Archive for the ‘Shigeru Miyamoto’ Tag

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

An encore is always hard. Especially when the original book, album, film or act was just so damn good to start with. Suede’s self-titled debut album, for example, was so brilliant it won the Mercury Prize in 1993. When approached the right way, however, an encore can not only match the original but exceed it in leaps and bounds. Case in point: Suede’s second album, Dog Man Star, is by and large the band’s master work, and will likely remain the bands highest point in terms of creative output. So, what chance does the follow-up to what is universally regarded as the best game of all time have in achieving such success?

I’ll admit from the outset that I’m kind of breaking my own rules with this next post, by going outside of the 80’s and 90’s in choosing things to write about. But I get the feeling that the topic of this week’s post is quite possibly the best, most underrated N64 game out there. As already alluded to, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OOT) is one of the most highly regarded video games of history. It’s got everything: great story, stunning landscapes, a fantastic soundtrack and utterly memorable foes to slash your way through. The next entry to the Zelda franchise was released in 2000, 2 years after OOT, to similar, if not somewhat muted, critical praise. Yet in certain respects, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask by far exceeds OOT both in terms of story, content and gameplay.

The game is a direct sequel of OOT, seeing players take the helm of (surprise, surprise!) the Hero of Time, Link. Following the defeat of Ganondorf, Link leaves Hyrule on a personal quest with his horse, Epona, ‘in search of a beloved and invaluable friend’ (presumably Navi, Link’s fairy sidekick from OOT). On his journey, he encounters a mischievous Skull Kid, who is wearing a mysterious mask. Luring Link away by taking his horse, the Skull Kid leaves Link stranded in the body of Deku Scrub in the land of Termina, a place that is eerily familiar to Hyrule, but cursed with a terrible fate; after three days, the moon will collapse into Termina, obliterating the entire world. By utilising the power of masks, and the time-travelling capabilities of the Ocarina of Time (entrusted to him by Zelda), Link must set out to stop this fate from coming to pass…and to uncover the evil behind the Skull Kid’s mask.

What sets this Zelda game out from all of the others is that, despite the fact you only have three days (an in-game day equating to roughly 54 minutes real time) in which to save Termina, Link can always revert back to the very first day and ‘start again’, as it were. Key items, such as dungeon prizes and Link’ weaponry, are always preserved when this happens, negating the need to replay through large chunks of the game. Time also plays an important part in certain character’s schedules, with potential conversation opportunities only have a short window during each day. The game is also by far and large the darkest iteration of the series, with the story reflecting this. Themes such as lost friendship, love and depression helps to mark the game out as the most mature Zelda game to date.

One of the great new additions is a number of side-quests that Link can undertake. A handy booklet keeps track of all the available quests, and also indicates the time(s) in which important parts of their resolution can be attempted. What’s even better is that nothing is missable; simply play the ‘Song of Time’ to return to Day 1 an you can reattempt any and all side-quest at your pleasure. There is also a very long side-quest which sees Link attempting to bring back together two separated lovers. I won’t spoil the details, but can say with certainty that its one of the best side-quests to have ever graced a Zelda game, if not any game ever. It’s just the same that the reward is really shit. Still, for those aiming for 100% – and to get their hands on one of the game’s best masks – playing through the entire quest line is essential.

On the dungeon side of things, Majora only offers a grand total of four completable dungeons. A paltry amount by Zelda standards, it has to be admitted, but the game more than makes up in this in the quests building up to each dungeon. This is also probably the only Zelda game where replay-ability of each dungeon is possible, as in each one Link has to collect fragments of a Great Fairy which are scattered across the dungeons various rooms. All-in-all, there is a sufficient amount of adventuring and exploring that players can embark on.

Is Majora’s Mask the most polished and ‘fresh’ Zelda game there has ever been? Far from; the feeling of similarity (in terms of characters, certainty) from OOT is comforting, but does give off the feeling of a very much recycled experience. But is Majora’s Mask the boldest, mature and possibly most expansive Zelda game? Almost certainly, and it is in these key areas that the game sets itself out as a worthy and, ultimately, impressive encore to OOT. History is ultimately written by the winners, and OOT has certainly proved itself the victor in this instance; but to forget and discard Majora’s Mask from the history books would be to put aside one of the most unique Zelda games that has ever been conceived.

(Image courtesy of zs.ffshrine.org)

Starwing

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Starwing

With the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Nintendo knew they had a very saleable product on their hands, boasted by excellent first-party support in terms of games and peripheral, complimented by a range of equally memorable third-party titles. Its understandable, therefore, that Nintendo made many attempts during the console’s lifespan to further strengthen its capabilities over its rivals. These ranged from new controller options, such as the Super Advantage joystick pad, to adapters such as the Super Game Boy (it does exactly what it says on the tin!). But there was one innovation that was contained within the cartridges of certain games that helped to boost the extent to which the system, graphically, could achieve. This innovation was known as the Super FX processor chip, and the first title to use this was Starwing in 1993.

At this point, readers from outside of Europe and the PAL territories may be confused as to what game I am talking about. Due to an existing copyright issue within the PAL territories, Nintendo were forced to alter the name from its original title – Star Fox – to the perhaps far less recognisable name of Starwing. Recent, more younger, players who are aware of the future corpus of the Star Fox franchise (or have a pre-disposition towards ‘barrel rolling’) may not remember Starwing as being the very first game in the franchise, especially when Lylat Wars on the Nintendo 64 (Starfox 64 outside of Europe) is essentially a remake of Starwing. Despite the perhaps obvious improvements Lylat Wars has, Starwing still stands out superbly as one of Nintendo’s premier title’s from the entire SNES library.

The game is a space-shooter, in a similar, but distinct, vein to Fury3. Set within the fictional Lylat System, players take the helm of Fox McCloud, leader of the Starfox team, in an attempt to quash the ambitions of the evil Emperor Andross, who is hellbent on conquering the planet Corneria. Hoping that a direct attack against Andross will defeat him, General Pepper, commander of Corneria’s forces, dispatches Fox and his team to infiltrate Andross’s home world of Venom and to defeat the Emperor before his forces can completely destroy Corneria.

At the start of the game, the player is allowed to pick one of three set routes towards the final boss, with easy, medium and hard being the designation for each. Each route has its own unique levels on top this, encompassing a wide variety of differing locales. I always thought that this was an effective design choice, as it affords the player the opportunity to complete the game by simply choosing the easiest route and, simultaneously, grants completionists or Arwing aficionados the option to try their skills on a harder, yet still fresh, difficulty.

As you begin the game proper, you begin to realise that the claims, plastered all over the box, regarding the ‘revolutionary’ nature of SuperFX chip is not just an idle boast. Although vastly primitive by today’s standards, this is a true 3D game, with all sorts of enemies, obstacles and bosses needed to be navigated successfully. Younger readers out there may scoff at the very basic and simplistic 3D models presented to them, but at the time this was a really big deal. Where the 3D is deployed most effectively, I think, is in the boss fights, in which you are assured a healthy offering of increasingly complex enemy ships to dispatch. The satisfaction of watching each piece of the boss break off in full 3D was, at the time, unbeatable.

The music is top-notch, as you might expect from a Nintendo title from this era. The Main Theme in particular is by now a timeless video game classic, and the music for the final planet – Venom – really setting the scene perfectly for the final boss battle to come. It’s a true testament to the skills of the game’s compose, Hajime Hirasawa, who only scored this title in the series. An unusual departure from the norm, perhaps, considering that Koji Kondo (of Mario and Zelda fame) was Nintendo’s principle music composer at this time.

One of the things I like most about Starwing is, by far and large, one of gamings most bizarre easter egg (illustrated, in full, in the video below). By shooting a specific rock on one of the game’s space levels, and ‘catching’ the bird that emerges from it, player’s are transported to a level that defies reason and logic. If people need more evidence, after Super Mario Bros., that everyone at Nintendo was off their heads on drugs, then this should pretty much confirm it. ‘Cause, lets face it; only someone as high as a kite would consider using “When the Saints Go Marching In’ as boss music…for a giant slot machine. Ahem.

With such an impressive pedigree franchise starting to take shape, a direct sequel was announced, finished, and boasted about in various gaming publications. But it was not to be: the next generation of consoles beckoned, and what would have been Starwing 2 was quietly cancelled. A real shame, given that Starwing was such an amazing game for it’s time. And its even more surprising that the game has yet to be re-released on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Hopefully, Nintendo will get their act together and let a new generation of gamers experience this classic gem.

(Image courtesy of gamefaqs.com)