Retro Reanimation, part 2

Super_Metroid_logo

It’s the summer of 1990something (I can’t remember to be honest) and I hadn’t spoken to one of my school “friends” all summer.  Every time he called, I’d hang up.  I don’t remember what it was he’d done to piss me off this particular time, he made me angry so often and treated me like crap there’s no telling what it was.  Finally, just before school started back in the fall, he caught me on the phone and before I could hang up on him he blurted out “I’ll give you my copy of Super Metroid just please talk to me!”  Against my better judgment, I went with it.

I had been obsessed with this game since I first saw it in Nintendo Power magazine, and I even had a copy of the official Nintendo Player’s Guide even before I had the game itself!  I would spend many hours of many nights guiding this so called friend through the game over the phone (almost like I was a game counselor.)  Finally, at long last, the game was mine and I started my journey through the sprawling complex of Zebes and the rest was history.  I would eventually even try the challenge from Nintendo Power and beat the game with as few items as possible to see how fast I could beat it.  I wish I still had that cartridge…

The next retro game I decided to tackle is, of course, Super Metroid.  I still find this Metroid game hard to beat among others in the series, even with its bad controls.  Simply put, I still think that this game is brilliantly done and the world is well crafted even after all these years.  Sure, it could have been a little easier with things like fast travel points (like the ones from Samus Returns) but ultimately that would detract from the fun of exploring Zebes.

Let me help you get to that Energy Tank says the strange turtle creature

It’s not a perfect game by any stretch.  Using the wall jump, even back then, was never my forte.  Recent Metroid games have made using this ability a little easier, but Super Metroid was where it started.  I remember just avoiding using wall jump in favor of Space Jump/Screw Attack instead.

Wall jump with these little guys – the Etecoons!

I remember struggling for hours trying to get the jumps timed just right, only to have a button press not register when I needed it to and falling all the way down the shaft to start again.  At least the other ability “taught” to you by one of the locals was easier to master.

Dachora and his super speed jump!

I was sorely missing Samus’ ability to run at super speeds throughout Metroid Returns.  It felt good to run and smash everything in my way again.

This fuckin’ place…

I was never a fan of having to explore Maridia.  The whole zone just gave me the creeps, and still does.  Maybe I just have a fear of being underwater?  Who knows.  Getting into Maridia was always a bit dramatic, but cool:

I always hated having to blow up this glass walkway, it looked so pretty.

While blowing up the glass was always sad for me, I have to admit that it looked really cool splintering apart like that.  I always had this ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I came to Maridia and I don’t know why.

Welcome to hell

Norfair – the next biggest zone after Maridia – was always a challenge to navigate due to the extreme heat in some rooms and the lava in others.  I always did enjoy the hypnotic, yet ominous, music that played while wandering the hellish passages deep below the surface of Zebes.

Reaching the section with Ridley was a little more confusing than I remember (I kept going in circles) but I ultimately found my way to the passage shaped like his head and the elevator with his claws.  Beating him was way easier than I remember too, I just used all my super missiles then my regular ones until he was done for.  Then I found this:

And then I knew that the end was near…

Back at the beginning of the game, in Brinstar, there’s this statue:

And once you defeat each of the 4 bosses that the statue is modeled after, it falls away revealing the entrance to the final area of the game, Tourian, and ultimately to Mother Brain herself.  I always did think this was a brilliant piece of game design.  I remember on my very first playthrough I’d come running back to this statue after I killed a boss and excitedly watch it turn from gold to lifeless gray.  My completion time for that go round was terrible too!

Tourian

I always like it when the end area of a game is next to where you start a game, I always think that’s so neat and this game is no exception to that.  The entrance to Tourian is right there at the beginning of the game, but you can’t get in until you defeat all of Mother Brain’s cronies.  One of the most memorable things about Tourian, however, is still this moment:

When the baby Metroid that you came to rescue attacks and drains you of all your health but 1 point.  Definitely one of the better gotcha! moments in gaming.  Once that heart attack inducing moment was over, it was time for the final showdown with the head bitch in charge herself.

I liked how this moment was a nice homage to where you fought her in the first game:

Just like old times

Once you break her glass jar this time around and pump a few missiles into her, the next great gotcha! moment happens when she attaches herself to an ugly, horrific looking body:

The awful wailing sound she makes still annoys me.  Once you shoot her with enough missiles, she hits you with her eye beam nearly killing you.  I always did think that sucked.  Then, once she starts to attack you with the eye beam a third time:

Not so fast bitch!

My not so little friend to the rescue!

Juice me!

I always was a little sad during this part of the fight when Mother Brain would regain composure and kill the Metroid, but the sadness was always quickly replaced with revenge when you’re given the Hyper Beam and you instantly beat Mother Brain down with it.  Once she’s gone, the fun begins:

RUN!

I always did enjoy this part of Super Metroid the most.  Being all powerful and having to run for your life was always so much fun for me.  Often when I’m in a hurry in real life or in other games, the music that plays during this sequence comes to mind.

Gotta stop and save my friends before leaving!  When I first read about this in the player’s guide, I didn’t think I’d have time to save them before getting to my own ship.

KABOOM!

That teeny tiny object leaving the explosion to the right is Dachora and the Etecoons on their ship.  I guess the Etecoons are a bit more intelligent than I gave them credit for.

Almost missed getting this screen shot, that’s why it’s so dark

Not bad for playing this game from memory eh?

I’m willing to bet, had I not read about the Mother Brain fight in the player’s guide, the emotional impact would have been a lot greater.

All in all, playing this again was a nice stroll down memory lane and definitely helped get all thoughts of Samus Returns out of my head.  Oh, and you remember my “friend” from the beginning of the story?  We ultimately parted ways not long after he gave me the game, so, as much as I love this game it’s forever tainted with memories of him.

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What I’m Playing, part 21

Metroid: Samus Returns

It’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve played a Metroid game.  When I heard that we were going to get the opportunity to revisit Samus’ outing to planet SR-388 from Metroid 2: Return of Samus I was giddy with excitement; I was a kid again.  I remember the original from back in the day, though with some mixed emotions.  I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I had when I finished the original.  I remember the eerie chip tunes from some of the areas of the game and how they haunted me at night.  I also remember writing to Nintendo Power magazine asking for help back in the day and not getting a response from the game counselors until a full year later when I received a manila envelope in the mail with hand drawn maps of every single cave in the game along with locations of all the power-ups!  Sadly, those maps have long since been lost along the way.  In a way, the original was a type of horror game for me because of the overwhelming sense of isolation I had exploring the deathly quiet interior of SR-388.  I had hopes that this go round would be just as memorable and satisfying as the original, and in some ways it has been and in others it has not.

The Good Stuff

I went into this game thinking that it was just going to be something like an HD remake of the original, but I was treated with something that in some ways is better and some ways is worse.

This time around, you’re still all by yourself on SR-388, but where as before the atmosphere was desolate and oppressive, this time around the entire place feels like it’s alive.  The backgrounds are lush with action and impressive, immersive set pieces with alien creatures, insects, flowing water and lava and enticing ruins to be explored.

The main antagonists, the Metroids themselves, have been given a rather impressive graphical update and aren’t as much of a pushover as they once were.

The music in the fiery lava rooms is a nice homage to the music of Norfair from Super Metroid updated with a modern touch.

The user interface is also rather easy to navigate and having the area map on the lower screen of the 3DS is a god send.  Being able to put pins in the map is also very useful (but it would have been nice to be told I had this ability 15 gameplay hours ago instead of just discovering it by accident a minute ago)

The DNA collection statues are a nice touch and a nice way of showing you where your next target lies.  But it would be great if you could get a hint without having to possess Metroid DNA first.

The tried-and-true 3 phase boss battle formula used here is mostly a pleasure to figure out new strategies on how to defeat the game’s toughest enemies with one glaring exception.

The surprise Ridley battle at the end when making your way back to the ship was also a nice homage to Super Metroid but it ultimately feels tacked on and just an excuse to cruise around SR-388 with your newly acquired Metroid baby gathering the rest of the collectibles you couldn’t get to before.

The Not Good Stuff

While the controls are responsive with what feels like no input lag what so ever, it’s rather uncomfortable to hold the 3DS when you’re trying to precision shoot missiles or use the laser target with your regular gun.  It’s also very annoying that this time around the Spider Ball isn’t a toggle like it was in the original, now you have to hold the left bumper to use the ability.  Also thanks to poor game design choices, I’ve come out of Morph Ball form when I didn’t mean to more times than I care to count.

Samus’ Grapple Beam feels like an afterthought and is used maybe a handful of times and even then it’s only to solve one of the game’s very few puzzles, which I find a little disappointing and a waste of my time.

After a grueling boss battle that took way too many attempts, I finally got the stupid fucking power bombs. I feel like it took way too long to get them (you don’t get them until area 5 in the game) and the boss battle you had to complete to get them was overly difficult and now that I do have them, instead of backtracking all the way to the starting area for the third time and driving myself crazy I decided to press on to the end. I felt it was poetic justice watching Samus shoot that damn robot in the eye with a charged plasma beam shot. Oh, and I thought getting the power bombs would allow me to clear out the little diamond clusters I’ve seen all over the game.  Nope.  After trying this it dawned on me what I’ll need to clear them: the Metroid baby.  At the end of the original version, after killing the mother you were followed by the Metroid baby which ate the diamonds in your path on the way back to your ship.  I’m so over this game!

Upon reaching the end area of the game, the developers straight up copied the original game by making you fight 10 regular Metroids (surprise!) before fighting the mother, which was another needlessly difficult boss battle.

The counter attack ability, while novel, I feel is ultimately useless.  While I did use it in situations I was forced to (i.e. the early parts of the game) but once I became overpowered to the point I could just plasma beam or missile everything to death I never used it again.

The game is very, very stingy with Super Missiles and Power Bombs after you gain the ability to carry them.

The implementation of a fast travel system is nice, but ultimately doesn’t do much to alleviate the amount of backtracking that the series is known for.

If you’re going to copy things from Super Metroid, you could have given me the Super Speed ability instead of that sorry excuse Phase Drift ability.

Final Verdict

In the first few hours of game play, Metroid: Samus Returns definitely scratched the Metroid itch I’d been having for a while.  It was nice coming back to SR-388 and reminiscing with my childhood, albeit through typical rose colored glasses, but I feel now that I’m up to the 15-ish hour mark (according to my save file) that the game has worn out its welcome.  What started out as a fun romp around the planet has, due to some poor game design choices, turned into a mediocre experience.

Untold Stories and Things We Lose

I was thinking about where to approach this topic from on my walk home, so I decided to simply start at the beginning.  Or at least my beginning…

Backlog.  It’s a very polarizing word among gamers.  For some it’s a cringe worthy subject and for others it’s a near endless record of victory after victory.  For me, it’s a bit of both.  When I was kid and at mom and dad’s mercy for money to buy new video games, my backlog was very small and very manageable.  No matter how bad the game was I eventually sucked it up and finished it.

The remains of my physical PS1, PS2 and PC games

As time passed and adulting happened (ugh, adulting) and I started earning my own money, nothing stopped me from buying whatever games I wanted.  This was around the time of the first PlayStation.  That’s probably when the backlog started to get completely out of control.  Paycheck after paycheck went to fueling my collection and great games were being pumped out faster than I could finish them, yet I still bought more.

My physical SNES backlog (though I’m happy to report that most of them have been beaten by now)

Years passed by, I changed jobs, life happened, so on and so forth.  But the one and only constant in my life through it all was gaming.  I’d say I’ve been following video games since about 6th grade.  As time passed and the nature of gaming fundamentally changed from the solitary single player experience to what it is today, I’ve been there, and I’m still collecting more games as time goes on.

But why?

I used to wonder why it was I kept buying more and more games and not finishing the ones I already had, but then one day during contemplating the idea it finally came to me.  I didn’t want to miss out on any of the experiences that were being offered.  I didn’t want to miss out on the conversation surrounding a game or what was happening in gaming at the time.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of gamers feel the same way.  So let’s get back to that dirty word that started this post.

Backlog

I keep buying more and more games because they interest me.  The genre, the studio, the artists, the composer, the whatever.  I don’t want to miss out on something that could be an amazing experience (like Hellblade) or something that can help me escape the day to day tedium (like Destiny.)  That being said, I AM missing out on some gaming experiences whether I like it or not.

The Problem Is Choice

For the last 3 years, I’ve been a Destiny player.  Someone very close to me describes my devotion to the game as ‘a testament to focus’ and while I won’t disagree with that I will say that my devotion to the game has definitely been a bane to my backlog.  Sure every now and then I’ll take a hiatus from Destiny for one reason or another and play something else, but I keep coming back to the game mostly because of friends.  This is a problem when you want to work your way through an ever expanding backlog of games.

Believe me I’d love for nothing more than to say that I’ve beaten every single game that I own.  What gamer wouldn’t?  But trying to balance free time between gaming and other things that you need to do in life, there simply is not enough time!

Sometimes dealing with your backlog can feel like this.

Online Functionality

Part of the problem with trying to work through your backlog now days is online games such as Destiny or The Division.  They never end.  You’re always on the “infinite loot treadmill” trying to get better gear for your characters instead of moving on to a new game and ticking another title off that backlog checklist like a sane person would.  But no, you don’t do that.

And then you end up with a crap ton of PS3, PS4, Wii and Wii U games.

I keep buying more games that I think might interest me and contain experiences that I think I’ll enjoy.  But there in lies the problem, what do you decide to play?  A lot of the time, I end up playing whatever new hot AAA title was just released simply so I can join in on the conversation and hopefully save myself from having it spoiled by the internet. But sometimes, I end up skipping whatever game is most popular at the moment and paying more of whatever online game I’m addicted to at the time because I either miss it or there’s an expansion or an in game event is going on.  But when I choose to do that, terrible things happen.  What do I mean exactly?  Well, for starters (and this is a serious pet peeve of mine as a gamer) there have been many and frequent times when there was a game I meant to go back to at some point only to find that the servers for it have been shut down or the community has packed up and moved on.  That there is an experience that I’ve missed out on, and now there are trophies/achievements that I am no longer able to get because portions of these games (or in some cases the game in its entirety) are no longer accessible.

3DS, Vita and Xbox 360 physicals

Take for example this photo.  See that little box that says Rockband 3?  Inside there are ALL the Rockband games that were released for the Xbox 360.  And more specifically, Rockband 2 is in there.  That game was two whole years of my life!  That was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Did I miss out on any games that were released while Rockband was a major part of my life?  Yes I did.  In fact, most of the ones you see in that photo I’ve never gotten around to.  But in this instance, it’s ok.  They’re almost all single player games that I can go back to at any point and I don’t need to worry that I’ll be locked out of any of the content.  I also like to fantasize that I’ll go back to one of these old games someday and give it a second wind in the gaming community, but I digress.

During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of gaming, I can only really recall one game that I meant to go back to and complete (or try to get the platinum for) and that game was Resistance 2.  When news came down that the servers for that game were going to be shut down, the forum at playstationtrophies.org lit up like a Christmas tree with random strangers exchanging IDs in hopes of getting 10,000 PvP kills before the end came.  This is but one example of an experience and a community that I’ve missed out on.  The most recent instance of this (and the one that prompted me to write this post) was when it was revealed that Nintendo has decided to shut down Miiverse.  (Source: https://www.polygon.com/2017/8/29/16222310/miiverse-wii-u-games-shutdown-2017)  It made me start thinking about the one Wii U game I’ve meant to get to for a long time, but just couldn’t seem to find time to shoehorn it in my gaming schedule:  Xenoblade Chronicles X.  Sure I’m upset that every other game on that list, games that I own and have played and loved, is going to be missing something for the rest of my life, but here’s a game that seems right up my alley that I’ve never touched.  And now, if I wait too long I feel like I’ll be missing out on something that was special and something that I could have enjoyed instead of only getting to play a partial game.  I’ve been informed by a close friend that’s repeatedly played the game annually that I’m going to miss out on some special enemies, materials and a few other things.  That really bums me out.  I feel like if I don’t jump on it and start playing now, I’m going to miss out.  But you know what is out in just a few days?

Destiny 2

I’ve purposefully been avoiding sinking my teeth into anything that’s too meaty or that I can’t finish quickly because Bungie’s juggernaut is just around the corner and I’m interested in playing it.  That being said, I’m trying to internally justify passing up Xenoblade yet again so that I can make more time for Destiny 2.  But I don’t think I can justify it much longer without feeling a lot of guilt or remorse for not playing it.

That red bar is games that I own that I’ve never finished.  But that green section of the red bar?  That’s games that I own that I’ve never even played!

But then again, the same can be said for a lot of the games in my backlog…

Like Sand Through An Hourglass

Some years back, I started giving serious thought to how I’d ever finish all the games that I own before I die, and I came across a couple of very interesting articles about that very thing.

Sources:

http://kotaku.com/how-to-beat-400-games-in-4-5-years-1607296068

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-finally-beat-the-unfinished-games-in-your-never-1691789842

The Lifehacker article was more about PC games, but its still relevant to the topic.  Trying to reign in my ever growing backlog was also a major factor in me uninstalling Steam and unsubscribing from their emails (especially the pesky ones about games on my wishlist being on sale.)

The Kotaku article, however, was geared more for me.  It lists a few resources and tips that I think that I can use to conquer my backlog in the long run, or at least put a sizable dent in it.  I was already in the habit of tracking games on The Backloggery but the article also suggests the sites RF Generation and How Long To Beat both of which I’ve yet to use but might be persuaded to (not like I’m already tracking my backlog on The Backloggery and 2 mobile apps, but who’s counting?).  The point is, if I’m ever going to experience all the games that I own and hopefully never have to deal with the loss of games’ components, I’m going to have to find the time somewhere or better manage the time I have.

Conclusion

What am I going to do?  Worry about it until it kills me I suppose.  But in all seriousness, if the loss of Xenoblade’s Miiverse component is happening very soon, then that might have to be the game that I play in between Destiny 2 sessions if I want to experience what the game has to offer before part of it is lost.  But while I’m experiencing Xenoblade and the future of the Destinyverse, I hope I don’t miss out on any more experiences that I might enjoy.

What I’m Playing, part 19

The Legend of Zelda:  Breath of the Wild

Editor’s note: previous BotW post was written about the Wii U version of the game.  Since then, I have acquired a Nintendo Switch and started BotW over from the beginning.  This review is about the Switch version of the game, which I personally feel to be the superior version of the two.

So here we are, about 100 hours later and I have finished The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I’ve re-read my previous post about the game, and while some of my thoughts from then still stand, I feel that they are worth reiterating here.

Please note that I have in no way completed 100% of this game.  Doing that might take me another 100 hours or more.  These thoughts I am writing are simply from my play through and the limited amount of the game I experienced.

First, The Negatives

I still dislike the Stamina meter as I feel that it was the ultimate barrier between me and going anywhere that I wanted in the game at any time.  In an open world game such as this, that’s a definite point against the overall experience.  I play games to forget about my own real world limitations and be entertained, not be weighed down by them in virtual space.

The Hot/Cold meter I feel was also a nuisance and ultimately useless as it only really came into play when I was in an extreme environment (such as Death Mountain’s lava strewn landscape or the game’s many snow covered mountains.)  As such, I feel that it could have been left out of the game completely and the experience probably wouldn’t have suffered without it.

There is a serious lack of any sort of tutorial in this game on how to do anything.  The player is left to ultimately figure out everything himself as there is absolutely no hand holding of any kind in the game with the exception of one Shrine that teaches you advanced combat techniques.  I spent dozens of hours in the game before I finally figured out how to cook food, that I could use a sledgehammer to break open mineral deposits (instead of bombs), what all these non-food items were for and the list goes on and on.  In my younger years I wouldn’t have minded as much as I had a lot more patience back then.  As I’ve gotten older (now in my late 30’s) my impatience has only gotten worse.  Maybe I’m the asshole here or maybe the game is, either way a bit of in game help would have been nice.

Having to save your own progress.  I realize that this one isn’t really something to bitch about too much as a lot of games don’t do it for you.  In some ways it’s a good thing as you get to determine where you want your save state to be instead of some pre-determined check point.  Still, there were plenty of times in my journey that I would get carried away in what I was doing only to die and lose some progress.  Discipline is the key here, but in such a magnificent world to explore its easy to forget to save.

There were no traditional dungeons in the game!  I was equal parts surprised and disappointed that there were no traditional dungeons of any kind anywhere in the game.  I don’t feel that the Divine Beasts counted as dungeons as all 4 of them were more like giant puzzles to solve than anything else.

Korok Seeds.  Finding these things is a fun little diversion when you don’t want to chase after any of the quest waypoints in the game, but I feel like putting 900 of them in the game is a little excessive.  Finding them is crucial to your success in the game however as you need them to give to an NPC in the Korok Forest to expand your inventory.  My inner OCD gamer is determined to eventually find them all but I’m in no hurry.

Last but not least on the negatives list, the Sheika Slate.  While I do have to admit that I find the thing ingenious in its design and implementation in the game, it really does bug me that they found a way to insert modern technology into a Zelda game.  It doesn’t bother me when they do it in Final Fantasy as that’s been the norm since the beginning (for me anyway) but I’m a bit of a fantasy purist when it comes to Zelda and I don’t think such things belong in a Zelda game.  Which leads me to the next part…

The Positives

While I wasn’t a fan of it’s technological connotations, the Sheika Slate is a seriously slick piece of tech!  You have a handy and slick interface that you can keep track of your quests, view the map and check out your inventory all in one.  It even has a camera for taking pictures of anything and everything in the game that you want.  I also liked the fact that the quest log was rather unobtrusive and quest waypoints could be turned off completely.

The art style in this game is simply beautiful and breathtaking at times.  The world itself feels like it was lovingly and painstakingly hand crafted from the ground up and that everything is placed where it is on purpose and with a lot of care and thought.  I never got tired of looking at the world for 100 hours no matter where I was and there was always something more over the horizon for me to explore.

And there is A LOT to explore in this game!  I never once wanted for something to do as the world itself kept me interested in many ways.  Finding and getting to all the Sheika Towers, hunting Shrines, floating on the glider, there’s just so much to do in this game and sadly not enough time to do it all.

The play controls were, for the most part, very easy and responsive.  The only thing that I didn’t like was that motion controls for aiming the bow were set to ‘on’ by default.  Other than that I felt that everything was buttery smooth and easy to navigate.

I know that I listed it as a negative at first, but I was a little relieved that there were no traditional Zelda style dungeons in this game.  The formula, while it works, is a bit tired at this point and I liked that I had all the abilities that I needed from the start of the game without having to wait until I got to a certain point in the game to get them (like not being able to swim until you got flippers from Zora, or not having a bow and arrows, and so forth.)  The Divine Beast puzzles definitely made up for any traditional dungeon’s absence.

The Divine Beasts were innovative and, for the most part, fun to navigate and complete.  There were snags here and there (like the elephant’s trunk) that really detracted from the experience but overall I enjoyed figuring out how to complete each one of them.  The abilities that you obtain from each beast’s caretaker as a reward for completing them and killing Ganon’s minion were also a pleasant surprise and a nice incentive to keep going.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This time around, instead of blindingly running through the game thinking it was going to be a traditional Zelda hack n slash affair, I took my sweet time and armed myself with a bit of knowledge before diving in.  I knew that in order for me to succeed I was going to have to find armor and learn how to cook and find some decent weapons.  This time, instead of going where the game wanted me to, I turned all quest markers off and decided to take my own route through the game and I’m certainly glad I did.

After the initial “tutorial zone” of the Great Plateau, I decided that my first step on the road to victory was to find and activate every Sheika Tower in the game so I could see where I was going and what was ahead.  A few weeks ago, over the course of a miserably hot Sunday, I woke up and had my coffee and I got to work.  In the span of 24 hours I had activated all but TWO Sheika Towers and had completed enough Shrines to give me the bare minimum number of hearts to obtain the Master Sword.  Armed with a weapon that I knew wouldn’t break (but I could only use for so long before it needed to be recharged) I was determined to succeed.  Side note for those interested, but when you go to obtain the Master Sword, the reason you need at least 13 hearts before you can get it back out of the stone is because as you are trying to pull the sword out it is slowly killing you, taking off a quarter of each heart as you come closer and closer to finally withdrawing the blade and reclaiming it as yours.  Bonus hearts from food don’t help either (I found this out the hard way.)

I also, after several hours of suffering in game, finally figured out how to cook and found a shop that sold armor.  It was definitely a eureka! moment but also one in which I felt pretty stupid as it had been there all along, I was just not paying attention.  This game does a fantastic job of making me feel really stupid but at the same time really hits that ‘you fucking did it!’ button hard.

The day after my 24 hour marathon, I got back up and I did it again (thank you Shirley/Garbage) although not for 24 hours, more like 10 or 12.  I completed the map by reaching the last two Sheika Towers that I needed and then I set off to Zora’s domain where the first Divine Beast awaited.  I knew what to do here as this was as far as I got in the Wii U version of the game, so I blew through it all as quickly as I could.  Then came the moment of truth when I reached the first incarnation of Ganon.  I had read and re-read the guide on how to fight and defeat him here and I used that knowledge along with the Master Sword to finally complete the first beast.  A sense of smug satisfaction filled me as I knew that this time around my quest would be a success.  I realized after the fact that, given I had no armor and very few hearts, I never would have succeeded against Ganon’s minion in the first Divine Beast.

Over the next 100 or so hours (I really don’t know exactly how many as the Switch doesn’t tell you an exact time, but it currently says ‘around 95 hours’) I set out to conquer the other 3 Divine Beasts and managed to beat them in quick succession.  Finishing the bird and lizard were easy tasks (except that part in the lizard where I was in total darkness.)  Getting to the camel was a bit trickier.  I had managed early on to reach Gerudo Town in the faaaaaaaaaaaaaar south west corner of the map only to be turned away as I was a voe (the Gerudo word for male) and voe are not allowed in the city.  Using the power of Google I figured out that I had to get the clothes to dress as a vai (the Gerudo word for female) from a nearby bazaar.  Once that was done, I was on my way to the last beast and victory would soon be mine.  There was just one problem: I got hit with an unseen and very much unwanted stealth mission before I could get to the last Divine Beast.  This was (for me) the only time in the game where I really had to bother paying attention to the noise meter as I was running through the thieve’s hideout to reclaim the Gerudo ruler’s helmet that would get us to the beast.  As soon as I found out it was a stealth mission, I doubled back to Kakariko Village and purchased the set of stealth armor that I had seen many hours earlier.  I suppose it helped me from making too much noise, but ultimately simply staying out of sight of the thieves was what saved the day.  Conquering the last beast was fun and I felt that this version of Ganon was the most fun to fight out of the 4.

I suppose you kinda want to be quiet when approaching a sleeping Hinox before you attack it, but once you know how to fight and kill one (and have the lightning ability from the divine camel) it really is a useless feature of the game to me.

At this point, armed with the power of all 4 Divine Beasts, the Master Sword and a lot of pent up rage, I decided it was time to take on Ganon’s fat ass and be done with this game.  Little did I know that I was not really ready for what I was about to run into.

Early on, I had learned the hard way that the Guardians were to be avoided at all costs as their eye beams were pretty much a one shot kill.  That was until I gained some decent armor and got my hands on the Master Sword.  I found out, much to my surprise, that even though the Master Sword’s attack is rated a paltry 30 in comparison to other weapons in the game, it really fucks Guardians up.  The stationary ones could be picked off quickly before they even got a hit in as long as I got the drop on them.  The ones that still had legs and could walk proved to be more of a challenge.  I found out that you can cut their legs off, thus stunning them for a short time and giving you more of an opportunity to get more damage in.  Once I found out that cutting their legs off prevented them from running away, I gleefully hunted them down one by one first cutting off their legs then finishing them off as they sat helpless to my attacks.  Revenge is such a sweet thing, isn’t it?  I also learned that if they managed to get a shot off against you, you can use your shield from the divine lizard to reflect the beam back at them every single time (provided you have any uses of the beam left) and thus whittling them down even faster.  At the time of this writing, I’ve killed so many of them that I’m sitting on somewhere over 300 Screws in my inventory.  I really hate these things in case you can’t tell.

Picking off the Guardians and reaching the gate to Hyrule Castle, I was once again greeted with a wire frame map of the area.  I could see a huge red sphere at the top of the castle which I presumed to be my goal and decided to play it safe to a certain degree.  Playing it safe also made me a complete dope as I fell for a heinous trap, not once but twice!  Along the direct and Guardian filled route to the top of the castle are 2 gate houses.  Not thinking that anything was going to happen when I went in them, I foolishly went inside the first one and my heart sank as I was faced with a Lynel.  I had been avoiding them at all costs throughout the game as I had no idea how to fight them, let alone kill one.  But here I was in a locked room with one, the very definition of the word screwed.  Mentally and physically exhausted I went into fuck it mode and decided to give it a shot and I killed it!  Holy fuck, I just killed the hardest enemy in the game.  After that, there was no stopping me.  I picked up my rewards for kicking its ass and went on my merry way.  This time, I purposefully ran into the next gatehouse and found my next Lynel victim waiting on me, and it fell just as its predecessor did, though both of them cost me nearly every cooked meal that I was carrying with me.

I pressed onward to the Sanctum of the castle.  I decided enough was enough and used the jump glide and all my Stamina food and Elixirs to jump and glide my way up the walls and after running away from a couple stationary Guardians I had reached the end.  I walked in not knowing what I was about to face, but was treated with an incredible cut scene.  All the Divine Beasts, once completed, simply sit and wait for you to reach Calamity Ganon so the battle that was lost 100 years ago can be finished.  Once you do get there, however, all 4 of them fire a beam of (what I assume is) holy energy at the ruins of the castle thus knocking him down to half health at the start of the battle!  For once this game decides to give ME and advantage, but it wouldn’t help.  I got as far as his fiery form during this phase of the fight, but ended up getting careless and not paying attention to my hearts, so I lost.

Fuck my life.  Fuck this game.  Why do I keep doing this to myself?  Oh my god.  Whatever, I picked the controller back up and decided it was time for plan B.

Plan B consisted of finding as many Shrines as I could for more hearts and, now that I knew I could kill them, hunting Lynel and Hinox for their parts.  This went on for several more hours, and I decided to start with the first Lynel you meet in Zora’s realm when you’re looking for Lightning Arrows.  After using up the Master Sword and all my Divine Abilites and a good portion of my cooked meals, the bastard was dead.  Unlike his Hyrule Castle brethren, however, the rewards weren’t worth the effort.  I got a measly (read: less than the one I was carrying) shield, a few lightning arrows and one hoof.  Great, thanks game, I hate you too.

There were a few sidetracks to Plan B as well.  For the entirety of the game I’ve been hoarding everything I come across whether it’s gems, food, monster parts, you name it.  One thing that I never found a use for was Luminous Stones.  At this point I was just tired of trying to figure things out on my own, so it was time to turn to my old pal Google for the answers, and I found a lot more than I bargained for.  Googling led me to this article about what I could use the stones for, and what do I find in that article?  A link to another article about buying my own house in the game!  Well, shit, I wish I had known about that about 80 hours ago.  It would have saved me so much trouble (and a lot of cooked meals.)

Another side track was hunting down those blasted Korok Seeds.  At first, I decided to buy the DLC for the game just so I could get my hands on the mask that helps you locate the seeds.  At first, it was pretty cool in helping me look for them and I came to notice that the seeds were in out of the way places or sometimes they were in landmarks that were incomplete.  I came to notice just about every pattern or location in the game that might house one on the world map and I managed to find quite a few of them on my own after that, without using the mask.  Finding all 900 however is going to take patience and a map (like this one.)

I also decided to Google the locations of all the fairy fountains in the game as well.  I had only discovered the one in Kakariko Village and she could only upgrade my armor so much since she was the only one I had found.  That was when another nasty surprise waited for me: the cost to activate each fountain.  The first fountain was 100 Rupees, and I thought ‘yeah, no problem!’  The second one was 500 and I was like ‘ouch’ then the third and fourth wanted 1,000 and 10,000 respectively and I was like ‘this shit better be worth it.’  At the time of this writing, I have 3 activated and I’m still struggling to scrape together 10,000 for the last one out in Gerudo desert.

After many hours of grinding for materials for armor, hunting Hinox and Lynel, hunting Shrines for more hearts, buying a house and fully upgrading it, helping to build Tarry Town (it’s the cutest thing ever, look it up!), and hunting Korok Seeds for not enough inventory space, I decided yesterday that Ganon was going to be my bitch.

I made my way back to Hyrule Castle, murdering Guardians as I went (in my mind, this and this are playing on repeat) but this time I decided to bypass both gatehouses since I didn’t think the Lynel in them were worth my time this time around.  I made my way to the Sanctum, waited for my Divine Abilities to recharge, saved my progress and then the fight was on!

The fight with Calamity Ganon is a boss battle done right!  Everything about the fight is pretty straightforward and easy to grasp.  The only time I had any trouble was during the part where he glows red and is impenetrable to your sword attacks.  I can’t imagine trying to do this fight without doing all 4 Divine Beasts and the Master Sword, though it does seem possible since the game doesn’t stop you from running straight to Hyrule Castle after you get off the opening plateau.  After waiting a painfully long time for my reflective shield to recharge (and a Google search to make sure I was doing this correctly), I was met with Ganon’s final form:  Beast Ganon.  I felt like this part of the battle could have been left out of the game entirely not only because I suck at trying to aim and hit things while I’m moving (or the target is moving, or both) and not only because I didn’t care about riding horses in this game (that’s right, I spent almost 100 hours exploring the entirety of Hyrule on foot) but because it just felt like an excuse to shoot Ganon with arrows.  At first I didn’t get that I had to hit all 3 targets on one side of him in order for it to count, but once I got it I began to panic because I was running out of arrows.  Not once in this entire game had I had need of the Ancient Arrows, so I was pretty much just sitting on them this whole time, but once I found out that they were super effective against Beast Ganon I used them all up.  Once I ran out of those, I started grasping at straws and used all my other arrows.  Once I had finished the one side, I ran around to the other then got off the stupid horse so I could aim better.  I hit the first 2 targets no problem and when I went to hit the 3rd, guess what?  That stupid fucking horse was standing in my way, so the camera zooms in on it’s flank while I’m trying to aim at Ganon.  I nearly lost because this stupid, stupid horse was just standing there.  God forbid it should, you know, run the fuck away from this gargantuan monster that’s standing here.  Once I got a clear shot, I whistled for the horse so I could ride around to Ganon’s head but guess what?  When I needed it, it was gone.  As far as I was concerned I guess Ganon killed it so I made a run for him on foot.  I was suddenly glad I took my friend’s advice and used enough Spirit Orbs for a 2nd circle on my Stamina Meter.  Running to face the thing, I waited for his beam attack then jumped into the updraft and took aim at his last weak point on his head and BAM! I had finally defeated Ganon.  Afterwards I was treated to a cut scene of Zelda going all Super Saiyan on Ganon and using the Triforce to kill him.  Nice touch!  I was a bit disappointed though that after the credits were over, I was simply brought back to the moment before I fought Ganon as though nothing had happened.  I was hoping that it was over and I’d be able to freely explore the ruins of Hyrule Castle without Ganon or his goons parading around the place.

Since I hadn’t collected all the memories of Link and Zelda together (ain’t nobody got time for that) I’m sure I got the lesser ending but it just gives me something to strive for later on, should I feel the need to.

All in all I’d say that it was a very enjoyable, though at times very frustrating, experience.  Myself and others all wonder where and how Nintendo can take the franchise from here, but we’re definitely looking forward to our next adventure in Hyrule.

What I’m Playing, part 15

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

A bit of a departure from my usual PS4 gaming, I decided (with a bit of coaxing from a friend) to give Breath of the Wild a try.  I figured it was time to give my poor Wii U some love anyway since it’s been a while.  Beware of SPOILERS ahead if you want to go into the game with as little knowledge as possible.

Right off the bat, it is glaringly obvious that this is NOT a typical Zelda game.  The usual trappings are here (Link, Zelda, Ganon, Hyrule, etc) but its been packaged in a very different way.  This time instead of a linear, dungeon to dungeon, Metroidvania-esque adventure, we are treated to a very westernized Zelda, and since I’m still early in the game I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one.

Instead of the typical item and weapon gathering methods from the past (i.e. getting a new weapon or item from a dungeon and then doing a lot of backtracking to make use of it) this time around, we are given some of your traditional Zelda items (bombs and creating ice blocks) immediately in the starting zone of the game.  These are mitigated with an at times agonizingly long cool down, but they are useful tools none the less.  These are accessed through an in game item called a Sheikah Slate which looks suspiciously like a primitive smart phone or tablet.

Weapons this time around are far from the usual heroic type, instead we are able to steal them from enemies and can use them until they break.  Considering the ridiculous number of weapons I’ve gone through at this point, I can only hope that somewhere in the vast open world the Master Sword is waiting for me to find it as having to scrounge for weapons constantly is getting rather old.

Armor / clothing has been few and far between.  I’ve been in the same clothing since the start of the game until about an hour ago when I (finally) reached Zora’s Realm and got some really snazzy blue armor that lets me swim up waterfalls (without having to expend and stamina, thankfully).

Another departure from traditional Zelda games is the inclusion of aforementioned stamina.  You are given the ability from the beginning to climb ANY surface you like – rock faces, walls, trees – provided you don’t run out of stamina in the process.  If you do, you fall down to the nearest flat surface and must wait for the meter to refill before attempting to climb again, provided you live through the fall in the first place.  You can also vault in the direction that you are currently climbing, even side to side but at the cost of a sizable chunk of your stamina meter.  The side to side vaulting works surprisingly well and is something that I think other game developers should look at (*cough* Assassin’s Creed *cough*)  The inclusion of stamina has been to my detriment frequently throughout the game and one that I find highly irritating but I’m learning to cope.

Another departure is the method with which you gain more hearts.  Dotted across the land are Shrines.  Shrines are typically one room puzzles that must be solved in order to receive a Spirit Orb from the Shrine’s guardian.  After you collect 4 Spirit Orbs, you have the option to trade them in for either another Heart Container or a bit more Stamina.  So far in my playthrough I’m trying to keep it balanced, one heart, more stamina, one heart, and so on.  You can only trade the orbs in at statues of the goddess Hylia but so far, finding the statues hasn’t really been a problem.  The Shrines seem to litter the landscape and can be seen from quite some distance away as they stick out like a red/orange glowing sore thumb.  At the time of writing, I’ve found 13.

Something that’s been added to the game and that has been used ad nauseam in games as of late are towers that you must climb in order to uncover the map.  I don’t hate this feature, but it is becoming rather dull at this point since several other games have used it (Assassin’s Creed, Infamous: Second Son, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and I think Dying Light did it too.)

As far as traditional Zelda dungeons go, I’m not sure whether this game has any or not.  I know there are 4 “ancient beasts” that you must bring back to the side of good if you are to have any hope of defeating Ganon, and at the time of this writing I’m at the first one (I had to take a break from the game due to frustration so I decided to start writing about the game.  I guess you could say the first dungeon was the catalyst for this entry.)  I love how their idea of a map is actually a 3D wireframe of the beast with red spots indicating where the terminals you need to access are located in order to bring the beast back to the side of good.  I’ll write more on dungeons as things develop.

Another inclusion in this game that I really don’t like is the hot/cold meter next to your mini map.  It is possible for Link to freeze to death as I discovered several times in the starting area trying to get to a couple of the Shrines there.  I’m hoping this can be combated with gear later on in the game as I have yet to figure out how to cook food.  I’m not terribly happy that was included either; at this point with the number of games that have crafting in them I’m really glad that Google is a thing.  I do find it a little funny that I’m running around with shit tons of crafting supplies on my person but I constantly run out of room for weapons and constantly have pangs of guilt when I have to leave stuff behind.

Next to the mini map is also an indicator showing how much noise you’re making.  I do think that this was a good idea as I’m sure I’ll have need of it later on down the line.

Combat this time around has also been changed and I’m not sure that I like it.  It’s not your typical beat the shit out of enemies until they die fair, this time it does require a bit of skill / improvisation.  I’ve been killed by my own bombs more times than I care to admit while trying to use them to kill enemies that are chasing me.  You can lock on to your enemy and focus on them like in other games, using them as a sort of anchor while trying to dodge out of the way of their attacks.  You can also parry attacks with your shield and if you’re quick enough you can hit them with a power attack while they are stunned.  If not for trying to do this with the Wii U game pad I’m sure I’d be better at combat than I am.  For now I’m sticking with the beat the shit out of them until they die method and see how far I can get.

This game is BEAUTIFUL.  The art style of cell shading is always pleasing to me and I’m in awe when I look around at the world that they have created.  That being said, I do feel like the draw distance is limited by the Wii U’s hardware and I’m not sure that the Switch has this limitation.  I might eventually buy a Switch and this game and see for myself what the difference is.  The weather effects are also amazing as is the inclusion of a day/night cycle.  The only time I find weather to be an issue/nuisance is when trying to climb in the rain.  It’s neat that they added the detail that surfaces become slippery when it’s raining making climbing a bit more difficult, but it’s also another annoyance about the game to add to the growing list.  Another weather related detail is being struck by lightning.  If you are equipped with anything metal (and most of the weapons in the game are) and you’re outside during a thunderstorm you start to spark with electricity.  After a few seconds the sparks become a lot more frequent until you are finally killed instantly by a lightning bolt unless you can make it to cover.  Thus far I’ve been killed every time a storm happens, so when I see rain, instead of enjoying it like I would in any other game I try to find a campfire and wait until morning and hope the storm is gone by then so I can continue my quest.

Speaking of the environment and distance, you can use your in-game tablet as a sort of view finder to see what’s around you and mark it with a pin for you to investigate later.  The distance between where you’re standing and where the thing you want to get to is, is often quite deceiving.  More than once I’ve pinned something that I wanted to go investigate (usually a Shrine) only to find when I looked at the map that it’s actually a million miles away or in an adjacent zone.  I like that it’s a big open world for me to explore, but having to walk everywhere and especially over great distances gets tiresome.  There is travel by horse which I’ve not yet tried and there’s my favorite – gliding through the air on a rickety looking hang glider.  The only negative there is that you are constantly using stamina while gliding which I think is total bullshit since I’m not doing anything but holding on to the glider.  Grip meter from Shadow of the Colossus I guess?  That shit is why I never went back to that game and just might end up preventing me from finishing this one or making any significant progress.

So far my experience with Breath of the Wild has been quite a bit negative and a little positive, but since It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Zelda game I’m trying to enjoy myself as best I can.  I’ll write more on my journey as it unfolds, stay tuned.