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The Best Game Boy Games that Stand the Test of Time

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Over the past week, we have already written extensively about the Game Boy, detailing the history of Nintendo’s hit portable system and even reminiscing about our favourite Game Boy memories on the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. And now today, on the console’s 30th birthday, we’ve asked our staff to compile a list of the fifteen best Game Boy games that we feel truly stand the test of time. It wasn’t easy excluding games like Wario Land, Duck Tales or Mega Man V, and we’ve eliminated games released on the Game Boy Color as only a few were backward compatible with the Game Boy, but we did what had to be done. Here is a list of the fifteen best Game Boy games. Enjoy.

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Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

While not the first Castlevania game on the Game Boy, Belmont’s Revenge is the most memorable. Gone was the linear level-by-level progression, the player now had full freedom to choose which stage to whip first, be it the castle on the clouds or the fort in the swamp.

Once again, you control Christopher Belmont and unleash the famous whip at your foes. The whip starts off small but can be upgraded with various orbs, which at full power can start shooting fireballs from its tip. The whip can also be used to extinguish candles which reveal other useful items such as axes and holy water. For those that played Castlevania Adventure, the whip works slightly different as it doesn’t power down upon use, which personally, makes Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge all the better.

And in an opposite to Mole Mania, Castlevania II has some of the darkest, more depressing music on the Game Boy. While that would seem like a negative, it fits the theme really well and is, equally, some of the best music on the system. In addition to some of the most intricate visuals available on the console, Belmont’s Revenge is easily one of the best games available.  (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Donkey Kong

When the classic arcade game that launched the careers of Donkey Kong and Mario made its way to the Game Boy in 1994, Nintendo didn’t set out to release a simple remake – instead, Nintendo brought back their famous ape for a revival that features a whopping 101 stages and a ton of new features. Like in the arcade cabinet, the player takes control of Mario and must rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong while running through the four levels found in the original game. But at the conclusion of these four stages the game expands into an ambitious action puzzle/platformer with short cutscenes and various gameplay enhancements such as Mario’s ability to pick up and throw items at certain enemies; carry keys to open locked doors; flip over onto his hands; catch falling barrels; swim underwater; climb ropes; spin on wires to reach new heights; and perform a series of chain-jumps – all things that would carry over to other titles in the Super Mario repertoire.

At the time, Donkey Kong featured improved levels, graphics, audio and controls, but like every game on this list, the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong stands the test of time. If you happen to be a nostalgic gamer or even a huge Nintendo fan who wants to explore the company’s back catalogue, this is essential to your collection. (Ricky D)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Donkey Kong Land

Remembered by many fans as the “other” yellow game boy cartridge, Donkey Kong Land is a not-to-miss spinoff from one of Rare’s most beloved projects. While many remember the title as a straight port of Donkey Kong Country for the SNES, the hardware limitations of the original Game Boy forced developers to make some notable adjustments that make this hidden gem unique. The title borrows many of the character sprites, background textures, and sound effects from its console counterpart but has an entirely new level design for each world, making it an under-appreciated entry in the franchise.

In classic Rare fashion, Donkey Kong Land has a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and painfully self-aware story. Crankey Kong opens the game by criticizing the Kongs of only being successful because of the enhanced graphics and sound of the SNES, saying that they could never be as popular in 8bit. To put that theory to the test, he calls on K Rool to steal DK’s bananas and start the journey again. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong must set out across Kong Island to recover the lost goods.

With its classic side-scrolling platforming gameplay and a killer David Wise soundtrack, Donkey Kong Land is definitely a Game Boy must play. Like its Country predecessor, the title is a bit of a difficult collect-a-thon that guarantees many hours of replayability. For those that don’t feel like shelling out ten bucks for a used cartridge, the title’s 2014 rerelease on the 3DS makes it easily accessible for fans of the franchise. (Ty Davidson)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Final Fantasy Adventure

At the time, Final Fantasy Adventure was not a typical example of the series, which was just beginning its eventual skyrocket in popularity. Its battles are real-time instead of turn-based, there’s a singular protagonist instead of a party system (though some NPCs do sometimes temporarily join up), and enemies appear on screen — not through those often annoying random encounters. Outwardly it seems more like a Zelda title, and that may have been the thought, but its sense of the tragic as a motivating force for storytelling is SquareSoft all the way, and this aspect is what makes it truly excel. The Hero (named by the player, providing instant connection and eliminating the need for heavy backstory) is a classic cosmic punching bag; he starts out in a bad way, endures loss after loss, only to be told that every sacrifice forced upon him is necessary for the good of all mankind. Not good for him, mind you, but in service of everyone else. No, the Hero’s role is that of a reluctant martyr, someone for whom friendship is impossible because everyone he likes dies a horrible death. Despite his incredibly awesome hair, happiness is never meant to be, because this stupid thing called “fate” says so.

The simple sword-swinging, spell-casting action works well (and would serve as inspiration for Secret of Mana), and the land is vast for a Gameboy title, but it’s the brutal world and themes that make this title stand out to those who played it. There’s a melancholy air permeating every quest, one that ensures no completely happy ending awaits. Final Fantasy Adventure keeps things real, so if you’re not being attacked by any number of beasts inhabiting the forest, frozen in place by a sorceress monster, mocked by ageist kids because you can’t swing a sword like you used to, or turned into a parrot because of your wonderful singing voice, then your town is probably under attack by the evil Glaive Empire, who have no problem razing everything you care about to the ground. So, you know, have a nice life. It’s an epic adventure on a small scale, still memorable to this day. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Gargoyle’s Quest

Is it a sequel to the Ghost n Goblins series or isn’t it? It technically is but it technically isn’t, the only similarities are those surrounding the main character, Firebrand, which is actually an enemy in the GnG series. Playing a villain turned hero isn’t a new concept, but Gargoyle’s Quest does a fantastic job of making it not a cheesy, mundane affair.

Gargoyle’s Quest was ahead of its time in many aspects. On the first appearance, it seems like a typical 2D platformer. Not quite so. to some extent, Gargoyle’s Quest was a pioneer at blending genres, in this incidence RPG and action. Firebrand jumps pits, clings to walls, and fights enemies much like an action platformer; but then visits towns, collects items, and goes on quests much like an early RPG.

In the likelihood of sound like an old man, Gargoyle’s Quest is a reminder to how well executed games used to be. It’s both confident in its simplicity and assured in its depth that it’s almost entirely faultless. A truly timeless masterpiece. (James Baker)

Kid Dracula

Best Game Boy Games: Kid Dracula

A list of the best original Game Boy games wouldn’t be complete without Kid Dracula, a comical sidescroller which takes all of the goodness of Castlevania and puts its own spin on gothic-themed platforming. Kid Dracula features just enough charm and personality to get you hooked, and thanks to its tight controls, it was one of the least frustrating games to play on the Game Boy.

When compared to other games released on Nintendo’s greyscale portable system, Kid Dracula’s visuals give other more popular titles a run for their money, as does the extremely catchy soundtrack which puts the Game Boy’s audio capabilities to the test. There’s a reason why the game’s main antagonist, Garamoth, later appeared as a boss in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – and there’s a reason why the titular character made notable appearances in other games such as The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Kid Dracula is simply one of the most charming and playable platformers available on the Game Boy and those who played it will remember it fondly to this day. (Ricky D)

Kirby’s Dream Land

Best Game Boy Games: Kirby’s Dream Land

Kirby’s debut, though he’s changed a lot as time has gone on. This black and white version on the Game Boy doesn’t really show how much, but on the box art, Kirby is white, as opposed to the pink complexion he is today. That said, Kirby’s Dream Land started the franchise in such an adorable manner that it’s impossible to dislike Kirby.

Before King Dedede became an ally in the more recent Kirby games, he was quite the gluttonous villain, stealing food from Dream Land, as well the as sparking stars to obtain more food. Kirby decides to go forth and defeat King Dedede to retrieve the food and stars — quite the standard storyline, but implemented so effectively that it remains one of the best games on the Game Boy.

Kirby’s Dream Land consists of five levels, each one made up up of a series of rooms connected by large doors, some doors leading to secret areas. Kirby’s main method of attack is to inhale enemies, which he then can exhale as a projectile missile. Kirby can also fly indefinitely, but is vulnerable to attack. The ability to fly really opens up each room and turns the side-scrolling into not just left and right, but also up and down. The formula for Kirby’s Dream Land was ultimately simple, and the game is typically easy, which made it a fantastic title for those new to Nintendo. The franchise would ultimately become more complex, but its origins should never be forgotten. (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: 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 from the original Legend of Zelda and the 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 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)

Metroid 2 Game Boy

Best Game Boy Games: Metroid II: The Return of Samus

Metroid ll: Return of Samus is by no means a masterpiece that changed the gaming scene like Super Metroid or Metroid Prime. In fact, this 1991 GameBoy title was met with fairly mixed reviews from critics. Most of these issues can be blamed on the limitations of the GameBoy itself, such as the lack of graphical detail in the enemies and environments. However, a closer look at this underrated gem reveals a slew of intriguing design decisions that many of the future games were based upon. Metroid ll should not be regarded as the black sheep of the series, but instead should be welcomed into the family.

Any game released on the original GameBoy is bound to be limited in scope, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Handheld experiences are more suited for quick sessions that are built upon the sensation of progress being made with each play. Metroid ll takes this idea and successfully applies this to the formula that the first Metroid built. Instead of simply throwing the player into the game with no purpose, Return of Samus gives gamers an objective right from the start. Every metroid on the planet must be eliminated, and a count is displayed on the bottom right of the screen to track this progress.

The concept of tracking down metroids and destroying them works perfectly for a handheld, as it results in a simpler kind of Metroid that still retains the things that made the original great and in many ways, Return of Samus is the perfect game for newcomers to the series. Simplified level design and gameplay offer an easier start to a fairly challenging series that commonly overwhelms new players. Comparing this underrated gem to the other titles in the series really isn’t fair because of the limitations of the console it was developed for. However, it does accomplish exactly what it set out to do; create a fun handheld experience that still retains the feeling of a fully-fledged Metroid title. Even though it is often out-shined by Samus’ GameBoy Advance adventures that came years later, it remains fun to this day and deserves to be recognized as a fine iteration in this long-running series. (Zack Rezak)

Mole Mania Game Boy

Best Game Boy Games: Mole Mania

Mole Mania was unforgiving and troublesome, but beneath the hardship remains one of the best puzzle games on the Game Boy. The storyline consisted of saving your mole family that was kidnapped from an evil farmer, but like with many games on the Game Boy, the quality of the storyline is perhaps a poor indicator of the quality of the gameplay.

This isn’t about overpowering the enemy but out-thinking them. Muddy Mole is limited in what he can do, pretty much stunted to burrowing and moving certain objects. These limitations strengthen the gameplay as they lead to planning ahead before committing; digging in the wrong place can lead to an obstruction, resulting in restarting the level.

While frustrating, there’s a huge sense of achievement upon completion. The visuals are some of the best on the Game Boy and the music is perhaps the most upbeat found on the handheld console, complete with those famous 8-bit synthesizers. If you’re not prone to rage quitting, Mole Mania is a worthy playthrough. (James Baker)

Best Game Boys Games

Best Game Boy Games: Pokemon Red and Blue

Never before have two games begun such a massive franchise. A bold statement for sure, but just look at how inescapable Pokémon has become, from the merchandise filling up the shops to the fad that we briefly encountered in Pokémon Go. This all began in 1996 with a game designed around a simple accessory for the Game Boy called a Link Cable. The idea of creating two of the same game that offered unique collectibles that could be traded between the games, a new multiplayer concept that actually had kids outside of the house  (a Dratini by today’s standards) and socializing with pocket monsters they had caught and raised, plus a surprisingly complex competitive strategy game that only became more compelling as the franchise grew, was unique to Pokémon Red and Blue at the time.

150 pokémon to catch, with the addition of Mew available as an event exclusive, kept many fans on a never-ending journey to complete their pokédex. 150 might seem like a small number by today’s standards, but without the internet opening up the entire world to trade, you relied on your friends to help you complete the process. This brought the fundamentals of socializing to an uncomfortable place, where negotiating and persuasion were skills that were quickly learned to help us evolve our Haunter into a Gengar. In fact, kids with their Game Boys linked up became such a common sight that arguably the Link Cable became an iconic symbol of the nineties.

With so many pokémon to catch, it’s easy to forget that Pokémon Red and Blue had a pretty dark theme shadowing it. Lavender Town is a legend all in itself, with its soundtrack thought to have resulted in the death of numerous Japanese kids. Myth or not, it was the place that brought the chilling story to life. Team Rocket, the famous villains that debuted in Red and Blue, had done some terrible things in this town, including actions that resulted in the death of a now-famous Marowak. Its pre-evolved form, Cubone, has one of the creepiest pokédex entries.

While as a strategy game Pokémon Red and Blue was broken — Psychic was so over-powered that Alakazam effectively had no weaknesses — it remains so iconic and influential that the world cannot escape the franchise it created. A defining game of the nineties that time will never have the longevity to lose. (James Baker)

Pokemon Yellow

 Best Game Boy Games: Pokemon Yellow

When Pokémon Red and Blue had an animé produced to coincide with it, the popularity of Ash and his partner Pikachu made Pokémon Yellow inevitable. Originally, Ash’s partner in the animé was to be Clefairy, but was changed to the cute electric mouse that remains the mascot of the franchise ever since.

While there’s much debate about whether Pokémon needs third installments to each generation, Pokémon Yellow was the first and the most original in concept of them all. Rather than following the legacy of Pokémon Red and Blue, it follows the storyline of the animé, allowing the player to obtain the three original starter pokémon as part of the storyline. Furthermore, staying true to the animé, Pikachu follows the player around rather than staying in its pokéball, and refuses to evolve into Raichu when given a thunderstone, thus leaving Raichu only obtainable through trade.

Pokémon Yellow is a direct consequence of the popularity of Pokémon at the time, and with Pikachu still the beloved face of Pokémon, was perhaps shrewd marketing on Nintendo’s part. Its success inspired many other sequels to each generation, none of which would surpass the ingenuity of its predecessor. Pokémon Yellow won’t go down as the greatest Pokémon game of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins

Does the introduction of Mario’s crude, demented nemesis need any more reason to be on this list? Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins gave Nintendo fans their first sour taste of the crookedly-mustached Wario, something for which we shall always be thankful, but it also succeeds magnificently at standing out among the franchise’s platforming greatness. Though a straight-up sequel, this Gameboy classic takes more inspiration from Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World, with the more familiar cartoonish visuals, the ability to move both left and right, an overworld, and multiple paths to and through each level. The look and feel are so stark from its predecessor that it’s hard to relate the two, but a semblance of plot involves Wario having usurped Mario’s throne (?) while Sarasaland was being saved, brainwashing the loyal subjects of the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero in the process.

This bit of wackiness is only the start. For whatever reason, it seems like Nintendo’s development teams felt freed up by the Game Boy, reserving some of their strangest ideas for the portable versions of their popular series. Like with Link’s Awakening, the people working on Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins must have been a little loopy, somehow cool with devising a powerup that sees Mario grow a pair of rabbit ears that flap like wings, allowing for slower descents. There’s also an entire zone that takes place inside a pumpkin, as well as another whose boss level occurs inside a sleeping whale, which is in turn located inside a giant turtle. It doesn’t get less bizarre. These sorts of left-field oddities, along with an abundance of nice touches showcasing incredible attention to detail, make the world extremely entertaining, all the way to that fight against Mario’s greasy, greedy foe. In a franchise known for its outlandish creativity, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins holds its own — more than just an ugly face. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Super Mario Land

A launch title for the original DMG Game Boy, Super Mario Land is best described as a quirky, short, and forgotten title that moves Mario in directions that are never revisited in the series. Developed without input from franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the sidescroller takes many risks that both pay off and fail spectacularly, introducing new enemies, Princess Daisy, some Gradius-style shooter levels, an evil alien as the main boss, and much more.

Taking place in Sarasaland, Mario must rescue the new princess from the clutches of the evil spaceman Tatanga. Through land, water, and the sky, Mario moves between obscure Easter island levels, a submarine mission, a moderately uncomfortable Chinese stereotype level, and an airplane fight, eventually facing off against a UFO to save the princess and blast off into outer space.

Love it or hate it, this strange game deserves a place in franchise and console history, branching out in new directions to change the way that players look at the Nintendo mascot. With familiar gameplay and oddball elements, Super Mario Land at times feels like the best bootleg Mario title on the market, borrowing from other gaming trends of the time for a unique experience that honestly makes one wonder how the company viewed where the plucky plumber was headed. An incredibly short game, the title can be completed in a 30 or 40-minute sitting, but that does not mean that it isn’t worth picking up. Aided by outstanding level design and one of the best soundtracks of any Game Boy title, the game begs for repeated playthroughs while always offering a nostalgic 8bit experience. (Ty Davidson)

Best Game Boy Games Tetris

Best Game Boy Games: Tetris

It’s safe to assume that almost every video gamer has heard of Tetris, and most of us associate it with Nintendo, specifically their portable Game Boy system. Yes, Tetris had already existed in various incarnations since its creation in 1984, and was sold for both a range of home computer platforms and the arcades long before Game Boy ever existed, but the hugely successful handheld version for the Game Boy — which was launched in 1989 — is arguably the ultimate version of the perfect puzzle game. The famous puzzle game from creator Alexey Pajitnov is not only brilliant but extremely addictive thanks to its simplistic design. With this particular version of Tetris came a competitive two-player mode made possible with the link cable, as well as an instrumental version of the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki.” Nintendo is known for releasing some of the greatest launch games of all time and Tetris is at the top of that list. Tetris was a phenomenon and literally laid the bricks for the foundation of the handheld gaming industry that Nintendo has continued to dominate ever since. (Ricky D)

 

Be sure to also check out:

The Top 50 SNES Games

The 40 Best Nintendo 64 Games

The Best Game Boy Games that Stand the Test of Time

The Best Game Boy Advance Games

35 Best Gamecube Games

The Very Best Wii Games

The 25 Best Wii U Games

The Best Nintendo Switch Games

200 Best Nintendo Games

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Games

What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’

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

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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

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Games

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Could Apple Arcade Be the Best Gaming Subscription Service Yet?

Gaming has its fair share of subscription services, but with its flexibility and clarity, Apple Arcade could be among the very best.

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Apple Arcade

Gaming has moved beyond consoles and physical storefronts. The past few years have seen the birth of ambitious new projects like Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia, which aim to change the way you play your games. Apple has now entered the fray with a subscription service of its own, Apple Arcade. This might look like little more than yet another effort from a major company to capitalize on major trends, but in reality, this new project has the potential to be the best gaming subscription platform yet.

So…what is it?

Apple Arcade is a basic concept: for $5.00 per month, you gain access to an expanding library of games that can be played across all Apple devices, including Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad.

Compared to other subscription platforms out there, Apple Arcade is refreshingly simple. Unlike Xbox Game Pass, you don’t need to spend extra money to play your games on additional platforms; for that one monthly price, every game can be played across every one of your Apple devices. And unlike Google Stadia, a solid internet connection isn’t required to play your games. Every title on the Arcade can be natively downloaded onto the device of your choice and played regardless of the strength of your WiFi.

Apple Arcade

The mention of iPhone and iPad may have already set some readers on edge – after all, the gaming community can’t agree on much, but it has generally determined that mobile games aren’t always the best. They rarely provide the same caliber of experiences as console or PC games, so why would anyone want to spend a monthly fee to play a bunch of mediocre mobile games?

However, Apple Arcade is intensely curated to provide a high quantity of stylish, memorable games from some of the most respected creators in the field. For instance, famed indie publishers like Devolver Digital and Annapurna Interactive are fully on board, with multiple exclusive games planned to launch with the service. That’s not to mention the sheer number of highly anticipated indie games like Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens that will be included in the Arcade. Appple’s website promises that more than 100 different games will be available to play over the course of the launch period this fall, so if the game library can keep up this quality, then it could be promising indeed.

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Sayonara Wild Hearts is just one of the many incredibly stylish indie games of Apple Arcade.

What makes Apple Arcade so special, anyway?

It seems like every company and their mother has a storefront nowadays. Ubisoft, Blizzard, Epic, and even Rockstar have all debuted platforms of their own, while Google Stadia is trying to remove traditional platforms entirely. In such a crowded environment, how can Apple Arcade possibly stand out? Simply put, Apple Arcade is already set to be the most flexible and easy-to-understand gaming subscription platform yet.

Every one of the many subscription platforms out there touts its “flexibility” in allowing you to choose what games to play and where to play them. Apple Arcade does the same thing but with one major difference: less limitations. As mentioned earlier, each game can be downloaded directly onto your device, and with save data being stored in the cloud, progress can be carried on between every one of your Apple products. Meanwhile, platforms like Google Stadia effectively shut down without constant WiFi access.

Apple Arcade
Apple Arcade offers a lot of games on a lot of platforms for a low price

In terms of price, Apple Arcade continues to stand out. For $5.00 a month, you can play over a hundred unique titles. Compare this with the $15.00/mo price of Xbox Game Pass or the $10.00 subscription price of Google Stadia Premium, and Apple Arcade easily comes out on top (that’s not to mention that you still have to pay for Stadia games individually on top of the monthly fee). For reference, a year of access to the more than 100 games in Apple Arcade costs the same as the retail price of a single triple-A retail title. You won’t need to invest in a new controller either, since PlayStation and Xbox gamepads are fully supported.

Even when it comes to the games included, Apple Arcade should stand out from the crowd. Stadia may already have some massive third party blockbusters like Cyberpunk 2077 and DOOM Eternal, but they don’t offer much incentive to be played on Google’s streaming service instead of traditional consoles or PCs. On the other hand, Apple Arcade’s low price point and more practical flexibility offer a compelling reason to play games on Apple’s service instead of purchasing them individually on other platforms. That’s not to mention the handful of exclusives available at launch or coming soon after, from famous minds like SimCity creator Will Wright and the father of Final Fantasy himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi.

The world of gaming certainly has more than its fair share of subscription services. Yet Apple Arcade stands out for its clarity, its accessibility, and its remarkable library. With these factors combined, it could become the very best gaming subscription on the market.

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Sirfetch’d is the Leek ‘Pokémon Sword’ Needed

Fortunately, Pokémon Sword specifically, has given more reason than just filling the pokédex for future Galar trainers to go seek out this elusive duck. Meet Sirfetch’d!

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Sirfetch'd Pokémon Sword

Ever since we were chasing pokémon around the tall grass of Johto, it was obvious that among the Kanto pokémon given evolutions, Farfetch’d was the one that had been forgotten. A pokémon with more dishes than moves, Farfetch’d had the usability of a fork scooping water, becoming a time-dwindling nuisance due to its rarity. Fortunately, Pokémon Sword specifically has given more reason than just filling the pokédex for future Galar trainers to go seek out this elusive duck. Meet Sirfetch’d!

Sirfetch’d is easily one of the best-designed pokémon for Pokémon Sword and Shield that has already been announced. With a sword and a shield made from its previous garnishing, and a prideful stance that oozes confidence, Sirfetch’d genuinely looks like the next stage of evolution from the woefully inept Farfetch’d. What we don’t yet know is its stats and, as a consequence, what tier it will be in competitive gameplay. But what we do know is it will be a fighting type with the ability steadfast, much like the fellow knight Gallade. Its signature move, Meteor Assault, will be debuting in Pokémon Sword and Shield, which inflicts heavy damage that forces the user to recharge the next turn.

Farfetch'd and Sirfetch'd
Farfetch’d and Sirfetch’d

The announcement of Sirfetch’d only creates curiosity as to who its opposing pokémon will be in Pokémon Shield. It’s doubtful that there will be another evolution for Farfetch’d, as Sirfetch’d is shown already in command of a shield, so the play on sword and shield will not feature in a twin evolution. The likelihood is another pokémon that has been neglected for so long, and in dire need of a renaissance in the franchise; something like Dunsparce from generation two would be ideal, considering that, like Farfetch’d, it manages to be both rare and pointless.

What has made the addition of Sirfetch’d and some of the other Galar region pokémon so appealing is their alignment with the inspiration and theme behind Pokémon Sword and Shield. Sirfetch’d breathes the nature that the games are trying to convey, but so does Corviknight in its chivalrous demeanor. Crucially for Corviknight, it’s another hint at a Victorian England inspiration behind Pokémon Sword and Shield; the raven in the Tower of London is as iconic as the factory chimneys that tower above Galarian form Weezing. Even the possessed teapot is taking a less casual approach to the stereotype.

But honestly, it’s quite charming to see so much inspiration derive from a region of the world. Kalos was inspired by France, but the only pokémon that conveyed a French stereotype was Furfrou, which feels like a missed opportunity in hindsight. If Pokémon is to continue using regions of the world as the inspiration behind their generational games then, from what we’ve seen so far, Pokémon Sword and Shield could be ideal templates.

Impidimp
Impidimp in all its unwanted glory.

That’s not to say there haven’t been any poor designs. The two legendaries, Zacien and Zamazenta, are the rather generic canid legendary pokémon. Rolycoly looks like the love-child of Beldum and Minior, while Impidimp looks like it fell off the pages of a lost Atom Ant storyboard from the sixties. However, if there weren’t contemptuous new pokémon in Pokémon Sword and Shield, then the games would exist without reliable antagonists; getting through Pokémon Moon without the humorous Bananarama Dugtrio would have been an emptier experience. That is why it is easy to accept an Impidimp as long as there is a Sirfetch’d.

This is partly why it is easier to look forward to Pokémon Sword and Shield than it was to Pokémon Sun and Moon. There was a slight drop in pokémon design quality from X and Y to Sun and Moon, while so far, the designs in Sword and Shield have improved from Sun and Moon. The announcement of Sirfetch’d only confirms that designs have at least been slightly improved and we can await with great anticipation for what pokémon the opposing exclusive will be in Pokémon Shield.

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