Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 – Year of the Ancients

2021 summary image with the Expansion Pass artwork for Age of Calamity in the background and the most prominent items in the foreground

If you were to say that 2021 was a good year, then most people would probably burst out laughing. It was a good year for The Legend of Zelda, though, where there were many similarities to the year 2016, which is where the 30th Anniversary of the series took place. Back then we got the release of Twilight Princess HD, the release of Hyrule Warriors: Legends and all of its DLCs, as well as some small goodies for said anniversary, like new amiibo or the Arts & Artifacts book. It was also the year before Breath of the Wild came out, where Nintendo had a lot to show about the upcoming new Zelda game during E3.

Well, in 2021 things weren't as extensive, but still similar. In the early year we didn't really know what would await us, but the ice was quickly broken in February's Nintendo Direct, which is where the Expansion Pass for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was announced, as well as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for Nintendo Switch. The rest of the year was then laid out at E3 2021, which announced the new Game & Watch system for Zelda, but also gave us another trailer for the sequel to Breath of the Wild, which is supposed to come out next year.

Now, Age of Calamity already came out last year, but a game like this always lends itself as a platform for some DLC, where the Expansion Pass came in two waves – one in June and one at the very end of October, called Pulse of the Ancients and Guardian of Remembrance respectively. All combined the DLC added three new playable characters, new weapon types for Link and Zelda, eight new story scenarios, five new stages, ten new enemies, 36 new Challenges, and plenty of new Quests. It's not something that can keep you as busy as all the DLC for Hyrule Warriors: Legends in 2016, but it had more quality to it and expanded the game on all fronts.

Between all of this Nintendo has also released Skyward Sword HD, where Skyward Sword was the last 3D Zelda game from before the Nintendo Switch era to yet to be remade or remastered. The original Wii title was released ten years ago, during the 25th Anniversary, where it now basically was the next in line. Its upscaled graphics look beautiful in HD and the new button-only controls made the game a lot more accessible. All the control options still aren't fully ideal, however, and the remaster was completely devoid of any new content.

The game also came with some merchandise in the form of Special Edition Joy-Cons and an amiibo of Zelda and her Loftwing. The latter looks lovely, but sparked also some controversy with its ingame functionality, where the amiibo is used as a key for a new fast travel system, which lets you return to the sky and back to where you were at any time.

Speaking of merchandise, for the 35th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda Nintendo has released a Game & Watch system for the classic NES title, which also includes its younger sibling, Zelda II - The Adventure of Link, as well as the original GameBoy version of Link's Awakening. In addition it comes with a playable clock and timer based on the NES games, and a the Game & Watch title Vernim, which now stars Link as the playable character.

It's a neat, little system, but this was it for the 35th Anniversary. For some reason Nintendo has decided to not do any major celebrations this time, no 35th Anniversary logo, campaign, books, or anything else. (Keep in mind that the release of Skyward Sword HD officially didn't have anything to do with the anniversary, much like Twilight Princess HD in 2016.) And to be fair, 35 years isn't as special as a quarter century or another decade. Still, Super Mario Bros. also got such a Game & Watch device and many more things in 2020 and early 2021, including a whole theme park in Japan, where as a Zelda fan you can't help but feel a bit left out.

But of course this is nothing what fans of the Metroid series had to endure for the last decade... And here it's good to see that 2021 finally gave the franchise a real treat.

Metroid Dread 2021

Enter Metroid Dread. After almost 20 years we finally got the long awaited sequel to Metroid Fusion and this game was certainly worth the wait. The E.M.M.I. can be a bit of turn-off initially and the controls take some getting used to, but overall MercurySteam has done an excellent job of crafting what's easily one of the best Metroid games in existence, which shines with its fast-paced, smooth gameplay, as well as lots of replayability.

The game also came with a Special Edition, which included a steelbook, an artbook, and some holographic art cards. And two amiibo, one for the new Fusion Suit Samus and one for the E.M.M.I., were also released this year.

As with Zelda, Nintendo didn't celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Metroid in any major form, but Metroid Dread in itself already did a good job with that. Both the art items in the Special Edition and the unlockable endings pay tribute to the main games of the series, while many of the story elements from the Metroid series also come together in Metroid Dread.

So, both for Zelda and Metroid this was overall a good year and we can be looking forward to more from these franchises.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Metroid Dread Mission Log, Entry 7

Beginning of the game with one extra Energy and Missile+ Tank

After beating Metroid Dread in under four hours in Normal Mode, I've had to do the same once more in Hard Mode to unlock all gallery pictures and thus truly complete the game. And my fourth trip to the planet ZDR was yet another success, where I should be done with the game... for now at least.

Playing in Hard Mode actually didn't make that much of a difference. The increased damage you take is noticeable, where I ended up on low health more often. And you take so much damage that you can't afford to be hit more than twice with most of the bosses, but since the bosses already forced you to master them in Normal Mode, there wasn't really the same increase in challenge as with the Hard and Fusion Modes in Metroid: Samus Returns, let alone the Hard Mode in Metroid: Other M. If you've already beaten the game in Normal Mode, then Hard Mode shouldn't be much of  a problem.

The only boss that gave me some trouble this time was Experiment No. Z-57, where this is the only boss where I still can't flawlessly dodge every attack.But at least I finally managed to beat this boss with a Shinespark for the first time, which was very satisfying to pull off.

the Morph Ball rolling through a shaft above magma in Dairon, atfer obtaining the Grapple Beam early

Overall my course through the game was very similar to last time. This means I got the Grapple Beam early after Kraid and I went for early Gravity Suit, Screw Attack and Cross Bombs after the Ice Missiles / Pulse Radar. I've learned my lessons, so I now knew that the best way from the Screw Attach back to Ghavoran were the red and orange portals to save some more time.

And because I had some more time at my disposal, I even decided to experiment a little bit more, where for the first time I got the Super Missiles early right after the first visit to Ferenia. This requires you to speedboost through the frozen area in the upper left section of Dairon without the Gravity Suit, where you can't make a mistake or you'll die there. Entering Ghavoran this way doesn't really give you many options, so it's actually a detour, but it makes the following two boss battles much easier and of course it saves a little bit of time in Ghavoran afterwards.

two Chozo Robots at Burenia with the Power Bombs ready

But by now I don't even know how the game actually plays like on its intended course. It's just too much fun to have all these items earlier, especially in Ferenia. With all these shortcuts there is even a mini boss battle against two Robot Chozo Soldiers at Burenia that you can skip. If you go there later, you can instantly kill them with a Power Bomb, which is really cool and yet another neat trick to dispose some of the bosses.

Yes, you can even skip Drogyga and other bosses entirely, but this requires you to use glitches, which is something that I personally avoid doing in video games, whether it's Zelda or Metroid. I like to try everything within the given borders of the game to see what's possible, but not break those borders via means that go beyond the actual game design.

Hard Mode clear time 3:31:54

Anyway, mission complete. The unlockable artworks from the main Metroid games are all great and a nice reward. There is even one more artwork for getting all endings, but it's the same bonus artwork as in the Chozo Archives, just with Zero Suit Samus instead of Samus in her Power Suit. I'm not complaining, though.

I also went for 100% items in Hard Mode, but only after finishing the game under four hours. Achieving both at the same time would require me to be about one hour faster, which would be an interesting challenge, but it's certainly doable. However, this isn't required for anything, so I'm not sure I will bother. For now I have fully completed the game and will put it aside to focus on other games.

But I must say that I enjoy replaying it a lot, so I might go for this challenge anyway in the future. With the repeat playthroughs my initial complaints became also less and less of note. The controls are now in my blood and once you've mastered the game the E.M.M.I. can hardly touch you, where they don't annoy me any longer. It's even fun to play cat and mouse with them to a point.

Metroid Dread is with all certainty my game of the year 2021 (not that there was much competition), where it even became my favorite Metroid title for now. And I'm really looking forward to more Metroid games of this caliber in the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Breath of the Wild 2: Game Mechanic Insights

Link coming through a portal in the ground on a sky island

While Nintendo hasn't shown us anything new about the sequel to Breath of the Wild at last week's The Game Awards, a couple of game processing patents from Nintendo have emerged that might give us a better idea what we can expect from what we have seen at E3, as discovered by Gamereactor.eu (found via NintendoLife).

The most interesting one is probably patent US20210370175, which describes the mechanic where Link can move through a terrain object under certain conditions. The conditions are not met when there is nothing above you, the terrain object is too far away, or when the ceiling or surface don't allow for it, either because there are hazards (like spikes), the slope is too steep, or there are larger steps at the entry or exit points.

a sketch that shows a person in an 2D space in a tunnel with descriptions: "passing-through movement is not possible if no terrain object is present above", "movable upward under certain condition", "move through terrain object", "move onto terrain object"

What's important here is that this is an ability that Link can use freely. You can always reach for the sky and as long as there is a suitable surface above you, you can try to go for it. So, it's not tied to portals or anything like that, like it would have been in past Zelda games, which goes hand in hand with everything that Breath of the Wild has done to break the boundaries of the older titles. Though, the limitations might go so far that it works like a set of portals nonetheless if all those conditions are rarely met.

The images of the patent also indicate that this wasn't necessarily a mechanic for entering sky islands, but more of a mechanic for exiting caves back onto the surface. And this could make a lot of sense with what was teased in the E3 2019 trailer, where it looked like they were going for a large underground expansion of the world of Breath of the Wild. It all comes together with this "passing-through" mechanic, where in the early game the primary purpose of this new ability might be to make the spelunking much easier, but later in the game it then lets you go up to the sky islands.

This gives hope that said underground system won't just be separate dungeons, like the Sheikah Shrines were, but something that's truly interwoven with the existing overworld. It would basically become the first Zelda game that has a real "underworld" if this were true. Hyrule Castle in Breath of the Wild was already a dungeon that was seamlessly connected with the overworld, but the sequel could expand this idea to cave systems that span the entire map.

In addition, the ability could be used to shift from multiple layers. The caves could be really deep and have many "floors", so to speak. Likewise, there could be sky islands that float above other sky islands. In these cases the ability could even cascade. Let's say you are deep underground and from there you go up into a cave above you. Then you go up again to the overworld surface, from where you go to a sky island directly above those caves.

You could theoretically enter the floating Hyrule Castle by going under it and then aiming for its dungeon areas at the bottom – given that there aren't any obstacles of course, where for example a film of malice could block you from doing so. It will be interesting to see how this information will be presented to you visually, because the surfaces in question might be very far away. And of course you can't normally see the destination with this type of movement. But it could work like some of the Sheikah Slate Runes, where you hold a trigger and then it shows you all the places where you can go through a terrain above you.

On first glance the possibilities of this ability seem endless, where this could be a massive game changer for Zelda and Action Adventures overall. However, this really depends on how the world gets designed around this. In the original world of Breath of the Wild this wouldn't be all too useful, because there is rarely ever something above you to begin with. Of course this is where the sky islands and potentially also cave system will come in, but we have yet to see how extensive this really will be. Still, after four years of development time we can trust that Nintendo has changed the world of Breath of the Wild significantly to make good use of this. Without a doubt the ability to go up like that is the big gimmick that the sequel to Breath of the Wild has been developed around.

Link pushing back a spiked ball with an ability looking similar to Stasis

There are also the patents US20210370178 and US20210370179, where the first one deals with the time reversal ability and the other with animations and camera controls during sky dives and archery. Those don't seem to be as interesting, but at least it confirms that the new ability, which resembled Stasis somewhat, truly is about reversing the time for an object.

However, this only applies to movement and moving objects. So, it won't let you unmelt ice or something like that. It's probably limited to objects that currently move in some form, so whenever you hold the L button it will only highlight moving objects as potential targets. In that sense it feels less useful compared to Stasis, which could be used on any movable object in the game world. But it also let's you do things that wouldn't be all that easy to achieve with Stasis, like launching a huge spiked ball back to its sender. So, there is some potential here and it's not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Game Awards 2021 Incoming

Link from the sequel to Breath of the Wild, running on a golden sky island towards the Game Awards logo

This Thursday (or the night to Friday in Europe) the Game Awards will take place yet another time with a lot of fanfare, where I'm here to basically tell you the same thing as last year: this show loved Breath of the Wild, where it featured a lot of premieres for the game. And this could lead to something...

In 2014 we saw the first ever gameplay of Breath of the Wild, presented by Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto at the Game Awards. In 2016 we got the second major trailer for the game at the Game Awards. And in 2017 the The Champions' Ballad DLC got a trailer and released during the Game Awards. There is quite the history here, where this trend could be continued with the sequel. What I'm saying is that we might get to see some more footage for the next big Zelda game later this week and that's of course very exciting for everyone. Yes, everyone.

There are even some rumors about this. Geoff Keighley himself has posted on Twitter that they have been working on a world premiere for about two and a half years, since the last pre-pandemic E3, which is also when the sequel to Breath of the Wild has been announced. The timing is suspicious, so this led some fans to believe that he might mean Zelda here, but naturally this could be tied to pretty much anyone who was presenting at E3 back in 2019, so this doesn't necessarily have to do anything with Zelda at all. Plus, "world premiere" insinuates that this is a completely new reveal, something never before seen, but technically having some first gameplay footage or even a new trailer would also be a world premiere, where the usage of this term got somewhat inflated in the past.

Then there was also a post from Samus Hunter, a leaker who seems to be a trustworthy source, where it implies that there could be some of the following things:

  • A new trailer for the sequel to Breath of the Wild
  • A 35th Anniversary concert held at the Game Awards
  • Collaborations with other games

This sounds very promising. I'd love to get more 35th Anniversary celebrations, because the Game & Watch thingy in itself was not all that satisfying. Collaborations with other games could even include a potential Zelda content update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is something I've been looking forward to, but also the usual skins in other titles, like Monster Hunter. In any case, Zelda news are (almost) always good news, so let's hope for something!


Update: Well, that was a bust. Nothing from Nintendo at all. But I'm happy that Metroid Dread won the Best Action Adventure category. It's well deserved and certainly my game of the year!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Got the Skyward Sword Soundtrack

the box next to a copy of Skyward Sword HD, where it's about 50% bigger in height and width

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Original Soundtrack.

This has arrived today after I had ordered it from Playasia.com (I'm not affiliated in any way, this is just a link), which worked very well. It was actually the first time that I have ordered something for Zelda or Nintendo in general from Japan. Usually, I only go for the European stuff, but this looked too good to give it a pass.

It's the Limited Edition release, which comes with a small music box in addition to the five CDs and a booklet, which guides you through this musical journey – if you can read Japanese, which I can't, where this is one of the downsides of such a purchase. It also has Gold Points for MyNintendo, but sadly you can only redeem them with a Japanese account. Anyway, all of it is very nicely designed and wrapped up, where it's a beautiful collectible item:

the inner set with the booklet, music box and a unfolded sheeth that has the CDs and an artwork of Ghirahim on it

But it's also mostly just that, a collectible item, because I don't really use CDs anymore, which makes me feel a little bit bad, because I usually also try to make use of my Zelda colletibles in some form. I even used those Skyward Sword HD Joy-Cons to play the game a bit with motion controls. But here I mostly got it because it looked very nice.

The music box is pretty neat, though, because you can wind it up and then it plays the Ballad of the Goddess for a while. So, it's not one of those thingies where you have to crank all the time.

Overall this feels like what a potential Limited Edition release of Skyward Sword HD in Europe and North America should have looked like, where it could have come with an artbook and the music box. I probably would have preferred something like that over importing a soundtrack from Japan, but this makes my collection around Skyward Sword HD feel more complete overall.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Metroid Dread Mission Log, Entry 6

Samus at the elevator on top of Ferenia

My third run through the game just came to a conclusion, where I've played one more time in Normal Mode. My goal was to clear the game under the magic four hour mark to unlock the artwork for Super Metroid and this goal has been accomplished, where I've managed to beat the game in three hours and 38 minutes. That's certainly not the best time, but not too shabby for my first attempt of going through the game faster. I wouldn't call it "speed running", obviously, so the focus was solely on keeping the pace up and taking some shortcuts.

This wasn't a 100% run, so I avoided unnecessary power-ups. Nicely enough, the game puts the majority of Energy Tanks and Energy Parts right in the main path, so you don't really have to worry about your health that much. It's a little bit lame, because you don't have to remember where to find any of them, but it's also very convenient. As for the rest, you don't really need all those Missiles or Power Bomb expansions anyway, because they usually get replenished during boss fights. But I also made use of the Metroid Dread amiibo for the first time, where it's nice to get 10 more Missiles and one more Energy Tank early on.

The other rule was to avoid unnecessary fights, so I would move through the environments expeditiously and only take care of enemies that get in the way. Always keep the pace up. That's much easier once you have the Screw Attack, where you can just jump through everything and of course I was getting this one earlier again, like in my second run.

I didn't use the same route as last time, however. Getting Bombs before Kraid is very cool for the different sequence, but it's also a huge detour, where it costs a lot more time than it would save during the boss fight. I still went for the early Grapple Beam after Kraid, though, which provides some very useful shortcuts.

The next big shortcut was going for the Gravity Suit early again, right after obtaining the Pulse Radar. This then leads to the Screw Attack, as already mentioned, but I didn't use any special tricks here, so I've beaten the Experiment boss and then took the blue Teleportal back to the Screw Attack.

Afterwards I was somewhat lost, though, because I didn't know what the fastest route back to Ghavoran would be. The best answer is probably taking the red Teleportal, which then leads to the orange Teleportal right back to where you need to be, but I completely forgot about the latter, because it's hidden in one of the many optional magma rooms. I was just going by what I had on my map and this made me actually go through Dairon and do that wall jumping speed boost to the Energy Part in the upper left, which then leads to an elevator back to Ghavoran. This scored me another Energy Tank, but it also cost a lot of time to go this way.

At least I've gotten a lot better with the Speed Booster. I even got the Missile Tank+ in the center of Dairon right after obtaining the ability from the yellow E.M.M.I. just by going fast naturally. So far I had always used the more complicated method by speed boosting from the tunnel above the item, where you have to get through some bomb blocks first, but it's amazing how effortlessly the Speed Booster can let you flow.

Anyway, to save some time after my detour I did take another shortcut in Ghavoran, where I got the Cross Bombs next. From there you can actually already go to Hanubia and then back down into Ferenia, completely skipping the shuttle between Ferenia and Ghavoran. Here you can now "quickly" collect the Storm Missiles, Space Jumps and Wave Beam without leaving the area before going to the finale.

Again, with the Gravity Suit equipped the purple E.M.M.I. can't even touch you, because you can traverse its water areas very swiftly. Purple beats purple, I suppose. And in general I don't mind the E.M.M.I. as much any longer as I did during my first playthrough, because these sections are usually over quite quickly.

Curiously, the golden Mawkin soldier gave me a lot more trouble than Raven Beak himself, who I can beat on "first try" now. It's a still a lengthy battle, where the second phase keeps going for way too long. And when the final sequence happened, I forgot that you have to do the quick time Melee Counter to finish the fight. It's annoying how some of the battles end in these weird "cutscenes", where you still have to press the X button at the right time or else the battle gets prolonged. My mind had already entered the cutscene mode and was getting ready for some rest, only for the game to say "no". Not a good design choice...

Normal Mode clear time 3:37:52

Well, overall I'm happy how things went and now I only have to replicate this in Hard Mode to unlock the remaining three gallery pictures. Considering that the bosses don't allow for many mistakes anyway, where you truly have to master them in Normal Mode already, I don't expect this to make a big difference, but let's see.

And it's not taken for granted that I go all the way to complete a Metroid game like that. I've never done this with Zero Mission for example, which has some tough requirements to complete all of its gallery. And while I've beaten Samus Returns on all three difficulty modes, I never went for the best times there. So, needless to say that I like playing Metroid Dread a lot. I'd even go as far and call it my new favorite Metroid game now, outranking Samus Returns.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Zelda Calendars 2022

front covers, the Abrams one has the main artwork for Majora's Mask 3D, while the one for Pyramid shows the Champions

The battle of the calendars between Abrams and Pyramid continues in 2022. Last year I was convinced that I would be exclusively going with the Pyramid calendar from now on, mainly because it had the much better variety in artworks and also because it uses ecofriendly, FSC-certified paper.

For the upcoming year, however, the guys at Abrams (to the left) have actually switched their paper source, so there is no difference here any longer. And the guys at Pyramid decided to make a calendar specifically for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for some reason. Ironically, this is what Abrams already has done for 2019, which seemingly also spawned the rival calendar series by Pyramid at the same time as an alternative, and a good one at that.

back of the calendars showing all the months

For 2021 the Pyramid calendar was the clear choice if you wanted more variety, but this has changed in 2022 thanks to Pyramid's focus on a single game. Abrams still is very reluctant to do much outside of the 3D Zelda titles, however, where for the first time they are featuring the remake of Link's Awakening with two months, but that's it. No A Link Between Worlds, no Tri Force Heroes, no Spirit Tracks, ... It's mostly just the popular 3D Zeldas again, which makes it seem like Abrams is afraid that no one will buy their calendar if it doesn't focus on the big titles.

But it's not like they are getting any competition here. The 2021 calendar from Pyramid was excellent, probably even the best Zelda calendar so far. Having all the months designed like Chamber Dungeons was a lot of fun and the selection of artworks had a good variety to it, even featuring five different 2D games. And from that they've moved on to a Breath of the Wild exclusive calendar.

I'm not sure what has happened here – maybe Nintendo even specifically requested this for 2022, because that's the year where the sequel is supposed to arrive. So, it might be a really good fit for this year. But come on... How many times am I supposed to look at that Gold Lynel artwork from The Master Trials? Don't get me wrong, it's a great artwort and I like it, but this was in Abram's 2019 calendar, in Pyramid's calendar this year and now it will be featured in both calendars for 2022.

The Zelda series is so rich in different artworks that there is no excuse about having this many duplicates in the calendars all the time. At least the Breath of the Wild calendar from Abrams tried some different compositions, but that's not the case here. The Pyramid calendar even reused one of its months from this year... And the following page for April 2022 is also very similar to the current one in December 2021, just with Zelda instead of Link:

month of April showing Zelda in her royal dress smiling in front of the four Champions

The overall design is pretty good, as always, but it looks somewhat bland compared to the Chamber Dungeons in 2021, where the pages also had more contrast to them, instead of simply going with an old paper texture all over it. Maybe something that's fully based on the Sheikah Slate visuals would have been a good idea here and could have made the calendar truly pop.

At least it's still better than the Abrams calendar, where they seriously can't be bothered with even trying something like a design:

September in the Abrams calendar showing an artwork of Marin from the Link's Awakening remake with a simple background

It's as bland and uninspired as it gets. And it's been like that since their Breath of the Wild calendar for 2019. In the past they at least had little artworks somewhere over the actual calendar on the lower page, but they've dropped this feature back then. It's all been very simplified, where it just shows a general lack of effort. You could probably design such a calendar in a couple of hours and then call it a day. It's just bad and there is no excuse for it.

Speaking of no excuse for Abrams, there doesn't seem to be an official Metroid calendar for 2022, at least I couldn't find one. After the lackluster one for 2021 it probably didn't pay for them to do another. But maybe Metroid will return as part of the calendar business in 2023 after the success of Metroid Dread. Knowing Abrams, however, they probably won't have anything from Metroid Dread in it, because it's still too new, and then fill everything with the Metroid Prime Trilogy again. Or maybe we could get a Metroid calendar from Pyramid? That could be interesting...

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Replaying Link's Awakening (Game & Watch)

ingame logo

Link's Awakening on the original GameBoy was my first Zelda game, which turned me into a fan for life after Christmas 1997. It became a tradition for me to replay this game in some form every year, a tradition I broke once or twice in the recent years, which includes 2020. But I'm making up for this in 2021, where I've already replayed the remake this June, and this week I've returned to the classic GameBoy version via the new Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda system.

I've never been the biggest fan of the DX version (see Link's Awakening vs. Link's Awakening DX), where I'm really happy that Nintendo has now preserved the original version in some form. While I still own a copy for the GameBoy, its battery has died by now, so I can't save. I will fix this eventually, but hardware deteriorates and nothing is truly forever. Also, my best device to play GameBoy games is still my GameBoy Advance SP with a frontlit LCD screen, which is pretty dark...

So, having this Game & Watch system is actually quite neat for re-experiencing the GameBoy classic. And while they have altered some dialogues in the German version, it's still based on the "uncensored" Japanese version, so that's great as well. I also love how they've emulated the green GameBoy screen colors. It really looks like it was supposed to look on the GameBoy, which is something that the GameBoy Color and Advance couldn't replicate with their weird predefined coloring sets.

But playing through the GameBoy version one more time made me appreciate the remake even more. It's not just the constant item switching or the unnecessary text boxes, but the remake got streamlined in other parts as well, for example around Kanalet Castle. There you can just jump down from the castle balcony, so you don't have to walk back all the way through the castle again. I got used to this so much already that I was confused where the "gaps" in the castle wall went...

Or when you get the Slime Key, there is a shortcut to leave the Pothole Maze in the remake, which is just very convenient. And the additional teleporters really made traveling across Koholint so much better at almost every step after the second dungeon. All in all, there was a lot of "going back the way you came" as padding in the original, which all got shortened in the remake.

But to be fair, Link's Awakening on the GameBoy is a short game, probably the shortest Zelda next to The Legend of Zelda on the NES and Four Swords. If you remember the game well enough, you can easily beat it in one evening. While the remake offers some good shortcuts, it also takes much longer to complete thanks to the new mini-games and the Chamber Dungeon. Which is also good, but it's very much padding of its own.

So, if you just want to breeze through Koholint one more time for the sake of nostalgia, then the Game & Watch version might be the best way to do so. I can certainly recommend it.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda (Review)

a promotional graphic for the item, showing the device with Link and some Octoroks in the background 

Happy 35th Anniversary, The Legend of Zelda! To celebrate you got re-released together with your younger NES sibling for the seventh (or so) time, but this time on its very own video game system: Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda. Let's give this thing a look.

 

Hardware

The new Game & Watch system is quite small, where with 11cm x 6.5cm it almost rivals the GameBoy Micro (10cm x 5 cm). It's also very light and the buttons feel a bit mushy, so it overall has a low quality feel to it. The LCD screen is pretty good, however, with sharp visuals and vibrant colors.

On the left side you can find a USB-C port, but the system won't come with an AC adapter, only a short cable. If you own a Nintendo Switch (Pro Controller) or a modern Android phone, however, then chances are that you will have everything needed for charging ready anyway. But keep this in mind when purchasing.

On the other end rests the speaker and there doesn't seem to be a way of using headphones with the device, which is a shame, because the speaker also isn't the best. For the most part its fine, but some sound effects don't seem to be well balanced, where it can make some annoying louder noises here and then during the gameplay. Some things also just don't sound the same with these speakers, like for example moving rocks and blocks in Link's Awakening, which just doesn't have the same heavy tone to it.

As a nice detail, there is a Triforce on the backside of the device, which gets lit when the system is turned on. However, you won't really notice this while playing or while keeping it in the stand that comes with it. This stand is just made out of cardboard, so nothing special either. With the exception of the display it's all as cheap as it can get.

 

Software

There was already a Game & Watch: Zelda released back in 1989, but it's sadly not part of this system, which comes with a modified version of Vermin instead, where you play whack-a-mole with Link. But this is certainly not the main attraction of the new Game & Watch, which comes with a variety of five different games that you can select:

  • The Legend of Zelda (English and Japanese)
  • Zelda II - The Adventure of Link (English and Japanese)
  • Link's Awakening (English, French, German and Japanese)
  • Vermin
  • Timer

Believe it or not, the Timer is probably one of the most interesting things here, because it's like a mini-game where you battle foes from The Adventure of Link within the set time limit. It saves a separate high score for every time limit that you can chose, which ranges from one to ten minutes.

Link fighting in the forest against Moblins and Octoroks in the style of Zelda II, the timer is made out of Triforce shards and spells 02:21

These battles can even even have Dark Link in them, which is pretty badass. He falls in three hits, however, because otherwise this would be too brutal. And the corner trick doesn't work here, since the screen borders function like in Pac-Man, where you will appear at the right if you leave the screen to the left and vice versa. Should you camp in a corner, Dark Link will simply go to the other end and literally stab you in the back. This must be so satisfying for him after being cheesed for over 30 years.

This seems to be based on the Japanese version, however, so the sounds are slightly different from what you might been used to. And the combat isn't entirely the same either, where the Iron Knuckles seem to be a lot harder to hit. Luckily, the blue ones don't throw sword beams at you, but you don't get to throw any either.

Anyway, it's very interesting that you can play the games in the different language versions, where in case of The Adventure of Link there is actually a good number of changes in both visuals and sounds between the Japanese and English versions. Some enemies can be different as well. The original The Legend of Zelda mainly has differently sounding music, but it's still interesting to give this a try, since both games don't have that much text anyway.

It even treats each language version as its own game, so you can start playing Link's Awakening in both English and German for example, where it will create separate save states and you can keep playing these versions independently from another. A language switch probably would have been more intuitive, but since all of these versions are actually different in other aspects than just the texts, this does make sense from a technical point of view. And as already said, it can be interesting to try these different versions to experience the changes yourself.

For the German version of Link's Awakening they've actually altered some of the infamously lewd translations of Claude M. Moyse, however, where the Cukemen don't speak of condoms and sharing juices any longer. Some character names also got altered, just like in the Virtual Console release of Link's Awakening DX on the Nintendo 3DS. (BowWow used to be called "Struppi" originally, as a reference to Tim & Struppi  / The Adventures of Tintin, while Crazy Tracy was named "Geierwally", as a reference to The Vulture Wally. Those references got cut on the Virtual Console, which is the same for this new version, where now these characters are called "Komet" and "Trantrudi" respectively.)

Otherwise there don't seem to be any changes, however, so the mermaid will still look for her bikini top and get upset if you dive in front of her. And the hippo model has pixel breasts to cover when you enter the house of the crocodile artist, Schule Donavitch, where it implies that they are doing a nude portrait. All of this got censored in Link's Awakening DX for the German and French versions, where the mermaid has lost a pearl necklace instead and the hippo has lost her breasts entirely, where she simply sits down when you enter the room. For the English version this always used to be the case, even on the old GameBoy, while the Japanese versions both had the lewd jokes. Cultural differences and all that...

Link near BowWow with green GameBoy visuals

But if you're from Germany and you want to re-experience the game exactly like it used to be on the GameBoy, keep in mind that these texts were changed. The rest looks and feels pretty much like on the GameBoy, however, where it even emulates the green colors of the original display. You can also switch screen sizes between full width and original, just like on the GameBoy Advance. It's all pretty thoughtful and it's absolutely fantastic that Nintendo has finally preserved the original GameBoy title now in this form.

That being said, it still would have been nice to get Link's Awakening DX in addition, maybe even all GameBoy Color Zelda games, where they could have gone for a complete 8-bit Zelda collection. All these games can be played with only the A, B, Start and Select buttons, which is what the system has.

The emulators employs suspend points for everything, so you can leave a game at any time and then return to it exactly where you left off whenever you want, similar to suspended Virtual Console games, which is highly convenient. It doesn't offer restore points, however, so you can't make your own save states that you can create and load, which would have been very nice to have for the unforgiving Zelda II - The Adventure of Link.

Still, you might find a couple of secrets to make the games easier or harder, mostly by holding down the A button when selecting the game mode or save file. With Vermin you'll get the much harder "Game C" for example. In Zelda II you can get eight lives and everything maxed out right from the start, which makes the game a breeze. If you really want to give the Japanese version a try, then this might even be a good idea, because there it resets your levels to the lowest one on a Game Over, which can be quite demotivating.

However, this trick also unlocks all magic spells right from the beginning, which is a little bit too much and removes part of the fun of collecting everything. Same with the Life and Magic Containers. A middle ground, where you get the highest levels from the start, but still have to collect all the items, would have been great here.

Other than the playable timer, there is also the main clock, where it animates gameplay scenes from The Legend of Zelda and shows the current time on the background / underground. You can also take over and play Link yourself, but unlike in the timer there are no highscores here or anything. It's just for fun.


Conclusion

The Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda system does a good job at preserving the different language versions of three 8-bit Zelda classics, while offering some nice little mini-games as extras. But a couple more games would have been nice, like the original Game & Watch: Zelda or the GameBoy Color titles, where it's a shame that Nintendo didn't go the extra mile with this device, which also doesn't have a high quality to it.

The Good:
  • Sharp and bright screen.
  • Includes all the different language versions.
  • Nice preservation of the original Link's Awakening.
  • Suspend and switch between games quickly at any time.
  • Playable timer with highscores.
The Bad:
  • Feels cheap and too small.
  • The speaker isn't very good and there's no support for headphones.
  • Doesn't come with the actual Game & Watch: Zelda.
  • Doesn't come with any of the GameBoy Color Zelda games.
  • No manual restore points.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Got the new Zelda Game & Watch

photo of the package and the item next to the Link's Awakening Nintendo Switch case

This has arrived in the mail today – Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda. It's the only 35th Anniversary item so far, but it's nice to have it as this modern retro system.

It's actually quite small, much smaller than I expected, where you can see the dimensions of the system against a normal Nintendo Switch game box in the above photo. It's 11cm x 6.5cm. Here is another comparison against the Nintendo Mini Classics version of the original Game & Watch Zelda:

It's not as small as a GameBoy Micro, but it's quite similar. It's also very light, where it feels a little bit cheap. The buttons could also be better, but the display is overall quite good.

Similar to the Special Edition of Metroid Dread, the box comes wrapped in a protective plastic casing (not pictured), where this time it even has some things printed onto it, like an Octorok. And I really like this development. Yes, there is a good argument against it, because it creates more plastic waste, but I'm not throwing it into the garbage anyway, because I like that it keeps the box protected from damage, so I put the box back into the casing. And since this one has things printed onto it, people might not throw it away anyway.

There is only the game device and its cardboard stand included, however, so there's nothing in the box to recharge the battery (correction: there is actually a small USB cable, it was just hidden inside the stand). It's just standard USB-C, so it's fine and you can use whatever you have for your Nintendo Switch to charge it. Also, there is even a sheet with Gold Points for MyNintendo included, so you get something there for this purchase, even though it's not Nintendo Switch related.

Well, I've already been playing a little bit with this thing and a separate review will follow in the next days, so I don't want to get too much into things here with this post. This is just to show some photos. But I can already spoil that my favorite thing is probably the playable Timer.

Overall, Zelda II - The Adventure of Link feels like the real star of this whole thing, instead of the original The Legend of Zelda. This is not only because of the fun timer, which is based on Zelda II, but also the fact that this device lets you play the Japanese version, which is quite different from the English one. And it's my first time actually experiencing this version.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Age of Calamity: Expansion Pass Development Backgrounds

Zelda rounding up some Bokoblins with the Master Cycle Zero at a village

There is a new interview with Koei Tecmo at the Japanese site Nintendo Dream Web, where they talk about the Expansion Pass in some detail. I've only looked at a Google translation so far and there is probably more to come, but there are already some interesting facts to take out of this.

  • The first teaser artwork for the Expansion Pass actually has the cone of the Master Cycle Zero's headlights in it, so you could technically see this coming.

  • They really wanted the prototype weapons and armor from Robbie look like DIY projects, where for example the Ancient Arrows are put on a stick, so this creates a visual difference to the same things from the future in Breath of the Wild. The new Prototype Ancient Gear set fully reflects that. (This means there was probably no intention of ever putting the real deals into the game, even though the ancient weapons were found in the game's code.)

  • The idea behind the Flail was referencing Link's weapon cycle from Breath of the Wild somewhat. You take a weapon from the enemy, it breaks after a little while, and then you take a new one.

  • They wanted to provide a new gameplay experience with the battlefields that are split in two separated areas, like Kakariko Village. This was only possible with the ability to swap between different playable characters.

  • Bokoblins had a life of their own in Breath of the Wild, where it was not possible to incorporate that into Age of Calamity. But they wanted to have some of that with the new cutscenes, where they carry around Terrako. Originally, there was going to be a scene about Bokoblins living their daily lives in peace, where they carry some prey, but then Link charges in and ruins it all. Kind of to show the other side of the war. They also had some back and forth with the Zelda team about how fast Bokoblins would react to Link in such scenes. They can't be too intelligent, nor too ignorant.

  • Sooga's flashback was shown in first person, so they wouldn't have to reveal his face (obviously). But this also helped protecting the mysteriousness around the character.

  • Astor's story is another such mystery, where they wanted to leave it to the players' imaginations.

 

The last point makes it seem quite final, like there is no intention of going any further with this. If there were more DLC, it would naturally put a focus on Astor. But at the same time, if there were more DLC, they wouldn't reveal anything right now.

Still, it would be a shame, if this really were the end, because there is enough stuff left untouched to potentially fill a second Expansion Pass, which includes Astor as a playable character. But let's wait and see.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Age of Calamity: More DLC Ideas

artwork of Astor and the logo of Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity

The Expansion Pass for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has been fully released by now and with its gap-filling story scenarios, as well as the additions of the Battle-Tested Guardian, Sooga and Purah / Robbie it made the game feel overall a lot more wholesome. However, with the scope on Breath of the Wild it wouldn't actually take that much to make the game feel truly complete – to go all the way with this particular Warriors title. In addition, like every game ever made, Age of Calamity does have some rough edges that could need some polishing.

So, let's go over the main ideas for even more additional content and also some quality of life improvements. Some of these things could be implemented via free updates, but most of it is meant for a second Expansion Pass. Also, keep in mind that there is no reason to believe that we might get any of this, so don't get your hopes up.

This article will contain spoilers about the playable characters in Age of Calamity!


Weapon Updates

Right now there is a variety of weapons in the game that can only be obtained once and then never again. Unlike the Master Sword and Bow of Light, which both get their own dedicated, fixed slot, those can be sold and fused at any time. But if you happen to do this, you won't be able to get them back, which shouldn't be a thing. Now, these are the weapons in question:

  • Lucky Ladle
  • Training Sword
  • Prototype Ancient Short Sword
  • Serene Champion's Spear
  • Steadfast Champion's Greatsword
  • Soaring Champion's Bow
  • Nimble Champion's Sword
  • Gallant Hero's Spear
  • Stalwart Hero's Feast
  • Swift Hero's Bow
  • Thunderous Hero's Bridle

The Lucky Ladle used to be a pre-order bonus for the game and you get the Training Sword when you also have a savegame for Breath of the Wild on your system. The rest of the weapons are from the Expansion Pass, where there was no good reason to make any of them limited to a single exemplary.

Now, this should be addressed via a free update, because it affects things already purchased, and the solution is very simple: Quests. In case of the Champion and Hero weapons you could simply make the existing Quests repeatable, much like the Research Quests for the Flail and the Master Cycle Zero in the Royal Ancient Lab. Speaking of, this would also be the perfect place to add a similar Research Quest for the Prototype Ancient Short Sword. As for the Lucky Ladle and the Training Sword, they could add new Quests somewhere on the map, where you can obtain them (again).

Hylian Blacksmith Guild on the map

Another quality of life improvement goes into the Hylian Blacksmith Guild, where an option should be added to maximize the base attack value of any weapon. Like in Breath of the Wild, this value is random on any found weapon, but in that game weapons broke, so it ultimately didn't matter that much. In Age of Calamity, however, weapon building is an important part of the game and here players naturally want to work with the best possible basis.

Currently, the highest possible base attack damage for most third tier weapons is 84 (88 with Octo-Polish in some cases), but the only way of obtaining this is playing the same lengthy Level 93 Challenge over and over again to hope for the lucky drop at the end. It's atrocious, but that some fans are still willing to go through this effort simply shows how much they care for this game. Koei Tecmo might as well throw them a bone and let players fix up any good weapons that they already have found and built. This could be costly, but it will beat the grinding in any case.

Speaking of grinding, the Vicious Monster Battles should get a boost whenever there is a Blood Moon in place, where they go up into the 90s. This way you can also get best possible weapon drops from them. If players still need to grind for more weapons, at least they should have a bit of variety. And to further this variety it would also be good to get new "EX Alerts" for the stages that didn't any yet, like Hyrule Field.


New Characters

With the first Hyrule Warriors you could probably double the roster and still find more ideas for potential playable characters. But since Age of Calamity focuses on a single Zelda title, its roster is pretty close to completion already. Ignoring any characters that may be too huge, like King Dorephan, here is a list of the remaining viable candidates:

  • Astor
  • Harbinger Ganon
  • Kass
  • Beedle
  • Kilton

The Expansion Pass already made some of the NPC characters from the base game playable, like Sooga, one of Koei Tecmo's original characters made specifically for Age of Calamity, where Astor and Harbinger Ganon are the other ones left. However, unlike the Yiga Clan, these villains have no reason to join our heroes throughout the story in the battle against the Calamity, which is probably why they weren't made playable yet. It just didn't fit the narrative.

That Astor must have actually been planned to be playable at some point was indicated by some data-mined voice lines of characters calling each other for swapping. This also included Purah and Robbie, who now became playable.

But if they make Astor and maybe also Harbinger Ganon playable, then this should go hand in hand with some first real villain scenarios. The Expansion Pass already had a Challenge, where you play as the villains against the bad guys, which is quite fun, but more DLC should really expand upon that and explore Astor's storyline in a couple of scenarios.

During this storyline there also could be special Challenges, where you take control of the Blight Ganons, similar to the Divine Beast Battles. Some of them might be too large to become actual playable characters, mainly Windblight Ganon, but having special Blight missions would solve this issue.

artworks of Harbinger Ganon and Kass

Another character that definitely should come with a new storyline is Kass, where it's possible that he also made his way back in time somehow. This could have happened because of Terrako's "magic" or maybe Kass found a way himself, where for example he has learned the "Song of Time" (which would be the perfect title for that expansion). It doesn't matter, but it would be nice to have this beloved character playable after all. The story could also show us finally his teacher in person.

With the two merchants, Beedle and Kilton, we're already scraping the bottom of the barrel, but that's a good thing. These would be some pure fun additions, where Kilton could swing his Spring-Loaded Hammer to safely attack those precious monsters and Beedle could be fighting with a bug-catching net. Kilton is already referenced in Age of Calamity, while Beedle shows up all over the Zelda timeline anyway, so there would be no hurdle to add these characters from Breath of the Wild just like that.


New Weapon Types

This category isn't really that interesting, where the most important weapon addition already got covered by the Expansion Pass: the Master Cycle Zero. With most of the characters it's also hard to imagine anything outside of what they already have.

There could be horses, where the game so far makes it seems like they became extinct after Terrako's time traveling. They were a prominent way of transportation in the flashbacks of Breath of the Wild, but for some reason the heroes always travel on foot in Age of Calamity, even when time is of the essence... But if Koei Tecmo were to add a horse as a weapon for someone, then this someone would probably end up being either Link or Zelda again, where both really don't need more movesets. King Rhoam and Impa might be an alternative, though.

It would also be nice if Impa were to get something new in general, because she was kind of taking a backseat most of the game.


New Attire

One thing that the Expansion Pass didn't add at all were unlockable outfits. The only new outfit is the Prototype Ancient Gear, which came as the purchase bonus for the DLC. But that's it. Considering that there are still dozens of armor pieces for Link left, which didn't make it over from Breath of the Wild, that's quite strange, because those would have been the perfect reward for some more additional Challenges of all sorts.

Here is a complete list of what's missing, 47 items in total:

  • Ancient Helm, Cuirass and Greaves
  • Cap, Tunic and Trousers of the Hero
  • Cap, Tunic and Trousers of the Sky
  • Cap, Tunic and Trousers of Time
  • Cap, Tunic and Trousers of Twilight
  • Cap, Tunic and Trousers of the Wind
  • Fierce Deity Mask, Armor and Boots
  • Island Lobster Shirt
  • Korok Mask
  • Majora's Mask
  • Midna's Helmet
  • Nintendo Switch Shirt
  • Old Shirt, Well-Worn Trousers
  • Phantom Ganon Skull, Armor and Greaves
  • Phantom Helmet, Armor and Greaves
  • Ravio's Hood
  • Salvager Headwear, Vest and Trousers
  • Sheik's Mask
  • Tingle's Hood, Shirt and Tights
  • Vah Medoh, Vah Naboris, Vah Rudania, and Vah Ruta Divine Helm
  • Zant's Helmet

Of course not everything from this list needs to be there, obviously the game worked fine without any of them. And with some items they may not even want them in the game, like the ancient armor set, where they now have the prototype variant for it, or the salvager set based on Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

But it still would be nice to have some of it, especially all the items based on other Zelda games, which would be a nice and easy way of celebrating 35 years of Zelda in Age of Calamity. Those could even be locked behind special Challenges that reference the games and characters in question, e.g. a Rupee hunting mission for the Tingle set.

Link in his Tingle outfit in Breath of the Wild

They could also add some new things, where the most obvious choice is Link's ancient hero garb from the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild. This could be like a promotional item or something, maybe even unlocked when you have a save game of the sequel on your system.

As usual, that's a lot of stuff for Link and absolutely nothing for the rest of the cast. In the very least Zelda should also get access to her Royal Attire, the blue regal dress that she wears in some of the cutscenes:

Curiously, this outfit is actually coded into the game, there is just currently no way of unlocking it, except for mods. And that's a shame. Why would Koei Tecmo hold something like that back, if it wasn't for more DLC? Fans really shouldn't have to mod their Nintendo Switch systems to get access to all contents.


Golden Enemies

The first Expansion Pass has already explored the addition of enemies quite well, but we still didn't get the golden enemies from the Master Mode in Breath of the Wild. Koei Tecmo had the perfect opportunities to add them via the Blood Moons, the Apocalyptic difficulty or the Vicious Monster Battles, where it's weird that this hasn't happened yet...

An actual Master Mode where you start over might be too much at this point, but maybe they could still add them via new Challenges. Alternatively, with a new campaign focused on Astor, there could be something to unlock here to make Blood Moons stronger, where then the scenarios have even higher levels and upgrade all the default enemy tiers by one, just like in Breath of the Wild's Master Mode.


New Stages

If they were to add more story scenarios, e.g. for Astor or Kass, then those should have new locations to visit. And there are actually still a couple of empty areas on the map of Age of Calamity, where additional battles could take us to these places:

  • Deep Akkala
  • Deya Village
  • Faron Grasslands
  • Gerudo Highlands
  • Lake Floria
  • Lake Hylia 
  • Lurelin Village
  • Mount Lanayru
  • Tabantha Tundra

That's enough possibilities for two more DLC packs. And this leads us to...


Expansion Pass 2 Concept

If they were to add some of the things mentioned in this article, then this would most likely be done via a second Expansion Pass. Here is a concept of how this could look like, where like the first Expansion Pass this would come in two waves. These two waves would be more similar to "Guardian of Remembrance", meaning the focus is on adding new story scenarios and playable characters.


Wave 3 – Gears of Prophecy

  • New story sequences following the mysterious prophet Astor, who supports the diminutive Guardian harboring Calamity Ganon's Malice and its dark vision of the future.
  • New playable characters: Astor, as well as Harbinger Ganon.
  • New locations: Deya Village, Gerudo Highlands, Mount Lanayru and more.
  • Blight Ganon Battles: take control of the four Blight Ganons in newly added Challenges.
  • Raise the power of the Blood Moon with new golden enemies.

 

Wave 4 – Song of Time

  • New story sequences following the bard Kass, who traveled back in time to learn of new heroics.
  • New playable characters: Kass, Beedle, and Kilton.
  • New locations: Lake Floria, Lurelin Village, Deep Akkala and more.
  • Legendary Challenges: unlock attire based on past legends from newly added Challenges, where you also battle against golden foes.

 

Conclusion

The more you think about the remaining potential with Age of Calamity, the more it will hurt if there's no more DLC left. There is enough possible content here to fill a second Expansion Pass, where this would also make the game feel really complete, something that was far harder to achieve with the first Hyrule Warriors. So, hopefully Koei Tecmo and Nintendo aren't already done with the game.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Age of Calamity: Expansion Pass Review

Almost one year after the release of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for the Nintendo Switch the game's Expansion Pass has been completed. It came in two waves: Pulse of the Ancients and Guardian of Remembrance, where the former was already released back in June and the latter at the end of last month, two weeks ago.

Now that the entire Expansion Pass has been released, it's the perfect time to evaluate it. How much does it really add to the base game? How does it compare to the DLCs from Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors: Legends? Well, let's find out. If you haven't played Age of Calamity yet, then keep in mind that this review might contain some spoilers, mainly about the playable characters!


No Freebies

One thing Koei Tecmo and Nintendo liked to do with the original Hyrule Warriors was giving free "samples" of the DLC that everyone would receive with the updates, which even included new playable characters. The villain trio of Cia, Volga and Wizzro were originally NPCs, but they became playable with version 1.3.0. And Hyrule Warriors: Legends added Medli for free as its first DLC character. There were also other additions and changes that came with the updates, like increased level caps for all the characters or new features for the weapon smithy.

Impa dodging an explosive barrel from one of the new Moblin variants

There is none of that in Age of Calamity. Well, there is, but it's all tied to the Expansion Pass and if you don't purchase it, then your game will stay exactly the same, except for some under-the-hood improvements. To be fair, most of these freebies in Hyrule Warriors were still tied to the paid DLC somehow and were essentially meant to lure you into buying the additional contents. For example the free characters didn't have any of their weapon upgrades or additional Heart Containers, unless you got the new Adventure Maps as well. Still, you were at least able to try these characters a bit and also to complete all their skills.

With Age of Calamity it's actually much easier to add a new character with the full package, because all they need are practice mission and a dozen of Quests for all their upgrades, which both can be placed anywhere on the map. No big extension of the game is needed and thus the game truly could have gotten some free character additions without any drawbacks at any time, but Koei Tecmo and Nintendo decided not to, which is somewhat disappointing... Of course this is not a big complaint, just an observation how things have changed since 2014.

However, a line needs to be drawn for any quality of life improvements, where those should not be locked behind paid DLC. The Expansion Pass offers you the possibility to store more weapons for all characters and to finally purchase apples, but both have to be unlocked via the new Royal Ancient Lab, while the original Hyrule Warriors had offered similar changes for free. This was already a bad trend in Breath of the Wild, where the paid DLC included items to make your life easier, like calling your horse from anywhere or getting help for finding Koroks. This was not okay back then and this is still not okay today.


Quality Before Quantity

Overall the Expansion Pass expands Age of Calamity on all fronts by adding new playable characters, new weapon types, additional Quests, Challenges, story scenarios, as well as even new enemies, music, stages, moveset additions, and more. It's as full-featured as it gets, but you also have to judge the Expansion Pass by the number of additions. Here is how much the Expansion Pass adds to your game, compared to how much of the same was already in the base game (in parenthesis):

  • New Characters: 3 (18)
  • Additional Weapon Types: 2 (3)
  • New Attire: 3 (69)
  • New Stages: 5 (21)
  • New Scenarios: 8 (20)
  • New Challenges: 36 (161)
  • New Quests: 112 (376)

Given the price of 19.99€ for the Expansion Pass, this doesn't really add all up. To be fair, the base game is quite extensive and can keep you entertained for over 60 hours (a lot more on the higher difficulties), where it also had an unusually large amount of characters for a new Warriors game. And getting three more characters and two new weapon types (movesets) for existing characters was essentially the standard with the similar DLC bundles for Hyrule Warriors, so this is absolutely decent.

The one thing that is mainly lacking is the number of additional Challenges, which was a strong suit of the DLC for Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors: Legends with the additional Adventure Maps. While arguably being quite repetitive, those could take many, many hours to complete, but the Expansion Pass for Age of Calamity doesn't really have anything comparable. The DLC itself aims at the late game, where its new Challenges are all above a recommended level of 50 and even go up into the 90s. But at this point all of it might feel like a drop in the bucket, where it won't take long for experienced players to overcome them.

At the same time you have praise that they were going for many new things with the additions. While the DLC Adventure Maps for Hyrule Warriors (Legends) offered a ton of new missions, those missions usually just recycled the existing contents. There were no new enemies, no new stages, and no new music (other than for the overlaying Adventure Maps themselves), where this always felt like a missed opportunity – not so with the Expansion Pass for Age of Calamity. It has all that, which is absolutely great and where Koei Tecmo really has put quality before quantity this time.

It's still a shame that they couldn't have done some more things to keep players busy. While the game now has a couple of new stages, those new stages rarely get even used by the DLC for additional Challenges. And this feels like a missed opportunity of its own.

However, there is a new type of Challenge, where you battle "Vicious Monsters", which keeps respawning and has some random elements to it. Those make use of all the new stages, as well as most of the enemy additions, where you can keep playing them for grinding. But of course this is not as exciting as completing a whole new set of Challenges.

One thing that is completely absent from the Expansion Pass are unlockable outfits, which could have served as a great reward for additional Challenges. The only new attire you get is the Prototype Ancient Gear set for Link as the purchase bonus, but otherwise there is nothing to find. Well, with the DLC for Hyrule Warriors (Legends) you didn't get many full costumes either, it was mostly just color swaps, which wouldn't be a good fit for this game's attire system. But in the very least they could have brought back some more of Link's many armor pieces from Breath of the Wild and maybe also offer that blue regal dress for Zelda.


Pulse of the Ancients

While the Expansion Pass is probably best enjoyed in its entirety, it originally was split into two halves with a very different focus. The first DLC wave was all about adding new Challenges and Quests to the game, where many of the latter take the form of "Research Quests" in the Royal Ancient Lab. This point on the map opens its own progression window, in which you will unlock the aforementioned quality of life improvements, as well as the new weapon types for Link and Zelda, the Flail and the Master Cycle Zero.

Hungry Hunches Research Quest

This is the part of the DLC that can already be started quite early in the game, right after the first chapter, where you can continuously work on clearing all the Research Quests. The ultimate goal is finding the Battle-Tested Guardian, but you really need to complete a whole series of Quests before that. These special Research Quests still work like any other Quest in the game, so you supply a number of materials to solve them. The catch is that some of the required materials are entirely new, like research papers that you obtain from certain actions, where you aren't able to get any of them before installing the DLC.

Some of the materials are also gotten as rewards from the new Challenges. Those start from Level 50 onward, so they are definitely not meant to be taken on in the early game. There aren't many new Challenges to find here, only 15 in total (ten more with the second DLC wave), but Koei Tecmo tried to offer some new things with them. For example there are Challenges where Robbie and Purah want to do some research and ask you to defeat your enemies in a specific way.

One of the new Challenges asks you to rack up a certain number of K.O.s within a time limit and there is another one about getting Rupees, which is reminiscent of similar missions from Hyrule Warriors (Legends). But these are kind of weird and don't work in the same way, because they keep shifting the goal post and it's not really clear how much you really have to get in the allotted time.

In "Survival of the Fittest" you're asked to simply survive for ten minutes, where the game keeps throwing tough enemies at you and it's really up to you how you do this. You can try and fight them all, or keep running in circles, or make good use of Daruk's shield. There is no wrong, as long as the clock keeps ticking down.

Other Challenges try to emulate some small stories, where there is even one which pitches the villains against the good guys. The game otherwise doesn't really have much in this direction, so it's a quite refreshing take.

Urbosa fighting one of the new Meteo Wizzrobes near Rito Village

But overall there isn't that much to play here, as already mentioned, where seasoned players will be done with all the new Challenges fairly quickly. So, if you're hoping to be kept busy on a similar level as the Adventure Maps in Hyrule Warriors (Legends), then you're out of luck.

As a slight compensation Koei Tecmo introduced "Vicious Monster Battles", called "EX Alerts" on your map, which keep re-appearing and offer different of these "Vicious Monsters" at the end. Those are your typical tough foes, ranging from Moblins to Lynels, which also includes most of the new enemy types introduced in the DLC. But they all have crazy modifiers to them, like lots of health, or insane attack powers, but rarely also beneficial things, like better drops.

What enemy or enemies you're getting is pretty much random, but it adds a certain replay value to these Challenges and makes them a nice place for grinding. You even have to grind these missions for a while, because they are the only place where you can obtain the Vicious Monster Reports, which are required to complete a variety of the Research Quests in the Royal Ancient Lab.

Luckily, they don't have any time limits, where they are relatively stress-free, save for the waves of elemental enemies it always keeps spawning at the end. Sadly, these missions don't make use of all the possible stages, not even half of them, and they don't provide the best possible outcome for weapons in the game. Otherwise this would have been perfect to keep the game going and the ideal way of farming good weapons without getting bored too quickly.

And you still might want to work on your weapons in case you're venturing into the new Apocalyptic difficulty mode. However, this mode is just another modification of the damage values, so it's not very exciting. While the damage you take is atrocious, you can at least compensate the tankier enemies with better weapons, especially now that you can upgrade them to Level 50 for some crazy good values. Unlike the other difficulty modes, Apocalyptic does even affect drops – weapon drops to be more specific –, where there is a slight incentive to play it, other than the for the challenge.

If this mode did more, it would have been much more interesting, however. This was the perfect opportunity for adding the golden enemies from Breath of the Wild's own DLC, where Koei Tecmo could have utilized the same system for upgrading the enemies. But there's nothing like that, where this new difficulty mode feels like a cheap addition, rather than something that adds true replay value.


Guardian of Remembrance

The second half of the paid DLC offers eight new scenarios, which take place all over the base game's storyline and come with a variety of new cutscenes. If you're in this game for the story, then this will be the heart of the Expansion Pass for you. Still, you shouldn't expect anything overly important, where similar to The Champions' Ballad it gives you some more fractured insights into what has happened, filling some of the gaps, but without offering a new story arc or something like that.

Rhoam meeting with Urbosa at the Great Plateau

Generally, this is all about giving most of the characters (that aren't optional) some more screen time. Half of the scenarios focuses on the Champions and their descendants, where they are put together on a mission and share some nice moment together. If you always wanted to see how Sidon interacts with himself as a little kid, then you might be in for treat.

Both King Rhoam and Master Kohga get their own scenarios as well, which is pretty awesome and makes the game feel overall more wholesome. Only Hestu is out of luck here and doesn't get much love, but in the least he shows up for some final montage that you can unlock by clearing all "Memory Quests".

These Memory Quests are special conditions that have to be fulfilled during the scenarios, where there is three of them for each. They are similar to the Hard Mode Gold Skulltulas in Hyrule Warriors and the third condition is always obscured as "???", where you have to figure out what to do for yourself. In some of the scenarios it's quite obvious what it wants you to do, in others not so much, where this can be quite frustrating if you don't want to look things up on the internet.

Half of the new scenarios also come with new battlefields: Goponga Village, Kakariko Village, Lanayru Road and Mount Daphnes, where the latter includes the Coliseum. Together with the Forgotten Temple, which gets used for some Challenges in the "Pulse of the Ancients" DLC, that's five new locations from Breath of the Wild for you to visit and they all look really great in action.

Vah Rudania above Kakariko Village

The big highlight is probably Kakariko, where Vah Rudania came for a visit. While the stage feels very cramped around the town center, it looks gorgeous and even comes with an amazing new music track. Sadly, they don't have any new Koroks on them, where the Memory Quests are kind of the replacement reason for you to explore the entire battlefield at all times.

The other half of the new scenario also reuses some of the old stages, where so far each new scenario got a unique battlefield for it. Even when the base game returned to previous locations, it heavily altered them in some form or explored new areas around the same stage. This doesn't happen here, which isn't too bad, but it would have been great if Koei Tecmo kept up the stage variety. In the very least they could have gone with different times of day or weather conditions to offer something more fresh. Imagine the Breach of Demise at night example.

But the new stages don't get used too much anyway. For the most part it's only two or three new Challenges for each of the new stages, which already includes the randomized Vicious Monster Battles, where they could have done a little bit more here.

The Challenges that got added with the second DLC also aren't as creative as the ones from "Pulse of the Ancients". For the most part it's the typical boss fights under time limits, where the base game already had one too many of those. So, some more Challenges that take place on the new stages and make use of some new ideas would have been really nice here.


New Weapons

Of course with every Warriors game the most important thing are the playable characters, where three new ones were added with the DLC and two of the old ones got new tools to play with. Let's first talk about the latter, because this is what you also can get the earliest in the DLC. The newly added weapon types are the Flail and the Master Cycle Zero, which go to Link and Zelda respectively. Now, these two happen to be the only characters who already had additional weapon types in the base game, where they really didn't need the extra attention...

Zelda driving the Master Cycle Zero

It still fits them best, however, where it's especially nice that Zelda was given the Master Cycle Zero – after all she is the one using the Sheikah Slate in this game and who is always very interested in technology. This moveset is as crazy as you would expect and actually even gives you a speed boost, which is something that normally doesn't happen in Hyrule Warriors. Even Link on Epona used to ride only as fast as everyone else was running in the previous title. So, this is a welcome change and can be quite useful.

The Flail let's you copy the basic weapons of your enemies, which leads to some interesting results and also different attack speeds. Overall this moveset feels reminiscent of Link's Gauntlet from Hyrule Warriors, just not as completely over-the-top.

Link in the Prototype Ancient Armor attacking some Bokoblins with the Flail at the Tabantha Frontier

Both the Master Cycle Zero and the Flail come in three different variants, which all have the same base attack values, but a different strong attack. This can be a dash attack, a shield or a laser, where it's really up to you what you like best. But it's certainly an interesting change from the usual three tiers that weapons get in this game and Hyrule Warriors in general.

Otherwise there are also new "skins" or specimens of existing weapon types for half of the original cast. There is the Prototype Ancient Short Sword, which you will get right away with the purchase bonus and you can also unlock a special weapon for each of the Champions and their descendants after their new story scenarios. Those all behave the same way, where they have the same starting base damage as the Master Sword and come with a free "Attack Speed++" seal pre-installed, which is favored by most players anyway. Their growth is much stronger than other weapons, however, where at the end their damage will go above 200. That's still not as good as tier 3 weapons with a high base damage, which is quite disappointing and feels somewhat pointless, but it's still a very solid alternative. And they look really cool.

 

New Characters

Moving on to the new characters, which are undoubtedly the true highlight of any DLC for a Hyrule Warriors game or Warriors games in general. All of the three newcomers play very differently and offer some interesting options over what the base game roster has already provided, where the additions are overall quite satisfying.

A Guardian firing a laser at a horde of Bokoblins in the canyons of the Breath of Demise

The first DLC wave offered the Battle-Tested Guardian, which is effectively your typical Guardian as a playable character, with a few extras to make the moveset more complete and a small story as to why this isn't just your typical Guardian after all. But they are the signature enemies of Breath of the Wild, where it's great to have one playable in Age of Calamity. Visually the Battle-Tested Guardian is heavily inspired by the first Guardian that we ever saw, the one from the first teaser for the game at E3 2014, which is a nice throwback to where it all started.

It's free from any malice and it feels right to finally use a Guardian for its intended purpose: defend Hyrule from evil. With its ZR ability you can actually lock on to foes and then fire the laser beam with your strong attack, just like you would expect, which feels absolutely great, but of course isn't as overpowered as when enemies are using it against you. The animations look fantastic as well, where it only turns its head whenever you steer it, but the body stays in position and the tentacle legs do the job.

The Battle-Tested Guardian also does some crazy things, where for example it turns basically into a U.F.O. whenever it needs to fly. And it has the usual problems of playable characters of its size, where the hitbox is quite big, which makes it very difficult to dodge various attacks.

Robbie slicing some Bokoblins at Akkala Citadel with Purah standing right next to him

Then we have Purah & Robbie, which is also a very unique character, because it's actually a character duo, where the two scientists are finally working together to battle some foes themselves. There is an argument to be made that they could have been two separate playable characters, where Purah kind of got the short end of the stick here, because Robbie does most of the work. But it's really their teamwork and their interaction that makes this character so special.

Robbie uses some sort of robot suit with two long blade arms, which has a huge range, one of the largest attack ranges in the game, but it's a little slow as a compensation. He even has his Ancient Blade Saws from Breath of the Wild installed in the best version of the weapon, which is a nice detail.

Purah on the other hand supports him by deploying machines based on the Divine Beasts, which you can call via the ZR button. Which of the four inventions you get is random, but like in Tetris it shows you the next one. And once deployed they unleash a powerful attack, which even depletes the weak points of enemies, which is very, very useful. You just have to be careful not be hit yourself, which can stun you or knock you down.

Overall these two characters are the real star of the DLC, where they are in charge of the Royal Ancient Lab, they narrate the new stories and then even become playable themselves at the end. The only downside is that they don't become playable as part of the new story scenarios, where there is an actual reason for them to fight or defend themselves. So, it feels more like an afterthought and at the point where you get these new characters there might not be anything left for you to do in the game... And that's a shame.

Sooga doing a ninja pose with an explosion behind him... he doesn't look at it, because he's a cool guy

There is one more DLC character, whose identity has been officially revealed by Nintendo and Koei Tecmo in the meantime, so it probably doesn't count as a spoiler any longer: Sooga. This character fills another obvious gap in the roster, where Master Kohga was already playable, but we didn't really know what has happened to his reliable right hand man. Now you can take control of his destiny and make him join the ranks of the playable fighters.

And it's really good to finally have him playable, where Sooga is one of Koei Tecmo's original characters for this game, who is essentially a unique Yiga Blademaster and a really cool guy. His moveset is a lot of fun and very strong in boss fights, because he comes with a new counter mechanic for his ZR move, which feels really good to land. So good in fact that you might want a similar mechanic for everyone. Three successful counters without getting hit also boosts his normal attacks significantly, but you will lose everything once you take damage.

The only complaint about this character is that his moveset doesn't contain everything that you would expect. The long-distance sword beams, those signature wind attacks used by the Yiga Blademasters and also Sooga himself, are completely absent. Some of his attacks have similar effects, but the reach is quite limited, so it's not the same thing... You are also not able to actively teleport around, like Yiga usually do. Considering that even Mipha can teleport herself for some reason, this feels like a weird omission.


New Enemies

Not only does the Expansion Pass add new stages to the game, there are also about a dozen new enemies as well. Of course most of these are simply new variants of existing enemies, like three new types of Moblins, but they are quite creative. The bomb barrel throwing Moblins for example, which already could be annoying during the Divine Beast missions, now face you actively on the battlefield. And there are new flying Moblins, who are using a backpack full of Octo Balloons as a funny sight.

But they shouldn't be underestimated, which also goes for the three enhanced types of Wizzrobes, who are returning from Breath of the Wild, but are much more deadlier in this game. The same is true for the Giant Chuchus, which can be surprisingly fast and almost feel like a new boss battle.

Daruk fighting a Giant Fire Chuchu

Speaking of boss battles, the DLC also adds two of them. The first is against one of the new characters, where this one can be quite tricky, because the fight goes cleverly against your expectations at some points. For example this boss knows how to actively dodge your rod attacks, so you can't just spam for some easy weak point attacks. But the fight still stays entirely fair, so it's an overall refreshing battle.

The same can't be said about the other new boss, which is part of the new story scenarios and also gets used in some of the new Challenges. This one is best described as an abomination and it completely goes against the rules of this game. Your rods and even Stasis have no effect on this boss at all and it can land some very cheap hits. Its weapon arms also get their own weak points to take them out, which is something new, but this feels more like a distraction at times. It's almost like Koei Tecmo wanted a little bit too much with this boss, where the whole story around it also feels very unnecessary.


Conclusion

The Expansion Pass for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity really puts quality before quantity with its new story scenarios, new battlefields, new music, new enemies, and so on. It's a good change from the similar DLC seasons for Hyrule Warriors on Wii U and Hyrule Warriors: Legends on Nintendo 3DS, which lacked in some of these categories, while also providing the usual addition of three new characters and two new weapon types, which are fun as always.

However, some more quantity wouldn't have hurt, especially when it comes to the new Challenges, and the lack of more attire is disappointing. And while the game feels a lot more complete after the Expansion Pass, it's still not completely satisfying...