Friday, August 15, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: The Legend of Zelda for the NES!

     Alright boys and girls, it’s time for B-Sly The Gamer Guy to sit down and write a review of the king of the hill when it comes to adventure games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That’s right everybody, this is my review of the iconic The Legend of Zelda! 
image     I think everyone would agree that The Legend of Zelda is one of the best (and most prolific) games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and one of the best video games ever created. It’s one of those timeless masterpieces that people still get the urge to play some 25 years later and it’s definitely a game that remained popular throughout the life of the NES. That is something that we hardly see happen anymore in this day and age and it’s something that I think adds a charm to retrogaming as a whole. See, many games come out for modern gaming consoles month in and month out and a solid chunk are lost to time and forgotten about less than 6 months later. This is because the modern gamer has become so fickle that they can’t figure out what it is they want to play and most titles are either rushed through or hardly played at all after purchase. It’s a vicious cycle, a new game comes out and then interest in whatever they were enjoying previously comes to an abrupt end and the game is cast aside and never touched again, if not traded away. Something I absolutely hate to see. These kinds of things didn’t happen much during the heyday of the NES and the popularity of the original Zelda lasted well into the early 90’s. That would be 4-6 years after the title hit stateside. That’s a remarkable feat, especially since Sega had two gaming machines on the market, Nintendo had it’s Gameboy, and NEC had their TG-16 console readily available. Zelda and the NES not only stayed relevant but they outsold their competition 3-1.
    What The Legend of Zelda did upon release was re-define a genre that heavily needed it, but the game didn’t have an easy time upon it’s release. You see, Nintendo of America almost never ported it over because they believed that it may have been too hard of a game for an American audience to handle. That’s right, The Legend of Zelda almost never came out in the United States! What Nintendo of America did was hold sessions with study groups and allowed players to spend time with the game, after the sessions were over the players were asked by the “suites” at Nintendo what they thought of it. The response was almost unanimous and it wasn’t what Nintendo of America wanted to hear. Most of the players who participated didn’t like The Legend of Zelda with multiple people claiming the game was “shit” and the legend has it that only a small handful actually thought it was enjoyable. Well, regardless of the study sessions the game eventually saw release and went on to become one of the NES’ top selling (and top rated) titles selling millions of copies and stealing the hearts of gaming fans all over the country.
image    The premise of the game was fairly simple: A hero dungeon-crawled his way through multiple labyrinths in hopes of finding pieces of a legendary triforce in order to save the kingdom of Hyrule. And the gameplay mimicked the story. Link, our timeless hero, scoured 9 different dungeons as he collected helpful items and pieces of the triforce before meeting an enemy named Ganon in a final epic encounter. The land of Hyrule was littered with surprises and easter eggs that left the gamer planting bombs to uncover hidden caves, lighting trees on fire to find hidden temples, and using the gadgets they’ve found along the way to find secret hearts. It kicked off what we know now to be the classic Zelda flavor. There was truly nothing like this game at the time of it’s popularity and the player was rewarded handsomely if they uncovered these special secrets, secrets which were literally all over the map from top to bottom. For the completion mongers out there it can be quite a daunting task trying to discover and uncover all of the secrets that Zelda has to offer, but it can be fun and I’ve spoken with many who have attained this feat.
    The game itself isn’t overly hard toward the beginning, especially at first with the first 3 or 4 dungeons being easily beatable if you’re a seasoned gamer. But once you hit the 5th or 6th dungeon and beyond the game gets increasingly difficult. You find yourself in situations where you may be inside of a room with statues shooting fire at you while you try to kill 6 or 7 enemies floating around at the speed of light. This and other crazy instances can set you into a state of insanity while trying to deal with the amount of stuff the game throws at you at one time. Also, if you haven’t played the game since you originally owned it as a kid, or if you’re tackling Zelda for the first time, you’ll notice that many tips the NPC’s give you are very cryptic and it’s almost impossible to navigate and find every dungeon without some kind of help from a guide. This is classic Nintendo though and something I’ve come to expect from many games in the NES library. It often makes me wonder how I figured all this stuff out when I was younger. Back then if you didn’t subscribe to the Nintendo Power magazine or have a slew of friends who were playing the same games as you than finding things was heavily trial and error based before the days of the internet. But these days picking up and playing classic NES games can infuriate you to the point of visiting local nursing homes and punt-kicking geriatric patients in the face due to their difficulty. But I guess it adds to the charm in a way.
    While I’ve played The Legend of Zelda here and there back in it’s heyday, I was more of a Zelda II: The Adventures of Link fan and owned that game instead of the original. I would rent Zelda from time to time and I always got to play it at friends houses and whatnot, but I wouldn’t fully own the game until 1995 when I bought it together with a refurbished NES from FUNCOLAND one fateful spring day. Sadly, I had sold all my Nintendo stuff to a flea market a couple of years before hand and was starting out from scratch again with the console and decided to get some games that I’ve either never owned or have never even played. I used Game Genie (yeah, yeah) and spent hours bombing my way through the game and eventually beat it, which gave me an inner feeling of joy and happiness that I couldn’t even begin to explain. I beat the game again the following year after a friend of mine and I created a mini “game room” out of my bedroom. We decided to play the game and take turns as we progressed and the both of us had a blast trading off the controller on certain dungeons until we met up with Ganon, in which I personally had the pleasure of taking him down. Fond memories, indeed. I beat the game for a third time again in 2005 and then recently began playing it again in the summer, and I can say that this game brings out nostalgic feelings as much as any game in my collection. No matter how many times I revisit The Legend of Zelda I always enjoy my time with it and am forever amazed (and grateful) at how fun it is to play.
image    Despite the game being a true to life gaming classic I do have a few gripes with it that I feel I must address. First off, the music. Yeah, I know, the games soundtrack is considered to be one of the best in video game history, and believe me it is, but sometimes the dungeon theme can get a bit repetitive and after an extended play the overworld theme can drone on a bit too. I love both themes quite a bit, so don’t get me wrong, but the overworld theme starts to wear on you when it restarts over and over after bouncing in and out of hidden caves and the such. But even with that said, I can’t deny that Zelda has some of the best and most recognizable music in video game history.
     My second complaint would be the sheer difficulty later on in the game. Whether it’s hidden rooms that can only be accessed by sheer luck or sections of a dungeons that have way too much going on at one time, this game is no joke as you progress and should be played cautiously. Even for the seasoned gamer. But the challenge can add to the fun, especially if you are the kind of gamer who loved to stare down danger and gets a thrill from conquering hard tasks. Though if you choose to dive in without the help of Game Genie than take this warning and know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but I would assume that most reading this know that by now anyhow. At the end of the day despite it’s difficulty it’s a blast and the fun you’ll have will outshine any hardship to experience. The Legend of Zelda as a game is an absolute joy to play thanks to it’s wonderful control, fun soundtrack, interesting enemies, familiar world, and intense hurdles. You’ll enjoy the buttery smooth controls as you navigate throughout Hyrule as well as the wide variety of enemies you’ll face in the dungeons, though this game does reuse bosses as standard enemies later on which can get a tad tiresome.
     I’m sure about 90% of those reading this blog have already played this game and if you’re a video game collector than you no doubt own it, but for those who have not had the chance to play this timeless classic I urge you do go give it a try. There is lot’s to be said about retro gaming and this game is one of the reasons the hobby is as big as it is, so what do you have to lose? You’ve got so many different options to play it too whether it be owning the original cart, playing it on the Wii/3DS e-shop, or by playing it on an emulator, so it isn’t like the game isn’t accessible or anything. But either which route you choose to recapture those fond memories you’ll no doubt leave the kingdom of Hyrule with a smile on your face. That I can guarantee. Happy gaming to all!
And now for the numbers system…..
Graphics/Visuals – 8.0
Sound/Music – 9.25
Control/Handling – 9.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 9.25
Overall - 9.25
© 2014 Bill Mulligan

Monday, August 11, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: Astyanax for the NES!


 Ever hear of a fun little side scrolling arcade port for the Nintendo Entertainment System called Astyanax? Well, if you haven't before than shame on you, but now is your chance to grab an education. This little gem is one of those games that I knew existed back in the heyday of the NES but yet I never really had a chance to sit down and play it until about a year ago, but let me tell you this, I was really missing out on some fun side scrolling hack n' slash for all these years.
    Astyanax is very similar to games like Casltevania in that it's a side-scroller that focuses on killing enemies and making it to the end of the level while collecting power ups and other such things along the way. It features very nice graphics for the NES and I would say that graphically it's one of the nicer games to come out during the early 90's for the system, definitely better than many other games that were out at the time. It's fun too, if not a little frustrating at times thanks to obsticals that almost force you to take damage unless you pull off a fancy move or know the patterns of every enemy in the game. But this is heavily stereotypical of many Nintendo games of that era. But it doesn't hinder your experience with the game very much and difficulty can be a good thing if it's not in your face with unfair obstacles and insane enemies that force heavy damage upon you.

    The bosses in this game are kind of neat, they're not overly hard but some of them can take an absurd
amount of hits before you kill them. If you take the time to learn their patterns and use some strategy than they're not too difficult. The levels themselves aren't too long either and some feature mini-bosses that are fun and interesting. The real bitch is that you'll actually have to face them all a second time because before you make it to the final boss thank to a gauntlet where you have to challenge them all one after another. It's the most frustrating and difficult part of the game because there is little in the way of spell or health potions during this time, but they make sure to fill you up before you face the final 2 bosses of the game. Yeah, you read that correctly. There are actually 2 main bosses in the game that must be challenged one after another. I can see why this would happen because this is based off of the arcade game of the same name and games manufactured for the arcade are meant to drain you of your quarters and are usually insanely hard. So it's to be expected that the boss battles toward the end of the game are designed to bleed you dry with little to no help.

   To some people, all these insane boss battles may deter them from trying the game out but I really didn't think it was overly excessive and if you're playing the game with the help of Game Genie than you should be all set. It just becomes a matter of time before you make it on through. But for those who are not using Game Genie than I suggest you learn the patterns of the boss fights as good as you can and save up you're spells because you're going to need them. Also, time you're jumps and make sure no enemies are near the ledges that may pop up and kill you. These kinds of things are everywhere in this game and you know what that means. Yup, the classic Nintendo bounce back upon taking a hit which will cause you to lose a life from falling into a pit. Fuck.
 One big gripe with this game I do have is that the enemies are pretty repetitive while making your way through the levels. You'll run into skeletons constructed of every color in 
the rainbow, the same plant-like creatures that crowd the edges of pits that will cause you to fall down, and other similar bugs and things that fly around that you'll notice you've already faced in previous levels. I guess I'll just chalk it up to lazy production, but the experience of making your way through the game is enjoyable so it didn't hinder my view on Astyanax much at all. It would have been nice to have more exciting enemies to fight along the way. Other than the repetitive enemies I really enjoyed my time with this game, I'm a big fan of arcade ports as well as side-scrolling hack n' slash titles so Astyanax was right down my alley. 
It's just a shame that I missed out on it for all these years. I do remember in 1994 going into a Funcoland and seeing it on the price sheet and thinking it sounded interesting, but when I asked to see the cart the guy working behind the counter told me it wasn't that good of a game and that I'd be better of getting some other game for the Genesis that was similar but with better graphics. Goes to show you that you shouldn't always take the advice of the sales clerk because not only did I not get Astyanax on that day but I ended up going with his recommendation and the game he sold me was utter crap. Oh well, you live and you learn. From a production standpoint the graphics and the control in Astyanax are stellar with large and well detailed characters and amazing cut scenes for its time, as well as tight mechanics that make it a smooth experience to play. In my opinion this is a gem that everyone should have in their NES library because it's one that houses some very enjoyable elements, it's definitely on par and surpasses many side-scrolling action/adventure games that appeared on the NES at the time. The game, much like many NES titles, also has some awesome music that helps with the overall experience and make playing through the levels an absolute joy. There was just something about the NES and the music that many of its games that were able to produce that has become legendary in the eyes of many retro gamers, it's the stuff of gaming legend. 
In closing, I do highly recommend Astyanax to the classic gaming community and to fans of the original NES who still push the power button to this day. It's fun and will give you a fun arcade port experience that may or may not be enhanced by the use of the NES Advantage arcade stick. As of this writing the game can be found for as cheap as $3 or so from local video game stores and as cheap as $5 or so on eBay, so give it a whirl and see for yourself if you're up for the challenge. Astyanax is most certainly worth it. And now, the tale of the tape.....

Graphics/Visuals – 9.0
Sound/Music – 8.5
Control/Handling – 8.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 8.5

© 2014 Bill Mulligan