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Sunday, April 24, 2016

SUPER GAME - Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages

I have always been a fan of the Zelda franchise. I started of course with the original 1986 title on the Nintendo. Even though I was not necessarily in to RPG or Action-Adventure games, the original game still captivated me. It was unlike anything else I had seen before. I primarily remember a few really boring text adventure games from the Atari home computer, and as such adventure games generally didn’t appeal to me. I remember hearing friends talk about Zelda, and eventually saw it firsthand at a friend’s house. To be quite honest, it wasn’t until years later that I would really come to truly appreciate what that original Zelda was, and what it did for the video game franchise as a whole.

The success of that original game of course led to an NES sequel, the Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. With a few more RPG elements thrown in, I was never really as captivated by this one as I was the original, but I digress. What followed next were Zelda titles being developed and released on every subsequent Nintendo console that would be released thereafter. This included games for each of the portable handheld consoles. The Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance systems all had Zelda titles released on them.

I remember borrowing and playing Link’s Awakening on the original Gameboy when I was in Jr. High, but never got much of a chance to complete it. With the game not being in full color, I never really had enough of a desire to play it after returning it, and as a result I never bought it for myself.

Years later I learned about the two games that had been co-developed released for the Gameboy Color (GBC). I didn’t realize, mostly due to the fact that I never owned a GBC system, that these two games were, in fact, designed to be played in succession, and that they could be linked together using a system of passwords. This means that the two games themselves were actually connected, and could technically be considered one single mega game. Certainly this would be the first time in my memory that something like this had ever been done. Making it even more intriguing is the fact that it didn’t matter what order you played the games in. In fact, the replay value for them was that much higher when you consider that you would experience a slightly different game experience depending on whether or not you chose to play Ages or Seasons first. In all, these two games provided up to 4 different gameplay experiences depending on your choices.

So what kind of gameplay experience does one get with these two games? To be completely honest, I haven’t played through all four of the possibilities, so I cannot speak to every single aspect. I have played through both games, however, starting first with Oracle of Seasons, and finishing with Oracle of Ages.

I didn’t expect much from these games in terms of storyline or depth. After all most games developed for the handheld consoles were shorter, and less developed than what was available on the original NES or Super Nintendo consoles. I always attributed this to the lack of physical memory available on the smaller cartridges. 

Boy was I ever surprised to find out just how deep and rich these games ended up being. Seriously, there are some very complex and sophisticated dungeons found in both, although I would argue that Ages has the most. When you consider that both games not only include overtly impressive overworlds (Holodrum and Lynna), plus their own additional storyline worlds (Lynna past, and Subrosia the underworld), you end up with a very deep, enriched, and highly fulfilling game. I am very, very impressed with just how much there actually is to these two portable games. They would honestly give a good run to quite a few of the “bigger” games found on the main NES and Super Nintendo consoles.

Like most Zelda games, these two games feature non-linear exploration and puzzle solving in order to advance the storyline, and open up new areas of the world map. The added wrinkle of having to traverse the same world in different seasons or timelines in order to unlock or complete a puzzle just makes it that much deeper in terms of exploration. Sometimes you cannot access a doorway, cave, or dungeon, unless you have first travelled back in time, or changed the season to aid you in gaining an advantage. Examples include planting a seed in the past that in turn sprouts in to a climbable vine in the present, or using snow drifts in winter to bridge an otherwise impassable gap present during any of the other three seasons. A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo included a few of these types of puzzles, where you would first need to traverse an area in the dark world, in order to surpass some immovable obstacle or boundary in the light world. The major difference between a Link to the Past and these two games is that these kinds of problem solving are a lot more prevalent in these games design. Meaning the game was designed with these added wrinkles being a bigger part of the overall game play and storyline.

If you are still not sold on just how large and expansive these games are, then please consider the fact that both games also include what is affectionately referred to as the trading game or fetch quest. Some people dislike this aspect of these games, as well as the one found in the GBA title The Minish Cap. While they are somewhat time consuming and vague, they add an additional level to the overall experience, and there is usually a nice reward at the end. Besides, it’s a lot more satisfying and fun to complete these games knowing that you have gotten 100% of the items and have also completed all of the additional side quests.

To sum things up: The two Zelda games found on the Gameboy Color provide a surprisingly deep, enriching game experience, and when you play them linked together, the game gets even deeper. Anyone who is a fan of the Zelda series is strongly encouraged to play them. Hell, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the franchise itself, you do owe it to yourself to play through what is probably the best game(s) found on the GBC.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Game of the Year: AXIOM VERGE


I don’t know what more I can say about Axiom Verge that probably hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam across the various social media sites, gaming websites, YouTube, personal blogs, etc. Hell it made a cameo appearance in my 12 Games of Christmas as Game number one. You can watch it here:

It was a day back in early 2015 that I remember first hearing someone talk about this great new game they had played on the PS4 called Axiom Verge. I didn’t really think much of it until I started hearing more and more people mention it on Twitter. It was at that point that I decided to look a little deeper at this thing called Axiom Verge. It was reported that the whole game was developed by only one person.

What I ended up finding quickly set my heart a flutter. I spent a good chunk over the next few weeks watching various videos on YouTube of people playing this amazing indie title. That’s right reader, you read that correctly, my 2015 Game of the Year (GOTY) is an independently developed game that is NOT produced by a major game publisher. Three cheers for the little guy!

It was at that point I knew that Axiom Verge was one of those special games. A game that would be talked about for a long time.  Unfortunately I do not own a PS4 system, so I was unable to play this title myself. Then I discovered that is was scheduled for release on May 14th 2015 on Steam for the PC. I nearly shat myself with excitement, to the point that I even set up an alert on my calendar to remind when this game became available. Then I moved on with life…

My gaming life can best be described as somewhat chaotic. Meaning I jump from game to game with relative speed, so after setting that reminder I all but forgot about Axiom Verge. I was able to distract myself by doing what I do best, playing video games.

Then I awoke that fateful May morning. I had an alert on my phone….blinking at me….trying to tell me something, important.

Imagine my face when I unlocked my screen and read my alert, only to discover that it was the reminder that Axiom Verge was now available on Steam. It probably looked something like this:

In an excitement that is only rivaled by an 8 year old on Christmas morning, I rushed out to my laptop and logged in to Steam as quickly as possible. Then I remembered…I had recently had the good fortune of getting a Steam gift card for my birthday in April. I had loaded it on to Steam at the time, and was planning on using it for a future purchase, possibly even for this very game. In hindsight that was a brilliant move, because when I went to checkout, I noticed the option to pay using my Steam balance.  My life has not been the same since.

Finally. It was my turn. My chance to finally experience first-hand, what I had only seen online. My time to play Axiom Verge. Oh wait, I have to install it first…

Okay, now I was ready. I was ready to lose myself in the strange environments found within the strange high-tech world that the game is set in.

I will admit that at the time of this writing, I have yet to complete the game in full. I can hear some of you reaching for that mouse, but before you discredit me and click the exit/back button on your browser, hear me out.

While I have yet to complete the game, I can tell you that the hours I have had a chance to sink in to this game have all been worth it. The gameplay is fantastic, and I find myself actually getting really excited to explore new areas. Having grown up playing the games that inspired this title (Super Metroid, Castlevania, etc.) I can usually spot features or areas within the game that I know may come in to play later on. The ledges/platforms that are just a little bit outside of your initial jumping capabilities. Areas that have doors, barriers, or even walls with cracks or strange artifacts on/near them. I just know that I will eventually pick up an upgrade of some kind that will unlock an ability or allow me to transverse to new areas to explore. It’s a classic formula that works well, and one that has been executed very well in Axiom Verge.

As I sit here reflecting on this game, deciding on what to write next, I find myself trying to pick out flaws just so that this doesn’t sound like too big of a gush-fest. And in all honesty, I have found it almost impossible to find anything I don’t like about the game itself. The graphics are superb, the music is an absolute masterpiece. Seriously if the soundtrack alone doesn’t win some major awards I will be offended.

If I must nit-pick and find a flaw with Axiom Verge it would be the weapons selection process. The game is played by plugging in an Xbox controller in to an open USB port on your computer. No need to map or configure anything. The controls, for the most part are good, and are not much different than you would find in any other game of similarity. The left analog stick is used to control Trace’s movement, left, right, crouch, aim up, etc. You can also use the D-Pad if you so choose, and I sometimes find myself switching back and forth between the two. The right analog stick is used to cycle between your various projectile weapons.

At first it’s not too bad, as you only have a small handful to start out. Cycling through them is quite simple, and it’s easy to change on the fly to a gun that meets your current needs or situation.  As the game advances, and you pick up additional guns, it becomes a little more difficult to remember what gun does what exactly, so you may need to cycle through them in a tense moment before you find the one you are looking for. I know it’s better than the alternative of cycling through weapons one at a time at the push of a single set of buttons, but it can still be time consuming in a game that sometimes requires you to make a quick weapons change.

The other problem is not really a game design flaw, but rather a flaw of my ability to hold a smallish controller in my rather large hands. It should come as no surprise that a dude housed in a 6’ 5” frame would have large hands.  For you metric readers that equates to 1.95 meters (or is it meteres?). Playing games on a standard sized controller can be challenging at times, and the problem I have had with Axiom Verge is that my ginormous thumb will sometimes accidentally click the R3 (right analog stick) button in the heat of battle, and switch back to a default gun. Yeah, to go from killing enemies in a single shot, to something weaker or less effective can kill a good run pretty quickly.

Other than those two minor flaws with the control mechanics, the game plays really smoothly. The only other complaint I may consider throwing out there is that the world designs tend to become somewhat similar in texture and appearance after a while. It is easy to lose your sense of direction, and after on more than one occasion I found myself lost, and thinking that I had already explored this area. It was kind of like Deja-vu. The in-game map is certainly a very handy tool for when it becomes necessary to do a little bit of backtracking in this lovingly dubbed “Metroidvania” game.

If I haven’t convinced you to play this game yet, let me continue on by talking about the bosses.  The few I have encountered up to this point are skillfully designed, and even border on a slightly more whimsical side. Some of them reminding me more of the robot bosses found in the MegaMan games.


They are challenging, and will require you to study their movements and attack patterns in order to conquer them. So far they have been very fun and rewarding.  I expect them to ratchet up the level of difficulty on these bastards as the game progresses, and I may find myself hating some of them with the passion of a million suns. I guess I will find out.

At this point I really don’t want to run the risk of spoiling it too much for those that haven’t played the game yet, and I don’t want to research much further so as to not spoil it for myself. I will however, leave you with these final words: