Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Zelda: The Open World Is Not Enough

As a Zelda fantard, I think it's important that every Zelda game be in the running for Game of All Time. Oftentimes, on Zelda forums, blogs, and such, people discuss what could make Zelda better. There's notion that the “Zelda formula” is getting a bit stale. I would agree. Some say the series would fare better as an open world game. I would agree with that as well. However, that's not all that's necessary. That would merely improve Zelda into a good game. As the opening sentence might imply, I don't think that's good enough.

My cousin has this game called Far Cry 3. I've spent a good bit of time over at his house of late, and I've been playing the hell out of that game. It's really good. Anyway, I found myself wondering, “Why can't Zelda have an overworld like this?” However, as I traversed through the campaign, I realized that Zelda would still suffer from many of the same problems if it were like FarCry 3. Far Cry 3's main storyline is completely linear, just as Zelda's is. There are things you can do such as skin animals or liberate enemy bases which makes you feel as if you have a good degree of freedom, but the freedom in that game is linear slavery when compared to freedom offered by LoZ or even ALttP and OoT.

In the older Zelda games, the recommended dungeon orders were optional. For example, in LoZ, “Level-1” is referred to as such, but you don't necessarily have to complete Level-1 first. You can do Level-3 first if you want. Items from Levels 3 and 4 are required for Levels 5-8, but you can basically go wherever the sam hell you want. The only place you can't go is Level-9 (the last level where Princess Zelda is being held). LoZ puts the free in free roaming.

Anyway, imagine if Zelda had an open world like FarCry 3's where the entire map is accessible from the start, but the dungeons still need to be completed in a set order. The only benefit is being able to do the sidequests early (much like how you can liberate bases early in FarCry 3). And really: What's the freakin' point of that in Zelda? You can play Bombchu Bowling from the start of the game? That's nice and all, but it's quite a step down from being able to clear the last dungeon first.

Zelda shouldn't settle for being a mere good open world game. It could be so much more if Nintendo only wanted it to be. Modern Zelda could be immortal – a part of the conscience of gamers everywhere – as LoZ, ALttP, and OoT are. And yet, not only do they avoid providing alternate dungeon orders, they continually close off entire portions of the map until much later in the game.

But maybe that will change with Zelda U.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

15 Super Mario Bros. Challenges

I love the original Super Mario Bros. for NES. I don't think there's a Mario game I've played as much as that one. There's something great about its simplicity. Anyway, I was thinking about what it would be like if Super Mario Bros. for NES had something akin to the Achievements/Trophies found in 360/PS3 games. If you'd like, consider this an unofficial list of challenges you can try out in SMB:

  1. It's-a-Me: Clear every level in the first quest.
  2. Deja Vu: Clear every level in the second quest.
  3. Cheater: Perform the “Infinite Lives” Trick
  4. Speed Run: Beat the game by visiting no more than three Worlds.
  5. Wild Gunman: Kill every King Koopa with fireballs.
  6. Lost At Sea: Visit “Minus World.”
  7. Core: Beat the game without continuing.
  8. Hardcore: Beat the game without dying.
  9. The Plumber Without A Gun: Beat the game without picking up any Magic Mushrooms or Fire Flowers.
  10. Pacifist: Beat every level without killing a single enemy.
  11. Serial Killer: Kill every reachable enemy in every level (i.e. excluding unreachable Bullet Bills).
  12. 1-up'd: Get an extra life by knocking Koopa Shell into a line of enemies.
  13. Ascended Glitch: Jump over the flagpole.
  14. Over 5000: Get 5000 points on every flagpole in the game.
  15. Top That: Score a million points.

I'm having a hard time thinking about anything too different you could do in SMB. It is a pretty straightforward game after all, and perhaps that's it's greatest strength. If you can think of something better, mention it below.

Also, I think it's fine to use the continue code on some of these. For example, there's no need to start over from 1-1 if you accidentally hit an enemy on 8-3 while trying to do #10. Although, I'd view the situation differently on #8. But it really doesn't matter, just so long as you're having fun. ;)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nintendo's Worst Enemy Is Nintendo

In looking back at the games I bought for SNES when it was a modern console, it's clear that I bought a lot of games that were developed and/or published by Nintendo. Many of those games are the classics that I remember the SNES fondly for, such as Donkey Kong Countries 1-3, A Link to the Past, Yoshi's Island, etc.

I also bought a decent bit of third party games. I couldn't get enough of the stuff from Konami. Axelay, Castlevania IV, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors are some of my favorite SNES games (Axelay is top ten material, in fact.). In addition to Konami, there were RPGs from Square, sports games from EA and Iquana, and... my memory isn't what it used to be, but I definitely had good bit of third party games for it. :P

However, in doing this looking back, I realize that Nintendo and its second party Rareware are the height of the SNES show. The IPs involved with Nintendo's games are iconic. Super Mario World's levels are more memorable to me than the levels from Super Castlevania IV, even though both games are on an equal footing, fun-wise.

I and some unknown number other people would buy a Nintendo console purely to play Nintendo's games. And if a tight budget got in the way, forcing me to choose between say, Konami games and Nintendo games, I would choose Nintendo games every time. (Unless Konami ever pumps out Axelay 2. You've got me then, Konami! Axelay freakin' rules!).

I don't think I'm as averse to third-party games as some Nintendo fans, but I think it's somewhat of a problem with their fanbase. In reading other people's comments about the Wii U, they all say, “Wait until the new Mario and the new Zelda come out! It'll sell then.” Those games just might Wii Us, but will third parties start bringing games to the Wii U then? Nintendo is providing Wii U owners with all of the games that those gamers want: Mario and Zelda.

Nintendo's third party support problem goes back to the N64 (You could argue that the SNES had less third party support than the NES, but that's because Nintendo had an illegal monopoly.). The change to the disc format pushed most third parties to the PSX. Some of them never came back. And those that did were greeted with Nintendo fans that stuck by Nintendo because Nintendo's games are all they were ever interested in to begin with! Did these Wii owners support what few third party games the thing had? Consider Black Ops Wii. There definitely people who bought the game, but it was nothing when compared to the 360/PS3 crowds. If popular third party franchise such as Call of Duty struggles on Nintendo's platforms, what hope is there for lesser known third-party games?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Banjo Kazooie Composer Dreams of Making Banjo 3 For Wii-U

During a Youtube show called Game Grumps, Grant Kirkhope, the composer for classic Rare games such as Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark, mentioned that he dreams of reuniting former Rare employees under a new company and obtaining the rights to Banjo Kazooie. Here's the specific quote, which I first saw on GenGame:

"I keep wishing that all the ex-Rare staffers would just get together and form a company, and go to Nintendo and say ‘give us the money. We’ll make you Banjo 3 for the Wii U’ or whatever…Just make Banjo 3 like it should have been made back then and it would be great, and it would be great on Wii U, and all the ex-Rare guys would be together again all happy and kissing each other… I just keep thinking we should just give it a try."

For whatever reason, this hypothetical endeavor reminds me of the legal battle between Nintendo and Atari over Tetris. Atari got the license to make Tetris for computers and assumed that video game consoles were included in their license. Nintendo, however, managed to get a second license exclusively for video game consoles, and a lengthy series of lawsuits between Atari and Nintendo ensued.

Anyway, what I'm getting to is that the people from those days at Nintendo were really crafty. They knew that Tetris was an awesome game, and they went to great and expensive lengths to obtain the Tetris license. The payoff was the massive success of the GameBoy (which had Tetris as a pack-in game).

I can't help but think that if you put the people who obtained the Tetris license in this situation, they would see the profits that "neo-Rare" could bring in with a popular Rare IP. The IP itself is just needed to catch people's attention, but after that, they could potentially make some new games exclusively for Nintendo consoles.

Having said all of that, "neo-Rare" doesn't exist yet, as far as I know anyway. But who knows what the future holds? Perhaps Grant Kirkhope's comments will reach far and wide, entering the eyes and ears of all former Rare employees. One can only hope.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Super Mario World vs. New Super Mario Bros. Wii

New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a pretty sweet video game. Plumbers tripping on Magic Mushrooms is something that everyone should experience. I really like it. I'm of a mixed mind whether prefer it to my other favorite Mario game, Super Mario World, or not. I decided to make a comparison.

Good Level Design, Thy Name is NSMB-Wii

In terms of level design, I think it holds its own well against any of the classic games. Some of the scenarios are downright challenging to get past. I was impressed that Nintendo would make a game this hard for their casual gaming device called the Wii. However, when I say "hard," I only mean it in the sense that some levels will might take eight or ten of your lives on the first attempt. If you have any Mario skill whatsoever, you probably won't get a Game Over in this game. Extra lives are everywhere, and you can stock up on them without really trying to. Basically, I'm saying that I beat the game with 99 lives, yet still think that it's a pretty challenging game.

Why is it challenging? Things popping out of lava, thirty or forty fireballs chasing you back across the levels, jumps that require absolute precision, and all sorts of arduous scenarios that just never existed in Super Mario World. It's almost like playing those classic Mario games is a prerequisite. To me, NSMB-Wii plays like a version of The Lost Levels that has been packed with thousands of extra lives... and made a little bit easier. Nothing in this game is as hard as 7-3 of The Lost Levels. Damn those catapult springs!

Overworld Devolution: NSMB-Wii's Failure

There's no denying it. The pack-in game for Super Nintendo had a more impressive overworld than a comparable mid-life Wii game. In Super Mario World, there are numerous alternate exits. Only a few were really hard to find, which made it accessible enough for most players to try and find them all. In NSMB-Wii, there are secret exits. However, the map only gives you a vague suggestion of where they are. Also, I haven't counted them out, but I would wager that far more secret exits exist in Super Mario World than in this game. NSMB-Wii's overworld wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't quite live up the still-impressive feat that was the SMW overworld.

When I was finding NSMB-Wii's Star Coins to beat the levels in Star World (or World-9), I was hoping there would be a Special Zone after beating all of the levels in Star World. Well, there wasn't, and that was a letdown. It actually wasn't a big big deal as the game was still really good, but, the Special Zone is legendary in its difficulty -- right up there with the Lost Levels, in fact! I know that Mario and hardcore aren't often mentioned in the same sentence, but you've gotta be pretty hardcore to clear SMW's Special Zone levels. But anyway.

Star Coins: NSMB-Wii's Improvement

After beating Bowser NSMB-Wii, I thought, "Yeah that was pretty good. The bosses were a step backward to Super Mario Bros. 3, but I liked it." Then I got to collecting the Star Coins to unlock levels in Star World. At this point it hit me: This game is like Super Mario 64 in 2D. As someone who has issues with the slow pace 3D Mario, I was pretty excited. "Finally, they've put this find the stars stuff into a game style that I enjoy!"

You can actually try to collect all of the Dragon Coins in Super Mario World. I went back and did it a few months ago. It was a lot of fun, and I'd recommend it. However, there's no system in place to keep track of whether you've obtained all the Dragon Coins in a given level. Also, not all of the levels have four Dragon Coins. Some have five, and a few have three (Chocolate Secret, and one other... I forget which). I do believe I obtained all of the Dragon Coins, but I can't be sure. :P

So, NSMB-Wii did something that was quite unique for a 2D Mario game. Whether the other NSMB games did, I don't know. I would to play them find out if I had a (3)DS. This "find the coins in the level stuff" also occurred in the Donkey Kong Country games with DK-Coins, Bear Coins, and whatever else was in there.

Multiplayer: Pick Your Flavor

Super Mario World plays like Super Mario Bros. 3, alternating whenever a play beats a level or dies. NSMB-Wii doesn't do that. It does something that's, to me, far more annoying: You need to play these levels with everyone on the screen at the same time. I'm Mario God in one player (like most people, I imagine), but 2-players is quite hard due to each player going for the same platforms. 3-players is unruly. 4-players is impossible, man. Everyone wants to go their own way. While I think that the co-op mode is a good feature, they should have included old school alternating Mario to appease people who actually want to finish the game with more than one player.

Music: SMW owns it

This is just my opinion, but I don't think that the music in NSMB-Wii is all that great. There are good themes here and there, but the main little motif is as mediocre as it gets. Other pieces sound good, but they're just too ambient for a game that's focused on rhythm, running, and jumping. Compare it with the Donut Plains 1 music, the Vanilla Dome, and the Valley of Bowser. NSMB-Wii's music seems like it's at its best when it's paying homage to previous games in the series (a-la SMW's Castle Theme. The Hammer Bros. theme from SMB3. etc.). I suppose nostalgia affects my opinion here, but I stand by it. ;)

Final Verdict: Doesn't Matter

Is it a better game than SMW? For the most part, no. SMW's overworld and Music were better, to me. but it was still pretty damn good. Collecting the Star Coins was just fun. If I had $400 to just throw away, I would get a Wii-U and the 2D Mario game for that. Just keep making 2D Mario games, Nintendo! It's not creative and definitely not innovative, but they tend to rule. In my opinion, NSMB-Wii beats the hell out of SUper Mario Galaxy, but I may have a minority opinion on that. :(

Well, that concludes a pointless comparison of two games with very similar gameplay. I hope you enjoyed. I thought it was a fine time-waster.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Link to the Past and Non-Linear Progression

I read something that made me die a little on the inside. I'm paraphrasing here: "A Link to the Past is the source of modern linear Zelda. How you can like that and not like the equally linear Twilight Princess? They're the same thing."

This is a common perception about my favorite Zelda game, one that is completely wrong. A Link to the Past creates the appearance of a linear game -- insofar as it numbers the dungeons via the map -- but the order is completely up for grabs after the Palace of Darkness. After completing that first dungeon of the Dark World, it's possible to complete Skull Woods, Thieves' Hideout, and... that water one (Level-2) in any order. I never could remember its name. And if I'm not mistaken, the order of the Ice Prison and Misery Mire can be swapped up.

Ok, so it's a common habit to play a game through once and never touch it again these days. I can understand how younger gamers might think that if they just beat ALttP once. However, it baffles me to see that some players of the original Legend of Zelda really regard ALttP as a linear game. I'll grant that it muffles the absolute freedom given in LoZ, but its Dark World portion is still a pretty great continuation of LoZ's non-linear scheme.

Anyway, I think it's sad to see ALttP regarded as such by anyone, because I believe that its formula achieved the best of both worlds. Its Light World portion was quite segmented to allow for the storyline to develop. After Zelda's capture, the game switches to non-linear traditional LoZ-esque gameplay. ALttP has a Storyline AND Exploration, which to hear Zelda fans tell it, are two things which cannot exist within the same game.

Ocarina of Time continued ALttP's tradition of allowing alternate dungeon orders in the "second half" of the game. But alas, OoT had fewer dungeons, so it wasn't quite as apparent. After OoT, it was abandoned entirely in favor of the type of segmented gameplay found in Link's Awakening. That's the real prototype for linear Zelda.

The alternate orders are what makes a good Zelda game great to me. Good Zelda games like Skyward Sword would be better if I could come back to them a second time and do something differently. ;) Series director Eiji Aonuma recently spoke about returning non-linear progression to the Zelda series. I'm hopeful that this is the case.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why Smartphones Won't Kill Game Consoles

If you follow gaming news, that's the primary headline to carry away. "Angry Birds is pretty much on the same level with Farcry 3 in terms of quality, development costs, and everything. It won't be long before phones eat 100% of game consoles' market share." Ok, so I'm just beating up a straw man there, but you get my point. Apparently the readily available supply of games and newer business models will eventually kill Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. I have my doubts for a couple of reasons. Behold!

A Bigger Screen One of my friends came over with her kid one day. He brought his 3DS and Ocarina of Time 3D. I've heard worse reasons to turn on Ocarina of Time 64. I just wanted to show him what the game originally looked like, but one of his comments surprised me, "I think your version of Ocarina of Time is better. It's bigger."

Obviously, Ocarina of TIme 3D has substantially better graphics than Ocarina of Time 64. However, he -- a kid who grew up during the smartphone age -- preferred the console version to the handheld version (which is, in my opinion, quite comparable to a smartphone game. Probably better since it's Zelda.). As long as smartphones aim to be small portable devices, they'll never be able to duplicate the same kind of experience that a game console can.

A Dedicated Device Phones are limited by the fact that they are phones. I find playing most console games via phone hard to imagine. The adequate control schemes just aren't there. There are a good many people that prefer console games to computer games for this same reason, and the PC is far more well disposed to give you a good experience than some phone.

Smartphones will destroy game consoles? BS.