Friday, July 01, 2005

Gimme That Old 'Intendo Speerit

Away from the keyboard shackle of my computer for a few days, I turned in desperation back to the arms of an old lover/friend - Nintendo, specifically, the Gamecube.

I haven't been really into Nintendo since the original little-gray-box showed up one Christmas and introduced me to the idea of gaming as a sleep-deprivation experiment (thanks, Iron Tank! And the Dragon Warrior series!).

Sure, I bought a Game Boy Advance, and then when I discovered that it was physically impossible to view the screen without a 10-million candle power light shining directly on its surface I went ahead and bought the Game Boy Advance SP (or, as it's also known, the It Works Edition). And, yeah, I spent about 140 hours in one week on Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, stopping a few stages before the ultimate level because, apparently, there is a definite tactics oversaturation point and I had indeed reached it.

But other than the previous examples and scattered experiences playing on Nintendo systems owned by other people, I haven't really spent any in-depth time on it in the last, say, ten years.

Okay, enough boring insight. Point is I went ahead and fired up The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and played a decent amount of it spread over three days.

I'll try and list the order of my major feelings about the game, to simplify things:

1. "Yeah, this is why Nintendo rocks. Simple control scheme that allows for lots of variation, a colorful world. I love the history that ties it into the other Zelda games, it integrates well within the numerous backstories."

2. "Okay, could these people talk any slower? I like the combat system, pretty cool. It's like Pocket Fighter but if I want to I can apply actual skill instead of just swinging wildly. If I were, y'know, into that sort of thing."

3. "Just a peek at the walkthrough. Fuck, I missed pretty much every sidequest on the second island. And I can't go back. I hate that. Oh, and now I can sail but I can't deviate from where they want me to go. Brilliant."

4. "I got stuck because I didn't realize that I had to take the empty bottle, fill it with water and revive the bomb plant to blow up the rock blocking the pool. I totally get how obvious that is . . . NOW. I love how if you miss the fucking clue the first time, there's really nothing else to guide you. Is it weird to expect some kind of help system built right into a game? Even just a text walkthrough would be nice. Yes, I know I'm supposed to puzzle over the cryptic imaginings of the designers, but drop the ego for a second. If I want help, give me help. Wouldn't even be too difficult for a game to determine where you are in the 'storyline' and give you only the help surrounding that point in the game to keep you from getting spoiled. Oh, and one of these bird dudes expects me to remember to find some feathers for his girlfriend? Fat fucking chance."

5. "I'm getting into the game more. Which makes it all the worse when I'm cruising along and suddenly get stuck because I forget one little thing. Ohhh, riiiggghht, using the bombs on the boat makes a cannon. On average, though, I'm enjoying myself."

6. "This game really reminds me of Kya: Dark Lineage. Both games came out in 2003, Kya a little later than Wind Waker. I wonder if they were just coincidental designs, or maybe the designers exchanged ideas - I'm always curious how those things happen. Probably not necessarily a result of straight-up ripping off elements since their development schedule was probably similar, but there are definitely a lot of common mechanics. Weird."

That's where stopped playing. I'll get back into it next week. Maybe beat the damn thing.

I played the Oracle of Ages Zelda game on my GBA a few years ago. Once again, it was incredibly fun, and so outlandishly difficult that I gave up. Even the walkthrough stopped being useful, since I had to seek out exactly where I was each time and follow laborious steps to complete quests.

They need to just get to the point where they admit that, yes, Zelda games really are RPGs, and add a hefty information management system. Maybe before you leave an area inform you that there are still tasks you could complete. Show you what items different people want and where those people hang out. Recognize when you've been in the same area for thirty minutes without doing anything new and ask if you want a hint.

Nintendo has some brilliant designs. They know how to evoke wonder and joy from games. They also, in my estimation, keep some really shitty conventions in their games that make me want to gouge my eyes out.

Resident Evil 4, for example, was similar to Ghosthunter. I think RE 4 was a better design, in terms of the artwork, the way the environment reacted, the way you could dispatch enemies. But I think Ghosthunter was a better game.

RE 4 was unforgiving, which is why when I encountered the chainsaw sisters I gave the fuck up - I wanted to keep playing, but did not have the patience to die repeatedly until I hit upon the perfect strategy or got lucky. Which is not really how you want players to react (unless you developed the most recent Ninja Gaiden).

Ghosthunter, on the other hand, was grossly inconsistent - but fun and challenging without being impossible or frustrating. I beat it, which I don't do much anymore with games (making it even more of a treat when I do).

I also went ahead and tried Tales of Symphonia. Pretty graphics, laughable conversations, surreal storyline, weird battle system, typical Japanese-style RPG. I took my team and went to the Temple, fighting some monsters along the way and losing a lot of health. Which wasn't regenerated after each battle. And I only had a limited number of healing fruit-things. At the temple, with two of my characters down and out, I encountered a battle that was obviously meant to forward the plot. Except I died. The last save point was back in town. I turned that game off for awhile. How about an automatic save before story sections? Anybody?

Tried out Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, too. I really like the idea of this series better than any of the games. The control scheme sucks, doing anything at all on your farm is tedious and the way time passes penalizes you for taking your time and just enjoying the gameworld. Someday, maybe, it'll reach a form that I can like more than just as a concept.

I'm definitely interested in seeing where Nintendo is headed. The upcoming Zelda looks great. I sorely wish I had the disposable income to buy a DS and try out some of those funky titles.

As for the Revolution, well . . .

It will be televised. I know that much. But probably not in HDTV.

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