Dark Souls: My Descent Into Madness (a perspective)

The first time I had ever heard of Demon’s Souls was when GameSpot made it their game of the year for 2009. That was the year Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Assassin’s Creed II, and many other frankly incredible games were released. I was shocked by the decision to award top honors to an esoteric Japanese quasi-medieval dark fantasy game among so many other clearly superior, superb competitors.

Curious, I searched Giant Bomb’s database for a Quick Look video to see what the game was all about. What I saw was, in fact, perplexing. The game looked drab, mundane, and inaccessible. Certainly at that time nobody on the GB staff was into Demon’s Souls, and most of them simply wrote it off as “another weird Japan game.” Being an Xbox 360-only guy at the time, I did the same.

When 2011 rolled around, I started to hear talk of a sequel to Demon’s Souls. This game was Dark Souls. The marketing for the game reveled in the idea that all players would die frequently. It flaunted its horrific monsters and hardcore-gamers-only appeal. From Software’s sequel (technically a spiritual successor since the rights to Demon’s Souls belong, at least partially, to Sony) was to be bigger and better and was set to be released on the 360 simultaneously with the PS3. I was ready to write off Dark Souls as well. Little did I know it would eventually become one of my favorite games of all time.

Is this supposed to be...fun?

Again, the Giant Bomb staff (particularly Jeff) didn’t do the game any favors. Vinny had gotten through Demon’s Souls earlier by the skin of his teeth and was at least intrigued with the sequel. Once the game came out, reviewers all over were singing the praises of the game. Matt Rorie, former Whiskey Media employee and the newest member of the GB staff (we'll miss you, Dave!), did an excellent article on his time with the game and what made it so appealing. I was intrigued – everything about the game seemed so mystical and strange, like nothing I’d ever heard of.

Then one day as I was getting groceries at the local Walmart, I noticed that Dark Souls was available to rent from a Red Box. I had to try it and see for myself what it was all about.

Based on the recommendations of many who had braved the waters of both the Souls games, I consulted a few wiki sites to get my bearings with the game. I decided to start as a pyromancer class since it seemed to be the general consensus that fire spells made the game a whole lot more manageable the first time through. I named my character Richter, honestly after a Spanish professor of mine and not the Castlevania character. I don’t play many games that allow for extreme levels of character customization so I wasn’t sure exactly how to spec my guy, but I was sure I’d figure out what I liked best.

I was fascinated with the way the game progressed. Dark Souls staunchly refuses to hold your hand, a move that flies in the face of most modern games. The pace of the game is slow and methodical, giving incentive to explore but at the same time punishing careless behavior. It had a tense, frightening atmosphere that drew me into the bizarre, violent world. I wasn’t 100% sure I actually enjoyed what I was playing, but it was so different and had so much to offer, I needed to give it its fair shake.

I returned the game after a couple of days and didn’t immediately purchase it. Skyrim was out, as well as Rayman Origins and a number of other games I wanted to check out. Dark Souls went to the back of my mind, and I figured I didn’t have time for a game as involved as that while I was in school and I was going to spend Christmas break exploring Tamriel, so I wasn’t too interested in getting it right away.

I mean, look at how inviting this guy is! How could I stay away?

A few months passed. I couldn’t shake that intrigue I had for Dark Souls. It had filled me with such dread that few games have ever done. It gave me the tools to approach its solemn world and otherworldly beasts. I had to see what else there was to see. Skyrim had been an okay adventure, but I had already gotten a taste of much better level design and melee combat in Dark Souls. I had to go back. So I bit the bullet and bought it.

It still took a while to really get the gist of what the game was all about. There were dozens of frustrating deaths, stupidly hard new areas, and confusing objectives. I got lost. Progress was slow. I turned off the game several times in dismay, resigning myself to try the following day. I’m no stranger to hard games (Super Meat Boy, Ninja Gaiden Black, and others are among my favorites) but this was something different. The game was trying to teach me. And I was hooked.

The game is made so difficult because it is simply ruthless in the way it treats you. Even the simplest enemies can be a threat later if you let down your guard. Death makes you lose souls (the universal experience points and currency) and any accrued humanity points. Upon dying you have one chance to go back to the spot where you died and retrieve everything dropped, but if you fail to do so they’re gone forever. No matter how great the loss is. Luckily, levels, items and gear are unaffected so sometimes the game rewards some careful risk taking.

I don’t know at what point it clicked. I honestly think in some ways it still hadn’t fully clicked until partway through the second time. But somewhere along the line I had figured out my style and how I was going to approach the enemies I faced. I killed every boss on my own, unable to figure out the hazy “humanity” system and how to get other players to help. I favored heavy-hitting big weapons, heavy armor and huge fire spells to more nimble weapons and lighter gear. I learned to dodge and block effectively, learned how to trick enemies to fall to their deaths, exploited AI routines for my benefit, and worked my way through all the difficult bosses till I finally defeated Gwyn, Lord of Cinder and conquered the Dark Souls universe. I felt on top of the world.

I loved it.

At some point I realized that the game wasn’t truly as difficult as it seemed. Most enemies give clear signs as to what they’re going to do and follow predictable patterns. Patience with some repetition and attentiveness are required to get through, but most of the game is quite manageable when approached correctly. A few of the bosses are devious. Some are located far away from any checkpoints, making it harder to be patient with setbacks. But mostly the game wants you to think it’s more daunting than it is, and once you get the hang of it the game just takes time.

These guys really do suck though.

Once I had thoroughly explored Dark Souls and gained a great love for it, I realized I had to check out Demon’s Souls. I finally decided to get a PS3 for keeps and try it out once I had saved up the money to do so. As a recent Dark Souls veteran, I assumed I would fit right into the routine of how to play the game.

As it turns out, Demon’s Souls is quite different, structurally, from Dark Souls. Instead of a huge, seamless, open world to explore, the game is split into five distinct levels, each with about four checkpoint areas guarded by a boss. Tonally the game is quite similar to its sequel but there were a number of features that were not in Dark Souls and vice versa that threw me off a bit.

Demon’s Souls has a weird, ill-defined “world tendency” system that subtly affects the environment, enemies and certain things that are available. Light acts (defeating area bosses, saving certain NPCs, etc.) make the tendency lighter. Other acts, such as murder or dying in body form, make the world tendency darker. A dark world has tougher enemies that drop more souls, and the light world is the other way around. Some enemies and pathways only appear when a level is pure white or pure dark. Unfortunately, the best way to change these is by playing offline since world tendency pulls an aggregate from all players.

Playing offline would be a real pity, too, because the online features in both games are interesting and form some of the most unique features of the Souls games. You and anybody else can leave notes on the ground (using customizable prompts but no actual text entry) to warn of surprise enemies, point towards hard-to-find loot, or just straight-up troll others. By meeting certain conditions you can team up with others to take down tough bosses or invade other players and try to kill them to steal souls. All this interaction weaved into the framework of the games really heightens the experience that much more.

To be fair, though, I’m not sure I would have liked or appreciated Demon’s Souls if I hadn’t played and loved Dark Souls first. Most of the areas in Demon’s Souls are drab and depressing, the bosses aren’t terribly interesting for the most part, and there is far less loot to be found. Armor can’t be upgraded, the aforementioned world tendency system is mostly limiting and not fun, and dying has a more severe consequence by forcing you to be in “soul form,” which cuts HP to half and reduces certain statistics. The structure in Dark Souls includes bonfires, checkpoints that are scattered all over and which encourage further exploration. These work much better than having to start entire levels all over due to a mistake. Demon’s Souls becomes much more frustrating when you know about the advancements in the sequel.

Oh WHAT UP DARK SOULS?!?

I have since beaten Demon's Souls once, played through Dark Souls two times with one character and most of the way through with a second, and I'm mostly through with a third playthrough with the same character. All told I've spent more than 200 hours with both games, and I still crave more. It's been a long time since a game grabbed me like this (honestly, probably since I was young and played a lot of Pokémon). I'm still discovering new things - intricacies and layers that I hadn't seen before. I'm quite hooked.

There’s so much depth to the combat, exploration and systems in both games that I could take up multiple essays about all of it. My main purpose here was to show how a game I almost completely wrote off became one of my favorites of all time. I’ve heard Dark Souls called the “grown up Zelda” and after the complete failure of both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword to grab me or to innovate in any meaningful way, I’m glad that there is such a relentlessly calculated adventure as Dark Souls. The sense of scope, wonder, and discovery present in Dark Souls is practically unmatched in any other game, even in its predecessor to the same degree. I’m glad I discovered it and I look forward to the announced follow-up. I’m surprised by this, since I haven’t really anticipated many games in the last long while. I hope you also give Dark Souls a chance.

EDIT:

For those interested, my main character is a pyromancer with a fully upgraded flame and with great chaos fireball, great fireball, and great combustion equipped. My main weapon is a Black Knight Greataxe (great speed, unique moveset and suuuuuper powerful fully upgraded) and I use the Black Iron armor set with an Eagle Shield. I do need to use Havel's Ring still to give me the mobility I want, but my guy is pretty unstoppable even in PVP settings except when I freeze up because I'm terrible at multiplayer. This character, oddly enough, has a really hard time with the new Artorias of the Abyss content, probably due to there being a lot of fast, magical enemies unlike anything in the main game, so I never beat Manus or the black dragon and only beat one of the bosses with help from another player. Also, the first time I saw that content I was working through new game plus, which is significantly harder already.

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My Personal Best of 2011 Awards

Just using the categories the GB crew used, and perhaps adding a few. My top "ten" list can be viewed here though I have a hard time actually coming up with ten games to populate it with. This year has been mostly really disappointing for me, especially considering how amazed I've been at the quality of games coming out every year from 2007-2010. I guess there's gotta be a slow year now and again.

Anyway, on to my awards:

I loved Meat Boy immediately when I got it in October last year, and I've been chipping away at it constantly for about a year and ended up with an S-rank. I could've had it sooner, but it's a game best enjoyed in small bursts. I rarely found it frustrating; rather, I found it exhilarating and therapeutic. Guess that's what happens when I grew up with Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, huh?

  • Best Mission/Level: Bastion's final level

Bastion's story didn't really resonate with me all that much until the end. I won't spoil it, but it gives you some choices and shows you some character depth that the rest of the game doesn't really do, and you feel it in the gameplay. I like that in a game, and I'm sad that more of Bastion wasn't that meaningful to me.

Portal 2 doesn't have many characters, but they're all wildly memorable. However, the greatest example for me is Cave Johnson, the egotistical entrepreneur and founder of Aperture Science. His offhand remarks and observations contained in all the recordings you discover are absolutely hilarious. He adds so much flavor to the experience, and it just wouldn't have been the same without him.

In a year of great music, Rayman: Origins stands out for straddling the line between delightful and manically insane. You'll hear blends of mariachi bands, Disneyland-style tunes, gibberish singing, and much more in such an odd but seemingly perfect mixture of sounds.

Nintendo needs more quality downloadable titles, and Pushmo is a fantastic start to that. I really hope they continue and make more great games and facilitate third parties really exploring the capabilities of the 3DS.

  • Best Surprise: Rayman: Origins

I haven't ever liked a Rayman game. I've played the original and Rayman 2, but I never really liked the super weird world Michel Ancel had created and I wasn't impressed with the platforming. How delighted I was when I first played Rayman: Origins and found it to be a gorgeous, slick platforming experience that's easily one of my favorite games of 2011.

I take stock with the definition of this category. Honestly, I would define it as the one that best deserves the sky in their name. Skyward Sword is a flawed game, but civilization is ENTIRELY IN THE SKY and you fly all over on your crazy red bird...so you're in the sky a lot. Skyrim's a much better game, but Skyward Sword is a much more sky-oriented game. So there.

I'm not an online shooter guy, so it takes something really special to keep me coming back. I'm pretty good at third-person shooters (and awful at first-person) because I haven't encountered the experiences I hear people talking about where it's so hard to get into it. The suite of features, the great number of unlockable features and perfect controls have made me love to play Gears 3 competitively. And that's something.

I am extremely fascinated by the process used in the making of all the Uncharted games, and I love the effort all the actors and directors put into all the motion capture, voice work and everything else in Uncharted 3. Nolan North is a very talented guy, and his work in Uncharted 3 is among the best in the industry. Kudos to this guy, and to Naughty Dog for the impressive work they've done and strides they've made.

  • Best Looking Game: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

It's not just about the technical side of things, where many PC games will outdo it in sheer texture detail. It's not just in art style, which it has in spades. It's in how all the various elements of the game's look (animation, character faces, details, textures, frame rate, art style) come together to form a cohesive amazing-looking game. I believe this is the best-looking game to date on any platform, and a huge step up from the already-impressive Uncharted 2.

  • Worst Trend: "New Copy" DLC/Activation Codes

Batman: Arkham City was just one example of the increasingly egregious use of in-box activation codes for game content or online access that is becoming so prevalent. Stripping content out of the game and penalizing gamers for trying to save money is downright repugnant. I understand the reasons for it from a money-making perspective, but the games they're found in are never the games that are struggling to sell new copies. To solve these issues, publishers need to work more with Sony and Microsoft to get downloadable versions cheaper or have better sales, like Steam does. Oh, and the stuff EA does with its sports franchises where it has a code for online access or they charge you for it AND they drop their servers after a year or two is the most despicable, awful business I've ever seen in the industry. Bad form.

  • Best Use of 3: Gears of War 3

It's simply the best shooter on the market and it closes out the Gears of War story in a meaningful way while still leaving room for more story. Sweet.

  • Best Download-Only Game: Bastion

It was a really weak year for Xbox Live Arcade, but Bastion is great regardless of the year. I'm not as in love with it as Giant Bomb seems to be, but it's a high-quality action adventure game with some interesting mechanics and execution. Nothing on the level of Meat Boy or Shadow Complex this year, but oh well.

  • Best Co-Op: Gears of War 3

No surprises here. Just more, more, more in every possible aspect and pulled off in such a great way.

  • Best Story: Portal 2

The game is the story, and it's a much more fleshed out and interesting story than the original. I like where the characters go, I like the restraint Valve shows in not getting self-referential or going overboard, and the ending is AMAZING.

  • Most Disappointing Game: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I should've seen it coming, since I basically hated Twilight Princess, but Skyward Sword seemed like it was constantly daring me to like it. From aggravating side characters to unskippable, slowly-scrolling dialogue to scads of elements stuck in the past to random, pointless new features that actually diminish from the experience (like crafting) to infuriatingly pedantic and down-talking hints and tutorials (all forced upon you) to multiple, frequent cases of going overboard with motion controls that lead to me not liking Skyward Sword basically at all. And I'm a humongous Zelda fan, so...strike two, Nintendo. I'm not expecting anything again. Even after those amazing, amazing Mario Galaxy games that show me you guys still understand something. Maybe not Zelda anymore.

Ocarina of Time is the only completely perfect game in existence. The only proper way to properly show reverence for it in a remake would be to leave it alone other than touching up aged elements like visuals and controls, or drastically remaking it in such a way that it's only loosely based on the original and ends up being its own creature (like Metroid: Zero Mission). Nintendo opted for the first option, which was the right decision in this case. Ocarina of Time 3D, apart from a couple of very minor nags (Navi telling you to take a break from playing...WHAT?!?) is a flawless update to that masterpiece and keeps it relevant for the new age of players who can't see past the dated visuals of the N64 game, or don't have a good way to play it. It's a game I go back to year after year and I still enjoy just as much as I used to, so it deserves every new audience it can get.

  • Dumbest Motion-Control Moment: Flapping wings, throwing objects, and wildly inconsistent gestures in Skyward Sword

I already mentioned it, but Skyward Sword did some neat things with motion controls this year. The combat was mostly interesting if inconsistent throughout (doing horizontal slashes is way harder than it needs to be), but the thing that showed me that the developers simply don't know what's good and what's bad about motion controls is how many things were relegated to motion that should've been buttons or analog control. Things like falling from the sky and trying to land on a specific spot, or waving the remote up and down to flap your bird's wings, to throwing objects like bombs or pots with gestures instead of with a button (which led to a lot of really frustrating moments and even some deaths at times) and not utilizing the IR sensor for pointing, which works much, much better than the MotionPlus.

That's all for this year. Remember it's all based on my experiences. I'm going to limit my usage of GiantBomb this next year to stay more on task so...yeah.

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The Legend of Zelda - A Series Analysis

I love The Legend of Zelda. It's one of my favorite game series, among others like Metroid and Super Mario just to name some Nintendo examples. Recently I decided in preparation to the release of Skyward Sword that I would finally go and beat the rest of the main-series Zelda games. Since I've beaten all of them (and started Skyward Sword) I feel like I want to write a bit and make a list of the order of my favorites and talk about my experience with them, so...here goes. Including Skyward Sword, there are 14 titles but I can't really discuss that game yet since I've only just beaten the first dungeon.

Please note remakes or ports or side products like Four Swords Adventures or Link's Crossbow Training will not be discussed here, even though I've played them. And most certainly I'm not even going to mention the garbage CDi games...

UPDATE: I have now beaten Skyward Sword. It's kinda dumb but whatever.

14. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I'll admit I didn't have the highest hopes for Skyward Sword after the disappointment that was Twilight Princess...and in some ways it manages to be more interesting at least than that game. However, the game is simply LOADED with serious annoyances that made me hate the experience. Fi, for example, is a horrible character that the creators of the game made for the sheer purpose of informing you that yes, in fact, that switch you just pressed opened a gate and that there's an 80% chance you should go through it to proceed through the dungeon. You are literally incapable of skipping dialogue and the story takes a complete nosedive after a promising and charming (if a tad slow) beginning.

Also, the motion controls are kind of neat when they actually work, but making horizontal slashes is way too difficult and ultimately it isn't that big of a deal. I liked Wind Waker's combat a lot more. The game is full of backtracking, annoying NPCs, and a nonsense story. Also, the tone is crap. And Zelda and Link's playful, flirty relationship at the beginning literally goes nowhere when that alone could've salvaged this game's bullcrap story. Ugghhhh. This game sucks.

13. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

I just beat this game for the first time a month ago on an emulator on my computer, though my earliest experiences with this game had to have been when I was no more than three or four years old at my friend's house. He had both Zelda games on the NES and we'd play them sometimes...but I got so lost and was too young to really figure out what to do. I always remember this game being really frustrating and overly hard, which I can confirm is the nature of the game in general. I later bought this game as a GBA port and on the Wii but never ended up beating it until recently.

In playing through it I found this guide immensely helpful. It assuaged the frustration inherent in the lack of communication in old games and how they would pad out game length with vague hints and brutal difficulty spikes. It's an interesting game, though, and I'm glad I played it. There are things that have carried over to other Zelda games - like the names of the sages in Ocarina of Time which come from the names of the towns in this game...and sword techniques, certain enemies, etc. In fact, the more-precise and demanding combat in Skyward Sword is reminiscent of Zelda II's tricky strategic combat. The closest modern analogue to this game would probably be the recent Castlevania DS/GBA games.

12. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

My first blog post on this site was about how I was really let down by Twilight Princess. I guess I should've seen it coming - I really loved the direction Wind Waker went in and a turn to a much more realistic Zelda game was not at all what I really wanted. It lacks spark and magic, and doesn't deliver on being particularly dark to justify its more realistic style...combat is weak, the wolf is uninteresting, but don't take all this complaining to mean it's a bad game. It's simply formulaic and kind of boring in a way the console Zelda games hadn't ever been. This may be the game I'm least compelled to go back to at this point, but it was polished in a lot of ways and had some great dungeons, so that's something.

11. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Released side-by-side with Oracle of Seasons, Ages was focused on a time-travel mechanic within the new land of Labrynna. Like Chrono Trigger, the actions in the past affect the present time and throughout the game you obtain more free ways to travel between the past and future. Both Seasons and Ages borrow HEAVILY from Link's Awakening in music, graphical appearance (even though they were released on the Game Boy Color and had some Game Boy Advance features), and overall structure. Despite the gimmicks, this game is very much a formulaic portable Zelda game. Still, it has fun callbacks to previous games in the series and tons of side stuff to explore. Combined with Seasons, it's also the most expansive Zelda game.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

I tend to prefer Oracle of Seasons because there's more immediacy to the season changes than to the time changes and made travel between them less time consuming. Also, it seemed a bit more action focused and less cerebral. This game is in the land of Holodrum and Link gains the ability to switch between all four seasons to solve certain puzzles. Again, it has the exact same structure of the other Game Boy Zelda games in its eight dungeons and grid-like world map. Overall fun, but both games get really tedious and drag on a lot and have little unique to offer beyond some gimmicky features. Both games were developed by Capcom-owned developer Flagship, who went on to also make Minish Cap, a much better game.

9. The Legend of Zelda

The NES original is an undisputed classic and blazed the trail for expansive fantasy adventure games to come. Its save feature was key, seeing as it was a huge quest that could hardly be expected to be completed in one sitting. Like other games of its time it is very vague in pointing any sort of direction to go and can be deviously difficult. It features puzzles and hidden entrances that bewildered and surprised players, leading to an increased focus on exploration.

All its historical significance aside, this game has not aged gracefully. It's very hard to play now due to rudimentary controls, the aforementioned frustrating lack of direction, and its cookie-cutter dungeon design. It's a really great history lesson for those who are interested in checking it out. (Remember to hold reset when turning off the game to not lose progress!)

8. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

I just recently played this on a DSi XL and it was a delightful, charming game that wasn't quite up to the high standards of Phantom Hourglass before it. Regardless, I enjoyed the characters and music, the dungeons were fun and the puzzles with Zelda were challenging and fun. The game drags a lot with the limitations of train travel, but I ultimately really enjoyed my time with Spirit Tracks.

And a fun little thing: on the 25th anniversary CD that comes with Skyward Sword, the first song starts out with the train theme from this game. It made me smile.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

I'll say it here: I think Majora's Mask would have been better were it not a Zelda game. It would have had more freedom to just be crazy and build on the side elements and do more unique stuff. Regardless, this game is weird and twisted and utterly unlike anything else in the series. It borrows assets and core gameplay style from Ocarina of Time, but ultimately it's more about the three-day time constraint, scheduled NPC movements and questlines, and the unique transformations with the masks. There are some four or five traditional Zelda dungeons, but they're just a means to move the story along. The world of Termina is a bizarre, living, breathing world, and the sheer amount of things to do and people to help is crazy, and it's incredibly rewarding to explore and check things out. It's far from flawless, but it's very ambitious and I'd love to see Nintendo make a spiritual successor to Majora with a new IP. There's just piles of great ideas in the game, many of which are successfully executed but many more that are just hinted at.

6. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

I heard this game compared to Link to the Past a lot around its release, but that's not an adequate comparison. Minish Cap is very much a successor to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color games in its style of gameplay. You can equip any weapon or item combo to the A and B buttons just like before, and there's tons of very inventive new items. The Roc's Cape makes a triumphant return from the previous games and I wish it'd show up in the 3D games...

Whatever the case, this game is charming, fun, and hard to put down. It's disappointing then that the side quests are all tied to the lame kinstone fusing system and aren't very rewarding. The main quest is a ton of fun regardless and tells a pretty compelling story that is completely Ganon-free. In fact, it ties closely to the Four Swords games, which is weird...

5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

I loved this game from beginning to end. Being a big fan of Wind Waker, I was thrilled by the idea of a portable sequel to it but although it follows the same characters and has a similar visual style, Phantom Hourglass is very different. It's best described as a halfway point between the 2D Zelda games and the 3D games with a bird's eye view but with more complicated puzzles than the 2D games tend to have. The stylus controls were great, the items were fun, sailing was just as joyful as it was in Wind Waker, and there was a lot of fun in exploring. The dungeons were fun too. I was glued to my DS the entire time I was playing this game.

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

If anything, Link to the Past may be the influential hallmark of the series. It established key story points still in use today, dungeon and enemy designs we still see variants of, and much more sense of place than the previous two games had done. It was an oft-copied formula during the 16-bit era, but nobody ever really got it right. There's a lengthy main quest, hidden side things, a great light/dark world mechanic where actions in one affect the other, and some really devious dungeons. It's a SNES classic and while I don't love it as much as other games in the series, it deserves a lot of recognition for what it established.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

This may be the game I've played the most obsessively in my lifetime. It's possibly because it was one of the few games I had for my Game Boy (and one of only two or three actually worth playing) so whenever we were on trips I would seek out every nook and cranny and try to find every possible secret and beat the game again and again. I got incredibly sick of this game as a kid and will probably never play a game the way I did this game. Anyway, this is an incredibly fun adventure with a unique tone and lots of weird references and borrowed characters/enemies from Mario. The design they went with for the portable device was like a mix of the NES games and Link to the Past, and it works wonderfully.

2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

This game is so close to perfection for me and misses the mark on a few small accounts that keep me from claiming this game is the best one ever made. It had a few dungeons cut from it before release to meet deadline, which shows with the fairly lame late-game fetch quest, the combat is entirely too easy even though it's incredible otherwise, and the sailing should have some sort of augment halfway through to boost the speed. It's a joy anyway, but it can get tedious.

I could go on and on about how I love the music, sights and sounds of Wind Waker; how I love its art direction, its fluid combat system, its quirky inhabitants and great dungeons. I truly have a hard time saying whether this or Ocarina is my favorite Zelda game because stylistically, I just love this game so much. It's funny, it's touching, it hits the nostalgia bone at key points throughout and has some fairly shocking events (see: the ending). It's truly great and deserves an HD remake with added dungeons, a boosted difficulty with more-aggressive enemies, and some tweaks to the world in general. Also, a true sequel to this would be AMAZING.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

This is one of the only games, or perhaps the only game, that I consider completely timeless and perfect in every way. I've replayed at least once a year on average since its release and it still manages to astound me in some way or another. It's a work of art, a genius masterpiece that has a perfect balance of difficulty, great sidequests, a fantastic story, wonderful characters, and a fully realized world. What more can be said than has already been said about this mindbogglingly great piece of history?

And that's it. I love the time I've spent with Zelda and look forward to future releases. Feel free to leave your comments below. I want to hear your opinions!

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Nintendo Entertainment System - Suggestions?

Hey all. I think I might get a NES again for keeps. When I was little we had one, but it broke and my parents ended up just throwing it away and giving our games away. I don't want a complete collection necessarily, just the most significant and fun-to-play games. I'm very familiar with a lot of them but...I need some suggestions.

Here's what I've got so far:

Should I still get Final Fantasy? And out of the four Dragon Warrior games, which is the best? Any other RPGs that hold up? I don't necessarily want Metroid because I have it in other forms already and I don't love it anyway, though I love the other games in the series.

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Microsoft Making Good on Promotions = Awesome.

I've had great experiences with Microsoft lately, regarding my Xbox. I signed up for that stupid Bing Rewards thing through the Internet Explorer and ended up getting 200 Xbox Points with it. Didn't take me long, and I got the new Castle Crashers DLC with it. The problem was that the code they gave me was broken, but I contacted them and within 24 hours they had it fixed and sent me new codes.

Then, earlier this year I was involved in their beta testing program where they did a test system update and sent out free copies of Halo Reach. Cool, I just sold my existing copy and loved the free game. I even made custom box art for the plain box they sent me and got a manual from a local game store. Today they sent me an email telling me that the disc can't accept title updates for some reason or another, so they gave me a code for the Games On Demand version of the game. Pretty sweet.

Gotta say, I love being treated well as a customer. That is all.

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Xbox Media Center Problem - Help!

My roommate connected his Macbook to my Xbox 360 through some third-party app but he's no longer my roommate and his computer still shows up on all the Video Library/Music Library/Picture Library sections as an option.
 
How can I delete it? I tried clearing the cache on my Xbox but that didn't work. What else could it be? It's annoying that it still shows up on there.

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Divergent Opinions: When I Don't Agree with the Giant Bomb Staff

It's bound to happen, especially when reviews are so totally opinion based on this site rather than the analytical, clinical style of GameSpot of old. That is, I find myself totally disagreeing with the Giant Bomb crew's assessment of certain games from time to time. I tend to be de acuerdo with them more often than not, and that's why I like them and trust their judgment. But every now and then I so totally disagree that it bothers me. So here's a nice little list of the games that have stood out to me the most.
 
Dead Space 2
Brad raved about this, and Jeff respects it a lot and spoke of it as if it's serious Game of the Year material that Ryan definitely needs to play before those discussions happen. I just played it, being a pretty big fan of the first game, and was screaming at it and ready to rip it to pieces by half way through. It's frustrating and cheaply difficult, it's badly paced and so identical to the first game that I was actually pretty mad at it. The storytelling was better, but the rest was just such a waste. I might even go back to my review and change it from four stars to three. Maybe I'm in the severe minority here, but I was very disappointed by this game. The average Amazon reviews are lower than the first game's though, so maybe not. Brad's statement of "You could have told me it was just more Dead Space..." is annoying, since I actually got sick of the first one before the credits rolled anyway due to poor pacing, and the second game is worse. Ugh.
 
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
I was catching up on old Bombcasts, and Ryan specifically was talking this game up as being a really fun romp. I LOVE me some Mario Bros. and was excited to check it out, and I freaking hate it! It's one of the laziest games Nintendo has made for the Wii this side of Wii Play and Mario Kart Wii. The only good things were done better in the 2006 DS game! It's frustrating, has bad controls, and is really boring. Whatever. I hate it. I may beat it eventually just to spite it, but UGGGGGGHHHH... Super Mario Galaxy 2, in the words of IGN (I think) makes this game look like some sort of fan-made flash game by comparison. It's creative, consistently fun, challenging but fair, and marvelous in every way. I totally agree with Ryan on that one.
 
Rhythm Heaven
Jeff loves him some Rhythm Heaven, and I love the WarioWare games and other random assortment-style games. I thought it would be a perfect fit. This game, however, is terrible. The controls are unforgivably bad and the objectives are inane. Bleaugh. Hey, but I agree with Jeff on one thing: Picross 3D is pretty flippin' sweet.
 
Bionic Commando Rearmed
The NES Bionic Commando game is one of my very, very favorite games of all time. It's fun, challenging, and varied. It also has kick-butt music. I was so stoked for this game when I saw the announcement trailer that I nearly wet myself. Then I played it...and it's really dumb. I don't like the remixed music, I don't like the controls at all, I don't like the overall feel of the game or the strange, oversaturated graphics. There's little I like about this game, actually. It feels like a shoddy cash-in. Jeff seemed to love it, though, and it's well liked. Maybe I'm crazy.
 
Rock Band 3
Let me preface this by saying that overall I think Rock Band 3 is a fantastic improvement over the past iterations and has a ton of great new features. Okay? I'm not crazy here. My trouble is that it's just not mind-blowing in any way. The progression stats and all that are fantastic, but the way things were moved around sometimes makes it hard to access. It's hard to tell where my songs actually came from (Rock Band 2, DLC, Rock Band 3, etc.) and switching around instruments causes you to change to a horrifically ugly default character instead of the one you had saved. My biggest complaint, though, is the poorly implemented keyboard controller. It receives praise from nearly every editorial site I've seen, and I can only chalk that up to the lack of expertise or experience of each of these sources when it comes to playing piano. I've played since I was seven and am a fairly well accomplished pianist in classical, rock, jazz, and many other styles. I can play really, really hard stuff very well. So when I find the keys nigh-on unplayable due to the nit-picky and poorly laid-out nature of Pro Keys, it's a bad sign. Playing piano allows for improvisation and trills, and is dependent on feel, but the nature of the note setup is the requirement of absolute rigid exactness. Sometimes I can't even figure out what I'm messing up. The worst, though, is the notation. Everything seems shifted over one note farther than it actually is, so I rarely read it right even after getting all the keys achievements and practicing hard at it. Would it kill them to allow an option to put the note names above the note line so you at least know where your hands are? Geez...at least playing guitar is still loads of fun. 
 
I'm probably expecting way too much and being irrational here, but c'mon! I should love to play the keys in this game. It seems like it was made for me!
 
Fable II 
They openly admit there's lots of problems, but they still love the heck out of this game. I don't know why. I played a bunch of it and it feels like utter garbage. Nothing is right in this poorly-made game, at least in my opinion. Whatever. Play it if you like. Crazy people.
 
Metroid: Other M
Of all the...this is another example of Brad being crazy I guess. I like the guy a lot and all but...this game is FREAKING TERRIBLE. I love, love, LOVE the Metroid series and have played every single game multiple times, and I even like Ninja Gaiden too. This game is so bad my roommate and I sat in utter shock for the longest time trying to figure out if this was just some kind of practical joke. Thumbs down, everyone! Somebody please shoot me... 
 
Darksiders
This game was an alright copycat of God of War and Zelda. It was kinda slow-paced and boring a lot of times, and enemies were sometimes weirdly cheap in a way that the gameplay wasn't built for. Actually, the controls were straight-up pretty bad. Jeff seemed to like it a lot though. Not that he thought it was a masterpiece, because it wasn't. Whatever. Good on him I guess. I'd put it more at the three stars range, personally.
 
Alan Wake
Here's a first for this list: a time when I felt the editors didn't give the game a fair shake. Brad's review was very fair, and he seemed to really enjoy the story and characters and the general action. But when it came to Game of the Year time, everybody talked as if the game was a failure and just didn't live up to expectations. WHAT? This game was LOADS better than freaking Halo Reach and should have gotten the 360 GOTY award. Was this even an honorable mention? I think the gameplay was good up to a little before the end, and the story was one of the best of any game I've ever played. I am going to go back and S-rank this game too. It's amazing, scary, gripping...geez you guys are lame sometimes. On that note, I want to know what unknown, ethereal third-person shooters these guys are playing when they say that Alan Wake and Mass Effect 2 are simply passable. Gears of War is better, as is Uncharted, but I can't think of any others that are any better than these. What, is Army of Two better? Kane and Lynch? Heck no.
 
GTA IV

Now I just have beef with the whole editorial industry, I guess, because nearly EVERYONE openly admits that the gameplay in these games is generally downright awful and the best parts about it are the characters and storylines...which are mainly just overblown, profane stereotypes. Tons of people, after raving about this game in reviews and giving it perfect scores, wanted to go back and modify it because I think the realized how poor it really was. What gives? These guys still gave it GOTY over Gears of War 2 and MGS4 despite the arguing of everyone but Jeff that the actual game part of it was horrible. Brad didn't even want to finish it at all despite the great story because it was so annoying and frustrating. Do you understand it? Maybe I'm just not rough enough. Whatever. I think glorifying gangs and mafias is a bad idea one way or another, even if this game does paint it as an awful world to live in. Whatever. Again, play it if you like it, I guess. It just seems like a collection of everything wrong in games these days.
 
Prince of Persia
I like the art style of this reboot, but...uh, remember how the first Assassin's Creed was extremely repetitive to the point of being almost painfully boring after a short while? Yeah, this game's even worse, because the stuff you're doing isn't even as cool or fluid as the AC series. Dang it, I really wanted to like this game too because it's so pretty and stuff but...it ain't no Sands of Time, that's for sure. Now THAT was a game. Dang it Brad, you crazy.
 
Despite this rant, brought on by my recent experience with Dead Space 2, I more often than not find myself agreeing with the assessments these guys put on games and I trust their journalism. But every now and then...geez, you guys...I know an opinion's an opinion, but sometimes you can be straight up wrong. Maybe I'm wrong. Whatever. I'm not suggesting they should change their opinions or their reviews, I just don't agree sometimes. Whatever. Peace.

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Mega Man Universe Cancelled - And I'm Happy About It

IGN reports today that the previously announced Mega Man Universe, set to be released this year for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, is now cancelled - and I couldn't be happier about it. Ever since the NES days I've been a huge Mega Man fan, with Mega Man X being one of my very favorite games of all time. However, Capcom has consistently failed to do anything right with Mega Man, or has been hugely inconsistent at least, since Mega Man X2 or X3. Mega Man Universe sounded like a cool idea until I saw the videos. Then it just looked like Mega Man Powered Up only horrible.   

 

 No thanks.
You know what's great, guys? 2D sprites. I love 'em. Mega Man looks best with them. You know what Capcom game looked absolutely amazing in 2D? Street Fighter III. I would much rather see a bigger-budget Mega Man game done with hand-drawn animation and a combat system not unlike a Viewtiful Joe or Devil May Cry with classic Mega Man elements.
 
But anyway, this is most likely because of the departure of series creator Keiji Inafune. Hopefully there's a bright future for Mega Man, and we won't have to keep seeing all the 8-bit lazy cash-ins and millions of crappy sequels to games that were only okay in the first place.
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Things that will get me to buy a 3DS.

I was absolutely in love with the Game Boy Advance and thought it was the best handheld ever created. I got the DS (original, fat, ugly gray) within a week of launch, and played EVERY meaningful game for the system up till late 2008. You could say I burned out of handheld gaming pretty hard, seeing as I've had Game Boys of all variants since like 1995 or something. I don't own a Game Boy Advance or a single game for it anymore, nor do I have a DS. I sold them all because I was so totally done with them.
 
So although the 3DS looks very promising and great on so many levels, there are a lot of things holding me back from jumping on the bandwagon anytime soon. I love the N64 updated games like Zelda and Star Fox, the new entries like Super Mario, and ports like Street Fighter IV and Metal Gear Solid 3, but I've also been burned pretty bad by Nintendo's stupid prerogative with the Wii and all those lame casual sensitivities and the lack of decent online features.
 
SO, here's my list of things that will get me into the 3DS for sure.

  • A revision or fix for the battery life issue (5 hours?!? Are you joking?)
  • A couple serious killer apps (Super Mario looks like it could be cool.)
  • Bigger screens - the touch screen is smaller than the one on the DSi? WHAT? I don't need DSi XL proportions, but decent big screens are a MUST.
  • Solid lineup of downloadable games (along the lines of the XBLA and PSN)
  • GBA games added to the virtual console (specifically: Metroid, Mario & Luigi, WarioWare, Advance Wars, Castlevania)
  • Any sign that Nintendo is going to allow DLC for existing games, plus patches and updates
  • Achievements or something like that would be cool, especially if there was a point to them (like in-game bonuses, special Club Nintendo products, etc.)
  • Metroid Dread. Done.
  • Also, Picross 3D 3D. Make it happen. Super Smash Bros. would be tight too, maybe.
  • Price drop. $250 is way too steep for what you're getting. I'd gladly just take a DS2 without the 3D for less. As it stands, I could get a PS3 for less, so...
  • UPDATE: I have heard reports that emulation of old DS games is fairly poor, and that's bullcrap. A revision would have to fix that.
 
That's all I can think of for now. I guess I might think of more as I hear impressions from various media outlets and hopefully get some hands-on time with one at some point. 
 It's sexy, but it's going to have to wait.
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Game of the Year 2010 posted...and much more...

Instead of doing it in my blog, I just made the "Best of 2010" list that was requested on the home page. That got me to thinking about what my lists would be like for the past several years and how that would reflect how different my gaming is now from what it was years back. But whatever the case, I have my picks and I wrote about them there, so feel free to check out my many lists.
 
My "Best of 2010" list was as follows:

  1. Mass Effect 2
  2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
  3. Alan Wake
  4. Super Meat Boy
  5. Bayonetta
  6. Limbo
  7. Super Street Fighter IV
  8. Rock Band 3
  9. Donkey Kong Country Returns
  10. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
 
I have a few other categories that I'd like to throw out there.
Best Sequel: Mass Effect 2
2010's 2009 Game of the Year:  Resident Evil 5
Retro Game of the Year:  uh...I'll get back to this.
Most Unique Experience: Digital: A Love Story
Most Disappointing: Pro Keys (Rock Band 3)
And that's it. For now.
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