25 Jan 2017

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

A Link to the Past SNES UK Packfront
Publisher: Nintendo
(Four Swords add-on: Capcom)
Consoles released on:
SNES: 1992   
GBA: 2002 (With Four Swords multi player game)
Wii Virtual Console: 2013
Wii U Virtual Console: 2014
3DS sequel titled A Link Between Worlds: 2013 (separate review for this title)
3DS Virtual Console: 2016

This review isn't going to do justice for this  iconic, single player game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. I know there have been many reviews before me and no doubt there will be many reviews after me, but please read on. I have played this on the SNES, Wii/ WiiU and 3DS and I'm still constantly amazed at this game's replayability. I may also refer to the game by its shorthand ALttP.

This is was the only Zelda game released on the SNES in the UK, and it has remained a firm favourite with Zelda and Retro fans alike some 20 years later after its release, withstanding the test of time. There is still a debate about which game out of ALttP or Ocarina of Time, was the reason for many changes in the Zelda franchises (and others too). My opinion is that a Link to the Past started the changes and with the development of technology, particularly the polygon technology of the N64, resulted in the finalisation of those changes started.

An interesting fact is that in Japan, this is called Triforce of the Gods. The name change came about as in the Western world- more specifically North America, didn't allow religious references in game titles. The USA title stuck for the UK release. The packfront logo was reused for Link's Awakening /DX on the Gameboy a year or 6 later (DX colour version was released in 1998), with the  distinctive Zelda font and Master Sword used and adapted for many more games afterwards including the newest and most anticipated Breath of the Wild

Title Screen
This game changed the Zelda franchise completely from gameplay, game length, camera angle,  quests/ sub quests, music and graphics. All of which are now standard in Zelda games today, in fact the music of Legend of Zelda is so good, that Nintendo performed 4 symphonies (25th Anniversary and the Symphony of the Goddesses, Master Quest, 30th Anniversary) full of Zelda music with videos from the game series, plus Video Games Live has had a few different versions of Zelda music throughout the years.

Like the NES games there are more side-quests, objects, hearts and skills to collect. It goes without saying that there is a bigger colour palette, however Link's pink hair is a mild personal annoyance, but like the design for Mario, it may of been down to colour restrictions. Zelda also doesn't look the more recent Zelda's (with the exception of Skyward Sword) with the now trademark purple dress and tiara, but again this is a minor point. The save feature is greatly improved, with the player starting from certain places (and not right at the origin point as in the first NES Zelda game). 
Dark World Dungeon Item Menu from 3DS virtual console

The item menu is same sort of layout as the NES Legend of Zelda but with many additions. I find the menu design very good, as you can clearly see what abilities you have, as well as your progress in the game (in the screen shot, the player has not gained the item in the big chest, they are on the 4th dungeon- so my estimate is halfway through the Dark World). It is easy to select the item, and the Sword is automatically assigned to the B Button. A Button is your action button, whereas Y (3DS version) is the item button. The item menu had a slight redesign for the 3DS where only one bottle is displayed, until it is selected then a sub-menu pops up with bottles and their contents. Interesting to note, Link cannot jump or fly in this game or indeed the "sequel" A Link Between Worlds.

It starts on a rainy night where Link and his uncle are awoken from their sleep by a female telepathic voice asking to "Help Me". His uncle (a former knight) goes to the Castle to see if he could help. However, when Link goes to investigate, he finds his uncle dying in a corridor. Taking up the sword and shield (automatically equipped) Link now sets forth to free the trapped Princess Zelda from the evil wizard Agahmin. And so the epic quest begins.

The game is split into two main quests: the first to retrieve the Master Sword, which is the only sword that can defeat evil. This requires Link to gain 3 medallions, and the Book of Mudora which translates ancient Hyrulean into modern Hyrulean. After he gains the Master Sword and defeats the evil wizard Agahmin for the first time, he now has to journey into the Dark World to rescue the 7 Maidens (including Princess Zelda) who can help in the final battle. It is a very long game, with the added side quests which reward the player with upgraded weapons, shields and more health hearts which are a standard feature in Zelda games (the author acknowledges that isn't unique to Zelda franchise or games alone). Normally in any dungeon, the item found is the one you need to defeat the boss. Some of the many upgrades include: Sword, Boomerang, Shield, and finally arrows (only the Silver arrows can defeat Ganon). You can also increase your bomb, arrow and magic capacity by visiting certain fairies. 

ALttP/ Four Swords GBA packfront (USA)
The Capcom (responsible for the Oracle Series on GBC) Four Swords add-on on the GBA part of the game requires another player via the GBA to GBA link cable, (this was rectified in the Gamecube's Four Swords Adventures, and the 3DS Virtual Console Four Swords Anniversary game where only 1 player was required to play the game, with the additional option of up to 4 players being able to play. This add-on required 4 Links to work together to gain items/ treasure, and after this was complete a final question in the form of 10 riddles for the solo player with the bug catching net. The idea of Four Swords (aka the Four Swords Trilogy) was later expanded into Minish Cap, where for brief periods of time in certain places Link could "divide" himself up to 4 copies with basic abilities (mirror the original Link). One could also argue that Triforce Heroes (not officially in the Zelda timeline) could also owe its origins to Four Swords. The Entrance to the add-on feature is in the Dark World on the right hand side of the pyramid, and only be entered once the original game is completed.

Zelda games released after A Link to the Past owe a lot to this game. For example, Link's most famous weapon the Master Sword and the Light Arrows are introduced in this game. From a musical point of view, some of more famous musical cues including Zelda's theme originated here. The concept of the Ocarina, the key musical instrument that features in a lot of Zelda games began in A Link to the Past (not Ocarina of Time as some people believe). In latter games, even as soon as Link's Awakening the role of the Ocarina was expanded to play individual songs which did a certain task.  

In Link's Awakening, one of the 3 songs is a warp song, one "restores" the dead, and the other is a song of Awakening. A Link to the Past also has a direct effect on the handheld games by using its MODE 7 viewpoint, a slightly tilted view of the world so nothing is missed. This viewpoint has continued on all handheld Zelda games up to DS Spirit Tracks to date. Also the iconic spin attack used here for the first time (to the author's everlasting gratitude!- Read my NES Legend of Zelda review for the reason why) has become a standard feature of Zelda games ever since.

Helmasaur King- an early form of King Dodongo
This game is one of my favourite Legend of Zelda games, particularly as its on the GBA and 3DS virtual console, so I can take it wherever I go. When Nintendo did their collector's disc featuring; N64 Ocarina of Time, N64 Majora's Mask, NES Legend of Zelda and NES Adventure of Link, the SNES' A Link to the Past was conspicuously absent. The 3DS Virtual console version works best on the newest 3DS consoles, however the GBA add-on Four Swords wasn't included as Nintendo had previously released Four Swords Anniversary on 3DS Virtual Console only.

An Early Zora 
Some of the more familiar races are introduced here, but within the space of two games (from A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening to Ocarina of Time) there was a massive redesigning of the Zora and the Goron races. Originally both are 'enemies ' where the Gorons temporarily turn to stone when struck with a weapon, and most of the Zoras will fire fireballs at Link. In Ocarina of Time, these two races became Link's allies with different abilities, history and look.

Light World Overworld Map of Master Sword (1st) Quest
As you can see from the map opposite, the angle showcases the Mode 7 viewpoint that is seen throughout the game. This is half of the world of a Link to the Past, but one where you will walk around a lot. However there are 9 warp points that once the Ocarina is obtained makes Link's life a little easier. These warp points do not exist in the Dark World however, and some puzzle solving is needed to travel around the Dark World.  The amount of detail is beautiful, with the shading and colour range. But that's not all... the player  can zoom in too. This overworld zoom feature becomes more promient in Minish Cap with the unlocked items showing on the map.

For me as a Zelda fan, this game showcases the SNES' abilities and changed the design of menus, maps and game design in general. The amount of side quests, and the Mario homage (look for Mario's picture inside houses), the introductions of Link's most deadly enemy the Cucco!, the Legendary Master Sword, the Ocarina, and the many weapons that became more developed as the series progressed . This is where the Zelda games of today truly began vtheir origins, and despite playing it multiple times, I still come back and enjoy playing it anew, whether it is on the big screen, or on the go with the 3DS. This game will still be played for many years to come and is the perfect example of Nintendo's innovation, game design and excellent storytelling. 

In fact I do highly recommend reading Akira Himekawa's Legend of Zelda manga series as an excellent accompaniment to the main game.

My only hope is that the BS (Broadcast Satellaview) Zelda versions- Ancient Stone Tablets and Triforce of the Gods (only released in Japan at time of writing) are one day released in the Western World

Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap

Year released: GBA 2004
3DS Virtual Console 2011 (3DS Ambassador Programme only)
Publisher: Nintendo

This game is connected to the Legend of Zelda Four Swords trilogy (the prequel, with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures being the other two) where the main villain is Vaati not Ganon. As with all Zelda games there is a theme relating to nature; this time size is the main focus of the game. Specifically normal (Hyrulian) or Minish (i.e. mini-very small) size and how certain things become available when you are normal/ small. Minish Cap is slightly confusing as the game also refers to the Minish as the Picori (could be localisation/ translation as to why there are two names both referenced in the game).

The graphics are similar to A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening, but with the sharpening and greater detail allowed due to the tilted overview positioning of the camera. Again like most Gameboy games, it is very brightly coloured but some attempt at shading / tones has been made (see screenshot below) which allows more realism.

The story is set at the 100th year of the Picori Festival where people of Hyrule celebrate the mysterious and tiny Picori who helped them defeat Ganon by giving Hyrule's Hero a special sword and a golden light force. According to legend there is a secret gateway that allows access to the Sacred Sanctuary (Link to the Past reference). There is a swordfighting competition for the winner to touch the sacred Picori Blade and gain a special sword from the Royal Swordsmaster (Link's Uncle Smith). Mysterious stranger Vaati is the winner who wants the golden light force and has turned Link's childhood friend, Princess Zelda, to stone (Zelda as a stone statue was re-used in the DS game Phantom Hourglass). To return Zelda to normal, Link is chosen by the King to seek the Picori to repair the broken Four Sword blade caused by Vaati. The Picori can only be seen by children, and with the exception of the Royal Family, are considered a myth/ childhood story.  On his journey Link rescues an  enigmatic, green, talking cap called Ezlo, and the two join forces to create the Four Sword from the four Elements, the only blade to restore Princess Zelda and defeat Vaati. I'm not going to reveal Ezlo's secret, play the game to find out.

Link vs. Boss Gleerok in the Cave of Flames

One of the great things about a Zelda game is that it honours the past while introducing new enemies, characters, weapons, scenarios that in turn get honoured in future Zelda games. Like with all Zelda games there are a few side quests that lead to very useful items and power ups (like health Hearts) and weapons found in dungeons are normally used to defeat the boss (see picture opposite). Minish Cap does all of this and is of a good playable length depending on how many side quests the player does.

New tools/ weapons have been introduced, such as the Mole Mitts (digging- replacing the shovel), Gust Jar (wind- attract, repel), Cane of Pacci (flips objects- I should note that there is also a  Cane of Pacci in a Link to the Past, but the feature was to create blocks/ magical platforms and used magic meter, Minish Cap does not have a magic meter which is why this Cane of Pacci is under new weapons), remote bombs (player triggered), Grip Ring (for climbing walls) and the Four Sword (allows Link to split into 4 copies- useful for multiple switches, moving big blocks and defeating enemies). New enemies are also introduced such as the Chuchus (colour coded for attacks), Puffstool, golden Ropes/Octoroks/ Tektites (harder to kill but bring huge rupee rewards). 

However, Minish Cap has not forgotten its roots, quite a lot of the references are from Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, some examples below. Some old favourites such as: Ocarina of Wind (warps from one place to another), and classic weapon bow and arrows (including light arrows upgrade where the coins are not deducted per arrow fired and the number of maximum arrows can be increased via trading), the shield upgrade to the Mirror Shield, bombs, Pegasus Boots (speed boost), flame lantern, Rocs Cape (Oracle Series, or Roc feather upgrade, for jumping), Flippers, Power Bracelets (Lifting). Old friends such as the witch from A Link to the Past, Gorons, the 3 Great Fairies (renamed in Minish Cap), Tingle (Majora's Mask) and Cucco Lady (aka Anji; Ocarina of Time), and the 3 Oracles from the Oracle Series (Nayru, Din and Farore, named after 3 A Link to the Past Goddesses) make a cameo. Familiar enemies such as Keese, Ropes (aka snakes), Octoroks (NES Legend of Zelda), Moblins, Business Scrubs (once defeated are very helpful), Bob-Ombs, Stalfos, Tektites, Like-Likes (and Rupee Likes), Floor/ Wall Masters and Wizzrobes (normal, fire, ice) are also present. Also let's not forget the secret entrances that need to be blown away!

Trading and collecting is a big part of Minish Cap, with Kinstone fusion playing a big role. Kinstones are special medallions that need to be matched together to make something happen- a new entrance, new abilities, new people to talk to or treasure. There is also a prize if you make enough fusions. A side quest trading game is the Mysterious SeaShells, (first seen in Link's Awakening to gain the Level 2 Sword, they make a return to collect figurines or Gashapon- random draw of toy capsules). The prizes for a complete set are a piece of heart and a sound test from the game.
Another side quest are the Blade Brothers, 9 Ninja Brothers who will teach Link new sword techniques and improve his speed on certain tasks. For example, one brother will show him rockbreaker (uses the sword to smash pots) or the Downward Thrust (Roc's Cape and Sword combo). Plus there is the usual in game help in the form of Tiger Scrolls (sword techniques learnt), and the Swordsman's Newsletter which gives clues to power up weapons. There is also the Cucco finding game (from Kakariko Village in Ocarina of Time), which releases more rupees and a piece of Heart (another typical Zelda feature- the pieces of Heart and weapons upgrade quests).

A feature that I'm particularly impressed with is the map screen. The overall map is there (that increases on areas explored), but the player can zoom in and explore each area in detail (similar to Link's Awakening). This detail also shows the player the bonuses unlocked (new entrances/ people always are available while treasures are only available until Link deals with them). This feature is reminiscent of A Link to the Past where dungeons are shown. The menu screens are brilliantly designed- side scrolling, with the weapons allotted to a space and the picture of the actual weapon goes into assigned button (like TV console versions) when chosen. If you have played any Zelda game before, the controls will make sense, but they are simple enough to pick up without using the manual.

This game is a perfect addition to the handheld Zelda series for all ages and abilities of gamers. The controls are easy to use, and the game is definitely re-playable- so value for money. Minish Cap was the fourth original game released on Gameboy (Link's Awakening/ DX, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons being the other three), and the only original game released on GBA (but the Oracle Games do acknowledge the use of a GBA). I am excluding the Four Swords game add on to the Link to the Past cartridge as you needed a GBA to GBA cable and another player to play (this has been rectified in Four Swords Anniversary-3DS and Four Swords Adventures where a single player can play on their own as well as multi-player). This game is one that is of good length, challenging puzzles, brilliant side quests, and like the other Zelda's has scored over 90% in Nintendo Official Magazine. This is a must play game.

18 Sep 2013

Disney Princess GBA

Platform: GBA
Publisher: Disney Interactive/ THQ
Year: 2003

The first game in the Disney Princess handheld series, this features the 6 classic Princesses: Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel (Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Cinderella, Jasmine (Aladdin) and Snow White. I personally like this game especially as compared to the others. It reminds me of Mario is Missing, with the side scrolling action, but the Princesses whilst pixelated DO resemble their cartoon selves quite accurately, and beautifully drawn backgrounds and layout (story tale book). I'm 29 (as of 2013), and I still enjoy replaying this game from 10 years ago, and wish it was released on the 3DS virtual console (especially as classic Disney platform games: Duck Tales and Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion are being re-released in HD on the next gen consoles).

By collecting 100 coins per level and a total 8 "treasure stamps" per Princess, each Princess turns from her everyday self to her glittering self, including a locket with a picture of her Prince inside. She also gains a magical tiara and a special gem. I am one of those people who wants to collect everything in the game (100%)

A password feature is the only save feature of the game, and the 3 difficulty levels just grant more hearts (3,5, or 7) or more time in the timed levels, and the player also has infinite lives with a replay of the level if "failed". This is clearly marketed at girls with the pink packaging, and the Disney Princess related music (not bad for a GBA game- and again definitely a lot better than later games). The game might benefit from voice overs for text, which could be hard for younger gamers to understand, but a minor point as the game is not too text heavy.

With the exception of Cinderella, who has 2 levels, each of the other Princesses has 3 levels with the third level being the Villain level: Ursula (Ariel), Malificient (Aurora), Gaston (Belle), Stepmother/ Lucifer the Cat/ Ugly Step Sisters (Cinderella), Evil Queen (Snow White), and Jafar (Jasmine). 

The level breakdown goes like this:
Cinderella vs. Ugly Step Sisters Dance Off
Cinderella: the first level is a search and find items for the Stepmother, whilst cleaning up after Lucifer against the clock. The second level is a dance off against the Ugly Stepsisters.

Snow White singing for help
Belle starts in the woods throwing snowballs at wolves and LaFue before entering the castle to find the Enchanted Servants and keys to access certain areas within a certain time limit. She then drops books on Gaston to stop him from capturing 4 of her friends: Chip, Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth and Lumiere.

Snow White is in the forest, singing to poisonous trees to put them to sleep temporally whilst collecting jewels to free the dwarves who have been turned into stones. Then the adventures heads to the Dwarves mine (on my copy the game is slightly faulty as its hard to see the entrances to the mines once the Dwarves have unblocked it. Snow White uses her voice to summon a Dwarf to clear the rocks but she has to have a pick axe to do so! Visit Happy for an extra pickaxe if you run out. Snow White must summon Grumpy to throw an apple at the Evil Queen (disguised as the old Hag) whilst dodging apples.

Aurora battling Malificient with magic wand
Aurora also starts in the woods trying to find her 3 Fairy Godmothers who have been turned into butterflies. She uses one of their wands to find their owner, but the wand disappears once this has been done, so any enemies must be put to sleep first! The second level is a bit tricker; using coloured potions to release the same coloured roses, Aurora must explore the castle, (great for trying to find the 100 coins and treasure stamps), with the ultimate aim to wake the castle via he throne room. Her final level is on Malficient's drawbridge (where Prince Phillip is kept in the film).
Ariel freeing the Merfolk

Ariel (in her mermaid form throughout the game) encourages the most exploration, and can be the most frustrating on the second level. Ursula and her two electric eels have captured Sebastian, King Triton and 17 Merfolk. The first level is to free Sebastian in a shipwreck, then the second level uses portals which are activated when freeing merfolk, and can be frustrating to navigate (and once past a certain point cannot go back), with the ultimate goal of freeing Ariel's father King Triton. Ursula's battle also uses the eels as a distraction for Ariel, but she is relatively easy to beat.

Jasmine battling the hardest boss Jafar
Jasmine is the most "gung-ho" of the Princesses if you exclude Ariel. She starts in the Cave of Wonders on the Magic Carpet, avoiding fire throwing statues and magic rotating swords to solve puzzles and free Genie from his lamp. Next in Agrabah, she avoids guards and uses Genie as a trampoline, to help gain access to the palace for her showdown with Jafar! I found Jafar the hardest to beat with his range of attacks (hot fire on the floor and missiles thrown at Jasmine), apparently there is some sort of pattern but it also depends where Jasmine is on screen to where Jafar aims his attacks, but destroy his staff with your sword and you have won.

The final level aka Special Stage is to gain the ultimate Tiara involves each of the 6 Princesses catching their magic jewels to restore the magic to their kingdoms (seen through an archway, with a very clever design of a lily pond in the foreground for Ariel's turn). Once this is done, the game is completed, but no real definitive ending e.g. a screen saying "The End".

This game is ideal for Disney Princess fans with a range of difficulty to help on the difficult bits. I would love to see this and other Disney games on the 3DS Virtual Console as some of these older "retro" games are better than their modern day equivalents, with better storytelling and puzzles with the target audience taken into account.
Special Stage: catching magic gems

20 Mar 2013

Wario Blast featuring Bomberman

North American Box Art
Platform: Nintendo Gameboy
Publisher: Nintendo / Hudson Soft
Date Released: 1995

Wario Blast featuring Bomberman is an adaptation of the classic Bomberman game. So if you are familiar with Bomberman games, there will be very little to surprise you here. This game was my introduction to Bomberman, and was the third game I brought for my classic Gameboy (The first two was Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and SuperMarioLand 2: 6 Golden Coins)

The story is Wario has come to steal treasure from the land of the Bombermen, and the player can choose to be the attacker (Wario) or the defender (Bomberman).

Level 1 Boss screenshot
There are 8 Levels with 4 sub levels. The first 3 are you vs the opposing character in one, two or three characters to kill before the time is up. Its best of three battles and its a replay if its a draw. At the end of the first 5 Boss battles, you receive a permanent power up: Kicks, Dashin', Trouncer (used with dash to temporaily disable the opponent against a wall), Liner (bombs in a line) Moto (on a motorbike able to jump fences).

On the Super Gameboy (SNES), or Gameboy Player (Gamecube). This game looks amazing in colour, on the big screen and a multi player option was available (according to Wikipedia). If Nintendo remade this game, then turning it into colour and having a multi player option would be cool selling points.

Personally I enjoyed playing as a Bomberman, and with the help of 4 digit passwords, the player could access their progress without having to restart the game from scratch.

In my opinion, this game should be made available on the 3DS Virtual Console, as its a little gem of a game.

6 Mar 2013

Secret Mysteries in London

Pack Front
Console: Nintendo 3DS 
Release Date: 2012 
Publisher: Licensed 4U/ MSL 

This is the first Hidden Object Adventure game on the 3DS, and frankly saying it’s a huge disappointment is an understatement.

I brought this game because I loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Nintendo DS) and Another Code: Two Memories (Nintendo DS) and Another Code: R (Wii) which are a mixture of puzzle and search and find games set to a story. And being the 3DS, I thought it would be just as good as the DS Another Code: Two Memories, which not only uses a unique feature of closing the DS to transfer a picture from one screen to another (like a stamp), but is an excellent story using the DS to its full advantage. 


Like other reviews, I found the search items inaccurate and unclear and using the hints allowed me to see what they are. The movement system terrible- you use the analogue stick to navigate with the 3D effect to zoom in, and I found some of the room was unavailable to explore which annoyed me, as it was. It was jerky and movement seemed fixed, and full of bugs as the game froze repeatedly. I took it back to GAME for a full refund. It’s the worse game I have ever played in 20 years of gaming and the first one I have never finished. 

My advice? Buy one of the other games mentioned in this review, or if you have a PC, DS or i-phone (may be on other platforms too but these three I definitely know about), Broken Sword: Director's Cut, which is another good mystery adventure.

11 Nov 2012

Super Princess Peach

Year released: DS 2006
Publisher: Nintendo

It's a crazy idea, but the damsel in distress becomes the hero! Super Princess Peach is like the Super Mario series in that it’s a platformer and is bright and colourful. However, while clearly being marketed for girls, it has had mixed reviews.

Here is the storyline. Bowser is fed up of losing against brothers Mario and Luigi, and has managed to capture them and Toads (mushroom people) on Vibe Island. Its up to Princess Peach and mysterious talking umbrella Perry to rescue them. What is great about this game is that if you are familiar with Super Mario games, you will recognise the characters, scenario/ levels, enemies and 'quests'. This is quite a short game, but it was designed that way as its target audience (4 and above) generally have a short attention span.

It's good to cry (Gloom Vibe)
Vibe Island is a land of emotion aka vibes. Peach has 4 to choose from: calm (green), this is a healing vibe, and heals hearts, Joy (yellow), Peach can float and becomes a cyclone, gloom (blue) crying makes things grow, gives a speed boost and Rage (red), useful for burning bridges and enemies as well ground pounding. Perry the umbrella is also used like a Swiss Army knife; he becomes a submarine, a floating device, a destroyer of enemies and blocks (hit them) and swallow enemies to refill the Vibe gauge.
Hell Hath No Fury...

Minigames use the stylus and microphone. But the main game is 60% D-pad controlled, with the 4 vibes in the shape of hearts on the touch screen (40% stylus), and a picture of Peach who reacts to events. Help is also given via Perry blocks (square block with Perry's face on) that when hit by Perry gives a helpful hint about gameplay or instructions. Likewise new abilities give a brief overview on how to use them and these likewise are very simple to do.


10 Nov 2012

Bomberman Land Touch 2 DS

Bomberman Land Touch 2
European Cover
Year Released: 2008
Publisher: Hudson/ Rising Star Games
Platform: DS

This is similar to the first game, in that protagonist Cheerful White and his friends Cute Pink, Cool Black, Kid Blue, Bookworm Green and Giant Gold are on their way to the latest amusement park Bom-Bom Kingdom where the magical Star Bomber and new character Aqua the Acrobat live. However in this sequel, there is an evil magician called Evil Bomber too and more story based action with more bombs and two routes through the game depending on which girl you help the most; Cute Pink or Aqua.

The mini games are called attractions, and there are a few from the first game such Bomb Tunes, Don't Fall, Sink or Swim and Bomb Factory, but there are many new ones such as Dicey Ice, Off the Rails, Got the Moves, Think Tank (which is the hardest game for me). Like before the first time you play an attraction you win the zone piece, and the second time you win a token, which can be spent on items and special event tickets (a new feature of the game). Special Events include: a fishing game, boat ride, a dance show, soccer and basketball games, sumo wrestling, and a railcart ride. There are also the Bomber Houses where Cheerful White can get a Boss piece once he has defeated a zone boss.

There are more pieces to collect in Bomberman Land Touch 2 and more bombs and quirky outfits to use including a snake charmer which allows Cheerful White to reach new heights, a soccer bomb, a basketball bomb, as well as favourites water bomb, ordinary bomb. New outfits include dressing up as Star Bomber and Evil Bomber, and new accessories to help Cheerful White access new areas including keys, a rubber ring, and a ninja throwing star and a magic broom.

There are more characters to interact with including a Zorro type bomber called Thief Bomber, Ninja Bomber, a Indiana Jones type bomber, the Zone bosses who have their own special areas within their zone- a cowgirl called Queen in a circus tent, a giant in armour called Ace who lives in the Sunny Tower, Star Bomber in his Castle within Star Zone, Evil Bomber in his Evil Palace in Earth Zone, and Jack with his steed a rocking horse in Star Zone. Helping the player with a hint is 3 wise fortunetellers located in Sunny, Star and Moon zones.  

Mini Game: Soccer Strike!
Like before the Info Booths are used as Warp Points, as well as places to exchange tokens for various items/ events vouchers. At one point in the game, the attractions and the warp booths become unavailable until certain tasks have been completed.

For me this is the better of the two games, as its longer and there are more variety of games that use different skills- memory, timing, observation skills (You're the One), and learning is fun with counting games, colour based games (Reel 'Em In, Bomb Factory), stylus control (Pogo Jumper, Raft Swing, Don't Fall), memory (Dare to Compare, Draw the Line) , and breath control (Smooth Sailing, Carpet Ride). 

Bomberman Land Touch! DS

Year released: DS 2007
Publisher: Rising Star Games/ Hudson

This puzzle/ action game expands on the Bomberman universe to include new characters, scenarios and lots of mini games within a story! There are a few different modes; Attraction Mode where you can replay all of the attractions you have cleared, Story Mode, Battle House (play against up to 5 players via Wi-Fi in the attractions), and classic Bomberman- which you can use Wi-Fi to connect to up to 7 other players. There is also another surprise when you have completed the game!

Protagonist Cheerful White and his five friends; Kid Blue, Bookworm Green, Cool Black, Cute Pink (the girl) and Giant Gold are on Bomber Island, a new cool amusement park with 5 themed zones; Castle, Club, Heart, Diamond and Spade to be explored and different items to collect in your quest to be the new Pirate King. Each of the zones have 25 zone pieces, coin tokens, 1 zone stamp, 1 treasure stamp and 1 Boss Stamp to collect. Cheerful White will also play against each of his friends in each of the 4 card suit zones to win a Rival Stamp. Each completed Stamp set is worth a zone piece from the Info Booth (warp points). The Info Booths are also used as places to exchange your tokens for specialised bombs (normal mode) or characters (hard mode).
One of the "Attractions"
The DS touch screen and microphone are used, but favours the touch screen more in this game. You use the stylus to move Cheerful White around and interact with objects. Mini games were becoming quite popular at this time, but this is one of my favourites. The graphics are bright and colourful, the in game help is useful in the form of emails which are quite easy to read. There are two difficulty levels- normal and hard (this only appears when the normal mode has been completed), and within each mode are two chances to play the games- the first to clear it (if you fail, you can use a gold token to reduce the requirement) and the second to win a gold coin token beating a higher score/ time.

In game help is provided on Normal Mode via the Bombpad and emails. On the Hard mode, the help hints are taken away. Any challenges from your rivals, and the Zone Boss, come from the emails. You can also keep track on what stamps you have, and what equipment (headwear, clothes and bombs) are currently equipped, as well as saving. The graphics are bright and colourful, what you expect from a game aimed at 5 upwards. But its definitely challenging for adults too with its variety of puzzles that make you think.

I'm generally not a fan of mini games, but I made an exception for this game and its DS sequel because they were so fun to play with a story and characters that made me smile. It probably does help that I am a huge fan of the Bomberman series. I definitely recommend this game, its one of those hidden gems, and the sequel (Bomberman Land Touch! 2) is even better!

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening / DX

The opening Screen
Gameboy: 1993
Gameboy Color DX version: 1998
3DS Virtual Console: 2011
Publisher: Nintendo

This was my introduction into the Legend of Zelda (Zelda to the fans) universe and what an introduction it was! 
Link's Awakening  is the only game in the series that does not feature Zelda herself. However like most Nintendo made games there are certain cameos that appear; Yoshi, a 'Princess Peach' photo, and one of the characters Tarin bears a striking resemblance to Nintendo's famous Italian plumber, with the Cucco Keeper looking like his younger brother Luigi. Even some of the enemies such as Goombas, Chain Chomps, Piranha Plants and Pokeys make an appearance. The graphics are the same to SNES A Link to the Past (1991) and this the first official Nintendo handheld console game (excluding Game and Watch series of course). In this review I have referred to the levels as dungeons even though the word dungeon is not used during the story, but it can be easier for the reader to understand the term.

According the manual the story is that Link, having successfully defeated Ganon, is returning home by boat after a "quest of enlightment"- a storm occurs and Link finds himself shipwrecked on the mysterious Koholint Island. So far so good? Well it wouldn't be Zelda or a Nintendo made game without a twist! [Spoiler Alert!] This island is nothing but a dream created by the mythological Wind Fish! In order to leave the Island, Link must find 8 Siren Instruments that will wake the Dreamer, who resides in the egg featured in the title screen.
Colour Level: make the red blue
The DX version was remade especially for the Gameboy Color and features a special colour dungeon where knowledge of colour yields Link with either an attack or a defence power up.

The dungeons are excellently designed and the puzzles do require some skill and thought to complete. The subquests are also engaging, allowing the player (if like me wanting to collect and complete 100% of the game) about 2-3 hours of gameplay. An example of this is the trading game, gain something to give to someone else to eventually gain an reward. Like its predecessors, the NES Legend of Zelda and SNES A Link to the Past, the gameplay POV is third person/ overhead predominately but with some side scrolling elements like NES Adventure of Link to allow special abilities such as jump to be fully and the best elements of the games remain while introducing new concepts, weapons, abilities, characters and enemies to challenge and engage the player. 

I personally like my games to have replay value and Link's Awakening doesn't disappoint and is proven by its two re-releases (and the first Gameboy Color game to be released on the 3DS Virtual Console).

For me, the Legend of Zelda series stands for excellence, value for money by engaging and challenging gameplay, replayability (these games stand the test of time), and honouring both its origin, and introducing new elements, which in turn will be reused and form part of the legend. The series is a benchmark of excellence that all games in the action, adventure, RPG (role playing game) genres need to live up to. 

Link's Awakening is an excellent introduction both in terms of the Zelda franchise/ universe and in terms of the handheld Zelda games (which just get better and better in this author's opinion!) and despite the game being 19 years old, its still can be played and enjoyed by players old and new.

Boss Battle: the number of blocks is also a clue

9 Nov 2012

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 DS

European Cover
Platform Reviewed: DS
Publisher: WB Games/ TT Fusion
Year released: 2010

I first played this game on the i-Phone, which is almost an exact copy (or port to use the video game term) of the DS game, but with higher quality graphics, no one but Harry and Weasley twins in the Room of Requirement and different outlines for the spells courtesy of the touch screen. The picture quality of the DS game does improve when you play this game on the 3DS. The dual screen is used really well with the "Marauders Map" style map graphics appear on the top screen with useful information, such as where to go next and how many objects are in that area.
Unusually, this game is not made by Electronic Arts (EA) who have the Harry Potter license but by TT Fusion who have successfully made quite a few Lego based films (Star Wars episodes 1-6, Clone Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and Batman). What TT Fusion has done is to include both content from the films and the books and added a bit of Lego humour and adapted everything to Lego. The Harry Potter franchise still comes under WB Games however.

The cut scenes are used sparingly and often lend themselves more from the films than the books, but still include the key events from both. No actual voices are used just sounds, which are adapted to a male or female tone.
Screenshot: Charms Lesson

You start in the Room of Requirement, which has a character creator, objects to practice spells on/ or gain money, which can be used to buy items in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes shop. The shop contains the cut scenes you have unlocked, handy hints (which are also displayed when you first encounter it in the game), and other useful items . In each level you have the option of collecting 5 yellow Wizard Hats, 2 Chocolate Frog cards (which in turn unlock a character from the first 4 years), and up to a total of 15 red 2x2 bricks (red square with 4 studs on it), which grant you special skills like recharging your hearts or making someone dance! Currency is not the Galleon, Sickle and the Knut, but blue, gold and silver Lego studs respectively.
What is really clever is that each character has special abilities which means you have to play as different characters to complete levels e.g. Professor McGonagall and Herimone have the Time Turner ability, "Big" characters such as Hagrid, Dudley, Crabbe and Goyle, have the strength to move heavy objects, while Harry has ParselTongue, the Patronus Charm and the Invisibility Cloak on his side (but weirdly not Riddiklus- the banishing of Boggarts). Ron and the other characters however fill that gap. Dobby and the Goblins have a special game only they can access, and teachers/ Prefects have one of their own too. Some characters have pets that can find hidden objects in the ground. There are also ghosts to collect in the Chocolate Frog Trading Cards, which allows you to pass through bars to access new areas. This allows the player to collect new abilities on the replay option that becomes available once the level is cleared.

As the game goes on the levels became fewer but longer which is annoying when you have one item to find and gives the feeling of being rushed, but I guess there is so much to do in each episode it would be difficult to condense it. The touch screen is brilliantly used with the spells being drawn out and the option of using the control pad or the stylus to move your character (whomever you choose or make).

You can tell a lot of hard work with excellent attention to detail has gone into making this game, and one hopes that when they release years 5-7 that the same wonderful elements are in it too. My friend and I were discussing the DS game and we agreed on how we would improve it; a Knight Bus level- avoiding the traffic and collect studs/ objects. Or to play a Lego Quidditch match, on control Buckbeak in flight. But this is a really good game, best played on the 3DS as its boosts the picture quality which is the only real sticking point as the game is really good otherwise (this point is moot if played on the i-phone as picture quality is excellent).