Category Archives: Nintendo

#80: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Format: GameCube Genre: RPG Released: 2003 Developer: Nintendo

Wind Waker was a brave move on Nintendo’s part. Radically overhauling the graphical style of one of the best-loved game series of all time takes some chutzpah, and I remember it caused outrage at the time.

Fans were up in arms when the first shots of Wind Waker‘s cel-shaded graphics were released, and some quarters were quick to cite the new game as a signal that Nintendo was trying to ‘kiddify’ the Zelda series. As the finished game eventually proved though, this was all complete nonsense and bluster: if anything, it just goes to show that the kind of people who spit and rave on internet forums about these kinds of perceived ‘faults’ are generally the kind of people you can safely ignore.

In my opinion, Wind Waker‘s graphics are an absolute triumph – the game’s cel-shading is utterly charming and distinctive, and whereas most games from 2003 have aged badly in the terms of graphics, Wind Waker still looks as fresh as it did when it was released. In fact, I reckon the Wind Waker version of Link is even more iconic than the ‘traditional’ version – so much so that a friend of mine recently featured cel-shaded Link on her wedding invites.

I’m playing through The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at the moment, which is what got me thinking about the Zelda canon. And yes, I know you’re probably shocked that I’ve only just got round to playing Twilight Princess despite the fact that it came out four years ago – we try to keep our finger on the pulse here at 101 Video Games, even if the patient died some time ago. And anyway, at least I’ve actually played some games, unlike a certain other blog co-author whose name I won’t mention… But I digress. The point is that unlike Wind WakerTwilight Princess feels like a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time – perhaps the direct sequel that the internet forums were baying for back in the early 2000s. And the real point I’m trying to make here is that Twilight Princess just isn’t as good as Wind Waker was.

Don’t get me wrong, Twilight Princess is an absolutely brilliant game, but whereas Wind Waker was a breath of fresh air that drew me in from the very beginning, Twilight Princess feels a little samey and derivative. The designers have obviously done their best to throw in a few new gameplay elements, but many of them fall flat – the sections where you play as a wolf, for example, just aren’t as much fun as playing in your human form, and of course they pale a little in comparison with the wonderful Okami (perhaps an example of a Zelda-imitator beating the original at its own game).

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Nintendo went out on a limb with Wind Waker, and the gamble payed off brilliantly. I won’t bang on about all of the reasons the game is so wonderful (I’m sure you’ve probably played it yourself and can remember all too well), but I have to mention the sailing; there are only two games I can think of where travelling was just as enjoyable, if not more so, than reaching your destination, and this is one of them*. The fact that just moving around the gameworld was fun in itelf speaks volumes for just what an absolute classic this game is, and although we generally try to avoid including two games from the same series on our list, there was just no way for me to choose between this and Ocarina of Time. I might even put it on my wedding invites.

Lewis

*The other one is Skies of Arcadia, which had a similar treasure-hunting gameplay element (although it lacked a Tingle).

(Screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com and www.tailflip.com)

3 Comments

Filed under 2003, GameCube, Nintendo, RPG

#72: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: RPG Released: 1998 Developer: Nintendo

I could probably write an entire book listing all of the reasons why this is one of the best games (if not THE best game) ever made. However, I expect you’re one of the 7.6 million people who bought Ocarina of Time the first time around, so I needn’t bore you by listing things you already know. (And if you haven’t played it yet, what the hell’s wrong with you?)

Having said all that, it’s going to take all of my willpower to restrain myself from gushing pages of half-formed sentiment and multilayered superlatives, such is the impact this game had on me. Bear with me, and I will stoically try not to sound like a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who’s just seen her first boyband concert.

Long before Ocarina of Time was released, I remember hungrily devouring the first news about a new Zelda game for the N64 – and like most people, my first thought was: “What the hell’s an ocarina?” Of course, back in the 1990s I didn’t have Wikipedia to pump for information like some kind of coin-flipping, roll-up-smoking, police-informant cliché, so I’m not sure how I found out. There’s a strong chance that I may have even looked it up in a book. Now there’s an odd thought.

Brilliant, I found an ocarina! So... what's an ocarina then?

However I found out, I knew I wanted one immediately, but it wasn’t until I lived in Japan many years later that I achieved my goal of owning one of these mystical instruments. Sadly, the reality wasn’t quite as exciting as the game led me to believe. Playing my ocarina didn’t turn day into night or summon a horse to carry me across the plains of Hyrule, it just made a noise like a broken recorder. Although having said that, is it possible to tell a broken recorder apart from a non-broken one? If my memories of primary school band practice are anything to go by, recorders sound bloody awful whether they’re broken or not.

Of course, I didn’t really expect my ocarina to be magical, but the fact that I went out and bought one many years after playing this game shows just how much of an effect Ocarina of Time had on me (and a lot of other people too – famously, ocarina sales skyrocketed after this game was released).

Good old Epona - there's nothing quite like riding a video-game horse.

In terms of the actual game, whenever I think about Ocarina of Time the same image always sticks out in my mind – riding Epona (Link’s horse) across Hyrule Field. There was something really magical about being able to gallop across the entire game world – it gave me a sense of freedom that I’d never experienced before in a video game. Giving Link a horse was a stroke of genius: suddenly, getting from A to B was as much fun as actually arriving at B. In fact, often I’d be having so much fun just riding around and exploring that I’d forget about going to B entirely and end up stopping off at C before finding some kind of secret passage that led me to D, and before I knew it several hours would have gone by, my horse would be knackered and I’d be galloping towards Z and wondering where to go next.

There should definitely be more horses in video games, they’re so much more entertaining than cars. I mean, look at Shadow of the Colossus and Assassin’s Creed – some of the best bits involved galloping around on horseback, smiting your enemies.

Of course, the irony is that in real life I hate horses.

Anyway, like I said, Epona is one of the major reasons why Ocarina of Time is the wonderful game it is. Just have a look at the opening sequence above (make sure you have the sound turned up for the moody scene-setting music). Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine? I love that image of Link riding across the hills – there’s a sense of majesty that’s diametrically opposed to the cheap cinema thrills that are offered up by so many other video games. It’s like the game’s saying: “Yeah, we could show you lots of explosions and sword fights and that on the opening screen, but we’re better than that. We’re going to show you a horse galloping across a field, and you’re going to feel a sense of wonderment. Because that’s what we do.

Fishing has never been so much fun.

Right, let’s leave off horses for the time being and talk about something more interesting – fishing.

The amazing thing about Ocarina of Time is just how much effort and polish has gone into every last nook and cranny of the game, from individual lines of dialogue to the many varied and interesting subquests – including the addictive fishing minigame. It’s a mark of the game’s quality that even something as seemingly throwaway as a fishing subgame had so much thought and effort put into it that it could probably have been released as a game by itself. (I was going to make a terrible pun about it getting me “totally hooked” there, but I managed to pull back from the brink at the last moment.)

(Actually, I just realised I made exactly the same joke in the post on Sega Bass Fishing, so not only would it have been a terrible pun, it would have been repetitive too. Phew, that was a close one.)

See? It's not all just horses and fishing.

It’s not just the polish that makes the game stand out though – it’s the innovation. The rumble pak functionality for example – Nintendo had only released the rumble pak the previous year, and Ocarina of Time was the first game to truly use it to its full potential (the pad would vibrate if you were near treasure or if you got a bite in the fishing game). Then there’s Z-targeting, which allowed you to lock onto enemies in fights and circle around them – this concept was so radical and intuitive that it’s made its way into hundreds of 3D games since 1998, but it cropped up in Ocarina of Time first. And what about the day/night cycle? That was pretty damn clever too, and way ahead of its time.

As I said at the beginning, I could write a book about how fantastic this game is, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. Instead, just have a look at the video below and remember how this game changed the gaming landscape forever.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com/)

6 Comments

Filed under 1998, Nintendo, Nintendo 64, RPG

#70: Starwing (Star Fox)

Format: Super NES Genre: 3D Shooter/Rail shooter Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo/Argonaut Software

I remember seeing the first screenshots of Star Fox* in a games magazine and being totally confused by what appeared to be a random jumble of triangles. But when I finally saw the game in motion (probably on the mediocre ITV games show Bad Influence) it completely blew my tiny little adolescent mind. 3D? On the Super NES? What black magic is this?!

That’ll be the Super FX chip then, which not only made all them fancy polygons possible, it also made the game pretty damn expensive (about £55 I seem to remember, although correct me if I’m wrong). Still, it was worth every penny, if only to score bragging rights in the playground. And do you know what? The game felt expensive.

For a start the cartridge was noticeably heavier than other SNES carts – and everyone knows heavy equals expensive – but beyond that it was obvious that a lot of time, effort and money had been put into polishing and tweaking every little bit of the game. The music was fantastic, a sweeping orchestral score that perfectly fitted the grandiose space opera storyline, and the sound effects were also spot on (except for the noise of your Arwing being hit by laser fire, which sounded oddly like someone punching through a sheet of A4 paper).

Graphically, Star Fox was leagues ahead of anything else around at the time on home consoles – there just wasn’t anything like it. It seems odd to think now, but in 1993 3D was a rare novelty that was almost entirely confined to cutting edge arcade games (I remember when my local Quasar centre got a Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet – swarms of us gathered round it in awe like it was the Holy Grail). But the key thing about Star Fox was that it had the gameplay to back up the good looks, with varied and interesting levels and some ingenious bosses. I particularly liked the final confrontation, when old monkey-faced villain Andross conjured up an enormous floating head that promptly tried to swallow you whole.

It’s a shame there weren’t a few more Super FX games – apart from Star Fox, the only ones I remember are the brilliant Stunt Race FX and the not-so-brilliant Vortex… although a quick look on Wikipedia reveals that the chip found its way into Doom and Super Mario World 2 as well. It seems a shame that Argonaut went to so much time and trouble on building their little magic chip only for it to be used so little… although I suppose it was pretty expensive to manufacture, which must have put off most developers.

Star Fox wasn’t a particularly long game, but the branching routes and secret levels made it eminently replayable. I must have played through the whole thing at least a dozen times, which is partly a reflection of the game’s brilliance and partly a reflection of my limited games collection (I think I had about six games in all).

It’s hardly surprising I didn’t have many games – this was in the days when the secondhand games market didn’t really exist and most games kept their value for much longer (as opposed to today’s games market, where new titles drop to half price a couple of months after release). Games took months to save up for, and I could only afford to buy two or three a year – but Star Fox was worth every penny of my pocket money.

Lewis

*Well, technically it was called Starwing in the UK for interminably dull legal reasons (and presumably for the same reasons, the sequel was called Lylat Wars instead of Star Fox 64). But everyone I knew called it Star Fox anyway.

(Screenshots from http://www.vgmuseum.com/)

2 Comments

Filed under 1993, 3D Shooter, Argonaut Software, Nintendo, Rail Shooter, Super NES

#54: Pokémon Ruby

Format: Game Boy Advance Genre: RPG Developer: Game Freak/Nintendo Released: 2003

I was inspired to write this post after reading this comment by shush plz on game number 12, Doshin the Giant. Mr. plz rightly asserts that just because a game is accessible for all ages doesn’t make it a “kids’ game”, which leads me to my case in point: Pokémon Ruby.

I was initially put off playing the Pokémon games because of their “kiddie” credentials, but I eventually bought Pokémon Ruby on the recommendation of a friend. The cute graphics certainly suggest that Pokémon is “for kids”, but this is far from the truth – beneath the twee presentation there’s some rock-solid gameplay. Although the game is pretty easy to begin with, you soon find yourself engrossed in the complex resource management and micro-manipulation that’s essential for creating a champion herd of Pokémon.

HA! IN YOUR FACE, WURMPLE!!!

Oh, and did I mention that collecting Pokémon has roughly the same level of addictiveness as a packet of Jaffa Cakes dusted wth heroin? I initially approached the game with a heavy amount of cynicism with regards to the whole business of Pokémon collecting, but after a while you find yourself getting totally sucked in – all of a sudden, finding a new Pokémon acquires the same sense of excitement and achievement as passing your driving test while drunk, or unearthing an ancient chest full of dirty photos of Cleopatra.

Fishing has never been so much fun.

This game had me totally hooked – pretty much from the moment I picked it up I found that I was carrying my GBA everywhere, and I’d use every spare minute I had to search out some of the rarer specimens. Towards the end of my Pokémon marathon I recall a sobering moment – it was when I realised that I’d spent the best part of an hour traipsing around in the same patch of long grass in the hope of finding a particularly rare Pokémon, and it was about this time that I thought I’d really better stop playing this damn game and read a book or something instead.

Why walk when you can ride an uncontrollably fast bicycle?

That’s the trouble you see – although you can “complete” the game by defeating the final boss, you’ve never really finished it until you’ve collected all of the hundreds of Pokémon, but this involves a great deal of aimless wandering and random battles in the hope that one of the rarer beasts will pop up. At some point, for the sake of your own sanity, you have to just call it a day and admit to yourself that you’re never going to “catch ’em all”.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

I’m very tempted to get one of the new Pokémon games for the DS (Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl), but because there’s now a grand total of 480 Pokémon to collect, I’m worried that these games could finally push me over the edge (or at least put a massive dent in my reading time).

If you’ve yet to work out what the Pokémon phenomenon is all about, I thoroughly recommend you pick up one of the Pokémon games with all due haste – but just make sure you have plenty of spare time first.

Lewis

5 Comments

Filed under 2003, Game Boy Advance, Game Freak, Nintendo, RPG

#51: Super Mario Galaxy

Format: Wii Genre: Platform Released: 2007 Developer: Nintendo

Yep, it’s Mario again, making his triumphal third appearance on 101 Video Games (after cropping up in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Kart). I’m a big fan of the Mario games (who isn’t?), and Super Mario Galaxy is, in my opinion, the finest Mario game ever made.

There was a lot riding on the Wii incarnation of Mario – many people felt Nintendo had dropped the ball somewhat with Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube, so Galaxy was Nintendo’s chance to restore Mario’s reputation. The trouble with Sunshine was that it didn’t really feel like a Mario game – partly because of the holiday location and partly because of the unnecessary introduction of the FLUDD backpack. It was telling that the most enjoyable levels in Sunshine were those which disposed of the backpack entirely and relied instead on good-old-fashioned, Mario 64-style platforming. So what would Nintendo come up with for Galaxy? More innovations? Or the return to old-school platforming that the fans craved?

Well, a bit of both actually. The actual platforming in Galaxy goes right back to Mario 64 for its inspiration – the triple jump, long jump and ground pound are all present and correct, and the whole feel is much more reminiscent of the game’s noble N64 forebear than its slightly awkward GameCube cousin. However, although the basic platforming mechanic is the same, in all other areas the game is totally chock-full of new and innovative ideas, and it’s such a big leap forward for the series that it makes you wonder where on earth Nintendo will be able to take Mario next.

One of my favourite gaming moments of all time is the first level of Mario Galaxy. Circling around the tiny planetoids and firing yourself into space with the star cannons is brilliant fun – it put a big ol’ grin on my face that pretty much stayed there for the entire time I played the game (and for sometime afterwards, too). And the fantastic ideas just keep coming – levels where the gravity keeps reversing, a galaxy made out of children’s toys, a bumblebee suit that lets you fly… there’s more imagination in one level of Mario Galaxy than in most entire games.

Of course, there are one or two minor niggles. The ‘rabbit catching’ section right at the very beginning is a little irritating – and surprisingly hard. In fact, when I was showing the game to a friend, I actually had to catch the rabbit for them because they found it too difficult – not a good sign considering Mario is meant to be accessible to everyone. Conversely, quite a large portion of the game is almost too easy; although having said that, some of the last few levels are devilishly difficult (see the article I wrote for Terminal Gamer here).

These are minor gripes though – Super Mario Galaxy is without doubt one of the finest games I’ve ever played, and certainly reason enough to buy a Wii if you haven’t done so already. I hardly ever play through a game again once I’ve finished it, but on completing Galaxy my first instinct was to go right back to the beginning and play it all through again… and it’s even better the second time around.

Some highlights from the game:

The wonderful first level:

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.ign.com.)

1 Comment

Filed under 2007, Nintendo, Platform, Wii

#36: Tetris

Format: Game Boy Genre: Puzzle Released: 1990 Developer: Nintendo/Bullet Proof Software

This was the game that started my gaming habit. I may have dabbled with gaming before this, but in 1990, at the tender age of 11, video games finally smothered me with their all-suffocating love. No more Airfix kits for birthdays please mummy, give me Nintendo.

Tetris Game Boy Box

Picture the scene: Christmas morning, 1990. Having been whipped into a frenzy of excitement by Nintendo’s relentless primetime TV ads, my sister and I had asked for a Game Boy for Christmas – and because it was such an expensive present, we’d agreed to share it between us. But wait, what’s this? TWO presents under the tree? Could it be…? YES! Our wonderful parents had given us a Game Boy EACH! AND an extra game each too! (Duck Tales and SuperMarioLand if you’re curious). Even now the recollection brings a smile to my face, and opening that present still ranks as one of my fondest childhood memories – who says kids can’t be bought?

Tetris Game Boy Screenshot 1

A joyous Christmas morning followed as my sister and I got down to the serious business of two-player Tetris while mum and dad cooked the turkey. Happy days! The only sadness arose when mum tried to get us to stop playing and eat our lunch. Alas, had she known that her children would be turned into gaming zombies, perhaps she would have bought us something else for Christmas instead. Possibly Meccano. Actually, were they even making Meccano in 1990? Come to think of it, what do kids get for Christmas nowadays if not computer games? iTunes vouchers?

Tetris Game Boy Screenshot 2

But I digress. Having dipped my toe in the gaming waters, I proceeded to dive headlong into the hallowed pool, and for months afterwards I could be found with my head buried in various gaming magazines, excitedly plotting which games to save up for with my £1 a week pocket money. To be honest, I grew bored with Tetris fairly quickly (I can almost hear the sharp intakes of breath from the readers – sacrilege!), but I think it deserves honouring as the game that really kick-started my fascination with games, as well as my long-held playground allegiance to Nintendo.

Original Game Boy with Tetris

Before I finish though, I have to mention the fantastic music. Of course, everyone remembers the main Tetris theme, but the other two tunes in the game were pretty damn good as well (if not better). I’ve included YouTube links to all three tunes below so you can judge for yourself – I think they’re some of the best (if not the best) 8-bit music out there. Can anyone think of any better 8-bit soundtracks? The only music I can think of that comes close is the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. 3…

Lewis

Tetris A-type music.

Tetris B-type music.

Tetris C-type music.

Tetris gameplay video.

3 Comments

Filed under 1990, Bullet Proof Software, Game Boy, Nintendo, Puzzle

#29: Super Mario Kart

Format: Super NES Genre: Racing Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo

I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, do I? It’s Mario Kart, everyone’s played it, the Super NES version is the best. End of post.

super_mario_kart_box

Although having said that, I quite enjoyed the GameCube version… and one thing that the later versions of Mario Kart had that the original didn’t was a four-player mode, which seems so essential to the game that it’s almost inconceivable that it wasn’t in there from the start. Anyone remember Street Racer? It was one of the first Mario Kart clones, and its big claim to fame was that it featured a four-player mode, but in almost every other respect it was identical to Mario Kart, albeit significantly more ropey. It sticks out in my mind for having some of the worst character designs I’ve ever seen, including ‘Biff’ (‘a 19 year old typical school bully figure from America’) and ‘Surf Sister’ (‘a young Australian girl with a degree in mechanics’). It’s enough to make you weep.

super mario kart water

Anyway, the main reason that Super Mario Kart is The Best VersionTM is that the multiplayer was perfectly pitched. The Balloon Battle fights were nail-biting affairs that hinged on pixel-perfect deployment of the torpedo-like green shell combined with sheer panic as your opponent unleashed the dreaded Red Shell of Doom. Later versions were a lot more forgiving and the arenas (particularly on the N64 version) were much too large, which meant that a lot of the tension was swept away. As much as I love the GameCube version, the Battle Mode was – dare I say it – actually quite dull (although the Racing Mode was excellent).

super mario kart two player

Speaking of racing, the single-player mode of Super Mario Kart was arguably its weakest link. Perhaps unfairly, I basically saw it as necessary chore to be endured to unlock the multiplayer tracks – let’s face it, racing against the computer will never even come close to racing against friends. However, special mention has to go to the Ghost Valley and Rainbow Road tracks, which are some of the best-designed tracks to have ever been etched onto silicon. Rainbow Road in particular has a way of dragging you back for one more go, even though it’s teeth-grindingly difficult – I think it taps into the inner masochist hidden inside all lifelong gamers.

super mario kart donut land

I’m sure everyone has their favourite version of Mario Kart, but for me the first one will always be the best, and I’m sure almost everyone of my generation will agree with me. I mean, just watch the video below: it’s gaming perfection. All hail Mode 7.

Lewis

5 Comments

Filed under 1993, Nintendo, Racing, Super NES