Star Fox Guard Review

A great use of a famous property in simple, smart, and unique scenario; an experiment Nintendo will hopefully replicate with other franchises

guard1In their success, the Nintendo DS, 3DS, and Wii are united by a singular theme: many of their finest games would either fail to translate well, or be downright impossible to carry over, to other consoles. The dual screens and touch features of the former duo, and the motion-responsive controls and pointer of the latter opened the door to the creation of unique titles that found greatness in the exploration of their distinctive hardware characteristics, and developers proceeded to walk into that room and come out with spectacular results. Such victorious formula was pursued once more by Nintendo with the Wii U, whose Gamepad was meant to allow companies to toy with the double-screen setting in a home console. Sadly, though, where those three systems would prove to be extremely fertile grounds for creativity outbursts, the Wii U would turn out to be a barren land where smart ideas of Gamepad implementation were scarce.

Star Fox Guard, a pleasant spin-off of Nintendo’s space shooting saga that can either be purchased alongside Star Fox Zero or acquired by itself via the eShop, is one the very rare instances where the existence of the Gamepad is resoundingly justified. It is an inventive little title that could neither work nor exist anywhere else in the gaming world, for it is entirely built around the capabilities of the controller. With the different perspectives provided by the TV and Gamepad screens, and the touch recognition of the second, Star Fox Guard takes the tried and true structure of the Tower Defense genre and gives it its own twist, one graced by the always welcomed Nintendo charm.

guard5As it turns out, Slippy Toad, the skilled mechanic and infamously helpless pilot of the Star Fox crew, has an uncle named Grippy Toad who runs a mining company with bases installed all over the Lylat System. Unfortunately for the rich amphibian entrepreneur, those sites have recently turned into the favorite target of an army of destructive robots of unknown origin, which storm the places and wreck havoc upon the facilities. Players are, then, hired to stand watch and protect the goods from upcoming attacks by remotely operating the bases’ surveillance cameras, which are all equipped with laser guns, and shooting the hostile bots down.

With that setup, the TV will simultaneously show the view from each of the twelve cameras of the base, and a big square in the middle of the screen is reserved to displaying what is seen by the camera that is currently being controlled by players. Meanwhile, the Gamepad will show a map of the base, with icons representing the robots and the cameras themselves, which can be moved to a new location, turned around, or selected to be controlled with simple touch motions.

Star Fox Guard, then, is a game of nearly constant thrill and tension. Gamers must keep an eye on the twelve cameras on the TV, watch for incoming robots, and, by using the Gamepad, quickly select the camera that is best suited to take them down. If one of the robots manages to reach the center of the site and attack the mining equipment, Grippy Toad will have lost his precious metal; if the enemy waves are stopped, players can celebrate, collect the scraps left by foes in order to level up, and move on to the next stage.

guard3It is a simple, effective, and smart concept that is seamlessly taught by a short non-intrusive tutorial, and an idea from which Nintendo extracts an impressive amount of variety. For starters, the game has a whopping total of one hundred stages scattered around six planets, which have – subsequently – three differently shaped bases each, in which both regular and special unlockable missions take place, and one boss battle.

Truthfully, the planets themselves do not contribute heavily to that variety. The change of scenario is so basic that it is almost as simple as a palette swap, which goes hand-in-hand with the game’s generally bland visuals; moreover, even though each one of them has an environmental twist – with, for example, the desert world of Titania being plagued by occasional sandstorms that block the view some cameras have from the outside of the base – those could have easily been more frequent, varied, and prominent.

Most of Star Fox Guard’s variety actually comes from its three best features: the unique form of the mining sites, the smart quirks of the extra missions, and – especially – the impressively clever kinds of enemy bots. The shape of the mining sites comes into play with that fact that although all of the bases’ cameras are already in place before the robots start coming, players are free to analyze the place and move them around in order to find an optimal configuration to cover as much ground as possible and adapt their defense strategy to the kinds of foes that will show up for that specific mission, which speaks volumes about the well-done level design and its synergy with the bots that are deployed.

guard2The special levels, meanwhile, offer intriguing variations on the standard Star Fox Guard gameplay and tend to demand an extra level of skill, reflexes, and preparation from gamers. They will have to deal with robots dropping from the sky with parachutes; tackle a mixture of tiny, fragile and fast, and huge, resistant and slow versions of the enemies; defend the base with only two cameras mounted on top of moving tripods; survive with limited ammo; and other challenging twists.

The true stars of the show, by all means, are the robots themselves, which are divided into two general classes: combat, which are the ones that need to be defeated in order for levels to be cleared, given they are responsible for destroying the mining equipment; and chaos, whose goal is creating numerous diversions to disrupt players and help combat bots get to their target. While the first class has its share of smart designs that create amazing gameplay situations, with robots that climb or jump over walls, ride speedy rockets to the center of the stage, have ridiculously strong armor, carry shields that force players into aiming from certain angles, become invisible, or are immune to detection by radar, it is the second class that truly shines.

Chaos robots are stunningly inventive in the number of strategies they employ to disrupt gamers. One of the bots, for example, is shaped like a television and will latch onto cameras and generate fake footage that makes it seem like the area is free of enemies; another one uses magnetic power to draw the focus of all cameras in the vicinity. There are also UFOs that sweep in and abduct cameras, tank units that blow the surveillance equipment up, ghosts that appear out of thin air, ventilators that use wind to make cameras aim towards the sky, balls that generate smokescreens when shot, and much more.

guard4Completing Star Fox Guard, discounting its special stages, should take somewhere between three and four hours, with experienced players leaning towards the former due to the fact that the game does not get truly challenging until its final two planets, in which failures become more frequent and clearing missions usually takes more than one try. The game does a pretty decent job at extending its duration, though, as it features a solid online mode where gamers can create their own robot squads via a simple interface that acts like a timeline of bot deployment and check how it fares against other gamers, and also – naturally – challenge squads created by others, earning or losing rank points in the process and unlocking collectible stickers according to certain achievements.

Underlining all of that is a leveling system that goes from one to fifty, with each level yielding a unique award such as special kinds of cameras, the ability to transform more of the bases’ cameras into one of those special types, and new special stages. It is an effective feature that keeps the experience constantly satisfying and rewarding; however, the fact that many of the game’s special stages are only unlocked at higher levels that can only be achieved through a whole lot of grinding, either online or offline, is sort of frustrating.

Star Fox Guard is a game that shows Nintendo acting like an indie developer: having to abide to tight budget constraints, which become visible in the graphics and sound, and being forced to come up with a simple yet amusing gameplay idea that can be developed within a strict scope. In the end, it all works. The game is an inventive use of an established property in a completely different scenario, and – most importantly – it is one of the Wii U’s few titles to justify the existence of the maligned Gamepad. Star Fox Guard is a rather unique experiment for Nintendo’s standards and, given it is quality, one can only hope the company will repeat the process with some of its other franchises, taking them out of their safe haven and using their universe as the trampoline to straightforward, yet brilliant, gameplay concepts.

Star Fox Guard

Posted in Reviews, Wii U | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption Review

It streamlines the Metroid gameplay while preserving the franchise’s key characteristics: its immersion, ominous loneliness, and the maze-like maps

corruption5Although, understandably, much of the focus surrounding the Nintendo Wii was related to its motion controls, which were a remarkable and long-awaited step forward despite their flaws, all of that commotion overshadowed what was indeed the console’s best feature: its effective pointer. More than streamlining all kinds of user interface, that capability brought actual applications to several genres, as it supported the plarforming greatness of Super Mario Galaxy, brought clear improvements to The Legend of Zelda, and allowed the creation of some rather inventive gameplay features. In spite of its wide applications, however, nowhere was the pointer as beneficial as it was in first-person games, and in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption the Wiimote found what was probably its finest utilization.

The title handles like a bliss, as if the the Wii’s unique control scheme were built with the game in mind. Samus’ arm canon perfectly replicates the direction in which the pointer is aimed, allowing for shooting and visual exploration of the character’s surroundings with a level of accuracy that is not matched even by the mouse and keyboard setup that has long stood as the efficient basis around which first-person shooters have been constructed. With all aiming and turning set to the Wiimote, players can freely move Samus around with the Nunchuck, which – when moved forward – also works as the character’s grapple beam, a weapon that in Metroid Prime 3 can be used both to latch onto certain points and rip parts of many enemies’ protective gear.

Naturally, not only does that perfectly intuitive control scheme work as an enhancement to Metroid’s explorative vein, which gains a whole new level of immersion, it also is heavily positive to combat scenarios. Both the original Metroid Prime and its sequel, Echoes, featured a lock mechanism that automatically fixed Samus’ aiming reticle onto a foe, making battles a matter of pressing the A button to shoot and moving around to avoid incoming fire. Corruption, meanwhile, seriously up the stakes, because while the lock functionality is still present, it no longer guarantees spot-on shots. Here, the reticle is merely aimed at the general vicinity of the enemy, leaving it up to players to adjust it as characters move around the screen, therefore making shootouts far more interesting and thrilling.

corruption6Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is not shy to take advantage of that newly found quality. Where its two predecessors merely punctuated sequences of exploration with moments where shooting became imperative, in Corruption battles gain bigger prominence. Thankfully, though, the franchise’s gameplay integrity is preserved, and firefights do not come remotely close to being as frequent as Metroid’s signature features: its environmental puzzle solving, and the constant search for missing pieces of equipment that allow the bounty hunter to get to previously untouched locations on the map and make new discoveries.

Samus’ new session of figuring maze-like maps out and shooting a whole lot of Space Pirates begins when the Galactic Federation summons her and three more hunters to a meeting. They are briefed on how the federation’s organic super computers, called Aurora Units, have been attacked by a Space Pirate virus, hence making the whole network of valuable information vulnerable. Before much is revealed, though, an attack by that faction occurs on a nearby planet and the four hunters are dispatched to deal with the problem. Working alongside the others, Samus is able to stop both the pirates and an incoming mighty meteor of Phazon – the mysterious substance that had corrupted the worlds featured in Metroid Prime and Echoes – that was heading towards the planet. In the process, though, she is heavily wounded by Dark Samus, who tried to stop the hunters from succeeding in their task.

One month later, Samus wakes up from her coma. She discovers that her body and those of her fellow hunters had been infected by Phazon on the attack. The federation scientists, therefore, upgraded their armors with a Phazon-enhanced powerful beam called Hypermode, which is a pleasant addition given the combat-heavy ways of the game and a story-related asset, as using it for a long period of time causes Phazon to take over Samus’ body and kill her. Moreover, she learns that the federation had sent the other three hunters to three distant planets where Phazon corruption had been detected. Having mysteriously lost contact with every single one of them, the federation asks Samus to clear the looming threat.

corruption3The grand contours of the storyline, told through a surprising amount of cutscenes with dialog and the traditional logs acquired from Space Pirate computers, materialize into a plot that is quite impressive. Besides managing to involve Space Pirates, the federation, Samus, the other three hunters, Dark Samus, and Phazon into one overarching story, it succeeds in tying the entire trilogy together and leading it to an extremely satisfying and epic conclusion.

Perhaps as an answer to the mixed opinions caused by the complexity of Echoes, Corruption plays a whole lot like an optimized and streamlined take on the original Metroid Prime. Given the threat is spread across the galaxy, Samus must hop into her ship and travel between four distinct planets (the major Galactic Federation outpost in Norion, the flooring organic variety of Bryyo, the ruins of an advanced civilization in the Skytown of Elysia, and the toxic environment of the Pirate Homeworld) and a few other minor places – including the abandoned and destroyed G.F.S. Valhalla, certainly the scariest and darkest location to ever appear in a Nintendo game.

Although the sum of all those maps amounts to a world whose size is similar to that of the environments of Metroid Prime and Echoes, the fact they are disjoint – working as individual units instead of fully connected settings – greatly decreases the intricacy of the level design and the need for backtracking. Samus’ ship – which plays a larger role in the game than ever before in the history of the saga, as additionally to serving as transportation it can be summoned to lift major obstacles from the terrain – has plenty of available landing spots on the main planets. Thus, walking from the furthermost extremity of one region to the most distant point of another one, whether as part of the main quest or in a search for extra energy tanks, missiles, or power bombs – can be done much more easily and smoothly.

corruption2Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, then, is easily the most friendly and accessible game of the entire trilogy. Its general simplicity, though, which can be felt even though it does offer a great share of the traditional Metroid puzzle solving and geographic riddles, may bother longtime players who expect the series to yield backtracking-heavy affairs. As a way to try to cater to those, however, Retro Studios packed the game with three difficulty modes – Normal, Veteran, and Hypermode, which is only unlocked after beating the game once – that offer an extra level of challenge by making the frequent enemies stronger and the mighty and creative boss battles, which are certainly easier than those of the original and Echoes, more difficult.

The final distinction Corruption has in relation to its peers, and another shift that might bother some purists, is how – this time around – her collaboration with third parties, namely the Galactic Federation and the hunters, is intense for Metroid standards. The feeling of isolation and immersion that is so important to the franchise is still standing strong, after all Samus is the only one that is truly capable of figuring out the problem and dealing with it accordingly, but that vibe is certainly somewhat diluted by the punctual communication and interaction with people who are fighting on the same side that she is.

corruption4The split and more digestible overworld, the fact that Samus has got some close company to deal with the current galactic menace, and the more frequent shooting segments will undoubtedly bother some fans. In the end, though, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is excellent; a fitting closing chapter to one of gaming’s finest trilogies and a title that is able to give closure to the themes and stories approached in the three installments that make up the Metroid Prime saga. A technically perfect game with an extremely smooth and intuitive control scheme that takes full advantage of what the Wii offers, it streamlines the traditional Metroid gameplay to embrace a new audience while doing a great job at preserving the franchise’s key characteristics: its overwhelming power of immersion, its ominous loneliness, and the engaging process of figuring out its maze-like maps.

Metroid Prime 3

Posted in Reviews, Wii | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Review

It might not be the franchise’s best moment, but it certainly is its most elaborate and foreboding instance

echoes1Released three years after Metroid Prime had jolted the franchise back to life by turning a series born in the sidescrolling days into a first-person adventure, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes knows how to play the role of a sequel to a game that was universally regarded as a masterpiece. It offers little to no reinvention; after all, a brand new kind of gameplay that had only been implemented once – to great success – did not call for such extreme measures. Its freshness was still palpable and fans claimed for more. Instead, it opts to apply sensible shifts in theme and gameplay in order to build an adventure that has the same look and feel of its predecessor, but that does enough to find characteristics it can claim for its own.

Echoes’ victory lies in the fact that it does achieve the full construction of its own character. As if knowing that those tackling its quest would come in with a bag full of experience acquired during the course of the original Metroid Prime, it ends up playing as a harder and more demanding version of that game from the very start. Moreover, where its predecessor derived its ominous soul from the franchise’s long-established basic premise that Samus stands alone on a huge hostile and mostly unexplored planet where obscure and dangerous threats are looming, Echoes takes that preexisting sinister vibe and builds on it through touches of death and darkness.

Echoes’ failures, however, lie in the fact that most of its additions do not fully work. Metroid Prime, much like Super Metroid before it, was game design perfection; a title that did almost everything as well as it could have possibly done. Echoes, meanwhile, fumbles some of its good ideas. Although none of those bungles completely undermine it thoroughly, they unquestionably hold it back, which makes it blatantly come off as a step back.

echoes2Samus jumps back into action when the Galactic Federation sends her a report on a squad with which they had lost contact a few days earlier; the group of marines had been stationed on planet Aether. When entering the world’s atmosphere, her ship is heavily damaged by an unusual purple storm, forcing her to crash land it. Upon further investigation, she learns that the soldiers were attacked and brutally murdered by dark creatures that seem to be alien to Aether itself, bearing clear biological and visual distinctions to the planet’s other lifeforms.

Soon, she discovers the reason behind the unusual happening: long before her arrival, Aether was hit by a mysterious meteorite of such power that it ripped the world into two, creating a dark alternative dimension filled with Ing. These creatures soon began invading the original planet through portals, waging war on the Luminoth, the original inhabitants of Aether who had built a relatively advanced civilization, which were driven to near-extinction. Samus’ initially straightforward quest, thereby, quickly grows into an impressive narrative that involves two parallel worlds; a peaceful race in such deep mortal danger that its surviving members are held in stasis, waiting for salvation; the inevitably present Space Pirates; and a dark version of herself that wreaks havoc wherever it goes.

Given it holds a plot of higher complexity than that of Metroid Prime, Echoes features a larger number of cutscenes. However, the approach to storytelling remains minimalistic and proactive: the game only gives players basic intel on what is going on, leaving the extra layers of the story – which are intriguing, intricate, and well-developed – to be unearthed by those willing to use the scanner mode of Samus’ visor. As it had happened on Metroid Prime, that feature – which is one of the game’s very best – lets players tackle the story as they see fit, as it can be used to extract extra information from environmental details, catalog enemies, and glimpse into the data stored in the computers of the Space Pirates, which happen to be the source of most of the plot-relevant tidbits.

echoes4All of that plot setup transforms darkness into Echoes’ core theme. Just like the Ing used portals to travel between Aether and Dark Aether, Samus will be forced to do the same in order to recover her missing pieces of equipment, which will allow her to reach new places, and restore the light energy that was stolen from the Luminoth by the Ing. Consequently, since Metroid Prime was a game that took place in one vast world composed of distinct areas and Echoes does the same but in a planet that has been split into two full versions, it can be stated that Echoes features twice the complexity of that title, which is saying quite a bit about its scope and difficulty.

The environmental puzzles, which involve figuring out how in the world Samus is supposed to get to her current destination, are usually stretched between the two dimensions. Although that scenario does cause some of the level design that Retro Studios pulls off to be utterly impressive – reaching levels of intricacy that few other games have touched on, it also raises a few issues. The backtracking, for instance, is taken to new heights, as Samus is dealing with a map that is twice as big. More backtracking, though, is not inherently bad; the problem is that the portals that link Aether to Dark Aether tend to be one-way links, not allowing the hunter to go back the way she came in and forcing players to make trips that seem unnecessarily long.

Moreover, despite the technical prowesses of Echoes, which looks even better than its already beautiful predecessor – fully taking advantage of the Gamecube’s hardware, and which packs an immerssive soundtrack that is just as good, Dark Aether is visually dull. Aether itself is a beautiful world where unique lifeforms live in varied scenarios that mix alien architecture with organic environments that go from simple beauty to extravagant otherworldliness. Dark Aether, on the other hand, is a huge mass of purple and black, a needless move to produce a sinister atmosphere, since Metroid tends to achieve that on its own thanks to its immerssive ways and its overall feeling of isolation.

echoes3The final issue found in Dark Aether lies in the fact that its atmosphere is so poisonous that, while in there, Samus will constantly – albeit slowly – lose energy. Truthfully, the whole planet is filled with numerous and well-placed safe zones where her energy tanks are refilled, but that whole quirk ends up being a bit annoying, as the game already packs a considerable challenge due to its difficult bosses and mini-bosses – which are perhaps even more spectacular and well-designed than those present in Metroid Prime; its demanding and very engaging puzzles and exploration; its enemy encounters, which require Samus to use her brand new, highly effective but limited Light and Dark beams to dispose of foes according to their nature; and its somewhat scarce save points, whose occasional poor placement can be rather frustrating, as gamers will sometimes be forced to walk a whole lot to get to the place where Samus originally fell.

With all of that in mind, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is, overall, an ambivalent package. While it is impossible not to rank it among the Gamecube’s best efforts, it is also a title whose problems are bound to turn a few people off. It is the original Metroid Prime with the same solid control scheme, the same overwhelming feeling of immersion and tension, the same non-linear structure of exploration, and the same power-ups (with a few new creative visors added for good measure) and extra collectibles (the always present missile, power bomb, and energy tank expansions). However, it is a title that amplifies its predecessor’s complexity, length, difficulty, storytelling degree, level design goodness, and thematic darkness through measures that sometimes work, but that also fail at certain points.

echoes5Including a multiplayer mode that is a brief fun distraction that falters due to the locking mechanism, which turns it into a mindless affair of shooting and jumping around, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is certainly not an equal to the series’ original installment. However, it is built on such a spectacular basis and it does so many things well that it is hard not to qualify it as an excellent entry on the Metroid franchise. It might not be the property’s best moment, but it certainly is its most elaborate and foreboding instance.

Metroid Prime 2

Posted in Gamecube, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Metroid Prime Review

Whether when borrowing from Super Metroid or when leaving its own signature, there is not really anything Metroid Prime could have done better

metroid_primeAmong all of Nintendo’s major franchises, none of them had a transition from the 2-D realm into a tridimensional scenario as laborious as that of Metroid. Throughout the Nintendo 64 era, fans of the saga patiently waited for Samus to follow both Link and Mario and also perform a successful leap into a brand new world of gameplay possibilities. Ultimately, though, they would come to be disappointed when the bounty hunter failed to show up for the party. Unbeknown to many of them, however, while their expectations lingered, Nintendo had not lazily sat on its easy chair; the company had actually struggled to figure out a way to transport the traditional Metroid gameplay from its sidescrolling origins to a 3-D environment.

Working together with the then young Retro Studios, Nintendo was eventually able to solve that puzzle, although not quite in time for Samus to debut on the Nintendo 64. Albeit belated, though, her long-delayed first appearance in a 3-D game more than made up for her lengthy absence, because Metroid Prime does not simply amount to one of the best Gamecube games: it actually safely ranks among the greatest games of all time.

The first piece that fell into place and that was key in figuring out the elusive answer to the franchise’s transitional puzzle happens to be Metroid Prime’s most remarkable and unexpected feature: its first-person perspective. Most games that use such scheme tend to deviate into pure shooting affairs where aim, strategy, and weaponry rule and everything else is minor. Metroid, meanwhile, is almost the opposite of that, having made its name – and reached its peak with Super Metroid – on the heels of meticulous exploration, environmental riddles, epic boss encounters, loads of backtracking, and a world map that is itself a gigantic puzzle that needs to be understood, analyzed, and scrutinized.

metroid_prime5A first inattentive glance, then, would seem to indicate that mashing a first-person camera with traditional Metroid gameplay would be impossible: as one element would negatively devour the other’s qualities. As it turns out, however, Metroid Prime does not show any signs of corrosion; on the contrary, it exhibits flawless symbiosis, with both the series’ explorative nature and the first-person view feeding off one another in a way that elevates them to impressive levels.

As far as transitions to the 3-D world go, where Super Mario 64 presented a considerable gameplay shift for the plumber, Metroid Prime tends to align itself with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, as – despite its glaring changes – it was not the breaking of long-established paradigms, but a immaculate translation of a gameplay style to a new era. Therefore, Metroid Prime feels, breathes, and lives exactly like Super Metroid. In other words, Samus is still harshly thrown onto an unknown planet where some mysterious event of galaxy-affecting proportions is going on, and she needs to – on her own – get to the bottom of the problem, survive attacks from her enemies and the local fauna, go through hostile terrain, and do a whole lot of walking on beautiful alien environments.

The difference is that instead of looking at the developments through a distant and impersonal camera, players will see the world through the hunter’s visor, examining her surroundings just like she views them, starring at those who threaten her much like she does, and – consequently – feeling, first-hand, the loneliness and isolation that is inherent to most of her quests. As a result, the first-person camera – which only displays her arm-canon and general information about her status and weapons that are exhibited by her visor – actually augments the unbelievable immersion, ominousness, and tension that are so prominent in Metroid games.

metroid_primeThe storyline begins when Samus intercepts a distress signal from a Space Pirate frigate. Upon investigating the mostly abandoned and wrecked ship, floating in space like an interstellar haunted vessel, she learns that the Space Pirates have been experimenting with genetically modified creatures, many of which have overtaken the place. After defeating the beings, a self-destruct sequence is activated. When escaping, Samus encounters a cybernetic version of her nemesis, Ridley. The ensuing explosion destroys her suit, leaving it only with the most basic skills, but as the fearless bounty hunter she is, Samus chases the dragon-like Space Pirate general all the way to Tallon IV, where a gigantic menace is brewing.

Wise enough to realize that one should not try to tamper with what is not broken, and aware that the Metroid fanbase was desperately craving for a dose of traditional Metroid, Metroid Prime follows on the footsteps of Super Metroid. Samus lands on a rain forest, and from that point onwards it is up to players to figure out what to do and where to go. Doors and paths leading to new places are plentiful, but given her limited equipment Samus is only able to explore specific locations, and the entire adventure is built around that motif, forcing Samus to go into an area and retrieve a new piece of equipment, which will in turn allow her to reach new places.

Tallon IV is set up as one massive overworld that leads to four equally huge areas that are also connected among themselves, forming a mighty maze of rooms, shafts, corridors, and some wide open locations that are explored non-linearly, as Samus will often return to previously visited areas with a newly acquired skill in order to get to a place that was initially inaccessible. As a statement on how immense Tallon IV is, and as the cherry on top of Metroid Prime’s spectacular world design and flooring art-style (which goes from basic to borderline surrealistic and alien), all five main locations house an impressive amount of scenario variety, with – for example – the barren desert-like landscape of Chozo Ruins eventually transforms considerably enough to include a dense forest area and a few Space Pirate facilities.

metroid_prime3Those impressive carefully built sights are complemented by a soundtrack that smartly borrows signature themes from Super Metroid and gives them a new techno or rock treatment, and also creates a handful of amazing tunes of its own. However, as a way to serve its atmosphere, Metroid Prime tends to rely on minimalistic themes played at low volume, leaving a lot of room for the silence and environmental noises of its scenarios, and its impressive sound effects to rule; a move that lures players further into its inescapable web of immersion.

Looking for lost equipment, such as the classic Morph Ball or brand new kinds of visors and beams, is not all Samus can do while exploring Tallon IV. Metroid Prime also offers tons of collectibles that can transform the already powerful hunter into a one-woman army: extra energy tanks; and missile, super missile, and power bomb expansions. Searching for them, besides naturally extending the length of a twelve-hour quest into far more, reveals new puzzles and intricate level design gems that will be missed by those who choose to run straight through the game without deeply investigating their surroundings.

Despite all of its nods towards Super Metroid, Metroid Prime is not satisfied with just borrowing; it also does a good deal of inventing, and all of its tweaks are extremely positive. Firstly, there is the fact that even though its absolute focus is exploration, the game does throw Samus into a few challenging rooms where first-person shooting is imperative, such as when she faces hordes of Space Pirates armed with a variety of weapons and, sometimes, even jet-packs. It is a nice little change of pace, and one that works well even if the ability to lock onto enemies oversimplifies those combats and takes away the value of having a good aim.

metroid_prime2Secondly, there is the improvement in the quality of boss encounters. Although Super Metroid did feature its share of amazing battles, those were restricted by the simplicity of a sidescrolling game. In Metroid Prime, not only do they considerably grow in scale, but they also gain in complexity and creativity. Doing damage to the bosses usually requires a series of steps that are puzzles in themselves, forcing Samus to wisely use her newly acquired equipment and unleash all her firepower when an opening reveals itself. These numerous and varied meetings are visual spectacles that deliver incredible rushes of adrenaline.

Lastly, there is Metroid Prime’s most inventive feature: its proactive storytelling approach. As it is traditional for the franchise, Metroid Prime is very minimalistic in setting up its plot, doing so with brief and effective silent cutscenes and a little text. However, beneath the surface, the game actually presents a full-fledged tale that, instead of being forced onto players, is just lying there in the open waiting to be found. When her visor is set to scan mode, Samus can scan the environment and gather data on specific points that are highlighted on the screen .

The information that can be acquired ranges from general intel on organic material or constructed structures, hence giving a brief storyline to even the most apparently mundane areas; information on lifeforms or enemies; lore created by civilizations that inhabited the planet prior to Samus’ arrival, therefore constructing quite an ominous and deep backstory to the hunter’s adventure; and logs from computers that belong to the Space Pirates, whose contents tend to give quite an insight onto what exactly is taking place. All of which amounts to quite a bit of text and a whole lot of intriguing information that adds a great deal of depth to the world.

Due to that Metroid Prime is alluring to both those who want to ignore the intricate details of its plot and just focus on the exploration, and to those who feel like digging deeper. It allows each player to tackle the game as they see fit.

metroid_prime4Metroid Prime’s sole stumbles, if they can even be called that, are minor and will either go unnoticed by or fail to bother most gamers. Given the game’s first-person perspective, some of its occasional tight platforming sequences can be bothersome, because it is hard at first to calculate where exactly Samus will land. With time, though, that issue goes away. Moreover, one of the title’s final segments includes a major backtracking quest through all of the areas, in which Samus must recover specific artifacts to proceed to the final boss. While such mission unveils more of the masterful level design that Metroid Prime hides so seamlessly in plain sight, making Samus go through many rooms that were previously unvisited or that were explored without revealing their secrets, some will certainly be frustrated by what might come off as a way to artificially extend the adventure.

With the sum of its cohesive parts, though, Metroid Prime amounts to the perfect translation of the franchise’s gameplay to a tridimensional environment. Whether when borrowing from Super Metroid or when leaving its own signature on the skin of an established and critically acclaimed series, there is not really anything Retro Studios and Nintendo could have done better. It plays impeccably, it immerses like no other game Nintendo has ever put out, and it packs a respectable level of challenge for veterans and newcomers alike. Samus may have been gone for quite some time, but in her belated comeback she displayed that she remained the absolute queen of the genre she had pioneered and mastered.

Metroid Prime

Posted in Gamecube, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Albums of the Month: June 2016

moon_shaped_poolAlbum: A Moon Shaped Pool

Artist: Radiohead

Released: May 8th, 2016

Highlights: Burn the Witch, Glass Eyes, Present Tense, True Love Waits

One of the rock world’s most frequently repeated analogies is the one that compares Radiohead to that clichéd box of chocolates, the ones that is so full of surprises that it is hard to know what one will get when unwrapping the package. The comparison, albeit not very creative, is true. After all, this is the band that ditched Britpop after producing one of the subgenre’s masterpieces, “The Bends”, then went on to give birth to a historic breakthrough in the merging between electronic and guitar music, “OK Computer”, and finally immersed itself so deeply in the Electronica movement with “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” many wondered if the band still knew how to actually play conventional instruments.

Given that background, “A Moon Shaped Pool” is safe, even if in a very loose sense. Like all albums following “The Bends”, it is rather oblique, unusual, and challenging; unlike them, though, it really does not add any shades to the established Radiohead palette. Its closer brother is certainly “The King of Limbs”, as both gravitate around electronic beats that are tinged by hints of organic instrumentation, especially Jonny Greenwood’s guitar arpeggios and Yorke’s piano. However, while its predecessor often deteriorated into tuneless cacophony, “A Moon Shaped Pool” is far more solid melodically. It features lines that, while far from the stunning and hard-to-replicate quality reached by “In Rainbows”, give each of its eleven songs far more substance and muscle than the numbers presented by “The King of Limbs”, with the ones that guide “Glass Eyes”, “Present Tense”, and “True Love Waits” – which is probably the group’s most emotionally moving piece, being truly noteworthy.

Despite a nearly unshakable feeling of familiarity, “A Moon Shaped Pool” does have its share of defining traits. Firstly, there is the lush and beautiful orchestration by the London Contemporary Orchestra, which appears prominently in “Burn the Witch”, the closest track the album has to an earworm; “Daydreaming”, which closes its six-minute length by replacing a simple piano-and-voice arrangement with layers of electronics and strings; “Glass Eyes”, a haunting piano ballad; “The Numbers”, an acoustic tune with a great melody that culminates when the huge-sounding orchestra comes into play; and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief”, probably the weakest track on the record due to its uninspired instrumentation. Secondly, there is the fact that “A Moon Shaped Pool” is likely the band’s darkest effort.

The crew from Oxfordshire is no stranger to emanating a depressive atmosphere, especially because Yorke’s singing style in recent years has been constantly focused on a suffering tone that is hard to surpass, but because of its strong lean towards sparse soundscapes that support slow-to-mid-tempo songs, “A Moon Shaped Pool” seems to take the gloominess to a whole new level. Although there are moments that break away from that rhythm, as the entirety of “Burn the Witch” or the coda of “Ful Stop”, the sorrow of the lyrics – which discuss a resigned, lonely, and despairing kind of heartbreak, and the somberness of the music are certainly the two elements that lead the record. “A Moon Shaped Pool” ends up being solid, an album mostly composed of tunes that are good-to-great, but the fact that it revisits many of the vocal, instrumental, and thematic mannerism the band has already exhibited in many of its albums is hard to overlook, indicating that it might be the time for this usually inventive group to shift its gear and go back to being that box of chocolates that while clichéd in its unpredictable nature, remains surprising nonetheless.



the_getawayAlbum: The Getaway

Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Released: June 17th, 2016

Highlights: Dark Necessities, The Longest Wave, Go Robot, Encore

It is news to absolutely nobody that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are no longer the shirtless band of wacky jumping musicians that stormed MTV many years ago. Even if the shirtless part of the deal mostly still remains, such a pigeonholed image was promptly left behind when “Scar Tissue”, the leading single of “Californication”, hit the airwaves. Therefore, it is equally unsurprising that “The Getaway” presents the California quartet in a rather moody and introspective light, one they had already basked under in their two turn-of-the-century masterpieces: “Californication” and “By the Way”. Creatively triggered by Anthony Kiedis’ breakup, though, “The Getaway” navigates some broken-hearted and personal waters the group had yet to approach, and even if such a feeling does not permeate the work in its entirety, it ends up – due to its uniqueness within the band’s discography – being the record’s defining feature.

Despite such a shift and the album’s focus on mid-tempo ballads with intricate layers, which are undoubtedly the result of their collaboration with Danger Mouse, who replaces Rick Rubin after twenty-five years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers do not fully abandon their funk roots. Flea’s bass playing is still firmly grounded on the genre, and Kiedis’ vocals – especially during the verses – follow suit, namely in tunes such as “Dark Necessities”, “We Turn Red”, “Go Robot”’, and “Detroit”. The fantastic soothing choruses, which in the previous release – the uninspired “I’m With You” – seemed to have abandoned the band completely when John Frusciante walked out the door, are back in full force, and their excellent quality might as well be the factor that ties all tracks of “The Getaway” together.

Although not quite good enough to rank alongside the albums that sit on the upper echelon of the band’s releases, “The Getaway” should come as a delightful release to most fans – at least the ones who appreciate the group’s mellower side – and that’s because of how it injects new life into a career that looked like it could be running in fumes. Aside from the replacement of the man behind the console, which ends up building a strong bridge between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a whole lot of textures the band had yet to get to know, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer seems to have finally fully jelled into the band’s fabric, toying with licks that comfortably sit within the group’s palette but also imprinting his own style into the thirteen cuts that form “The Getaway”.

The integration of those two pieces allows “The Getaway” to present some curious experiments, which while not entirely successful do add a pleasant degree of variety to the work. “Sick Love”, for instance, is a pleasant – and great – jab at reggae; the awkward “This Ticonderoga”, meanwhile, is one of the heaviest tracks the band has ever recorded, with blistering guitars, a climatic chorus, and a light-hearted – maybe somewhat cringe-worthy – funk section; and the atmospheric record closer, “Dreams of a Samurai”, is certainly the most experimental tune in their discography. Still, after the kaleidoscopic duo “Californication” and “By the Way”, and the ambitious “Stadium Arcadium”, “The Getaway” comes off as focused and cohesive; the work of a band that went into the studio knowing what to aim for. The new elements do not stop it from carrying the group’s many mannerisms, both for the good (their knack for writing catchy melodies) and for the bad (Kiedis’ tendency to spill occasionally embarrassing nonsense), but they allow the good “The Getaway” to revitalize the entity that is the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a whole and keep the world curious to see what is next.



fallen_angelsAlbum: Fallen Angels

Artist: Bob Dylan

Released: May 20th, 2016

Highlights: Young at Heart, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Skylark, All or Nothing at All

In the grand scheme of the world’s music tree, Bob Dylan has always been far more closely associated with the old-school troubadours and bluesmen that wrote their own songs than with the singers of standards. In fact, one could argue that the model that he created in “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is the total opposite of the one mastered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, as while Dylan found a way to perform his own tunes despite his vocal limitations; Frank received, on his doorstep, well-shaped tunes written by composers that were eager to see their songs soar thanks to Sinatra’s invariably masterful interpretations. Yet, as he reached his mid-seventies, Dylan found himself enamored enough of that record-producing mold to create two albums that mirror Sinatra’s approach so well that besides being musically similar to what Ol’ Blue Eyes did, also almost exclusively feature songs he recorded.

“Fallen Angels”, following 2015’s “Shadows in the Night”, is the second product of that unexpected detour on Dylan’s late-career arch, and where “Shadows in the Night was bleak and moody, “Fallen Angels” is far looser, as if it consists of tunes that – albeit great – were left out of “Shadows in the Night” due to their failure to fit the general dark ambiance of that album. Surely, “Fallen Angels” still carries much of the mournful romanticism that dominated its predecessor, as the violin in the beautiful “Maybe You’ll Be There” or the desperate declaration in “Come Rain or Come Shine” are quick to force listeners to take notice. However, the record is led by its fun-loving cuts, the ones where Dylan bridges Sinatra’s sentimentality with his own witty energy and humor, which were at full display in his recent masterpieces “Love and Theft” and “Modern Times”, and in the excellent “Tempest” as well.

That vibe emerges on slower numbers, like “Young at Heart” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, where guitars playfully replicate the melody of the songs’ core hook; the amusingly romantic “Skylark”, the only tune here that was never recorded by Frank Sinatra; “Melancholy Mood”, where the singer – instead of falling victim to his sadness – analyzes it with cleverness; and the likable and lazy “On a Little Street in Singapore”. Moreover, it makes its presence blatantly felt when Dylan and his tight band tackle the swing jazz of “That Old Black Magic”, by far the fastest, most energetic, and most fun track recorded during the sessions for both “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels”.

Like its predecessor, “Fallen Angels” is far from being a major work by Bob Dylan; his strength, after all, has always been in his writing, and some fans might be disappointed to see him – once more – tackle an album packed with traditional songs that have already been taken for a spin too many times by numerous other artists, even if such interpretations occurred a long time ago. However, “Fallen Angels” has a considerable assortment of undeniable qualities: the arrangements are great, merging an old-school aura with delicate touches of rock; Dylan is clearly having a blast performing these tunes; and his voice, which sounded cracked beyond any hope of recovery in “Tempest”, is actually quite pleasantly captured, possibly due to the more soothing and unaggressive nature of the songs here when compared to the material he usually pens. “Fallen Angels” is neither flooring nor revelatory, but it is pleasant and charming, and it might end up working as a necessary stop for inspiration before Dylan goes back to coining original songs.



neil_young_earthAlbum: Earth

Artist: Neil Young and Promise of the Real

Released: June 17th, 2016

Highlights: My Country Home, Vampire Blues, After the Gold Rush, Big Box

Neil Young has always been an environmentalist. Starting in 1970, with the title song of the classic “After the Gold Rush”, the songwriter has punctuated his career with various songs centered around the theme, either trying to warn the world of the bleak future we are headed for if we do not change or simply attacking the big corporations that do much of the damage to nature. With old age, however, his passion towards the theme has seemingly grown, perhaps as a consequence of the fact he is aware he is running out of time to spread his message. Therefore, not only have his environmental anthems become more frequent, they have also dominated some of his late-career albums: 2009’s “Fork in the Road” is a criticism towards fossil fuels; 2015’s “The Monsanto Years” is a vicious attack on agribusiness; and 2016’s “Earth” encompasses all those subjects under the umbrella of a live album that captures performances from his most recent tour.

Among all of those works, “Earth” might as well be the most powerful one, for besides bringing to the forefront the raw furious energy that Neil Young has injected into his performances by having the young Promise of the Real as his backing band, replacing the iconic charming sludge of Crazy Horse, it also works as a collection of his nature-related protest songs. Out of “The Monsanto Years”, he pulls four strong cuts: the slow and heavy title song; the ballad “Wolf Moon”; the acid “People Want to Hear About Love”; and “Big Box”, whose blistering live performance confirms the song as a late Neil Young classic. Meanwhile, the remarkable “Ragged Glory”, recorded alongside Crazy Horse in Young’s barn, is also well represented as “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” fittingly opens the album; the glorious harmonies and solos of “My Country Home” mark one of the record’s peaks; and “Love & Only Love” wraps up the affair, presented here in a 28-minute version filled with Young’s traditional loud guitar feedback, messy improvisation, and fantastic melodies.

The remaining six tunes are a pleasant mix of surprises and staples. “Seed Justice”, the work’s only original song, is a product of Young’s creative phase beside his new band, as it is short, heavy, dirty, angry, and undeniably catchy. The beautiful ballads “Western Hero”, from “Sleeping With Angels”; “Human Highway”, which carries all the country tendencies of “Comes a Time”; and the piano apocalypse of “After the Gold Rush” add good variety to an album that is often loud and packed with heavily distorted guitars. Finally, there are the forgotten cuts of “Vampire Blues”, from the classic “On the Beach”, which attacks the oil industry through an irresistible bluesy groove; and “Hippie Dream”, from the maligned “Landing on Water”, which replaces the dull synthesizers of the studio version with guitars and gains a lot from that change.

As it is almost invariably the case with Neil Young’s latest works, there is a always a quirk, and in the case of “Earth” it comes in two forms: female vocals added in the studio, and animal noises that appear prominently between songs, alongside the audience’s applause, and sometimes during the numbers themselves. The former come off as not well-mixed with the songs, making them quite distracting at first, but thankfully their presence is reduced to just a couple of tracks. The latter, meanwhile, transit between appropriate – such as the roosters in the beginning of “Country Home” – and cheesy, in some rare occasions when the noises are integrated into the rhythm. Those elements, however, help “Earth” drive its point home: the vocals allow Young to label his record as “Containing Modified Material” a clear jab at the genetically modified crops he often bashes; and the animals remind us of what he is fighting for. In the end, “Earth” is a stellar live documentary with a message, one that shows the world that, as he turns 70, Young still has enough energy to deliver spectacular concerts and go after what he feels is right.


Posted in Albums of the Month | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Legend of Zelda Review

Its ambitious open-ended scope ends up working both as its main allure and as the source of most of its issues

zelda1In order to grasp the sheer magnificence, and the borderline lunatic risk, that is the original The Legend of Zelda, all one has to do is look into the list of the most beloved games released during the 8-bit era. Undoubtedly, those rankings are bound to describe a scenario in which straightforward platformers and other kinds of games that centered around a simple kind of progression dominated the market both in quantity and quality. In a world of shooting and jumping in linear levels that started on the left-hand side and ended on the right-hand corner, The Legend of Zelda emerged as a beacon that pointed the way towards a wider brand of gameplay.

Naturally, as Nintendo’s first journey onto territory that was relatively uncharted inside the industry as a whole, The Legend of Zelda is not flawless. Its ambitious open-ended scope that features a heavy focus on free exploration ends up working both as its main allure and as the source of most of its issues. However, despite the occasional bumps found on the road, the adventure is able to pull through its difficulties and construct an experience that is challenging, immersive, and mostly engaging.

It all begins when Ganon, the King of Evil, attacks the kingdom of Hyrule with his army of monsters and gains control of the Triforce of Power, one of the three pieces of a legendary artifact that gives its owner great strength. Princess Zelda, knowing that her life is  in immediate danger, decides to split her portion of the sacred object, the Triforce of Wisdom, into eight pieces and hide them across the dungeons scattered around the land, far away from Ganon’s clutches. Upon her capture, she sends her retainer, Impa, to look for someone courageous enough to put the Triforce of Wisdom back together and then, with its incredible power, defeat Ganon and bring peace back to Hyrule. A hero garbed in green timely shows up and accepts the quest. A legend and one of gaming’s most remarkable, enduring, and famous franchises is then set in motion.

zelda4Like the classics of its time, most of that lore is not located inside the game itself, but in the instruction manual that accompanies it, and within a few seconds after having turned on the system, gamers will be on their way. Unlike most title of its era, though, once the quest starts it is not plainly obvious where exactly Link should head for. Players are transported to a simple area in the middle of Hyrule, with the now traditional overworld theme playing in the background, where the entrance to a cave is bound to catch their eye. By entering it, Link receives both his trusty wooden sword from an old man, and a figurative pat on the back from developers, which silently tell gamers to go out there and start exploring.

And therein lies the beauty of The Legend of Zelda. Hyrule is a sprawling map with a width of sixteen squares and a height of eight squares, amounting to an outdoor world composed of 128 pieces that include some signature locations that would reappear in other installments of the franchise, such as Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, the Lost Woods, and a graveyard. All of that ridiculous expanse is available from the get go, with the only obstacles being specific locations that can only be accessed with certain items and the enemies, some of which can be rather brutal to a hero that only has a few slots of energy and a limited inventory. Players are free to travel around Hyrule looking for the entrances to the elusive eight dungeons inside which the shards of the Triforce of Wisdom can be found.

At the same time, therein also lies The Legend of Zelda’s core shortcomings. That excess of freedom, when paired with the general lack of in-game orientation as to where to go can be annoying. The original NES game came packed with a helpful overworld map, a smart decision considering the software itself does not have such feature. Nevertheless, everything that the game offers in terms of pointers is a bunch of overly cryptic advice given by people hiding inside caves that try to help Link find, through obscure clues, the entrance to each of the nine dungeons and the location of a few spots of interest.

zelda5All of that wandering around, which can become tedious and aimless if it goes on for way too long, reaches satisfying conclusions when Link comes across secret locations that hold rewards like pieces of heart, which are an absolute must-find considering how difficult the adventure can get; hidden shops whose prices range from abusive to very friendly and that also offer assets that can be quite helpful, including keys, shields, potions, and others; fairy fountains that restore him to full health; money-making games; the aforementioned advice-giving characters; and, finally, the dungeons themselves. Although all of those places are numerous enough to punctuate the exploration with a lot of rewarding moments, The Legend of Zelda inevitably veers towards dullness when the walking around does not yield pleasant results for too long.

The cherry on top of the game’s impressive level of freedom is the fact that, aside from the last labyrinth, all of the dungeons can be tackled and cleared in pretty much any order. Similarly to what would happen in future Zelda adventures, each level has at least one specific item hidden inside its dark halls that is key to making one’s way through its rooms, defeating the boss, or advancing to new places in Hyrule. However, some of the mazes – though hard to find – can be accessed without any kind of specific equipment, and when there are item-specific requirements there is absolutely nothing stopping Link from walking into a dungeon, picking up the necessary item without clearing the maze, and opting to head out to another location.

Due to the NES’ inherent limitations, all of the dungeons are combat-focused affairs rather than puzzle-ridden places. Advancing from one room to another is usually a matter of getting rid of all enemies in the area and acquiring a key; the only kind of deep reasoning the levels require is navigating through its rooms and knowing where to go next, actions that get rather complicated as the labyrinths grow in size. The few puzzles that do exist involve simple activities such as pushing blocks and bombing walls, the latter of which can sometimes get awfully obscure because there is no clear indication of which walls must be bombed in order for Link to proceed.

zelda3That inclination towards battling turns the dungeons, especially those in the final portion of the game, into extremely challenging obstacles. Rooms with hordes of enemies that reach the limit of eight creatures become more frequent, and their compositions grow increasingly focused on foes that are more powerful, a reality that will certainly frustrate many gamers after repeated failures send them all the way back to the level’s starting point, forcing them to walk through already cleared rooms numerous times just to get back to the place where they were killed.

Like it happens on the outside world, visually the dungeons suffer from an overall monotony in theme, with the only varying graphical feature being the dominant color of their tiles. Truthfully, Hyrule, within the extent of its scope, offers a very satisfying range of settings, including lakes, rivers, islands, beaches, and other environments, but all of that greatness is held back by the repetition of the very same visual assets presented in different colors according to the region Link is in. The soundtrack, meanwhile, stands on a slightly higher level, as The Legend of Zelda is the game that introduces – through its beeps – many of the themes that went on to be reused in future installments of the series.

Overall, even when considering its problems, The Legend of Zelda is certainly among the best NES games and it unquestionably stands on top of the list of the most impressive and ambitious ones. It is a lengthy adventure filled with challenge and possibilities, carrying a size and an amount of content (including a second unlockable quest with altered dungeons and more difficult enemies) that made it into one of the first games to feature an option to save progress without the use of passwords. From the outset, The Legend of Zelda announced to the world that it aimed to be nothing short of gaming’s most epic franchise, and though it did not hit all of its on target, it showed many qualities and great potential.

The Legend of Zelda

Posted in NES, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Breath of Fresh Air

botwNintendo’s tendency to live and create on the outskirts of the gaming industry’s trends has always been its greatest quality and the source of its biggest downfalls. On one hand, such characteristic has allowed the company to craft and develop properties that swim against the current, heading towards bright creative shores other developers seem to ignore, which causes its studios’ greatest titles to be rebellious sparks of color in a world where the mainstream looks black and gray. On the other hand, that stubborn bone has led Nintendo to arrive way too late to some of gaming’s most considerable advances, such as optical discs, sprawling online features, and high definition graphics; a reality that has undeniably been costly.

On the aftermath of the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that analysis is relevant because – for what might as well be the first time ever – Nintendo seems to be paying attention to what has been going on outside of its walls. More shockingly, however, is the fact that the company that has always been a gameplay trailblazer, as it is evidenced by the numerous outside developers who cite its historic games as a source of inspiration, is following instead of leading; tuning its antenna to catch trends instead of starting them.

Ironically, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, simultaneously, the most modern and old-school game the franchise has ever presented by a gigantic margin. Its modernity lies in its embrace of open-world gameplay, something that has become pretty much the standard for every current gaming blockbuster. The irony is that by blowing up the fences that had been keeping the series on a stellar, albeit predetermined, path since A Link to the Past, and heading full-speed towards the contemporary trend of wide overworlds where players are free to roam wherever they want and do whatever they feel like, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ends up bumping into the NES original that started it all, where the ideas of freedom that are so prominent today were first implemented.

botw2It is as if someone inside Nintendo, on a particularly inspired day, opened up the window, looked out onto the gaming world, scanned the horizon, and realized that what was going on outside and making a splash with audiences was something Miyamoto himself had basically coined back in 1986 with The Legend of Zelda. Only, during the time Nintendo had lost sight of that open-ended path, others had come in, taken it to unprecedented levels of quality and size, and gained a whole lot of money and praise while they were at it; it was time to come back.

Whether Nintendo is merely retracing its steps with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or following tendencies it is hard to tell – the truth likely, as usual, lies somewhere in between those poles. Two things, however, are undeniable. Firstly, is the fact that the game looks spectacular, and the vast expanse of Hyrule and its apparently incredible design have made the wait and delays worth it: the world is gorgeous, alluring, brimming with details – both in the visual and gameplay fields, and packed with things to do, which adds fuel to the concept that players can choose their own adventure and approach the game in hundreds of different ways.

Moreover, given that Link is seemingly thrown into a despair-ridden Hyrule, now featuring technological touches that are nicely integrated into the Zelda fabric, by a mysterious voice that wakes him up from a long slumber, there is a huge door open towards a more hands-off approach to storytelling, which could be quite a shift to the franchise’s usual mold.

botw3Secondly, though, in a more neutral light, is how not much of what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is truly original. Open world games are so common nowadays they have almost become a genre of their own, with titles like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption, and the whole Assassin’s Creed saga having already explored that field to a great degree. Additionally, other elements that make Breath of the Wild a truly remarkable step within the Zelda franchise have also been previously tackled by others: surviving by getting resources from the environment, for example, was a major theme of the classic Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater; and collecting various goods across the world to cook, upgrade weapons, get new ammo, and build the game’s central character is something that has always existed in RPGs.

Borrowing ideas, though, is not inherently bad. Not only is much of what the world creates grounded on previously established concepts, the fact that Nintendo is being heavily inspired by what is on the outside is incredibly encouraging. Although the Zelda series has a track record of creation and invention, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does not need to be entirely made up of pieces that have never seen before; it simply needs to take all of those parts, make them its own, and build a truly impressive gaming experience with them and, from the early looks Nintendo has allowed the world to take, the game seems to be treading that road safely.

The junction of an immersive open world that is colored by the palette of themes, characters, assets, and regions that exist in Hyrule, with quirks of modern gaming and the traditional elements of the Zelda gameplay, such as dungeons and cleverly designed equipment, is bound to turn The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild into a game for the ages.

botw4On the surface, it may seem that the stubborn company that often refuses to conform to the norm is lowering its head and acknowledging the greatness of what the outside world has been producing. Below that veil, however, there is more than enough room for Nintendo to infuse The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with their unmistakable charm. In the end, what the game might actually accomplish is proving to everyone that the house that invented that kind of gameplay some thirty years ago is still the master at that craft despite its lengthy absence from that field.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments