Weekly Roundup 09/23/2012

The last leg of my personal Zelda journey came to a close this week, though perhaps not in the way I would have expected. The final game I had to play was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and to cut straight to the point I didn’t enjoy the few hours I spent with it at all. I debated with myself if it was worth stubbornly pushing my way through a game that I actively hated playing solely for the sake of saying I had beaten every Zelda game (or at least all the “main” ones). I ultimately decided that it wasn’t, and feel surprisingly comfortable with that choice. Perhaps it’s because Zelda II is so drastically different from the other Zeldas that it doesn’t feel as essential to me. Or maybe I just hated it that much.

Bleh

I’m sure Zelda II seemed ambitious in its day, but by modern standards it comes off as kind of a mess. The controls feel very unresponsive and frustrating to me, and even worse are the level designs. The dungeons are filled with long corridors where you fight the same enemies over and over, and the ensuing combat is super repetitive and tedious. Maybe later in the game you get some better spells and/or abilities, but between the finicky controls and the way enemies zip around the screen I found every encounter to be extremely annoying. I also didn’t find them to be very satisfying; getting through a room never led to a sense of accomplishment or pride, only a small sense of relief in the fact that I would never have to do that again. I also never encountered anything else to break up the tedium of combat, and the overworld was just a chore to navigate. One particular cave tasked me with jumping over a pit of lava as an enemy stood waiting on the other side and a bat flew down towards me as I jumped. It induced bad memories of the original NES Ninja Gaiden, and was more or less the last straw.

Zelda II is definitely a hard and demanding game, but not in the way I like my hard and demanding games to be. It primarily asks you to execute boring, tedious combat routines over and over, and punishes you fast and hard for failing. I also don’t find the base mechanics that interesting to begin with (including the surface level, out of place RPG mechanics), all of which culminates into a game I simply did not enjoy playing at all. It’s kind of a sour way to end my Zelda journey, but I won’t let it bother me too much. I can handle one dark spot on a franchise I’ve otherwise thoroughly enjoyed over the years, and I am really glad that I went back and filled in the gaps. There’s a nice sense of closure to that process.

Conquest is a solid Pokemon spin-off.

Anyway, after finally putting Zelda behind me for the foreseeable future I then finished Pokemon Conquest. I don’t have a lot to add to what I said about it last week; it’s a pretty simple game that didn’t add much to the experience in the last few hours. I still really enjoyed the game overall though, and think it’s easily among the best Pokemon spin-offs out there (maybe the best). It successfully takes a lot of what makes Pokemon such a fun franchise, such as the fantastical world and creatures, and embeds them within an entirely different genre. I also happen to really like strategy RPGs, so Conquests should be a win-win for me, and it pretty much is. In fact, the only gripes I have are pretty minor. I think a few of the battlefield layouts are kind of annoying, some of the link mechanics aren’t explained very well, and most importantly the game is pretty simple and easy. There’s certainly room for the game to grow, but it’s still a solid first step that I definitely enjoyed playing. Collecting new Pokemon and building a team remains addictive, and the battles require just enough battlefield strategy to make them interesting. In short, I would recommend it to both fans of Pokemon and strategy RPGs alike.

It's likely impossible that Borderlands 2 can have the impact on me that the original did.

Finally, the game I actually spent the most time playing this week is the same game everyone's been playing: Borderlands 2. I’m about as big of a fan of the original Borderlands you’re likely to ever find (I would estimate I clocked 200+ hours in that gem, across all four classes and all the DLC), so it’s no secret that I was excited about the sequel. That said, I’m always hesitant to get too excited about sequels to games I love as much as Borderlands. One thing I’ve learned is that expecting a follow-up to a game that's close to my heart to strike the same chord and be just as memorable and impactful as the original almost never works. Even if it ends up being a better “game”, you simply can’t replicate that first experience again. A perfect example for me personally is the Elder Scrolls series. Oblivion was the first one I played seriously, and I loved it. Then when I played Skyrim I felt that it was a better “game”, but it just didn’t have that same magic that Oblivion did for me. That’s no fault of Skyrim’s, but it's still never going to measure up to my first time.

So far Borderlands 2 is the Skyrim to Borderlands' Oblivion for me. Perhaps in some ways Borderlands 2 is a better "game", but when you get down to it it’s extremely similar to the original, and thus never going to make the same impression by the simple fact that I'm not seeing it for the first time. Now that I’ve hopefully clarified that incredibly important point, I’m still really, really liking Borderlands 2 so far. I played a lot of every class in the first game, but my favorite was pretty easily the soldier (though the siren was very rad too). I felt like he had a wider range of interesting abilities, and more stuff to do on the battlefield. As such I’m playing the commando in the sequel, and to put it bluntly the turret is still freaking awesome. They’ve done some interesting ability tweaking for the classes that’s making it fun to experiment with these familiar classes again as well. For me the big change is that I can’t rely on my turret as much; it’s not as powerful, and there aren’t as many skills that directly buff it. So I have to get in the thick of things more often, and figuring out how I want to go about picking skills for that is great. Side note: it seems that the siren is now the “medic” class. The “shoot people to heal them” skill apparently got moved from the soldier to the siren while nobody was looking.

Borderlands 2 is still all about the guns.

There also aren’t clear weapon focuses for each class anymore. In the original game soldiers were clearly geared towards assault rifles and shotguns. The weapon proficiency system in that game further encouraged you to stick to one or two weapon types, but that’s all been removed for Borderlands 2. There are still a few skill and class mods that might give you a relatively minor bonus for one weapon type, but for the most part all classes can use all guns just as effectively. This has led to me using anything I pick up that seems good, and I can safely say that the gun design is much more varied here than it was before. At the same time, I haven’t really found any “all purpose” guns that I like. It’s probably a conscious design decision, but most every gun seems to have at least one substantial drawback or limitation. It might be wildly inaccurate, have a tiny clip, kick way too much, not deal a lot of damage, or simply take forever to reload (that’s the one I hate the most). So on the one hand it’s kind of frustrating to never find that “perfect” gun for my style, but on the other hand it’s fun in a different way to try so many different guns all the time.

There’s a whole lot more to say about Borderlands 2, but I’ll save it for now. I didn’t play as much this week as I would have liked, but you can bet I’ll keep going, and should have plenty more to say next week. As for my current status, right now I’m level 17, and have been playing with two friends who area siren and a gunzerker. Oh, I also downloaded Mark of the Ninja today, and really want to play as I find time for it (probably whenever I can't get the Borderlands 2 crew together); it looks great. So that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Borderlands 2, Mark of the Ninja

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Posted by MajorMitch

The last leg of my personal Zelda journey came to a close this week, though perhaps not in the way I would have expected. The final game I had to play was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and to cut straight to the point I didn’t enjoy the few hours I spent with it at all. I debated with myself if it was worth stubbornly pushing my way through a game that I actively hated playing solely for the sake of saying I had beaten every Zelda game (or at least all the “main” ones). I ultimately decided that it wasn’t, and feel surprisingly comfortable with that choice. Perhaps it’s because Zelda II is so drastically different from the other Zeldas that it doesn’t feel as essential to me. Or maybe I just hated it that much.

Bleh

I’m sure Zelda II seemed ambitious in its day, but by modern standards it comes off as kind of a mess. The controls feel very unresponsive and frustrating to me, and even worse are the level designs. The dungeons are filled with long corridors where you fight the same enemies over and over, and the ensuing combat is super repetitive and tedious. Maybe later in the game you get some better spells and/or abilities, but between the finicky controls and the way enemies zip around the screen I found every encounter to be extremely annoying. I also didn’t find them to be very satisfying; getting through a room never led to a sense of accomplishment or pride, only a small sense of relief in the fact that I would never have to do that again. I also never encountered anything else to break up the tedium of combat, and the overworld was just a chore to navigate. One particular cave tasked me with jumping over a pit of lava as an enemy stood waiting on the other side and a bat flew down towards me as I jumped. It induced bad memories of the original NES Ninja Gaiden, and was more or less the last straw.

Zelda II is definitely a hard and demanding game, but not in the way I like my hard and demanding games to be. It primarily asks you to execute boring, tedious combat routines over and over, and punishes you fast and hard for failing. I also don’t find the base mechanics that interesting to begin with (including the surface level, out of place RPG mechanics), all of which culminates into a game I simply did not enjoy playing at all. It’s kind of a sour way to end my Zelda journey, but I won’t let it bother me too much. I can handle one dark spot on a franchise I’ve otherwise thoroughly enjoyed over the years, and I am really glad that I went back and filled in the gaps. There’s a nice sense of closure to that process.

Conquest is a solid Pokemon spin-off.

Anyway, after finally putting Zelda behind me for the foreseeable future I then finished Pokemon Conquest. I don’t have a lot to add to what I said about it last week; it’s a pretty simple game that didn’t add much to the experience in the last few hours. I still really enjoyed the game overall though, and think it’s easily among the best Pokemon spin-offs out there (maybe the best). It successfully takes a lot of what makes Pokemon such a fun franchise, such as the fantastical world and creatures, and embeds them within an entirely different genre. I also happen to really like strategy RPGs, so Conquests should be a win-win for me, and it pretty much is. In fact, the only gripes I have are pretty minor. I think a few of the battlefield layouts are kind of annoying, some of the link mechanics aren’t explained very well, and most importantly the game is pretty simple and easy. There’s certainly room for the game to grow, but it’s still a solid first step that I definitely enjoyed playing. Collecting new Pokemon and building a team remains addictive, and the battles require just enough battlefield strategy to make them interesting. In short, I would recommend it to both fans of Pokemon and strategy RPGs alike.

It's likely impossible that Borderlands 2 can have the impact on me that the original did.

Finally, the game I actually spent the most time playing this week is the same game everyone's been playing: Borderlands 2. I’m about as big of a fan of the original Borderlands you’re likely to ever find (I would estimate I clocked 200+ hours in that gem, across all four classes and all the DLC), so it’s no secret that I was excited about the sequel. That said, I’m always hesitant to get too excited about sequels to games I love as much as Borderlands. One thing I’ve learned is that expecting a follow-up to a game that's close to my heart to strike the same chord and be just as memorable and impactful as the original almost never works. Even if it ends up being a better “game”, you simply can’t replicate that first experience again. A perfect example for me personally is the Elder Scrolls series. Oblivion was the first one I played seriously, and I loved it. Then when I played Skyrim I felt that it was a better “game”, but it just didn’t have that same magic that Oblivion did for me. That’s no fault of Skyrim’s, but it's still never going to measure up to my first time.

So far Borderlands 2 is the Skyrim to Borderlands' Oblivion for me. Perhaps in some ways Borderlands 2 is a better "game", but when you get down to it it’s extremely similar to the original, and thus never going to make the same impression by the simple fact that I'm not seeing it for the first time. Now that I’ve hopefully clarified that incredibly important point, I’m still really, really liking Borderlands 2 so far. I played a lot of every class in the first game, but my favorite was pretty easily the soldier (though the siren was very rad too). I felt like he had a wider range of interesting abilities, and more stuff to do on the battlefield. As such I’m playing the commando in the sequel, and to put it bluntly the turret is still freaking awesome. They’ve done some interesting ability tweaking for the classes that’s making it fun to experiment with these familiar classes again as well. For me the big change is that I can’t rely on my turret as much; it’s not as powerful, and there aren’t as many skills that directly buff it. So I have to get in the thick of things more often, and figuring out how I want to go about picking skills for that is great. Side note: it seems that the siren is now the “medic” class. The “shoot people to heal them” skill apparently got moved from the soldier to the siren while nobody was looking.

Borderlands 2 is still all about the guns.

There also aren’t clear weapon focuses for each class anymore. In the original game soldiers were clearly geared towards assault rifles and shotguns. The weapon proficiency system in that game further encouraged you to stick to one or two weapon types, but that’s all been removed for Borderlands 2. There are still a few skill and class mods that might give you a relatively minor bonus for one weapon type, but for the most part all classes can use all guns just as effectively. This has led to me using anything I pick up that seems good, and I can safely say that the gun design is much more varied here than it was before. At the same time, I haven’t really found any “all purpose” guns that I like. It’s probably a conscious design decision, but most every gun seems to have at least one substantial drawback or limitation. It might be wildly inaccurate, have a tiny clip, kick way too much, not deal a lot of damage, or simply take forever to reload (that’s the one I hate the most). So on the one hand it’s kind of frustrating to never find that “perfect” gun for my style, but on the other hand it’s fun in a different way to try so many different guns all the time.

There’s a whole lot more to say about Borderlands 2, but I’ll save it for now. I didn’t play as much this week as I would have liked, but you can bet I’ll keep going, and should have plenty more to say next week. As for my current status, right now I’m level 17, and have been playing with two friends who area siren and a gunzerker. Oh, I also downloaded Mark of the Ninja today, and really want to play as I find time for it (probably whenever I can't get the Borderlands 2 crew together); it looks great. So that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Borderlands 2, Mark of the Ninja

Posted by Slag

Zelda II was super divisive when it came out, personally I hated it. And Still don't like it for basically the same reasons you do. My favorite aspect of zelda is exploration and I feel like Zelda II punishes you for doing that.

I'd say it was more unpopular than popular generally.

I see what you are saying with the comparison Ninja Gaiden (oh those frickin brids in that game!), but I loved Ninja Gaiden. Maybe because it never tried to be anything different like Zelda had, so I had different expectations.

The story boards of Ninja Gaiden were just so cool at the time!

Posted by MajorMitch

@Slag: The exploration is probably my favorite aspect of Zelda as well, and Zelda II is the antithesis of that in some ways. I can totally see how it could be a divisive game, and that's perhaps why they never tried another one like that.

I actually never played too much Ninja Gaiden... a few encounters with those birds was enough for me :P I didn't hate it like I hate Zelda II though. From what I remember the combat felt better, and it's probably also partially expectations like you say.