Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Era Gone By: Mega Man X8 Review


Yes, much like just about every other denizen of the Internet, I’m pretty fed up with Capcom’s current treatment of their corporate mascot. I wouldn’t by any means call myself a big Mega Man buff, but I do like the franchise a lot. So, when I get an iPhone-based, on-rails piece of insipid sub-excrement that wouldn’t even look passable in Flash and could easily be replicated on freaking Newgrounds for the Blue Bomber’s 25th anniversary, especially considering the kinds of games Mario, Sonic and Zelda have been getting for their own milestone celebrations, I don’t take it very well. Perhaps one could argue that this only reflects Capcom’s intentions to ruin all of its major franchises, if Resident Evil 6’s critical and fan reaction and the inexcusable garbage they’re calling a Devil May Cry “reboot” are anything to go by, but for the love of all that is good and holy, Capcom, this is your beloved mascot. Treat him with some respect.

But, supposedly, the real 25th anniversary celebration doesn’t begin until December 17th, the 25th anniversary of the Japanese release of the original Mega Man game for NES. On that day, Capcom has prepared for us something truly special: a fan-made Street Fighter crossover styled after the 8-bit Mega Man games. Oh, but Capcom funded it, and they’re even allowing it to be released for free!  And by the way, they’re going to use the number of downloads to gauge interest in the franchise. To be fair, I do applaud their decision to embrace a fan-made game rather than pull the copyright infringement card like the evil tyrants they are, and it’s also the main office in Japan that has resulted in the degeneration of Mega Man, while it was Capcom of America that funded the fan-made project. Perhaps there are still people at Capcom who care and are doing what they can, and the game does look pretty fun. Besides, who can argue with a price like zero dollars and zero cents? We'll see what the future holds, but so far it's not looking so bright.

It's really a shame that Capcom as a whole hasn’t been treating their mascot with much love and respect, but I, on the other hand, will. For quite a while, I’ve intended to write scathing reviews of such “classics” as Mega Man X6 and X7 - *shudder* - but in light of the circumstances, I feel that would be in poor taste. Why dishonor Mega Man even more than Capcom already has? So, instead, I’m going to take us back to an era when Capcom actually cared about their mascot by reviewing a game I rather enjoy: Mega Man X8.  Odd choice? Perhaps, but let me give you a bit of my personal experience with this franchise: X is…the only Mega Man series I’m really into. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Classic Mega Man is awesome, but I’m pretty terrible at it. I also enjoyed Zero, but I only have the first game and have yet to pick up the collection and the ZX series didn’t interest me much from what I played of it. Battle Network never really piqued my curiosity either. Also, I only have the Nintendo 64 version of Legends, which I can’t imagine has aged very well on its original console anyway. So, yeah.  X is my favorite, and even though X8 isn’t necessarily my favorite entry in the sub-franchise, I have my reasons for choosing it specifically.

So, as for a bit of information on the game itself, X8 was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2004 as the last console release in the franchise until the downloadable Mega Man 9 as well as the last entry in the X series to date (aside from the remake, Maverick Hunter X). That’s part of the reason why I chose to review this one (and it also has to do with the fact that I want an X9 with the intensity of a thousand suns), but honestly, I think X8 is…pretty underrated. See, X8 follows the disastrous X7. As the first entry for the PS2, X7 attempted to bring some legitimate innovation to the notoriously stagnant franchise, but failed miserably. With X8, they went back to basics, but at the same time refined a lot of X7’s ideas in the right direction and even added some new ones. The result is a game that stands out from the rest of its sub-series not as being strikingly different in terms of mechanics and structure, but as being a solid evolutionary leap that shows how you don’t have to completely overhaul something to make it feel fresh. Debatably, it was the last Mega Man game to really understand this, so let’s get this party started. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mega Man X8.

In Mega Man X8, the future dystopia in which X and friends live has yet to become any less dystopian, so humanity has decided to relocate to the moon by building an Orbital Elevator as part of the Jakob Project. However, the other side of the project involves the creation of advanced New Generation Reploids, led by the ludicrously effeminate Lumine, that can copy the data of any other Reploid and are unable to go Maverick…or so the humans think. But then, the old enemy Vile returns and kidnaps Lumine, and then suddenly all heck breaks loose and the next gen Reploids are, in fact, going Maverick. Thus, it’s once again up to X, Zero and Cousin Oliver- I mean Axl, who is a next gen Reploid himself, to save the world once again. Oh, and some other stuff happens, too. Also, it ends on a cliffhanger. Yeah, Capcom? Where’s X9?

Anyway, X8’s storyline is one of the more interesting you’ll find in the series. It certainly won’t win any awards, but it does keep you into it and is aided by some pretty decent presentation. Sure, the graphics haven’t aged the best, but the CG cutscenes still look nice and the character art used for in-engine scenes is fairly expressive. What’s really impressive is that for the first time in the X sub-franchise, the voice acting isn’t cringe worthy. In fact, the vast majority of the actors on display are…pretty good. Mark Gatha (X) and Lucas Gilbertson (Zero) both do a fantastic job of portraying their respective characters and actually reprised their roles in Maverick Hunter X, and Vile's voice actor is pretty great, too. The rest of the cast ranges from average to decent, with Axl, unfortunately, still being kind of obnoxious, even if to a much lesser degree. Alia doesn’t make me want to shoot myself, anymore, though! And while the Mavericks’ voices are a bit cheesy, what can you really expect from characters with such delightful names as “Optic Sunflower”, “Gravity Antonion”, “Gigavolt Man-O-War” and “Burn Rooster”? Yeah, if you thought they were running out of ideas when they got to “Tornado Tonion”, think again. But really, the cheesiness of the Mavericks here feels endearing rather than annoying. Rest assured; there is none of this in X8.

The characterization in X8 is also spot-on, which is another thing it improved on over the pile of dreck known as X7. X has always been characterized as being really depressed over the war, constantly wondering why we can’t all just get along and will we always have to fight like this and blah blah blah, but X7 took it one step further: it turned X into a wuss, to the point that he had to be unlocked as a playable character in a game of his own namesake. Expect none of that in this wonderful game. Zero has also stopped being stoic and emotionless and started being just as awesome as he was before X6 completely butchered every aspect of his character. And once again, he’s been given an excellent voice actor to compliment it, so no longer does he wonder what he’s FIGHTING FOOOOOOORRRRR. (I had to.) The new support characters also have a lot of personality, and Alia finally acts like she actually cares about what’s going on. And Axl is…tolerable, I suppose. It’s kind of hard to make a character such as him outright likable, but they do their best. Oh, and don’t worry; Sigma is just as ham-tastic as ever.

The visuals of X8 look…okay. They certainly haven’t aged as well as the sprite-based graphics of the first six games and the character models are a bit simplistic, but they don’t look awful either and the way the game blends 3-D environments with a 2-D playing field is seamless. Admittedly, the soundtrack isn’t up to the series’ standard, though. Easily the game’s weakest aspect, only a few of the tracks out of the game’s list are particularly memorable and some of the instrumentation is kind of bleh. The rest of the game makes up for it, but that does remain as X8’s main disappointment.

Getting to the gameplay, X8 basically adheres to classic Mega Man structure. You have to beat eight bosses and you have to get through their levels to get to said bosses. Once you beat one of said bosses, you get that boss’s weapon, which is another boss’s weakness. You then get that boss’s weapon and so on and so forth. It’s a tried and true formula and X8 uses it just the same as ever, but the game also takes pains to make the gameplay a lot more expansive. Available from the get-go are three playable characters: X, Zero and Axl, and all three have different specialties that change the gameplay and all of them also receive different weapons and moves from the bosses. You take two of these characters into a stage with you, where you can switch between them at will. You also choose a support character to aid you, of which there are now three. Palette is good at analyzing the stage to find hidden routes, Layer is good with enemies and boss strategies, and Alia dabbles into a little bit of both.

X7 was the first game to introduce the character-switching mechanic, and, admittedly, that was one of its less terrible ideas. However, in X7, it felt more like a useful perk than something that genuinely changes the experience. In X8, on the other hand, the teamwork aspect feels more like a legitimate game-changer. This is partly due to the fact that the characters’ strengths and weaknesses are much more balanced in X8, which is going to prompt you to switch between your characters often. While X7’s levels were mostly designed with Axl in mind, which rendered Zero almost impractical to use at times, X8’s generally aren’t designed for any particular character. Any character can overcome any obstacle, although some characters may be easier to use for certain situations. However, even outside of the level design, the gameplay encourages you to switch frequently.  Occasionally, the character you will be controlling can get trapped by a boss or enemy’s move, in which case, you can call the other character in for help. When one character takes damage, some of that character’s health bars become red rather than disappearing; switch to your other character, and the wounded character will gradually recover health, a process you can speed up by attacking enemies. This is very handy in its own right, but doubly so because characters take damage quickly and, since this is Mega Man, the game isn’t exactly going to go easy on you. If one character dies, you’re going to be stuck playing as the other character, but as you collect gems and kill enemies, a gauge next to your life meter will gradually fill. Fill it all the way, and the dead character will come back, and if the gauge fills and both characters are alive, you can perform a deadly and extremely useful Combination Attack.

Now let’s talk about the characters themselves, starting with X. X is, in essence, about the same as he ever was in his base form, to the point that he’s…kind of the most useless character if you don’t give him any upgrades. He’s got all the same moves you know and love: dashing, charged shots, Maverick abilities, etc. But, ever the one to plan ahead, Dr. Light somehow found a way to hide armor upgrades in every stage before he tragically died. It doesn’t make sense, but hey, I’m not complaining, because this is the best way the armor system has been handled since X4. In the first four X games, there were only four armor pieces, each with a different effect, and you’d need to have all of them for 100% completion. X5, instead, introduced two different types of armor with different specialties, but you’d have to fully assemble them to use them. X8 also has two types of armor pieces – Icarus and Hermes – but they can all be mixed and matched as you please, while fully assembling an armor type still gives you a special perk. In general, Icarus parts are geared more toward general maneuverability while Hermes parts are geared towards speed, but all are useful in their own ways and you’ll need them for X to be effective in gameplay. Of course, X also gets Maverick weapons as always, and the vast majority of these are really cool and generally useful in at least some way. There are a few duds, but X’s weapon selection in this game could justifiably be called one of the best in the series. Axl’s repertoire isn’t exactly lacking either.

Ah, yes, Axl. This character didn’t exactly make the best first impression with fans upon his introduction in X7, partially because he replaced X as the long-ranged attacker for most of the game and partially because he just plain sucked, but X8 doesn’t just make him tolerable in the the story. In gameplay, Axl is a freaking beast. He can’t move while shooting like X can, but instead, you enter a rapid fire mode when you hold down the “Square” button. From that point, while remaining stationary, you can aim in any direction using the analog stick. This actually makes him more flexible than X in a way, combined with the fact that he retains his ability to hover for short distances with his foot-rockets. Effectively, you can remain stationary in the air while shooting for a short time, which – believe me – you will be doing a lot if you ever control Axl. Not only does this set him apart from the rest of the cast, but it’s also just plain satisfying. And again, the arsenal of weapons he gets over the course of the game is pretty awesome, too, and not all of the weapons function in the same way. He also retains his copy ability from X7, and while it’s a lot more practical to use now, I still rarely found myself using it except for getting a few upgrades – a subject I’ll touch on later. It doesn’t suck this time around, but you rarely ever need it.

As for Zero, the close-ranged attacker, while defeating Mavericks doesn’t normally give him any weapons, his moveset is the most expansive out of all of the X series. Zero always received new moves from Mavericks rather than new weapons, but in previous games, not all of them were very practical to use. Generally, you’d find a few that worked and just stick with those. X8 gives him not only a much more varied moveset, but also a much more practically useful one.  But Zero also gets several new weapons, which, while basically optional, add more depth to this character’s close-ranged gameplay. All of them have their various advantages and can even change the effects of Zero’s moves or even his base combo. My favorite ended up being the D-Glaive, which has a wider attack radius than his other weapons and even has an awesome spin attack. Of course, even it is outclassed by the Sigma Blade, but you don’t unlock that until after you beat the game. Overall, Zero’s more hack-n-slash take on the Mega Man gameplay is still a lot of fun and continues to add a layer of diversity to the gameplay.
One of his new weapons is two Japanese fans. Sharp Japanese fans.

But while the gameplay variety offered by these three characters is great, it would be basically meaningless if there weren’t any good level designs to compliment it. Some of the ever-annoying critics seem like they would have disagreed around the time of this game’s release, but I personally think that the level designs of Mega Man X8, in general, are pretty dang good. A massive step up from the cheap and rushed frustration-fests of X6 and X7, X8’s level designs are very challenging, but also fair, like the level designs in a Mega Man game should be. Each of them creatively uses challenges posed by both the enemies and level structure, and a lot of areas feature some pretty unique ideas. Gravity Antonion’s stage, for example, features areas in which you must use switches that rotate the stage either 90 or 180 degrees to maneuver through it; Burn Rooster’s stage requires you to descend a volcano base while using passing platforms so that you don’t fall down or fall behind; and Optic Sunflower’s stage hearkens back to Cyber Peacock’s level in X4 by forcing you to complete ranked challenges, but has its own unique take on it. Oh, and there's also a level where you get to use a crane to destroy a giant Mechaniloid. There is one dud level, though. That would be Gigavolt Man-O-War’s stage, which entirely consists of you chasing the boss down. It doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but there’s a time limit and the way they’ve done it is just plain frustrating.
This was really annoying.

As for the bosses, I’d probably say that they’re some of the most fun and challenging I’ve personally experienced in the series. While bosses in previous games might switch attack patterns occasionally, if you had their weakness, they’d generally be quite easy. This is not the case in X8. Even if you have a boss’s weakness, it’s pretty rare to find one that’s a total pushover. Bosses are constantly changing up their moves and strategies, so you always have to be on your toes. Many even use the layout of the arena to their advantage moreso than prior bosses, and bosses also get invincibility periods just like you, so there are times where you will have to focus more on dodging attacks rather than delivering them. Regardless, the bosses in X8 are difficult, but, again, fair, and tons of fun to fight.
They're still completely ridiculous, though.

When it comes to other matters of importance, one of the most prominent differences in X8 is that powering up your characters is much more important than it was before. As you kill enemies and traverse a stage, you’ll find pick-ups called “Metals”, which function as kind of a currency. You’re not technically “paying” for anything, but you will need certain amounts to make upgrades in the R&D Lab. These upgrades include those that affect all three characters, with most of these being temporary, and those that only go to a single character. Heart Tanks are now done away with, in fact, in favor of two buyable health upgrades, a change likely made to accommodate the new partner system. Regardless, the R&D lab is a very welcome addition to the game, not only because it gives easy access to various upgrades so long as you have the materials, but also because it opens the door to more exploration of the game’s levels.

Another one of the less idiotic ideas introduced in X6 and carried over into X7 was the Chips, or permanent character power-ups, and X8 is the only X game to date to execute this idea well. Rather than having the Chips tied to Reploids that can easily be killed forever and only going to the character you saved the Reploid with if it didn’t get killed, the mostly optional Chips as well as Zero’s extra weapons are merely found by exploring the levels using the abilities you collect throughout the game. Thus, the item collection aspect of the X series is expanded upon more so than ever before. It really isn’t perfect, though. If you intend to get 100% in this game, then you’re going to have one heck of a time. Without some very strategic planning, you’re probably going to have to play through each stage several times to get everything and a lot of items are so well-hidden that you pretty much have to use a guide. But, at the same time, you aren’t by any means going to need everything to beat the game, even on Hard Mode. That’s the great thing about it. All of this stuff is there, but if you don’t feel like going out of your way to get it, you don’t have to. Not to mention that the game is designed with multiple playthroughs in mind, so this isn’t completely unjustified. In the end, with this on top of X’s armor pieces, which I already went over, exploration and upgrade collection are more substantial than ever before.

Really, if there’s one thing X8 does significantly worse than previous installments, it’s that you…sort of have to buy extra lives in this game. The amount you can hold is also limited based on what difficulty level you’re playing on – play the game on Hard Mode and you can only have three. This is likely the only real aspect of fake difficulty present in the game. It’s not a massive problem, but it is pretty asinine. Also, while I doubt it would be very bothersome now that the game is eight years old and could easily be found for pretty cheap, Mega Man X8 is quite short. But hey, most Mega Man games are pretty short, and X8 does offer item collection and a New Game Plus to keep you occupied even after you beat it.

So yeah. With all of that said, can you see why I want a Mega Man X9 so badly? It’s not just because of my partiality to the X series – though, make no mistake, that has a lot to do with it – but also because of what X8 represents. I do believe that the first five X games are all very good (and I’d even say that X4 is the best out of all of them), but it’s true that the series did stagnate quite a bit. Then X6 ruined everything with its awful level design and poorly-translated, Swiss-cheese mess of a story and X7 is quite possibly one of the worst games to come out of any major gaming franchise. To put things into perspective, that puts it down there with the likes of Sonic 06. Yeah. But X8 followed and succeeded in almost every way the last two games failed, not only at being a good Mega Man X game, but also at bringing some legitimate evolution and expansion to this stagnant franchise. In the context of the series, X8 felt fresh, but after that, the X series just quietly ended along with Mega Man’s time on home consoles. To me, X8 deserves a sequel that would not only do it justice, but also the rest of the X series. I wouldn’t even care if they did the same thing that they did with Mega Man 9 and make a 16-bit throwback to the SNES games; just conclude this story, and give it a memorable end. Heck, if this Street Fighter X Mega Man thing turns out alright, I wouldn’t even mind if they just let the fans make it. Either way, so long as the game was good,we'd be happy.

But alas, unless Capcom suddenly starts giving a crap about their core IP, I don’t see this happening in the near future. Don’t say I’m just asking Capcom to make the game I want without regard for what’s actually best for the franchise. For one thing, Capcom has already proven that they have no idea what's best for the franchise, but really, I’m not like those idiot Sonic fanboys relentlessly gagging for Sonic Adventure 3 because it will “save the series”. Mega Man X is a unique sub-franchise with its own principles, mechanics, and storyline that sets it apart from other Mega Man games, and none of the other numerous Mega Man sub-franchises are quite like it. Maybe the Zero series is kind of similar, but not strikingly so from what I played of it. Not to mention that, if you think about it, the X series was Mega Man’s flagship console series, and it hasn’t been touched in a long time, so it would be appropriate or maybe even nostalgic for Capcom to revisit it. Looking at the success of Mega Man 9 and 10, I think there’s a good chance a lot of people would buy it.

But I suppose anyone reading this is quite tired of my whining now. Bottom line, Mega Man X8 is a freaking awesome game. When compared to the rest of the X series, I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle: it’s not quite as good as X4, X1, or maybe even X5, but it’s better than X2 and X3 and miles ahead of the two infamous games I’ve been deriding for almost the entire review. If you ever find it, I’d definitely recommend it; you’ll most likely find a challenging, rewarding and, most importantly, fun Mega Man experience.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wii Retrospective Reviews: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

Well, I was planning to do Red Steel for my second Wii review, but as it turns out, I can’t play that game very often lest I lose my sanity. Thus, to take a break from that obscene pile of insipid puke, I decided to tackle fellow launch title Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, developed by SEGA.

Ah, I’ve been kind of interested in revisiting this one for a while, but never really felt the motivation to do so. I was always a bit curious about the Monkey Ball franchise, so, upon discovering this game for a reasonable price, I decided to try it. A few levels later, I quit in frustration. Still, I’ve always wanted to give it another chance, especially now that I’m quite a bit older and much less prone to blaming a game for my personal inadequacies. And hey, the critical reviews were decent and I tend to like SEGA’s wacky, experimental little Crazy Taxis and Jet Set Radios and NiGHTS’s, and I thought that maybe it would be one of those games that you can still kind of have fun with even if some frustration comes along with it. I came into this game with an open mind, and when I finished it and looked back on my experience, I said to myself, “At least it was better than Red Steel”.

So what’s the main problem with Banana Blitz? Well, it’s hard to say exactly what the main problem is when the gameplay is plagued by so many major ones, many of which tend to overlap with or exacerbate others. But I’m getting ahead of myself, since some of you may not be familiar with the gameplay of the Monkey Ball series. In that case, allow me to educate you, which won’t take long, since the gameplay is very simple. Basically, you are a monkey in a hamster ball…for…whatever reason. And you roll through various landscapes, clearing the obstacles the wonderful level designers have laid before you. Oh, but rest assured; as the first entry for the Wii, Banana Blitz ensures that your experience will completely and totally revolve around fluid and polished motion controls. And by “fluid and polished”, I mean “awkward and cumbersome”.

See, the way they work is that you use the Wii Remote to tilt the arena in various directions, which will, in turn, affect the direction of your monkey. In theory, this could actually be quite fun, but it appears that the monkeys coated their capsules with grease prior to embarking on this most thrilling adventure. You’re going to find yourself slipping and sliding all over the place and even when the controls aren't sending you careening off the edge of a cliff, they just feel weird. I’m certainly not expecting the balls to stop on a dime – in fact, if anything, I expected this game to use the principles of momentum and inertia to great effect (and it still does, which leads to some other problems, but we’ll get to that later), but this game feels a little ridiculous. You would really have to play it to see what I mean. Of course, the problems with the controls are compounded with the fact that this game is so…“bouncy”. You literally bounce off of every object, surface and bump that happens to be on the edge of the road in your seemingly plastic ball, often for ridiculous distances. Thus, even the slightest nudge against the edge of a rope bridge will send you falling to your doom. Needless to say, these “quirks” pretty much eliminate any sort of precision the gameplay might have had.
Looks cute, doesn't it? Oh-ho, just wait until you see the level designs.

Still, awkward controls and physics don’t have to kill a game. Let’s take Jet Set Radio, for instance. I had never played that game before the XBLA port, and when I got it, I found that the controls were pretty awkward and imprecise by today’s standards. Nonetheless, since the game didn’t operate on precision, I was able to bear with it and eventually found myself enjoying the game quite a lot. This…is not something that can be said for Banana Blitz. A lot of this game’s level designs, especially towards the end, require the utmost precision. Move the Wii Remote a millisecond too early and you die. Move the Wii Remote a millisecond too late and you die. Move the Wii Remote an inch too far to the left and you die. Move the Wii Remote an inch too far to the right and you die. If you jump and it’s not at just the right time and at just the right angle, you will die. If you’re going fast and don’t jerk the Wii Remote right back at just the right time, you will freaking die. What makes this worse is that the game goes out of its way to punish you if you attempt to go fast, something that is also completely compounded by the controls and bouncy physics. There was one level that was basically a giant slide. I thought this was my cue to just cut loose and blast down the thing, so I tilted the Wii Remote forward and began maneuvering left and right in accordance with the direction of the curves. There was a sharp one, so I tilted the Wii Remote as sharply as I could…and still flew off the edge to my doom. There were also a number of levels in World 7 that even featured Sonic-esque dash pads that would propel you forward at maximum velocity. Logic would dictate that I’m meant to use these to go fast. The exact same thing happened numerous, numerous times. Oh, and sometimes the levels can be downright cheap, placing some sort of bouncy object or corner right at the edge of a steep incline, or possibly even a three-inch wide bottomless pit that you would never be able to see coming.
This killed me many more times than it should have.

What I came to the conclusion that this game wanted me to do was jerk back on the Wii Remote constantly at just the right moment, grinding my monkey to a screeching halt. This led to a very awkward and jarring start-stop pacing in a game that, in all honesty, should allow for a lot of speed. What I was expecting from Banana Blitz was a game that, once you got used to the level designs and acclimated to the controls, would allow you to soar through the levels at high speeds, eventually earning the satisfaction of high scores, somewhat similar to Jet Set Radio or even the daytime stages of Sonic Unleashed. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a bad thing for the game to require you to go slowly every now and then; in fact, the Monkey Ball series is, as far as I’m aware, more of a puzzle series than a platforming series. And yet, the level designs of Banana Blitz are so simplistic and linear that you always feel like they were meant for speed, but didn’t allow for it due to incompetent design. Oh, and part of that incompetent design includes some of the most unfathomably awkward incorporation of platforming elements I’ve encountered in all of my years. Far too many levels of this game have sections that require you to jump up or down flights of stairs or other tiered objects in a ball that literally cannot be stopped – only slowed down – and also bounces off of literally everything. Sometimes, this platforming is even of the “stop and go” variety. This came to a head in World 5, which had so much of this crap that it ended up being the first time I almost gave up on the game in frustration, a notion that also popped into my mind many times in World 7, none more so than at that world’s boss fight.
Here, you are supposed to stop and wait for a platform that swings in a massive arc to make it over to you. Whoever thought this was a good idea should be punched.

Oh, yes, the bosses. Well…okay, before I say anything else negative about this game, I think I should throw a bit of praise its way, as this is starting to become less of a review and more of a lengthy rant. Really, for everything that completely breaks it, I don’t want to say this is a downright terrible game. While it suffers from all kinds of incompetence – both technical and in terms of design – I can sense that there was at least some semblance of effort that went into this game. There are a handful of levels that aren’t legitimately poorly designed, only rendered frustrating if at all due to the game’s technical problems. Some of them, if you can get past that, can even be kind of fun and some even offer some pretty unique little elements. Most of the levels in the first half of the game (the key word here being most), I’d say, are pretty inoffensive; it’s only at World 5 where things start to get especially rough in terms of design. World 6 is hit or miss, and then it’s all downhill from there, but even then, there are a few that at least work in theory. Oh, and the soundtrack is probably the one thing I seriously loved about this game and, most likely, is what kept me sane as I was playing it. Just listen to this. I suppose it’s not really one of the best tracks in the game, but it samples two – count em – two songs from Sonic Rush. That alone is enough to put a smile on my face. Oh, and I also love the ending desperately. (Skip to 4:12 in the video - don't worry about spoilers, as this game barely has a plot.)
No, it doesn't even make the slightest amount of sense in context. That's why I love it.

And back on the topic of unique ideas, a lot of the bosses are kind of creative. It’s…really much too bad that the controls and physics turn almost every one of them into an ungodly mess. Much like the level designs, the bosses from the first half are okay, but also much like the level designs, they turn into horrid frustration-fests soon afterwards. The World 7 boss was easily the worst, since, after its giant golem crumbled, you had to chase the tiny (and incredibly fast) enemy throughout the arena by fighting with the controls. It would often jump on parts of the broken golem as they rolled around the room at high speeds, no less, which rendered almost any chance of scoring a hit hopeless. This boss legitimately almost caused me to quit playing and write the review you see before you prematurely, but nonetheless, I persevered.

Oh, yeah, there are these fifty party games, too, or something. I don’t know, apparently that’s one of the big draws to the Monkey Ball franchise. I played a few and they didn’t seem too interesting or fun. I didn’t feel much incentive to play all of them, really. I did my time, and I doubt what few people who actually read this thing really care anyway. If I didn’t like the main game, why would I give a crap about the extras?

The Verdict

Banana Blitz…isn’t really one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Far from it, in fact, but good Lord was it a pain to play. It’s certainly a poor example of what the Wii was capable of, even in its infancy. Twilight Princess only had a few mini-games and mechanics that made heavy use of the Wii Remote’s features, but even they were far more competent than anything you’ll see in this game and that was technically a port of a GameCube game. I guess it’s gotten me a bit interested in previous entries in the series, since there does seem to be a pretty fun little game buried underneath all the crap. Even the Wii Remote controls were a cool concept. They were just…executed horribly and didn’t work with the level design at all.

But, subpar though this game may be, it is nothing compared to the piece of crap I’m going to have to review next for the Wii series. Fortunately, Halo 4 came in the mail right on cue to save me for at least a bit. Welp, until next time, sayonara.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wii Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Well, it’s pretty clear at this point that Nintendo’s Wii has run its course and left its mark on the gaming industry, soon to be replaced by the HD Wii U. For better or worse, the Wii was the advent of motion gaming, and, alongside it, casual gaming, using its innovative technology to provide experiences you couldn’t have on any other console…until Sony made the PlayStation Move and Microsoft came out with the Kinect and motion controls officially became the new, idiotic, and more often than not completely un-fun gimmick that every developer simply must get in on to reap the financial benefits (read: sucker families with young children out of their hard-earned cash).  

Indeed, for as cool as it sounded, motion gaming and, by extension, the Wii itself has become almost synonymous with crappy mini-game collections and garbage shovelware that no one above the age of five would touch with a ten-and-a-half-foot pole. The fact that the Wii is quite a bit weaker than its competition and failed to support HD certainly didn’t help, as most third-party developers would put the games they actually cared about on the objectively stronger hardware. Of course, that’s not to say that motion controls were a bad idea or even that they’ve never been used well; predictably, more often than not, it’s Nintendo’s first-party games that put the Wii Remote to any kind of decent use. And hopefully, with more accurate motion controllers such as the PS Move and Nintendo’s own add-on Wii MotionPlus, developers will be encouraged to put the technology to more…meaningful uses.
 It's been mocked to death, but I simply don't care.

But, in the meantime, the Wii, regardless of how much respect you have for it or what it stands for, is a very important and financially successful console and one that has received a number of noteworthy games during its past six years of existence. Thus, I am going to wax nostalgic and review almost every Wii exclusive I own; however, I will be reviewing some that aren’t exclusive (such as the game I’m looking at today) if A. they were developed with the Wii as the lead platform or first released on Wii, or B. the Wii port meaningfully changes the game’s controls in some way or adds some exclusive features. Thus, I will be reviewing games like Okami and Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, and, obviously, Twilight Princess. There are also a few that I will be skipping, such as Wii Sports, since it was merely a tech demo that was bundled with the console, and I probably won’t be giving too many games I’ve already reviewed a second look. Oh, and unfortunately there are probably a few notable or well-received games such as Zak & Wiki that I’ll have to skip because...well…I don’t own them. I’ll review them if I pick them up before this little Wii adventure is over, but in the meantime, the stuff you’ll see here is all I have to work with. So, anyway, let’s move on to today’s game: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess!

Oh-ho, I remember my experience waiting for this game oh so well. Twilight Princess was first announced for the GameCube in 2004 and eventually got a release date of November 2005. Then it got delayed. Then it got delayed again. And then it got delayed yet again, and finally, Nintendo just decided to make a Wii version to release alongside the GameCube version with some exclusive features, such as light motion controls for sword combat and aiming with the Wii’s IR sensor. This Wii version would end up being the Wii’s most important launch title, and boy, was my ten-year-old self ever so excited for the game and the console. As Christmas 2006 approached, both of them were at the top of my Christmas list, but alas, the Wii shortage at the time was so crippling that I was just outright told that I wouldn’t be able to get one. And oh no, I was not going to just get the GameCube version as any other sane human being would. If I was going to play this game, it had to be on this amazing new console called the “Wii”. Thus, I changed plans completely and ended up with a shiny new Xbox 360 and the other game that came out that year that I absolutely had to play at any cost. That game was…!

…I’m not even going to say anything else on that subject! Regardless, by some miracle, the Wii fell into my grasp and I received it as a heavily belated birthday present in June of 2007. The only games that I had for it until that Christmas, both bought by my younger sister, were Mario Party 8 and Wii Play, and believe me; both of them will receive their due thrashing. It was an older cousin who acquired Twilight Princess, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so jealous of a human being. I had to mooch off of him until that Christmas when I finally received the fabled prize. I had it finished a week later, and I thought I had just bore witness to something truly amazing. I felt like I had just experienced the greatest Zelda ever; an astounding achievement in game design that would be difficult to surpass; Nintendo’s crown jewel as a game developer and one of the greatest games of all time.

Of course, not much of the Zelda fanbase would even remotely agree with such a statement. In fact, though critically acclaimed, Twilight Princess is one of the most contested entries in the series. Is there a good reason for this? Well…to be frank, there is. The Zelda fanbase is notorious for its ravenous hatred of whatever the latest game in the series is, with even last year’s Skyward Sword – which is still my personal pick for the best in the franchise, I might add – getting this treatment, but six years removed from all the hype, it’s pretty clear that Twilight Princess is, in fact, flawed. Of course, that’s not to say it’s bad as some might suggest or even mediocre, as, while it carries a few more problems with it than the average Zelda, it does, nonetheless, have a lot going for it. So, lest this introduction drag on as long the game’s own, let’s jump in. This is my ridiculously in-depth analysis of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess!

NOTE: Though I was quite proud of this review at the time, I'm starting to grow a bit of a distaste for it. If I were to review this game again, I wouldn't be quite as harsh on some aspects and I would give more credit to others (mostly some elements of the story, which I spend almost a third of the review nitpicking and harping on for no good reason). And while the review does point out a few genuine problems with the gameplay, it also overemphasizes some relatively minor annoyances, and makes the game sound much worse than it really is. Keep in mind that this is a great game by its own right - just not quite up to the nigh-on perfect standard of the other 3-D games in the series. ~T-Man 2013

Interestingly, one of the most notable aspects of Twilight Princess when it came out was its art style. Wind Waker had a cel-shaded, cartoonish look to it that complimented the game’s more lighthearted atmosphere, and while it caused a stir at first, it grew on most players over time and, in fact, is very well-received in hindsight. Twilight Princess, in contrast, went for a slightly more realistic art style more along the lines of Ocarina of Time, and while Wind Waker’s look has done a better job of standing the test of time, Twilight Princess does look nice. It’s far from what I would call “realistic”, as it’s still very stylized. It just looks really sophisticated, and while there are some blurry textures here and there, the end result is very pleasing to the eye. As usual, the soundtrack is magnificent as well, with the main standout this time around being the Hyrule Field theme.
Actually, this screenshot is from the GameCube version. I just couldn't care less.

As for the story, this is unfortunately where some of the game’s problems start to show up. The story is as follows: Link is a ranch hand growing up in a small village just outside Hyrule when said village is suddenly attacked by a group of bull-riding ruffians and all of his friends are kidnapped and taken God knows where. Link rushes off to save them but is pulled into a dark void that has randomly covered the woods just outside his home town. This dark void would be none other than the Twilight Realm, a rather screwy place overrun by dark abominations that terrorize the denizens of the world of light regularly. Most sentient beings turn into spirits upon entering the Twilight Realm and remain none the wiser as to their circumstances, but Link, on the other hand, turns into…a wolf. Oh, I can just hear the bad jazz music playing. In this realm, the only people who can see Link are Zelda and an imp-like creature with mysterious intentions named Midna, who rescues Link from a prison cell and then serves as your designated partner character throughout the game. Through Zelda, Link learns that this was all caused by the Twilight King, Zant, and he must be destroyed at all costs. And so, accompanied by Midna, Link sets out on an epic quest to restore light to Hyrule and gather the tools necessary to defeat Zant, but then there are some plot twists and some more stuff happens and yeah. Also, spoiler alert: Ganondorf appears.

The plot does a pretty good job of holding your interest, the cutscenes of the game are some of the most cinematic the series would see before Skyward Sword and the writing, as always, is really freaking good. However, one crucial aspect to any Zelda game’s storyline is its characters and this is where the story of Twilight Princess (mostly) falls flat on its face. Some of the characters you encounter on your adventure are…quirky…but they aren’t very memorable and the vast majority of them hardly do anything. At best, they’re good for an item or two, and at worst, they just sit around waiting for you to save them. I suppose you could argue that a lot of Ocarina of Time’s characters didn’t really do all that much, but they all had so much personality that you really liked them anyway and they at least held some significance to the plot. You really felt kind of depressed when the Deku Tree withered away even after you killed the parasite that had been eating him from the inside. You felt sad when Saria went to see you off as you left the Kokiri Forest. You really felt like you had made a good friend when you helped Malon, and especially after you rescued Epona from Ingo Ranch. You felt all warm and fuzzy inside and kind of scared when Darunia and his kin gave you their overbearing thanks for clearing out Dodongo’s Cavern.
"How about a Goron hug!"

Twilight Princess’s characters have “personality”, I suppose, but more often than not, they’re either completely unremarkable or just plain annoying, none more so than the character that the game passes off as Link’s “love interest”. The closest thing you had to a love interest in Ocarina of Time was the previously mentioned Saria, and the game chose to demonstrate that by having her run to greet Link at his home and, again, seeing him off as he left for Hyrule Castle. She even gave you your first ocarina, and, later, taught you a new song that let you talk to her whenever you needed advice. It really felt like Link and Saria had a special connection. What does Twilight Princess do to establish Link’s connection with Illia? Well, we get some romantic camera angles and…she steals your horse when you need it most because she thinks you’ve been “pushing her too hard” and refuses to give her back until you “change your attitude”. It takes the efforts of one of the neighborhood kids to convince her to give Epona back, but after that, she gets captured and doesn’t show up again until the end of the game’s first act, where it turns out she’s lost her memory. Later on, you have to help restore it, and after that, we get a few more romantic camera angles and then…the story completely forgets she exists. Oh, but she does give you a horse whistle…long after it would actually have proven especially useful, but we’ll get to that later.

And oh, rest assured, the game tries so hard to make you fall in love with the townspeople in its introduction, and I’m just going to be up-front about this: the prologue moves about as slow as a Paranormal Activity sequel. Yeah, remember how in Ocarina of Time, all you had to do to get into the first dungeon was find a sword and shield, which took about five minutes? Well, in Twilight Princess, you get to partake in such engaging activities as…herding goats! Retrieving a baby’s cradle from a monkey! Delivering said cradle! Mandatory fishing, because that worked so well for a certain other game! Buying a nigh-on useless projectile weapon! Teaching the local snot-brats how to use said projectile weapon! Teaching said snot-brats how to use a toy sword! Going into the woods to retrieve one of said snot-brats after he runs in after a monkey like a freaking idiot! Herding goats again! And finally, retrieving your horse from the insufferable witch the game keeps trying to convince you is your girlfriend! Oh, and by the way, that doesn’t get you into the first dungeon. That’s just what you have to do for the game to remember it has a plot! Yep, that’s two full hours of gameplay before anything freaking happens.

Obviously, Twilight Princess is going to leave a pretty negative first impression, but fortunately, it’s after all that crap that you finally get to visit the Twilight Realm and there, you meet Midna, the only truly interesting character in the game. Well, okay, I guess Zant is pretty cool, but you don’t really learn too much about him until almost the very end of the game. Regardless, Midna is a really interesting character that actually goes through a lot of development. At first, she comes off as really snarky and she isn’t acting for anyone but herself, only using Link and Zelda as a means to an end, but after certain events, she starts to care about you and the world of the light a lot more and this change is even reflected in her voice. Yes, Midna is actually the first Zelda character to have full voice acting! …Well, sort of. It’s really just random gibberish, but it is pretty neat and helps to set her apart from the rest of the cast alongside her very expressive facial animations.
Isn't she adorable?

Anyway, even aside from that, this is the first really interesting segment of the game, as this is when we are introduced to Wolf Link and have to use his unique abilities to navigate the sewers of Hyrule Castle. These abilities include biting down on chain switches, sensing enemies and NPC’s invisible to the naked eye, and digging, which you will often have to use to make it past obstacles. Midna adds in a few abilities of her own, though they don’t come into play until a bit later. One that you will be making use of a lot is one that locks onto several enemies at once and causes Wolf Link to blast through them all in one go, killing each in a single hit, and the other basically functions as a continuous long jump that allows you to cross otherwise insurmountable obstacles. The sense move is an especially important ability later on, as it allows you to pick up and then follow scents that lead you in the right direction. Wolf Link is mostly used in the Twilight Realm sections of the game’s first act, but even afterwards when you get the ability to change into wolf form of your own accord, some areas and puzzles will still require you to make use of it. Overall, it does prove to be an interesting and fun aspect to the game.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself, as this is also when another one of the story’s problems crops up.  See, once you make it through Hyrule Castle, you meet this game’s interpretation of Zelda. In my review of Skyward Sword, I praised its version of Zelda for being a character rather than a plot device, but really, the 3-D Zelda games have a pretty decent track record with this sort of thing. Let’s take Ocarina of Time, for instance. When you first meet Zelda as a kid, she is incredibly enthusiastic about seeing you because she believes she saw you in a vision once and then lets you in on her belief that Ganondorf, who has been gaining the trust of the royal family as of late, is actually – surprise, surprise – evil. She then asks you to agree to help her stop him and not to tell a soul about her plans. After you time travel seven years into the future, you are constantly aided by a mysterious man named Sheik, who later reveals himself to have been Zelda in disguise this whole time. It’s only then, at the very end of the game, that Zelda even gets captured, and even then you need her help to escape Ganon’s Castle as it crumbles. Heck, in Wind Waker…well, I suppose it’s probably best I don’t spoil that one. Anyway, in Twilight Princess, Zelda is a strong ruler who acts in the best interests of her kingdom and…that’s it. That is her only personality trait whatsoever, and she serves no purpose other than to drive the plot forward in what few scenes she actually appears in and give a little help during one phase of the final boss battle.

Also, maybe it's a nitpick, but one thing I found kind of hard to get over was the emotionlessness of Link himself. I know it’s dumb to expect much development out of a character who traditionally doesn’t talk, especially one that’s meant to serve as your connection to the game world rather than an actual character, but that doesn’t give the game an excuse to give him as little emotion as possible. In fact, that’s kind of counterproductive; for this character to stand for us, he has to react as we would in these situations, and other Zelda games have done this well. Wind Waker’s Link was incredibly expressive with his facial animations and various nonverbal vocalizations. Even without words, we could tell when he was scared, happy, sad, angry, surprised, amazed, confused or what have you, and it worked. Skyward Sword also did this, and very well, I might add. Even Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were able to give Link some emotion with their limiting N64 technology. In Twilight Princess, Link only has three emotions: happy, slightly surprised and mildly annoyed.
"I am most displeased with these circumstances."

But that’s quite enough harping on the story for one review. We’ve already gone over Wolf Link, but, gameplay-wise, what else does Twilight Princess have to offer? Well, one thing that you’re sure to notice as you go through Twilight Princess is that, whereas Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker took some aspects of the gameplay in a different direction, Twilight Princess plays like a more expansive version of Ocarina of Time. This is a major sticking point among fans, but personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing. It feels to me like they were attempting to create a game that would be to Ocarina of Time what A Link to the Past was to the original Legend of Zelda: the same in principle, but expanded upon a lot more in every aspect. Of course, if I haven’t made it clear enough already, Twilight Princess fails to do this in the story department, but when it comes to the gameplay, does it succeed? Well, if you ask me, in at least some ways, it really does.

The overworld locations are quite possibly the most varied in any Zelda game outside of Skyward Sword. All of the old areas are there – Lost Woods (or Faron Woods, rather), Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, Zora’s Domain, Gerudo Valley, etc., as well as typical towns and a new snowy mountain area – but they stand out from each other even more than they did in Ocarina of Time, in their aesthetics as well as the terrain they require you to navigate, the obstacles you encounter and the NPC’s you meet in them. Many also pose special challenges at specific points; for instance, when you go up Death Mountain as a human to get to the Goron Mines, the Gorons are in the middle of a feud with the villagers of Kakariko, and so you have to fight them off as you make your way up. When you finally reach the top, you have to defeat one of their elders in a sumo wrestling mini-game to gain access to the mines. Ocarina of Time did things like this occasionally, but mostly relied on its quirky characters, side quests and secrets to keep the overworld areas interesting even after you had already been through them. While that worked just fine, Twilight Princess does offer a bit more variety.
Yep, this is actually something that happens.

Oh, and speaking of side quests and secrets, you can expect lots of those. Exploring the world of Twilight Princess is quite a joy, as there are tons of things to do. In typical Zelda fashion, the game world is peppered with Pieces of Heart that give you a full Heart Container when you find enough of them. Twilight Princess requires five to complete a Heart Container instead of four, unlike the norm, but the game does hand them out like candy; you can even find two in each dungeon. Aside from getting all of the Pieces of Heart, there are 60 Poe Souls to collect – though you only need 20 to get a worthwhile reward – and 24 Golden Bugs hidden throughout the game’s Hyrule Field, and finding those and delivering them to the incredibly creepy Agitha will get you tons of Rupees as well as massive wallet upgrades. 
"I know you have bugs..."

Aside from that, there are tons of fun mini-games to play, many of which even make good use of the Wii Remote in the Wii version, which can get you not only the previously mentioned Pieces of Heart, but also various ammo capacity upgrades or even extra containers for your bombs and arrows. Of course, there are also tons of secret treasure chests holding monetary rewards and Twilight Princess even throws in an optional mini-dungeon. Exploring the world and getting everything feels incredibly rewarding, just as it should in a Zelda game.

Twilight Princess also takes the time to greatly expand Link’s moveset with the seven Hidden Skills, taught to you by the ghost of a deceased warrior, and while they vary in usefulness, importance and practicality, they are a very nice addition. I’d even say it’s a bit of a shame they didn’t return for Skyward Sword, but given the new sword mechanics used for that game, I can see why they were left out. Link’s arsenal of weapons and items has also been greatly expanded. Mainstays like the bow and bombs show up just the same as ever, but Link also gets some brand-new items, such as the Dominion Rod, which allows Link to take control of certain statues; the Ball n’ Chain, which can break blocks of ice and also serves as a great replacement to the bombs for breaking things; and my personal favorite, the Spinner, a top-like contraption that you use to ride tracks along the wall, leading to some of the most creative and fun puzzles in the game. 

Several returning items also have all-new purposes that are put to great use. The Iron Boots, for instance, while still allowing you to withstand harsh winds and walk underwater, also let you magnetize to certain surfaces and do battle with the powerhouses known as the Gorons. The classic hookshot has now become the Clawshot, which now lets you hook onto and hang from steel grating and even has a retractable chain that lets you raise or lower Link’s position. You even receive a second Clawshot later on in the game, allowing you to jump between hook-able objects as many times as you like. Oh, and there’s also a new type of bomb that works underwater. …Don’t ask me how that works.

The vast majority of these items are found in the game’s dungeons, of which there are plenty. Ocarina of Time had nine main dungeons to its name and two smaller ones that only existed for certain items, though some of the dungeons you would encounter early on were fairly short and simplistic. After that, Majora’s Mask had only four dungeons, Wind Waker had six and even Skyward Sword only has seven. Twilight Princess has nine again, and while the last one is fairly short with a long stretch of final bosses to make up for it, the others are even larger and more complex than ever. Yes, while Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker and arguably even Ocarina of Time were fairly short if you didn’t bother getting 100%, Twilight Princess is a very lengthy game. Put this together with all of that other stuff up there, and you’ve got what is debatably one of the biggest, deepest and longest games in the Zelda franchise.

Unfortunately, there is one basic thing that Twilight Princess has made worse in comparison to Ocarina of Time, and that is Hyrule Field. Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field wasn’t the most interesting location, but you didn’t have to spend all that much time in it if you didn’t want to. It was fairly small and served its purpose as the game’s hub pretty well. Twilight Princess’s Hyrule Field, despite holding its share of neat little secrets, is so pointlessly massive that getting from place to place in Twilight Princess is a tedious chore. The tedium is, however, reduced significantly by the warp portals that you create over the course of the game, though you don’t actually get to use those until you gain the ability to transform into a wolf whenever you want after the game’s first act. Even then, though, you do have the horse Epona, who makes navigating Hyrule Field much easier and a lot more fun…in theory. See, this is where one of Twilight Princess’s least offensive, but most utterly baffling bad design decisions comes into play. Remember how, in Ocarina of Time, you were taught a song on your ocarina that called Epona to you long before you were even able to ride her? Well, in Twilight Princess, Link has to somehow come upon a certain kind of tiny, almost unnoticeable flower so that he can whistle with it and call Epona to him. I wouldn’t mind this so much if this grass was in abundant supply, but there were times when it felt like it would take longer to find the grass and get Epona than to just travel on foot. That’s asinine. You do get a portable horse whistle from Illia before the seventh dungeon, but by that time you’ll have so many warp portals placed all over the map that it isn’t nearly as useful as it otherwise would have been.
"And you don't get to have it until the near-end of the game!"

That’s not to say that the times when you do get to ride Epona aren’t fun. Quite the opposite, in fact, as this is where one of the game’s new features, horseback combat, comes into play. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask limited you to the use of your bow while on horseback, but Twilight Princess lets you use your sword and it’s very, very fun. Some enemies even ride steeds of their own and this comes into play in one phase of the final boss and a mini-boss fight, the latter of which ends in a freaking jousting match. This is another thing that I really hope comes back for a future installment. Just let me enjoy it a bit more often.
This was probably one of the coolest parts of the game.

Normal combat is…well, before I get into that, I should probably finally talk about what the Wii version has to offer that the GameCube version doesn’t. I criticized this game’s waggle controls in my review of Skyward Sword, saying that they felt laggy and unresponsive by today’s standards and that it would probably be unplayable after experiencing the smooth controls of Skyward Sword. Well, after replaying the entire game, I do kind of take that back. I’m not exactly a fan of these waggle controls, but if you get used to them, they aren’t too bad. I suppose they only felt laggy because I still had the MotionPlus hooked up like a complete idiot, which added a lot of extra weight to the controller. Long story short, they work well enough. Items that require aiming, such as the bow and Clawshot, use the Wii’s IR sensor. Again, it works well enough, but after playing Skyward Sword, the IR controls do feel a tad over-sensitive. The one thing about the Wii version’s controls that I really like is the interface. While the GameCube version only lets you have two items equipped at once while the “Z” button is used to talk to Midna, the Wii version lets you have four: one set to be used with the “B” button and three set to left, down and right on the D-Pad that will immediately be set to the “B” button if you opt to use them. The IR sensor also makes menu navigation a lot faster. Oh yeah, and apparently, the Wii version flips the entire game world so that Link can be right-handed. I…can’t imagine that this really affects much. So, anyway, yeah, moving on.
This joke is so punny. HAW

So, yes. Combat in this game…is way too easy. In my review of Ocarina of Time 3D, I said that the combat was simple, yet satisfying. Why was it satisfying? Because there was a lot of enemy variety and the enemies, while not exactly the most challenging you’d ever face, actually tried to put up a fight. I’m not saying that Twilight Princess’s enemies don’t have any variety, but it’s basically meaningless because no matter what type of enemy you’re fighting, it always just boils down to the same thing: shake, shake and shake the Wii Remote until your arm falls off. Let’s take the Deku Baba, one of the first enemies you encounter in both Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, for instance. It was never a particularly tough enemy, but in your weak state at the very beginning of the game, it could still do a bit of damage and probably would if you just tried to mash the “B” button on it. The least dangerous way to kill it was to allow it to lunge at you and then hit it while it was on the ground, stunning it and allowing you to chop its head off. In Twilight Princess, two hits from the weakest sword in the game are all that’s necessary to fell it.  I suppose there a few enemy types that require a bit more work to kill, but aside from the Dark Nuts and armored Dinolfos, even these prove stupidly easy. The saddest part is that this even renders a lot of the game’s Hidden Skills pretty much unnecessary, at best only serving to make the combat that much easier; none more so than one you learn midway through the game that can literally kill any non-boss enemy in a single hit.
This is one of the only somewhat challenging enemies in the game.

And speaking of the bosses…they aren’t terribly difficult either. There were a handful that were decently challenging – Stallord and Blizetta come to mind, as well as Zant and perhaps Ganon. Stallord, in fact, was an incredibly fun fight and easily the best in the game. Then we have bosses like Fyrus and Argorok, which literally ask nothing more of you than to do the exact same thing three times with little to no variation in difficulty like in other Zelda bosses that are based around patterns, and Morpheel is probably one of the worst Zelda bosses of all time. I really don’t know what Nintendo was thinking when they thought it would be a good idea to make a boss that required you to be wearing the mobility-killing iron boots for the entirety of the first phase, let alone what they were thinking when they decided you should be able to make it through the second phase in thirty seconds just by – once again – doing the exact same thing three times. Even the final battle with Ganondorf was incredibly disappointing.
It's not as tough as it looks.

But, really, I think that probably the biggest problem with Twilight Princess or, at least, one of the biggest, is that it just feels too similar to Ocarina of Time. Okay, let me clarify here, as I know I did praise the fact that it tried to take what OoT did and expand upon it. That’s fine and good, but there’s a difference between expanding upon your predecessor and attempting to copy it in the process. Let’s take a look at the first act of the game, for example. You do a bunch of annoying crap and then enter the first dungeon - a forest-themed dungeon - afterwards being instructed to go to Kakariko Village. Then, you scale Death Mountain and learn of the plight of the Gorons and, after proving yourself, enter the fire dungeon to solve their problem. Following that, you head up Zora’s River and find out that – what do you know – Zora’s Domain is completely frozen over and Lake Hylia is almost completely drained. And after restoring light to the area, where do you go? You go to the Water – er, I mean – LAKEBED Temple, located where else but at the bottom of Lake Hylia. Did any of that sound familiar at all? Obviously, there’s a lot of Twilight Realm crap in between, but still, that’s basically what happens. Because of this, the game ends up feeling like what New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii feel like compared to the classic Mario games or, if to a lesser extent, what Sonic 4: Episode 1 feels like in comparison to the classic Sonic games: a total rehash that, while adding some of its own elements, doesn’t do nearly enough to separate itself from its predecessors to feel completely new. And while it’s certainly true that the game quickly starts to feel less like an OoT retread after the first act, it still never feels like it completely forges its own identity and the whole game ends up feeling pretty soulless compared to other Zeldas because of it.

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that the dungeons themselves aren’t original – far from it, in fact. If there’s anything that this game can and should be given mad props for, it’s the dungeon designs. Though they’re not quite as…”out there” as Skyward Sword’s, they are still very creative and original in the challenges and puzzles they offer. The penultimate dungeon even features some legitimate platforming elements, and while the first few dungeons are fairly easy, they do get more and more challenging as the game goes on. Honestly, I’d say that Twilight Princess is worth playing for its dungeons alone. There…is one dud, however, and that is the Lakebed Temple. In my review of Ocarina of Time 3D, I said that the Water Temple had been redesigned to make it less confusing, but, come think of it, it…probably wasn’t. The fact that the Iron Boots were now equipped the same way as every other item probably just made that much of a difference in the annoyance factor. I can’t quite say that for the Lakebed Temple. This dungeon is just confusion personified, and it contains that one awful boss that I mentioned earlier. But, aside from that, the dungeons are absolutely wonderful. My favorite is probably the Temple of Time – yes, it’s a dungeon in this game – which uses the Dominion Rod’s ability to control statues in a lot of very creative ways.

Oh…but I do have one more big problem with the game. I’d hate to think that I’m making this game sound worse than it actually is with all this ranting, but there is one very egregious thing that absolutely must be addressed. Hey, remember Wind Waker? That was a great game, wasn’t it? It was actually the first Zelda game I ever owned. I love pretty much everything about it, except for one massive, glaring, obnoxious flaw: the gigantic, three-hour long fetch quest at the end that required you to hunt down eight Triforce Charts and then eight pieces of the Triforce. Twilight Princess…has several of these fetch quests. Not one, not two, not three, but four in the entire game. Oh, they’re nothing too massive; in fact, if you don’t dilly-dally, they don’t actually take all that long. Still, blatant and obvious filler like this is a pretty offensive and even insulting gaming sin. It’s like you’re dangling the fun part of the game in the player’s face much as you would a dog biscuit, saying, “Hey, weren’t the Goron Mines great?! Wanna go to the next dungeon?! Or-or do you just wanna do something FUN?! Well, too freaking bad, you get to run around and kill BUGS for half an hour! Merry Christmas, loser!” Okay, maybe that’s kind of an exaggeration, but still, this kind of stuff is pretty bad design when you don’t do anything to make it interesting, especially for a Zelda game.


But “for a Zelda game” is the key phrase here. Twilight Princess is a very good game – I can’t emphasize that enough, but in comparison to its older and younger brothers, it does kind of screw up in a lot of ways. Still, while there are some pretty bad aspects to it, there are a lot of pretty fantastic ones as well. Pointlessly large Hyrule Field aside, the overworld is very fun to explore and finding secrets is just as rewarding as it ever was. Even if the combat is very easy, it’s not the core focus of the game and isn’t really un-fun, per se, nor are most of the bosses. The annoying fetch quests make up only a small part of the game in the long run, and the dungeons more than make up for the feeling that you’re basically playing through Ocarina of Time again. The story has many shortcomings, but again, the general plot is very interesting and Midna is completely awesome. I don’t really rate games anymore, but if I had to give this one a score, I’d say it would be worth a 7.5 at worst. Regardless of its shortcomings, Twilight Princess is well worth playing. And really, I’d say it kind of says something about how great the Zelda franchise is when even its weaker installments offer a worthwhile experience.

Well, anyway, for what few individuals are following this thing, the next review in the Wii series is going to be…Red Steel. Not looking forward to that one…