Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U) Review

I want you to do me a favor. Yes, you reading this. Now that Super Smash Bros. is out and you’ll most likely finally be picking up a Wii U, you will soon be in a position to play one of the finest platformers ever created. After you’ve had your initial fill of smashing, go out and pick up Donkey Kong Country:Tropical Freeze. I haven’t heard many people talking about this game, and right now it seems destined to become a criminally overlooked gem for the struggling console. Tropical Freeze is marvelous; a beautiful, rich experience full of detail and some of the most lushly-realized environments I’ve ever seen in a platformer. It’s a joy to play and just to look at and especially to listen to. To think that I was so disappointed by this game’s initial announcement back at E3 2013. I’d like to go back in time and punch my stupid Donkey Kong-bemoaning face into the ground. Tropical Freeze is truly special and one of the most wonderful gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

                I enjoyed Donkey Kong Country Returns a lot, especially after I replayed it last year and gave it my full attention. It’s a brilliant platformer, but it didn’t quite speak to me on a deeply personal level. It mainly channeled the spirit of the original Donkey Kong Country for Super Nintendo, another great game but not my personal favorite. No, my favorite DK game (and one of my favorite games period) is the first SNES sequel to that game, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong-Quest. Tropical Freeze evokes the magic of DKC2 and has provided me with what feels like the true successor to that SNES gem all these years later. Part of the reason I love DKC2 so much in relation to the first DKC is because it felt so much more lively and adventurous and has much more memorable and vibrant environments. I feel that DKC2 has more personality than its predecessor as well as an atmosphere and a feeling that speaks to me more. Tropical Freeze follows this trend with environments that feel more creative and new than the ones in Returns and it appeals to me much more as a result.

                Besides just how damn great the game feels to play, I think there are three things that immediately grab me about Tropical Freeze: the narrative, the environments, and the music.  That narrative is simple but is executed to near-perfection here. The Kong family’s island is conquered by the invading Snowmads, a group of Viking-like arctic animals that bring to mind the Kremlings in all the right ways and have way more personality than the Tikis from Returns (who, for the record, I actually liked). DK Island is literally frozen over courtesy of a giant magical horn (because that’s just how the Snowmads do things I guess) and the four Kongs (Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky) are blown far out into the far reaches of the neighboring seas. The game’s first level is set up brilliantly: DK lands in a wrecked plane suspended in the tangled branches of a massive mangrove forest. After busting out of the plane, he and his buddies’ adventure begins. I love the way that the frozen DK Island can be seen as a tiny speck far in the background right at the beginning of the first level: this wonderfully communicates a clear goal (get back to your island and take it back) while the distance of the island communicates what a grand adventure awaits. Something I’ve always loved about the DKC games is that the Kongs are never on some selfless quest to save the whole world just for the sake of it, but rather their quest is usually a personal one, with the familial bonds shared between the Kongs often a highlight. In Tropical Freeze, DK and pals are not trying to save the world, but their world, so to speak. One might say I’m spending too much time focusing on the narrative of a Donkey Kong platformer, in which cartoonish apes collect bananas and fight fish-throwing walruses, but everything is just executed so well in TF and the opening and ending cinematics are both gorgeously rendered and so very fitting for their situations and the feelings that they aim to evoke.

The Kongs are in this together

                Something that often irks me about platformers (especially Nintendo-produced platformers) is how they often rely on all the same old environment tropes and stale themes that the Super Mario Bros. series established back in the NES days (particularly in Super Mario Bros. 3), with the worst offender these days of the “grass world,desert world, water world, etc.” pattern being the Mario series itself. Tropical Freeze forgoes the Nintendo trend of copying Mario for some of the richest, most well-fleshed-out and beautiful environments I’ve ever had the pleasure of journeying through in a platformer. Each of the game’s six different islands is alive with its own atmosphere, feeling, and wildlife and each one feels like a game in themselves. The themes here are naturalistic and based on real-world natural biomes (for the most part), and fit Donkey Kong’s world supremely well while also being more creative and lively than your typical themed worlds. This is Retro Studios, so it goes without saying that Tropical Freeze boasts beautiful visuals and art design and incredible detail and depth when it comes to the environments. But saying it this way doesn’t do Retro’s first HD work justice. Small animals in the far background of levels are animated, backgrounds stretch way into the distance and are fully-modeled and detailed with imposing cave-sprinkled mountains, tropical islands, and deep caverns full of torchlight and castles. In just about every level, I want to jump into the background and explore, and each background feels like the world of an entire adventure game in itself. It’s marvelous. Each level in the game is like a new present on Christmas morning, with each new loading screen prior to a level filling me with giddy anticipation for what new sights and experiences awaited. A forgotten mangrove forest in the middle of the ocean full of wrecked planes, submarines and ships is one hell of a memorable opening world, and by the game’s second world, a majestic autumn-time wonderland themed after parts of western and central Europe, I was already in love. If the game had ended there, it would have been enough. Then the first level of the third world had me almost tearing up with its beauty and inventiveness.

                The level designs themselves are fantastic. The minecart levels, despite there being an unfortunately small number of them, are the best in the series. Levels feature unique new designs and themes as well as ones inspired by DKC 1, 2 and 3, although not in a pandering way, but in one that builds and expands on those old ideas (the entire second world in particular and my personal favorite, Autumn Heights, feels in large part like a homage to Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble, which I was surprised by given that game’s relative lack of popularity). I plan on making a separate post here listing out some of my favorite levels in the game, so I’ll save the details for later, but for now some of my favorite levels (besides the sublime savannah level I mentioned earlier) include a thrilling log-plume ride through a sawmill during a thunderstorm, a harrowing romp through a scorched wilderness set on fire, and a beautiful Limbo-esque silhouetted climb up an avalanche. 

Tropical Freeze's worlds and levels are superbly designed and rich with beauty
                Besides the original DKC trilogy, Tropical Freeze notably takes inspiration from many great platformers throughout the years such as the Super Mario series, DuckTales, the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and Rayman Origins. Some might call it “ripping off” in some areas, especially when it comes to elements like the way Cranky Kong uses his cane to bounce around a la Scrooge McDuck, but the game uses these ideas in conjunction with its own to create something special with its own unique feel. Actually, Tropical Freeze feels somewhat like a conglomeration of ideas from all the best platformers throughout history mixed with its own original ideas. The result is simply a supremely well-designed game that is absolutely joyous to play and experience. And then there’s that soundtrack…

                That David Wise soundtrack. As one of the composers of DKC1 and DKC3 and the sole composer for the absolutely stellar soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country 2, this was perhaps the element of Tropical Freeze that I was looking forward to the most. Very rarely are my expectations exceeded like they have been with the phenomenal work Wise has done for this game. Perhaps it wouldn’t be right to say he has surpassed DKC2’s score, but he’s certainly equaled it in terms of magic and wonder (only losing out in terms of nostalgia, but that will come with time). Donkey Kong Country Returns, which Wise did not compose for, had mostly straightforward updates of classic tunes from DKC1 that were designed to evoke nostalgia, but for Tropical Freeze Wise chose to compose mainly entirely new tracks, while using remixes and new compositions of old favorites sparingly and often in more creative ways, like hiding samples from classic songs in new tunes. I’m all for this choice, as the overly familiar OST of Returns was just a bit boring to me (as great as those classic songs are). There are only a few straight updates here, a beautiful update to Aquatic Ambiance being one of them, while the rest are all original pieces. The only update to a classic that I really wanted was Stickerbush Symphony, my personal favorite DKC2 track (and I’m sure many others’ as well) and…well, Retro kind of screwed up here. Retro, I love you, but I just have to ask: why didn’t you put the Stickerbush remix with the bramble level you created? Both a Stickerbush Symphony remix and a bramble-themed level are here, but bafflingly are not put together. The remix of Stickerbush Symphony is nice, although in truth I didn’t even recognize it at first; it’s more of a different take on the song like the Super Smash Bros. Brawl remix (although more faithful in feeling than that one) than a straightforward orchestrated update of the original, which is kind of what I was hoping for in this case, but really any version of this song is great, especially a new version from the original composer himself. The really odd thing though is that the remix of SS is used as filler music for the beginning and ending of one rocket barrel stage that has different music for most of the level. Maybe this is some kind of purposeful troll on Retro’s part or simply an oversight. While I know I’m asking for fan-service here, including both a return of the bramble level theme and a Stickerbush remix in the game is already fan-service so why aren’t they paired together? It’s a nitpick, but as such a huge fan of the original bramble levels and music in DKC2, it’s something that stood out to me and was a bit disappointing. But enough of that. I really can’t praise David Wise’s work on this soundtrack enough. The man is a beautiful human being and instead of failing to really describe how much I love this music, just have a listen to Mangrove Cove, Windmill Hills, and Amiss Abyss. Those are three songs that I love, but I have many other favorites. There’s really not a single track that isn’t stellar in its own way.

                You may have noticed that I haven’t really said anything bad about this game (besides the Stickerbush nitpick); in fact, this review has been almost entirely glowing praise so far, hasn’t it? Well, that’s because I really love this game, if you can’t tell, and I really don’t have much bad to say about it. I do have a few issues though, and one of them has to do with the controls. Now, unlike in DKC Returns, Tropical Freeze gives multiple control options, so if you don’t like shaking a stick to roll, now you can use buttons! I thought this would be a great thing, but then I realized that I actually found the Wii remote and nunchuk to be the most comfortable out of all the control schemes, and it was also the one I was used to from Returns, and I even realized that I actually like the motion stuff! Well, kind of. I actually think that the kinetic and active nature of wildly air-drumming with the Wii-chuk combo lends itself well to DK’s ground-pound move as well to pummeling bosses in the face after one of the game’s terrific boss fights. I even like giving the Wii remote one quick shake to do a roll. It just feels good. I enjoyed this in Returns as well and across both games, there were only a few rare occurrences where the motion control led to a screw-up (such as when I want to ground-pound, but haven’t let go of the control stick yet and accidently go rolling off a platform and into a pit, but this is more an issue with two actions being mapped to the same control input than motion control). However, there are a few areas where the motion control seems to fail me. I found dashing with Rambi the rhinoceros, which is required frequently in the levels that involve him, to be an awkward exercise. Shaking the Wii-chuk in short bursts is all well and good, but it gets tiring constantly flailing one’s means of controlling a game for a long period while dashing, while also remembering to press buttons on the instruments of said flailing, make precise jumps, and avoid obstacles. Also, this might not even be an issue with the motion control, but Rambi’s momentum seems incredibly wonky, especially when dashing and jumping, which led to many deaths. All this makes the Rambi levels (which are very few and far between) some of my least favorite in the game, which is a shame because they’re otherwise very thrilling, well-designed, and should by all accounts be some of the funnest levels. I also feel that a precisely-timed Wiimote shake being one’s only means of attacking underwater (sans Cranky Kong’s cane swipe) isn’t ideal and felt a bit janky to me.

                Speaking of swimming, what a great and convenient segue to lead into my only big complaint with Tropical Freeze, and even this one is ultimately trifling when it comes to the experience as a whole. As someone who has always actually enjoyed water-based levels in platformers and the atmosphere that they bring, and with the DKC series being known for its memorable and wondrous water levels, I was actually thrilled that they were bringing back swimming in Tropical Freeze, and had missed it in Returns. Swimming in Tropical Freeze feels fluid and fun, the game’s fully underwater levels are mostly well-designed and backed by beautiful music of course, and in short bursts (such as the levels that involve pools of water but where it’s not the focus), the swimming overall works great. Unfortunately, one irritating design choice puts a serious damper on the levels that take place almost entirely underwater and I’m sure by now you can guess what it is: yep, the air meter. In the classic DKCs, just like in Super Mario games, Donkey Kong and his friends could hold their breath forever, but now Retro decided to go all realistic on us and add a tiny air meter that rapidly empties, leading to a group of apes that is even more water-phobic than Sonic the Hedgehog. What’s worse, in the depths of the abyss, the only way to refill air, which again one must do constantly, is by using air bubbles also similar to Sonic games, and those air bubbles are annoyingly spread fairly thin in some of these levels. Put bluntly, there’s just nothing good about the air meter. One of the central charms of the water levels in classic DKC games, especially the first one, is their peaceful, calming nature. The water levels in Tropical Freeze are beautiful and I want to take my time and explore them and enjoy that sweet, sweet David Wise soundtrack, but I have trouble doing this when every ten seconds or so the annoying air meter starts beeping and completely shatters my immersion. This design mechanic is in stark contrast to the serene music and atmosphere of these levels. Similar to the timer in Super Mario 3D World, the air meter adds nothing to the experience and takes away so much. It might add a minimal amount of challenge, but it mostly just adds irritation and wastes the player’s time when they have to rush backwards in a level to find the last air source that they passed, or otherwise hamper their enjoyment of a level by forcing them to rush forwards through it. Even if one argued that the air meter adds a paltry amount of added challenge and a touch of realism, the sacrifice in atmosphere and enjoyment in these levels just isn’t worth either of these things. The air meter just feels really out of place and I wish it’d never made it into the final game.

I love this level; I just wish I didn't have to worry about that tiny blue bar in the upper left corner
                But in the grand scheme of the experience, my complaints with controls and the air meter are ultimately trivial. Even though I feel as though the developers chiefly had the Wii remote and nunchuk in mind when designing the game, several other controller options are available and you might like them better than I. I simply wish that the moves delegated to motion control could have been mapped to either the C-button on the nunchuk or the Z-trigger on the Wii remote as both of these buttons are used for the same action (grabbing) and thus one of them could have easily been used for the actions that require shaking (with the other one still being for grabbing). Perhaps ground-pounding could still have been mapped to shaking the Wii-chuk, and rolling, dashing with Rambi, and the swimming attack could have been delegated to one of these two buttons. This easily possible set-up would create the ideal control scheme for the game in my opinion. As for swimming, there’s only a handful of fully underwater levels in the game and all of them are contained in the same world, so their grievances were quickly forgotten when I was hopping and bopping back on dry land again. Not only this, but upon revisiting the underwater levels, I found that once I was familiar with their layouts, the air meter mechanic became more manageable (but still annoying) and I was able to enjoy them more. The levels of course should be enjoyable on one’s first run-through and this in no way pardons the air meter, but it’s worth mentioning.

                Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a stellar experience. Not only is it a fantastic adventure in its own right, but it subtly improves on just about everything from its predecessor, Donkey Kong Country Returns. The additions of Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong alongside the returning Diddy Kong are great and all of these partners for Donkey Kong bring useful and fun abilities to the table in the single-player mode (to say nothing of the added variety that they bring to the co-operative multiplayer mode, which I have not tried myself, either in Returns or in Tropical Freeze); having secret exits hidden in levels Super Mario Bros.-style is way more exciting than simply buying a key in a shop to unlock a bonus level (not to mention, spoiler alert, TF has a slightly more substantial secret world than just one level like Returns had); the already mentioned several different control options; and to my utter surprise, no Super Guide. I had to look this up while writing this review to make sure, but sure enough, Tropical Freeze completely nixes the crutch that Nintendo has usually been adamant about putting in most of their modern platformers. Now let me clarify, I actually don’t have much of an issue with the concept of Super Guide itself. While I do think even having the option takes away from the experience a bit and I always prefer just old-fashioned good game design to unsubtle hand-holding elements, I respect the fact that there’s an option for less-skilled players to skip a level that they are frustrated with or learn how to conquer it, especially in a challenging game like Tropical Freeze. What I don’t like, as someone who never touches the Super Guide, is that obnoxious, horrible, immensely nerve-grating, beeping, flag-waving pig from Returns that would appear at a checkpoint after just a small number of deaths and every single subsequent time that I screwed up, reminding me that, “HEY! YOU CAN USE THE SUPER GUIDE!!!”. “THANKS, PIG! I KNOW! AND I DON’T WANT TO! NOT NOW, AND NOT EVER!!!” This was especially awful on the incredibly challenging bonus levels in Returns. Seeing and listening to that pig over and over and over again tripled the frustration, at least. All I ask for when it comes to Super Guide is an option to stop it from ever appearing at all, but I’ll also accept just not having it in the game period (although that pig still hangs around at checkpoints and peeks around corners to give the occasional button prompt, but as long as it's not waving a flag in my face, I'm cool with it).

Tropical Freeze has, what I feel, is the perfect challenge level for a platformer like this. It feels very fair, and with the exception of the fully underwater levels, was never frustrating for me. My failures were almost always my own fault, and cheap deaths were rare during my playthrough. There were a few trial and error situations in the normal levels, but not many, and less than in Returns from what I remember. I didn’t find the difficulty in Returns to be as harrowing as some, but it did certainly get very brutal at times (and thanks to that pig, quite frustrating). I found Tropical Freeze to be much more manageable, while also still providing plenty of challenge. The hidden temple levels from Returns return in Tropical Freeze, and while they are still a great challenge and involve a few more moments of trial and error than standard levels, are far more manageable than the ones in Returns and far less frustrating. Also, mine-cart and rocket barrel levels are no longer a one-hit kill scenario in Tropical Freeze like they were in Returns, giving the player two hits this time before they go down, and this too is a smart improvement (and there’s always the unlockable hard mode if you still want that unforgiving challenge). And even though there is no Super Guide, there is still plenty of help in Funky Kong’s shop if players need it; for just a few banana coins (which are plentifully available in each level), players can purchase a heart that adds an extra hit-point, a balloon that will rescue them from a pit, and much more. One can even collect figurines of every friend and foe in the game (but I just have to ask: what the heck is up with Funky Kong’s “voice” in this game?). If one aims for all the game’s collectibles (which are worth it just for the thrill of the hunt and also to see the game’s gorgeous concept artwork, which contains a lot of unused ideas that I would have loved to have seen in the game; perhaps they’ll influence a sequel?), there’s a lot of trial and error in Tropical Freeze, but this mainly comes from going for all of the game’s well-hidden puzzle pieces (as opposed to the collectible K-O-N-G letters, which are often easier to nab). Finding and acquiring everything certainly takes patience and while I don’t mind this kind of thing, I respect that others don’t have that kind of patience. The reason I don’t mind is because I was thrilled to have an excuse to go back and replay levels over and over again thanks to their excellent design and music, and just how damn wonderful the game feels to play. The game is really as difficult as one makes it: if you just want to get to the end of the game, it’s a very fair challenge; if you want to collect all of the K-O-N-G letters to see all of the hidden levels, it’s difficult but very manageable; and finally if you want to go for all of the puzzles pieces to unlock hidden artwork, it will take time, but it’s a rewarding journey (and Squawks the parrot is there to help you out if you need their help as an item that can be purchased in the shop). A level’s K-O-N-G letters have to all be grabbed in one go and are usually easy to spot but sometimes tricky to acquire (and then make it back in one piece), whereas the puzzle pieces can be acquired one by one and are usually more well-hidden. I think that this duel system of collectibles is genius. And even beyond these main collectibles, Tropical Freeze is a game that rewards the player at every corner. Pulling an object out of the ground here and doing a ground-pound there, grabbing every banana clustered together in a certain part of a level, investigating a suspicious piece of scenery…players are almost always rewarded for their curiosity with a banana coin, an extra life, a puzzle piece, or something else.

I’ll say it once again, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is marvelous. There’s just not much more to be said now than if you’re in a position to play it (that is, if you own a Wii U), you should play it, especially if you’re a fan of platformers. Tropical Freeze evokes the magic of Donkey Kong Country 2 while also being entirely its own experience and creating its own brand of wonder. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fantastic game but it felt like it was largely concerned with paying homage to the first DKC game. Tropical Freeze feels more like its own, original game and similarly to DKC2, it branches out into creative new worlds and feels like a real adventure as DK and friends travel to places beyond DK Island. The only thing that seems to be missing is the other animal buddies besides just Rambi, and while I’ll admit that leaving them out does take away a big aspect of the old DKC trilogy’s identity, when the platforming is this well-constructed, I just find it easy to overlook this. The Retro Studios DKC games are simply a different beast, and when they’re as damn good as they are, that’s totally fine with me. Retro, I’m sorry I was ever disappointed by you in any way. If you choose to make a third DKC game, or if you are already working on it, I will eagerly anticipate it when it’s announced.

But seriously, that David Wise soundtrack though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hyrule Warriors Reminds Us Why DLC is a Bunch of Rubbish

The above video is a great example of why I think DLC is such anti-consumer rubbish. I paid $60 for Hyrule Warriors on its release day. I decided to buy the game new and not wait to get it used because not only did I want to play it and form an opinion on it as a Zelda fan (and play it as soon as I could to avoid having the experience spoiled), but I also genuinely wanted to support the game for several reasons (for being a quirky, experimental Zelda spin-off, being able to play as non-Link characters like Zelda, and a large cast of playable female characters).

But seeing this makes me regret that decision a little bit, and think that perhaps this game did not deserve my commerce.

The game itself is ok. I just posted a lengthy review on the topic, so I won't waste too many words talking about my feelings on the game here, except to reiterate that as much I enjoyed the title at certain points, Hyrule Warriors feels like it's missing a lot and is definitely far from the comprehensive Zelda tribute that I thought it would be. I'm never one who measures the worth of an experience by the quantifiable amount of stuff in it, but if I feel that an experience is lacking in certain respects, than it certainly can be not worth its full price for me, and I do feel that Hyrule Warriors is lacking. The core Zelda series has seventeen titles in it (including the two Four Swords games), but Hyrule Warriors only chose three Zelda games to focus on: Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Most playable characters and several of the game's battlefields are derived from these games, as are two of the game's six boss monsters (three more are Zelda classics found in several games, and the remaining one is the final boss; although Dodongo actually has two models in the game, with one being based on his Ocarina of Time appearance). Playing as Zant and Ghirahim is great, but what about the other fourteen games, all of which are brimming with characters and unique worlds? Where's my journey to to Termina for a battle against the Skull Kid in Clock Town? How about some high seas pirate battles on the Great Sea? Or maybe we could shrink down for some Minish-sized battles? Can I play as Tingle? Marin? Malon? How about Veran and Onox who who fit in so well in this game (and easily could have replaced generics like Cia and Volga)? No? None of that? Ok...well I guess there's always a sequel.

But apparently Koei Tecmo and Nintendo had other plans besides a sequel before the game even launched in North America. No sooner did I get past the title screen of Hyrule Warriors on release day did I find a giant, obnoxious advertisement on the right side of the main menu for the "Hero of Hyrule" DLC pack, complete with the option to select it and be taken right to the eShop where I can apparently pre-order not one, not two, but four different DLC packs, all coming out within the next several months, all for the combined price of $20. You might be thinking that $20 for all this extra content is a good deal, except that, wait...didn't I just pay $60 for what I thought was a full, complete experience? And about that battle in Clock Town and those other characters like Skull Kid? Well, apparently there's a Majora's Mask pack on the way next year. Gee, I would've loved to have my personal favorite Zelda game already represented in the full-priced game I just bought.

It seems that Hyrule Warriors was hacked up into several different pieces, and the releases of its many pieces are being staggered over time and ensuring that the game's publishers are getting more and more of your money for content that should have been in the game to begin with. If the game wasn't quite finished, if they didn't have time to include this content in time for a launch, fine, it can be a free update later. But why do that when they can sell a mediocre $80 fan-service cash-in and get away with it? My $60 only got most of the Hyrule Warriors experience, but other key parts were cut up and are being sold separately.

I was already annoyed with all the obnoxious pre-order exclusives before the game's release. There was a bonus for every major video game retailer to get extra costumes. It's now more apparent than ever that Hyrule Warriors is (how did Yahtzee put it?) a giant "blatant marketing exercise" meant to get as much cash from Zelda and Nintendo fans as possible. And the first pack detailed in the video above is not even exciting or interesting DLC. $7.99 can get you: one new "weapon" (Epona is easily the only really compelling thing about this rip-off, but she should have been in the game to begin with), five new Legend Mode missions based on the generic non-Zelda characters that take place in the same maps that players of the game have already fought in hundreds of times, a new Adventure Mode map (which is also just another way to recycle the same content that's already in the game), and finally one new non-Zelda costume shared between, again, two of the non-Zelda characters. It also looks likes there's some lazy recolor costumes in there as well. Really? One lame costume, some lazy recolors, one new weapon, and some recycled content for nearly eight dollars? On the subject of costumes: multiple costumes are also something that should be in the full-priced game to begin with, especially re-colors. Just look at the new Super Smash Bros., that game isn't selling the Koopaling variants for Bowser Jr. separately or Little Mac's pink jogging outfit as DLC, and those are actual costumes. Hell, the Koopalings are more than just costumes, but wholly unique models. Just think about all the varied and unique content in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U on day one for the same price as Hyrule Warriors. Now, I might learn to eat my words in the future when Nintendo does announce costumes as part of a future DLC pack for Smash Bros. I'd certainly be lying if I said I was happy with the way that the newest Smash game was handled, spreading it across two different versions so one must buy both if they want to experience all the content the two games have to offer (as well as Mewtwo, so far as we know right now). But as far as I can tell, purchasing the Wii U version will basically net players the full experience, minus the Smash Run mode, some stages, and a lot of trophies (and again, Mewtwo...). Smash 3DS was obviously conceived as a way to get more money, even if it may be a worthy game in its own right and even if handheld Smash Bros. is neat. Despite all this, I still think my earlier point about costumes in Smash Bros. shines a glaring spotlight on how greedy and anti-consumer Hyrule Warriors' DLC is.

Let's look at it this way: if one wanted to get every single piece of content for Hyrule Warriors, they'd have to buy the game three separate times at GameStop, Best Buy, and Amazon for all the pre-order bonus costumes (although these apparently will also be available later for a price on the eShop from what I've heard), then register the game on Club Nintendo for two more bonus costumes, then buy all of the DLC packs, most of which aren't even out yet and all of which won't be until March of next year. That is ridiculous. This game is not worth all that money and trouble.

If you plan on buying or have already bought the DLC for Hyrule Warriors, I'm not going to berate you, but please give it some thought and try not to simply jump on it as soon as you see Epona. At the very least, please don't defend it. I'm tired of seeing people defending greedy bullshit like this, saying it's "reasonably priced" and "DLC done right". Besides the fact that content like Epona and costumes should be there at the $60 launch, the Master Quest pack isn't even exciting DLC. Other Nintendo series joining Mario Kart is exciting, I admit, but Epona and some lazy costumes, plus a bunch of non-Zelda content for a Zelda tribute is not. After playing Hyrule Warriors for around 50 hours and finishing the Legend Mode as well as a substantial chunk of the missions in Adventure Mode, I think I can confidently say that these new missions probably won't offer much new. I'm sure the future packs that actually have exciting Zelda content in them like the aforementioned Majora's Mask pack will be less offensive, but for the very nature of their existence, still pretty offensive.

As for "doing DLC right", something like the Mario Kart 8 DLC that comes out today (and the other MK8 Animal Crossing-themed pack that is slated for May 2015) isn't terrible I guess, but the only truly proper way to do DLC right is to make it free; an extra; a bonus for people who already paid for and own the game, but nothing necessary and nothing that requires another $20, especially not so soon after I just paid full price for the game, and especially when this content was clearly planned for the purpose of wringing more money out of people after the game's release.

GameStop-exclusive Ocarina of Time Link is disgusted by Hyrule Warriors' DLC

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hyrule Warriors (Wii U) Review

Hyrule Warriors can be a lot of fun. Playing as a diverse cast of characters from the Zelda series and mowing through hordes of monsters, pulling off a string of combos, executing a well-timed special attack and breaking through an enemy’s defenses to deliver a killing finishing blow, all while rocking out to a pumped-up, adrenaline-filled soundtrack; when all the right notes click, I had a blast. Hyrule Warriors can also be a draining chore; a repetitive, mindless, and oftentimes very irritating slash-fest, that at times can feel like a cash-in at best and a monotonous waste of time at worst. It is the confliction of these two ideas that drove the majority of my time with Hyrule Warriors, which was around fifty hours over the course of a month.

                If you haven’t heard by now, Hyrule Warriors is a mash-up of the Dynasty Warriors franchise with the Legend of Zelda series that was developed by Omega Force and Team Ninja and published by Koei Tecmo and Nintendo. The game is much more Dynasty Warriors than Zelda in terms of its core design, but overall the game exists as a tribute to the Zelda series and a prime example of fan service. I’ve never played a Dynasty Warriors games before (I’m here for the Zelda), but I’ve always heard two things about games in that the long-running series: they’re repetitive and they’re mindless. I whole-heartedly concede with the repetitive aspect, but I’d say, at least as a newbie to the DW experience, this game isn’t entirely mindless, although it certainly can be a lot of the time. There is some level of strategy involved in looking back and forth between the battlefield map, battle information such as how much health a player’s allies have, and the battle at hand to decide whether it’s presently in one’s best interest to conquer a certain keep, go help an ally, or take out a certain enemy captain. Most battles in the game place the player on a battlefield full of square encampments known as “keeps”, hordes and hordes of mooks to be slaughtered in droves, a selection of more powerful enemy captains, the main enemy commander, and the player’s own allies. In the game’s “Legend Mode” (a.k.a. the main story campaign), missions usually involve taking some of the keeps, taking out some of the captains, and ending with a fight with the enemy commander and occasionally a giant boss monster. In traditional Zelda fashion, a few of the missions also require players to locate a certain item that is needed to move forward and to defeat the boss monster at the end of the mission. 

Link tearing through some bokoblins
                I found Legend Mode to be enjoyable, even though I thought the missions did tend to drag on a little too long (with each one taking me about half an hour to finish) and with only one or two particularly annoying missions (cough Death Mountain), and overall found it to be a nice piece of fan-service with a few stand-out moments. Seeing the likes of Ocarina of Time’s Darunia and Ruto, Twilight Princess’s Midna and Agitha, and Skyward Sword’s Fi team up with Impa, Link, and Zelda to take down a group of dastardly villains spearheaded by Ganondorf and his two lackeys, Zant and Ghirahim, is a lot of fun to witness and I quite enjoyed the fancy CG cutscenes that featured all of these characters together. Spoiler alert for Legend Mode, but the highlights for me include the six missions that involve travelling to the Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword eras (these levels represent what the majority of the game should have been; that is, actual content and environments from Zelda games) as well as the explosive finale that involves a kickass fight against a massive Ganon. But the absolute stand-out moment of Legend Mode for me might actually be the three chapters that tell the story from Ganondorf’s perspective, putting players in the shoes of the newly resurrected Demon King as he gathers his allies and his power before launching an all-out assault on Hyrule Castle against Zelda, Link, Impa and the entire Hyrulean army. This battle against the forces of Hyrule in particular is a brilliant change of pace for a long-time Zelda fan like myself; for the first time, I got to play as Ganondorf and take out that goodie-goodie hero, Link, as well as Zelda and Impa, before claiming the whole Triforce and conquering Hyrule. It’s pretty awesome, and even though the player resumes control of the heroes afterwards and everything turns out as usual, it’s still really cool to get to lead Ganondorf’s charge to victory. Also, the surreal experience of getting to see Ganondorf use the hookshot (all the playable warriors use the same assortment of classic Zelda items: bombs, the bow, the boomerang and the hookshot) almost made the price of admission for the game worth it by itself for me.

I love playing as Ganondorf

                In fact, one thing Hyrule Warriors really nails is the characters. They all look great in HD and I love how the developers took the time to give the series’ four classic main-stays—Link, Zelda, Ganondorf and Impa—original designs instead of just using already existing designs of the characters. Link looks fine and all, but I absolutely love Zelda, Impa, and Ganondorf’s designs, as well as Ganon’s (Ganondorf’s beast form) design. Zelda’s design pays tribute to previous games, but she’s dressed for battle, coming across as some sort of awesome Hyrulean Valkyrie warrior. Impa’s design, meanwhile, is based heavily on her appearance in Skyward Sword, but with elements from Ocarina of Time’s Impa as well; overall she just looks badass (she's also my favorite character to play as). Ganondorf has one of my favorite designs of his in the series: his long, shaggy hair and thick battle armor gives him the look of a feral warlord, and his flowing red locks also brings to mind the Demon King, Demise’s design from Skyward Sword, which of course makes sense. But it’s also great seeing all of these characters’ personalities come across in battle. Link, humorously, seems to be legitimately mute in this game and has a fairy named Proxi (get it?) do all the talking for him, but constantly hearing the other characters bantering back and forth lets us see more of the personalities of characters like Zant, who didn’t really get enough screen time in his own game. In fact, this game made me appreciate quirky characters like Zant and Ghirahim a lot more. Zant acts arrogant and feigns confidence one minute and becomes unhinged and starts shrieking loudly the next, which reflects his appearance in Twilight Princess, but seeing his constant switching between these two personas coupled with his frantic, hilarious actions on the battlefield (not to mention his brilliantly multi-layered character design) seems to give a fuller look at the character, as opposed to his insane antics only being a last-minute twist. I enjoyed seeing how Zant and Ghirahim contrasted with each other and also enjoyed seeing and hearing a lot from Ganondorf, actually getting to experience his conquering of Hyrule for myself. Unlike partner characters like Midna and Fi, we don’t usually get to see a whole lot of the villains in Zelda games outside of a few key story moments; perhaps it’s seeing the moment to moment actions of these characters that makes me feel closer to them in a way than I did in their native Zelda games, and the same can be said about characters such as Zelda and Impa. Like I mentioned previously with Zant, the characters’ personalities all come across in their fighting styles as well; Agitha the bug princess cheerfully skips around the battlefield and rides on top of a giant butterfly, Darunia the goron attacks with a fiery ferocity and has a move (as well as a victory animation) that pays homage to his memorable “hot beat” dance from Ocarina of Time, Ghirahim executes every move with a showy flourish and reminds us how highly he thinks of himself after each attack and so on. It's clear that a lot of effort was put into these characters and if nothing else, Hyrule Warriors does its cast of varied personalities justice.

Indeed, the game’s biggest strength is being able to play as all of these characters that aren’t Link (even though I find him to be the most powerful and easy to use in the game). It’s also really cool to see all these characters team up and fight together against evil in an all-out war, as opposed to one kid rummaging through a bunch of dungeons before fighting a climactic one-on-one final battle (not that I don’t love that jam). We often hear about wars like this in the backstory for Zelda games, but Link’s quest usually always takes place after such a war and he’s the only one left to stop the evil yadda yadda. This time though, everyone teams up Avengers-style: Zelda doesn’t get damseled in the eleventh hour here, she’s always right there on the front lines commanding the Hyrulean army; Impa doesn’t sit on the sidelines as a sage or an advisor, she takes her gigantic sword straight to Ganon’s face. Speaking of Zelda and Impa, it’s also awesome that over half of the game’s playable cast is made up of female characters. Might I also add that there’s nothing more gratifying than playing as Zelda and digging into Ganon’s piggy snout with a rapier before leaping into the sky as lightning crackles in the distance and filling the Demon King’s face with light arrows for a finishing blow.

I also love playing as Zelda

                Unfortunately, despite several notable strengths, Hyrule Warriors ultimately feels mainly like a novelty, and for me, its fan-servicey charms began to quickly wear off after finishing the main story mode. The game has plenty to do and to collect beyond Legend Mode, an overwhelming amount in fact, with numerous heart pieces to acquire for each character, one-hundred gold skulltulas to weed out, numerous secret weapons, and special achievement medals to collect. However, the process of going after these collectables involves the same repetitious gameplay on the same maps with the same enemies ad nauseam. It got old for me really fast. I tried going after some of the heart pieces and skulltulas in the Legend Mode levels that I’d missed on my first run-through, but stopped bothering after only acquiring a few. It was just way too time-consuming and just wasn’t worth it. Oftentimes, only a certain character can acquire a certain collectable on a particular level, meaning in order to get everything, these same monotonous missions must be played in full multiple times. Spending a half hour mashing the X and Y buttons on a mission that I’ve already finished twice just to get a piece of heart just isn’t fun, rewarding, or worth my time. For the most part, the optional collectibles in the game just feel like an easy way to pad out the game’s play-time on the developers’ part instead of actual side-content with any depth.

The rest of the unlockables can be acquired in Adventure Mode, the game’s other main course. While Adventure Mode is an interesting idea and can be enjoyable at times, it just recycles the same content from Legend Mode: the same environments, enemies, bosses, and oftentimes the same mission structures. The difference is that this mode is set up more like an exploratory adventure, instead of a straightforward story. Adventure Mode tasks the player with exploring the grid-like map from the first Legend of Zelda game, completing missions on each square of the map, unlocking weapons, characters, and other bonuses and forging a way across Hyrule with the ultimate goal being to defeat the “dark ruler” hiding on one of the 128 squares of the map. Missions here fall into one of two categories, either a short challenge mission (defeat a few rooms full of enemies, defeat the “right” enemies based on a prompt, defeat some enemies in a time limit, etc.) or a more compact version of the missions seen in Legend Mode, where there is usually one main task (either capture some keeps or defeat a couple of enemy captains) that needs to be completed before defeating the enemy commander to win (occasionally a curveball might be thrown where one of the giant monsters must be defeated after the commander). There aren’t that many variations here, and once you’ve done a handful of the missions in Adventure Mode, you’ve essentially done them all. Some of these missions can be immensely frustrating, especially the ones where the player is tasked with defeating several hundred enemies in a short time limit. This sounds easy enough in a game that usually throws wave after wave of sword fodder at players, but these missions are purposely stingy with baddies and spread small groups of them thin across the map and even better, these missions love to throw giant bosses at you that only serve to pester you and waste your time if you try to fight them. The more standard missions come with their own brand of frustration as sometimes they can stretch to almost as long as the missions in Legend Mode, especially if you choose to explore the whole map and look for every collectable like I usually did. But unlike in Legend Mode, which has checkpoints, if a player fails in one of these missions, say after twenty minutes of play and right before they were about to take down the enemy commander (which can be frightfully easy to do when failing is usually merely the result of either one AI character who can’t defend themselves fleeing or your allied base on the other end of the map rapidly falling as you struggle to make your way to save it), you have to restart the whole mission over. At least experience points are kept if you fail, but special collectables such as heart pieces and gold skulltulas are not. The only thing that drove me to keep going in Adventure Mode was the fact that four playable warriors can only be unlocked in this mode, and that the mode does have an end state and a credits screen that can be reached by completing a certain mission. So I at least unlocked all the characters and saw the credits roll, which in itself was a time-consuming feat; if I’d attempted to complete and A-rank all 128 missions, I fear what my mental state would look like at the end of it all.

Taking on a challenge in Adventure Mode
I simply found Hyrule Warriors to be an exhausting exercise and I could often only play a few missions before getting tired of the game. I found myself having difficulty really “getting into” the game a result. In Legend Mode, I could only do about two missions before getting burnt out and in Adventure Mode, only a few more than that, depending on how long they took. There were only a few times when I had the stamina to keep going and clear a lot of missions at once. This all can be attributed to the repetitive, monotonous nature of the game, which failed to stimulate me on a consistent basis. I also found myself losing motivation to play after a while and began to feel like I was just wasting my time playing the game.

                As it is, Hyrule Warriors is a neat fan-service game, but even in that department, I feel it falls short. After initially seeing footage of characters like Zelda, Impa, and Midna in action before the game’s release and after witnessing a scene where the Great Fairy from Ocarina of Time yanks the Majora’s Mask moon down from the sky in order to clobber Argorok, the dragon boss from Twilight Princess, I was sold. As more information about the game began to trickle out, I couldn’t wait to see what bosses and characters from across the vast Zelda universe would make an appearance. There was so much potential. Would Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask be playable? If Sheik could fight with a harp, so could Marin from Link’s Awakening! Maybe we’d see Malon join the fray with an army of cuccos, or how about other villains like Vaati, Veran and Onox joining the fight? I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in a celebration of the series’ rich history.

                Unfortunately, Hyrule Warriors falls quite short of my admittedly lofty fan expectations, however I don’t think it’s too unfair of me to say that I would have appreciated the game paying homage to maybe a few more Zelda titles than just Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. You see, while there are certainly nods to many elements in the series, the game heavily focuses on those three titles in particular, with all the playable warriors stemming from those three as well as the different eras visited in Legend Mode being those of OoT, TP, and SS. While getting to play as characters like Midna, Zant, Darunia, and Agitha is great fun, it’s a bit disappointing that in a legacy series spanning twenty-eight years and seventeen main titles, only three titles were chosen as the focus.

Link and Ghirahim battle it out in Skyloft

                This complaint is highlighted by the fact that the game, despite being filled with plenty of things to do, is actually fairly light on actual content. What I mean is that there are only six maps in the game actually taken from Zelda titles, while the rest are either original locales or locales that, while based on series stales like Faron Woods and Hyrule Field, are still original is aesthetic design. All of these “other areas” feel generic and un-Zelda-like, and unfortunately these areas make up the bulk of the terrain that players will be battling in. I think part of these locations’ blandness comes from their visual design lacking the color and personality characteristic of the Zelda series: take the first stage of Legend Mode (and one you see a lot of in the game), Hyrule Field, for example: it’s a generic green field with some trees, several nondescript castle structures and a constant dreary gray sky overhead. It just doesn’t look anything like the magical land of Hyrule. The game’s four original characters—one warrior of light and three villains—also feel a bit generic and out of place. While their designs are inspired by classic Zelda enemies, antagonists Cia, Volga, and Wizzro just look uncomfortably out of place next to the vibrant and beloved cast of Zelda friends and foes. The lone new heroine, Lana, is just a typical, innocent-seeming, magic-wielding female anime stereotype. Countering her is the villainous sorceress, Cia, who is a sexualized seductress who brings Hyrule to ruin in an attempt to make Link hers. The modest, innocent young girl against the flirtatious, big-chested dark witch. Outdated, boring stereotypes like these don’t really compare to the shrieking, leaping antics of the chameleon-headed Zant or the pure badassery of the giant sword-wielding Impa (although I will admit that Lana’s over-the-top animations and stereotypical anime poses are quite amusing).

                Other disappointments include a tiny selection of classic Zelda bosses that get recycled over and over again throughout both Legend and Adventure Mode and a soundtrack decidedly lacking in many remixes of classic Zelda tunes. King Dodongo, Gohma and Manhandla’s classic-inspired designs are all awesome but with only five boss monsters in the game (barring the final one), of all the creatures in the series, they pick The Imprisoned from Skyward Sword as one of them. Sure, his appearance makes sense within the context of the game, but didn't we fight that thing enough already? And the fight here operates nearly identically to the ones in SS. The soundtrack, like the selection of maps in the game, is mostly made up of original tracks. While several of these original tunes I actually enjoy quite a bit, in a Zelda fan-service/tribute game, I would have liked to have seen more remixes from the Zelda series. While I’m not the biggest fan of the rock and electric guitar remixes that are here, they do fit the style of the game. I just wish there were more.

Have you ever done this in a Zelda game before?
                This might all sound like I’m a kid on Christmas morning who wants more toys, but this a fan-service game, and I want Zelda fan-service damnit! It wouldn’t annoy me as much if the game didn’t feature so many bland original elements in place of Zelda elements that would have fit right in. The game’s set-up—portals to different eras across the Zelda series open up and characters and villains from each team up to fight in a cosmic war—is such a great idea for a fan-servicey Zelda spin-off, but Hyrule Warriors just doesn’t quite live up to the pure amazingness of that concept. How awesome would a battle in Clock Town against the Skull Kid and a falling moon be? Or how about a journey to the Great Sea? Or Koholint Island? What about even A Link to the Past’s era? It looks like this is where the game’s DLC comes into play, at least partially. This review has already gone on long enough, so perhaps I’ll save my thoughts on this game’s DLC issue for a follow-up post. For now, I’ll just say that, after already spending $60 on this game on its release day, I’m not too happy about a giant advertisement for DLC staring me in the face as soon I reach the game’s main menu.

Despite getting frustrated with some of the more infuriating missions in Adventure Mode and getting bored with the game fairly quickly after completing Legend Mode, I had some fun with Hyrule Warriors and when the game clicked, it certainly had some fantastic moments for me. As I already stated, I love the finale in Legend Mode and the ending scene that follows it (more spoilers ahead) also highlights how Zelda and Link always save Hyrule together. The moment in the ending when Link and Zelda secure the Master Sword in place and reseal Ganon’s evil spirit together made me think about how much I love the Zelda series. It just brought to mind the beautiful kinship between these two characters and made me think about their timeless bond, wonderfully realized in titles such as Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker. I guess if this game reminded me about how much I love Zelda, and really made me want to go and play some Zelda games, than I suppose it’s a big success in one important regard (then again, I didn’t really need reminding…). However, this observation also highlights that fact there were several times while playing Hyrule Warriors when I simply thought about how I’d much rather be playing a real Zelda game instead.

Impa is just the coolest
My final consensus on Hyrule Warriors is this: after playing the game almost every day for a month straight, I can safely say that the game is...”Ok”. It gets my thumbs up as a fan-service game generally, but it’s one of those wobbling thumbs that is kind of flipping between being partially upright and sideways. If you’re a Zelda fan, I’d recommend getting the game used for cheap or borrowing it from a friend to play through Legend Mode; maybe check out Adventure Mode and try to unlock the remaining four characters there just to try them, but I wouldn’t bother with much else as it’s not really worth it. If you’re a fan of Dynasty Warriors, well I hear this game is just like those games, so go nuts. And if you happen to be a fan of both The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, you obviously already have the game and I’m sure your opinion is a favorable one. If nothing else, as an advertisement for the Zelda series, the game succeeds; if I’d never touched a Zelda game before, I’d imagine that I’d want to know more about all of these strange and wonderful characters.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

So It's Actually Happening

I'll admit, I was taken by complete surprise by the sudden reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D at the beginning of today's Nintendo Direct (yesterday's now). Not that the game hasn't been hinted at to death and demanded for into oblivion; it just wasn't on my mind and I also didn't expect any big reveals today. It took only a fraction of a second for my brain to recognize the swordsman's school music and realize what was happening. Using said music was an interesting choice for the reveal, but I think it worked. It's a song not many people talk about or might immediately recognize, which makes for some nice suspense. I bet a lot of people had a reaction kind of like: " that...wait, oh shit...". That was pretty much my reaction at least.

So Eiji Aonuma and co. (with Grezzo's help I presume) are finally remaking the best game Nintendo has ever made (fact!), but what does that mean? And how do I feel about it? Majora's Mask is very special to me. I usually cite it as my favorite video game of all time. If you happened to notice the name of this blog and the picture at the top, that all should come as little surprise.

The original Majora's Mask, to me, is perfect. It's beautiful, impactful, and memorable for all the right reasons. Any technical or arbitrary mechanical imperfections are meaningless to me. With that said, I'm obviously nervous about a remake that is supposedly going to aim to improve on perfection. To be honest, I'm also not that impressed with how the game looks either. I'm sure when I see it in its proper resolution on my 3DS with the slider all the way up, the game will look fantastic (just like Ocarina of Time 3D does), but so far, it just looks kind of underwhelming (also still not sure how to feel about that new moon design, which seems to have taken inspiration from Hyrule Warriors, or perhaps it was the other way around). I think this is partly because I've been spoiled by the beautiful HD remake of The Wind Waker and partly because seeing new visuals and new models for a game I'm so intimately familiar with is very jarring to me.

Another reason might be because I think the N64 original still holds up very well. It was one of the last N64 games and utilized the system's expansion pack to create a much lusher and more detailed world than OoT has, and one that I can still easily appreciate (not that I can't still appreciate the original OoT's world as well, because I do). This and the fact that I think the original doesn't need any improving on any other level are a few of the reasons why I didn't really want a Majora's Mask remake (gasp!) or at least wasn't crying out for one. The other reason is that Majora's Mask is perhaps my favorite work of art...ever. Would you remake the Mona Lisa?

But I digress. Perhaps I'm being over-dramatic. The fact is MM3D is happening, it was inevitable, it's not a big shocker and for now I'm cautiously interested in it. I'll definitely be picking up the game and playing it and as long as it turns out like Ocarina of Time 3D (essentially the same experience with updated visuals that stay true to the original's art design and only minimal tweaks that don't impact or detract too much), I'm sure it will be a worthy remake.

That said, Satoru Iwata mentioning something about making the game more accessible has me worried. If I may use the obvious metaphor, Majora's Mask is indeed a giant clock, with every part and piece of it working in tandem to create an incredible experience. Tampering with any one of those parts, making alterations for the sake of "making the game accessible" by say tweaking the three-day formula in some way or giving players more lax time constraints, will only end up cheapening Majora's Mask. Not all art is for everyone. Not all art has to be accessible. Majora's Mask is not a toy and no, it's not "just a game" ("video games" in general haven't been such for decades, but that's a topic for another day), so while altering something purely arbitrary to the core experience, like the game's save system for example (which is one of these "technical imperfections" that I mentioned that don't matter to me in the grand scheme of things), would not affect the integrity of the work in any way, altering other more significant elements could. Iwata also mentioned that they hope to keep the "difficulty" intact, however, so perhaps I don't have cause for worry. But even if it's an "either or" kind of deal where players have an option for an "easy mode" with a longer time limit or something, that still won't fly in my book. Call me stubborn or selfish, I don't care: implementing something like that is akin to treating Majora's Mask like a toy and a game instead of a confident, unapologetic work of art. Unfortunately, yes, I do live in the real world and I realize that a huge company like Nintendo wants to sell a product that appeals to as many people as possible, and I don't think the Nintendo of today, at least as a company, cares much for artistic integrity. Iwata himself has made a statement regarding such in the past, demonstrating that (if that statement is to be taken seriously) him and even Shigeru Miyamoto are more and more treating Nintendo's games like products, instead of works of art. A remake of Majora's Mask will not benefit at all from being treated like a product first and a work of art second.

I also really hope the team that created the original is closely involved with this remake, especially Yoshiaki Koizumi, who is the brilliant designer at Nintendo (seriously, he's like my favorite, look him up and the brilliant things he's done and worked on for which he gets very little recognition) who dreamed up the falling moon scenario and time limit concept, as well as wrote many of the scheduled events involving the citizens of Clock Town and is supposedly largely responsible for much of the mature and serious elements of the game (which I readily believe, given his pedigree). I hope he's there and has the authority to preserve what makes the original so poignant.

With Majora's Mask 3D, my three most-cherished Zelda games (Link's Awakening, Majora's Mask, and The Wind Waker) will now all have remakes. I just really hope they don't screw this one up. I had similar fears regarding The Wind Waker HD, but ended up mostly adoring that remake. Majora's Mask is different though. The game has such a delicate balance of atmosphere and mechanics that need to be preserved if this remake is going to be worthy. As much as I love OoT3D and TWWHD, I don't consider either to be the "definitive version", just a "different version". There are still merits to the original works, as will also be the case with MM. As was the case with The Wind Waker HD, I expect to be annoyed by all the reviewers and all the people will be all too eager to let MM3D overwrite the original that I love so dearly. Of course, nothing can take the original N64 masterpiece away from me, but I just want other people to still regard it as an option if the new one just doesn't quite preserve everything about the original. I'm excited that many people who never experienced Majora's Mask or who don't know anything about it are going to experience it now. I'm happy that Nintendo is finally done ignoring their greatest creation. But I'm still going to be selfish. I deserve to be selfish, and so does anyone else who cherishes MM like I do. This game is our baby, and Nintendo is sticking their hands back in it and messing around with it. Take care, Nintendo. Take care.

But damn, is this official artwork beautiful: