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The History of Super Mario: The SNES Days

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History of Super Mari Bros.

Brick by Brick: The House that Mario Built

There are about eight Mario adventures that could easily be listed within the lexicon of the greatest games ever made, and Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System sit on that list. Super Mario World helped define the 16-bit era, transforming the classic Mario formula into something bigger, faster, brighter, and some would say, better. Meanwhile, the follow-up, Yoshi’s Island, is a wonderful vision of pastel colors, majestic landscapes, and beautiful sprites that represent a mishmash of creativity, and imagination that only Nintendo could bring to life.

As the story goes, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted Mario to be able to ride a dinosaur and actually conceived the idea during the 8-bit days, but the limitations of the Nintendo Entertainment System made it impossible to include the additional character on the first four games in the series. Yoshi lived only in Miyamoto’s imagination for years — until a newer, faster, stronger and better console would be made. That, of course, was the Super NES. Released in 1990 in Japan and 1991 in North America, the console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities compared to other consoles at the time and a variety of enhancement chips (which were integrated on game circuit boards) helped to keep it competitive in the marketplace. The SNES was a global success, becoming the best-selling console of the 16-bit era despite the relatively late start, not to mention the fierce competition from Sega’s Genesis. In North America, Super Mario World launched as a bundle with the console and demonstrated the console’s “Mode 7” pseudo-3D rendering capability. More importantly, Super Mario World gave Shigeru Miyamoto the opportunity to realize his vision and featured a new signature gameplay mechanic: His vision of Mario riding on Yoshi’s back was finally brought to life.

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Super Mario Bros. 3 had equipped the hero with a long list of power-up abilities, including fan-favourites, the Tanooki and Hammer Bros. suits. Here, though, the power-ups are slightly different. Super Mario World includes the usual Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, but this time around Mario had new tricks up his sleeves. The best is the feather power-up, which grants Mario a superhero cape and lets him float, glide, and spin-attack his way through stages. Another new and helpful innovation was the item storage box, which allowed for an extra power-up to rest in reserve until called upon. But the game’s biggest addition was Yoshi, the friendly dinosaur who could snatch enemies with his long red tongue and swallow them whole. In addition, Yoshi was able to spit fire, spit out shells, kick up deadly sand clouds, and even fly depending on the color of the turtle shells he digested. Riding Yoshi gave the standard run-and-jump Mario series’ a new twist, but it also proved that Nintendo could deviate away from a traditional formula and still have a massive hit on their hands. And for this reason alone, Super Mario World is one of the most important games Nintendo has ever released. It gave them the confidence to continuously experiment, even if it was at the expense of their valuable mascot. It also helped the Super NES sell millions of units while teens were desperately trying to decide between purchasing either the Super NES or the Sega Genesis.

Dinosaur Land makes for a different setting in the Mario universe which was mostly populated in past games with the standard fire, water, and ice world themes. The change of scenery was most refreshing at the time, and the individual levels mix things up in ways that keep it feeling fresh throughout. In addition to straightforward platforming, players must also work their way out of complicated mazes in several haunted houses. The level designs in Super Mario World are among some of the best and most challenging in any platformer. In addition, the overhead map was a huge upgrade from Super Mario Bros. 3, allowing players to travel around freely from one course to the next. Any stage that a player beats can be played again and again, which is handy since many of the game’s levels have more than one route that a player can take in order to finish the course. 24 of Super Mario World’s 74 levels contain a second, hidden exit which expands the game world even further. Just think about that — the level design in Super Mario World, is ingenious for the time.

Opinions vary on which is the best-looking 2D Mario outing, but my pick goes to Yoshi’s Island’s which I’ll talk about below. That said, Super Mario World isn’t far behind. It’s an absolutely beautiful game in its own right and even though it was the first SNES game released, Super Mario World is also one of the best-looking games on the system. More importantly, it holds up incredibly well, even today. The graphics are colorful, the animations are adorable, and there’s more variety to each level design than ever before.

Legendary composer Koji Kondo is a name that will appear throughout this series and with reason. His melodies, even those that are variations on a single theme, remain some of the best music ever composed for the medium. The music of Super Mario World might just be the best in the entire series and fills up a double disk soundtrack which contains arrangements by Soichi Noriki, and the original tracks by Kondo himself. Koji Kondo’s soundtrack greatly adds to the atmosphere, and demonstrates the range, and quality of music that could be achieved with the system’s sound chip. Meanwhile, the excellent sound effects provide another layer to the soundscape — from the bongo beat heard when Yoshi bounces around, to the musical waltz in the underwater sections, and most notable, Yoshi’s famous screech at the start of the game.

The Genesis vs Super Nintendo debate was a hot topic for any kid growing up in the ’90s and is arguably the first worthy battle in the long-running console war (even though Nintendo sold twice as many units). The Genesis was lagging in sales, but many gamers preferred Sonic the Hedgehog’s blazing-fast speed to the slow pace of Nintendo’s famous mascot. When Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came along in 1992, Sega fans exploded —claiming Sega’s cooler, edgier approach to gaming was better than Nintendo’s family-friendly vibe. The debate will forever live on as to which game and system is better. Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario World, are excellent in their own rights, but for my money, Super Mario World is still the better game. Sonic may have been the speedy, fresh newcomer, but Super Mario World is far more complex and possesses some of Nintendo’s best level design. It also has better replay value, and unlike Sonic, Super Mario World stands the test of time.

What makes the Super Mario series great, is Nintendo’s insistence in finding new ways to expand upon its basic concepts in unexpected ways. Super Mario World managed to push the boundaries and exceeded the expectations of gamers back in 1992. Following up on the brilliance of Super Mario Bros. 3 was no easy feat but Nintendo pulled it off with great success. I think it’s safe to say that Super Mario World is the apex of 16-bit platforming and set the bar impossibly high for any future 16-bit releases. Smart, imaginative, inventive and riveting; the only way Nintendo could follow up is to do something completely different, and they did.

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Nintendo took a radical step with Super Mario World 2 Yoshi’s Island, opting for a prequel, not a sequel, and a completely different style of game play. Gamers were yearning for a sequel to Super Mario World, and naturally, expectations were high — and naturally some gamers weren’t happy that the series star was given a backseat to a long-tongued dinosaur. In Super Mario World, the game casts players as Yoshi as he escorts Baby Mario through 48 levels in order to reunite him with his brother Luigi, who had been kidnaped by Baby Bowser’s minions. It was a ballsy move on the part of Nintendo, but thankfully, it worked. Yoshi’s Island is another prime example of Nintendo’s constant strive for perfecting video game design and a testament to the abilities of the great Shigeru Miyamoto. In 1995, along with designer Takashi Tezuka, Miyamoto managed to create another groundbreaking achievement.

Despite being released at the twilight of the console’s life, Yoshi’s Island received instant and universal acclaim and sold over four million copies. Miyamoto’s distaste for computer pre-rendered graphics found in such games as Donkey Kong Country led to Yoshi’s hand-drawn aesthetic—a style new to the series—and the beginning of a different philosophy for Nintendo. Yoshi’s Island was all about how graphics would dictate the technology and not the other way around. Yoshi’s Island pushed the capabilities of the SNES to its limits. Taking full advantage of the Super FX 2 chip, the game’s breathtaking graphics, vibrant colors and brilliantly detailed backgrounds make it the best-looking game on the Super NES and set it apart from other platformers of the time.

Besides the graphics being near revolutionary, the gameplay was also drastically different from previous installments. Although Super Mario World 2 has traces of Mario’s traditional platforming formula, Yoshi’s Island plays like a different beast. Unlike previous games, Yoshi’s Island relies on a countdown instead of a life meter. In fact, Yoshi is virtually invincible unless you fall into a bottomless pit or into lava. Throughout the game, Yoshi must carry, and protect, baby Mario on his back. If Yoshi is hit by an enemy, baby Mario will be launched into the air, causing a timer to pop up. Yoshi then has 10 seconds to get him back before Kamek’s toadies steal baby Mario and the player loses a life. Once Mario is retrieved, the countdown stops. Along the way, Yoshi also comes into contact with hidden bonus levels, rides on an indestructible canine friend named Poochie, and transforms into various vehicles such as a train, a mole, a helicopter, and a submarine. While the power-ups are extremely charming, the game doesn’t pack the punch that typical Mario games do with their special abilities. And so, while Yoshi’s Island might be a visually stunning game, the gameplay just isn’t the same. Instead of smashing bricks and hopping around on platforms, Yoshi’s Island focuses more on puzzle-solving and item-collecting. And Yoshi’s Island might just be the easiest of all the core games in the Super Mario franchise, making the replay value a little less satisfactory. There are 6 worlds overall, each being divided into several levels that can take only a few minutes to go through. Each stage holds a possibility of 100 points —  20 red coins, 30 stars, and 5 flowers. Largely the scores are worthless unless a level is completed — but if you accumulate 100 points for all 8 levels of an area, then a new stage, along with a bonus game will open up.

The boss battles are the best part of Yoshi’s Island, with each of them being unique in their own way and each presenting a different layout and strategy. Most notable is Burt the Bashful, Naval Piranha, Roger the Potted Ghost and Sluggy the Unshaven. Equally as beautiful is the soundtrack by Koji Kondo?, the greatest video game composer of all time. The in-game music consists of some of the catchiest tunes of the entire series — from the intro stage to the epic majesty of the final boss battle. In fact, the only downside to the sound design is the infamous cry of Baby Mario which can be heard whenever an enemy hits Yoshi.

While still part of the Super Mario series, Yoshi’s Island has enough gameplay ideas to constitute its own franchise. The game’s story is an interesting choice as the origin story for Mario and Luigi, and the game injected a wonderful variety into a franchise that was still growing. As for the levels themselves, their design is completely and utterly brilliant, with tons of secrets to uncover and bonus rooms to be found. The game’s only true disappointment, however, is the linearity of these levels – other than that – Yoshi’s Island is one of the greatest games on the SNES, and arguably, one of the greatest games ever made.

– Ricky D

The History of Super Mario: The NES Days
The History of Super Mario: The SNES Days
The History of Super Mario: The N64 Days
The History of Super Mario: The GameCube Days

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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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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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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