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In Defense of ‘Twilight Princess’

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We are less than two weeks away from the release of The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on the Wii U and almost ten years on from it’s original release, so maybe now is the time to re-evaluate a game which has divided many fans of the series. In my opinion, the game is often unfairly maligned by fans who write it off as one of the weakest 3D Zelda games released. There are recurring themes that crop up in discussion of the game, but are these complaints justified? Well, let’s have a look at three of the most common:

“The beginning drags”

This is a complaint that is levelled at a lot of games in general nowadays, especially RPGs. There’s nothing worse than a game that takes far too long in teaching you about the game’s rules, not letting go of your hand. This is something that can be very frustrating for an experienced gamer, and is often a systematic problem when creating a game which has got to be appealing to players who are both well-versed in series and coming to it for the first time. But while it may take its sweet time in letting you off the leash, the extended introduction does serve a purpose.

Spending a few hours in the Ordon Village makes you accustomed to this village lifestyle, and grounds Link’s character in a way which had never really been done before. It establishes his normality, so that when things go wrong (such as, I don’t know, turning into a wolf) the impact feels more real, as you can sense what is at stake. When you go back to the village as a wolf and all the villagers show their animosity towards you, it is genuinely quite upsetting. As you progress through the game these humble beginnings emphasis the breadth of your journey. If you pay a visit to the village as you are making your way towards the end game, it does make you realise just how far you have come. This feeling is a hallmark of a successful adventure game.

twilight-princess-midna

The beginning also sets in motion one of the best character arcs in the series, that of your companion Midna. She is by far and away the best companion in the Zelda series to date, with more personality than Tatl, less needy than Fi, and far more likable than the infamously infuriating Navi. When you are first introduced to Midna you don’t particularly trust or like her, laughing at Link through the prison bars like some callous madwoman. But over the course of the game, and as her motives become more clear, she becomes one of the series’ defining characters. Your attachment to her throughout is set-up perfectly by the slow build-up in the first few hours of the game, to the point where it is hard not feel emotional when she is injured and fighting for her life after the game’s third dungeon. That segues nicely to the next complaint…

“The dunegons are formulaic”

By this point we all know how a Zelda dungeon works. You go in, look around, see which doors you can open, notice some stuff that you can’t get to, fight a mini-boss, get an item, use said item to reach previously unreachable areas, fight the main boss, done. It’s a simple but effective formula, but the limits of it mean that a successful dungeon lives or dies by its presentation and overall gimmick. The dungeons in Twilight Princess don’t stray much from the sacred formula, and this certainly is a problem in the first half of the game. The Forest and Fire temples do little to excite well-worn Zelda players, and the less said about the Water Temple the better. Not only is the whole “adjusting water levels throughout the dungeon” idea cumbersome and tedious, it is also remarkably unoriginal at this point.

However, the game changes in the second half, with dungeons opening up and having more originality and personality. The Arbiter’s Grounds and Snowpeak Temple are perfect examples of this. We have seen sand-based and snow-based dungeons before, but they have a central gimmick (being set in a haunted prison in the former, a yeti’s mansion in the latter) that gives the place a bit of backstory, making you more keen to explore further. Quite often in Zelda it can feel like you are just wandering from room to room, puzzle to puzzle without any real meaning to the places you’re exploring. You’re just progressing through the game rather than exploring a world. Twilight Princess took steps to give the dungeons you explore character, and try to mix-up the presentation of them, if not the core formula. But while Twilight Princess does have some of the best 3D dungeons, it also has some of the worst. The aforementioned Water Temple and the City In The Sky are particular drags. And because the dungeons are so huge, when one of them does underwhelm it’s more noticeable, given the amount of time you spend in each one.

twilight-princess-field

“The overworld is dull and empty”

After experimenting with the overworld in Wind Waker, Nintendo went back to the classic field-based overworld here. The new technology meant they could make the largest overworld in the series history, and also meant the re-introduction of Link’s trusty steed Epona, who actually controls like something nearing an actual horse in this game, rather than like a furry tank in the N64 titles. What the overworld aims to do in this game is make the world feel big, and thus make your adventure feel more, well, adventurous. The pure scale of the winding roads, the arching mountains, and the decaying ruins makes you feel tiny in this version of Hyrule.

But the criticism aimed at the game is that while the overworld may be huge, it simply has nothing in it. This baffles me, for the simple reason that in every 3D Zelda the overworld is pretty barren. In the N64 titles, the overworld acts merely as a corridor between the various areas in the game, offering only a spattering of easily avoidable enemies to add colour. With the Wind Waker, a huge part of the charm with the ocean navigation is how vast swathes of it is empty, meaning whenever you see an island coming into vision it feels like you have made a genuine discovery.

What Twilight Princess‘ overworld creates is a powerful sense of loneliness; you are on your own in this dark, sprawling land. This could be seen as a negative, or as a powerful way of re-enforcing the overall tone of the game, making the player feel more immersed in the world. This is no more apparent than when travelling between areas, as night descends and that haunting music starts playing, reminding you of the horrors of the twilight.

***

With Zelda the bar is set extremely high. Comparing any game to Ocarina Of Time, Majora’s Mask, A Link To The Past, etc. is kind of unfair. These are some of the best games ever made. Even a bad Zelda is still better than 99% of other games, and Twilight Princess is a great game. Through my two playthroughs of the 40 hour-long game I was rarely bored, as it’s world completely absorbed me. While it may not the most original or ground-breaking title in this wonderful series, it is unfair to dismiss the game off-hand. I encourage you to re-visit its dark interpretation of Hyrule and judge the game for what it is, instead of what it’s not.

For more Zelda, check out our month-long Spotlight celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the franchise

Based in Huddersfield in the United Kingdom. Lover of anything Nintendo flavoured as well as the Souls series and much more. Also a British comedy and Radiohead geek.

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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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