2020 has been a year. You know it. I know it. We’ve been saying it all year now. So now that we’re on the cusp of 2021, and (perhaps?) better days, let’s take a look at what one man is doing to get through the holiday blues.
Johnny Malloy – Breath of the Wild, Hades, Link’s Awakening
I’ve been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild lately. My anxiety and depression have been off the charts these days, and while I’m not one of those people that likes to talk about such things, I felt it was more than a little topical to mention it, especially during the holiday season.
It’s no secret we’ve all been more than a little squirrely these days staying inside, limiting our interactions to Zoom calls and irrational Twitter posts. As someone who has dealt with heavy mental illness issues my whole life (again, not something I throw in my Twitter bio, mostly because I don’t want to be defined by it) I have a hard time every December. It’s just a stressful time for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
However, I have found some respite in games. Now, I recently wrote about both Hades and Link’s Awakening, and since then I’ve completed LA, and have gotten to face off against dear old dad in Hades several times (coming very close to besting him, but still not accomplishing it, 50 runs in).
These two games helped keep my racing mind occupied for quite awhile, but once I found all the heart container pieces, and 48 out of 50 seashell, I put Link’s Awakening away. For now. Perhaps someday I will complete Dampee’s ultimate level building challenges, but I got all the Heart Container pieces from it, so probably not (although Dampee’s challenges were surprisingly interesting, and I recommend players give them a shot).
Hades still has me hooked, and I love the unfolding story and have my favorite characters, such as the muse Eurydice, who sings the beautiful Good Riddance. I have characters I don’t like, such as the intentionally annoying Hypnos, who is always trying to score an autograph from someone who bested me, or get in a little dig about how you “died” last time through.
Yet, I am hoping I can best Lord Hades soon and see what happens next. Will I find Persephone? What story beats will allow me to continue to make further escape attempts once I’ve ostensibly gotten out? Until I defeat Lord Hades, I’m stuck in this loop, and while the game continues to hold my interest, I long for what comes next. If only my own inadequate gaming skills wouldn’t hinder my progress.
Which leads me to Breath of the Wild, a game I sunk well over 100 hours into when it came out. I put all those hours into the WiiU version, because I had bought the console strictly for Zelda. I knew the system was floundering, and that it was never going to be popular, but I bought one nevertheless. I’m glad I did too.
I own a ton of great WiiU games that have all since been ported to the Switch (which is a gripe for another day). I can’t say enough good things about Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, and I don’t feel compelled to re-buy them on Switch because they tacked on tiny little additions. I’m good thanks.
However, I did re-buy BotW for Switch. It was due to the fact that my WiiU is…struggling. Mario Kart 8 crashes whenever I pick certain levels. Digital games are getting corrupted (Freedom Planet, I hardly knew ye). Plus, I wanted that “Zelda on the go” experience.
So I’ve been playing BotW from the beginning, and it’s as soothing and comforting as ever. I love that it basically dumps you in a giant world, gives you a small number of possible waypoints to pursue, and then lets you go.
As much as I love Twilight Princess (and more specifically, Midna, the greatest Zelda character ever), it held your hand far too much. I couldn’t get through Skyward Sword because that game was wrapped up in motion control nonsense, and there wasn’t enough variety for me. Breath of the Wild took some little bits from each of those games, but took most of it’s cues from the original Zelda game. No hand-holding. No gatekeeping. Just freedom. Sure, there are obstacles, but you can overcome them. Often in wildly creative ways.
Just the other day, I entered a dungeon I recalled playing on the WiiU version. You use your controller to guide a ball through a maze that is suspended in midair. Once you get the ball to the exit, you still need to roll it down a narrow ramp in order to complete the puzzle.
I remembered that I had done this using the WiiU pad, and that every time I dropped the ball, a new ball would drop into the puzzle for you to try again. I seemed to recall that I had “cheated” and been able to get the ball to drop closer to the exit right away, without having to do all that slow paced moving each attempt. Yet, I still was struggling. Then I thought outside the box.
You control the maze that the ball is in. You can turn and angle it however you like. So what if I turned the entire maze upside down, would that work? Yes. It does. It works indeed. The ball drop onto the completely flat surface, leaving you to simply have to roll it off the side with the proper speed and angle to accomplish the task. That’s what Breath of the Wild is all about. There is often multiple ways to accomplish things. Sometimes they feel “cheap” or not the way the designers intended, but they are all totally legit, and are one of the reasons the game is so wonderful. You can get that feeling that you “outsmarted” the game, even though I’m sure plenty of beta testers figured these types of things out as well.
Hell, a quick trip to YouTube will show you all kinds of clever tricks people do. Some of my favorite involve using stasis to freeze an item (like a randomly strewn cast iron door), pounding it senselessly, hopping on top of it, and then launching yourself like a rocket. The game allows you to experiment, try weird things, and it’s so surprising and rewarding when one of your crazy ideas works out.
I love that you can enter house and businesses as see posters on the wall with recipes on them. They don’t have the names, just the pictures, so you still have to know what you’re looking at, but they are there, and if you’re smart enough you’ll snap a picture for later.
Gathering Korok seeds is still fun, and while the Sheikah Sensor sound is annoying, I love searching for treasure chests because they are literally everywhere on the map.
I beat BotW a few years ago, so this time through, I’m taking it all in. I’m just living in Hyrule, and going at my own pace. I’m not as OK as I’d like to be these days, and spending an hour or so in this world each day helps balance me, and when a game can do that, it’s a pretty amazing thing.