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The 20 Best Games of the Century (So Far…)

One year ago, a few intrepid young gamers took it upon themselves to start their own gaming website. That project eventually became Goomba Stomp.

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One year ago, a few intrepid young gamers took it upon themselves to start their own gaming website. That project eventually became Goomba Stomp. One full turn around the sun later, Goomba Stomp boasts nearly 50 writers across 4 continents, and we couldn’t have done it without that one little thing that gives us a reason to do this at all: that’s you, the reader.

So if you’re reading this, then thank you. You’ve helped to give us a voice, and though it may be something of a nerdy voice, it’s ours all the same. To say thanks, and, of course, to celebrate, we’ve crafted up this little list of our favorite games of the 21st century. Our writers and editors have pooled their votes, and the results are as follows.

We hope you love these games as much as we do. Here’s to another year of doing what we love, thanks for being here for the ride. (Mike Worby)


Best Games of the Century

20) Civilization V

The feeling we most commonly associate with Civilization V is confusion. It’s not because of the daunting array of systems one must navigate in order to play the game with any measure of success, and it’s not because of the various political and religious minefields you must negotiate in order to avoid your burgeoning civilization becoming little more than a footnote in the pages of history. It’s because this game, more than any other on this impressive list of titles, can cause you to look at your watch in bewilderment at 5 am when you could have sworn you’d only been playing it for an hour. Civilization V asks for a considerable time investment, but the rewards it yields is abundant.

At the start of each game you’re asked to pick a civilization – be it the English empire, the ancient Egyptians, or one of over a dozen more – and the aim of the game is to take their culture from a single settler looking for a place to hang their hat to a sprawling superpower that is considered enough of a cultural, spiritual, militaristic or technological marvel to win the game. As your village grows into a city, you’ll form new settlements, deal with political unrest, spread your cultural influence, research important scientific discoveries, and try to build awe-inspiring wonders before your competitors. You can build the hanging gardens of Babylon just outside of London, or the Pyramids on the outskirts of Paris. Perhaps Michelangelo will be born in Boston.

You make your own history in Civilization V, and it’s glorious. Just make sure you set plenty of time aside. (John Cal McCormick)

Best-Games-of-the-Century

19) Gone Home

With all the talk in more recent years of developers and publishers hoping to add a layer of emotional resonance to their games, very few games are able to actually achieve the kind of emotional response that players might get from some of their favorite films or television shows.

Gone Home is a game that bucks this trend almost effortlessly. The story of a girl who comes home from traveling abroad to find that her family has moved to a new house, Gone Home doesn’t exactly have a premise that would seem to work very well in the medium of gaming. However, with the advent of the walking simulator, a game like this can offer an intense feeling of immersion, as players feel like they are very much inhabiting the shoes of the protagonist, Katie, as she learns about all of the ways her family has changed and grown in her absence.

A quiet, solemn, and evocative experience, Gone Home is the kind of game that should be played by everyone who takes even a fraction of enjoyment from the medium of gaming. At a mere two hours to complete, Gone Home makes a similar case to a game like Journey: that a short game isn’t necessarily a waste of money. Quite the contrary, in fact, Gone Home is a game that can literally change your life. (Mike Worby)

Best Video Games of the Century

18) Final Fantasy X

Some people might point to Final Fantasy X as being the moment that the Final Fantasy series jumped the proverbial shark, but there’s a lot to like about the tenth installment in the long-running franchise. Upon release it was the best looking Japanese role-playing game ever made, and while the voice acting was routinely mocked (even at the time), fully voiced characters were a landmark achievement for games of this ilk. The golden age of JRPGs might have ended with the PSOne, but Final Fantasy X dragged the defiantly old-school genre kicking and screaming into the future whether we liked it or not.

Taking place in the magical land of Spira, Final Fantasy X tells the tale of an upbeat sports star named Tidus who is mysteriously transported 1,000 years into the future when his city is attacked by a gigantic, malevolent beast known as Sin. As he struggles to acclimatise to a brand new culture unaccustomed to his ways, he meets a girl destined to destroy the creature that left him stranded in a strange time and decides to help her on her quest for peace. Throw in some daddy issues, a villain with gravity-defying hair, and some giant yellow birds and baby, you’ve got a Final Fantasy.

The linearity of the game and the almost entirely humourless script might have left some Final Fantasy fans feeling alienated at the time, but looking back, Final Fantasy X did a lot of things right that future games in the franchise would get wrong. It was impressive on a technical level, but it retained some of the heart that the series was known for which later iterations of the series would lack. It’s got a fun battle system, a suitably moving story, and a largely memorable cast of characters. And it’s also famous for containing one of the worst cut-scenes in video game history, so there’s always that. (John Cal McCormick)

Best Video Games of the Century

17) Red Dead Redemption

What happens when you take Rockstar’s penchant for mature stories and huge, interactive open worlds and stick it in the twilight years of the American Wild West? Red Dead Redemption happens. Not only living up to the legacy of its Grand Theft Auto progenitors, but succeeding them in several ways, Red Dead isn’t just Rockstar’s best game, but one of the greatest games ever made.

The story and setting of Red Dead are nearly perfect for the Western film vibe it’s attempting to ape. John Marston is a former outlaw whose family is being held hostage until he can track down and kill his former gang members. Along the way, he’ll need to contend with lawmen, undesirables, and his former brothers in arms as he tears across the wild west. There’s gunfights, horse rides, and plenty of piano music to make any fan of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood classics smile with glee.

The open-world is one of the best ever created, full of dynamic events that make it feel alive and interesting landmarks to explore. When Marston’s not busy with one of the impeccably crafted story missions there’s plenty of side content like hunts to complete and bounties to collect that make you feel like you’re in the West yourself. There’s no need for anyone to make a video game out of HBO’s WestWorld, we already got it in 2010.

From its first moments to its heart-wrenching finale, Red Dead Redemption is gaming perfected. Its combat visceral and nerve-wracking, its story pointed and interesting, and its use of themes of fatherhood and the waning of the American frontier
incredible to watch play out. The Wild West is an untapped market in gaming, but there’s a decent chance that’s because it has been done perfectly already. You shouldn’t just play Red Dead Redemption because of the upcoming sequel, you should play it because it deserves to be played, and stands as one of the defining games of the last generation, or any generation. (Andrew Vandersteen)

Best Video Games of the Century

16) Mass Effect 2

As a devastating attack destroys the Normandy— Shepard’s ship— in the opening moments of the game, the dramatics hit light speed and never let up. Mass Effect 2 is an emotional investment, as much as it is a refined third person shooter, a well-crafted role-playing game, and a seemingly boundless universe to explore.

Shepard, the player’s created character, is not a one human show; a cast of new and returning characters round out the experience with their distinct personalities and backstories. As the game progresses, the player is given the opportunity to learn more about each crewmate, ultimately leading to an optional loyalty mission. These optional missions, as well as voluntary research upgrades and player choices, determine which characters live and die in the final chapter of the game.

Player decisions are not restricted to the last chapter however, the player makes several story choices throughout Mass Effect 2 that are often dichotomized between paragon — by the book — and renegade — who play by their own rules. For returning players, Mass Effect 2’s universe is altered by importing player’s choice from the first game in the series —a criminally underused feature in the industry. This feature assures that the time invested in the first game is meaningful, bettering the series as a whole. Newcomers to the series are still offered a highly tailored story experience, with short-term payoffs, and the promise of greater rewards in Mass Effect 3.

Player choices are not the only aspect to carry over from the first entry, as Bioware shows that they learned a few lessons from the original game. The series’ second entry keeps what worked for the first Mass Effect, while also refining every aspect. Gear and menus are streamlined, while class options offer better upgrades than before. The sequel also removes dull mechanics present in the original, like the Mako driving section, where the player explored barren planets in a land rover. Mass Effect 2’s biggest change comes in the form of its combat system, which emphasizes tight third-person shooter mechanics with a quicker pace than the original.

Mass Effect 2 is the fruit of Bioware’s experienced tweaking and experimentation in the RPG arena. Side quests and major story beats feel lovingly handcrafted, detailed and morally challenging. Combat feels fair, engaging and rewarding. From its explosive opening to its unmatched climax, this entry is the highlight of the Mass Effect series, and one of the best video games ever made. (Justinas Staskevicius)

Best Video Games of the Century

15) Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Stepping into the cold, delicate land of Skyrim is a breathtaking experience. A vast collection of stories emerging from a masterpiece of exploration and discovery; an RPG has never liberated the player quite so well as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has.

The beauty of Skyrim can never be overstated. There’s not a leaf, nor a rock, that seems out of place. From the alluring forests that withhold the darkest of secrets, to the towering walls of Solitude that give an illusion of safety before its peril at the claws of a dragon.

The player’s role as the Dragonborn throws them into political entanglements and engaging skirmishes that all have different impacts and consequences throughout the region. From giant mammoths in the treacherous grasslands to the falmer deep beneath the surface, conflict is never too far away. The role-playing opportunities are endless, the expansive map is mystifyingly vast, and the enriching cultures of the inhabitants are engaging.

The different mods available only enhance a wonderful vanilla version that shows little signs of aging. The combination of modding and endless role-playing puts this Bethesda classic truly into the hands of the player. And from there they add their own story to the fables and folklore that have sustained Elder Scrolls since its humble beginnings in 1994. (James Baker)

Best Video Games of the Century

14) Bioshock

At 20,000 leagues under the sea, Ayn Rand meets Lovecraft in this survival horror FPS from Irrational Games. At the bottom of the ocean lies Rapture, once an Eden of science, art, and free trade, it now stands as a nightmarish labyrinth for the insane and dangerously ambitious. The player finds himself thrown into this dystopian civilization during the final days of a civil war between the capitalist icon, Andrew Ryan and the mysterious voice on the other end of your radio, known only as Atlas. You are tasked with helping Atlas and his family escape the flooding city, inhabited by those corrupted and augmented by mad science run amok. Armed with only a combination of DNA modifying Plasmids and advanced weaponry, you must uncover the mystery behind the fall of Rapture and your role in this war between two men and their conflicting ideologies.

While technically BioShock is a first-person shooter, the lack of available resources and pure viciousness of the Splicers and Big Daddies position BioShock as a far cry away from your average run and gun Call of Duty game. Each encounter with a Big Daddy or Splicer group must be carefully planned and executed, or the player will face an overwhelming beat down. Being able to balance the right Plasmids and ammo for each situation is vital as you explore the depths of Rapture, especially on the higher difficulty settings, else you’ll end up sleeping with the fishes. Exploration is another key factor in discovering and surviving the harshness of life below the surface. The ability to unlock a secret area in order to gain the drop on an unsuspecting opponent is key to thriving in Rapture. The player must actively manage their resources (health, eve, ammo, and money) in order to hack, fight, and outwit their enemies in this unforgiving environment.

BioShock weaves its story, atmosphere, and gameplay together to create a unique sense of dread and isolation in this city deep beneath the ocean’s surface. And while the game is nearly perfect, it isn’t without its flaws. BioShock tacks on a morality system that ends up feeling half-baked, as though each option results in a different ending cutscene, it will only marginally affect the player during the actual game. This along with a strange tonal shift during the final act reminds the player that this is a game world, which would rather concern itself with final bosses instead of deep philosophical ideas about capitalism and free will that were expressed earlier in the game. That said, if you haven’t played this astonishing journey into the deep blue, please would you kindly do yourself a favor and pick it up. BioShock is one of the greatest titles to come out of the past generation, and frankly, the storytelling and atmosphere are unmatched. (Ryan Kapioski)

Best Video Games of the Century

13) Bloodborne

From Software’s fast-paced, action-RPG, Bloodborne, is a blood-soaked gem. The combat of Bloodborne hurls at you at break-neck speed, stripping the player of all defense as the shields and plate mail of Dark Souls are replaced with flimsy Victorian fashion and a health system, weaponry and blood-splatter effect that all create a desperate, gory melee. Powerful but well-telegraphed attacks from your foes, coupled with your fast, lengthy dodging, create a beautiful pace of alternating between intense close combat and hanging back and probing for openings.

Furthermore, a wide range of transforming weapons, each with their own unique attack palette, and diverse item effects allow each player to find their own fighting style. Admittedly the game is not without flaws; some of its elements will force players to grind on occasion, and Bloodborne can be frustratingly esoteric on where to progress to next. But stellar central gameplay means that even grinding isn’t a complete chore, and the game’s lore is so rich that incentivizing the player to inquire a bit more into it isn’t all bad.

Both inspired and original, Bloodborne’s love for Lovecraft had it craft a setting quite unlike any other. Strange alchemical rituals, nightmare realms and esoteric alien divinity are just a few of the rich pieces of lore hidden away amongst item descriptions and environmental design in a way only From Software can pull off. And with plenty of optional areas and bosses, Bloodborne was a game where you could plunge yourself as far in to the nightmare as you desired. Players could disregard all the game hid away and simply enjoy the visceral combat, or could thoroughly immerse themselves in peeling back every veneer, revealing every secret, and be rewarded for doing so.

Not only is Bloodborne a great game in and of itself, it’s also a bloody great sequel to From Software’s Souls series, having enough of the framework from Dark and Demon’s Souls to show a clear genesis, while also having a potent injection of adaptions to the gameplay Dark Souls polished, to begin with, to define it as its own game. Shine on, you crazy blood gem. (Liam Hevey)

Best Video Games of the Century

12) Super Mario Galaxy 

Space, the impenetrable blackness that smothers this planet’s existence in its dark embrace, has often been an object of fear in the human psyche. It is fundamentally disruptive to life and is, in a word, inhuman. It is beautiful, yet cold, serene, yet home to some of the most destructive forces in the universe. Evidence of humanity’s fear of space, and it’s frigidity, is present everywhere in our media and culture and few stop to consider the beauty of space without a heady reminder that its very nature is anathema to the human condition.

Leave it to Nintendo to redefine space and simultaneously make it as fun and inviting a place as has ever existed. Leave it to them to create a great, cosmic fairy tale amongst the stars and comets, and have it seem as inviting as a trip to a castle for cake or a vacation on a tropical island. Super Mario Galaxy redefined space, not just for the Mario series, but also for gaming as a whole. In contrast to its common use as a setting for games that attempt to alienate the player or leave them feeling nervous, Super Mario Galaxy presents space as simply the black canvas onto which a beautiful tale, of good and evil, of heroes and irreparably inept villains, can be told, their rise and fall accompanied by a glissando of grandiose melodies.

Super Mario Galaxy is more than just a game, it is an experience. Carefully crafted levels seemingly plucked straight from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, accompany expertly balanced gameplay and a scale not seen before and rarely since. Accompanied by a narrative whose poignance tugs on the very fabric of human emotion and fed by an inconceivable amount of creativity, Super Mario Galaxy is nothing less than a masterpiece, not just in the sphere of gaming, but in all of art.

That is what sums up Super Mario Galaxy more than anything else; it is a work of art. From its watercolor cutscenes to its heart-warming explorations into Rosalina’s past, it is pure brilliance. Games will come and go, technology will advance, and gaming will evolve, but, much like how the works of the great artists of Antiquity are relevant even today, Super Mario Galaxy will remain a pillar of what defines gaming, an indisputably brilliant testament to its core tenets. (Izsak Barnette)

Best Video Games of the Century

11) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

After the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time, the next entry into the venerable Zelda franchise had to either be another masterpiece or risk disappointing millions of fans. The bar had been set perilously high by Link’s first 3D outing and more than one gamer probably wondered how Nintendo could possibly top such a watershed effort. As it turned out, Majora’s Mask would never compete with its massively successful prequel. Instead, it markedly deviates from the formula established by its predecessors and offers a different experience. It reduces the expected number of dungeons and focuses more on overworld adventuring. And, in what has proved to be its most controversial innovation, it organizes its quest around three repeating days, as players search frantically for relevant items and reset the clock, over and over again, before a massive moon crashes into the land of Termina.

This clever mechanic solves one of the oldest problems beleaguering role-playing and action-adventure games: non-playable characters with static, terribly boring lives, which consist only of waiting for player interaction. Thanks to the repeating days, it became logistically possible for the developers of Majora’s Mask to script wonderful, surprising, and exciting schedules and activities for nearly all townsfolk. The result is a living world where players enable love stories amidst the apocalypse, save old ladies from getting mugged, prevent aliens from stealing cartoon cows, and gain access to the most fashionable milk bar since A Clockwork Orange.

So much to explore – and so many different bodies to do so with! If Majora’s Mask is partly about uncovering the lives of others, it is equally about discovering the protagonist’s own identity. Ocarina of Time’s funny masks are here repurposed and used to transform Link into a forest Deku Scrub, an aquatic Zora, or a rolling Goron. It’s a twist that beautifully suits a game – and a franchise – with obvious affinities with (if no affiliation to) the role-playing genre, which is essentially about embodiment. Players don’t only grasp the outlying geography of Termina and deepen their knowledge of the eight million stories in the naked city of Clock Town, but also strengthen their mastery over the shape-shifting wonders of their digital bodies. (Guido Pellegrini)

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ricky D Fernandes

    December 14, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    I voted for Majora’s Mask although I do love The Wind Waker. Sad to see that Silent Hill 2 didn’t make the cut.

    • Mike Worby

      December 16, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Honestly Silent Hill 2 was one of the Sophie’s Choice cuts I had to make, I love that game.

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Games

Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle

We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.

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Journey of the Broken Circle

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.

Moving Up Professionally in Going Under

Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!

As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.

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Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle

Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.

Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.

Prepare to Get GORSD

There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.

Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.

Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion

Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.

This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!

Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village

Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.

It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.

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Games

PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’

The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.

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Inkulinati and Pumpkin Jack

The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.

Inkulinati

Inkulinati

Platforms: Switch and Steam
Release: 2021

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Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.

The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.

The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.

Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.

Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?

Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020

Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.

The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.

We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.

Pumpkin Jack

Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.

After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.

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‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic

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Oracle of Seasons

“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.

These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;

 “The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”

Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether. 

“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.” 
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer

Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties. 

Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy. 

Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas. 

Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.

There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.

With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG. 

Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.

So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account. 

The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library. 

Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games. 

The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.

Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.

The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.

In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum. 

There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player. 

All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda

Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result. 

Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all. 

If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda

Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense. 

It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games. 

In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand. 

An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.

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