My life as a Pokémaniac – Retrospective: Pokémon

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16 years ago, on my 18th birthday, I brought a present for myself consisting of Game Boy Pocket & a copy of Pokémon Blue. Fast forward 15 years to 2013 & my 33rd birthday, where I brought for myself a limited edition Pokémon 3DS XL & a copy of Pokémon X.
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The years between those purchases have seen the release of 62 games over various Nintendo consoles (mainly handhelds with 23 games being the main franchise), over 800 anime episodes, 16 movies (one released a year), a popular Collectible Card Game & various manga incarnations. Not to mention every form of merchandise imaginable, from clothing to toys to cars & furniture.
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All brought to the fore once again by Nintendo’s recent announcement that they shall be re-releasing the Generation III games in the main series, Ruby & Sapphire, for the 3DS in November of this year.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 17 years, Pokémon is one of Japanese greatest pieces of branded marketing & corporate Soft Power as well as one of the most popular multimedia franchises the world has ever seen.

Very few of us have not been exposed to the nauseating cuteness of the franchise mascot Pikachu or have heard some acapella version of one of its many themes posted online. It is a phenomenon that has well surpassed your average zeitgeist & doubtless it will continue on for many years to come. Or for how long it remains profitable.

Yet what has turned a fairly simple handheld RPG about collecting different monsters into a media & cultural juggernaut?

Well, many academics, critics & fans have written about that but I’m going to ignore them in favour of my own personal journey & experiences with the Pokémon franchise. Because it’s my blog & I can write what I bloody well please.

Like many people my age, I first heard about Pokémon from the urban legend where the anime had caused a series of seizures during the screening of an episode. This led to all sorts of prefabricated outrage out the dangers of children’s cartoons but it also meant that lots of people in the West were eager to watch it but it was added to the list of episodes that were either banned or altered when purchased by 4Kids Entertainment for Western distribution.
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To break it down, Pokémon is a portmanteau of the words Pocket & Monster (Poketto in Japanese), which are the titular creatures that you collect in the game. There are over 720 of the little buggers now; the number growing with each new generation released. Each Pokémon has certain elemental or type affinities -like Grass, Fire, Water, Electric, Flying, Fighting, et cetera, sometimes have two types at once -such as Venusaur’s Grass/Poison type or Geodude’s Rock/Ground type. Each type has a strengths & weakness against other types, giving the game play a Rock, Paper, Scissors approach, where you can gain advantage & bulldoze through opponents by having the right types & attack types or similar getting your team handed to you because you choose poorly. The series combines dungeon crawler/exploration style RPG elements with a collecting game play, as you capture wild Pokémon to add to your team & fill out your Pokédex. Each battle gains your creatures experience points, which helps them level up to gain new abilities &, in some cases, new forms as they evolve once they reach a certain level (or have something else affect them like a stone or similar item).
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Despite this lack of seizure inducing animation, the games were still due out in the West & come 1998, I had eagerly saved up my money for a slightly improved Game Boy Pocket & a copy of Pokémon Blue. Unlike in Japan, we in the West only got two version of the game at first Red & Blue, where as they had Red & Green (1996) at first & then an enhanced version of Blue in 1997. Plot & game play wise, the games were identical but the mantra of the series form the beginning (other then the marketing phrase “gotta catch’em all!“) was all about trading & sharing with other players (then via the Game Boy Trade Cable).

Supposedly, the games creator Tajiri Satoshi game up with the idea for the series by basing it around the Japanese children’s hobby of catching & releasing bugs (especially beetles) & this is an element that is the core foundation of the series.

Starting with 151 Pokémon (including the special event only monster Mew), each game had a different set that you were allowed to collect plus some evolutions that you could only obtain through trading, so you were actively encouraged to find friends with different versions & trade with them.

Or do what I did & buy different versions of the game & use your old Game Boy to swap pokémon across so that you can come close to completing your collection.

Anyway, these first few games combined with the anime series were popular enough that Nintendo released Pokémon Yellow (1998), which featured their electric mascot character Pikachu as your primary monster (actually follows you around & emotes during certain events) to help promote their new Game Boy Colour system. I ended up getting the game along with the limited edition Pokémon edition GBC, possibly in a bundle, I can’t remember.
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The first three games (including Yellow) were all very basic affairs of choose one of three starter Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle), battle your rival (whom most people named rude things), collect different Pokémon, battle other trainers, gain experience & evolve most of your monsters who can evolve, defeat gym leaders for badges which grant special bonuses & eventually go up against the Elite 4 in order to become the Pokémon Master.

Yellow mixed up the formula a bit by adding things related more to the anime, such as battles with Jessie & James from Team Rocket as well as making some of the sprites match up more with the anime depictions.
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Blue began my habit of always picking Water Type starters (Squirtle & his evolutions was pretty awesome). I was a dedicated player, collecting as many monsters as I could, smashing Gym Leaders & beating my Fated Rival to become Pokémon Master! Unfortunately I messed up & used the Master Ball on one of the legendary birds instead of Mewtwo but I rectified that when I picked up a 2nd hand copy of Red a couple of years later.

I still remember my favourite team to this day: Butterfree, Rhydon, Raichu, Lapras, Snorlax, Blastoise, Articuno with a couple of others to alternate with depending on the situation.

I also got Yellow when it available & found it more challenging then Red/Blue but that was mainly because of Jessie & James popping up when you’ve already battled hard & didn’t have much left in terms of health or PP.

The next main games, after the fun & strangely addictive Pokémon Stadium (2000) (which was great because you got bonus starter Pokémon for beating various cups & could play the normal game on your TV), were Gold & Silver. I opted for Silver because of Lugia on the cover & prefer silver over the colour of gold.
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Personally, Silver is still one of my favourites in the series because there was so much to do. More so after you beat the gym leaders & Elite 4 you go back to the Kanto Region (from the 1st games) where you battle all the Gym Leaders & Elite 4 there until you come to the Pokémon Master (technically you from the last games), lonely upon his high mountain. You also had 3 new starters (I naturally went with Totodile, who is still my favourite starter) & new ways to evolve your monsters -including keeping an eye on their happiness (which couldn’t be measured in game for some reason, you had to see a NPC to tell you) as well as 100 new monsters to collect. The game just felt so much bigger then Red/Blue/Yellow -dare I say that it felt epic?- & with such a huge game map to explore you truly felt as though you were getting your money’s worth with it.

When they brought Crystal out (an expansion for Gold/Silver) a little later I didn’t bother with it. Was kind of moving away from handheld stuff for some reason.

Which is why I was late to getting to Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire.

Instead of getting one of the many Game Boy Advances, I instead opted for the original Nintendo DS (a mistake but wanted Mario Kart as a free bundle) & got Sapphire (yes, sticking with the trend of blue over red because blue rocks as a colour!).

Unfortunately I found Sapphire a bit boring.

Nothing had really evolved in terms of gameplay.

Sure, there were more very cool Pokémon to collect but you still had a plethora of the earlier ones plaguing the game. Plus some of the new evolutions & evolving methods were fairly tricky to get around, meaning that you needed a strategy guide to get your head around it all.

The story also hadn’t changed one iota.

You play a mute who everyone says is destined to save the world. You battle Team [Insert Name Here] who wants to steal all the pokémon/destroy some aspect of the environment/control time & space/free all the pokémon/kill every living thing on the planet -which no one else seems to fussed to do anything about strangely enough. You encounter legendary pokémon that you capture & exploit & you beat the Elite 4 & your Fated Rival.

That’s EVERY main Pokémon game plot in a nutshell.

Sapphire stuck to it without variation, just adding a few more bells & whistles to the blundering edifice of the franchise. It vexed me, despite how fun I still found the core gameplay. I honestly just couldn’t bring myself to finish it, so its still sitting in my pile of shame.

Naturally, as soon as the follow up Diamond/Pearl was available, I made sure that I had it on the first day of release.

Unfortunately I suffered through the same doldrums of repetitive gameplay & lack of any interesting plot &/or motivation & wave after wave of previous Gen monsters to wade through before you found the new & interesting ones specific to that generate.

There were a ton more bells & whistles add for distraction but at least a lot of secrets to find & clever little things added to the series to give it more life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me & I eventually got bored. Mainly because I got stuck trying to get through Victory Road to the Elite 4, which was a painful grind.

So, four years later, when Black/White arrived, I also picked it up first day of release.

I am nothing if not a sucker for punishment.

Naturally, I went with Black & choose Piplup as my starter.

I genuinely appreciated all the changes that they made to the formula. Add new character dynamics with your friends/rivals, new evolution styles, new types & so on. Plus fancy shiny graphics outside of battle but inside it was just the same old static sprites.

It wasn’t a breath of fresh air but it was a breeze blowing some of the staleness away.

Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough & I soon grew tired of it all. When Black/White 2 was announced I didn’t bother to get one but that was genuinely more to do with how much they cost (& still cost) then not wanting to continue my obsession with the series. It was basically too much like Black/White, so wasn’t really needed to be purchased.

So, that brings up to the present Generation (Gen VI): X/Y (with Z due out next year or so)

I got X first day of release as well as a limited edition Pokémon Y 3DS XL (all red with pictures on it).

With this game they had changed up plenty of the formula to make it more interesting & far more accessible for a new generation of player. Overall, it’s far easier, with a lot of the random challenge difficulty toned down, as are the gym battles. This isn’t a negative in my book but does mean that you can utterly steamroll through the game with a handful of pokémon whom you’ve grinded up well enough. Same as when you get the mega-evolution ability. Using it on something like Blaziken (that you got as a special early purchase bonus) will mean that you can destroy many opponents (unless they are high level Psychic &/or Water types).

They also mix up the new & older Gen monsters a bit better but still vexing to have all the old ones & barely get a glimpse of the newbies. Most of the new ones aren’t incredible but many are interesting in their types & evolutions. Inkay is a perfect example because it reverses any status affects thrown at it (turning negation effects like Growl into a status buff) & you have to evolve it into Malamar by turning your 3DS upside once it hits level 30. Such a gimmick I’d usually find bothersome because there would be no way you could figure it out by yourself but once you’re told about it seems perfectly naturally to evolve it in such a manner.

Unfortunately Inkay/Malamar is the only new monster of this type to evolve in such a fashion but you have the much touted Sylveon, the mascot for the new Fairy Type, who needs Affection (different from Happiness) to evolve from its basic Eevee form. To do this, you need to spoilt an Evee in the Pokémon-Amie distraction thingie by feeding & petting it & then level it up once it’s acquired a Fairy Type move (which is part of the normal levelling progression luckily). This is very fiddly but since there are so few new Fairy Types in this game, it’s necessary if you want that branch of Eevee evolution.

My other favourite new ‘mon at the moment is Helioptile/Heliolisk because he has an ability called Dry Skin, which means he absorbs any Water Type attacks & even rain from moves like Rain Dance to heal at the end of each round. Combine that with his Parabolic Charge move, which drains HP from whomever it hits. Turning him into a sunny loving vampire lizard! Unfortunate due to being an Electric/Normal type hybrid, it has some annoying weakness to Fighting Type attacks.

One drawback to having so many ‘mon to catch & discover as well as all the types there are, unless you have a handy chart to hand, it’s easy to forget what beats what. More so with the recent additions to the series such as Dark (Evil) & Fairy.

They also tried to spice up the story a bit by adding more side characters for your PC to interact with but they aren’t really fleshed out & don’t play much into the plot. Most of them really don’t have a place with one of them appearing towards the end of the game before you’re hit by a massive (& very, very dark) back story to the region that you are exploring.

Unfortunately, the plot still is just what I mentioned a dozen or so paragraphs back. That is definitely something that I hope that they improve upon in the next non-remake game. I don’t want some epic opus or exploration upon the human/pokémon condition but a little more rounding of character, plot & background plus a sense of choice & personal agency wouldn’t really go amiss.

I’m still yet to finish my version of X, despite the main thread of the game being so much shorter & relatively easier then previous Generations but will get around to it eventually. Of course I started with a Froakie but foolishly chose Squirtle for my 2nd starter out of habit because Charizard Mega Evolution X does look pretty boss .

There are also plenty of secrets within the game as well as updates to add more ‘mon & moves that will get me to keep playing. Am basically up to Victory Road but don’t have as much time to play as I would like.

Am still not sure if I’ll end up getting the re-releases of Ruby/Sapphire (entitled Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire) but other people seem genuinely excited by the news (mainly because people have been making memes out remakes for a few years now, pretty much since the Gold/Silver remakes of a few years ago). I’ll probably end up getting them because of the new features they’ll out into the games.

I do hope that they continue with positive progression as the main series continues into the future. I personally would prefer to see an utter clean break with the franchise. Where the next main game ONLY has new pokémon in it & you unlock all the previous ‘mons post game or via trading. That way you can focus on all that is new without getting bothered by all the old mooks who keep getting in your way as you wade through long grass & caves.

Fans are still demanding a Wii U based MMO style game but that honestly would be hard to control, especially if it allows for imports from the handheld versions. Something akin to an MMO Stadium game would work well, with level caps & all that & being able to link your 3DS to your Wii U so you can just use the ‘mon you have already on your system without fiddling around too much.

Outside of the main series, I haven’t really played many of the other recent Pokémon games.

I used to be hopeless addicted to Pokémon Snap despite it being exceptionally simplistic & lacking in any true form of gameplay. This is also a game screaming out for a sequel & seeing one on the Wii U would indeed be most epic!

The other non-main games don’t truly interest me because they often aren’t very good & don’t have the same kind of attention grabbing, life-draining play that the main handheld series does.

I also don’t get into the whole weird things surround the main games.

Such as breeding for natures, EV training and competitive battles at real life tournaments & such.

Also! I’ve been playing for 17 years & I’ve never seen a bloody shiny ‘mon the entire Pikachu-loving time!

I also have no idea why people bother with things like the Nuzlocke Challenge or the Smogon University elitist style battles (which is a constant point of contention in many fan communities).

Speaking of the fan community: Pokémon still attracts a massive & diverse online fan community. Ranging from art & stories to the ever popular memes, such as the Cheezburger Network channel Pokémemes. Of course there are communities on 4Chan & Reddit dedicated to Pokémon related stuff but I’m honestly not brave enough to endure some of the horrors that people post there these days. & naturally there is a plethora of Rule 34 related items because, as the rule doth state: “if it exists, there will be porn”.

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Yet, despite my bagging of it, the fan communities are what keep the entire Pokémon franchise popular after all these years.

They are the perfect example of the invested/dedicated consumer phenomenon because they add back to the culture/community surrounding the franchise. Moving it from a mere game & extended merchandise to a truly global cultural force.

Everything has been related to Pokémon at some point.

From cars to trains & even aeroplanes.

Entire stores within Japan exist just to sell related products. Battle tournaments are now global, attracting huge prize purses as well as attention. Not to mention that every new (main) game announced always garners huge amounts of attention -from both media & the fans/consumers.

& of course the anime series & its associated movies are continuing regardless of all other trends within the media. At over 800 episodes & 16 movies, it is one of the longest running anime series ever! & it keeps to a pretty basic formula too, so it’s easy to keep making.

Ash Katchem (stupid pun but he’s known as Satoshi in the Japanese version) & his companion Pikachu travel various regions with their pals (always one female & usually with Brock or another male companion), battling their Fated (regional) Rivals, foiling Team Rockets’ plans, bonding with different people & pokémon, learning life lessons, fighting gym leaders, et cetera et cetera.

Each new series sees Ash & Pikachu leave behind his previous team (mainly so they can get the latest ones for the latest games), Pikachu somehow loses his power which means he & Ash lose to their new rival, they encounter a legendary ‘mon somewhere within the 1st or so ep & Ash finds new friends to travel with which are always a loudmouth girl who is tsundere towards him & a male companion who explains everything.

Ash also never ever becomes a Pokémon Master or wins the huge tournaments (might be a few exceptions) because he’s always go to keep travelling to get the newest series rolling.

I honestly haven’t watched it in years. Mainly because the dubbing & translation are so bloody awful! Not to mention the censorship (which I already did actually). My niece still digs it as far as I recall but she’s becoming an invested gamer, more so after I got her a copy of Diamond 2nd hand for her 4 years ago.

Which pretty much proves how the franchise cross generations.

Hell, I’ve got friends who gave their original Red/Blue version to their kids to play (when they weren’t keeping them for themselves) & actually play each new game with their kids (it’s a great way to monitor what they do play as well as engage with them properly).

I do think that I’ll still continue to collect the games as I grow older. Even pick up a few pieces of merch here & there (mainly cute figures if I can).

I honestly don’t think that Pokémon is going to go away for a long long time.

I just don’t want to be trying to hunt 10,000 of the little buggers when I’m 90.

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The Least of the Best – Game Review: InJustice: Gods Among Us

Title: Injustice: Gods Among Us
Platform: Wii U (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita
Release Date: 16/04/2013
Studio/Developers: NetherRealms Studio
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

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Some times you buy a game not because it’s great but because it is cheap.

For me: NetherRealm’s DC adapted fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us was pretty much that game. Only costing me $13 (free shipping) for the Wii U version.

To begin: the game, in my view isn’t great but it is very ‘competent’. It does what it does well, there is no denying that.  The characters & actions are well balanced because of the years of experience that NetherRealms has in the fighting genre (starting back with Midway’s Mortal Kombat franchise) but is unfortunately brought down by the platform which I chose to play it on.

The Wii U with its tablet isn’t the best system for fighting games unfortunately & the ‘traditional controller’ is an expense that I can’t be bothered with because of the lack of games that it supports. I had a chance to play the Playstation 3 version just after its release as an in store demo & the controller felt fine but it is still a game were you need a solid arcade stick set up. Yet that is my constant complaint about console fighters & my nostalgia for the excellent arcade stick that the SNES used to have for the range of Street Fighter II clones that console generated during the 1990’s.

My other issue with the game came before its release. That was because it was utterly tainted by the IGN.com Hype Train, where they plug the ever-loving stuffing out of a game to the point that you’re sick of hearing about it & then basically trash it in review because they got the money they wanted from Warner Bros. This is a unfortunately typical infection for the video games industry & since it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon, let’s move on.

Since this is an arcade style fighting game -which have been popular for over 25 years- I trust I don’t have to explain how the game play works? You play as Character A, you hit Character B with a series of standard attacks, combos, special & super moves until Character B is either (on screen) dead or unconscious. I:GAU pretty much follows the old Capcom Formula, dropping the standard Mortal Kombat Fatalities & other hallmarks. As said before, the system is very balanced & smooth but is also fast paced & brutal. You can win by Button Mashing but timing & use of environmental attacks can really turn the tide of battle. Speaking of environmental attack, an entire battle can hinge on whether you can pull off a “stage transition” attack, were you knock an opponent into another part of the combat stage, can actually mean that you lose via a technicality more than anything else. Plus you can’t skip them, so they do get boring to watch, even if they aren’t used all that often (same with the Super Moves).

Speaking of backgrounds: it’s unintentionally amusing when you’re fighting a character & they’re waving at you from the background at the same time (see Doomsday battle in the Fortress of Solitude stage). Unfortunately, despite the cool environmental & background attacks, the stages aren’t all that interesting, even with the destructing stuff because it all regenerates next time you are there (or if you fight immediately in the same arena against a different opponent).

But what makes the fighting in I:GAU different from many other fighting games out there is the integration with the story.

This is both a good & very bad thing.

Good in that you actually get a good sized campaign where you try lots of different characters without endlessly replaying to see different endings.

Bad in that there is only one ending, the plot isn’t great, you don’t get much time with characters to learn how to play them and you have to play through Quick Time Events.

Now, an aside about the old QTE: these are old bugbears in modern gaming & basically have no place in this game. They are used to transition between cut scenes & combat but punish you badly if you fail. Unfortunately they do tend to come out of nowhere & throw things (literally in in-game terms) at you from out of nowhere. The controls on the Wii U also proved fiddly for these because of trying to remember which button is where & the slight lag between button pressing & response.

Anyway, the story: Superman goes evil.

That’s it pretty much.

Superman goes evil & tries to take over the world.

As has been pointed out by countless other geeks & comic nerds, this is a well played trope & frankly a bit boring.

But wait!

Its an Alt World Superman who goes evil.

Yes, that’s something that’s ben done before but they often call him Ultraman & have him as part of the Crime Syndicate of America where he pals around with other evil versions of the Justice League.

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Look, video game adaptions often don’t break new ground in terms of narrative & they certainly don’t want to canon.

So, The Joker tricks Superman into accidentally killing Lois Lane, who had a detonator for a Nuclear Bomb wired to her heart, which blows up Metropolis when the signal is cut. Finding out what he did, Superman kills Joker & decides that the world needs protection, so he turns into Super-Hitler & tries to bully everyone into being peaceful. Many of the JL join him, as do former villains who get to kill without question, & Batman forms an underground resistance to stop him.

Yes: sign. It’s all been done before & the logic of how its down is so downright bullshit pathetic that you tend to let it skip.

The same goes for the rest of the plot: where Alt World Batman draws Prime World heroes across dimensions to get a Superman killing device but the good Prime World heroes (well, Batman) has other plans & seek to redeem the Alt World as best they can.

Yes, it’s utter drivel but that’s what’s not important.

Beneath the clunky story & the annoying shifting of characters before you get used to them you get a very refined fighting system. Battles are tough & the difficult ramps up as you progress through the campaign. So opponents whom you slaughtered when you first fought them (I seriously had one stand there for a few seconds to allow me to attack) can actually deal you serious damage when you face them later.

Outside of the story, there is also a very serious challenge mode called S.T.A.R.S. Lab. Where you do certain events or have to win under certain conditions to get small unlocks. This mode really does pad everything out nicely, even if the rewards for it are a pittance really. It’s a good way to get used to characters & a god distraction from the lackluster story.

But the mode that the game is designed for is the Vs. System -the staple of all modern fighters. You get local & online matches (the latter being ranked), both of which offer in-game unlocks. The whole system is geared towards the Professional Competition scene as well as offering an extended reason to play. Unfortunately, I’m fairly misanthropic, so I avoid online & multiplayer stuff -especially after the annoyances of Street Fighter IV’s anytime online arcade-style challenges.

Any-hoo, summary: if you are a fan of fighting games, Mortal Kombat and/or DC related stuff you’ll be happy enough with it. If you want something that is long lasting, exceptionally fun & lets you sink your proverbial teeth into something meaty, you can do worse then this game. There is plenty of DLC for it (which I refuse to pay for) as well as a Gold/Ultimate/Game of the Year edition with all the DLC & bonuses out, so you might want to go with that. As I said at the start: I got it because it was cheap. I had no expectations of it, so it was better than I thought it could’ve otherwise been. Overlook the naff story & the annoyance of the constant character switching & you’ll be fine.

It is what it is & that isn’t always a bad thing.

Game Review: The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds

Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/2DS
Release Date: 22/11/2013
Studio/Developers: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3 & Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo

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So, after 27 years & over 17 different titles, what has changed in The Legend of Zelda franchise?
Sadly, not a lot.

A Link Between Worlds is the 17th titles in the series & the first for the Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS if you hate the 3D but more on that later) & a direct sequel to the SNES classic A Link to the Past (1991). Though part of me thinks the terms ‘sequel’ is a bit generous & the term ‘high def copy/paste’ seems more accurate.

But are they the ramblings of a cynical old gamer who has been with the series since the Famicom days (I first played it back on my best friend’s Famicom disc system, in Japanese, & neither of us had any idea what we were doing) or are they true?

Well, in all honesty, a bit of both.

The maps & assets are all almost directly lifted from the SNES game, as is the top down play style. Basically, the game feels like a spit & polish of A Link to the Past but without the depth that made the SNES game so beloved by fans.

One of my biggest bugbears in geek, pop & media cultures is the constant harking back to nostalgia. So many other reviewers of this game (especially ABC2’s Good Game) go all squeeeeeeeee! over many nostalgic properties but I mainly the stance if you want to play a game that is exactly like the one that you love, you should play that game since it is still available to you in one form or another.

Long running franchises, especially with Nintendo’s own properties, need to be able to grow & change without ardent Nostalgists clammering for pitchfolks & torches. Times change, people change & things move on. Grant, not always to better things but oft you have to let go & let a new generation take over. ‘Childish things’ & all that.

OK, with that (soon to be typical) rant out of the way, do I agree that A Link Between Worlds is actually a well done & enjoyable game?
Yes. Of course it is. What kind of idiot says that there is a bad Zelda game out there?
Can the game stand on its own merits & show its own strengths without forever being compared with A Link to the Past?
Well, that’s a resounding “eeeeergh”, complete with waving hand gesture.

Why so flaky on an answer?

Well, that’s because this game is the very incarnation of the old phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Which translates as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

For every innovation that Nintendo has made within the game, there is another idea that is so fixed in the tradition of the series that it’s almost painful. Too many half measures & not enough boldness to break free from convention. But at least there are understandable reasons for this, at least to me.

A Link Between Worlds seems to me to be an attempt to get a whole new generation hooked on the franchise. It’s more open world nature & toned down challenges designed for younger gamers who’s first handheld is the 3DS. That is similar to what Nintendo & Game Freak recently did with the releases of Pokemon X & Y, making improvements for long term fans but toning down some elements for new entrants into the franchises.

This is actually something that I actively applaud because it means that if the games sell well, we can see more changes, improvements & departures to & from the standard formula because younger games will want things they are yet to experience, where as many gamers tend to think that they want what they are more familiar with. This is merely generalisation of course but oft rings true in my observations & experiences.

So, let us begin with what has stayed the same.

For one: the story.

ALBW art    You play as Link (or whatever name you decide to pick), the protagonist/player cypher/non-customisable avatar who is awoken at the start of the game to perform a mundane task but soon finds himself to really be the Legendary Hero, tasked to free Hyrule from the evil that is plaguing it & rescuing the Princess Zelda from whatever master mind (usually Ganon but not in this case surprisingly) has entrapped her. You do this by exploring various dungeons, collecting various items & defeating various bosses of various sizes, until you have a certain amount of magical MacGuffins that will unlock the final dungeon & boss fight. 26 years, very little change in the overarching narrative or the characters involved. It borrows the mirror world motif from A Link to the Past but doesn’t use it to any great effect. Even the big twists in the plot I had guessed even before the game had begun but it doesn’t really matter because the overall plot is merely a cloth horse upon which to hang the gameplay.

Where A Link Between Worlds does change things is in how you now acquire the items & how you explore the dungeons.

After a certain point, items can be “hired” from the rabbit hooded layabout Ravio, that is purchased & used until you die, where upon they are returned to him & you have to hire out again. You can of course purchase the items a bit further into the game, meaning that you keep & upgrade them without fear of losing them. You can also choose which dungeons to tackle first but if you are a canny player, you merely go through each until you find the unique items within & then uber (overpower) your way through them in which ever order you choose.

Because of the open nature of the game, the different areas aren’t that difficult to defeat & the dungeons themselves aren’t overly large or complex. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any challenge within the game but I found that I only died on the overworld from creatures such as the bomb throwing orges or attacks from off screen or, mainly, my own dumb mistakes & confusions over the controls. I managed to beat most of the boss, almost all of whom are lifted straight from A Link to the Past, without a lot of hassle & pretty much no strategy. Just watched the pattern & wailed on them with my weapons, using bottled fairies to revive when needed.

Zelda-A-Link-Between-Worlds-3DS
Against everything negative I’ve been saying, I have to wilfully admit that the dungeons are exceptionally clever at times. How you solve puzzles & get about will keep you quiet entertained, even if you don’t feel challenged by them.

This is mainly because of the game’s primary gimmick: turning Link into a painting upon the wall. This makes you flat & able to move across walls & other similar surfaces, letting you slip through gaps & cracks to find hidden little things or avoid traps or falling. You have a limited amount of time that you can do it (with your Magic Metre draining during its activation), so timing becomes everything when getting about in painting mode. It also has other wonderful little touches, such as the music & other noises going tinny & 2 dimensional when you’re a painting, making it feel as though you’re hearing it through Link’s inky ears.

Other great addition to the game is that you no longer have to scavenge for bombs or arrows or risk running out in the middle of a boss battle. All the weapons & magical items that you use drain your Magic Metre (a purple bar on the left side of the screen), which naturally replenishes in a short amount of time. This does take a lot of the frustration out of pot smash/grass cutting to find everything that you need & means that you do need to employ some strategy when dealing with enemies & puzzles.

But my utter, utter favourite addition to the game are the Maimai, which are the new scavenger hunt creatures in the game -akin to the golden spiders in Ocarina of Time or the Good Will glimmers from Skyward Sword- but these are actually important to get. Instead of giving you something useless like Rupees or a larger wallet, you actually get something important for finding them. Return to Mother Maimai with 10 of her lost children & she’ll reward you with an upgrade to any weapon that you’ve brought from Ravio to a more powerful version. Since all the Lorule dungeons are tied to specific weapons, it pays to know what you want to upgrade & when. The Maimai are also cleverly hidden in both Hyrule & the mirroring Lorule overworlds (so you don’t have to go through dungeons to get them) but they are actually fun, as well as vital, to hunt. Most upgrades give you an advantage with whichever item you improved, some being more practical then others. Such as the bow shooting 3 arrows or the Hookshot doing damage as well as stunning. While some items are useless outside of their specific dungeons, they are still handy to have upgraded.

Another improvement in the game is the actual usefulness of the stereoscopic 3D function. You often need it on to negociate dungeons where you have platforms at different heights to you have to drop down a fair way. I hate 3D (despite owning a 3DS) because it hurts my eyes & I have trouble seeing it easily but the function of it within the game is really handy to have switched on from time to time. Such as trying to get through Death Mountain.

Another nice feature in the game is the music, even though it is lifted straight from A Link to the Past with a couple of remixes from The Legend of Zelda II. Music has always been an exceptionally vital component to the Zelda series & A Link Between Worlds doesn’t let you down in that department. The tunes are layed but catchy, electronic but orchestral, nostalgic but fresh. It is nigh impossible to play & not hum (or, in a couple of cases, sing very very loudly) the immortal overworld theme to yourself.


As much as I ragged on this game for pretty much being a short, not very challenging exercise in nostalgia, I still have found it an exceptionally good game.

It’s fun, great to look at & almost hypnotic in how it can suck you into it. You hit a nice rhythm with it but can take things at your own pace. You can pretty much finish your first run in a couple of sittings (battery life not withstanding) but it pays to have fun & explore both the overworlds & all the dungeons. There is some challenge once you’ve done because you unlock the ‘Hero Mode’, which makes enemies tougher, but I haven’t gotten to it yet because ran out to get SquareEnix’s latest Bravely Default (oh, wait for the nostalgia rants that one is sure to generate) as soon as I finished A Link Between Worlds.