Games - Xbox
  • drewmg

Regular Updates

Starting in September, I'll be acting as a regular contributor to the The Goozex Report, a blog which is unaffiliated with Goozex, but acts to promote the site and write about video games.

I'll still be posting some stuff here, namely the Recapping Zelda series, which I am indeed still working on (Ocarina of Time is a really long game), and anything that could be interpreted as "flame bait".

Anything else that I write for TGR I will link from this blog so that you can easily find it.

Types of content that I'll be writing include:

Reviews of games that I've been playing recently (such as EA Sports Active)
Rundowns of classic games that are available for dirt cheap on Goozex
Occasional top 5 lists
Retrospectives of my favorite games (such as Ico)
Fresh look at established franchises that I've never played.

Hope you'll tune in!
Games - Wii
  • drewmg

My Childhood, In Exact Change

Yesterday, it dawned on me.

I've had the Super NES and NES sitting in my basement for years, at four different apartments or houses. I've amassed about 30 NES games and about 15 SNES games. I never play any of them. In some cases, I've bought Virtual Console or Xbox Live Arcade versions to replace them. It's always hard for me to justify this, but who wants to dig out a 15 year old video game system just to play a few rounds of Street Fighter II?

Originally I'd put them into the spare room with a TV, thinking it would be sort of a classic video game room. Instead, the room became storage. Even if I wanted to sit in that room and play video games (I don't, it's dark and kind of musty) I couldn't because it's too full of crap.

And yet these classic gaming collections sit in this room.

Yesterday it dawned on me that I didn't really care about them anymore. With modern technology, I can replay any of these games any different number of ways. I can emulate, (both legally or illegally, if necessary) these experiences perfectly on either a handheld or a television set. Most importantly, I'm not a collector anymore. I once was, to a certain extent, but I'm not anymore. Another thing I've noticed about video games: the more of them you own, the less you care about any one of them in particular. One of the reasons most of us loved our NES so much as a kid is because we never had more than 1 or 2 new games per year. We had to sit, and focus in on those games. These days, I acquire a new video game on SOME platform or another just about weekly, and that adds to a backlog of thousands of games that I own in some capacity and never play.

So, I decided to box them up, and trade them in. Initially I thought about going the eBay route, but these would require pretty hefty boxes, and I always hate shipping something like that on eBay. Seems like no matter how much I charge for shipping, I end up paying for it in the end.

Instead, I took them to Gamers, a local used video game shop that, unlike Gamestop, deals in classic gaming as well as modern gaming. I sat the giant box on the counter, and found an employee to begin the trade in process. As I watched him go through game after game, testing the NES and Super NES (but strangely not testing every game), I wrote on my phone "I estimate $57" and showed it to my wife so that when they gave me a total, she could gauge my facial reaction properly.

Everyone who's ever traded in a video game or video game system to a store like Gamers or Gamestop will tell you the same thing: keep your expectations low. Whatever you think you DESERVE for the loot, halve that, and then minus another 5-10% or so depending on the rarity of the items. I expected maybe $10-15 each for the NES and Super NES, and maybe $0.75 per game on the average.

They offered me $175 in store credit.

I absolutely could not believe what they were telling me. This is by far the most I have ever been off on my trade-in estimate, and in this case it was to my benefit. $175. For a bunch of games that were no newer than 14 years old.

I swallowed the lump in my throat that had formed as I watched them playtest Super Mario World on my SNES and quickly agreed to sign the ticket which gives them my loot, and gives me a buttload of store credit.

So, I'm sure you're asking, what did I buy with my store credit? Why, since you asked...

I am now the proud owner of a fitness video game, a super-realistic golf video game, an attachment that makes my Wii remote do all the things they said it would do when they sold it in 2006, and an update to a classic NES arcadey sports title. Am I sporty or what? I will try to update this blog in a few weeks with impressions of these games, most notably how I'm doing in EA Sports Active (which, from what I can tell, is Wii Fit for those who actually desire a game that will get you in shape).
Games - Zelda
  • drewmg


The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, 1993 (Nintendo Game Boy) - Played on Game Boy Color (re-release 1998)

When the Nintendo Game Boy launched, it did so with a version of Super Mario that was, in many ways, vastly inferior to it's console counterparts. Super Mario Land has not aged well when compared to it's big brothers on the Nintendo consoles. It didn't take long for Tetris to become to the Game Boy what Super Mario Bros. had been for the NES. It was assumed that the Game Boy was not a place for engaging, dynamic gameplay, but puzzle games and inferior clones of NES games.

In 1993, Nintendo blew the doors off that theory with the release of Link's Awakening - a much better game than had been on the system at that point, and one that rivaled it's Super NES companion, A Link To the Past in almost every way. Awakening is notable for many reasons. To name a few, it was:

  • The first handheld Zelda title
  • The first Zelda title featuring crossover from other Nintendo franchises (notably Mario)
  • A Zelda title that returned, in some ways, to the sidescrolling of Zelda II
  • Balls out hard.

    Having now played through LttP and LA back to back, I can confidently say that some of the puzzles in LA are far more difficult than anything in LttP. This may be, in some part, due to the fact that I've played LttP more frequently in recent years, yet haven't played all the way through Link's Awakning since a weeklong excursion in the fall of 1995.

    It's been awhile since I've played a 2D Zelda title without remembering the locations of every little thing, but I did fairly well in this game. I used an FAQ to find a few of the secret seashells (which give you a powered up sword after you find 20) and just one heart piece, bringing me up to a total of 13 out of 14 heart containers.

    There are two particularly notable things I'll talk about in this write-up. First, the Roc's Feather. It's amazing to me that the 3D Zelda titles have never taken jumping into account, yet the 2D overhead Zelda titles made it standard back in 1992. Having a jumping mechanic feels completely natural in Link's Awakening and adds a completely new element to the puzzle solving. It can be combined with the Pegasus Boots (which make a return after being introduced in A Link To The Past) to do longer jumps, making a total of three separate kinds of gaps - jumpable ones, running jumpable ones, and hookshot gaps. All three are peppered across the land of Koholint.

    Speaking of Koholint, the other notable thing worth discussing is a very interesting story which is told to you in disturbingly dark fashion by the Nightmares (Bosses) after you complete each temple. It doesn't take too long for you to learn that if you wish to leave Koholint and return home to Hyrule, you have to waken the mystical Wind Fish which sits atop a mountain. What takes you a little longer to learn is that when you wake the Wind Fish, not only do you leave the island, but the island itself ceases to exist. That's right, Link's Awakening is merely a dream. You cleanse the island not only of the bad guys, but also of all the charming towns folk you've just spent upwards of 15 hours getting to know. This Zelda game probably has the richest cast of NPCs of any Zelda title that I've played so far, and it breaks your heart to know that the only way off the island will erase the existence of the lovely Marin, who sings to the animals, as well as Mr. Write, who finally gets a response to one of his letters after you bring it to him.

    The Owl who guides you through the game as the omniscient narrator remains benign throughout the game, but it makes you wonder - why does he want the Wind Fish to wake up so badly, if he'll be erased as well?

    All in all, a fantastic game, and one that presented considerable more challenge than I anticipated. Brilliant, A+, would play again.

    RANK THE GAMES: (LttP gets the nod because it was first, but it's very very close):

    ZELDA 1
  • Games - Zelda
    • drewmg


    The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, 1992 (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) - Played on GameBoy Advance (re-release 2002)

    In the early 90s, Nintendo seemed to be establishing a formula for their video game systems: Mario got the system in the door, and Zelda kept the customer loyal. It happened with the NES, and they made it happen again in 1992 with "A Link To The Past" for Super NES. The game looked at both previous Zelda titles and brought forth elements of both, realizing Hyrule with gorgeous, bright colors and cutting-edge art design and animation. In 1992, "Link to the Past" was the game to be, the game to beat, and most importantly, the game to play.

    The question, then, is "How does it hold up?" I chose to play the Game Boy version of the game (mainly because I was broke that week and didn't feel like spending $8 on a game I'd already played many times before - I sold my SNES cartridge on eBay last year) which is more or less identical to the 1992 SNES release. There are a few minor improvements to the save system, but I won't go into those too much. It makes the game slightly easier, but all in all it's a pretty minor correction. There's also an additional palace, but it requires that you play "Four Swords" to unlock it, and that was not something I had planned on this time around.

    The game opens with what is probably the first "cut scene" in a Zelda game (not counting the endings of the previous two games) as Link's uncle is called to the castle to rescue princess Zelda from the dungeon. After the uncle is gone, Link awakens and immediately, you are in the action. What continues is one of the most engaging and exciting sequences in the entire franchise - the dungeon rescue.

    As the rain pours down overhead, and the music creeps up to a crescendo, Link engages in Royal Espionage, princess-napping Zelda from her captors. From there, you are deposited out into an immense, immense world. Compared to Zelda 1, this Hyrule feels twice as large, if not larger - and that's just the beginning. Within a few hours of gameplay, you find yourself in the Dark World - a complete mirror of the map with slight changes, and all new hidden caves and treasures. The amount of secrets in this game feels immense compared to Zelda 1 and II. It's not difficult these days to notice that games like Zelda require a greater time commitment than they did in the 80s, but "Link to the Past" is a great illustration of that process IN ACTION. This is one of the first games that had THIS MANY things to do. It's amazing.

    The entire game reeks of polish; the graphics are beautiful, the music is delightful and catchy, the puzzles are well thought out and in some cases pretty tricky. I played this game about 2 years ago, so I didn't have a whole lot of problems remembering how to solve most of these puzzles, but I did have to consult a FAQ on a few minor points.

    I managed to track down all but 3 of the heart pieces (once again, I did use a FAQ to get a handful of them, but most of them were found from memory) leading to an almost-full 19 Heart Containers. This is also the first Zelda game that split up the Heart Containers into quadrants, giving you much much more to do in the overworld.

    There were a few magic spells, a concept brought forward from Zelda II, but none of them are all that useful and I pretty much never used them in combat. It's nice that they continued with the idea of magic, but the difference is that in Zelda II, magic almost completely replaced items - there WERE no "active" items in Zelda II, it was all magic. Bringing back the active items in "Link to the Past" (the classics like the boomerang and the bombs, but also a whole slew of great new items like the magic cane and the magic cape) relegated magic to the back burner.

    I'm not sure how many more things I can say to convince you that this game is great. Not only is it one of the best Zelda titles, it's one of the very best video games ever produced by Nintendo or anyone else. This game set in stone many of the staples of the franchise that are still used in modern Zelda titles. This is, in a word, classic.

    RANK THE GAMES: (The list is now quite topheavy):

    ZELDA 1
    Games - NES
    • drewmg


    Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, 1988 (Nintendo Entertainment System) - Played on Wii Virtual Console

    There's lots of things to be said about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and many opinions to be held. For reasons I can't explain, Nintendo decided not to make another Legend of Zelda game, and rather rethink the formula that made the first Zelda title one of the most beloved of all time. I can't think of any other example where Nintendo (or any video game company) had a hit on their hands, decided to crank out a sequel 2 years later, but completely re-wrote the wheel to get there.

    Zelda II is basically two games - the overworld, and the combat. First, the overworld. Zelda II puts you on a giant map (noticably larger than the first Zelda game, although it's hard to compare the two due to the differences in gameplay) and has you exploring the countryside in a style that matches up very well with the RPGs of the day. If you stray too far from the safety of the road, monsters appear and it's up to you to avoid them. It's not "random" encounters, since you can usually avoid them if you try hard enough. There's no combat (or action to speak of at all) on the overworld, merely exploration. Does it work? Most of the time, I'd say no. The overworld feels like a chore, and having to chop down every tree, step on every tile, and hit the whistle button every few steps can get really tiring after awhile.

    Every so often you come across a town, and the towns are baffling in their design. Every town has one healer, one magic-refiller, and one magic spell you can get, usually involving a fetch quest of some sort. However, for reasons unknown, in the towns later in the game, random villagers begin TURNING INTO BATS. This does not seem conducive to keeping the peace if you ask me. For the most part, the advice that the villagers give you is nonsense, and I don't remember ever relying on it one bit when I was trying to beat this game for the first time. What are you supposed to do when a villager says to you "I am Error" exactly?

    The other major part of Zelda II is the combat, and to me this is where the game excels. The swordplay in Zelda II is more fun than in any of the other 2D Zelda games that come to mind. Sidescrolling lends itself well to swordplay. The up-thrust and down-thrust techniques you get later in the game make it even more fun. Fighting the knights and skeletons (I'm sure they have proper Zelda names, sorry I don't know them) who have shields is a fun exercise in give-and-take, and when they drop 200 XP on you, it feels like it was worth the effort.

    One of the notable things about Zelda II is it's difficulty. This game is hard, almost exclusively because there are almost no items in this game that heal you. Sometimes you'll find a fairy, and maybe a magic-refill (even so, you are forced to go through the first 25% of the game without a healing spell) but there are no heart pickups in this Zelda game. Combat can be quite fierce later in the games, but the introduction of magic into the game does a lot to even the odds.

    There's many other things I can talk about in this game (the leveling system, the lack of items, the incredibly confusing final palace) but instead, I'll focus on my opinion of the game.

    Having just recently replayed Zelda 1 and Zelda II, I am surprised to say that I actually enjoyed Zelda II more. I don't think it's a better game, but the swordplay in Zelda II is so much more intense that I'm not sure there's anything in Zelda 1 that quite matches it. There's less "burn down this random bush" type of secrets in Zelda II, so you spend more time looking around and less time trying to uncover every little secret.

    In the end, Zelda 1 is the better title, but Zelda II is sorely underrated, and if it didn't have the world Zelda at the front, it would be remembered as one of the best games of it's era.

    RANK THE GAMES: (Adding Zelda II to the pile doesn't change things much):

    ZELDA 1
    Games - NES
    • drewmg


    The Legend of Zelda, 1986 (Nintendo Entertainment System) - Played on Wii Virtual Console

    My quest to recap Zelda begins with The Legend of Zelda (AKA Zelda 1). I began playing through this game a few months ago, and last weekend picked up my save file. Halfway through the fifth dungeon, I decided on this whole entire project.

    This is what struck me most on this playthrough of the first Zelda; I have no idea how we figured out any of this stuff when I was a kid. There are caves under random trees, behind random rocks; the only way any of this must have made sense was via the use of a strategy guide. Back when Zelda 1 was in it's heyday, I remember the locations of the secrets in this game as being passed down from friend to friend, from cousin to cousin, brother to brother, in almost the same way fairy tales were passed down to the next generation. A boy would see his friend burn down a certain tree to get a bomb expansion; he would go to his cousin's place to show him this top secret trick, and so on.

    But in the end, I'm certain it all went back to an strategy guide. Or maybe we were just a lot more patient when we were children. Me? I remember almost everything. I remember what items you get where, how to get all the heart containers, how to get all 16 bombs; I remember everything. I didn't have that luxury when I was 8.

    Zelda 1 has a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack, and stands up there with Super Mario Bros and Metroid in terms of music. There's a reason that it's Nintendo franchises who have notable melodies - they were all great on the NES, and the themes merely got better as they got re imagined in the future.

    Another thing that surprised me about Zelda 1 on this playthrough was how easy it was when you knew exactly where everything was. I beat the game in probably under 3 hours, split amongst maybe a half dozen sessions. It's not hard to knock out 2-3 of the 9 dungeons without leaving your chair.

    So how does it hold up? Pretty well. It shows its age in the poorly translated text, and also in the inability to slash your sword at an angle, but all in all, it does hold up pretty well. Level 9 is still a beast, but I remembered exactly where to go.

    RANK THE GAMES: (so far we just have the one under our belt, so this should be easy):

    ZELDA 1
    Games - Zelda
    • drewmg

    Recapping Zelda: Introduction

    This is my mission, one which I have chosen to accept:

    Play through the Zelda franchise in chronological order, and write a review of each title after completion, grading how it holds up, and where it fits in the Zelda pantheon. I'm not going to play EVERY SINGLE title, but the vast majority of them.

    Here's the intended playlist:

    The Legend of Zelda (NES)
    Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
    Link to the Past (SNES)
    Link's Awakening (GB)
    Ocarina of Time (N64)
    Majora's Mask (N64)

    Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
    Oracle of Ages (GBC)

    Wind Waker (GC)
    Twilight Princess (Wii)

    Phantom Hourglass (DS)

    Note, I'm skipping Minish Cap because I didn't really enjoy it that much, and this is a big enough task as it is. The only games on this list I've never finished before are bolded above, and the ones I've only finished once are underlined.

    I've already finished The Legend of Zelda and I'll write up my thoughts on that shortly.