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Top 10 Games with Staff Writer, Alex Aldridge

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.

My name is Alex, I’m 31 years old, I’ve been playing video games since 1990 and this list is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. Well, I say write, but writing about games I love is the easy part. The hard part was trying to condense 27 years of gaming into a list of my 10 best.

Technically, I’ve kind of already decided on my favorite games of all time and had them inked into the skin on my arm for the rest of my life, so that did help with the process – I just checked the mirror! Why make such an irreversible decision for life? Games have given me so much – entertainment, therapy, friendship, happiness, challenge, purpose, escapism and so much more. There’s a myriad of reasons why so many people love this medium, and here are ten games – in no real order – which explain why I do.

10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 is probably my most treasured time spent in a single game world. It was my safe place during a pretty rough time in my life that I’ve already mentioned here. I loved every single second of my experience in Witcher 3, and a large part of that was due to the lack of a character creator, and the resultant fun I had pretending to be Geralt of Rivea.

By having a staple character with a distinct personality, Witcher 3’s stories are all the more compelling. I hadn’t even played a Witcher game before, but Wild Hunt does such an amazing job of developing both the protagonist and his cohorts that I felt like it couldn’t matter less. The writing and characterization in this game makes its side quests better than most other game’s main stories. Bloody Baron, I still miss you, you big oaf.

An open world game is nothing without a narrative worth investing in, but Witcher 3 is much more than a good yarn. Hunting monsters and exploring the breathtaking world is consistently as exhilarating as it is rewarding. An absolute joy of a game that demanded of me that I see 100% of what it has to offer, I was rarely disappointed and never felt like my time was being wasted. To have a feeling like that after over 80 hours of play is the purest of indicators that I’ve played something genuinely special.

9. Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is more likely to stake a claim for campiest horror game of all time rather than scariest, but the first hour of it is utterly terrifying. I still get goosebumps right now when I think back to the first time the rev of Dr. Salvador’s chainsaw pierced through the sound of disgruntled Spaniards yelling at me. Truly chilling stuff.

Resident Evil is a series I hold really close to my heart. My best friend and I have completed roughly 1 Resi game every year for about 17 years. It’s a franchise with several games I consider absolute classics – chiefly 1, 2 and now 7 – and yet Resi 4 is the one we’ve probably played together the least, and the one I’ve individually played the most.

It’s obviously been well documented that the game underwent a complete development makeover and pushed the series, and much of the industry, into the ‘action horror’ era. You might think this killed Resident Evil, you might not – but nobody can argue that the series became confused and bloated because it never managed to replicate the near-perfect formula of action and horror that 4 introduced (Dead Space came closer than Resi ever did to doing this).

Chief among the reasons for this is, I think, the game’s impressive variety. Weapons and upgrades, locations, enemy types, bosses – Resi 4 never rests on its laurels and is constantly throwing surprises the player’s way through a mix of inspired creativity and superb pacing. It’s because of this that the game still holds up brilliantly today and is probably due to be the next up for my annual Resi revisit with my buddy. I think I’ll text him now, actually.

8. Banjo-Kazooie

You know how everybody has that one game that they know like the back of their hand? That one title where they’ve got the maps memorized and can identify any part of the soundtrack having heard three notes of a melody? No prizes for guessing what that game is for me. I’ve played Banjo way too many times; it’s basically my comfort food.

It probably stems from a time when I really couldn’t afford to waste as much money on video games as I (barely) can now, but I refuse to believe that the number of times I’ve played BK is based on anything other than how much it charmed me with its color palette, varied environments, British wit, and incredibly infectious music. I know a lot of people will herald the brilliant Super Mario 64 as king of the N64 platformers, but Banjo wins it for me.

Both games have brilliant mechanics that continue to stand the test of time, but Banjo has one thing in spades that Mario didn’t need to rely on – character. SM64 certainly had the character with its iconic protagonist, but BK just oozes personality. It’s quirky, it’s silly, it’s funny and it has a talking toilet that you have to jump into after you’ve turned into a pumpkin.

Not all games need to be about intense challenge, and playing Banjo is about as relaxed as I’ll ever be when playing a video game. It’s the game I’d most likely pick to speed run if I ever fell down that hole, and that’s purely because I’d happily play it over and over again for another 20 years.

7. Bloodborne

Bloodborne achieved ultimate gaming redemption with me. The first time I owned the game I was a complete newbie to the Soulsborne series (other than hearing about it and being intrigued to get involved), and I was completely out of my depth from the very start. I played it, I sucked, I hated it, I traded it. Months later, having been sucked into playing Dark Souls 3 after watching a Game Grumps stream, I decided I wanted to give it another try. Man, am I delighted I did.

Its inclusion in this list can lead you to draw the obvious conclusion that I think Bloodborne is the pinnacle of Soulsborne. Its Lovecraftian visuals and lore, its fast-paced combat, and its imposing game world are absolutely awe-inspiring. Dark Souls introduced me to the incredible gameplay and world-building of From Software, but Bloodborne pulled me deep into adoration for it.

Demon’s/Dark Souls is undeniably an amazing series of video games, but four games in it feels like there’s little else that can be done with the knights and dragons arm of From’s empire. Bloodborne was, and still is, the perfect tonic. It’s faster, it’s moodier, it has a more foreboding atmosphere, and for me it just plays a whole lot better. Dodging, weaving and parrying with a blunderbuss is absolutely glorious, and strutting around as a steampunk hunter covered in crimson is… well, it’s cool as hell.

Bloodborne absolutely epitomizes the notion that perseverance reaps rewards, and took me from chastising the Soulsborne series as a masochistic and mysterious fad that would eventually die out, to one that I hold in the very upper echelons of my gaming hierarchy.

6. Bioshock

As much as I love video games, their mechanics and their worlds, there are actually not that many moments where a game’s story or cut scene will affect me the way a movie can. Bioshock was the first game I can remember that bucked the trend, and it did it within the first five minutes. Taking a trip in the game’s first Bathysphere and listening to Andrew Ryan’s meritocratic speech about his underwater utopia before Rapture is ostentatiously revealed is one of my all-time favourite moments in gaming.

Bioshock is not the most mechanically perfect game on this list, but in terms of tone, mood, setting and atmosphere it is the cream of the crop. I adore Rapture and have never been more in awe of a game world. From the Art Deco stylings and 1950s music to its lumbering Big Daddies, it is truly iconic. It’s all topped off with one of gaming’s most revered plot twists and a story heavily stacked with mature themes, fascinating characters and thought-provoking source material. I will freely admit to being one of those people who bought the book Atlas Shrugged after playing this game, and then saw how thick it is and decided I’d never read it.

It’s crazy to think that very few games before Bioshock delivered their story beats whilst the game was still being played, but it seems like there was barely a bandwagon big enough for all those jumping to mimic the audio logs this game used to immerse players even more into its incredible narrative.

Somewhere along recent history’s timeline, it became fashionable to suggest that Bioshock isn’t a very good game to actually play. Not only do I thoroughly disagree with that notion – the Plasmids, for one, are still a brilliant mechanic – I think it’s entirely missing the point of the game and its significance within the medium. While some elements, like the slightly-too-binary Little Sister decisions, have started to age – in terms of world-building and style, I have yet to experience anything like it in this medium or any other.

5. Portal 2

To add to my previous point about stories in games rarely hitting me right in the feels, it’s probably not sacrilege to say that games aren’t usually all that funny. As a kid, I remember cracking a fair few smiles at the Monkey Island titles, but it wasn’t until Portal 2 came along that I found a game’s writing to be genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious. The fact that so many laughs were offered up by one of the smartest and most inventive puzzle games I’ve ever played means that Portal 2 is a truly unique experience.

After the original became the surprise darling of Valve’s Orange Box, it was tough to fathom just how it could ever be bettered with a standalone sequel. Would the puzzles be as clever? Would it suit having a more central story and being a longer game? Would co-op work without making the game too easy? I was most certainly overjoyed to have all my concerns soundly answered.

Portal 2 is so much better than the first game in every respect. It’s got some absolutely inspired casting with Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons absolutely owning their roles alongside Ellen McLain’s already brilliant GLaDOS. It’s actually quite a bizarre notion to be trying to wrack your brain around some seriously fiendish puzzles while big name actors crack wise in your ear, but it just works.

Adding to the fantastic story and ingenious new puzzle elements was easily the best cooperative mode I’ve ever experienced. Necessitating genuine co-operation like nothing else before it, and being completely separate to the single player game, it is an absolute master class of multiplayer. Portal 2 is a game that’s an absolute joy to play from start to finish, not just alone or with a friend, but even when sitting someone else down and watching their brain tick over or seeing them giggle at Wheatley or GLaDOS. Some games are hard, some games are cool, some games are brutal – Portal 2 is simply genius.

4. Overwatch

OverwatchBloody Overwatch. I am utterly obsessed with Overwatch. I’ve dabbled in online shooters in my time, but this is the only one I’ve ever gone this deep with. It’s the exact kind of shooter I want to play – one that gives you the same tools as everyone else from the start, that then lets your appreciation of, and improvement within, the game grow as you engage with its necessity for teamwork and tactics.

Even better is that all this is presented to players through an incredibly silly filter. This a game featuring giant talking apes, cyber ninjas and emo skeleton men, but something in my cynical brain refuses to click, and instead I’m all in on the wacky characters, skins and ultimates. The heroes in Overwatch offer a crazy amount of variety and enhance the game’s longevity tenfold. As long as Blizzard keeps adding maps, modes and heroes, you’ll never run out of new things to learn and new ways to play. I’ve played the game pretty solidly for well over a year, and I’m admittedly not proficient with even half the game’s character roster – I’ve got plenty left to do in Overwatch for many years yet.

Overwatch completely rekindled my interest in online gaming, and shooters in general for that matter. At first it was just myself and one other friend that were into the game, but since then we’ve amassed an online team of people that I have never met in person, but will happily call my friends. I chat to them almost daily about the game, we play every other night of the week, and I absolutely love it. If that’s not what the spirit of competitive gaming can do in terms of bringing people together with a shared interest, then I don’t know what is.

3. Bayonetta 2

There are some games that may leave you feeling disappointed with some abrupt end credits or a miserly campaign length, but the end of Bayonetta 2 disappointed me in a completely different way – I legitimately just did not want it to end. Yes, it’s not the longest game of all time, but it is the most focused and exhilarating ten-or-so hours I’ve ever spent with any video game.

Bayonetta 2 is Platinum Games at its absolute peak, producing the most mechanically perfect, batshit crazy rollercoaster ride I’ve ever played. It never outstays its welcome and it never lets up its relentless pace of stylish hack and slash action. There were so many jaw-dropping moments that, even in harder or more frustrating sections, I was constantly hungry for more. Not all games can be made like this – we need downtime every now and then – but I never want that in a Bayonetta title.

The game has everything a good action title needs – fun weapons, mind-blowing set pieces, huge bosses, gorgeous visuals, a perfect frame rate, and it punctuates it all with the equal measures of finesse and madness that Platinum does better than any other developer in the world. The gameplay takes itself incredibly seriously, even if the narrative never does.

I’m so glad the game is coming to Nintendo Switch, because it was criminally denied a multiplatform release back in 2014 (even if Nintendo publishing it allowed it to actually exist at all) and even though it’s still exclusive to Nintendo consoles, more people should rightly have access to play this incredible game. I’ll be buying it again, for sure. A game paced like this almost demands to be played while sitting on the toilet. You know, for safety.

2. Super Mario World

Super Mario World is basically the perfect video game. It’s absolutely astounding to think that Sega’s Genesis marketing revolved around trying to denigrate this utterly incredible game. Actually, knowing Sega, it’s maybe not that astounding. Anyway, Mario World is not only my favourite Mario game, but my favourite platformer of all time. It just gets so much right that I cannot offer even a semblance of criticism against it.

2D Mario titles are video gaming to me, they were my introduction to gaming back in 1990 and are still my favorite type of game to play 28 years later. There’s no childhood nostalgia needed to appreciate Mario World – it’s so good, so brilliantly designed and full of secrets, and so perfectly structured in terms of its difficulty curve. It also helps that it has the most perfect 2D platform game mechanics ever committed to a cartridge. A game that looks, sounds and plays as superbly as this will never age.

Super Mario World gave to the series so many aspects that changed it forever. We got Yoshi, we got the cape, and, of course, we got an American footballer enemy who inexplicably throws baseballs. It is a game so important and ground-breaking that Nintendo has failed to go back to the 2D realm and better it since. It is a game that has been modded extensively to create some of the most brutal challenges in gaming, and its speed running community runs it in more than 40 categories. Super Mario World is unquestionably gaming royalty – hail to the king, baby.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Although I said this list was in no real order, it came almost by instinct that I leave Ocarina of Time until last. Even though it’s probably aged the worst of almost every game in this list, I still adore it more than all of them. Ocarina of Time was my gaming epiphany – the moment when a 12 year-old me fully fell in love with the medium.

I have forever since labelled this game as my favourite of all time, and even now I still cannot get enough of it. I’ve got dozens of toys and action figures, Manga novels, t-shirts, soundtrack CDs, posters, gold Australian cartridges, even an actual ocarina! I bought it four times and I’ve played it over and over again. I know it like the back of my hand, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I hear even one bar of any song from the soundtrack. I can’t state enough how much I love it.

Transitioning to 3D Zelda was a big deal for Nintendo, and they did such a perfect job of it that current Zelda games, and hundreds of action/adventure titles since, have copied it ad infinitum. I love all Zelda games in their own way, but Ocarina still holds the crown as the best of the lot for me.  The strongest contenders have been Wind Waker, which just failed to better Ocarina thanks to its rushed pace-killer of a final act, and Breath of the Wild, which is perhaps the purest realization of Miyamoto’s original spirit of adventure, but lacks memorable characters and has a few mechanics that drag it back from perfection.

Neither of those criticisms can be labelled at Ocarina. Obligatory Water Temple gripe aside (which, thanks to the magnificent 3DS remake, is rendered void anyway), it’s absolutely wonderful. The dungeons, the boss fights, the characters, the pacing, the music – it’s all completely unbeatable for me. After Breath of the Wild, I do feel like we’re one step away from the Zelda game to truly wrestle Ocarina of Time from that place right next to my heart, but until that comes along, if it ever does, it’s staying right where it is.

Incredibly Honorable Mentions:

Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, Pro Evolution Soccer 4, Mario Kart: Double Dash, Chrono Trigger, WWE ‘13, Vanquish, Silent Hill 2, Dead Space, Resident Evil 2, Skies of Arcadia, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Goldeneye 007.

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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.

Animated GIF

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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