Connect with us

Games

Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series

Published

on

There is hardly a more beloved franchise in all of video games than The Legend of Zelda, but though so many of its entries are at the top of many players’ lists of all-time favorites, how do each of the titles stack up when pitted against each other? After a lengthy voting process involving several members of our staff (and a complicated point-tallying system), we here at Goomba Stomp have finally come up with a ranking of our favorite Zelda games. These are not in the order of best to worst but instead, they are the ones we love from least to most! Without further Fi-like explanation, here is the list of our favorite Zelda Games:

Editor’s Note: We decided to omit spin-offs and obscure titles and focus solely on the main series. The cover image comes courtesy of Nintendo of Europe.

Ranking the Zelda Series

17. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Nintendo would have you believe that The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is a cooperative game where you can come together with your friends and experience all the joys of dungeon crawling together. In truth, it’s actually a crucible that tests even the greatest of friendships and tempts all players into committing atrocities against their fellow players.

Now, it’s all well and good to just play the game as it is intended to be — but that’s not getting the full depth out it. Oh no. Until you start using the feather to strand your friends across chasms, making it impossible to progress, you haven’t really played. Until you start trapping friends in tiny rooms with bombs, you haven’t lived.

Because, in truth, the game isn’t that hard — especially with four people. What makes it really fun are the resultant fireworks that pop off when the egos of four friends clash together. Did your buddy just nab the item you want? Screw that! Knock him into the void over and over. When he complains, laugh. When your other two friends try to intervene, make them share the same fate until justice is served. Then, after five solid minutes of everyone else begging for mercy, consider stopping so you can move to the next frame. After that, prepare to spend the next five minutes running away from your friends who want to do you harm. It is merely the circle of life.

And that’s why Four Swords is great. Not because of its excellent level design or the cool connectivity between Game Boys and the Gamecube, but because of the way it tricked friends into torturing each other for hours on end. (Jason Krell)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

16. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was a game with good ideas, but held back with a few big problems. Spirit Tracks, on the other hand, builds on its precursor and fixes those problems to end up being one of the finest portable Zelda titles. Though the new system of traveling on your train initially feels more constricting than before, it still provides a sense of exploration and discovery by unlocking railways and expanding the map. The game also has more interesting items for puzzle solving, with the sand wand and the whip being notable standouts. It also offers more in terms of a narrative worth getting invested in.

As is typically the case, Zelda finds herself in a predicament, and though this inciting incident appears to turn her into a ghost, she actually ends up hanging out for the duration of the game as Link’s new companion. As crucial a character as she is to the plot, this is one of the first times where she actually gets to breathe and spend time with the main character who, despite not talking, still shares great chemistry with Zelda. They also allow for some side characters, notably one of the antagonists, Byrne, to have proper character arcs and a backstory.

Though it still has a similar “central dungeon” mechanic to Phantom Hourglass, they don’t force you to trudge through old areas, nor is it attached with a time limit. And with Zelda in her ghost form, she’s actually able to take over the bodies of those invincible monsters from before, which not only makes the game feel fairer, but it also adds a whole new mechanic of managing two characters at once.

It may have come out late in the system’s life cycle, but it’s a solid and underrated title that deserves a second look. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

15. The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap

To be clear, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s not even a game that’s undermined by certain key flaws. It’s a perfectly functional entry that doesn’t betray the design philosophy that the Zelda series is known for. But mere competence can’t make up for the fact that this game is extremely forgettable.

This version of Hyrule doesn’t stand out as a particularly unique world to explore, instead relying on the standard location tropes. The characters bring little to the table, with your new companion, Ezlo (not to be confused with Assassin’s Creed’s “Ezio”), being more obnoxious than endearing, and the new villain, Vaati, lacking the presence of Ganon. Zelda herself also has no interesting role to play beyond being a typical damsel in distress.

The major new idea this game brings to the series is the shrinking mechanic, which may have been interesting if it had been offered with more freedom. In practice, you can only shrink in specific places, which makes this less of a fun new way to explore, and more just as a gimmick to set up specific puzzles.

That said, there are still some clever puzzles, and shrinking does offer a unique perspective. Though it’s a dull boss fight, there’s something to be said about taking those easily killed Chu Chu’s and making it more daunting by changing your size. In the end, Minish Cap proves that there’s more to the Zelda experience than the formula itself; there’s a spark or sense of wonder that they need to incite in the player to make them truly resonate. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Zelda Series

14. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is the sister game to Oracle of Seasons, both of which are the portable successors to Link’s Awakening DX. Both games share a lot in common with Link’s Awakening, but each took a different route in how it presented its gameplay, Oracle of Ages focused on puzzles and tried to find interesting ways to get the player to think about their surroundings and their inventory, as well as giving the player a lot of items that interacted with the environment rather than with enemies.

On a personal level, Oracle of Ages resonates with me a lot, as it’s the version I had when the two games originally came out. I remember being thoroughly surprised by the boss of the second dungeon, Head Thwomp, as it was a battle based around timing (something I wasn’t very good at when I was ten years old) and did not require the use of the sword, instead making use of bombs. Many of the boss battles in Oracle of Ages followed this trend of not using the sword as your main damage-dealing item. While today that’s not much of an accomplishment for a Zelda title, when the Oracle games were coming out the series was still establishing its footing in 3D, and many bosses in the top-down games were still focused primarily on sword-based combat. Oracle of Ages also has one of my personal favorite items, the Seed Shooter. Intended to be Ages’ version of the staple bow/slingshot, the Seed Shooter is able to ricochet various types of ammo off walls to hit targets. While this is implemented in some puzzles, it’s not carried throughout the game, and ultimately you can still just stand in front of something and spam seeds like rapid-fire arrows.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is an interesting example of how to experiment with an IP, even if some of its most interesting ideas are not fully realized. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

13. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons is the action game anti-thesis to Ages‘ puzzle-focused gimmicks. Many of the bosses in Oracle of Seasons are reworks or recycles of bosses from the original The Legend of Zelda or other titles. This is probably because when Capcom made their original pitch to Nintendo about working on a Zelda game, it was meant to be a Game Boy remake of the original. Rather than rely on a lot of gimmicks, bosses were more about recognizing cycles and patterns and then punishing accordingly. This focus is reflected in the gear Link can acquire. In Ages, the Seed Shooter allowed for new creative ways to solve projectile based puzzles, but the Slingshot in Seasons serves roughly the same purpose as the Bow and Arrow in any other top-down Zelda.

In order to obtain the true ending in either Oracle of Seasons or Oracle of Ages you would need to link the two games together via a password. If you were lucky enough to own both copies of the Oracles titles it was as simple as completing one game, writing it down, and starting the next, but for the not so lucky it required you to either have a friend who had the opposite title. Thankfully, this problem has sort of been remedied with the two games being put on the 3DS Virtual Console. While Oracle of Seasons was the preferred version here at Goomba Stomp, both titles are great in their own ways. If you’ve yet to play them, I highly recommend checking both out. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Zelda Series

12. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

In a many ways, this game should be a lot better than it is. It was the first Zelda game on Nintendo’s dual screen device, and it made use of nearly every feature on the system. The touch screen allowed you to attack enemies in a direct and interesting way, and you were able to write notes on your map screen and chart out your course when sailing across the sea. It also felt a lot more inspired than its portable predecessors by having a much larger world to explore and more out-of-left-field puzzles (including a devilishly clever one where you had to put the DS in sleep mode).

With all that going for it, why then would it be so low on this list? One reason: the Temple of the Ocean King.

The Temple of the Ocean King is possibly the worst/least fun idea of any Zelda game. What it entails is that every time you beat a dungeon you have to go back to this main dungeon to unlock the next area. It’s bad enough that this area is filled with invincible monsters that will send you back to the start of the room after one hit, but in subsequent visits they also have you go through areas you’ve already been to in order to get deeper in the dungeon. It gets very repetitive very quickly and just wastes your time, which happens to be limited here just to add a little more unwanted stress.

It’s also a pity that, in a game’s that meant to be a sequel to the excellent Wind Waker, it has next to nothing carried over from that adventure. The one thing they do carry over is Tetra, who gets relegated to “Damsel in Distress” in the first few minutes. She was an interesting enough character to merit her own game, so having her return just to be taken out of the equation that early can’t help but feel like a letdown. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking Zelda Games

11. The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

The second installment in The Legend of Zelda series titled The Adventure of Link is often considered the black sheep of the family. Despite being one of the best-selling games in the entire series, many fans hate it and with good reason. The game is tough and I do mean tough. Players must be prepared for repeated failure when sitting down to play Zelda II, but that is sort of what makes the game so great. The sense of accomplishment a player feels when finishing Zelda II is perhaps unmatched by any other game in the NES library.

The Adventure of Link was a bold and radical departure for the series, but it has its supporters and many fans will argue it is not only one of the five best games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System but the most punishing game of the 8-bit generation. It offers players one of the most engrossing gaming experiences available on the console and features some of the best boss battles the series has to offer. The Adventure of Link was an incredibly assured attempt to rewrite the rules and introduced many elements that would become commonplace in future Zelda games a larger focus on storytelling, as well as sidequests. Yes it is difficult and yes it is different, but for better or for worse, that is what makes it stand out from all the other entries in the series. Zelda II is unique, but frustrating – flawed but brilliant – and without question, an important game that helped define what the Zelda games would ultimately be. (Rick D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Nintendo has always been skilled at linking to the past while looking to the future, creating a bridge to franchise evolution, and that philosophy has rarely been better realized than with the 3DS’ The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A sequel of sorts to the seminal SNES classic, this adventure covers basically the same physical ground, but takes much of the established franchise elements of the last 20 years and chucks them out the window. By ditching dungeon rewards and instead allowing players to rent (with the latter option to buy) the hookshot, bow, boomerang, three magic rods, and every other weapon or tool usually reserved as a prize, Nintendo was able to concentrate on what the beloved series used to do best: exploration. The freedom to go wherever one wanted in a Zelda game was a concept so old that it was almost novel, and A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air — at least before the next one came along.

Thanks to impeccable puzzle designs, a lively world full of character, and a brilliant mechanic that sees Link turn himself into a 2D painting that can traverse walls in order to solve puzzles and reach new areas, the game still is. A Link Between Worlds invokes nostalgia in order to mess with fans’ minds, using its new gameplay concepts to twist them into thinking outside the box, producing some of the best “aha!” moments in the series. Gorgeous top-down visuals make the old new again, tight controls are ever-so-satisfying, and a clever story plays on expectations, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds best lives up to its title by bridging the gap between the comforting formula of days gone by and the promise of exciting things to come for Nintendo’s hallowed franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Fans had to know that Nintendo was up to something truly special when they announced that Skyward Sword would officially become the first game in the Legend of Zelda timeline. Fortunately, Nintendo delivered on all of those expectations and more with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. A game that took the revolutionary/gimmicky motion controls of the Wii to their fullest extent, Skyward Sword is almost worth playing as much as a proof of concept as it is for its breathtaking adventure and wholly original take on the Zelda mythos.

Set among a series of floating islands that eventually give way to a shattered world below, Skyward Sword both echoes the world design of one of the best Zelda titles in history in the form of The Wind Waker, and calls to mind the scale of the Final Fantasy series in equal measure. Throw in some gorgeous art design and one of the most concise plots in the franchise, and you’re left with a truly underrated classic, easily one of the best games in the series. (Mike Worby)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first portable title in the series, and is easily one of my personal favorites. It was the first Zelda title to make an attempt at exploring Link’s character beyond that of the boy called to action. For once, Link is not seeking to stop Ganon and save the princess, kingdom, or Triforce. Instead, his is a journey of self-discovery, led by a desire to leave the island of Koholint that he has been shipwrecked on. Much of Koholint is full of life, especially when compared to the desolate wasteland that was the original Legend of Zelda and horribly mangled Dark World of A Link to the Past. It’s a breath of fresh air, with plenty of different-looking areas and regions. Overall, the game’s aesthetics’ are great, and the story they present is something that was only ever (theoretically) tackled again once.

Link’s Awakening was also the first top-down Zelda to make use of jumping. While The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past both used pitfalls as ways to impede progress, they never had a clear answer to them. This time Link is granted the gift of jumping from an item called the Roc’s Feather, the very first dungeon item in the game. By combining the Roc’s Feather with the Pegasus Boots, Link could clear even bigger gaps and jump over large obstacles. Link’s Awakening is an amazing Zelda title not only for its plethora of new ideas, but for also setting new benchmarks for later games in the series. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

7. The Legend of Zelda

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece laid the groundwork for almost every action-RPG that came after it, and it has become a staple franchise for Nintendo that is still going strong, 30 years later. When it was released, The Legend of Zelda was a first in so many categories. Not only was it an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay, but it also introduced a battery backup to save your progress. It served as the foundation of many modern adventure games, introducing now-basic concepts like dungeon maps, utility equipment, and boss formulas that we still see used today.

The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well thanks to a brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure. And while it’s unapologetic in its open world approach, the lack of hand-holding might be what makes it so great. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made. It was ahead of its time and it stands the test of time. Very few games can make that claim. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The adult Link portions of Ocarina of Time got gamers’ appetites whetted for a more badass version of the green tunic-wearing hero, one who could stand tall against the inevitable evil forces and whose sword slashed viciously, cutting a swath through them. Wind Waker was not that, and though looked upon now as a masterpiece, its seemingly lighter tone at the time sparked a little rebellion. Fans of Nintendo’s legendary series were growing up, and just like with Star Wars or comic books, they wanted to hold onto their innocent past while also having it reflect their pragmatic present, something that kept in tone with their rising adult pessimism, something truer to the gloomy outlook that only comes with maturity. In short, as eventually happens with everything fun or innocent that fans go crazy for, they wanted something darker.

I was no different in those days, and so when the first images of Link wielding his blade from atop his trusty steed, surrounded by grossly disfigured moblins and bathed in eerie twilight first surfaced, I was instantly sold. Twilight Princess is no kiddie quest with bright flowers and snot-nosed munchkins; there is war, pain and suffering, noble sacrifice, and trippy weird visions of greed, death, and super-creepy-looking laughing girls slowly descending headfirst from the sky. The land has been poisoned and the people that populate it struggle against the shady sickness taking hold. A somber tone pervades throughout to the melancholy end, few moments of true happiness relaxing in the goat paddock found in between.

Never has a Zelda game relied so much on imagery to set its tone, never have the dungeons been so vast and monstrous, and never has the journey seemed so mythic. Twilight Princess feels like everything Ocarina of Time wanted to be, a fulfillment of years of fan expectations. It hosts the best sidekick in the series, the widest assortment of attacks, some of the most clever dungeons (Snowpeak’s crumbling mansion, the Gerudo desert’s Arbiter’s Grounds) and unique items (magnetic boots=awesome, spinner surfing=fun), and a massive amount of gameplay for those willing to explore every nook and cranny tracking down Poes and bugs. I personally have never bothered with Agitha or the golden Jovani on any of my many playthroughs, but it’s nice to know that there’s more going on in Hyrule than just the main quest.

With an epic setting accompanying the tragic feel, Twilight Princess gave fans exactly what they wanted, and in doing so delivered one of the most powerful entries in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

5. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Director Eiji Aonuma’s swashbuckling adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, set 100 years after the events in Ocarina of Time, stands as one of three best games released in the series thus far. Along with the N64 classic and A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker masterfully baits and hooks players with its perfect blend of polished design, tightly crafted controls, and beautiful presentation. Utilizing a completely new look with cel-shaded graphics, the game casts players in the role of a familiar young Link, who sets out on a long voyage across troubled seas, into dark dangerous dungeons and against ruthless foes to save his kidnapped sister. At the time of its release, it was immediately evident that Wind Waker was going to be different from the previous Zelda titles, yet it’s surprising that the grandeur of The Wind Waker‘s bold, thick strokes, lusciously saturated palette, and notably boyish protagonist with his humongous, expressive eyes ever caused so much controversy back in 2003. Over a decade later, the game’s legacy remains defined by its visuals.

Players with keen eyes and an appreciation for art will know that Nintendo doesn’t just do things for the sake of pure experimentation. When developing The Wind Waker, Nintendo not only created a hugely stylistic world down to every last detail, but also pushed the power of Gamecube to do so. Upon closer inspection, cel-shading clearly was the right choice. This is a game that emphasizes the vastness of the open ocean and the open sky, and with the application of cel-shading, every wave, every gust of wind is beautifully pronounced against a backdrop of colorful hillsides, small villages, and coastal locales. And like all previous titles in the series, the dungeons prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of this game, despite having so few. It is in these dungeons that Wind Waker shines. The true beauty of the visuals stands out, as each dungeon is brought to life with an astounding amount of detail. It’s ultimately not difficult to see why The Wind Waker has become something of a classic in the years since its release. Overall it is a huge achievement in every way, with a classic mix of sword-swinging action, perplexing puzzles, stirring storylines, vibrant art, evocative soundtrack, a cast of colorful characters, beautiful melodies, and a fantastic battle system that propels the adventure and exploration. For many, the Zelda brand represents the pinnacle of gaming, and The Wind Waker stands tall, side by side with the very best. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

How exactly do you make a follow up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.

Taking place a couple of months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend, when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused also of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.

From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever-looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed since its very inception.

As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

How many tales have been told about players popping in A Link to the Past only to be blown away by the game’s opening, an ominous start that begins with a psychic warning of danger, continues through a nighttime thunderstorm, and ends with the death of Link’s uncle and the rescue of Princess Zelda (so soon!) from her imprisonment? Younger gamers may get sick of hearing it, but the reason these moments and something as simple as rain stands out in the minds of those who experienced it at the time is because they were revolutionary, the start of a powerful new kind of storytelling in Zelda and video games in general. Never before had we seen something set such a cinematic mood as those streaking droplets illuminated by flashes of lightning, and from then on a standard was set that see games, for better or for worse, pay more attention to narrative.

But those atmospheric and still-gorgeous 16-bit visuals would have meant nothing if the game wasn’t backed up with an outstanding adventure at its core, and A Link to the Past‘s gameplay and puzzle-solving is where this turning point in the series still really shines. Swinging the sword felt infinitely better than the unsatisfying butter knife that Link wielded in his prior quest, and the various items and weapons acquired throughout were used far more frequently and cleverly. And while the previous entries in the franchise had certainly made their mark with different sorts of takes on exploring the land and battling enemies, it wasn’t until A Link to the Past, that the formula and feel that would define the series henceforth would finally come together. Puzzle-solving became the way to progress through dungeons, the idea of dual worlds or parallel dimensions came into play, and suddenly there were tons of empty bottles to be discovered, including from a guy under a bridge who has an abnormal friendship with birds.

Out of the entire franchise, I’ve easily played A Link to the Past as much as all the others combined, as its efficient pacing and beautiful world are a comfortable joy to return to, where I (unbelievably) keep noticing new surprises each time I take up the Master Sword. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Zelda Series

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in open-world design, and with its release comes a true watershed moment in gaming history. The result is nothing less than magical. It artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and produces a sandbox so full of mystery and so full of adventure, it could take you well over 100 hours to uncover most of its secrets. What we have here is the most ambitious title in the history of the franchise, an epic journey that quivers with anticipation, wonder, surprise and excitement. It never gets old. It never gets tiring. There’s not a minute that goes by in which you’ll want to put down the controller, because Breath of the Wild keeps players constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them. There’s truly something unusually haunting and engrossing about the game, and whatever your opinion on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced, and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, and simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brings a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s a landmark in video games such that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. In the end, however, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

You won’t find a gamer alive who doesn’t remember the first time they played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and there’s a very good reason for that: OOT isn’t just regularly counted as one of the best Zelda games of all time, but it also routinely finds itself in the conversation for the best games ever made. As a trendsetter and pioneering effort for 3D adventure games, action titles and RPGs alike, Ocarina of Time holds a special place in a lot of gamers’ hearts, particularly those who were young enough to have a lot of imagination in them upon its initial release.

It was a game that opened a tiny door in our minds when it first introduced us to a young Link in Kokiri Forest, and then wrenched that door all the way open a mere hour later when we were unleashed onto the full expanse of Hyrule Field and were gifted with a world to explore which was bigger than life. If, through some very strange events, you have still managed to not play OOT then you are doing yourself a disservice as a gamer. With awe-inspiring environments, a cast of memorable characters, a charming story, and one of the most epic adventures ever experienced, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that will stick in your grey matter even decades from now, and it is well deserving of its place there. (Mike Worby)

***

Let us know your rankings in the comments below!

Advertisement
6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. norsecode

    July 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

    In my opinion, Link Between worlds is underrated. It is an excellently crafted game. On the other hand, there are some games higher up because of nostalgia and not because of quality of game. I’m looking at you Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Game Reviews

‘Link’s Awakening’ for Switch Review: A Recurring Dream Nearly Realized

Published

on

Charming as it still is, going back to the Game Boy’s Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening can produce mixed emotions, as modern convenience has not been kind to its two-button control scheme and other annoying quirks. Yet, the draw of Koholint Island’s bizarre story and oddball atmosphere persists — so much so that Nintendo has decided to give their aging experimentation a very welcome Switch facelift, with pleasant visual updates and added accessibility that should mostly satisfy longtime fans and help initiate newcomers. However, a distracting lack of polish and ambition blurs the vision, and holds this otherwise enjoyable remake (re-imagining?) back from attaining the sublime dreaminess it deserves.

Link's Awakening for Switch house

That has little to do with the base game; Link’s Awakening for Switch is essentially the same great experience Zelda veterans will remember, albeit prettier and with some quality-of-life additions along the way, such as dedicated buttons for common actions (like swinging a sword or dashing, thankfully), useful map markers, and bottles for fairies (sorry Crazy Tracy, but you’ve become obsolete). Link also moves in eight directions now, which feels much better (though he can still only dash in four), and the world scrolls by in a more seamless fashion, allowing tantalizing peeks into neighboring areas that weren’t visible before.

Obviously those are great tweaks, and they help Link’s Awakening for Switch flow away from the sometimes stilted pace caused by constant menu-opening that could make the original a bit of a slog at times (especially when a lot of item-swapping was necessary). There’s also a bit of extra content this time around, the most notable being a dungeon editor at the location of the former Camera Shop, and some additional dolls to win at the claw game that can be placed in various houses around the world as decorations. None of these perks contribute in any meaningful way, but hey — if you’re into arranging previously played dungeon rooms into booby-trapped mazes for your Zelda friends to test out like lab rats, then maybe Dampé’s house will get some use.

Link's Awakening For Switch

No, the pitch here is basically that the Switch version is still the same old Link’s Awakening, but better looking — and for many, that will be enough. Koholint’s new plastic sheen projects a more playful, friendly vibe that makes for an agreeable, relaxing journey. Some of the darker aspects may not land quite as hard as they did with those stark, black-and-white pixels (the Game Boy Color version also had a more cheery feel), but there’s something about the rubbery trees, fuzzy grass, and rippling ponds that suggests a less-melancholy island of misfit toys.

And with a collection of some of the strangest characters of the series, as well as a surprisingly poignant story, this small-scale adventure has lost none of its appeal as an engaging Zelda title. Sure, there are a few times where inexperienced players might get stuck at a particularly opaque puzzle, and though the wise owl and phone weirdo Ulrira give plenty of direction, sometimes you just have to set out and explore. Poke around a bit. That’s how games used to be, and it’s actually refreshing when Link isn’t being pushed along; there’s a beautiful (and manageable) world out there, filled with all sorts of secrets to uncover.

Link's Awakening for Switch desert

Beautiful, that is, when the frame rate isn’t taking a nosedive. The biggest disappointment with Link’s Awakening for Switch is not in the decades-old game design, but in the remake’s current performance. That seamlessly scrolling world tries to hide its loading, but stumbles quite frequently when doing so. Every time Link enters town, transitions to another area, or steps out of a cave or house, the visuals chug to catch up, largely stuttering until they can stabilize again. As someone who usually doesn’t care about such things, I was surprised at how much these short-but-jarring dips took me out of the pleasant atmosphere and affected my enjoyment. A Link Between Worlds set the top-down Zelda standard for buttery smooth gameplay, and it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect similar polish when remaking one of the franchise’s most revered entries.

Instead, Link’s Awakening for Switch remains rough around the edges in this and other ways as well, niggling though those issues may be. It’s not uncommon for items dropped by enemies to get stuck on geometry (why does it always happen when you really need that heart?), and swinging the sword feels a bit awkward and clunky, occasionally only registering a hit on one enemy despite multiple being struck. Link also waddles a tad on the slow side, and the platforming actions feel loose — nit-picks for sure, but noticeable in their lack of refinement.

Link' Awakening for Switch bird

None of this twists Link’s Awakening for Switch into some kind of nightmare — far from it — but this remake seems like a wasted opportunity to retune an ancient instrument into a modern marvel capable of hitting the highest notes, and that’s not quite what’s happened here. What we get is a very fine edition of a fantastic game — one that will give longtime fans a great excuse to return to island exile, and hopefully introduce a whole new generation of players to one of the Zelda franchise’s most interesting and off-beat adventures. But though it’s certainly the best version yet of this classic, Link’s Awakening for Switch doesn’t quite reach the definitive summit.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Blasphemous’ Review: For God’s Sake

Published

on

I’m not a religious man, but have often found the gruesome and twisted fiction it can give rise to utterly fascinating. As such, Blasphemous instantly barged its way onto my radar with its gloriously macabre Kickstarter trailer back in 2017. Brooding and grisly, it evoked almost exactly what was eventually delivered in the final product, and — despite a number of technical flaws — the wait was definitely worth it.

Rather than putting it off until later in the review, the Dark Souls comparisons might as well be nipped in the bud at this early juncture. From its visual theme, narrative techniques, and gameplay bullet points, Blasphemous sets out its stall to be a mysterious and challenging affair of swords and monsters. It takes those familiar Souls facets and combines them into a non-linear Metroidvania platformer, and it’s a formula that has rarely been done with as much flair as it is here.

Defeating a boss feels suitably epic

Those familiar with FromSoftware’s narrative leanings will know what to expect from the story in Blasphemous — that being not a whole lot of surface-level understanding. The opening is mainly utter nonsense, comprised of your typical oldey-timey English and dogmatic scripture, and it doesn’t get an awful lot clearer as players fight through the campaign. However, nearly all the collectible items and powerups have readable lore at the press of a button, and piecing together these scraps of information will gradually reveal a greater comprehension of the story.

Players take control of The Penitent One — a masked man who seems to be permanently crying tears of blood — in a quest to reverse the effects of ‘The Great Miracle.’ This cataclysmic event devastated mankind as punishment for ‘The Age of Corruption,’ where everyone was basically really bad at religion and…blasphemed a lot? As a result, everyone in the world is a malevolent, murderous zealot intent on turning The Penitent One into The Pulverized One.

The abhorrent imagery, imposing scenery, and melancholy world of Orthodoxia really is a morbidly fascinating one. Featuring fully hand-painted, pixel-art cutscenes, its visual style is akin to an old Amiga game like Prince of Persia or Another World. Rarely have 16-bit graphics been used to paint such a grotesque scene, and as such, it’s an astounding game to look at. The excellent sprite work comes to life (or perhaps that should be death) with gory combat and executions, while enemies — particularly the bosses — are a thing of depraved, disgusting beauty.

Just what the hell is going on here? Horrific…

The combat, however, is perhaps a little too simplistic, relying heavily on the executions (usually triggered after performing a perfect parry and counter) to do the heavy lifting for a single basic sword weapon and a handful of extra powers. This is one of the biggest missed opportunities of Blasphemous. Keeping players engaged in labyrinthine, often confusing Metroidvania titles is key, and without an enticing loop of unlocks it can be a little difficult to maintain interest in exploring the world. Not every game has to be Dead Cells, but using the same sword that cannot even be enhanced (yet seems to power up by itself, despite you not leveling up in any way) denies players an important level of tangible progression.

However, simplistic combat doesn’t mean the game is simple — oh no, sir — as it can be extremely punishing — especially the bosses. What Blasphemous has to help players instead of new weapons or stat building is a litany of other sundries. Rosary Beads add various passive buffs like shorter cooldowns, damage and elemental resistance, and higher defense or HP. Relics enable environmental assistance to access new areas through platforms or vines, and Mea Culpa Hearts provide buffs at a price — higher strength at the cost of defense, etc. Prayers, which are essentially magic attacks that use up your expandable Fervor meter, can also be unlocked. They’re largely disappointing, as are the small number of abilities that can be unlocked using Tears of Atonement (souls, basically), which amount to only a handful; those movesets are then upgraded rather than expanded upon.  

Miyazaki, you bastar… oh, wait

What was unashamedly billed as a Metroidvania crossed with Dark Souls then feels more like the former than the latter in its gameplay, but a key element Blasphemous takes from Miyazaki’s masterpieces is that enemies only respawn when you rest at a Prie Dieu (which also refills your health flasks). It’s one of the most needed adaptations to the Metroidvania formula; nobody likes accidentally going the wrong way and having to kill all the same enemies again just to get back to where they started.

And go the wrong way players will, as Blasphemous breaks Metroidvania rule 101: don’t get the map wrong. The map isn’t terrible per se, but it is just slightly lacking in certain facets, which can make the journey through Orthodoxia needlessly annoying. By far the most egregious issue is that you can’t exit the map by pressing the map button again. Instead the jump button is used to exit, which will also make your character jump upon returning to the gameplay. It sounds pedantic, but with as many pitfalls and death traps as Blasphemous has, I certainly didn’t appreciate constantly jumping without intention, and died more than once because of it.

It might have taken an hour, but man was this satisfying

When players do die in Blasphemous, a marker will be placed on the map showing where they fell in order to help guide them back to reclaim lost Tears of Atonement and regain the portion of their Fervor bar, which gets gradually reduced with each death. This is helpful until realizing that the map can’t be zoomed in; having markers and a legend is all well and good, but when all you can do is view the map from a very zoomed-out angle, they might as well not be there. It makes finding those potential secrets — or even normal room dividers — much more difficult to pinpoint than they should be.

Unfortunately, Blasphemous is not only sprinkled with little design niggles, but it’s also quite buggy, and at times feels a little unfinished. At one stage I had the game soft lock so that I couldn’t use any of the trigger buttons (to heal or dodge), while another incident saw a boss glitch off the screen, initially attacking nothing before righting itself and appearing from thin air to kill me. Frame drops are also pretty constant — especially when playing in handheld mode — creeping down to single digits in busier areas, and when combined with the buggy camera, can lead to more than a few pitfall deaths.

I couldn’t move the camera that fast even if I wanted to (and I never would)

None of these issues truly spoil the experience, however, and so Blasphemous ends up as an intriguing and challenging title that easily holds a place in the upper echelons of its genre. As cynical as putting Dark Souls mechanics in a Metroidvania seems on paper, the execution here is largely successful, and ensures that the game can be regarded as more than just a pretty thing to look at. Its difficulty may put some people off, as might its vague story or numerous bugs, but the rewards of seeing the gorgeous new areas while brutally executing new enemies will keep hardcore purists going until the immense satisfaction of the final victory.

Continue Reading

Games

What’s Love Got to Do With It? Link’s 5 Best Almost-Romances in ‘Zelda’

Published

on

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 14th, 2016. 

****

For all the fairy tale aspects and emphasis on collecting hearts, the Legend of Zelda games aren’t exactly known for getting overly lovey-dovey. Despite having two characters who are clearly meant for each other, Link and Zelda have been basically all about business over the last thirty years, putting work before pleasure. Sure, there have been the occasional sideways glances or insinuations in between killing the pig monster that’s trying to take over their world, but otherwise the relationship has mostly stayed strictly platonic, full of the kind of stiff mutual respect that leads to underpopulation.

Zelda, of course, is burdened with the many responsibilities that come with running a kingdom constantly under siege by the forces of darkness, as well as presumably having to consistently fight the urge to give in to Stockholm syndrome during each of her many kidnappings. So basically, she’s pretty busy, really focusing on her career right now. She’s also royalty, so that’s intimidating (and most likely requires a similarly noble suitor). And Link? Don’t mistake his oversleeping for laziness. This guy needs his rest so he can slay monsters and push boxes that should be way too large for him to push. The Chosen One just doesn’t have time to play the Hyrule Field, and frankly, just like with a superhero, it’s probably best he doesn’t get to close to anyone.

Still, there have been hints of love over the last few decades, with Link’s opportunities extending to relationships of tenderness and awkwardness alike that have offered hope of a Happy Ever After for the hero in green. Unfortunately, he’s killed fans’ hopes by blowing every one of them, whether by tragic twist of fate or simply running away in embarrassment. Oh well. Here are the best of the “almosts”:

saria-romance

Saria

Throughout all of the Zelda games, one thing has become apparent: Link doesn’t really do guy friends. This trait is on full display in Ocarina of Time, but while Link may never be bros with that jealous jerk Mido, that doesn’t mean he’s all by his lonesome. His companionship with an actual Kokiri is clearly a deep, meaningful one, and so Saria becomes one of the most endearing characters in the game. Sure, Malon is cute in that farmer’s daughter kind of way, but she seems more in love with horses than heroes, and besides, with a dad who can’t take care of himself, you know the honeymoon would be short. But Saria genuinely cares. She gives Link an ocarina, a pretty cool gift if you’re a forest person, and she teaches him a song so that they can always be in contact (hint, hint). Add to that the long, sad, lingering look on Saria’s face as she watches her “friend” cross the bridge to adventure, and you know there was something going on.

So after defeating Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple and revealing Saria as the Sage of Forest, her resigned acceptance that their carefree days are behind them is a bittersweet acknowledgment (and reminder) that duty will always come before happiness. Mido’s revelation later that she had been waiting all this time for Link’s return doesn’t help with the melancholy, her unfulfilled pining just another casualty in the fight. But hey, at least she gets to hang out with a bunch of other misfits who are similarly trapped by their fated responsibility! Including…

princess-ruto-romance

Princess Ruto

I’m not sure that anyone has thrown themselves at Link more than Princess Ruto. As a spoiled brat being carried around inside a giant fish that ate her, Ruto develops a one-way relationship that culminates in her believing the two to be engaged when she hands over Zora’s Sapphire, all while blushing profusely. These aggressive signals couldn’t be any more obvious, but Link does a great job of playing it cool and clueless. She really doesn’t pull too many punches though, and it’s hard to explain why he doesn’t bite. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their lives with someone who’s rude, entitled, and bossy? So what that she’s an entirely different species and any offspring would be freaks of nature?

Even when older Link meets her later, she finds time to bring up their love life amidst all the seriousness of being a very important Sage, scolding Link for making her wait so long, then explaining how she can’t be with him until her duties are over. It’s all hilarious until you think about what would happen if Princess Ruto ever really did get free. Sorry fish lady, but the princess for Link is in another castle.

marin-romance2

Marin

With its tropical setting, one would think that Link’s Awakening would be one of the best chances for Link to find true love, but alas, even though he meets the girl of his dreams (who even looks like Zelda!), yet again it’s not meant to be. It’s hard not to instantly relate to Marin and her fascination with the young lad who washed up on Koholint’s shore. She has been trapped on an island her whole life, imagining a big exciting world out there beyond the vast ocean’s horizon, and yearning to see it. What kid (and many adults) can’t identify with that feeling? Link represents discovery, adventure, and the enthusiasm and verve she displays because of this is infectious. She definitely likes him, but does she like him like him?

Though quick to chide Link for hitting a cucco or smashing a jar, she’s rather shy about her feelings, but a couple of things slip. Sitting side-by-side on a log at the beach, she reveals her deepest desires and asks to know everything about him (before awkwardly laughing the question off), and later on top of a mountain, nearly confesses something before being interrupted by her father. The game itself even seems to think Link has a shot, asking after the hero “acquires” her and holds her high above his head like a treasure he just found, “Is this your chance?”

Sadly, however, Marin’s story may be the most heartbreaking of all Link’s ladies. She knows that when the Wind Fish wakes up, all of Koholint, herself included, might vanish into memory. She pleads with Link that “some day you will leave this island… I just know it in my heart… …Don’t ever forget me… If you do, I’ll never forgive you!” Marin just wants to exist, to feel, and Link, the person who has awoken that inside her, is destined to be the one that takes that from her. Getting the best ending to the game reveals some hope that maybe these two will meet again one day, in a magical land far away.

midna-romance

Midna

Has Link ever had a more fully-formed relationship with anyone than what he shares with the impish former ruler of the Twilight Realm? Following the classic Hollywood arc, the two start out bickering and irritated with each other, Midna constantly hounding her wolfish companion, with Link begrudgingly powering through the pain in order to get to the princess he actually likes. Naturally then, over the course of many trials and monster-shaped obstacles, the two slowly began to develop a mutual respect and liking for each other, as tragic backstories are revealed and codes of honor are put on full display. By the end, when sassy beast turns into great beauty (a nice twist on a classic fairy tale trope), Link is left speechless (big shocker), much to Midna’s delight. “What? Say something! Am I so beautiful that you have no words left?” This is called flirting, people. If I was Link’s wing man he would’ve received a nudge in the ribs right here.

In fact, most of their interactions over the entire game comprise of her playful teasing, the type of schoolyard antagonizing that is akin to pulling someone’s hair and running away. If Link’s the kind of guy I think he is, these insults will only add to the liking. On top of that, her mysterious nature and later trusting openness can only strengthen the interest. Of course, what it could easily boil down to is just that really, they’re the perfect match: she’s funny and talks a lot, while he’s well, Link.

Unfortunately, he stays true to silent form, and after a brief pause at the end where she clearly wants to admit her feelings but (I’m assuming) feels awkward with Zelda around, Midna departs back to her own dimension, never to be seen again, all because a certain green-clad idiot just stands there and lets her destroy the Mirror of Twilight (with a tear nonetheless) having never told her how he actually feels! Stupid Link! Rookie mistake, pal. Live and learn, plenty of fish in the sea, and all that crap.

zelda-romance

Zelda

Ah, but which Zelda? Well, in the entire franchise, there are really only two with whom Link had any real chemistry beyond teaming up to save the kingdom, but the best of those is the one that wasn’t even a princess. In Skyward Sword, Zelda is a happy youth, the kind of spirited person that everyone is drawn to, a force of positivity and happiness. She also has had a crush on Link for years, as the two have been particular friends since they were kids, much to the annoyance of a jealous Biff-type schoolmate of theirs. This really is the boy-next-door meets girl-next-door story that has less of a fantasy feel than the other games, feeling more grounded and accessible.

Much of this realistic feeling is owed to the amount of awkwardness between the two whenever they’re left alone in the beginning and things start to get real. Zelda often fishes for compliments on her choice of clothes or weirdly, her harp, while Link stammers his way through the several “aw, shucks” responses. This is all highly endearing in a puppy love sort of way, but throughout the game we are reminded as well of how deeply these two really care for each other, with Zelda risking her life without a moment’s hesitation to save Link from falling, or the goddess’ plot exploiting the fact that Link would “throw [himself] headfirst into any danger, without even a moment’s doubt” to save her.

Still, though there are many acts of bravery and sacrifice on both sides that outwardly prove love, the beating heart of Link and Zelda’s relationship in Skyward Sword lies in the small moments, glances, and gestures that have players rooting for these two crazy kids to come through in the end. Zelda nervously folding her hands in his presence, Link’s embarrassment at the implication of a kiss, the playful way she is constantly pushing him off the edge of high places and endangering his life, etc. While the end makes no guarantees, as one of only three people living on the surface, this is Link’s best chance to make a life for himself outside of killing things.

Ten bucks says his “be aloof” strategy drove her straight to Groose.

***

And that’s it! So, while romance has never been a main focus of the Zelda series, that doesn’t mean Hyrule doesn’t have a pulse. Link’s made a life out of collecting hearts, and despite all the misfires with the ladies and fish ladies, Link’s still young. He’s just got to get back on that horse and find someone that’s not his horse. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone.

Though you could always choose the bottle…

Link-romance

Continue Reading

Games

Indie Games Spotlight: Apple Arcade (Almost) All the Way

Published

on

Apple Arcade Indie Game Spotlight

We love indie games here at Goomba Stomp – after all, they can offer some of the most groundbreaking, creative experiences out there. However, with so many coming out every single week, it can be hard to know which of them deserve your attention. That’s why we’ve started our new Indie Games Spotlight series, where we’ll highlight some of our favorite new independent games every other week.

Our inaugural issue is dominated by the recently released Apple Arcade. Apple’s ambitious new service has brought with it plenty of standout titles to discuss, including some from respected creators like Devolver Digital and WayForward.

Animated GIF

Devolver Digital Joins the Arcade

Apple Arcade is upon us, coming with a slew of stylish indies from a variety of developers new and old. One of the service’s most immediately prominent supporters is the boutique publisher Devolver Digital, which is supported Apple’s platform with some exclusive new titles, two of which we’ll highlight below.

First is Bleak Sword, a compact brawler that takes place entirely in stylish dioramas. Inflicted with a deadly curse, players must traverse through the isometric black, white, and red environments to right the wrongs of their world. The action has been streamlined to work equally well on both mobile devices and traditional gamepads, although it has also been spiced up with some RPG elements like spells to cast and stats to upgrade. It’s available to play now for Apple Arcade subscribers.

Animated GIF

The second release is Cricket Through the Ages, which features “inarguably accurate recollections” of the game of cricket throughout human history. Some of its true-to-life scenarios include one prehistoric match between cavemen and dinosaurs, another taking place during a medieval joust, and of course, one in outer space. Featuring simple one-button controls and support for both single- and multiplayer, this historic romp may not be exactly accurate, but it certainly does look ridiculous and fun. It can be played now on Apple Arcade.

Indie Games Spotlight

Mosaic Paints a Bleak Picture of the Daily Grind

Mosaic is all about one of the most mundane aspects of existence: the daily grind. It takes place in a seemingly pristine world where there’s little more to life than clocking in and out of work and whiling away the idle hours with mindless mobile games. As reality becomes gripped in a “harrowing technological autocracy,” it tasks the player with becoming the lone rebel to shatter the façade.

With its polygonal 3D visuals and subversive narrative, it easily draws plenty of comparisons to Playdead’s iconic Inside, as well as more recent experiences in the same vein such as the excellent FAR: Lone Sails. For those looking for a more introspective, provocative experience, Mosaic should be well worth checking out. It’s available on Apple Arcade now and will come to consoles and PC later this year.

Animated GIF

Get your Zelda Fix with A Knight’s Tale

Between the remake of Link’s Awakening and the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild, Zelda fans certainly aren’t starved for content. However, if you want even more Zelda-like action beyond what Nintendo is offering, then A Knight’s Tale looks like it could do the trick.

A Knight’s Tale ticks all the Zelda-like boxes: stylized cartoon graphics, a massive world to explore, puzzle-filled dungeons, and simple action-based combat, to name a few. Powered by Unreal Engine and boasting of more than 30 hours of content, it’s looking like a hefty serving of Triforce-inspired goodness. Unlike most other games on this list, no Apple Arcade subscription will be required to play this adventure when it launches across all consoles (yes, including Switch) and PC this fall.

Indie Games Spotlight

Spidersaurs: Contra Meets Cartoons

Remember being a kid and waking up every Saturday, eagerly anticipating a morning full of colorful, action-packed cartoons? That’s the feeling that Spidersaurs aims to capture from its very first trailer. It presents a post-apocalyptic world that’s being ravaged by mutant dinosaur-spider hybrid and pairs this with a run-and-gun gameplay style that’s reminiscent of classic Contra games.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Spidersaurs is the pedigree behind it. It’s being developed by WayForward, the creators of all-time indie classics like the Shantae series as well as more recent hits like River City Girls. It’s safe to say that whenever WayForward is involved, a quality product is more than likely to result. It should be well worth a look, especially since it’s available now exclusively on Apple Arcade.

Go on an Emotional Adventure with Mutazione

Mutazione offers a completely different type of cartoon experience than Spidersaurs. This narrative-focused adventure game is a slow, laid-back experience populated by otherworldly characters and presented with a delicate hand-drawn aesthetic.

It tackles the topic of growing up, putting players in the role of 15-year-old Kai as she leaves home to care for her ailing grandfather in a mysterious, forested world. It teases a mixture of relaxing slice-of-life activities – making friends, playing music, going to parties – while also alluding to a broader spiritual journey. Like so many other games on this list, it’s available to play now on Apple Arcade. It’s also available for purchase on PS4 and PC, for those who haven’t dived into Apple’s new service yet.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Borderlands 3’ Looks to the Stars While Stuck on the Ground

After a long hiatus, Borderlands returns… pretty much the same as it always was, for better or worse.

Published

on

Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3 is one of the most bizarre gaming experiences of this generation, a highly-anticipated, long-awaited sequel clearly feeling the pressure of living in its predecessor’s enormous shadow. Both beholden to its past and searching for its future, Borderlands 3 is a strange amalgamation of abundantly familiar elements and a few new ideas, most of which never truly find harmony with each other during the game’s lengthy campaign.

Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy.

In its attempts to look forward and backward at the same time, Borderlands 3 ends up feeling like a series of half-measures, a collection of systems and story beats that, in the few moments they’re able to take evolutionary steps for the franchise, feel like there’s still room for the now decade-old series to grow. Unfortunately, across the 50+ hours I’ve spent traversing, shooting, and constantly marking items for junk in my inventory, Borderlands 3 hasn’t offered those moments nearly enough, too often falling victim to its old habits, using its legacy as a crutch, rather than a device to propel the franchise into its (admittedly uncertain) future.

Borderlands 3

It doesn’t help Borderlands 3 front loads some of its worst writing; the opening act of the game is gratingly awful, hammering away at the same few punchlines for its characters as players embark on the series of fetch quests that comprise the game’s opening hours. Beginning some unidentified amount of time after Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 opens on a war-ravaged Pandora enraptured by its inhabitants latest obsession: the Calypso Twins, who have seemingly galvanized the majority of the Crimson Raiders in their quest to… well, we’ll talk more about the Calypso Twins, and their role in the story, a bit later.

Early on, Borderlands 3 is desperately trying to prove to the audience it is still the same ol’ Borderlands, interrupting its genitalia references to break the fourth wall and acknowledges that yes, we’re once again beginning with a series of annoyingly spread-out fetch quests to introduce characters and establish tone. But the delivery of the game’s typical blend of meta humor and pop culture references feels stale on arrival; the lengthy fetch quests just feel like simplistic mission design, and “big dick energy” jokes just don’t hit like they used to in 2019.

(There’s also an entire plot line built around Ice-T as a sentient teddy bear, who calls his in-game wife a bitch constantly, in between dick jokes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.)

Borderlands 3 quickly establishes these abundantly familiar rhythms – and then, surprisingly, doesn’t do much to expand upon them through the rest of the game’s main campaign. Though Gearbox has called this title “the big one” in the past, it doesn’t feel like a major step forward in any sense of the word – and at worst, Borderlands 3 occasionally feels like a regression of what it does best, a slow burn of slight disappointments which add up to a confounding experience.

Borderlands 3

There’s also Borderlands‘ absolute dismissal of Twitch culture; as the introductory chapters of the game catch players up on the Calypso Twins’ sudden accrual of power, Borderlands 3 has a strangely “old man yells at cloud” feeling to it (to myself borrow an overused meme for a moment), an odd feeling for a game that prides itself on its own (debatable) edginess and camp.

The Calypso Twins are built around the stereotypical cult of personality associated with the biggest streamers of the world – and boy, does Borderlands 3 not spare an ounce of vitriol for the admittedly complicated, often disturbingly regressive world of streamer culture (though they do have a weapon that is a direct Dr. Disrespect reference, and also feature some of the most elaborate Twitch integrations of any modern game). But Borderlands 3 admonishes creator and follower alike with an empty dismissal of the “influencer” – in a rather bleak application of its signature nihilism, it buries any kind of interesting exploration of the Twins- as either characters or societal critique – under a thick layer of cynicism.

It never really even contemplates their place as unifers in a galaxy full of corporations addicted to war profits, under a thin, cynical veneer of disregard for their place in any culture, Pandorian or human – its critique of streamer culture ultimately just feels empty. At times, it even feels hypocritical; unsurprisingly, Borderlands 3’s consistently been one of the most-watched games on Twitch since before its public release last week (plus again; there are multiple streamer-related references sprinkled through the game). It’s contradictory at best – and when considering how thin the public personas of Troy and Tyreen are actually defined outside of “shitty streamer people and their shitty followers”, it just feels weird.

Borderlands 3

Like the story, the shooting and looting of the game is immediately familiar, though it is a much more welcoming feeling: the single biggest improvement to Borderlands 3 is the shooting, which feels tighter and heavier than it has the previous three entries in the series. If there’s a truly transcendent evolution of the game’s formula, it’s found here: the shooting is simply magnificent from the word go, especially with the new traversal elements of mantling and power sliding, movement options that do wonders to bring life to the game’s many, many, many, many engagements with massive groups of enemies, hidden baddies, and massive (-ly lengthy, though mostly well-varied) boss encounters.

The class selection is also fantastic; there’s a distinct rejection of Borderlands 2‘s semi-linear class system, with each of the game’s four characters featuring multiple unique skill trees players can utilize to create an impressive diversity of builds with. There are hints of old characters in Fl4K, Zane, Amara, and Moze, but those elements are welcomely remixed and expanded upon, in creative ways I just wish the rest of Borderlands 3 would take a hint from; I’ve never had so much fun switching between characters in a previous game, experimenting with the intersections of their diverse ability sets, and seeing how the game’s Legendary and Anointed equipment rarities can further those builds is easily the most satisfying part of the game (though admittedly, all four classes take until about level 30 before they truly unlock their mechanical potential).

Borderlands 3

It is worth noting the game’s technical performance is as inconsistent as its narrative; for a game that’s been in development for so long, Borderlands 3 feels particularly unpolished for a finished product – hell, between writing and editing this review, I lost a collection of 50 legendary items out of my storage bank because of a widespread bug, kind of an unforgivable mistake for an entire game built around loot hunting.

Outside of the major performance issues widely-reported since the game’s release – including the virtually unplayable “Resolution mode” on Playstation 4 Pro – Borderlands 3 is ripe with the glitches of the past: broken mission objectives, inconsistent AI companion pathing – and, as an added bonus, the expected bevy of Unreal Engine quirks (like falling through the map multiple times). Though it seems like a small complaint, waiting 5-7 seconds for your in-game menu to load in every few minutes in a 2019 video game quickly becomes frustrating, one of many examples of Borderlands 3‘s many rough edges.

(Playing as Moze in multiplayer was a particular low light: from the gravitational physics of my character completely breaking, to glitches that rendered my player utterly unmovable, Borderlands 3‘s co-op modes are frustratingly janky, to the point split-screen co-op is almost unplayable in its current state.)

But the most frustrating part of Borderlands 3 is (outside of the character classes, of course) how risk-averse the entire affair is; in terms of mechanics and systems, it is mostly an integration of Borderlands 2 and the new elements of The Pre-Sequel, with a couple of light improvements around the edges. For example, there are now gear scores attached to every item a player picks up; there’s still no way to effectively manage an inventory, or even a consistency to how the scores are formulated, but hey, at least there’s kind of a way to compare gear (which one will do constantly, since inventory management is a still a hot mess).

Borderlands 3

For every tiny improvement, there’s a concession attached to it; a great example is the game’s map and mission tracking systems. While the map now shows the topography of each area, a useless mini-map and a thoroughly aggravating menu UI make juggling multiple missions an absolute chore (even though one can switch missions on the fly with a touch of the button, there’s no way to see multiple objectives on the map, or even switch between them while in the map menu).

This persists across the entire Borderlands 3 experience: and as the tale of the Calypso Twins and the Great Vault lurches through its interminably lengthy second and third acts, it begins to wear on the experience. For better or worse, Borderlands 3 further entrenches itself in the habits and rhythms of Borderlands 2 – which, after seven years, begins to feel stale in areas, frustratingly reluctant to change, or even reflect on its well-established sensibilities (or on itself; there are literal jokes made about CEO Randy Pitchford’s many controversies, which are… uncomfortable at best). And while the game certainly demonstrates the effectiveness of carefully refining its (rightfully celebrated) mechanics, its absolute reluctance to take creative risks begs the question of why it took so long to bring this game together (or, at the very least, begs the question of whether Gearbox really wanted to do a Borderlands 3 at all, and only green lit the project after the overwhelming failure of Battleborn).

As the game moves through its middle chapters, it just feels lacking in a way Borderlands 2 never did, even with its predecessors own inconsistent humor and pacing. Though ostensibly a journey spread across the galaxy, featuring a massive cast of familiar and new characters, so much of Borderlands 3 feels small and isolated. Every area of the game is broken up into tiny segments, covering small areas of these seemingly massive planets – an experience itself constantly broken up by lengthy loading screens and regular back tracking, which doesn’t exactly vibe with the game’s epic, world-hopping scope.

Borderlands 3

The absence of the player-characters in the central narrative is another head-scratching omission; despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, the four main personalities of Borderlands 3 feel underdeveloped – a problem that persists considering how little they’re seen during the most important moments of the game. They’re explicitly excluded from so many of the game’s cinematic moments, they almost feel absent from the game’s actual story (despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, an experiment that pays off to mixed results).

I think about the ending of Borderlands 2, and how much potential it held for the future of the series: the promise of exploring entire planets with friends, finding Vaults and hidden pop culture references was almost breath-taking in its ambition. With its series of linearly-designed, stunted “zones” and limited planet selection at launch, Borderlands 3 never really harnesses the long-gestating potential for growth; and as the story begins building towards its climactic moments, it only further highlights the creative dissonance that plagues so many aspects of the game.

The clearest distillation of Borderlands 3‘s identity crisis is found in the game’s story, which struggles to justify itself as something more than just “another” Borderlands game. It is torn between its desires to attempt something new (at least, at times), and the emotional attachment it knows the audience has with the characters, rhythms, and memorable moments from the first three games of the series. It leads to a story that often follows a template: travel to new area, meet familiar old character for a mission, fight through a series of gently-guiding corridors while constantly staring at the map, rinse, and repeat for thirty-five hours.

Borderlands 3

Save for the occasional interlude and amusing side story – though that often finds itself stuck in its own loop, with a collection of ancillary characters who either wants to remind you how funny poop is, or how much people in this world enjoy murder and death – to the point its cynical nihilism is no longer humorous, and eventually becomes exhausting.

Sure, there are a couple new characters introduced, but they’re left to the fringes of the main narrative, which is, for all intents and purposes, a retread of Borderlands 2‘s major beats. Yes, it occasionally attempts to subvert expectations, but mostly by presenting a mirrored version of the series’ previous events – where Borderlands 2 was about an evil father manipulating their disgruntled child and the Vault Hunters, Borderlands 3 is basically about mad children manipulating their father and the Vault Hunters – but it is satisfied to simply just be that story, and not much more (and at times, even becomes wholly illogical… remember The Watcher and their foreboding warnings? Neither does Borderlands 3, apparently).

There is one particularly strong section of story, however, and it comes in an unexpected place: after serving the role of enigmatic mission giver (and named member of the Borderlands 2‘s lamest DLC), Sir Hammerlock’s arc in the middle section of Borderlands 3, while disappointingly divorced from the central events of the game, is emotionally propulsive in ways none of the other story is, a moment where Borderlands 3‘s themes find their voice for a too-brief amount of time.

Part love story, and part exploration of the intersections of family and legacy, Borderlands 3‘s tale of Hammerlock and the Jakobs family is so satisfying,the one time Borderlands 3 stops screaming at the player in its desperation to be funny or surprising. For a few hours,the overwhelming nihilism of Borderlands‘ eternally cynical world view melts away, and the series truly offers something akin to hope and possibility in its world. It represents the beautiful essence of Borderlands expansive set of characters, companies, and legacies, and is the rare moment where Borderlands 3 finds harmonic brilliance between its shooting, looting, joking, and genuine attempts at emotional beats.

Borderlands 3

But like most of the other familiar faces in Borderlands 3, Hammerlock’s story is contained to his few chapters on his home planet; for a game that ultimately turns on a story of family and shared purpose, there’s so much of Borderlands 3 that just feels like it is missing the mark, or ignoring it altogether. Outside of Lilith and Claptrap (and for a brief time before her quickly-forgotten disposal, Maya) none of the game’s previously playable characters factor into the narrative in any way – hell, most of them, like Axton, Gaige, Salvatore and Krieg, don’t appear or are barely mentioned at all, which kind of takes away from the game’s attempts to be an all-encompassing adventure through the history (and theoretical future) of its surrogate family of bandits, adventurers, scientists, and adventure seekers.

Instead, there’s a lot of focus put on a handful of underwhelming new characters (including Ava, the game’s single biggest missed opportunity relegated to Whiny Teen tropes), only occasionally interjecting those sequences with familiar faces: multiple major characters of the series have precisely one mission dedicated to them through the story, which again feels like Borderlands 3 lacking confidence in its own identity, unable to commit to forging new paths, and instead peppering serotonin-laced doses of nostalgia across the story as a half-measure to cover up that Borderlands 3 really has nothing new to say about its world, its people, or the story it’s been telling now for a decade.

Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy. That doesn’t make it an abject failure, of course: it’s still a game I’m going to play for hundreds of hours with my friends, thanks to the sheer diversity of gun play and character builds (it is a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, after all) – but there’s a distinct feeling Borderlands 3 could’ve been so much more than… well, just more of the same Borderlands. Seven years after its last mainline entry (and five after its forgettable, under cooked “pre-sequel”), just being Borderlands one more time makes it feel like a series stuck in the past, retreating to safe waters by simply remixing the old game… with a strangely newfound (and ultimately, superficial) hatred of streamer culture layered on top to feel relevant in 2019.

Borderlands 3

That allegiance to the past ultimately comes at a cost; it makes the few moments Borderlands 3 tries to evolve stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game, complete 180’s in emotional tenor that are never met by equal risks taken in gameplay design, or the construction of the main narrative. When the dick jokes and meme references subside, there is an emotionally satisfying core deep inside Borderlands 3, one that highlights the spaces in between the game’s consistently enjoyable shooting and looting gameplay loop (there’s a particular photo I discovered in the game’s later moments that literally brought me to tears, a quietly poignant and beautiful moment this game desperately needs more of).

But that version of Borderlands 3 only comes out in fits and starts, often hindered by the series’ allegiance to its old identity, one that time, and most of the gaming industry, has passed by (at least, during the main story; I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the post-credits/endgame experience). There is a great version of Borderlands 3 somewhere, a more driven action-RPG with a tighter campaign experience, a more ambitious, fully-formed story, and a true expansion of its celebrated mechanics to marry to the game’s wonderfully diverse class set and enhanced movement options. It’s just not this inflated, safe iteration of the series, one that drowns its few iterative innovations in a sea of repetitive familiarity.

Continue Reading
Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.

Learn more by clicking here.

Advertisement

Trending

127 Shares
Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin