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‘A Link to the Past’ Refined a Franchise to Perfection



A Link to the Past SNES

“Long ago, in the beautiful kingdom of Hyrule surrounded by mountains and forests . . .”

A Link to the Past’s legacy is often attributed to Nintendo recognizing The Adventure of Link as a misstep by styling Zelda 3 in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda, but the franchise’s first Super Nintendo outing owes its successes to both of its predecessors. As much as A Link to the Past resembles The Hyrule Fantasy– visually, mechanically, & conceptually– the game’s DNA is rooted in Zelda II’s foundation. In fact, both titles were briefly conceived at the same time by Shigeru Miyamoto, with at least one of his scrapped ideas for Zelda 3 (a controllable Fairy) finding its way into The Adventure of Link. When it comes down to it, A Link to the Past is as in-tune with its past as a video game can be; and it’s exactly this quality which allows A Link to the Past to stand out as one of the greatest sequels the medium has ever seen. 

Where the original Legend of Zelda is best defined by an emphasis on freedom & exploration, and Zelda II by its combat & penchant for memorable setpieces, A Link to the Past carves its identity by blending together the NES duology’s strongest qualities. The game’s opener– Link awakening in the middle of a downpour to sneak into Hyrule Castle– is more dramatic than anything the series has seen up to this point, but the entire sequence is driven by concepts the first two games already established. Link begins his adventure swordless ala The Legend of Zelda, but breaking into Hyrule Castle in the middle of the night speaks to how Zelda II peppered progression with grand gameplay events (think to scale Death Mountain.) 

Combat plays off Zelda II’s reflex-based swordplay. Soldiers are quick to attack Link, and striking head-on can often result in blades clashing. Players need to be mindful of where they’re attacking from, reacting to enemy movements & attacking accordingly. Combat is never as demanding as it was on Zelda II, but A Link to the Past’s action is driven by the same conventions. Battles aren’t framed around up & down movements, of course, but swordplay is fast-paced, enemies always deal a reasonable amount of damage, and Link’s item loadout goes so far to combine the versatility of Zelda II’s magic with Zelda 1’s equipment variety.

The very first item Link can get his hands on isn’t a weapon, but a puzzle tool. The Lamp brings back Zelda II’s magic system while filling a purely navigational role. Unlike Zelda 1’s Candle which lit any room the players used it in, the Lamp can only light specific torches– both as a means of casting out darkness and solving puzzles. The Lamp places an immediate emphasis on exploration while stressing the importance of Link’s sub-equipment (arguably necessary since Zelda II kept Link’s tool mostly passive.) Compare the Lamp directly to the Sword, and they’re almost distilled versions of TLoZ & AOL respectively. It’s fitting that Link’s first two items function so ‘rigidly’ since the Boomerang represents the practicality of ALttP’s design as a whole. 

The Best of Both Worlds

Link’s third item, the Boomerang is found deep within Hyrule Castle. At first glance, it functions exactly as it did in the first game: stunning bigger enemies on contact, killing smaller ones outright, and nabbing items from afar. Later on, however, players will realize that their Boomerang can hit switches from afar while phasing through certain obstacles. Past the midway point, it’s not unusual to encounter rooms where the Boomerang is just as useful for subduing enemies as it is for progressing forward. The Boomerang is as viable for puzzle solving as it is for combat, a distinction the item shares with most of A Link to the Past’s weaponry.

While it takes time for the Boomerang’s full potential to show, the Eastern Palace forces players to understand the Bow & Arrow’s utility before the dungeon is over. Rather than using Rupees as ammo, the Bow comes with a proper Quiver this time around, incentivizing players to actually use their new toy. Eyegores infest the Eastern Palace, enemies that need to be baited before being shot with an arrow. Early rooms feature pots that can be thrown to kill the Eyegores, but the last few rooms of the dungeon remove this crutch to force players to learn how to aim & dodge out of close-range combat. This becomes especially critical in the game’s first real “Level,” the Dark World’s Dark Palace. 

The Dark Palace makes the most out of the Bow & Arrow specifically through Goriyas– enemies that mirror Link’s movement and can only be damaged with arrows. Players need to position themselves accordingly to fight back. This is as simple as lining up in front of a green Goriya, but red Goriyas will attack Link on sight, forcing players to shoot first and quickly reposition their opponent. Goriyas are enemies designed as puzzles, balancing the skillful positioning of Zelda II with The Legend of Zelda’s brainteasers. 

The Dark Palace very carefully utilizes the Bow & Arrow as an action & puzzle-solving tool that doesn’t favor one over the other. Conveying to the player that ALttP is as action-packed as it is thought-provoking is of utmost importance. At its core, A Link to the Past is a non-stop gauntlet of everything that made the NES Zelda games so good: engaging combat, rewarding exploration, and thought-provoking puzzle design. A Link to the Past doesn’t fix what isn’t broken, it refines what wasn’t perfect. 

Beyond swordplay maintaining Zelda II’s focus on reflex-based gameplay, Link’s sword is all-around more versatile. Link’s forward stab has been replaced with a slash that can cut enemies diagonally along with parrying projectiles like spears. By holding the attack button, Link can extend his sword into a stab or charge up the series’ first iteration of the Spin Attack (framed as an old family technique passed down from uncle to nephew.) After the Eastern Palace, Link even gains access to the Pegasus Boots– a piece of equipment that lets players dash with their sword extended. With the Master Sword offering Link his signature Sword Beam at the halfway point, players have quite the blade on their hands. 

Magic’s seen a considerable overhaul, if only because the game actually offers Link a reliable way to restore his Magic Meter. Magic Pots regularly drop ala Hearts and Magic Medicine can be tucked away for later use in Bottles. There’s still tension tied to the magic meter (especially if spellcast inconsiderately,) but it doesn’t need to be rationed anymore. Spells are also connected to equipment now, no longer tucked behind a menu. Magic ends up playing a more fluid role in combat as a result. Both the Fire & Ice Rods are long-range spells that burn & freeze enemies respectively, as easy to use as the Boomerang or Bow & Arrow. 

Ocarina of Time is often attributed to giving The Legend of Zelda its universal action button, but the series began experimenting with context-sensitivity with A Link to the Past. While the action button isn’t as all-purpose as it would become, players can now push, pull, grab, & throw certain objects with the A button. Bombs are no longer a one & done dump, Link now able to pick them up and toss them after the fact– a skill necessary for progression in some later dungeons. Levers need to be pulled, statues need to be pushed, and players are able to immerse themselves in Hyrule with greater ease thanks to this newfound interconnectivity. 

By allowing players to directly interact with their surroundings, Hyrule goes from a well-realized backdrop to a living, breathing world. Bombable walls return from the original Zelda, but they’re rounded out by underground grottos, elaborate cave systems, and open-world that combines the freedom of The Hyrule Fantasy with the character of The Adventure of Link. Kakariko Village is the only proper township in the game, but it accomplishes everything Zelda II’s towns did & more as a central hub. Kakariko features a shop, NPCs to give the player direction, countless internalized secrets, and a fortune teller nearby. Some NPCs turn their heads to follow Link’s movements, and a key few will even report Link for ‘kidnapping’ Princess Zelda if he gets too close.  

While Kakariko Village is home to the only proper community in Hyrule, quite a few NPCs scatter the country. Thieves instinctively mug anyone who dares enter the Lost Woods, Zora’s territorially guard their leader & top salesman, and Syrup the Witch has situated her potion shop in a nice little corner surrounded by Buzz Blobs. To say nothing of all the other NPCs tied to mini-games and small scale side quests that lead Link directly to new items, whether they be Heart Pieces or new equipment. Escorting a chest to a master thief and a lost blacksmith to his partner isn’t exactly on the same level as Link’s Awakening’s trading sequence, but they’re strong examples of early side quests that test how much players have actually been paying attention to. 

“In a realm beyond sight, / The sky shines gold, not blue. 
There, the Triforce’s might / Makes mortal dreams come true.” 

It’s worth pointing out how exactly A Link to the Past both splits & frames its progression. The first game in the series to make use of a Dual World mechanic, Hyrule is only the tip of the iceberg. Upon clearing Hyrule Castle for the first time, players more or less have full access to the Light World. It’s a move that’s reminiscent of the original Zelda, but this section of the game is also fairly linear. Even if players are free to explore at their leisure, Link must complete the Eastern Palace, Desert Palace, and Tower of Hera in their set order– a stark contrast to how the NES titles handled dungeon crawling. That said, the trek towards the Tower of Hera reveals that there’s much more hiding under the surface. 

After escorting an old man up Death Mountain, players will be given a Magic Mirror that can warp them between the Light & Dark Worlds. Hyrule is only one half of the game, with an entirely different map lurking underneath. Not only is the Dark World its own area with unique enemies, NPCs, puzzles, mini-games, and dungeons, traversing the landscape requires clever use of the Magic Mirror. The Mirror plays off your physical understanding of in-game geography and level design by warping you between the Light & Dark Worlds on the spot. It’s necessary for advancing the story in some cases, but Mirror warping is mainly used to hide Hyrule’s best-kept secrets. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that this is only a taste of the Dark World and it doesn’t take much longer for Link to be thrust into the corrupted Golden Land. This shift to the Dark World is not dissimilar to Link traveling to Eastern Hyrule in Zelda II. Both events mark a rise in difficulty, along with an uptick in player freedom. Although the Dark Palace must be completed first, you’re free to tackle the Dark World’s many dungeons in just about any order. With more tools at his disposal at this point, Link will also be able to explore virtually every inch of Hyrule’s worlds. 

Dungeons themselves are quite layered now. Link will be moving up & down floors, navigating through rooms with multiple planes, and tracking down hidden rooms by cross-referencing the map. Light World Dungeons also feature seamless set pieces that serve as nature lead-ins to the main event, akin to Zelda II. Sneaking into Hyrule Castle during a storm, traversing a desert & translating sacred text to get into the Desert Palace, and escorting an old man through Death Mountain before scaling it yourself to reach the Tower of Hera make the journey just as fulfilling as the destination. 

Conversely & as mentioned, Dark World dungeons can be done in just about any order once the Dark Palace is completed and often require knowledge of the game’s core mechanics to access. Link has to solve a puzzle in the Light World in order to start the Swamp Palace in the Dark World; Skull Woods, Gargoyle’s Domain, and Ice Palace can only be accessed by finding warp points in the Light World; and Misery Mire & Turtle Rock need the Ether & Quake Medallions respectively to trigger. The Dark World’s dungeons are labeled as Levels 1 through 7 on Link’s map and in the staff roll, but not much will keep him out of Levels 2 through 7. 

The biggest dungeon design change unique to A Link to the Past is the introduction of the Boss Key. In The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II, Link could reach the boss room so long as he had any old key. Similarly, dungeon items were often stashed away in indiscriminate rooms. The introduction of the Boss Key now fractures dungeon progression into before & after– usually by featuring a Boss Door that leads to the second half of the dungeon, rather than immediately to the boss. More importantly, said Boss Key is now used to open Big Chests, ornate trunks keeping the dungeon’s main item pristine. 

Worth noting, A Link to the Past’s dungeons are explicitly themed beyond Zelda 1 & II’s color-coded panels. Themes aren’t as well-realized as they’d become in Ocarina of Time, of course (or even Link’s Awakening,) but each dungeon’s layout is cohesive to the region they’re set in. Some like the Desert Palace and Skull Woods even force Link to exit the dungeon in order to find an alternate entrance. Compare this to the NES’ one & done dungeons. They’re compelling in their own right, but A Link to the Past trades labyrinthine tests of endurance for catered puzzles, enemies, & obstacles in every single room– arguably what The Legend of Zelda always should have had. 

Triforce of the Gods

Narratively, A Link to the Past is The Legend of Zelda’s first prequel, offering deeper insight into the series’ lore, themes, and cast. The story itself is framed in the aftermath of the Imprisoning War, a conflict that directly resulted in Ganon obtaining the Triforce, the Sacred Realm being corrupted, and the Knights of Hyrule’s near-extinction. Ganon himself is revealed to have once been a man, a thief named Ganondorf who lusted after the power of the Gods. A Link to the Past notably released as Triforce of the Gods in Japan, a title that better suits the story’s premise. 

A Link to the Past marks the first time that The Legend of Zelda sheds away its Christian undertones, replacing any & all Judeo-Christian imagery with Hyrule’s own vision. The Triforce is more prominently a symbol in its own right and the Sanctuary– which would otherwise be a Christian church– exchanges the holy cross for an ornate bird. Through Hyrule’s new creation myth, the manual also once again gives the plot a level of depth that wouldn’t fit into the game proper. 

Perhaps alluding to how the original Legend of Zelda was set in a Hyrule overrun by chaos, the Japanese manual states that the Gods created the world out of nothing but chaos. The creation myth doesn’t factor into the plot itself (a commonality Ocarina of Time would end up sharing with A Link to the Past,) but it’s the context that completely reshapes Hyrule’s history. The Adventure of Link alluded to a storied world, but A Link to the Past shows that world in action while bestowing unto Hyrule cultural depth. The English localization doesn’t sell just how crafted Triforce of the Gods’ lore is, but there’s a reason The Legend of Zelda has seldom strayed from the mythos A Link to the Past introduced: you don’t fix what isn’t broken. 

With Hyrule’s creation myth and Ganon’s further characterization comes the Master Sword– an ancient blade lost to time, forged long ago for a now-forgotten purpose. Only a true hero can wield the Blade of Evil’s Bane and Link’s quest for the three Pendants of Virtue stands as one of the clearest examples of the monomyth in gaming– and frankly in general. It’s not made clear how (or if) this Link is related to the future Hero of Hyrule, but the Legendary Hero is himself one of the last Hylians whose bloodline can be linked back to the knights of yore. Link’s journey is one full of loss and personal defeats, complete with the hero descending into what is ostensibly Hyrule’s underworld only to come out the champion the world needs. 

A Link to the Past is the Game Where The Legend of Zelda Found its Voice

Link’s as mute as ever, but there’s a strong arc running in the foreground; one that takes advantage of the medium’s interactivity & inherent strength for visual storytelling. Zelda’s not quite a character yet either, but she plays an active & engaged enough role in the plot. The simple act of having Link rescue Zelda at the start allows players to form an actual connection to her. Zelda even telepathically gives Link a few hints in the Dark Word and can be spoken to in the Sanctuary before pulling the Master Sword. It might be her primary role, but Zelda’s not just a damsel in distress.

Curiously, Triforce of the Gods’ lore emphasizes that the Triforce does not judge good or evil. It is a symbol representative of the Gods’ power, fulfilling the wielder’s wish regardless of intent. Temptation drove Ganon towards the Triforce of Power in the first Zelda and turned the King of Hyrule against his own sister in Zelda II, so it’s appropriate for A Link to the Past to frame the Triforce as a truly neutral icon. The Triforce can do good as evidenced by the end of all three games, but it leaves chaos in its wake and the NES duology proves that the peace instilled by the Legendary Hero can’t last. 

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It’s hard not to see A Link to the Past as its own beast entirely. After all, it recontextualizes and rebuilds so much of what defined The Legend of Zelda’s early history. At the same time, it’s a game that only exists because of the foundation it’s built on. The Hyrule Fantasy and The Adventure of Link are ingrained in A Link to the Past’s DNA, both in what the titles offer & what’s removed. It’s hard not to notice that the Christian imagery has been swapped for an overt focus on the Triforce & polytheism, but that just makes the added lore richer. 

In many respects, A Link to the Past is the game where The Legend of Zelda found its voice. It’s a title that guided the structure of the franchise all the way up to 2017’s Breath of the Wild, while influencing countless other developers along the way. A Link to the Past reinforces & refines The Legend of Zelda’s strongest qualities to perfection. While the series would continue to innovate meaningfully– with both Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time improving upon several of ALttP’s concepts– no other Zelda sequel reflected on what came before as masterfully as A Link to the Past

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and The Legend of Zelda, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

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PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game the calm and relaxing Unpacking and the not-so calm and relaxing Infernax.



Unpacking and Infernax

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game that takes a hated activity and somehow makes it relaxing and another game that will leave you clenching your buttocks.


Unpacking game

Platforms: PC
Release: 2021

As someone who is coming fresh off of moving just a little over a month ago, you couldn’t have blamed me for being a little skeptical going into what was dubbed a “zen puzzle” game based on the final stretch of the process. Unpacking is just that, though. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic exercise that happened to serve as a wonderful way for me to unwind at the end of a day.

Unpacking is exactly what it says on the tin. There are no scores, no timers, no leaderboards, just you, and a few boxes with various items in them that need to be placed somewhere. The demo starts with a single bedroom in 1997. There’s nothing in the game that tells you where something should go, only your own taste and intuition; a locked diary would probably go in a desk-drawer while a soccer trophy would probably be displayed on a shelf.

As I slowly unearthed items one-by-one, I gradually got a feel for what the room’s new inhabitant was most likely like. The endless supply of stuffed animals implied someone of younger age while the numerous art supplies indicated someone inclined to right brain thinking. It’s rather engaging to learn about this person’s life purely by their belongings.

Every item taken out was like a delightful surprise and would sometimes even make me feel a little sentimental such as when I took out a small device that was clearly a Tamagotchi. More importantly, Unpacking nails that sinking feeling of when you feel like you’ve used all your available space but still have boxes left. Reaching the point of just throwing stuff wherever it fits is such an immediately relatable feeling that I was almost offended. And that was only for a single bedroom!

Unpacking game

The demo’s second stage was a little more involved with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen in the year of 2004. The hilarious moments of finding a boot in your kitchenware box or a bra with your toiletries also felt like a call-out to my own hodge-podge packing methods. It’s something I can’t help but let out an exasperated chuckle at.

It was also neat to see how this person has grown since their earlier abode. Much fewer stuffed animals but more art supplies and a brand new computer imply this character is maybe entering the working adult world. I’ve never actually seen this character, but I can’t help but feel a connection to them already, and that was only after two moves. The full game will have eight total moves to follow them through and I am genuinely curious to see how our nameless and faceless protagonist grows throughout them.

Now if only unpacking in real life could be this soothing.



Platforms: PC
Release: TBA

Some players may recognize Berzerk Studio for their excellent 2018 bullet-hell, rhythm game Just Shapes & Beats. Coming hot of the heels of that hit they immediately pivoted in the new direction with Infernax, a delightfully edgy 8-bit adventure platformer that takes cues from old-school Castlevania titles.

Our hero returns to his land after a successful crusade only to find it overrun by horrible monstrosities in every which direction. With nothing but mace in hand, he sets out on a quest anew to rid the land of the undead filth. Immediately apparent upon starting is just how tightly the game controls; anyone fond of earlier NES titles will feel right at home with Infernax. I quickly got a handle on my exact attack reach down to the pixel and began mowing down the zombies in front of me. It emphasized how much joy a game is possible of eliciting from simply a jump and attack button.

Getting to that proficiency is important too because the game doesn’t waste any time in taking off the training wheels! Even the base enemies shaved off half my HP if I got careless and that difficulty ramped up at a rapid rate as new enemy types were introduced at a decent clip such as flying evil eyes and jumping rodents. Not only do these foes burst into tasty experience points and gold to be spent on upgrades, but also into extremely satisfying fountains of blood.

Infernax isn’t particularly shy about turning up the gore factor, but it’s still impressive by just how creative they get with it using simple pixel art. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are killed. Every single enemy type has a unique kill animation when they deal the final blow to our hero. From the chump ass pillbugs to the big bad bosses, all of them mutilate you in a different way and it’s honestly morbidly mesmerizing to witness. It made me want to suicide against every enemy I came across just so I could see what creative way they took my life.


Depending on your playstyle you might not want to do this, though, as Infernax features two different ways to respawn when you die. Hardcore respawn sends you all the way back to your last save point, just like in those classic NES titles. Casual respawn lets you restart right where you left off with no loss in progress, but choosing to do so locks you out from Hardcore the rest of the game. It’s a sort of mark of shame that I was glad to wear during the demo after I came up against the final boss and promptly got my ass handed to me. It sounds a little cheeky on paper but is actually very consistent with the game’s overtly edgy tone.

Infernax feels like a game that was lost to time during the NES era and is just now being rediscovered. Those looking for for a game that harkens back to the simplicity of the olden days need not look any further.

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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.



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.



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.



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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