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...