Monday, February 21, 2011

25 Years of the Legend of Zelda

Photo Credit:
Twenty five years ago today marks the first journey of Link's journey across Hyrule to save the world.  The Legend of Zelda created one of Nintendo's mega franchises and was the perfect balance of adventure and puzzles that would become the identity of the series.  It all started with an old man in a cave giving Link a sword and collecting an inventory of weapons and items to help him defeat Ganon, save Princess Zelda and the Triforce.

Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, is the most unique game of the series.  The sequel integrated RPG elements and side scrolling for it's action sequences.  The game was criticized for being too difficult and it was generally considered that the original format was what was preferred by fans.  That goes without saying that Zelda 2 was actually a pretty good game but just scrutinized for being different.  When Nintendo made it's jump to 16 bit, Zelda did too and returned to the overhead adventure of the original title.  A Link to The Past hit a home run and took everything that made the first games great and enhanced them. Better visuals, sharper gameplay, and more intense dungeons, it was how this series was meant to be.  Additionally, A Link to the Past gave a life to Hyrule that we haven't seen before.  The player got a chance to speak with the various townsfolk and see the different destinations across the land.

The series wasn't limited to consoles and gave people a chance to play the game on the go.  Link's Awakening was the first handheld game for the original Gameboy.  Link's handheld journey was a hit and created a new medium for the series and found titles and every new handheld.  Gameboy Color had the Oracle games that coincided with each other.  The GBA had a port of A Link to the Past that was packaged with Four Swords and also seen the Capcom developed Minish Cap.  The DS even successfully used it's touch screen gimmick for two titles, The Phantom Hourglass and The Spirit Tracks.

Nintendo made it's jump to 3D graphics with the Nintendo 64 and set the bar with how 3D games should be with it's marquee title Super Mario 64.  Inevitably, the other head of it's two headed monster, Zelda, would have to find it's mark in 3D.  Ocarina of Time made more than a successful conversion from 2D to 3D and is considered by many to be the greatest game ever made.  Whether you agree or not, no doubt that Nintendo released one of their masterpieces.  The same way A Link to the Past brought a personality to Hyrule, Ocarina of Time enhanced that personality even more.  N64 would see another 3D title with Majora's Mask.  The game would have the daunting task of being overlooked in the shadow of it's predecessor, but make no doubt about that it would certainly deliver another gem for Nintendo.

When the Gamecube was set to be released, Nintendo showed off a tech demo of what it's visuals were capable of.  One of the sequences show a mature Link fighting with Ganondorf.  Fans excitement hit the roof thinking about playing a full Zelda game with the advanced graphics.  A curve ball was tossed however when screen shots for it's next title showed a cartoon and child version of link.  The colorful, cel shaded style of the Wind Waker ruffled the feathers of the series faithful.  When the game was released, all of the criticism of the new style went quiet when the game was met with high praise, proving despite the artistic style that the elements that made the series great remained intact.  The Wind Waker is considered on the best games of that generation now.  Four Swords Adventure was also a Gamecube release, that used a 2D overhead style.  It wasn't your typical Zelda adventure as the game focused on a multiplayer aspect.

The Gamecube was going to have another Zelda game before it passed the torch to the Wii.  This time with the mature art style that initially got fans excited.  Nintendo then made a big announcement that not only with their next title, Twilight Princess, would be on the Gamecube, but it will also be a launch title for the Wii.  The Wii version of Twilight Princess would showcase it's new motion controls.  As usual the game was met with positive reviews, and it's been argued that Twilight Princess would be the best launch title ever.  In the end, the Wii's version of Twilight Princess with just a port of the Gamecube title with motion controls being the only difference.  The game wasn't built from the bottom up specifically for the Wii and that's what fans wanted.  E3 2010, Nintendo gave those fans what they wanted with the Skyward Sword.  Skyward Sword will use the mature Link but with cel shaded visuals.

So for 25 years, Link has slashed with way through journeys in every era.  With the Skyward Sword, we only are going to get more Zelda bliss.  Additionally, Nintendo's new handheld, the 3DS, will have a remake of their N64 masterpiece, Ocarina of Time, with enhanced graphics and the 3D gimmick. Today, I salute our favorite silent protagonist, Link.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Retro Review: Mega Man 2

Going back to video games for a change of pace, I'm going to do my first retro review and I'm going with the NES classic, Mega Man 2.  If you have not read my 15 most influential games list, go ahead and do so.  If you have, then you will know my personal thoughts of this game and why I am fond of it.

As simple as it can be, Dr. Wily is back to cause more trouble with eight new robot masters to serve him.  Mega Man is sent back out by Dr. Light to stop them and Wily.  It goes without saying that you don't buy this game due to the story, but the gameplay itself.  That's how the early ages of games were, so in cases like this I won't penalize the game if it has a plot that lacks content.  This is one of those cases.

If you haven't played any of the games, they go as followed.  There are eight robot masters (six in the original) that you must defeat.  You can defeat them in any order, but depending on the order could affect the ease of completion.  You are first equipped with the default mega buster, but after you defeat a robot master you gain a new weapon with a special ability.  Certain bosses are weak against specific weapons, it's you job to figure it out (unless you just look it up).  Obviously, you have to defeat one on your own.  After defeating all the robot masters, you must defeat a series of extra stages designed as Wily's fortress and the mad doctor himself.
All of the games for the NES are practically the same save for small but useful additions in the proceeding titles.  I find them to be one of the finest 2D platformers only perhaps behind Mario.  The stages are well designed and provide some clever hazards, at least for novice players.  Besides the addition of two extra robot masters, this game added some tweaks.  The main and most important was the addition of a password system.  It also added three upgrades acquired after certain bosses, that aren't weapons but rather are aides.  The other notable addition is the E-Tanks, which you can gather in stages.  They will refill your health, certain boss fights they can really be a life saver.  It didn't fix that wasn't broken, but rather just improved it.  The game also isn't terribly difficult, and compared to the original it's actually rather easy.

When I say the games are practically the same, that goes with the presentation too.  The game sprites have been the same for Mega Man in all six, along with several enemies.  It doesn't mean they recycle everything, as the robot masters are always new, but it creates some consistency.  It's not a bad thing either, although by the time 6 came around it was stale, but still good.  But this is number 2 and it's still relatively fresh.  Keep in mind being the NES, I'm going to base this graphically on it's level, obviously the visuals don't hold up to today's standards.  The background visuals are more detailed and quite fun to look at.  The sprites designs look like what they were intended to look like, which is always a good thing.  I'd say for it's time, the visuals were pretty good.  Detailed and colorful.  Most of the sound effects remain the same.  The music in this game is one of the best ever in my opinion. Bubble Man, Air Man, Metal Man are all classics.  Hell, it's hard to just single those out, they are all a delight to listen too.  Wily's Fortress 1 and 2 is just epic.  I'd award this section an 8 or 8.5, but because I think the soundtrack is 8-bits of bliss, I'm going with a 9.

Replay Value:
NES had a different definition of replay value than it does today, and that's the literal sense of it.  Did you want to replay this game after you finished it?  Today it involves extras, multiplayers, and side assignments on top of wanting to replay it.  Because NES games were significantly shorter, it's easier to replay these games and set personal goals.  Can you finish without losing a continue or perhaps a life?  Can you finish in a record time?  Or was it just a fun time that you want to play it through again.  I always enjoy playing through this game every time I play.  At this point, I know it on the insides and out.  This game is a charmer and along with it's sequel are considered the elite of the series.  I don't expect people to play it every day, but it's always fun to fire up for a quick fix.

Overall: 8.5
It may not be perfect or have the fanfare that the Mario series has, but it's still an NES classic.  There is a reason why Capcom made the recently released 9th and 10th games of the series back to the 8 bit format and it's because it's the most cherished and the best games of the series are in such a style.  If you haven't played the original Mega Man series, I suggest you give them a try.  If you are lucky you can find the Anniversary Collection at a Gamestop and if not, online.  That would fill 1-8 in the series.  The first four are also available for the Wii's Virtual Console service for $5 per game, not a terrible deal.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Undertaker vs. Sting: Pipe Dream or Possibility?

A couple weeks after the Royal Rumble and before the Elimination Chamber and less than 60 days before Wrestlemania 27, speculation and rumors fly as they do every year.  Last week's episode of Raw featured a vignette of a small house in the rain and a mysterious figure walking into it.  Only shown is the person's black boots and bottom of a black trench coat, after that the date 2/21/11 was flashed on the screen.  For over a decade, the marriage of pro wrestling and the Internet has created more false reports than actual ones.  A jumped conclusion was that the mysterious person was Sting, who wears the aforementioned black boots and coat.  The logical conclusion would be the character that's been with the WWE for over 20 years who also wears black boot and coat, The Undertaker.
Between the 2/21/11 promo and the unexpected returns of Diesel and Booker T, the rumors of Sting jumping ship from TNA to WWE began.  And appropriately during the road to Wrestlemania, where the personification of WCW can wrestle on a stage he's never been on, Vince McMahon's ring.  Who better for the Stinger to face off against than The Undertaker?  Message boards, Twitter, dirt sheets all reported and talked about the possibility of a dream match that everyone would love to see.  Fans created very cool fantasy posters, such as the one that is featured above.  And because Sting is currently a free agent, the excitement and rumors even larger.  No doubt that the brass at WWE and even Vince McMahon are aware of the demand from the fans.  Last night's Raw, had another 2/21/11 teaser, but this time around the promo ended with Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave" heavily implied that it is indeed The Undertaker.
Vince knows that this dream match would create a good revenue for Wrestlemania, and it's the big draw the card can use.  But is this a match is most likely a fan demand.  Ideas for Wrestlemania and story lines are written months in advance, sure it's subject to change, but was this really in the grand scheme heading into 2011?  Would Sting even want to work the match?  And what kind of effort, if any, has McMahon put into making it happen?  Is this a fan dream match spun out of control by the power of the Internet?  Or will we really see the only remaining big star in my lifetime to never wrestle for the E to actually be at Wrestlemania?  If you were to ask me, I'm going to say no, but I'm not going to rule it out either.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jerry Lawler's Big Chance.

If you are a loyal viewer of WWE television, you know at WWE's next Pay Per View Jerry Lawler will be competing for the WWE Championship.  This raises some eyebrows because Lawler is 61 and has spent the greater part of the previous decade as an announcer.  Some feel he doesn't have the credibility at this point, even given his lucrative career.
I feel that this is a great choice for the WWE though.  Let's look at some the business side of it.  Lawler is not a name that will draw a ton of money in 2011, but he's definitely drawn some interest.  The current title holder, The Miz, has been booked as a beatable champion as he's escaped his title defenses by the skin of his teeth.  One of those defenses was against Lawler.  This has led to a sub feud between Jerry and The Miz.  The Miz might be the champion, but he's still fresh to the product and has much room for growth.  Flair isn't around to give tips anymore, but Lawler is.  And he still has the ability to wrestle a match.  Working a program with Lawler gives the Miz an excellent chance to learn and grow as a wrestler.  I'm sure there are many young stars that envy the position and opportunity The Miz is getting.  And as a student of the game and someone who wants to represent the company, The Miz has to be thrilled.  Also, the Elimination Chamber is focused on the namesake of the event.  The matches for the most part set up the rest of the main events at Wrestlemania.  It makes sense that you want to have all the available talent in those matches that could potentially be believable as main event workers.  So Randy Orton, Sheamus, and John Cena need to be in that match.  Elimination Chamber is also a filler PPV between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania.  With all of your big talent being occupied in the EC matches, it doesn't hurt to use Jerry Lawler in this role.  And it's something fresh for anyone who might be tired of the same people being in the title hunt.
Now if there is an argument that he is too old to be credible.  Kick-Out's Razor pointed out that a trait he has that others do not is experience and that needs to be put into play.  Lawler does not look like a weak old man, he still looks like he can fight, and I'm sure he can.  Last year everyone said that Brett Favre was too old to play, but he was an interception away from going to the Superbowl.  Despite his age, he showed that he can still play at a high level and challenge for a championship.  Take away the polarizing nature of Favre, it's a story that was compelling to follow.  The Lawler story is merely art imitating life, his TLC with Miz told a story that he can accomplish this goal.  He earned another chance and has a shot at rectifying his mistakes and getting the top prize in the business.  It's nothing long term, just a nice sub story that is interwoven in the Road to Wrestlemania.