Archive for August, 2013

Majora’s Mask or Ocarina of Time?

When it comes to the Legend of Zelda series there are a few questions that are always asked. When is the next one coming out? Will Nintendo ever make another side-scroller like the Adventure of Link? Which is the best in the series? What possessed them to make those CDi games? What the fuck were they thinking with that timeline? And finally… Which is better: Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask?

With the several different formats that Zelda games have used over the years, it is often hard to compare the true gems of the series. You can’t expect Link’s Awakening (SNES) to have the graphical niceties of Twilight Princess (Wii and GC). But the two easiest games to compare are probably Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Both released on the same system, relatively soon after one another and both having countless similarities. Of course this is because Majora’s Mask was intended as an expansion to the incredibly successful Ocarina of Time, however Nintendo decided they would release it as a stand alone game making use of the N64’s expansion pack for more blast processing or something. The comparison of the two games was, and still is, inevitable. They are similar in all the practical ways and yet different in a hundred subtle ones. Having played through and given my thoughts on Ocarina of Time in a previous post I thought it was best to play through Majora’s Mask as well. I would like to take this opportunity to state that this ‘comparison’ will probably focus mainly on MM as OoT has already been discussed, as linked above.

I would also like to state that I played Majora’s Mask on the Gamecube version that is contained on the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition disc. This has some known problems like frame-rate issues and some musical errors, so i won’t mention any occurrences of that. Also, I won’t be taking about graphics because they’re the same as Ocarina of Time, literally identical.

So, to begin with, let’s start with the negative points. Firstly and perhaps most glaringly, the game is quite short. In OoT there are the 3 initial dungeons to get the precious gems to get through the Door of Time. There are then the 5 dungeons to get the medallions and then a few mini dungeons spread throughout, all topped off by Ganondorf’s Tower which contains 6 mini, mini dungeons as well as having enemies to fight within. Majora’s Mask has 4 dungeons with a few mini dungeons scattered around. The Clock Tower can’t even be called a dungeon. There are the mini dungeons that you need to complete in order to get the Fierce Deity mask but those are completely optional, unlike the mini dungeons in  Ganondorf’s Tower. As well as this the world of Termina feels smaller than Hyrule by quite a large margin. This does subtract somewhat from the feeling of being a child, setting out to topple insurmountable odds. A feeling commonplace in most Zelda games. What we have here then is a lack of content. This is clearly because MM was intended as an expansion. It’s not only clear in the identical visuals but in the shorter length of the game. I would probably cite this as a bad thing and for this reason I feel like it is necessary to consider MM as an expansion, otherwise the lack of game to play would be nigh on unforgivable.

Whilst talking about the downsides of Majora’s Mask, I want to talk about the bosses. Bosses in Zelda games are always a highly anticipated feature and there have been some very memorable ones. From Ocarina of Time I thought the fight with Ganondorf and Ganon was very memorable, as well as enjoying Volvagia, Twinrova and Bongo Bongo. The mini-bosses were also very good, a highlight being the return of Dark Link, who first appeared in Zelda II. However, the bosses in MM are memorable for all the wrong reasons. I shall give a quick run down of each of the 4 main bosses and reasons why I hate them.

Odolwa: A forgettable boss fight. A giant Jungle warrior with a sword. Probably too easy whilst also talking a while to kill. The least to say about this one

Goht: A mechanical goat. The most gimmicky boss fight here, but a good idea really. Roll after him in Goron form and kick the shit out of him. Also very easy, but a good idea nonetheless.

Gyorg: Frustrating unless a specific strategy is supplied. Doing the dolphin jump out of the water in Zora form is the only way to ensure not taking damage each cycle and that can be tricky to do when you’re close to the centre platform. This fight can even feel unfair at times, with Gyorg recovering from damage quicker than you can safely retreat.

Twinmolde: Insultingly simple and controller breakingly frustrating in the same breath. Hit the two giant snakes on the head or tail. Use the Giant’s Mask to become huge and attack them. (WARNING: This is going to be a long one because I hate this boss and found it very hard for a variety of reasons which I will elaborate on). Firstly, when you are wearing the Giant’s Mask, Link fills the centre of the screen, making it hard to see what the fuck is going on. The hit boxes seem to be a bit off for the Kokiri Sword meaning you have be very close to score a hit but the animation for Twinmolde taking damage is for the hurt appendage to flail around slightly. This causes Link to take damage 9/10 times he damages the boss. The use of the Giant’s Mask constantly drains your magic. More magic can be found in pillars in the arena, hit them with your sword to break them. If you are too close to the pillars the hit won’t register. Not all the pieces of the pillars drop magic. The magic is incredibly hard to see when you’re wearing the Giant’s Mask, making it hard to pick up. You may also have heard that the blue snake is weak to fire arrows and the red one to ice. Well these also cost magic and hitting the tail/head with arrows is incredibly difficult and most of the time you’ll get run over from behind before you even see the snake that’s hurtling towards you at a million miles an hour. On top of all this clusterfuck that this boss fight is slowly shaping up to be, you take more damage when normal sized as well. Basically, if you run out of magic, you have to hang around near a pillar, which may not even contain any magic, and hope that the snakes don’t deal you massive damage with their enormous hit boxes you can’t possibly escape. In short, fuck Twinmolde. Possibly the worst thing about this is that the boss is completely trivialised with two sidequests. Simply upgrade your sword fully and defend Romani Ranch to get Chateau Romani and the fight becomes trivial, You hit 3 times as hard and you never run out of magic, which was pretty much every problem to begin with. I hate this boss fight so much.

Having said all this, it should be stated that the final boss fight is actually very good and a little odd, perfectly reflecting the tone of the game. Some of the mini bosses are great as well, King Igos being a particular highlight.I do however feel like the larger bosses in this game are very underwhelming and only memorable because of frustrating aspects. Twinmolde is probably not as bad as I’ve made it seem but I do think the fight is mechanically flawed. I can’t think of a boss in any other Zelda game that frustrated me as much as Twinmolde did.

Now that is most of the negative things out of the way, it’s time to consider the positives. Firstly, and the most often cited argument for MM superiority, is the atmosphere. Atmosphere is quite hard to describe but I’ll give it my best shot. So the whole plot of the game is a big ass scary moon is about to crash into Clock Town. The game takes place across 3 days. One the first day everything is fine and dandy, on the second people begin to talk to you about the moon. How it’s getting closer and how this scares them. On the third day Clock Town is nearly empty. Those who remain tell you that the others have fled, you can see the despair in many characters and even the acceptance of their inevitable demise. These are dark themes for a Zelda game, ones that MM conveys well. The third day in Clock Town is one of the most unnerving places in any video game. It’s not scary like a horror game, but it’s filled with despair that feels almost real. I mentioned earlier that the atmosphere pervades into the final boss fight and this is certainly true. The 3 versions of Majora’s Mask are reasonably challenging with the second form, Majora’s Incarnation, being quite unnerving. The final boss, although made ludicrously easy by the Fierce Deity’s mask (which is optional), fits the game very well.

Other advantages over Ocarina of Time include a wealth of better  and more varied side quests, the Romani Ranch series being a particular highlight. There is also a large array or better characters. Clock Town is filled to bursting with them, something that Ocarina of Time was severely lacking. In OoT it sort of felt that you, Zelda and Ganondorf were the only real people in Hyrule. I personally liked Darunia a lot and there’s also Saria who, whilst important early on, does fade out as the story progresses. Meanwhile Clock Town has tonnes of personality bursting from it. A particular favourite is the story of Anju and her missing  fiance Kafei. In an interesting, time specific, side quest you re-unite the couple and leave them, ready to accept their death together. Clock Town feels alive, this is helped a huge part by the time specific events which add a sense of urgency and realism that was severely lacking from OoT. This is, along with the atmosphere, the greatest plus point of Majora’s Mask and it is not one that should go unconsidered.

Overall then we see that Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time basically succeed where the other fails. Ocarina of Time was criticised for it’s empty feeling over-world, a problem that Majora’s Mask solves. Whilst Majora’s Mask has mostly lacklustre dungeons and bosses, an area where Ocarina of Time excels. Here then we have a problem, I don’t feel entirely comfortable calling one game superior to the other. I feel that maybe Ocarina of Time is the better game whilst Majora’s Mask is a better experience. Truly the only solution is to play them both, MM is canonically a direct sequel to OoT and you should take this rare quirk of the Zelda timeline as an opportunity for a cohesive story to develop over two games. Both should be played, you will enjoy both. But which you prefer is entirely down to you.

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Hotline Miami

To begin with I should probably retell about how I came across Hotline Miami. I was pretty broke, as a student such as myself often is, but then the Great Overlord Gabe Newell saw it fit to bless Steam users with the annual Steam Summer Sale. A bonanza of bargains of varying quality. I like the Steam Sales particularly because it gives me a chance to pick up the ‘Flavour of the Month’ indie game for usually under a couple of pounds. Last snatch was The Binding of Isaac, a great little title that I thoroughly enjoyed playing. Although I didn’t get too far, something I intend to eventually fix. However, in the Summer of 2013, that is this Summer, this title was Hotline Miami. A trippy and violent retro flashback to the 80s, a decade that I was not born during so of course I know nothing about, but I’ve been assured it’s accurate…

To begin with, as usual, the visuals come up for discussion. Being an indie game Hotline Miami doesn’t even the graphical ‘quality’ to think about such words as ‘high definition’. The graphics to me looked very ’16-bit’ and were very stylised, again as indie games often are.  However, this isn’t bad in any way. Some gorgeous pixel art exists and most of it is from games from the ’16-bit’ era. Games like Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Link’s Awakening and the SNES Final Fantasy games have graphics that have only matured like a fine cheese. Hotline Miami taps into this and the game looks nice. The thing that jumps out about the graphical style is the colour. The colour is vivid and intense and wonderful and fits wonderfully to the hectic, murderous, drug fueled rampage that comprises the game’s story. Truly a visual style that is appropriate and pleasant, a combination any game should strive for.

Since I mentioned the game’s story, I guess that should be discussed next. I’ve heard it said that this game’s story is not to be taken too seriously and that the aim of the developers was to prove that story is not required for a good game. But I’ll try and give a plot summary anyway. You play as ‘Jacket’, who is a man, with a jacket. He wakes up and there are messages on his answering machine telling him, in a series of heavy euphemisms, to murder hundreds of members of a Russian gang. During the respites in Jacket’s blood spattered rampage he is accosted by characters wearing the masks that Jacket himself wears on his sprees and grill him on various aspects of his new found life. The questions helpfully voice the players own wonders about what the shit is going on.  You follow Jacket’s efforts to uncover what the hell is going on and murder hundreds of people gleefully along the way. Meanwhile these is a couple of prologue chapters that reveal a little more but there is a lot of aspects, such as ‘what the fuck was going on?’ and ‘did any of that actually happen?’ and ‘seriously what was going on?’. So yeah, the plot isn’t that important.

Meanwhile, what is important is the gameplay and the gameplay is very good. You control Jacket from a top down perspective and you go around killing hundreds of enemies with a satisfying varieties of melee weapons and guns.  The controls are simple and effective. I feel like it’s best played with Keyboard and Mouse for the record, it feels more natural and allows for quick changes of the way Jacket faces. The satisfying crunching noise of crowbar hitting face, the graphic death animations and the small penalty for death (press R to Retry) will have any player eager to jump back in to the face-crushing, Russian-slaughtering action. Really, there’s not an awful lot to say. I can tell you that you will try levels multiple times, it’s all about finding the correct timings and order in tactics with which to slaughter anyone who stands in your way. The aforementioned masks add some pleasing variety as well, each mask with a different bonus that vary from having your unarmed attacks be lethal to having the entire level dimly lit, reducing enemies’ cone of vision. More than anything the masks add tonnes of replay value to a game that already has loads of replay value simply through the virtue of being incredibly fun.

Hotline Miami has, overall, not a lot to talk about. It’s very simple but in doing so is awesome. I have often harked on about how simplicity is often a merit to games, allowing the player to be quickly involved and to immersed more easily. That isn’t to say that games that are complex are bad, in many ways a complex game is better by rewarding players for putting more time and effort into the game meaning that the player feels more rewarded upon the games’ completion. Having said all this, the visceral, bloody simplicity of Hotline Miami goes a long way. The game is simple to play and relatively difficult to master. Some areas of the game can be challenging and the feeling that you get when you run through a house smashing the shit out of a platoon of Russian gangsters has few rivals. I would rank Hotline Miami as a must get if you can. I was lucky and got it on sale, but the game is still pretty cheap even off sale and certainly less than the typical AAA game that is being constantly peddled these days. Hotline Miami is simple, fun and more importantly it sets an example for the future. People in the games’ industry need to see that these types of small titles are much better for the consumer than the constant excretion of the same bloated entrances to the same old series again and again. Hotline Miami is the cure to that disease.

Hotline Miami is a fun game that you should all buy. I liked it at least, I hope you will.