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‘Breath of the Wild’ Isn’t Nintendo’s Crowning Achievement But a Gem in the Crown

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is easily the best game to have come out so far in 2017, and will more than likely rightfully claim Game of the Year and similar accolades come award season at the end of the year pretty unanimously.  While Breath of the Wild is the best game I’ve played in years, too many critics and fans have been overzealous when singing the game’s praises and lavishly raving about the title.  That may sound insane coming from a self-proclaimed Zelda fanatic, and I’m not arguing that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t a near flawless, playable work of art or that a ‘ten out of ten’ is an unmerited score for the game.  Calling the game a masterpiece is perfectly warranted and scoring the game anything below a ‘ten out of ten’ is stingy, uninformed, more than likely contrary for the sake of being contrarian, and in my humble (ie. correct) opinion, blatantly wrong.  However, unlike many fans and reviewers, I would hesitate to call it the best game Nintendo has ever crafted or even the best Legend of Zelda game.  Goomba Stomp’s own James Baker, in his phenomenally written review, called Breath of the Wild, “Nintendo’s greatest achievement,” and “the most beautiful game Nintendo has ever made, and quite frankly…the best game Nintendo has ever made,” and he’s far from alone in making such claims.  While I wouldn’t refute the review as a whole, which you really should read, or really challenge anyone who wanted to make and support the argument that Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s best, a month after this masterpiece’s release I think it’s finally time to remind the world why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a sensational, instant, must-play classic in gaming history but not irrefutably Nintendo’s crowning achievement.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Back in 1986, The Legend of Zelda revolutionized gaming and is properly remembered as one of the most influential pillars of gaming history.  A lot of comparisons can be drawn between the original Legend of Zelda and the latest in the franchise, The Legend of Zelda was this grand, open adventure and the Breath of the Wild of its day.  The Legend of Zelda is truly a masterpiece, as fun now as it was in the bit era, and could be the first counter in the argument that Breath of the Wild is the best game Nintendo has ever made.  However, I doubt anyone would really contest that in 1991 The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past improved upon the foundation that The Legend of Zelda built in almost every capacity.  A Link to the Past begins almost as immediately as the original, but the narrative Link is thrown into is one that’s far more cinematic, dire, and perfectly toned by the game’s incredibly crafted opening.  After the game is masterfully staged by that introduction, the player is let loose on a high fantasy adventure of a scope and scale that was staggering in its day and as beautiful and immersive today as it was then.  The game carefully maintains the impression of openness, not unlike Breath of the Wild or the original game, when in reality the player is being subtly guided in true Nintendo fashion through unobtrusive hints, clues, and visual indicators so that the player never once feels they aren’t the captain of this expedition.  Consequently, players will rarely, if ever, get lost or be at a loss for what to do next.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past still boasts some of franchises best puzzles, many of which are oriented around the game’s iconic item list.  Not only does A Link to the Past essentially have every item that the original does, it also introduced several series mainstays including the Hookshot and Mirror Shield while simultaneously featuring some truly brilliantly designed items unique to the title, like the Magic Cape.  Graphically, the game was in a league of its own and, with its attractive character sprites, bright, vibrant colors, and lush scenery remains as iconic and visually appealing as it was at release.  On top of that, A Link to the Past has an exceptionally designed map, a sensational multitude of dungeons, some brilliant plot twists, and one of the franchise’s best soundtracks and sound effects.  Despite being A Link to the Past, the title refuses to be a relic of the past, and truly informed every Zelda title to follow, and is still one of the best games ever made.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

While many have grown tired of this game ceaselessly being labeled the best game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable games Nintendo has ever produced, influencing game after game for generations to follow, and should be remembered as a landmark in all of gaming history.  While A Link to the Past took numerous strides forward for the franchise, it’s unlikely anything will ever match the leap Nintendo made with Ocarina of Time from bit graphics into the world of polygons and 3D visuals.  Seamless doesn’t quite adequately convey how well Nintendo made the transition into a new era of gaming.  Despite Zelda primarily being a top-down series, its polygonal incarnation in 1998 miraculously felt simultaneously groundbreaking, bold, new and yet strikingly familiar.  Ocarina was and still is emphatically The Legend of Zelda and would go on to shape what it meant to be not only a 3D Zelda title, but also embody everything an action/adventure title should be in the new millennium that would shortly follow.  Today, despite how phenomenally it holds up, Ocarina of Time is sort of taken for granted.  Perhaps it has been on a pedestal too long, people have gotten overly familiar with it.  But really examining Ocarina reveals just how timeless it is, how revolutionary, sensational, well crafted, and brilliantly realized the game remains nearly twenty years later.

Quite obviously, Ocarina of Time adds another dimension to everything.  Hyrule comes to life like never before, expansive yet full and with a day and night cycle.  The new dimensionality and the bold art style make for some truly memorable dungeons, and the puzzles are unique and challenging in a way not possible with a 2D, top-down title.  Ocarina‘s Water Temple is still one of the most notoriously challenging dungeons in Zelda history, not because it is overly demanding, but because it makes such excellent use of space and verticality.  The game is also remarkable for its necessary and welcome new mechanics.  Though perhaps not invented by Nintendo, Ocarina seemingly popularized the “Z-Targeting” system as it is often referred to.  Thanks to that, the game’s thrilling combat is possible, replete with simple slashes,  backwards flips away, and forward lunges with a press of the same button when locked on to an opponent.  Epona, making her debut appearance, allows players to travel more conveniently and in style.  And while many tools are familiar friends, they literally and figuratively have more depth on the N64 than in previous entries.  Most tellingly, the game is still immensely enjoyable today regardless of the platform it’s played on and will continue to be one of the best video game experiences of all time.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

By 2002, Nintendo had realized not one but two 3D modeled Zelda games.  1998 saw the release of the seemingly unbeatable Ocarina of Time, and its truly black sheep brother took players from Hyrule to Termina in the delightfully twisted Majora’s Mask in 2000.  Their next turn was not only into uncharted waters for the franchise, it was an unprecedented direction that had many fans on edge.  Despite initial impressions, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the GameCube went on to become a fan favorite in the franchise and is widely remembered as one of the finest, most timeless Zelda entries to date. On the surface, The Wind Waker went in a more family-friendly direction, with Toon Link making his first appearance and the darker, more typical high fantasy fare art direction being dropped in favor of a cell-shaded, cartoony look.  With the unexpected change in art direction, many fans feared Nintendo had gone adrift and that their favorite franchise was sunk.  In reality, the art direction makes for a more expressive, relatable narrative and prevents the title from ever looking dated.  While its immediate predecessors and successor looked good in their time, The Wind Waker, not unlike A Link to the Past, is an aesthetic high point (on the high seas) for the series.  Equally, as unprecedented, the world in which The Wind Waker is cast is one flooded with water, replacing fields with foam and a horse for a lion…boat.  With fewer dungeons, The Wind Waker emphasizes exploration over repetition, a callback to the franchise’s roots.  The game adds the element of water to the winning, fantasy adventure recipe, making for one of the most memorable, high-flying moments in time for Zelda and one of the best open worlds (on the open seas) for its time and perhaps to this day.

The GameCube era of Zelda refined the core mechanics introduced in the 64 era, ensuring that the game not only looks beautiful but plays equally as well.  Combat is expanded upon, from some smaller, charming touches, like stealing items from enemies with the Grappling Hook, to some truly exciting additions, like the ability to disarm certain adversaries and wield their own, over-sized weapons against their owners.  Perhaps most central to the updated combat is the Parry Attack, an evasive counterstrike induced by the player reacting to a prompt on screen.  The narrative is also a central focus of The Wind Waker.  Immediately more relatable, The Wind Waker begins not as a lofty quest to save the kingdom, though it does eventually head in that direction, but instead a tale about family and an older brother trying to protect his sister.  The highly expressive toon characters and one of the most sensational video game soundtracks ever add another layer of emotional resonance far beyond what any Zelda title had attempted prior.  The sense of adventure is spurred on by the act of sailing the sea and uncovering new islands, exciting new locales, and formidable, frequently charming foes.  Engaging puzzles, adventures on the high seas, and charm in every inch make The Wind Waker an unforgettable voyage and a contender for the throne of best Legend of Zelda entry.

And Everything Else

Those are just three counters to the notion that Breath of the Wild is the best game Nintendo has ever made.  Remarkably, it could just be the best game Nintendo could have possibly conceived in 2017, but in 1991, 1998, and 2002 Nintendo revolutionized the entire industry with the latest and greatest Legend of Zelda entry.  And that’s just The Legend of Zelda.  Nintendo is also responsible for a multitude of other masterpieces, from Super Metroid to Metroid Prime, from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Galaxy, or Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario 3D World.  Nintendo’s history is literally littered with games that could easily claim the classification, “Best Game of All Time.  Period.  Forever. No Take Backsies.”  In reality, it’s impossible to say what the best game of all time is, partially because that’s an opinion and therefore not provable, but more so because of how many masterclass titles Nintendo has produced over the years.  It’s early, but I won’t shy away from the statement that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not only the best Nintendo game of the year but the best game of 2017 period.  But let’s not forget the games that brought us to this point as we look forward to a bright future of video games.  After all, if Breath of the Wild is truly the start of the next chapter for the franchise, the Legend of Zelda or Ocarina of Time of our day, that means what comes next (albeit, maybe after a weird, overzealous, Zelda II, self-discovery stage) could be utterly magnificent.

Tim is not the droids you are looking for. He resides quietly in the Emerald City where he can often be found writing, reading, watching movies, or playing video games. He is the Xbox editor for Goomba Stomp and the site's official Pokémon Master.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Donalyn Dovale-Brown

    April 15, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    While I see your point I have to say as someone who’s been around since the nes days this is by far the best title I’ve ever played made by Nintendo. I love many Nintendo games but none of them have come close to capturing my time and attention as this one, and I love every second of it- true gaming bliss.

    • Ricky D

      April 17, 2017 at 2:59 am

      As a huge Zelda, fan, A Link to the Past is still my personal favourite but I do think BOTW is the most fun of the bunch. It might not be groundbreaking but I can’t put it down.

  2. John Cal McCormick

    April 18, 2017 at 8:03 am

    “scoring the game anything below a ‘ten out of ten’ is stingy, uninformed, more than likely contrary for the sake of being contrarian”

    Okaaaaaaaaay….

    Other than that clanger there’s some pretty interesting points in this. I haven’t played Zelda yet. I imagine I’ll like it but not as much everyone else likes it since that’s the standard when it comes to the Zelda series for me. From a personal standpoint I can’t imagine ever thinking it’s the best Nintendo game ever considering how much I love some Nintendo games, but they’re free to try and change my mind.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘The Walking Dead’

A look back at one of the most critically acclaimed narrative based point and click story games of the decade: Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

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The story-based video game has been around for a long time but there has been a spike in popularity in them in the last decade. One of the most influential and critically acclaimed narrative games is the 2012 game Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which initiated a tidal wave of choice-based games that still continues today.

Lee Everett, the protagonist of the first season of The Walking Dead Game.

Telltale Games was created in 2004 and had a significant library of games established — including games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park — before the release of The Walking Dead. It was the zombie point and click adventure that shot them to triple A game studio status though. The game took on similar mechanics to their other games but introduced a more cinematic style. Player choice is a key element in regard to dialogue choices and important decisions within the story. These shape the player character, Lee Everett, and change his personality to suit the play style. This was one of the most endearing features of the game, allowing players to experience scenarios slightly differently depending on your choice.

The Walking Dead

Lee and his ward Clementine had a strong connection that led to a lot of the emotional moments in the story.

The depth of the characters and dark nature of the narrative are the best aspects of the game. The player takes on the role of Lee as he is on his way to jail at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. After a car accident leaves him stranded, he stumbles upon a little girl named Clementine. Lee becomes her protector as they and a group of survivors try to survive in the walker-infested world. This simple story of a man with a troubled past attempting to protect a little girl at the end of the world is incredibly engaging and it is difficult not to get emotionally attached to both Lee and Clementine. The system wherein certain characters will remember Lee’s words or actions is also a nice feature that can guilt trip you over your choices, particularly if you see the words “Clementine Will Remember That”. Lee is an interesting and complex character whose attitude and personality can change depending on player choice and Clementine is a loveable child who doesn’t fall into the “annoying kid” stereotype in most games. Both became beloved video game characters who set a precedent for likeable protagonists in gaming.

The Walking Dead

The cast of characters in The Walking Dead’s first season all had their complexities.

The legacy of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead still continues within the gaming community. Telltales unfortunate downfall in September 2018 was a great loss to story-based gaming but many have been influenced by Telltale’s work since. Dontnod adapted the episodic formula for their Life is Strange games, another fantastic narrative series. Others who had previously worked for Telltale helped bring other great story games to life. The co-writers of the first season of The Walking Dead game set up the company that created the 2016 game Firewatch, for example. More writers of the series launched Night School Studios, responsible for Oxenfree (2016) and Afterparty (2019). The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games to stardom, leading them to take on a slew of projects — possibly leading to their downfall. Despite this, the game has carved out a place for itself in history as one of the best point and click narrative adventure games that established a trend of games that encourage strong storytelling and complex characters.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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