Thursday, 30 November 2006

Super Metroid (Super Nintendo)

In 1994, one of the the most atmospheric and engrossing games ever was released onto a 24Mbit cartridge. Designed in a similar fashion to Zelda, players could be creative and be rewarded amply for their efforts. Super Metroid was a stunning piece of coding and the pinnacle of gameplay, level design and immersiveness. Regarded by many many Metroid fans as the defining moment of the series (even over Metroid Prime), Super Metroid was simply devine. The fact that it's still being played, broken down and enjoyed to this very day, is a testament to the way the game was designed and how it was designed to be broken. Super Metroid is still as a joy to play today as it was in 1994. May it's legacy continue to live on...



Metroid's World

A Couple Of The Games Great Bosses

Although the second Metroid game had been released in 1991, fans were already asking for the third before the year was up. The reason for this was because the Super Famicom had been released in Japan by the end of 1990, and all of those great series like Zelda and Castlevania had (or were scheduled to get) their 16-bit facelifts. Samus' fans couldn't wait to see what Nintendo could pull off in the world of Metroid with their fabulous 16-bit machine. And we waited.It wasn't until the spring of 1994 that we found out, when Super Metroid was unleashed on the Super NES. At 24-Meg, it was the largest cartridge ever released at the time. With 16-bit power driving that 24-Meg cart, it was expected that the world of Metroid would be blown open like never before, and our friends at R&D1 did not disappoint.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Super Mario Kart (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario Kart was the first time anyone had heard the term 'Kart Racer', it was something new. And from the perspective of someone who utterly disdained conventional racing games of all shapes and sizes, I can say it was something inspired. I don't know who it was that originally decided to put Mario and friends on Karts instead of in cars, or motorcycles, or monster trucks, but the decision was a bright one, a solid one. The fact that you were racing Karts instead of cars helped to make the game unique, and to make it fun, and add just that touch of silliness that truly identifies it as a Mario game.

The storyline for the game basically amounted to a small blurb in the manual about the Mario Brothers being challenged to a race. But in a racing game of any sort, story isn't really the paramount factor, and in that right this one was no exception. But fear not, for ten minutes into the game you'll be so focused on beating out your opponents that you won't even miss the story element.

The game offers three difficulty classes, 50cc for the beginners, as well as 100cc and 150cc for more advanced players. To compliment this there are four sets of racing circuits to choose from, which also escalate in difficulty. Mushroom Cup being the easiest, Flower Cup in the middle, and Star Cup is there to prove yourself as the pinnacle Kart racer amongst Mario and his crew. And after all that, should you prove to be among the creme-de-la-creme in those courses, you'll open up the even more challenging Special Cup.

Each Cup consists of five races, and while some of them are short they are all enjoyable. You'll encounter varying surfaces that your Kart handles in different ways. The sandy shores of Koopa Beach will make hairpins turns a lot easier on you, but try the same maneuvers on the Icy planes of Vanilla Lake and you'll be squealing off into the corners of the track every time. The variety in courses demands that you become adaptable with your chosen character. Which is another factor that will change your racing style.

The game sports a fairly large cast, and the racers come in three weights, each weight having unique pros and cons. Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi all fall into the middle weight class. This class is based on balance. They sport medium acceleration, speed, and handling. And they can knock around the three characters in the light weight class. Above that group are good old Donkey Kong, and the ever-persistent Bowser, both of them heavy weights. They have the slowest acceleration, but the highest maximum speed, and good handling. They can also knock around every other class on the track in collisions. And then come the light weights, the Princess (yes, back in the glorious days before anyone considered renaming her 'Peach'), Toad, and a random Koopa Troopa of Bowser's loyal legions. These tiny drivers have quick acceleration, and good speed, but don't fair well with handling. And, of course, when in collisions they can really only knock around each other.

The only truly regrettable part of the game are the graphics, which leaves me wondering what happened to the wonderful aesthetic used in Super Mario World. SM-Kart's graphics are okay but definitely not one of the game's strong points. The characters have some decent animation, and while Mode 7 is used in ways that are both liberal and subtle, the character sprites and the course graphics leave quite a lot to be desired.

All-in-all you're looking at a moderately difficult, but relaxed and enjoyable game. It's fun factor is through the roof, and it also boasts impressive replay value, especially if racing against friends. The less than pleasing visuals are the only thing to mar this otherwise classic game. For those of you who own the SNES and don't have this one in your collection.


Sunday, 12 November 2006

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

Nintendo remained the only developer that seriously believed great games could be done on the Nintendo 64 (N64) and to finally prove it they decided to produce one of the most epic Role Playing Games (RPGs) ever made and let the consumers decide. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time was to surpass the experience of any of the latest RPGs even without redbook audio soundtracks and full-motion video. After constant delays, many in the industry doubted the game would have much impact no matter how good it was. The only one who believed was game producer Shigeru Miyamoto (and the 200 people at EAD working on the project.

Ocarina Of Time is Nintendo's answer to every question ever asked about video games and video game design. Miyamoto and his team created an imaginary world called Hyrule and invited us to all come play in it. When you first start Ocarina Of Time, you're given a quick tour of a small part of the world, the Kahri Forest, through the eyes of a fairy. It flies over trees, through undergrowth and over the Kahri Village until it gets to Links house. In that one intro we are given a sense of the scale of this world and its shear beauty. The colors of the forest and earth are rich and lush. Not only does this opening offer a nice cinematic feel, it also pulls the player into this world

One of the finest moments of the game is when you leave the Village after the first mini adventure. There is familiarity when you watch him leave his friend behind and go off into the world. The emotion wasn't built in that one scene, it was built from the beginning through all the character interaction. The cut scenes are always used to push home the emotion that's built while playing and as the game progresses. Nintendo certainly was not stingy on the game's graphics. Pre-rendered backgrounds are used in all towns. Every house and every shop are simply beautiful. They look like real 'old-world' homes and that only compliments the beautifully rendered town and the lush environments. Panoramic views are the norm as to further convince you of the size of you world and your quest. They are a wonder simply because of the limitation of the medium.

The main draw however is the brilliant game design and gameplay. Ocarina Of Time is simply a joy to play. Control becomes instinctive rather quickly. You are always learning new moves but they are paced throughout the game so they quickly become second nature before you really need them. Miyamoto has included a new auto-locking feature. Using the Z button you can lock onto an enemy, move around the environment freely and still land attacks on the enemy. This one addition solved the problem developers were stuck with when dealing with interaction in a three-dimensional world. Also worthy of mentioning is the use of the Ocarina. This musical instrument is instrumental (pun intended) to getting through the game. Using six different notes, the player can open doors or move objects or even change night to day. If he or she chooses there are even mini games where you play with other musicians throughout the game. It is one of those treats that great designers leave for the player.

A big knock against Nintendo was that the limited space of cartridge medium and the lack of a dedicated sound chip resulted in games with sub par audio. Frequently compared to their competitor's CD-ROM based systems blessed with dedicated sound chips, the Nintendo 64 looked underpowered and more outdated. To save space and processor power, developers looped music adnauseam and sound effects sounded hollow and repetitive. Nintendo seemed determined to change all that.

Ocarina Of Time shows that Nintendo had put that the 3 years that went into the game to good use. The music is the best I've ever heard on the system. Nintendo needed to be choosy about what went in the game and subsequently chose only music that would advance the story or mood. From the tranquil opening theme that accentuates the lonely figure of Link on his horse to the heart-tugging background melody when Link first leaves the Kahri Village. They are all perfect examples of using music to draw the player into the game. But it gets better. Hyrule is filled with all the ambient sounds you'll find in the real world. Birds sing in the background, crickets chirp, there is always the faint sound of flowing water. Anything that would provide mood was tossed in and used perfectly. This is all possible because Ocarina Of Time was provided in surround sound. A first for the N64 and it's definitely the game to debut it in.

Ocarina Of Time tops all comers in its emphasis on exploration and discovery. Traveling through the Land of Hyrule, I was blown away by the depth of the land. Far away building looked distant and it could take several real-time minutes to walk from one end of the land to the other. In between were constant surprises. It you got off the beaten track there was the chance you'd find a small stream or lake or hidden cave. You never know what's around any corner. But for being daring and curious you are usually rewarded. Or later in the game you'd run into random characters that could offer a player a welcome diversion.

On your quest as you travel from town to town, fortress to fortress slaying enemies and solving puzzles, you do encounter boredom. Yes even Miyamoto couldn't get past that. But his genius is evident in the solution. You don't need to play the game all the way through in a certain amount of time, if you want a break, there's no need to turn off the game, simply take part in one of the many mini-games. Feel like horseracing, you can do that, feel like just leisurely riding horseback, you can do that too, if you feel like up for a game of archery or fishing you can do that too. Offering the player the freedom of how to proceed during the game is amazing and adds to the whole enjoyment when you can play at your own pace.

There are some negatives like dithered textures and repeated dithered textures on top of that. The lack of a jump button also takes some getting used to but none of this is major. It is all outweighed by the all the wonderful ways that Ocarina Of Time excels. Ocarina Of Time is the game that Miyamoto has always dreamed of making. He and his team got together and dreamed up a living breathing world and successfully crammed it onto 32 MB of silicon. While game designers these days migrate towards gore and violence, Miyamoto has made a name for himself (and quite a bit of money for Nintendo), creating fun games that transcends all age groups and are cherished for generations. His genius is further proven when others trying to copy his style fail miserably. High praise goes to them for also managing to fit joy, creativity and discovery into the game and doing so without the use of Full-Motion Video (FMV) and the CD soundtrack his critics said was needed. This game is simply the most complete experience of any game ever made making Ocarina Of Time the game I've always dreamed of playing.


Official Artwork


Link, the boy destined to become the Hero Of Time, was born a Kokiri. A war forced his endangered Hyrulian mother to abandon Link in Kokiri Forest when he was very young, and because of his Hyrulian lineage, he always seemed different to the other children of the Kokiri.The arrival of Ganondorf upon Hyrule led to the death of The Great Deku Tree, the life force and protector of Kokiri Forest. Despite Link and his new fairy companion, Navi's best efforts, they could not stop Ganondorf's curse. It was then that the boy of ten years was thrown in a quest to save his country from the grasp of the vile Ganondorf. It was soon apparent that such a young boy was not going to be able to defeat Ganondorf. Link was put into a deep sleep for seven years, and when he woke found that all too much had changed. Ganondorf had taken over Hyrule, twisting his evil into every nook and cranny. Link, a child in an adult's body, sought to awaken the seven sages, and with their help he sealed Ganondorf away in the Sacred Realm. Link had become the Hero Of Time, a legend to be passed on down the generations. He was sent back to his own time by the Princess Zelda, where he would embark on further adventures.

When Princess Zelda was very young, she possessed mystical powers. She could sense the evil inthe King's new servant, Ganondorf, when her father could not. Her fears were justified when Ganondorf tried to kidnap the Princess. Impa saved her from this fate, however, and escaped with Zelda on horseback. Over the years Impa showed Zelda the magical ways, and Zelda learned how to change her complete appearance. It was because of this ability that her alter-ego, Sheik, was created. She eluded Ganondorf for years with her new-found powers. She helped Link along on his journey by teaching him melodies for the Ocarina that she gave him seven years ago. Her journey as her alter-ego came to a climax in the Temple of Time where she revealed her true identity. Ganondorf found her and imprisoned her. In Link's final battle, where Ganondorf was defeated, Zelda was released and the two fled the castle together. Zelda then helped defeat the newly formed Ganon with her magical powers. It was her rightful duty to send Link back to his own time, but the two met again, and Zelda taught him the Song Of Time. It is not known if they ever met each other after this...
Every 100 years, a male is born into the Gerudo family. Ganondorf Dragmire was such a male, but he was no ordinary male. The Gerudo pirates may be thieves, but they are not evil. Ganondorf, though, was the very meaning of the word, and was destined by the Triforce of Power to bring Hyrule to its knees.The Dark Prince earned the trust of the Hyrulian family and became on of the King's servants. He had fooled all, except a certain Princess. When Link disappeared for seven long years, Ganondorf rained his evil across Hyrule. He froze the water in Zora's Domain and attacked the children of the Kokiri. His reign came to an end when Link broke through the magical barriers to his castle. A fight took place at the top of it, where Link defeated the Dark Prince. With his remaining power and might, Ganondorf sent his castle crashing down. From the rubble emerged his more powerful, yet more primitive alter-ego, Ganon. Trying to use brute force to destroy Link didn't work, and with the power of the seven sages and a final blow with the Master Sword he was banished to the Sacred Realm...

Daurina is the King of the Gorons. He became an enemy of Ganondorf when the Dark Prince blocked off the entrance to Dodongo's Cavern, and therefore cutting off Goron City's supply of food: bomb plants. When Link retrieved the city's Goron Ruby from the depths of the cavern, he and Daurina became sworn brothers. Then, seven years later, Link returned to Goron's City to find it deserted, bar a young Goron named Link. Daurina was imprisoned in the Fire Temple when Link freed him and his Goron allies. After the two of them escaped the Temple, and peace was restored to the Goron people, Daurina and Link became sword brothers

Epona was looked after by Malon, Talon and Ingo on Lon Lon Ranch right from birth. As a young pony, she was introduced to a young fairy boy named Link. They didn't exactly hit it off, Link spent most of his time chasing her around the field! One day, Epona's world began to change. Under the new management of Ingo, the Ranch became a decidedly more unpleasant place to be. Years past, but one day a familiar face returned. Aged, Link competed in a race for Epona and won her. For the rest of Link's adventure, the two formed a bond as two survivors of Ganondorf's regime, and worked together to end it.

Impa, the last of the Sheikiah race, acts as Zelda's maid. She is her protector against all harm and is someone that Zelda trusts and confides in. When Ganondorf tried to kidnap Zelda, Impa was the one who saved her from harm. She spent years teaching the young Zelda the ways of the Sheikiah, until Zelda was able enough to change even her appearance. No one knows what happened to Impa after Link returned seven years later after his disappearance, however...

Kaebora Gaebora is an owl being, but he is said to be the reincarnation of a sage. He is a wise old owl who helps Link on his journey to becoming the Hero Of Time. They first meet when Link leaves the safety of the Forest, and it is of great comfort to him to see a friendly face in this huge new world.

Talon is the lazy, overweight owner of Lon Lon Ranch. That isn't to say he's a bad man, far from it. He just likes to snooze every now and again. Malon is his daughter, and she introduced Link to Epona. Even in her younger incarnation, she does most of the work around the farm, especially when it comes to horses. Ingo, the hired help around the place, doesn't help her because he doesn't have any time for work when he puts so much effort into moaning.

Mido has many ill-feelings towards Link. He thinks that he is the greatest of all the Kokiri, and deserves to be the favourites with The Great Deku Tree and Saria, but it ends up being Link who takes both titles. What Mido doesn't know, however, is that Link has a destiny to move on to greater things, but knowing Mido, it's best he doesn't find out...

Unlike Zelda, Princess Ruto is anything but modest about her position as daughter of the King Zora. For instance, when the poor girl gets swallowed by a cursed Lord Jabu Jabu, she doesn't exactly help Link in her own rescue. For this reason, Link spends a lot of his time inside the great fish's belly carrying Ruto around. However, she obviously falls for his charm when they succeed in escaping because she asks for his hand in marriage

Saria, Link's best friend for many years, has to bid Link a tearful farewell when Link heads off into Hyrule. She leaves him with a gift, the Fairy Ocarina. Seven years later, however, they are reunited. Saria, the Forest Sage, is awakened by Link and helps with the imprisonment of Ganondorf.

May the legend continue...