There once was a game series that I loved very, very much. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it was once my favorite game series, and that series is: The Legend of Zelda. The first game is one I hold in such high esteem that I will not type its name without italicizing it, and I still play it regularly–indeed, it’s my #1 favorite game, as shown on OpenCritic. I’m probably more familiar with the first quest than anyone alive, and can speedrun it in about an hour without actually trying to speedrun. I estimate that I could get down to about 40 minutes without too much more effort, but you’re not going to get sub-40 without utilizing glitches, and I’m not willing to do that in speedruns.
It may have been the very first game I ever played. Like JP from the film Grandma’s Boy, I was playing it at an early age; I hadn’t beaten it before I could walk, but I had beaten it before I started kindergarten. Zelda II, by contrast, was fun, but it was no The Legend of Zelda, and didn’t even come close. Then there was one called A Link to the Past, and it was just like the first one, except more refined, homogenized, and streamlined.
I didn’t own A Link to the Past, but my cousin did. Unfortunately, he’d yanked the cartridge out of his SNES one day, and the pins within became slanted; the game became unplayable. Despite much begging, my uncle didn’t fix it until many months had passed. We were stuck on Death Mountain, my cousin and I, and we couldn’t figure out how to proceed. To make matters worse, my cousin had figured out the trick just before the cartridge messed up–we now knew how to progress, but we no longer had the game in order to do that. It was agonizing, but my uncle finally completed the laborious task of taking a pair of pliers and pulling the pins straight again. He persevered through all two minutes of effort, however, and the game was repaired.
Seeing as my grandmother made only $12,000 a year and supported myself and my sister, chances were slim that I was going to get an N64, and I agonized over Ocarina of Time. I wanted it so badly–more than you can understand. I had played it briefly, because my cousin had an N64 (because of course he did) (I actually did, too, but I’ll come back to that in a moment), and had rented Ocarina from a video store (remember those?). But those moments only tantalized me further, driving my desire higher, much as an opiate addict feels when they can only find one 10.
Through sheer luck, my aunt stumbled across a battered N64 at a store called Bud’s. It was in poor repair, and had sticky residue all over it from duct tape, and there was no guarantee that it worked. It was used, obviously, but it was $25–this was in August, and the N64 was still at its launch price. Being able to grab one for $25 was too much to pass up. When my aunt told my grandmother about it, my grandmother (bless her heart) authorized my aunt to buy it, and then paid her back the money for it. Though I didn’t expect to ever own one, I suddenly had an N64.
When my mom visited for my birthday that year–one of the rare occasions when she did–she went with my brother, sister, and me to Wal-Mart, where she bought me Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. It was the first game I had on N64, and it would be quite some time before I would have another, but I didn’t care. I finally had a game to play on this system that I had acquired through lucky coincidence and extraordinary timing. There was nothing functionally wrong with the N64, though I did have to pop the RAM pak out a few times in order to get it to work the first time. Why? I don’t know. It’s possible that the memory had been knocked loose due to carelessness, and the previous owners hadn’t had the know-how to fix it–but my 13 year old self was unwilling to give up. For an hour, I alternated between Channel 3 and Channel 4 on my old CRT television, flipping the unlabeled RV-switch (I think that’s what they were called) between its two settings, rechecking cables and connections, and reseating the memory.
Finally, the Acclaim logo was visible.
That Christmas, there was no doubt what I wanted, and I made it known to everyone who would listen. I didn’t care if it was all that I got–everyone could just chip in a few dollars and collectively give me Ocarina of Time, and that would be more than enough. All of that bargaining was unnecessary, though–my grandmother bought it for me, and she wrapped it in paper that was just see-through. I didn’t need to be able to see to know what was inside that telltale rectangular package, though–it was an N64 game, and there was only one N64 game for me.
One of the greatest gaming-related regrets of my life is that my dad, seeing my frustration when I reached Lake Hylia, purchased me a strategy guide made by now-defunct Versus Books. I like Versus Books, and I hate that they went under. Their guide had character and personality; it was vastly superior to the guide I would one day use for Twilight Princess. I’ll never forget, “Give the cockadoodle-doo that will get Talon’s lazy ass in gear…” appearing in the guide, which just sealed the deal for me. Contrast it to the Prima guide for Twilight Princess, which is filled with flat, useless, uninteresting information–for example, the authors estimate the age of every character in the game. “<This character> is between 30 and 40 years old…” Oh, my god, who freaking cares? What a waste of ink.
Prima‘s strategy guides are generally useless, though. Even with their guide for Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, I was unable to beat the second level. At one point, it says “Shoot the wall here,” and it gives no indication of where “here” is.
I noticed that the number by my save file in Ocarina of Time was up in the 40s when I was in Lake Hylia. One could say that I wasn’t very good at the game, because that number, naturally, was how many times I had died. But death is common when you’re stumbling through the game world, exploring and discovering the path forward. I don’t think I’d ever have figured out to give a fish to Jabu-Jabu, though. I did successfully get the bottle, but nothing in the game ever suggests that the player needs to catch a fish and release it in front of Jabu-Jabu. That isn’t something that can be figured out.
Prior to that, my grandmother was printing off information about the game from the Internet while she was at work. Everyone knew I was loving the game, but that I was really frustrated at times because of things like Lord Jabu-Jabu, where there is no indication of what to do. Once I had the guide, however, I started my save file over to get all the stuff I missed. I used the guide less extensively than I later used the guide with Twilight Princess, but I still wish I’d gone through it without one.
I didn’t play Majora’s Mask for years–until the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition, I never bothered, and I had a friend warn me, “You can forget it. If you don’t get a guide, you’ll never get anywhere.”
Challenge accepted, mate.
The entire game is like trying to figure out you’re supposed to give Jabu-Jabu a fish, and I think my friend is right: without a guide, you’re not going to finish the game. I have made it to Ikana Valley, and I still refuse to use a guide, but I always get bored with it around this part and stop playing. A few years later, I’ll try again and start from the beginning (because I never remember what I’ve done and what I haven’t done), only to get bored at exactly the same spot again. I probably could get through Ikana Valley and beat the game without a guide if I forced myself to, but life is too short for me to force myself to play a game that bores me. Getting through the illogical mess of a town, the Moon Logic swamp, the Troll Logic mountains, and the Fail Logic Termina Bay without a guide is pretty good, and reaching Ikana Valley (seeing as it requires a mask acquired through a random sidequest) is a nice feat.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, because I played Wind Waker before I played Majora’s Mask, and this whole mess really starts to show how out-of-their-minds Nintendo has gotten. Wind Waker was, and still is, beautiful. If ever a game needed an HD re-release, it was not Wind Waker. I did get the HD re-release, and easily beat it on Hero Mode, but then I sold it to Gamestop for $1.25, their standard payment for brand new games that just released, and returned to the GC version. Since it’s simpler and easier (and prettier, with the Native Resolution at 2x and above), I’d rather just use Dolphin to play the game.
I rather enjoyed Wind Waker, but I found its lack of dungeons disturbing. Dragonroost Cavern, the Evil Forest (what did they call it?), the Tower of the Gods, Earth Temple, and Wind Temple. That was it. People have kept track, and, if I remember correctly, a total of 12% of the playtime is just spent sailing from place to place, though this was something I read in college and haven’t been able to find since. The grind for rupees at the end of the game is the tedious part; I didn’t mind getting the Triforce Shards. All in all, I loved Wind Waker, because it had a lot of charm, and it truly gave Link character. Yahtzee said it best: in Wind Waker, Link is endearing, and even a little thick at times, but he tries, damnit.
When I heard about Twilight Princess, I was extremely excited. Though I did enjoy the graphics of Wind Waker and how they allowed Link to have personality, I was excited to see the return to darkness and adult Link. If I’d known that the game was going to just be brown, I would have tempered my wishes. Twilight Princess is unbelievably ugly. The entire game is brown, washed out, fuzzy.
I like to say that they chose the name “Twilight Princess” because it had the initials “TP,” and TP was what Nintendo used to wipe their asses after they shat out this game.
Seriously, look at that mess! And, let me assure you, the actual game is no better. I don’t know what happened, but it’s very reminiscent of Dragon Age: Origins, a game that looked alright for its time but looks absolutely awful today. Twilight Princess’s graphics leave the game almost unplayable, though I haven’t played the HD re-release. Why would I? I didn’t like Twilight Princess. The game sucks.
Twilight Princess is basically Ocarina of Time 2, except there’s no Child Link. Absolutely nothing new or interesting was added to the game, though the people I work with at Cubed3 cited several of the new items in Twilight Princess as being worthy entries into the series. The Spinner, Double Clawshot, and Ball ‘n Chain, for example, were among those mentioned. The Double Clawshot is just like the Longshot, except you can change angles halfway through, it takes longer to use, and it’s slightly tedious. The Ball ‘n Chain is nothing but Twilight Princess’s version of the Magic Hammer that has been appearing since Zelda II. The Spinner may be the most unique in the series, except it’s not–it’s basically just the Goron Ball again, except it’s slower and sucks. The Dominion Rod also got a mention, although it’s only the Song of Command from Wind Waker turned into an item. Woohoo.
But I completed Twilight Princess. Unlike Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess wasn’t hard, and I made it to the Arbiter’s Ground before I got a strategy guide. However, I didn’t get the guide because I was stuck. I got it because I was tired of thinking. The game wasn’t rewarding me sufficiently for solving its puzzles, and I didn’t want to continue putting in the effort. I played through the rest of the game on auto-pilot, just doing whatever the guide told me to do. It remains the only Zelda game (sans Majora’s Mask, as I mentioned) that I’ve only completed once. The graphics are unspeakably bad, the music is just a series of shout-outs to earlier titles, the items are bland and duplicates of previous items, the dungeons are boring and easy, and the sidequests are tedious rather than interesting. The only thing that set Twilight Princess apart was Wolf Link, and Wolf Link was severely underutilized.
I was very excited to try out the 1:1 sword movements of Skyward Sword, but that died very quickly when my girlfriend laughed at me–and she had a point. As I completed an area, I had to raise the sword high and vertically, which elicited extreme laughter from my girlfriend who was watching. And she was right. I looked silly, and I felt silly. Why was I having to do this? Why was the game forcing me to make an ass of myself in the living room? Why couldn’t I just press A?
Skyward Sword had two main problems. First, it was just Ocarina of Time again. Secondly, motion controls were shoehorned into everything, to the extent that the game felt like one of the Wii’s minigame compilations that just happened to be Zelda-themed. Use the motion controls for flight, for aiming, for swordfighting, for guiding this stupid scarab, for turning the Master Key, for… Why do I have to do this? Freaking everything was based on motion controls; it was awful.
After I completed the Forest Temple, I foresaw the rest of the game, and I knew that there was no reason for me to continue playing. It was going to be just like what I’d done, only once in a fire place, once in a water place, once in a desert, etc. Yawn. Been there, done that. It’s like New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. It’s hardly new, is it? We’ve done this before; we’ve played this game before.
Nintendo is no longer even attempting to hide this fact, and it’s now painfully obvious why the Wii-U, though it certainly has the hardware capabilities, is not compatible with GameCube games. How could Nintendo justify releasing HD versions of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess if the Wii U was backward compatible with the Wii? Since the Wii U upscales to HD rather nicely (see Super Mario Galaxy 2), it would have done pretty similar things to GameCube games, and these Zelda games probably would have looked good enough that no one would have bought the HD re-releases. It’s a messed up ploy on Nintendo’s part, and they should be called out for it. There’s no good reason that the Wii U can’t play GameCube games, except that Nintendo intended to resell its GameCube games as lazy HD re-releases.
Nintendo is increasingly pathetic in how they rely on older games. Ocarina of Time has been re-released as Ocarina of Time 3D. Majora’s Mask has been re-released as Majora’s Mask 3D. Wind Waker has been re-released as Wind Waker HD. Twilight Princess has been re-released as Twilight Princess HD. A Link to the Past got a pretty straightforward sequel that basically just added strafing–I don’t care what you say. You might have been tricked, but it’s just strafing that A Link Between Worlds has.
The only console Zelda games they haven’t re-released are the original and Zelda II, and Zelda Wii U seems like it’s going to basically be the first game again–which would be great, don’t get me wrong–but they’re almost certainly going to make it into Zelder Scrolls. That, by the way, is a sentiment I expressed as soon as I heard about the game and what they were intending to do. I’m tremendously glad that I wasn’t the only one who saw the writing on the wall.
Between the constant re-releases of Zelda games the total lack of innovation, ingenuity, and creativity on full display by virtue of using the word “New” in more than one game title (especially since the core idea itself is anything but new), Nintendo has shown that its glory days are long behind it and that it doesn’t really know what to do any longer. It’s just fumbling around, re-releasing its past glory days in an effort to stave off the admittance to the general public that it has run out of ideas. What else can I conclude?