Posts Tagged ‘retrospective’

My Top 20 Zelda: Breath of the Wild Moments

In less than one week, it’s probably fair to say the most anticipated game of the Nintendo Switch’s life will release at last. It follows the single longest development cycle for a main series Zelda game in history, six years and two months after Switch launch title Breath of the Wild. To mark this momentous occasion, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: resurrect an old article I’ve had floating around in my drafts folder for years and publish it in a fresh light.

This one was initially thrown together in the hazy afterglow of completing BotW in late May of 2017, envisioned as a 20-screenshot roadmap of my own (at the time) 140-hour path through the game. However, the draft was already well past 30 entries and nowhere near the end of my journey when I first gave up on it, as I was unable to cut out anywhere near enough moments to prevent the list from ballooning into a true word count monstrosity. It’s also easy to forget in 2023 just how many articles, critiques, videos and morsels of general coverage this revered game was receiving a mere two months after launch, so I hardly felt like I’d be making enough unique noise to stand out from the crowd and justify such a massive piece.

That task is much easier now. Separated from the game by more than half a decade – I have not touched this one since its excellent dungeon DLC came out at the end of 2017 – only the moments I remember the strongest get to stay. Thus, right before the launch of its sequel, we can reflect on the legacy of one of Nintendo’s most impactful games and have a bit of nostalgic fun along the way. After a touch of reformatting and an emotional scroll through thousands of compulsive screenshots, here are my top 20 moments from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, presented in chronological order.

1. The Plateau

It’s been said in approximately a million video essays: The Great Plateau of Breath of the Wild is one of the best tutorials in gaming. Over an area that feels impossibly massive at first, you learn and test interlocking mechanics over four multiple-solution tests that get you well and truly into the groove of the weirdest Zelda in decades. For me, this was undertaken in the small hours of the morning while staying at a mate’s place post-midnight-launch, with my body screaming at me for daring to deprive it. I obviously didn’t care; after multiple rewatches of various gameplay demos from the previous year’s Zelda-only E3 show, I was enthralled at how many new approaches were still apparent.

2. Out of Link’s Depth

I cannot separate my memories of Breath of the Wild from the conversations I was having with anyone I knew or met who was playing at the time. And nor would I want to; in my opinion there have only been two games since that could possibly challenge it for water-cooler chat value: 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and 2022’s Elden Ring. From those very chats I picked up rather quickly that most people go directly east after the Great Plateau, following the only real suggestion the game gives you other than the refreshingly direct “Defeat Ganon”. But I wasn’t about to let a game that bragged about being this open tell me what to do: I went north, towards the castle. I died. Again and again and again. Soon enough I discovered a shrine and eagerly dived in to escape the high damage output all around me – only to be met with one of the game’s longest and most intricate shrine puzzles: the Trial of Power. Yeah, that took a while, and it left me with some massively overpowered weapons, but I adored the feeling that I could do it anyway.

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10 Games From the Last 10 Years I Should’ve Ranked Higher

I thought I’d never do this, but ten years gives you a bit of a stretch to think.

It takes time, careful consideration and countless drafts to finalise an annual videogame countdown; some would say such an abundance of effort is a waste. But as far as I’m concerned it’s all fine and dandy, because the result is a ranking that might as well be cast in iron. Once published, it’s not just that I back my choices confidently; the order I’ve chosen becomes unquestionable canon within my head, ready to reference at a moment’s notice as if it was as tangible and unchanging as a musty library book on a shelf.

But I’m also human, and looking back on a decade worth of Game of the Year countdowns earlier this year pushed up an eyebrow or two. Not only that, but the absences of a few great games I played too late from some past years’ lists now stick out as annoying missed opportunities under the cold glare of hindsight. But what if there was a way for me to purge those small frustrations – gathering as they have over years – via a nice neat list? Well, luckily there is, and you’re about to read the result.

Of course there’s always a danger with this kind of project that picking at one thread will unravel several more. So to avoid a chaotic, sprawling tinker-fest and the potential 50+ item list that may have produced, I set up a few tiny rules:

  • Games that might have hypothetically risen up a list just because I overrated titles appearing above them cannot qualify – no Steven Bradburys here, positive vibes only;
  • Even if my newfound appreciation for one of these ten games has arrived courtesy of a newer, shinier and/or more accessible version of said game, I must make an effort to judge it based on the version(s) available in that relevant year;
  • Most importantly of all: I must be able to justify these inflated rankings as if I was still in the year they were published, but had way more free time (or just better time management). This is probably the trickiest part and there’s obviously no way I can do it flawlessly, but I’ll try.

Persona 4 Golden

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Original Position: 4th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 1st

Starting off with a bit of a free hit here, as once I completed it Persona 4 Golden landed in my all-time videogame top five – and it hasn’t left that club since.

Looking back on my janky first public GOTY list today is a cringe-inducing experience for me – I sure did make some sweeping statements about Halo 4‘s multiplayer – but it’s surprisingly easy to put myself in the somewhat rigid mental space I was in a decade (!) ago, because the videogame analysis zeitgeist was in such a distinctly turbulent place that hasn’t quite been replicated in any year since.

2012 was the last full year of a GFC-stretched console generation; incessant commentators predicted the industry’s downfall as two woefully mismanaged new platforms began their all-too-short lives. Major triple-A releases were in short supply, and as those ten main list entries and five (unexplained) honorable mentions reflect, the industry was only just beginning to erase the prestige line between full physical game releases and “downloadable” games, as we used to call them. Despite their quality, there is just no way the 2012 version of me would have been able to give either Journey or The Walking Dead a fair crack.

Still, one of those aforementioned new platforms was the Playstation Vita, and I played arguably its best game over an intense four-month period straddling the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

I probably haven’t written enough about Persona 4 Golden over the years considering the special place it holds in my heart – perhaps a better chance to dive into all that in earnest will arrive another day. For now all I’ll say is that the very best parts of the game take place much further into its hefty length than I had the time to reach by the end of December 2012, and even if that weren’t the case, the game (and series) has a knack of making you appreciate its characters and setting steadily more the longer you spend playing.

As good as Pokemon White Version 2 is – and if anything, its seam-bursting suite of content and still-unique approach to storytelling within the mainline Pokemon series has only made it more revered in 2022 – P4G still has it beaten for legacy. Had I somehow managed to play at warp speed and finish it before the end of 2012 the game’s impact on me may have been dulled slightly, but it’s hard to see a world where it wouldn’t have been the first-ever Vagrant Rant Game of the Year.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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Original Position: Honorable Mentions
Where It Should’ve Gone: 5th

I don’t know where my head was at for this one. This is the only game on the list that I haven’t played at all since writing the original countdown, meaning the considerable appreciation growth curve I’ve been on since has come about purely through the added context of a chorus of critical voices praising its many design accomplishments. All the little ways decorated developer Retro Studios pushed past the expected bare-minimum quality line of the early-2010s 2D platformer add up over a meaty campaign loaded up with wondrous mechanical ideas and packed with deviously-hidden secrets. No new idea outstays its welcome, yet each one is explored with a near-perfect difficulty curve. The visual presentation is artistically stunning, the controls are fluid, the musical tracks often soar. And the weird thing is that I knew all this while I was playing through the game in co-op with a mate.

The problem for both its initial reputation – and indeed my 2014 ranking of the game – is that premium-priced 2D platformers felt like they were a dime a dozen throughout the very late 2000s into the early 2010s. Nintendo was responsible for the lion’s share of these, and the company’s comparative lack of output in other genres ensured a palpable fatigue among fan circles that was difficult to avoid. Amusingly enough, Tropical Freeze was essentially the last of them, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Nonetheless, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a 2D platforming masterwork, and belongs right under the one-two punch of the Danganronpa titles and Nintendo’s formidable Kart/Smash Wii U combo on that 2014 list. I’m convinced that with a bit more time spent ruminating on the game, I would have – and should have – given it the rank it deserved.

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