the Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword


Near the start of Skyward Sword, Link is told rather bluntly that him being born under a lucky star will likely be enough for him to beat his more hard-working classmates, and rightly so. The skewed morality gave me pause – did someone actually think this was a good theme, or did they simply do the best they could with a mythos that was set in stone? I got the same feeling for a lot of things with the game – be it the design, interface, art… The craftsmanship was great, but the origin of the ideas were dated and coarse.

At this point I should probably mention that I had to run through it in three days instead of taking the time to explore, which is certainly not how you get enjoyment out of any Zelda game. I did like it (and I wish I could spend another three days or so just exploring the game) but I had hoped for more and this is to be considered an exploration as to why.

Perhaps because of the series’ 25th anniversary, Skyward Sword feels like a combination of the earlier, overworld-style Zelda games and the grand ocean of Wind Waker. There are some nods to earlier games and the variation in gameplay is astounding even for a Zelda title. The broad focus might have contributed to what I feel are some core elements not being quite there though. The mechanics of certain enemies can put you in situations where you will die far too quickly to figure out what to do. Some parts of the quest feel like they’re just there to waste my time rather than being fun to play. The camera is good overall, but too ambitiously intelligent and more often than not ends up behind something. The controls are incoherent both with earlier games and within this one – and that is not even mentioning the wiimote controls.

One thing that is interesting with Skyward Sword is how the comparison to Twilight Princess says something about gimmicks in gameplay. Twilight Princess was developed for the Gamecube and was a relatively “pure” game whereas Skyward Sword is developed around the wii controls – most enemies and virtually every boss requires you to slash in different directions. While this works okay most of the time, it is not as quick or precise as pressing a button by far. The gimmick is fun for awhile, sure, but we get a game that is slower, less exact and more constrained in several ways – the funky controls take up so much place that it is less of a “Zelda” game.

I would like to say that a return to form would be a better strategy for Nintendo, but drawing the line between doing too little and too much in terms of innovation is a hard thing. And it might be that people like me, the people who played the original Zelda before it had sequels on other platforms, are just not the right people to appease for a game that expects you to sink in 50+ hours exploring for exploration’s sake.

Posted on Dec 31/11 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet


The graphics in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet really are fantastic – the animations are vivid and pulsating, the style is creepy and coherent – silhouette graphics have been the easy way out for a lot of games without high production values, but Michel Gagné really shows what you can do with it if you really try. This being said, it might be the root of my problem with it; it sort of feels like a cheap flash game at times.

I do like the game, for what it is. The sort of Metroidvania without the actual platforming that Aquaria did so well is pulled off with finesse, and it is very easy to pick up and play. It feels a lot more linear than other games in the genre though, with the exception of the starting area there is little reason to go back and search areas after having acquired new abilities. The design in general feels fairly toned-down and the pace of the game is near-constant throughout – the simplistic graphics and lack of spoken story are nice touches but they call attention to the game’s less interesting points.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet most certainly is nowhere near a cheap flash game, it is beautiful every step of the way, controls very well and has some rather innovative takes on the formula. It feels a bit shallow at times, not more so than most other games but unlike most other games it does nothing to hide it.

Posted on Dec 12/11 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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In my first year back when I was studying, I had an argument with a teacher about making low-tech games. Basically, my point was that there was still a lot to gain from making traditional (in this case, 2D) action games whereas he argued that we need to strive for future gaming forms rather than re-hash existing ones. Today we have all kinds of games so this argument makes little sense, but this was back in the early 2000s – there were no proper online portals for distributing games, no commercial game engines available to the hobbyist and the indie market was small and mostly invisible. While change was certainly brewing, at the time making games meant making console games – or at least something that would be in a box, in a store and sell in excess of half a million copies.

While I will not deny that I probably would not have bothered were it not for nostalgia, the point remains valid – the development of gameplay was (and in some cases, still is) driven by a development in technology. Close to the end of the millennium almost every well-known developer tried to rehash their existing games into 3D action/adventure games – in many cases with really poor results – simply because we had the technology to do it and not because it offered a new and exiting venue to try out design ideas. A similar trend appeared at the birth of the Wii and now most recently with 3D glasses, though thankfully these concepts do not require a complete abandonment of existing mechanics.

In any case, I argued that the swap to 3D meant a significant change in how games are controlled and paced which meant games had to be designed differently  and by abandoning 2D games we were just limiting what we could do. Again, an obvious argument today but times were different. My biggest point was that technology used for 3D games allowed us to do things in 2D that simply were not possible back in the days of 16-bit consoles.

So, Bastion. I like it a lot – probably because of nostalgia but also because it does use modern technology to make a game that could have been made in the 90s, except for some important points like the amount of stuff happening at once and the mood set by the manipulation of color. It is also very polished, it has some really clever ways of letting the player manage difficulty and a varied selection of attack options that make the action feel different without affecting the fluidity of it.

In the last 10 years we have gotten to a point where instead of no decent 2D action games we have too many to try, luckily Bastion stands out.

Posted on Dec 05/11 by Saint and filed under Reflections | 2 Comments »