skyward Sword and can be drunk while running around. Well, let's take a look at what items we already know and what items most likely could be added.

The Slingshot

This might look a little silly and pointless at first, because in the demo you already have the bow. But it's likely that you will get this item early in the game and the bow much later. Also, it doesn't look like you have to draw the slingshot like the bow with the Nunchuck, so you can use it much faster. I also believe, that this weapon might get different types of ammunition like the seeds from the Oracle games. No matter what, I just hope it doesn't end up like the slingshot in Twilight Princess. Because there are only eight slots for items, not a single one of them should be wasted.

The Whip

This new item returns from Spirit Track and will probably be similar. It's your secondary melee weapon and it might be that it entirely replaces Hookshot-like items.

The Bombs

Can be used for bowling. Nough said.

The Bow

Seems to work like in Wii Sports Resort. Use the Nunchuk to drawn your bow and the Wiimote to aim like a 3D-mouse. The big difference is, that you're holding the bow with your right hand instead of your left, but it still works. I wonder if the Bomb Arrow combo still is possible. If not, I would probably miss it, it was a blast.

The Beetle

This is basically the evolution of the seagull controlling idea from The Wind Waker (or the hawk from Twilight Princess, but this one offered no free control). The big difference is, that the beetle is always by your side and that it can carry dangerous stuff like bombs. But I guess the main use will be scouting. Controls seem to be similar to the airplane from Wii Sports Resort. Could also be the replacement for the Boomerang, since a MotionPlus powered boomerang would be inaccurate and annoying.

The Question Marks

There were three spots left open in the demo. Sword fighting, archery, bowling and the airplane made it from Wii Sports Resort into Zelda as different items. You could say, a safe bet would also be the frisbee, a Boomerang-like item so to speak. However, like I pointed out, it would lack accuracy and would rather be annoying than useful.

What I would love to see is a Ball and Chain. I was disappointed, that in the Wii version of Twilight Princess you wouldn't swing the Ball and Chain with your Wiimote. Because that would be tons of fun. But with MotionPlus this could work just fine. Some other big melee weapon like a hammer or a battleaxe would also be possible.

Originally they wanted to include fishing into Wii Sports Resort and since nothing gets lost at Nintendo, I would say the beloved fishing minigame will return with MotionPlus controls. However, whether the fishing rod really takes a spot in the item menu is the other question. Because the Slingshot already feels like a waste. It could be only available at fishing locations, similar to Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess (well, there you had this other simple fishing rod in your menu, but the real deal was only available in the fishing pond).

And don't forget, that just because the number of "action items" is low, it doesn't mean that there aren't any other items in the game like different armors or boots.

Essence of Lime

Thanks to Zelda Universe I discovered this amazing fan music project today. It's a group of people from OCR, who decided to release an album specifically devoted to The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. It's called "Essence of Lime" and here's the link to their site, where you can download their finished album and their very shiny artwork:

Essence of Lime Site

(The site was also added to my Link Gun.)

The album includes 42 tracks, which is definitely a meaningful number. And the whole thing is quite special, because Oracle of Ages is an interesting choice. I mean, other people would probably first think about an Ocarina of Time album, like ZREO did. But no, these guys chose a less popular Zelda handheld game, also they chose specifically Ages and not Oracle of Seasons or both Oracle games. But Ages has some very powerful tunes and I'm really happy with their choice. Overall the project is quite different from what ZREO does, it's much more fun. For example I like how they mixed sounds from the game into the music like the sword beam. And I absolutely love their Labrynna artwork, it's just awesome. Well if you're fan of the Oracle games, you shouldn't miss this.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lefties Unsupported

From the IGN interview with Aonuma:

IGN: In past Zelda games, people noticed that Link was obviously left-handed. And I know that all the Zelda games are stand-alones -- but in this particular game, will there be a lefty option for left-handed people?

Aonuma: It's interesting because people say "all you have to do is switch it." But in reality, it's really hard. You have to change all the models -- you have to make two of everything. So really you're making two complete games, one left-handed version and one right-handed version. We just can't do that. For Twilight Princess, what we did was just create a mirror -- we flipped everything. And if that worked I guess we could do it that way, but again having to create two games is not something we want to do. We just hope that people will play it right-handed.

Not supporting a left-handed playstyle is a very bad choice. Not only because of all the lefties, who want to play the game, but because there are many Zelda fans, who just don't want to see a right-handed Link. They're obsessed with it and they even would play the game in the left-handed style (even though they are right-handed) because of that. Well, I'm not one of these fans, but it's still a topic, that shouldn't be ignored.

And Aonuma is massively exaggerating here. Making two games? Seriously? They would have to do mirrored models of Link and all his enemies, adapt the controls, but that's it. I seriously can't see where the problem is. There's no need to change the environments, unless there are some stupid puzzles, where the exact position of the player is important. But "making two games" is definitely not what they would have to do. Well, they were totally lazy with that in Twilight Princess, where they just mirrored the entire graphics of the game, but you would think, that after four years of development they would come up with some better solution than "we don't want to do it".

I really start to dislike Aonuma, I see him as a problem. First he doesn't want to use MotionPlus and now he doesn't want to support left-handed players. And he wanted Link to ride on a train in Spirit Tracks, because his stupid son likes trains or whatever. But it should never be about, what the developers want. If a developer talks about, what he wants or doesn't want to do, than it's a fail already. It should always be about the player. Their approach, that they want the players to have fun with the swordsplay and everything, is great, that's the right direction. But then saying "we won't support lefties, because we're lazy" is simply a letdown. But I hope Miyamoto slaps them in the face for this, so they'll have to implement a solid left-handed playstyle in the next sixth months. :D

Interestingly enough some people at E3 played the game left-handed and it worked fine (this guy for example). The same goes for Wii Sports Resort. Nonetheless Nintendo should fully support lefties.

Zelda Galaxy

Watch this interview with Aonuma at Gamespot.

One of the most interesting comments here, is that you will travel between the "sky loft" and the lands of Hyrule multiple times during the game. Initially it sounded like that Link will descend at the beginning of the game and that's it. But in this interview it sounded more like the familiar two worlds concept, which is totally overused in the series. A Link to the Past did it, Ocarina of Time did it, both Oracle games did it and even Four Swords Adventures and Twilight Princess did it to a lesser extent. It's nothing that we need to do again. And I can't map my mind around, how the sky world and the below overworld would interact with each other and why Link would need to travel between them.

Then I began to fear that the sky world could be more like the observatory from Super Mario Galaxy. Actually the fear began with the screenshots and demo videos with the very beautiful landscape in the background. My question was, if you would be able to fully travel through these landscapes. I already said in my last post, that I want the game to have a free and open overworld ready for exploration. But judging from all the Zelda games after The Wind Waker, the changes for this are very slim. I don't believe anymore, that the Zelda team is able to pull it off. The changes are higher, that they devided the overworld into areas, pretty much like in the Nintendo DS Zeldas. But instead of travelling between these areas with a boat or a train, you will ascend back to the sky and from there you will "select" another area to descend to. Some of these areas will be dungeons disguised as overworld areas, pretty much like the forest from the demo, which is basically a typical 3D Zelda forest area but with dungeon elements, like the forest levels from the Four Swords games. Four Swords is a good example, because travelling between the worlds this way would be no different from the level selection in the Four Swords games, just more cinematic and with an observatory level like in Mario Galaxy.

Of course this would suck hard. There's nothing more important than the overworld and this is the worst thing, they could possibly do. So, I really hope, that my concerns about this will be layed down soon, when they talk more about the game.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Skyward Sword: Back to Basics

Watch the Iwata Asks Interview about Skyward Sword from the E3, in case you haven't yet. Their message at the end is the important one.

"Back to basics". That's the best approach of making a Zelda game they could possibly come up with. It's the first five Zelda games including Ocarina of Time, that are the magical ones. These are the games everyone remembers.

Essentially I see two things, that are very important when you want to go "back to basics", or back to the roots. One is the combat and it seems like Skyward Sword is going to deliver here. The demo at the E3 looks like tons of fun and everyone, who has played it, says the swordplay feels great. There are these nasty Dekubabas on the middle of the road and you can totally avoid them, but no one wants to, because they want to hit something with their sword. It's that much fun. I guess, in this category the game will really shine.

I was actually shocked, when Aonuma said, that he didn't want to utilize MotionPlus at first. That's like saying, that he doesn't want Link to use a sword at all. "It's much more fun to run away from enemies, so in this new Zelda game Link won't have a sword." I'm not overstating here, that's what they partially did in the Nintendo DS Zelda games, where you've been constantly running away from invincible enemies, which could kill you with one hit. That wasn't fun at all. Well, it seems like Miyamoto pushed Aonuma and the game in the right direction, much appreciated. He also pushed this new art style, you can say what you want, but without the new art style and MotionPlus this game would be just Twilight Princess 2.

The second important issue, when they want to go back to the basics, is freedom and exploration. A continuous, connected overworld, which can be explored freely in a non-linear fashion like in the first Zelda game. It's what I've been praying since I opened this blog and longer. A linear game design, where everything guides you and holds your hand, is absolutely boring. It's missing all these interesting choices you can make and the experience of exploring the fantasy world of Hyrule all by yourself, discovering it's secrets. You should be able to play the dungeons in different orders. You should be able to visit the very dangerous areas, where the later dungeons reside, early in the game, so that you're basically running into trials, that are still too challenging for you. You have to test for yourself, where your boundaries are, and not let the game protect you from everything. Let the player run into a place, where he will probably get killed by the monsters. At least that way the game leaves an impression. If you remember how it was to play the older Zelda games as a kid, you would have all these interesting stories that you had shared with your friends, who also played the game. Like that you found the hidden Ice Rod near Lake Hylia in A Link to the Past or that you died the first time running into the Redeads in Ocarina of Time and that you were scared to return to the graveyard because of that. Or you would talk about, that you found Level 8 in the first Zelda game just by accident very early in the game. These exciting experiences were created by a less linear game design, which you don't get that in newer games like Twilight Princess, where every single part of the game is linear and guided. If you now talk about video games today, the main question is always "how far are you into the game?" and this question covers everything there's to talk about. Because everyone is having the exact same experiences while playing the game and this is boring. Only by getting rid of linearity you can achieve a much more interesting experience for Zelda games.

The demo again looks very promising here, because it seems to be very open. The player isn't told, where he has to go. There's this forest area and he can explore it for himself, trying everything out on his way. Eventually he will find the way to the scorpion boss. It looks like fun and I really hope the entire game is designed in a similar open fashion. However, I'm concerned it won't be, but more about that in my next post.

A Beautiful View

Isn't this screenshot just stunning? The colors, the art style, everything. A lot of Zelda fans, including me, wanted a realistic looking Zelda game on the Wii. So, the initial disappointment about Skyward Sword was big. However, there are so many games today with dark and realistic looks, so do we really want a "Gears of Zelda"? I'm not sure, what I want, I just know that the above picture is very beautiful.

So beautiful, that I decided to update the looks of my blog here using it as a background motive. I wanted to change the style of the blog a while now, because in the old design the white font on gradient background was quite hard to read. However, I'm not finished yet and there will be a lot of tuning and experimenting going on with the visuals of this blog. And there probably will be a new blog logo. But I'm trying to keep everything simple this time.

Also, the last four months on this blog have been very silent due to the lack of interesting news. With Skyward Sword announced this is going to change. The more I hear about this game, the more I like about it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ocarina of Time for 3DS

This is probably ten times more exciting than Skyward Sword. (Btw, using "SS" as an acronym is actually quite awkward. :D) Well, I've always been saying, that an Ocarina of Time re-release for the Nintendo DS would be boring and pointless and won't be happening, but of course the 3DS changes everything. With the analog stick and Hyrule in full 3D it's going to be probably the most exciting re-release in the Zelda series. I hope it's a 3DS launch title. I also hope it includes Master Quest as an optional difficulty level, as well as some new content like extra dungeons. And I hope, there will be a Majora's Mask 3DS re-release at some point, too.

Edit: According to Aonuma switching the boots will be easier this time. :D

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Holding the Sword Skyward

Like last year Nintendo opened this year's E3 press conference with their biggest title. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The facts: It uses a new art style. And it focuses heavily on MotionPlus, like it should. You can roll bombs, there's a whip and a new beetle item, which is basically the evolution of the seagulls from The Wind Waker or the hawks from Twilight Princess. And it's entirely playable at E3.

My reaction is kind of mixed. I'm not disappointed, but I'm also not too much excited. I'm not too sure about the comic looks, I thought the Twilight Princess look was very beautiful. But on the other hand the above screens TOTALLY reminds of old Zelda artwork for the NES games.

And the details are there, for example the shooting a heart with an arrow to pin it down was genious. But overall you have the feeling, that it's a step back from Twilight Princess and on the same time not as iconic as the look of The Wind Waker.

The MotionPlus demonstration was totally fucked up, but I guess it works way better in the actual game, since it works like Wii Sports Resort and Wii Sports Resort works fine. Well, most of it is what you expected, which means the Wii Sports Resort sword play and archery mechanics are used in Zelda. Of course the sword play looks much more fun than in Wii Sports, since there isn't this annoying blocking by pressing B mechanic. It's like sword play should be and I'm excited for that. The bow seems to works fine without having to switch the hand, well, I played Wii Sports Archery already in the Zelda style, because I was too lazy to switch the hands. And it's actually not a big problem, it feels just a little unfamiliar at first. One of the coolest mechanics was the sword beam by holding the sword skyward. Nice idea. The biggest surprise for me was that this was the only MotionPlus game Nintendo showed. That's really disappointing, but at least Zelda is going to be awesome when it comes to controls.

We can't say more at the moment, if it focuses MotionPlus combat and offers a much more open world than the last bunch of Zelda games did, I guess then it will be a good game. It also seems, that it doesn't focus on some major gimmick like "wolf", "boat" or "train", which is definitely a good thing. The focus is on the MotionPlus action. However, I guess pretty much no one has the feeling, that this Zelda game is going to surpass Ocarina of Time. I don't know if it's just the art style or if it's because they haven't shown us anything that let's you think, that this game is going to be epic.

Well, it's coming out somewhen 2011, too bad, I was rooting for a holiday 2010 release.