Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Metroid Prime Hunters Revisited

Not only the Zelda series is currently celebrating 30 years of existence, but also Metroid. And as with Zelda I also want to revisit most of the Metroid games for the 30th Anniversary, some of them even for the first time. And Metroid Prime Hunters is one of these titles, which I haven't touched since my original playthrough. In this case I had never even gotten the 100% rating, because I had been missing some of the scans.

But playing the multiplayer was always a lot more fun, so I never really bothered with the singleplayer mode again until last weekend. As a huge fan of the Unreal Tournament series and Unreal Championship 2, I really like what Nintendo has done with the multiplayer part of Metroid Prime Hunters, where you get a nice First Person Arena Shooter with unique characters. If you can get used to the rather exotic controls of this game, there are seven different game modes and many different arenas to enjoy. And the character design of the individual hunters is absolutely outstanding, they've done in amazing job of making every single hunter unique in both design and abilities. It's all really great.

The singleplayer, however... not so much. It's really just the multiplayer arenas connected to each other with corridors on a series of four different planets / stations. In some cases it's hard to say, what came first: the arena or the singleplayer environment? It's probably a mix of both, but sometimes it can be tough to orientate, because some of the places are entirely symmetrical or just hard to overlook. And this gets really annoying in the escape sequences, which you have to do a total of eight times for no good reason. You can't use any portals in them, so you have to run through the entire place again and you often get involved in fights with either Guardians or other Hunters. There it's easy to lose your orientation and then you might run back, from where you came from. This happened to me in Celestial Archives multiple times and to make things worse, the enemies will just reappear and you have to fight them again... ugh!

There are also lots of cheap deaths. Abysses are an instant kill and while there aren't many in the game, the moving platforms above them can be a deathtrap, if you accidentally jump, which might happen, if you look around with the Stylus (double tapping the touchscreens makes you jump). Or if you get squeezed in Morphball Mode, it's Game Over as well. In the Metroid Prime Trilogy you would only get hurt, but here it's an instant death and there's an entire sequence of blocks that want to squash you... I rarely ever died to actual enemies, it was usually either pitfalls, squashing or timers running out. Sadly, the game does have a Death Counter at the end to taunt you, but I'll settle for the 100% rating and leave it be. No way that I'm going through this mess again.

It's not all bad, though. I do like the focus on collecting the various beam weapons from the other Hunters instead of the usual Metroid power-ups and using them to explore new areas in places that you've already visited. The weapons could have been made a little bit more interesting, because for the most part they just disable force fields of the same color and help you with certain enemies and Hunters, e.g. Spire is weak against the Judicator. I also like, how in the 2nd half of the game the hunters are all free roaming and you can meet them anywhere, which makes the game world feel a little bit more alive and threatening. You're not alone in this Metroid game...

The Hunters are really the star of the game, which isn't saying much, because there is nothing else really. It's the only Metroid game without any actual Metroids (funny enough, the demo Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt did have them, as well as an alternate controls scheme) and besides the final boss there are only two different bosses that get repeated four times in total, where each time they evolve somewhat and become more difficult. But you still keep fighting a pillar and a giant eye ball again and again. The game is quite stale and repetitive.

From what we know Metroid Prime 4 will focus on Sylux and his hatred for both the Galactic Federation and Samus. Federation Force even supports this idea. But I really hope that the other Hunters will return as well and we will get another excellent Metroid arena shooter on the NX. I would love to play a game like this with better controls and HD graphics.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nothing on My Nintendo

In April I couldn't wait to finally get the 1000 Platinum Points for the Twilight Princess Picross, but by now I've accumulated over 2000 Points, where I have no idea, what I should do with them. To make things worse, these points expire after six months, so starting from November I will basically hit a maximum of points, where I lose as many points, as I get per week.

Unless of course there's something in the meantime that's worth getting, e.g. another Zelda Picross game. Skyward Sword Picross, The Wind Waker Picross - I don't really care, something. The Twilight Princess Picross is only available until October 1st, so that's where I hope that we'll get the next Zelda Picross installment, basically one per half-year.

But by now I could buy two Zelda Picross games and there doesn't seem to be anything interesting on My Nintendo. I don't care about Miitomo, I haven't even used it yet, so I can't even get the free items. There was this My Nintendo Link HOME menu design that I got for Nintendo 3DS, but I'm not using that either, because I'm very happy with the golden Majora's Mask design. Nothing beats that thing.

Discounts are also lame, especially low discounts on games that don't interest me. And many of the current rewards are tied to Gold Points, where you need to buy other games on the eShop. Usually retail versions of the games are cheaper and you can always re-sell them, so you don't save any money in this system. Interestingly I got ten Gold Coins from buying Majora's Mask on the Wii U Virtual Console. I "only" paid 1.99€, because I already had the game on the Wii Virtual Console, but this discounted purchase still counted towards the 5.00€ to 9.99€ range. But I probably never will be able to use them and I could have 30 Gold Points already, if DLC did count. But it doesn't... So, the only thing that you definitely want to get from the eShop, gets excluded for the rewards program. Thanks, Nintendo.

So far My Nintendo is a giant disappointment. I'm happy with the Twilight Princess Picross and I hope that there will be more like it, but otherwise this thing is a big fad, where Nintendo tries to cut the expenses of the original Club Nintendo and where they try to get more people to invest in the eShop.

But they should try a little harder. They have a vast library of Virtual Console titles that they can use. And don't just give us discounts for them... They could even put the Four Swords Anniversary Edition on there for anyone, who missed it back in the day. But that's probably not happening.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Mystery of Kasuto

Who is Kasuto?

That's probably a question that quite some Zelda fans have asked over the years. All but one of the town names from Zelda II - The Adventure of Link were later used for characters in Ocarina of Time, mostly the sages. There are the towns Rauru, Ruto, Saria, Mido, Nabooru and Darunia and we all remember the corresponding characters from the Nintendo 64 game. However, the final town with the name of "Kasuto" never saw a character with the same name.

And I just now had an epiphany, why that is. "Kasuto" is what the English translation gave us, but it's probably not what was originally intended as the name of the town by the Japanese development team. The name of the towns are written in Katakana, which is often used to transcribe English words. So, here we have:

カスト = Ka-Su-To

Both the U and the O can be silent to form the English word "Cast" and "Ka-Su-To" is actually a possible conversion of "Cast" to Katakana. And "Cast" might just be what the name of the town is, which makes thematically sense, because it's in the hidden town of Kasuto, where you find the "Spell" Spell that you only cast once in the game in the same town to find the Magical Key. You even find the last Magic Container in this town. Also, it's Old Kasuto, where you get the Thunder Spell, which you have to cast on the final boss. While every town gives you a new spell, it's really Kasuto where whole magic spell casting peaks. Which is why this town actually might go by the name "Cast".

This might not be very original, but it's not like all the towns in the Zelda series have highly original names, e.g. "Skyloft" or "Castle Town". Even "Kakariko" comes from "Cocorico", the sound of a crowing rooster in French (or it's just the clucking sound of Cuccos in Japanese). So, a town about Magic Spells being named "Cast" isn't far-fetched. This would also explain, why there never has been a character with the name "Kasuto". And if there ever will be one, he or she is probably a wizard / a spell caster.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

30th Anniversary Replay List, 2nd Update

For the 30th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda and before Breath of the Wild gets released, I want to re-experience as many Zelda games as possible. I already started at the end of last year with Phantom Hourglass on the Wii U and by now I went through my entire Nintendo 3DS library of Zelda titles:

After Twilight Princess HD I almost exclusively played on my New Nintendo 3DS, where the focus was on Hyrule Warriors: Legends, but I also went through the Nintendo 64 remakes again, played more of Four Swords and also had some fun with Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. On the Wii U so far I've only played Twilight Princess HD, which essentially counts as replaying Twilight Princess, and both Nintendo DS Zelda games on the Virtual Console:

I haven't played the Hero Mode of Twilight Princess HD yet and this is something that I'm saving for the last weeks before Breath of the Wild gets released. It's the same with the The Wind Waker HD, where I still need to finish the 2nd Quest mode. And I also want to replay the Hero Mode of Skyward Sword, which is a game that I haven't played much since the release five years ago. So, these three games will be the final part of my journey, where I most likely will play them in the following order: The Wind Waker HD (2nd Quest), Twilight Princess HD (Hero Mode) and Skyward Sword (Hero Mode). Ideally I will be done with Skyward Sword right before Breath of the Wild comes out, so there is a nice transition from the previous 3D Zelda games to the new one.

In the meantime there are more virgin Virtual Console copies waiting to be completed on the Wii U:

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II - The Adventure of Link
  • A Link to the Past
  • Ocarina of Time
  • Majora's Mask

These are all games that I've already replayed on the Nintendo 3DS in some form, so it's not that interesting, but I still might give it a go and have some goals here. With the NES Classics I want to replay them without relying on VGMaps.com, because I noticed that I grew dependent on these solution maps in the case of these two games. I study them and plan ahead to get the safest and quickest routes through the dungeons. You avoid the literal dead ends and this makes both games a lot easier. So, this time I will go in without the help of any maps or other guides from the internet for a challenge. When I originally played the games on the NES I also didn't have any internet access and the only solution maps I had were coincidentally both Level 5 and the 5th Palace from the Club Nintendo magazine, as well as some tips and tricks for certain parts of the game. But the other dungeons I had to figure out on my own. Of course by now I do remember some critical stuff, so it won't be blind runs, but it's hard to memorize everything with these classic maze dungeons, especially the ones from the 2nd Quest.

With the Nintendo 64 games I just want to see well they hold up after playing the Nintendo 3DS remakes. And I also want to experiment with Restore Points, especially in some of the more annoying minigames. This could be interesting.

A Link to the Past on the other hand won't offer anything new, but there's nothing wrong with replaying the SNES classic. The same goes for The Minish Cap - I've already completed the Virtual Console copy on Wii U, when it was released in 2014, but it's a sweet little game, where I'm not opposed to another run.

The only Zelda game that's not on any list here is Four Swords Adventures. It's not possible to play this on either Nintendo 3DS or Wii U, but I'm staying with the current gen systems for now. And if I replay Four Swords Adventures, I don't just want to go through the singleplayer mode again - I want to play it with three other people to get the full multiplayer experience.

Replaying Zelda II on the 3DS

The Inspiration for Grand Theft Auto

It's Master Month on Hyrule Blog. After the Hero's Trial and Master Quest 3D the only challenge left for replaying was Zelda II - The Adventure of Link, the toughest Zelda game in existence.

With it I'm finally done with my entire Nintendo 3DS Zelda library, so this was the main motivation to beat this title yet again. That I couldn't gather enough motivation before can be displayed alone by the history of this savegame. I started it in September 2012, which is when the game originally was released for the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. I then played the early parts in January 2014, continued a little bit in July 2015 and February 2016, after which I was about halfway through the game, getting the Up Thrust and Reflect Spell from Darunia. This is where I now picked off to finally finish the task.

And I had to do a "little" grinding at first in order to get to the levels 6-6-6. I didn't touch any bosses yet, so the final six levels were gained by placing the crystals in their statues. There is a more effective leveling system by skipping Magic and Life boosts at the right time and using the crystals to buy multiple level ups. I might try this, when I decide to play the game another time, but for now it was too late, so I was stuck with slaughtering Octoroks again and again.

I was also stuck with the tough second half of the game, where you are much more reliant on Magic and where the 5th and 6th Palace really increase the difficulty with their enemies. You might think that the Restore Points of the Virtual Console will help significantly with the game, but the game is still very brutal and at first it feels like the Restore Points don't make much difference. They are really helpful for every room with abysses though, since falling into one costs you an entire live (unlike every other Zelda game since then). And it happens more than once that you might get knocked back into one. Some of the rooms can be really nasty with its flying enemies and similar obstacles.

The Restore Points also help with bosses, if you happen to have enough Health and Magic or an extra live right before them. And they might also help with getting there, if you use them at the right time and are willing to replay rooms, if you took too much damage. They let you push your luck in places, where you potentially can get a Red Jar (or a Red Iron Knuckle to screw with you). So, there are many possibilities to make your life easier with Restore Points, but for most part I was still frustrated and I felt like I was just brute forcing my way through everything, trying to get as far as possible with the three little lives that you have. I didn't even finish a single palace in one turn (except the last one), because the three lives were barely enough to get the Palace Item and then the boss would require another run...

The tables then completely turned with the 2nd Quest. This is, where the game suddenly gave me a lot of fun instead of frustration up to a point, where it amazed me. I've never bothered with the 2nd Quest before, because you just play through the same game again and get to keep...

  • Attack, Magic and Life Levels
  • Magic Spells
  • Up and Down Thrust

But this changes everything! Having 8-8-8 from the start makes you very powerful in the first half of the game. You can kill both Horse Head and Helmet Head with two hits and every other early enemy (including the Dairas and the yellow and red Iron Knuckles) with one hit. Death Mountain suddenly gets to be easy and you overall feel super powerful. It's very satisfying and it fully changes the game. I've actually managed to beat the first five palaces without dying a single time and I've accumulated a total of ten extra lives during that run!

And with that I was able to beat the entire game without a single Game Over:

I was more careful and kept using Restore Points a lot more than in my first run. I also had a lot of luck with finding Red Jars, so there's that. But you can also shortcut through some parts of the game, for example you don't have to go to Darunia at all, since you already got all the Spells and Sword Techniques. You can just head straight for the Maze Palace.

Of course after the 5th Palace your advantages get nullified, at this point it's pretty much the same turmoil as before, but thanks to the many extra lives that you've collected (you get one after every palace for the 9000 EXP level up) you can do it all in one go and you don't have to return from the Northern Palace again and again. It doesn't make Death Valley any easier, but I normally just abuse the Fairy Spell on every screen and fly through the mess...

Ironically the Great Palace then is the easier part. On your first playthrough it's nice that you can continue from here, if you get a Game Over. I don't think that I would have ever been able to beat the game, if I had to go through Death Valley every time. But overall the Great Palace isn't that hard. I've completely memorized the fastest way through the thing, where near the end you even get a Link doll for an extra live and a fairy.

But the dreaded Fokkā enemies on the way aren't as troublesome as the Iron Knuckles in my opinion. They have similar powers and gained the ability to jump, but their jumping is what makes them easier to fight and even avoidable. When they leap over you, you an attack them with a well timed Up Thrust. Or you can just run for it and leave them behind you, which is hardly ever possible with the Blue Iron Knuckles.

So, it's not hard to get to the end of the Great Palace and there you only have one real obstacle: the Thunderbird. If you go all in with Magic (Thunder, Shield, Jump and Reflect), the battle is not too bad, though. Also, you have Restore Points as your safety net. And Dark Link can just be easily defeated with the corner trick, so once the Thunderbird is gone, the game is essentially won.

But with the 2nd Quest I've replayed the entire game just now in two evenings and it was probably the most fun that I ever had with Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. It's really the better game, if you don't have to level up anymore. And if you've never beaten the game before, I can only recommend to try the Virtual Console version on either 3DS or Wii U, because the Restore Points really can change things for the better and make the game less frustrating.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Metroid II Revisited

Return to Return of Samus

After playing through Another Metroid 2 Remake I also decided to give the original Metroid II - Return of Samus another try, this time on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.

And I've actually beat it twice in a row. First time I ended up with a time little over 3:00 hours, but that's where you get the best ending with Samus in her bikini. So, this is why I decided to beat the game quickly again in one evening (with 100% items), where I was able to shave off an entire hour.

It's really a short game, but not a bad one. I like it more than the first Metroid, because it offers more variety. But compared to the first game it's also quite easy and it's probably one of the easier Metroid games overall. And also one of the more linear games, where you basically just follow a long tunnel and explore the four larger areas at the sidelines, which are quite open. Items are hard to miss and there isn't all too much to collect. There are 22 Missile Expansion, six Energy Tanks (one of which seems to optional) and only few upgrades to your suit.

There are also 47 Metroids to hunt and they are A LOT easier to kill than in AM2R. In general I like the concept of the evolving Metroids and hunting them down, where a remake of the game in the style of Metroid: Other M would have been absolutely amazing.

But... I'll settle with the AM2R remake for now, which is a lot more challenging and offers many more hidden secrets, but still stayed quite close to the original game. I was actually surprised about how "accurately" some parts were translated in the fan remake.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scary Night

The night is dark and full of terrors...

But not in The Legend of Zelda, thanks to Eiji Aonuma. This is what he had to say about the light night in Breath of the Wild in an interview with EDGE (source):

"We didn't want to create something that was dark and scary. I've been up a tall mountain at night and seen the stars; it was completely dark, but the starlight made it brighter. I wanted our nighttime environment to be something like that. And when it's dark, there are elements in the environment that glow, so the player can use those to find their way."

Well, that feeling of wandering under a bright moonlight sky is something that almost all 3D Zelda games offer. I remember, how I was disappointed about the bright night in Twilight Princess, after the E3 2015 trailer had this excellent scene of Link walking through a dark forest with a lantern:

It just looks so atmospheric and offers a meaningful use of the Lantern, but in the final version of the game the night became so bright that you never really needed the Lantern here. And stuff like Poes would glow in the dark from a long distance. So, nothing of the Breath of the Wild nights is really new.

It also takes me back to a Zelda game concept that I used to have back in the day. It was somewhat similar to Majora's Mask with a large city in the center of the game world, but instead of 3 day cycle the game would focus on a more interesting day and night cycle, where at night scary monsters would come out and terrorize the world. Early on you would even travel only during daylight, because the terrors of the night were too dangerous.

Of course that's something that Minecraft sort of offered many years later, but it's still an interesting idea for Zelda, which could even be combined with the Guardian concept of Breath of the Wild, where you may have similar creatures that only roam during the night and become inactive during the day...