This week Sean tries to make a case for Ocarina of Time as the best Zelda game; Collin gives the Metal Slug series a try, and Johnny tries out the limited run experience that is Super Mario 35, while also indulging in one of his favorite childhood arcade games, Shinobi.
This week I finished a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D that I’d started at the beginning of the year. It was something of a synchronised playthrough with my wife—we’d bought two copies of the game sometime last year with the sole intention of doing so. Like so many thirty-something year old gamers, I’d always been a huge advocate of the original N64 release. I’ve always held Ocarina of Time as the benchmark of video-game perfection—rarely matched, never exceeded. My wife, on the other hand, has only discovered the joys of the Zelda formula in the last few years—having played A Link Between Worlds, Windwaker HD, and Triforce Heroes. She’s also spent several hundred hours in Breath of the Wild—understandably her favourite of the bunch.
I say understandably… Personally, I struggled to fall for Breath of the Wild’s open-world, choose-your-own-adventure charms. The thirty hours or so I spent completing the game were filled with boredom and frustration. I’ve always loved the classic formula—tightly designed dungeons, item based progression, and a slowly expanding map to explore. I felt lost in Breath of the Wild’s vastness, I felt unsatisfied by the numerous ways to tackle obstacles, I felt underwhelmed by the shallowness of the shrines. (I also despised the story and voice acting, but that’s a whole other topic). I know it’s not a popular opinion, but Breath of the Wild just isn’t a Zelda game to me (I know, I know—my loss.)
With Ocarina of Time 3D I’d hoped to show my wife just how incredible a tightly designed, linear Zelda game could be. Things had started well, and we’d been breezing our way through the start of the adventure. It was great to see her making the discoveries I had over twenty years prior. Hearing the iconic music, learning the ocarina themes, experiencing the tight combat thanks to the (then pioneering) targeting system, witnessing the desolation of Hyrule Castle Town as adult Link (and the horrors of the ReDeads). I was sure she was hooked.
Unfortunately, other games got in the way, and Ocarina of Time 3D fell by the wayside for a while. I was a couple of dungeons behind, and although I insisted my wife carry on without me, she decided to wait for me to catch up. Due to writing commitments, I had to keep putting it off, and by the time we’d got back to it, some of her enthusiasm had waned. In the meantime, she’d also started another Breath of the Wild playthrough and jumping from the state-of-the-art feel of that game, to the (dare I say it) slightly dated feel of the N64 classic wasn’t helping. It also doesn’t help that the buttons are mapped completely differently on those two games.
Last night, we both finally fought our way to the final battle with Ganondorf (in my opinion, one of the greatest final sections of any game) and basked in the heart-warming ending. Today, I asked her what she’d thought of it. I could tell by her encouraging smile, and her slightly unenthusiastic “yeah, it was good” that it wasn’t the reaction I’d been hoping for. I asked her where it ranked amongst the other Zelda games she’d played. She said it was her least favourite.
All I could think was, “I guess you had to be there”.
I haven’t had a ton of time to play too many things this week due to my work schedule, but I did manage to play about an hour of Metal Slug X, which was rereleased on Switch. I’ve never played a Metal Slug game, although I do know that the series stands strong alongside Contra as the premiere old school run ‘n gun series. Or it used to, at least.
And I can very easily see why. Metal Slug X is a lot of fun, with pure, distilled action gameplay that manages to be pick-up-and-play accessible while still having a solid learning curve. Learning enemy patterns is tricky but enjoyable, which makes coming out on the other side in one piece all the more satisfying.
And my, oh my, the graphics. This is an example of why pixel art will never go out of style. While the frame rate is weirdly unstable when there’s a lot going on, the sprites and art work are so detailed and well animated that it almost feels at times like you’re playing a cartoon. Games like these tend to be short, but that allows the developers to really squeeze every inch of detail that they can from the graphics, and that’s on full display here.
Earlier this year I played through Blazing Chrome, an indie title I had a great time with, and now that I’ve gone through the majority of Metal Slug X, I feel like I can safely say I’m a fan of these types of games. It’s simple, bare bones action. All killer, absolutely no filler. And while I enjoy a nice long game as much as the next handsomer-than-Ed-Sheeran redhead, there’s also something to be said for a game that focuses on doing one thing really, really well and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Maybe it’s time for me to have another go at Gunstar Heroes.
I spent the first half of the week playing the original-original Shinobi game, the arcade classic, thanks to the Sega Ages games on the Switch. I have such fond memories of Shinobi that I bought one of those Sega Genesis collections year back because I heard it was an unlockable game. My desire to play it was so strong I still had my WiiU hooked up, with the original Wii Channel on it, along with…yes, Shinobi, which I would play using a Wiimote. And now here we are, and I’ve got a portable version of it.
The thing I loved about the game was that there wasn’t a lot of “arcade-y bullsh*t.” There weren’t blatantly unfair deaths designed to siphon quarters. For the most part, the game played by the rules. Visual clues alerted you to incoming danger. Proceeding through the level slowly will serve you well. Ninjas can appear at any moment out of the shadows, and you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
As a kid I could only ever make it to the very end of stage 3 before dying in the boss fight. Now I have “infinite quarters” so I can continue until I get it right, and eventually that day did come.
I haven’t messed with many of the tweaks and options much, as I prefer the straight arcade simulation, but you can alter the difficultly, play style, visual display, and even select levels once you’ve completed them.
I was not a fan of many Sega arcade cabinets (Hang On and Out Run were OK, but they usually only lasted a minute before I ran out of time), but Shinobi was an exception. Something about its simplicity, or its charm, or maybe it’s those Spiderman-like characters that were originally red but had to be changed to green for obvious reasons, but I always need to have access to this game. I don’t have a pretty metaphor as to why. This game is just comforting to me.
The game I spent the back half of the week playing was Super Mario 35, the latest Mario game Nintendo is letting us play now until they snatch it away from us in a few months. Seriously, it’s like they get off on being withholding.
Gripes about that aside, Super Mario 35 is a delightful battle royale game between you and 34 other players, as you traverse levels from the original Super Mario Bros. game. The twist is, as you move along collecting coins and extra time (from killing enemies, getting 1 Ups, and grabbing the end level flag poles) you can send enemies to the other players in the game.
There is the option to punish players with the least amount of time, or the one with the most coins, and I’m sure there are lots of strategies I could apply, but I usually dole out punishment indiscriminately, wildly rotating the right joycon mindlessly.
I must not be half bad because I’ve already won a few rounds. My strategy usually revolves around generating a Star and then running wild when the level is overloaded with enemies, thereby racking up tons of extra time.
The game is only a few days new so I’m sure the next time I play that all the Captain N’s of the world will have mastered it, and I’ll go back to being the slow-witted old man that I am now. Oh, the days of pinpoint accurate hand-to-eye coordination…
Super Mario 35 is available on the Nintendo Switch Online service until March 31, 2021, at which point it will go back into the Nintendo vault with Mother 3, and thousands of copies of Donkey Kong Jr. Math.