Archive for the ‘Wii’ Category

Revisiting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – In High Definition & High Detail

Yep, we’re doing this again.

Ten years. Wow.

It has somehow been (almost) ten years since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hit the flailing, ailing Nintendo Wii to a chorus of crickets. Essentially the last major release on the console, there was already a mighty stack of factors going against its success before November 24th, 2011 rolled around: The Wii had endured an extremely light year after a banner 2010 that already felt like a celebratory send-off, as Nintendo pivoted first to launching and then to saving the fledgling 3DS; the game required the purchase of the Wii Motion Plus attachment in order to work with its ambitious controls; and perhaps most tellingly, the lightning had left the bottle for the casual Wii audience and everyone else was playing Skyrim.

Yes, Link, it’s true.

This left a smaller audience than Nintendo would’ve liked to pick up its latest 3D Zelda extravaganza, the endcap to a year-long celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary. Skyward Sword sold in the millions, but for a game five years in development and an install base as record-shattering as the Wii’s, it was nothing short of a disappointment. The day I started writing this it still held the record for the worst-selling 3D entry in the Legend of Zelda series (Edit: Switch sales may have changed this by now). And despite an initial wave of critical acclaim customary for a Zelda game, the reputation of Link’s motion-controlled escapade took a sharp downturn before long and stayed down for years. After all, who wants to dust off their horrifically outdated Nintendo Wii and buy an extra controller attachment just to challenge the notoriety of a finicky, linear, repetitive, excessively hand-holding game in *ugh* standard definition?

omg ewwwww

Five years. Oh no.

It has somehow been (just over) five years since I put out what is still the longest singular piece of writing I’ve ever cobbled together in my lifetime: A 10,000 word behemoth on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Edit: Um, about that…). Inspired by a decade of mixed personal feelings, lengthy conversations with friends, and triple-digit hours of watched YouTube content on the strengths and weaknesses of the game; the post ended up perhaps a touch unwieldy and yet oh-so-cathartic. Thanks to a bucket of alternate perspectives and a highly underrated Wii U remaster, I had never felt so assured that – despite its flaws – um, I liked the game, actually.

And I’d be OK never writing another word about it.

The last thing I was thinking as that project slowly came together was “I’m setting a template here and I definitely want to put myself through this again.” And yet you know where this is going, because you read the title: It’s Skyward Sword’s turn. But this time around, dear reader, we’re not investigating if years of Zelda franchise evolution and some neat nips and tucks have improved my sentiments towards an inconsistent videogame; we’re seeing whether my third favourite Zelda game of all-time (behind only Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild) can possibly still hold such a lofty position after it has been exposed to a decade of stiff critiques, a lack of clear historical identity and a radical reinvention of the entire franchise in its wake.

Challenge accepted.

But we are going to try our very best to do it in less than 10,000 words this time, probably (Edit: We failed, and we failed hard). Regardless, this one will need a beverage or two to get through; at the time of writing Skyward Sword is the last 3D Zelda game to release on a second console, and rest assured I have no intention of leaving stones unturned. Whatever it will cost.

You guessed it – we’re in for another long one.

(I’m going to go ahead and re-purpose a paragraph from the Twilight Princess post because it fits too well this time, and kinda feels poetic too)

Be aware that this post contains a huge amount of spoilers that get steadily worse the longer you read – worth mentioning if you haven’t played the game before. All you need to know if you’re a Skyward Sword newcomer is that yes, I believe this HD / portable release is definitively the best version of the classic title, and yes, you really should play it. If you really want to read on, continue at your own risk, but you should know that what follows is so exhaustive that you may not even feel like you need to play it by the end. But maybe play it anyway?

HERE WE GO: Click here to regret your choice to click here.

Switch Hype: Ranking Nintendo’s Ten Main Consoles

My my, I do love a countdown opportunity.

And so it is, dear reader, that we find ourselves here. Here at the dawn of what will be – for better or worse – a new cycle of Nintendo being Nintendo. The impending Switch console has the attention of the gaming world for now, and all the bad news has yet to come. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling for yours truly – one of bubbling excitement, of mildly tempered hope – but one in which I will gladly bask for the time being, if only because that feeling seems to be my number one most reliable source of blogging motivation. And would you look at that – the Switch will be Nintendo’s twelfth (let’s scratch the Virtual Boy) eleventh major videogame device! Yes, a nice, round top ten is ripe for the typing. How good.

I will now attempt to rank the ten major home/handheld Nintendo consoles of yore according to my own personal feelings about them. Yes, this will be a different list to your own, dearest reader. That’s OK. It is not an easy thing at all for a Nintendo tragic such as myself to see some of these wonderful machines placed below others – go ahead, try it – but I have struggled through it anyway. It’s probably worth mentioning that I haven’t owned all ten of these pieces of hardware, but I sure have played a significant portion of the game offerings they brought to the table through various re-releases and chance adventures, so I feel comfortable laying it out for your perusal. I’ve taken physical design, hardware refreshes, game library, nostalgia and all the usual good stuff into account. Here we go.

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10. Nintendo Entertainment System

Australian Release: 1987
My Favourite Games: Balloon Fight, Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario Bros 2

Yes, the one that started it all is down here. The main reason is a boring one: The NES’ games don’t tend to hold up as well today as other later Nintendo titles, as by necessity they are visually and conceptually basic. Having said that, the very best of the NES crop represents some of the most satisfying, mechanically tight challenges to be found anywhere in videogames, not to mention some technical wizardry when it comes to working within memory limitations. Of the two-and-a-half consoles on this list that I never owned, this is the one whose game library I have sampled most widely, thanks mostly to things like the wonderful Wii U eShop games NES Remix 1 & 2 and the recently released NES Classic Mini console, and particularly in this bite-sized format there is a great deal of fun to be had with NES gems even for the less skilled gamers among us (e.g. me).

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Revisiting The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – In High Definition & High Detail

Well this looks a bit weirdly-timed now, but I have been working on it for almost two months, so here we go. Strap yourself in.

It’s been a while, old friend.

Ten years ago, in 2006, I picked up The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess alongside my brand new Nintendo Wii console at the system’s launch. After years of hype and a string of exemplary prior Zelda games, I could barely contain my excitement. 80 hours of gameplay (and weeks of real-world time juggling Wii Sports) later, I had completed it very close to 100%. And what a rollercoaster it had been.

Twilight Princess promised a lot, as the Zelda series’ long-awaited return to the dark, “realistic” aesthetic made popular by Ocarina of Time following a controversial – at least at the time – stylistic sidestep with The Wind Waker. And in fairness, it delivered a lot – sensational dungeons, standout set pieces built on fan wish fulfilment, a breakout companion character and bosses on a truly grand scale, mainly.

Ooh baby.

Yet the game also came in for its fair share of criticism for its slow and inconsequential opening, largely empty world, bland colour palette, litany of rupee-related annoyances, relative lack of difficulty and slavish devotion to aping Ocarina at the expense of the freshness offered by predecessors Majora’s Mask and the aforementioned Wind Waker. Though I remember plenty of moments from Twilight Princess fondly, it came in at Number 7 on the Top 10 Zelda games list I wrote back in 2013.

And yet early last month, it received a new lease on life.

Link makes a triumphant return with a new HD sheen.

With help from little-known Australian studio Tantalus Media, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for Wii U here on March 5th. Based on the “waggle-free” Gamecube version of Twilight Princess, which I never touched, and boasting quite a few tweaks and supposed improvements, it marked the perfect opportunity for me to revisit the classic adventure with a critical eye, separated somewhat from the perhaps exaggerated criticisms the internet has whipped up over the last decade. Now that I have finally finished TP in its newest iteration, here is what I have to say about it.

Prepare yourself – this will be a long one. A very long one.

Be aware that this post contains a huge amount of spoilers – worth mentioning if you haven’t played the game before. All you need to know if you’re a Twilight Princess newcomer is that yes, I believe this HD version is definitively the best version of the classic title, and yes, you really should play it. If you really want to read on, continue at your own risk, but you should know that what follows is so exhaustive that you may not even feel like you need to play it by the end.
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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: Closer

It may have taken me far, far longer than I initially thought it would to complete, due to a drastic change to my lifestyle that has seen a lot of my free time just evaporate, but I’m pretty happy with the order on which I decided for my Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises here on Vagrant Rant. If you just want a quick glance at the whole list, well here you go:
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30 F-Zero
29 Yoshi Series
28 Pullblox
27 Kid Icarus
26 Pokemon Rumble

^ READ THIS SECTION ^

25 Luigi’s Mansion
24 Wii Sports
23 Fire Emblem
22 Pokemon Home Console Battle Series
21 Kirby Main Series

^ READ THIS SECTION ^

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #5-1

5. Paper Mario

Games: Paper Mario (N64), Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN), Super Paper Mario (Wii), Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

Ah, Paper Mario. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to flatten the world’s most famous videogame mascot, not to mention all his friends and adversaries, and insert him into a world where everything (loosely) follows the physics of papercraft dioramas? Whoever it was, I’m glad that the Paper Mario Series came out of such apparent insanity. I’m even more glad that Intelligent Systems were put in charge of bringing it to life (yes, I am harping on about them quite a bit, but come on, look at all the amazing games they’ve made). Like the quirky Mario & Luigi series, Paper Mario is a humour-laden, turn-based RPG series that owes its action-esque central gameplay mechanic to the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG. What sets the dimensionally challenged series apart from others like it is its endlessly creative use of paper physics in puzzles, battles and storytelling, as well as its apparent lack of fear when it comes to trying new and crazy ideas. The writing across the games is irreverent, self-aware and fun, the secrets are bountiful and the characters are endearing. All Paper Mario games are commendable, engaging RPGs (except for Super Paper Mario, which is a platformer – I know right?) but I’m not going to lie – the reason I rate the series highly enough to lift it into my top five is almost entirely based on the strength of The Thousand Year Door on the Gamecube. It is no exaggeration to say that TTYD is one of my absolute favourite games of all time, and at the very least my favourite RPG ever. I fear its near-perfect storm of meta-battling mechanics, location variety, narrative twists, subtle series in-jokes and rewarding extra content will not be matched for a long time.

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #10-6

10. Animal Crossing

Games: Animal Crossing (GCN), Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS), Animal Crossing: Let’s Go to the City (Wii), Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

No, I can’t explain this. Not fully, anyway. If you haven’t played a game in Nintendo’s ever-quirky Animal Crossing series, you will very likely not understand a word of what I’m about to say. When you pay off a loan to Tom Nook the passive-aggressive raccoon and upgrade your house, the feeling of accomplishment is up there with nearly any gaming achievement you’ve ever reached. And you immediately want more, going further into debt for the sake of just a little bit more space, so you can add just the right touch of balance to the vibe of your room. When you see a bug you haven’t caught before, the cocktail of heart-pounding excitement and self-doubt that floods your veins is overwhelming. And when an animal you like leaves your town… Well, the less said about that the better. In terms of content, the games continue to get more and more expansive as the series continues, but in my opinion the portable entries are by far the best ones. The intimacy of a handheld device perfectly suits the strange, pride-fueled mini-achievement cycle that drives Animal Crossing. There is nothing else quite like it.

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #15-11

15. Donkey Kong Country

Games: Donkey Kong Country (SNES/GBC/GBA), DK Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES/GBA), DK Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! (SNES/GBA), DK Country Returns/3D (Wii/3DS), DK Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

When I was putting together this countdown I was actually rather surprised that the Donkey Kong Country series ended up as high as it did, as I never owned a Super Nintendo and so didn’t get to experience most of its games back in the day. I did play the Game Boy Color port of the first game, which I enjoyed, but the real reason this franchise is here is its more recent offerings, courtesy of Texas-based Nintendo developer Retro Studios. The 2010 return of the series after a long hiatus, aptly named Donkey Kong Country Returns, was of such high quality that it was a pleasant shock for many fans. I took a special liking to it when it destroyed my gaming self esteem over and over for eight long months as I tried and tried again to beat it in co-op mode. Seven different co-op partners later, I did. And then came this year’s Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which provided many more hours of difficult yet oh-so-satisfying play. There’s just something about the world’s most famous ape that prevents the majority of his games from being bad.

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #20-16

20. Mario Party

Games: Mario Party (N64), Mario Party 2 (N64), Mario Party 3 (N64), Mario Party 4 (GCN), Mario Party 5 (GCN), Mario Party 6 (GCN), Mario Party Advance (GBA), Mario Party 7 (GCN), Mario Party 8 (Wii), Mario Party DS (DS), Mario Party 9 (Wii), Mario Party Island Tour (3DS)

Oh, the nostalgia. Words can’t adequately express the feelings that come with reminiscing about the days I spent playing the first two Mario Party games with my friends and siblings as a kid. It was like playing a themed board game where any outcome was possible, and whether that meant you got to come back from the brink of certain loss to win the day thanks to your secret ability to land on special spaces, or you got absolutely shafted by your sister’s coincidental run of extreme luck, the chaotic memories were burned into your brain. The minigame design of the early games was also tight enough to warrant playing them on their own, and while it’s true that the series suffered a drop in quality (not to mention originality) as it moved into the Gamecube era, the last couple of years have seen a couple of fresh ideas making their way back into proceedings. I’m cautiously optimistic about Mario Party’s Bowser-centric Wii U debut.

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #25-21

25. Luigi’s Mansion

Games: Luigi’s Mansion (GCN), Luigi’s Mansion 2 (3DS)

It may be one of Nintendo’s lowest output franchises, boasting only two games in over a decade, but anyone who’s played a Luigi’s Mansion game can attest to the quality it offers. The first full-fledged solo outing for Mario’s slightly less famous younger brother, Luigi’s Mansion hit as a Gamecube launch title 12 years ago and, despite its relatively short length, managed to pack in plenty of atmospheric, slightly unsettling, puzzle-solving goodness. The game rewarded curiosity and exploration in unconventional ways, characterised Luigi in a hilarious new light and featured boss fights as clever as the environmental design around them. Though I regrettably haven’t played the 3DS’ Luigi’s Mansion 2 (known overseas as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon), I have heard absolutely nothing but praise from everyone who has, and intend to give it a spin when I can find the time between other releases.

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My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #30-26

30. F-Zero

Games: F-Zero (SNES), F-Zero X (N64), F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (GBA), F-Zero GX (GCN)

Here’s a controversial one to kick things off. I know there are plenty of vocal F-Zero fans who swear by the well-tuned arcade (read: insane) difficulty of the futuristic racing series, and said fans are positively foaming at the mouth for a new sequel. The last console entry in the franchise, F-Zero GX for the Gamecube, is now more than a decade old, so a new one is indeed long overdue. F-Zero’s ridiculous energy, intergalactic character roster and unique aesthetic do arguably set it apart from Nintendo’s higher-profile racing series, and Captain Falcon is an insanely popular character thanks to the Super Smash Bros series, so its a little baffling why it’s taking the Big N so long to get things going again. I’d buy a new F-Zero game, even though I would be terrible at it.

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