[GAME REVIEW] Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Introduction

Call of Duty: Ghosts proved to be a success when it was released in 2013. However, particularly bad word-of-mouth ensured it was met with a poor fan response. Independent critics disliked it for the campaign’s litany of unfortunate implications whereas fans were unimpressed with its multiplayer capabilities – or lack thereof. Despite selling over nineteen-million copies, Call of Duty: Ghosts was considered by its creators to be a failure, thwarting any immediate attempts at creating a sequel. In order for the series to win back its wary fans, the creators realized they needed to shift gears.

Sledgehammer Games had co-developed the third and final entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy with Infinity Ward after much of the latter company’s key personnel was fired for what Activision CEO Bobby Kotick considered acts of insubordination. However, even before then, Sledgehammer had been working on an installment of their own entitled Call of Duty: Fog of War. Announced before the release of Modern Warfare 3, this game was to be set during the events of the Vietnam War. It would defy the series’ conventions by being an action-adventure game presented from a third-person perspective. The plans for this game were put on hold when Sledgehammer dedicated all of their efforts to seeing Modern Warfare 3 to completion.

Fog of War was then silently canceled when Sledgehammer began working on an entirely different project upon completing Modern Warfare 3. According to its director, Michael Condrey, the game’s engine had been built from scratch. On top of that, the game was to boast an advanced facial animation system using the same technology James Cameron sought to employ in his then-upcoming film Avatar 2. Even with a technological advancement other developers could only dream of possessing, Sledgehammer wasn’t done. In an attempt to capture the Hollywood sensibilities the AAA industry had been pursuing for some time, they recruited actor Kevin Spacey to portray a central character. With these enhancements, it seemed only natural that they would entitle the game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. All of the steps Activision and Sledgehammer took in order to get people talking about their game paid off when it received fairly positive reviews upon its 2014 release. Many critics called it the breath of fresh air the series desperately needed after the annual releases rendered it stale. With no shortage of hype surrounding this installment, was Advanced Warfare able to maintain the Call of Duty franchise’s relevance going into the eighth console generation?

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[GAME REVIEW] Bokosuka Wars II

Introduction

Kōji Sumii’s Bokosuka Wars proved to be a revolutionary game upon its 1983 debut on the Sharp X1. By commanding the forces of King Suren, players needed to smart tactics to defeat the evil King Ogereth. Having won a Software Contest held by ASCII Entertainment, Bokosuka Wars laid the building blocks for both real-time strategy and tactical role-playing games. Even now, it is considered one of most notable releases of the early 1980s in Japan. However, its reception in the West was far more mixed. Because it never saw an international release, it remains a practical nonentity among Western gamers. The few that are aware of its existence dismiss it as a half-formed action-adventure game due to primarily being exposed to its Famicom port, which significantly downplayed the strategy elements. Nonetheless, its impact on the medium is very real, and those who enjoy series such as Fire Emblem or Shining Force have Bokosuka Wars to thank for blazing the trail in the first place.

It seemed that the game would enjoy its status as an obscure, standalone, if highly influential title. However, in the year 2016, something unexpected happened. A sequel, simply entitled Bokosuka Wars II was released for various platforms, including Steam, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4. In the thirty-three-year interim between entries, the medium had changed quite a bit. While the original Bokosuka Wars was in a class of its own, people now had names for the genres it invented. In light of the incredible amount of evolution that took place between 1983 and 2016, what does Bokosuka Wars II have to offer?

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[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

Introduction

Although they didn’t move quite as many units as the preceding set of games, the Black and White versions of Pokémon were the basis of yet another success story for the juggernaut franchise. Their scenario was especially praised for its sophisticated story beats, with many considering it the spiritual successor to Shigesato Itoi’s lauded 2006 effort, Mother 3. Having sold millions of copies, that there would be a follow-up to these games was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, previous generations had a standalone version to complement the initial two games. With the versions being called Black and White, many fans anticipated that a “Grey” version was just around the corner. However, the development team felt such a choice clashed with the theme of contrasting opposites that ran throughout the original games. Therefore, in defiance of enthusiasts’ expectations, the successors to Black and White were to be direct sequels: Black 2 and White 2. With many considering the fifth generation the series’ shining moment, the idea of returning to Unova for a second adventure was highly appealing.

Feeling satisfied with how Black and White turned out, director Junichi Masuda handed the reins to Takao Unno for this project, though the former remained to help produce the games. Because these games were to heavily draw resources from the set directly preceding them, the development process went without incident. Black 2 and White 2 saw its domestic debut in June of 2012 before being released the following October in North America, Australia, and Europe. Although these games were well-received overall, the critical enthusiasm didn’t match that of their predecessors. This reflected in sales figures as well with a little under eight-million copies sold by March of 2013. Could there be something about these games not reflected by the numbers?

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[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Black and White

Introduction

By the time the fourth generation of Pokémon debuted with the Diamond and Pearl versions, Game Freak’s signature franchise gained a new lease on life. Though no longer the pop cultural juggernaut it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, gaming enthusiasts stopped dismissing the series as a fad from a bygone era, accepting it as a cornerstone of the medium. With Diamond and Pearl outselling the set of games that came before, Nintendo realized the series’ popularity hadn’t waned. In response to the fans’ enthusiasm, they began work on a sequel following the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver – remakes of the second-generation titles.

The fifth-generation games were officially announced in January of 2010. A spokesperson from the Pokémon Company stated that the new set of games were to debut later in the year for the Nintendo DS. Junichi Masuda, who directed Diamond and Pearl, said that several aspects would be revamped for the next generation. In April, the company’s official website was updated with the titles of these versions: Black and White. With the naming convention for the series electing to incorporate valuable metals and gemstones, Black and White sounded incredibly plain. Nonetheless, fans were excited to see what the series now had to offer. His ultimate goal with this project was to appeal to both newcomers and those who had not played the series in quite some time.

Pokémon Black and White were released domestically in September of 2010. International fans wouldn’t have to wait too long, for the games were released in Europe, North America, and Australia in March of 2011. Although the series had little trouble finding an audience, it wasn’t always a critical favorite. The first-generation games were outright dismissed as mediocre efforts by domestic critics, and while subsequent sets would fare slightly better, the fans took it upon themselves to keep the franchise afloat. That all changed when Black and White became the first set of games to garner a rare perfect score from Famitsu magazine. It fared just as well internationally with many critics feeling it to have been the single greatest generation in the franchise’s history thus far. These sentiments were reflected by the enthusiasts; throughout the remainder of the decade, the games sold over fifteen-million copies. Did Black and White move the franchise forward during its second wind?

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Super Mario Odyssey

Introduction

With Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, Yoshiaki Koizumi gave Nintendo’s mascot two unforgettable, interstellar journeys. Players would launch Mario through the reaches of space, often having him jump between planets in an effort to save Princess Peach. Both games were complete successes, selling well over five million units apiece. When playing them, it is clear Nintendo’s Tokyo branch gave it their all; the sheer amount of creativity it took to conceive such games is something that only occurs a scant few times per generation. Given that both games demonstrated Nintendo’s continued relevance going into the 2010s, a sequel would seem inevitable. This was easier said than done. How could anyone possibly go about following up not one, but two of the most monumental titles of its generation?

The year 2012 marked the launch of the Nintendo Wii’s successor: the Wii U. Despite its initially positive reception and launching with the latest installment in their popular New Super Mario Bros. subseries, consumers were slow to adopt this console. There were various reasons why this ended up being the case. Many people assumed the Wii U was a mere upgrade of the Wii rather than being a separate console. A larger strike against it, however, concerned its lackluster library. Although several highly praised games such as Bayonetta 2 and Super Mario 3D World would debut on the Wii U, they weren’t enough to sway the market in Nintendo’s favor. The general consensus among independent critics is that Nintendo jumped the gun in their attempts to release a console before Sony or Microsoft. Damningly, it was the first console to lose money for the venerable company. Compounded with their rivals releasing the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, Nintendo found themselves in a dire situation.

A journalist writing for The New York Times felt Nintendo’s hardware sales were comprised thanks to mobile gaming gaining steam around this time. The president of the company at the time, Satoru Iwata, felt they would cease to be Nintendo if they entered the market, though he eventually relented, securing a business alliance with mobile provider DeNA. Tragically, he would pass away on July 11, 2015 due to complications from cholangiocarcinoma – also known as bile duct cancer. He was 55.

Despite the fact that they retained a devoted fanbase, Nintendo’s fate looked grim with gamers gravitating towards the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and one of their greatest technical wizards dead. Even with the odds stacked against them, Nintendo had no intentions of giving up. As early as 2012, they drafted ideas for a console to follow the Wii U. However, they didn’t want to settle for making this new piece of hardware a mere successor to the Wii U or the portable 3DS. Tatsumi Kimishima, the new president of Nintendo, stated the new console was to provide a “new way to play” that would have a greater impact than the Wii U.

The company had historically always featured one handheld console and one home console in a given generation starting in the fourth. One of the criticisms lodged toward the Wii U concerned its GamePad. While players did enjoy using it, they wished it could be used as a standalone console. As it was, it would stop functioning if moved too far of a distance from the console. Therefore, this new console was to bridge the gap between Nintendo’s two major markets, being a portable home console.

Dubbed the Nintendo Switch, the console was released in March of 2017. Despite market analysts expressing skepticism over the Switch, it quickly became a bestseller, moving more units than the Wii U ever did within a year. Keeping to their strange pattern, a mainline Mario installment akin to Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy was not among the Switch’s launch titles. However, unlike the GameCube or the Wii, gamers wouldn’t have to wait long for Nintendo’s mascot to make a triumphant debut on the Switch.

Immediately after the release of Super Mario 3D World in late 2013, the same team began work on a new Mario installment with a little help from 1-Up Studio. This company was formally known as Brownie Brown – the company best known for having developed Mother 3 alongside Shigesato Itoi. Led by director Kenta Motokura, this new installment was going to revolve around the concept of surprise. Taking note of the surge in popularity of open-world sandbox gaming, Mr. Motokura and his team sought to make next Mario installment appeal to the series’ core audience. Up until that point, they had focused on capturing the attention of causal players.

This game, Super Mario Odyssey, was released in October of 2017. It was notable for having been released in the same year as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This made 2017 the first calendar year in which Nintendo released both a console Zelda installment and a console mainline Mario game since 1986. On top of that, 2017 is popularly considered one of the greatest years in the medium’s history. With no shortage of strong competition, did Super Mario Odyssey stand out from the crowd?

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Super Mario Galaxy 2

Introduction

Though Nintendo paved the way for 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 in 1996, the fifth console generation saw them gradually lose their dominance as a result of driving away a significant portion of their third-party support. This downward spiral continued into the sixth console generation when Sony’s PlayStation 2 proceeded to dominate its competition. Even the most critically acclaimed GameCube titles such as Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker did nothing to turn the tides in Nintendo’s favor. To make matters even worse, Nintendo began gaining a reputation as a kiddie company as a result of mainstream releases on the PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox gearing toward a more mature audience. In order to remain in the business, Nintendo realized they had to do something drastic. Their lifeline came in the form of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. With its novel motion controls, the Wii soon found itself outselling its more technically capable competition when it enticed gamers and non-gamers alike.

Though an instant bestseller, those who had been following Nintendo since the NES days were asking the same question. Where is Mario? Nintendo’s mascot had, without fail, featured in some way in every one of the venerable company’s home console releases. Even the GameCube had Luigi’s Mansion, which cast his brother in the lead role, yet when the Wii launched, he was nowhere to be seen. Fans received their answer shortly after the Wii’s launch: Mario was to star in a game that would see him travel the cosmos. The name of the game was Super Mario Galaxy. When it debuted in 2007, the reception was unlike anything the franchise had seen before. It was commonly said that while Super Mario 64 invented 3D platforming, Super Mario Galaxy perfected it. Yoshiaki Koizumi again found himself in the lead director’s chair, and after adding a personal, auteur touch, created one of the most beloved games of its generation.

As soon as Nintendo’s Tokyo branch finished work on Super Mario Galaxy, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto approached the team and suggested they should produce a follow-up. Originally, the team was going to create a version of Super Mario Galaxy that featured slight variations its planets in a manner reminiscent of the Master Quest edition of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Because it wasn’t intended to be a true sequel, their tentative titles for this game were Super Mario Galaxy More and Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, and they expected it to be finished in a year’s time. At first, they implemented elements that were scrapped from Super Mario Galaxy. Before they knew it, they were adding so many new ideas to the game that they decided the end product should be a fully-fledged sequel. Joined by one of the series’ central figures, Takashi Tezuka, Yoshiaki Koizumi set forth with the Nintendo EAD Tokyo team once more to make it into reality. To reflect this change, the game was redubbed Super Mario Galaxy 2.

By the seventh console generation, gamers accepted that every one of Nintendo’s consoles would boast but a single mainline Mario release. This was especially obvious when observing the series’ 3D installments. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64 while the GameCube saw the debut of Super Mario Sunshine – neither installment would receive a direct sequel. However, this could be seen as early as the fourth console generation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being more of a standalone spinoff than a true sequel to Super Mario World. The fans read the writing on the wall, and with Super Mario Galaxy being such a monumental game, they assumed they had seen the last of Nintendo’s mascot for the rest of the Wii’s lifespan. They could never have expected Nintendo to unveil the existence of a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2009 in Mr. Miyamoto’s private conference. He even stated that the game would have 95%-99% new features – the rest being holdovers from Super Mario Galaxy.

Although Mr. Miyamoto stated the game was nearing completion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 would eventually be delayed to 2010 because New Super Mario Bros. Wii had been released in late 2009. The game became playable for the first time during the Nintendo Media Summit in February of 2010 shortly after a second trailer had been released. Here, its North American release date was revealed: May 23, 2010. Seeing a release in other regions later in the year, and in the case of South Korea, early 2011, Super Mario Galaxy 2 enjoyed the same level of universal acclaim as its predecessor. It is now considered one of the greatest games of all time, and many have declared it the single greatest entry in the Wii’s library. Could Super Mario Galaxy 2 have possibly surpassed such an acclaimed title?

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Marvel’s Spider-Man

Introduction

In the 2010s, Connie Smith, Sony’s Vice President of Product Development, approached Insomniac Games, wishing to speak with CEO Ted Price. Following the release of Insomniac’s Xbox One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive, Ms. Booth had an interesting proposal, suggesting the studio work on a game based on a Marvel property. As the company had built its reputation with original properties such as Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank, Mr. Price’s response was, by his own admission, “fairly neutral”. He had never considered working with an existing property. However, while the CEO had his reservations, his development team’s attitude was another story; they were ecstatic over the prospect of working with a Marvel property.

It’s plain to see why the team would be so enthusiastic; during the 2010s, Marvel was at the height of their mainstream popularity, having myriad success stories with the cinematic universe they created. No other company attempting to create such a long-running film franchise experienced the success Marvel had. It was to the point where the average filmgoer could expect a quality release bearing the Marvel brand on an annual basis. This success had profound ramifications both inside and outside of the industry. Many other companies, including their prominent rivals, DC, would attempt to creative their own shared cinematic universes, yet they didn’t quite meet the same levels of critical admiration. Perhaps the most profound impact the Marvel Cinematic Universe had on pop culture was giving their more obscure characters a new lease on life. Though certain heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man were well-known before the universe’s inception in 2008, its success allowed comparatively obscure characters such as Black Panther and Ant-Man to become household names.

Once Insomniac accepted Ms. Smith’s proposal, Jay Ong, the head of games at Marvel decided it was time for a change. According to him, they had previously released games based on or directly tied to the release of films that adapted their properties. While this led to a significant output, it also meant developers didn’t have time to create anything impressive or memorable. It did result in Treyarch’s well-received adaptation of the film Spider-Man 2 in 2004, but fans dismissed most of these titles as shovelware, and they cemented the generally negative perception of licensed games as a result. Fortunately, Marvel was not interested in a game based on an existing film or comic book story, giving Insomniac carte blanche to choose any character they wished and develop an original plot for them. The team thought long and hard about which character to use, and they ultimately settled on Spider-Man, citing his relatability and charming everyman persona, Peter Parker. Activision had been responsible for publishing the games based off the 2000s Spider-Man trilogy, but the franchise was now truly in the hands of Insomniac and Sony.

Though the team started off excited about the project, they also found it to be a daunting experience. With the wealth of stories and versions across almost every conceivable medium, how could they possibly do such an enormously popular character justice? Art director Jacinda Chew, on the other hand, saw this as an opportunity, and subsequently interviewed the Marvel staff members who were the most familiar with the character. From there, it was up to a team of writers led by Jon Paquette to create an original take on Spider-Man that still remained true to the character. Insomniac had even gone as far as receiving ideas from two comic book writers, Christos Gage and Dan Slott, the former of whom co-wrote the script. Though they drew upon many iterations of the character in order to understand what made a compelling Spider-Man story, Mr. Paquette was insistent on not drawing too much from any one version.

Development of this game, which would simply be titled Marvel’s Spider-Man, began in 2014 and took roughly four years to complete, seeing its release in September of 2018. Fans and critics alike were expecting Marvel’s Spider-Man to be, at best, a modest success. The game instead went on to become the sleeper hit of 2018, outselling the unanimously praised God of War and becoming the PlayStation 4’s killer app in the process. The game was praised for its good writing, solid combat engine, and successfully incorporating Spider-Man’s signature web-slinging abilities. Many critics called it the greatest superhero game ever made, comparing it favorably to Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Arkham City. Such was the extent of its positive reception that Jamie Fristrom, the man who programmed the web-slinging mechanics in the game based off of Spider-Man 2, had nothing but praise for Insomniac’s own take on them. Was Marvel’s Spider-Man truly the prolific company’s answer to the Batman: Arkham series?

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Metroid: Samus Returns

Introduction

The 2000s was arguably the most prolific decade for a majority of Nintendo’s big-name franchises. The Zelda franchise issued several beloved installments such as Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. At the same time, the Mario franchise became highly experimental; Super Mario Sunshine had the title character explore a tropical island with a highly pressurized water dispenser on his back while Super Mario Galaxy saw him explore the far reaches of space. However, Nintendo’s most unexpected move was in 2002 when the Metroid franchise saw not one, but two installments revitalize the franchise that had been dormant since the 1994 release of Super Metroid. One of these games, Metroid Prime, allowed the franchise to break into the third dimension. It was followed up with two sequels, forming what is considered one of the most solid trilogies in the medium. With the franchise proving its continued relevance in the face of their new competition, the future seemed bright for Metroid.

Indeed, going into the 2010s, enthusiasts were excited to play the upcoming Metroid: Other M. Retro Studios demonstrated the franchise’s flexibility with their imaginative scenarios, and Metroid: Other M would be a comparatively simplistic return to form courtesy of Yoshio Sakamoto, the man who directed Super Metroid. It seemed as though this new installment was geared to join Super Metroid and the Metroid Prime trilogy as one of the series’ hallmarks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. In a shocking turn of events, the same game that topped countless lists regarding the most anticipated titles of 2010 received anomalously bad word-of-mouth. By the end of 2010, the game failed to sell one-million units. Only two years after its release would it pass the threshold. This was an unthinkably dismal performance for a first-party Nintendo game.

The point of contention among most independent critics concerned its story. Mr. Sakamoto had poured a lot of his soul into the project, wishing to provide a definitive characterization of series protagonist Samus Aran. However, said characterization proved problematic for a majority of the enthusiasts who played it – not only abroad, but domestically as well. Consequently, the scenario was universally panned to the point where many critiques failed to mention the gameplay. Depending on one’s perspective, said gameplay was either passable or outright bad. Though the exact quality of Metroid: Other M was hotly debated, its status as a commercial disappointment couldn’t be contested.

For many years, there was no word of a new Metroid installment. The only game bearing the franchise’s name saw the light of day in 2015 under the name Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Because players felt it had little to do with the franchise, the game received a monumental preemptive backlash that persisted once it was released. Many enthusiasts resigned themselves to the fact that the Metroid franchise was effectively dead.

Luckily, all hope was not lost. Developers led by Yoshio Sakamoto began work on a new project in 2015 codenamed Matadora. Joining them on this endeavor was the Spain-based developer MercurySteam. They had previously pitched a Metroid game for the 3DS and Wii U. It was ultimately rejected, but Mr. Sakamoto took note of their interest in the series, and decided to collaborate with them. MercurySteam wished to remake Metroid Fusion, but Mr. Sakamoto instead suggested reimagining the series’ second installment, Metroid II: Return of Samus. He himself did not work on the classic Game Boy title, but he was enthusiastic about remaking it, believing it to be a vital part of the series’ lore. With the knowledge he and his company had developing Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, Jose Luis Márquez found himself in the director’s chair alongside veteran developer Takehiko Hosokawa.

As it turns out, their project couldn’t have been timed any better. Metroid fans had been clamoring for a Metroid II remake for many years. It was to the point where one enthusiast, who went by the alias DoctorM64, took it upon himself to develop an unofficial remake titled AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake). For his troubles, Nintendo issued a cease-and-desist notice, and the game was taken offline. While fans were understandably upset, they later learned the biggest reason why Nintendo did what they did when they announced their own official remake. For his part, Mr. Sakamoto stated that, though he hadn’t seen the game, he appreciated the fan for caring so much about the series. On that note, DoctorM64 was just as excited about Nintendo’s project as Mr. Sakamoto himself. In fact, he bought a New 3DS XL with the specific purpose to play Nintendo’s Metroid II remake.

After much speculation, the game was released in September of 2017 for the 3DS under the name Metroid: Samus Returns. The Nintendo Switch had been released six months prior, but Mr. Sakamoto had declined releasing it on that platform due to the 3DS’s larger consumer base at the time. He also felt the dual screens allowing players to view the map during gameplay would be of an immense help. Upon release, Samus Returns was well-received. After a lackluster showing for a majority of the decade, it was seen as the return to form the series needed to stay relevant in the eighth console generation. Mr. Sakamoto had spent a majority of this decade a laughing stock among long-time enthusiasts – especially on message boards. Was Samus Returns able to restore the goodwill he lost?

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Introduction

Though Skyward Sword was released to a positive reception, certain players voiced their displeasure over the sheer amount of filler present and the hand-holding nature of the game. The latter aspect was especially ironic given the challenging nature of Skyward Sword. Series producer Eiji Aonuma, though mostly satisfied with what he and his team created, ended up agreeing with these reservations. The series’ next installment, A Link Between Worlds, seemed to openly defy the design choices behind Skyward Sword, featuring a terse narrative and a largely non-linear design. In an era when gaming placed a great emphasis on storytelling, A Link Between Worlds would have been a sleeper hit had it not been part of a famous franchise. Emboldened by this installment’s success, he and his team sought to “rethink the conventions of Zelda” for the series’ next console installment. He made their intent known at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo when their newest project was unveiled. He planned to reform dungeons and puzzles, the elements the series had hinged upon from the very beginning, and arrange them in a way to allow players to reach the end without ever engaging in the story. In other words, their next project was to be an open-world title.

The success of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series throughout the 2000s helped popularize these kinds of games. Players could fulfill mission objectives or explore the large world at their own leisure, occasionally completing a side objective to obtain a helpful reward. Despite the franchise’s success, it wouldn’t be until the 2010s that these open-world games took on a life of their own. Whether it was Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, or Just Cause, this style became the standard in the Western AAA scene. Such was the extent of its influence that even long-running series known for their linear structure saw sequels placing protagonists in a metaphorical sandbox. One of the most prominent examples of this phenomenon in action was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which not only drastically changed the series’ gameplay, but also received widespread acclaim for it.

In the face of these numerous success stories, Nintendo found themselves in something of a conundrum; they had never worked on a modern open-world game before. This was quite ironic given they themselves invented what many consider the first interpretation of an open-world game in the form of the original The Legend of Zelda in 1986. Though considered one of the most influential titles of its day, the series began gradually shifting away from the kind of design its debut installment codified. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link seemed like an anomaly when it forced players to adhere to a strict sequence. A Link to the Past was considered a return to form of sorts when it allowed players a degree of freedom in the game’s second half. The series could have continued on as it did with the developers placing all of their effort in gameplay like the Mario franchise. This changed when Yoshiaki Koizumi was allowed to pen the scenario for the series’ first handheld installment, Link’s Awakening. Suddenly, the man who was limited to outlining the instruction manual of A Link to the Past now found himself changing the direction of the series. To accommodate the fact that the plot of Link’s Awakening had a definitive beginning, middle, and end, developers strategically placed roadblocks to ensure players couldn’t deviate from the narrative’s intended sequence. Traces of the series’ debut were seen one last time in the second and third acts of Ocarina of Time before Majora’s Mask made the Link’s Awakening model the standard.

It wouldn’t be until A Link Between Worlds, which was released twenty-two years after the debut of A Link to the Past, that the exploration elements thought to have been completely abandoned made a triumphant return. However, creating a non-linear experience on the same scale as A Link to the Past was a relatively simple task. Translating that knowledge to the home console industry, which had long since adopted three-dimensional gameplay as its bread and butter, would prove significantly more challenging. Nonetheless, the team, led by Hidemaro Fujibayashi and Eiji Aonuma felt they were up for the task. Looking for inspiration, they felt it appropriate to extensively study a highly popular game that took the world by storm upon its 2011 release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

As gaming evolved, an interesting dichotomy emerged between Western and Eastern enthusiasts. This was especially noticeable when observing how the two cultures conceived role-playing games. Non-linear experiences were allowed to flourish in the West, for those kinds of enthusiasts preferred the freedom to do as they pleased without interference from the plot or any other outside influence. Meanwhile, the Japanese RPG was often maligned by Western enthusiasts for precluding the ability to explore on one’s own and forcing players to grind levels. Many of them were unaware their Eastern counterparts preferred their games to have a clear goal at all times and grinding levels tied into a common belief that hard work results in a proportionally satisfying payoff.

In other words, when Mr. Fujibayashi and Mr. Aonuma began this project, they had their work cut out for them. In order to bring these concepts to reality, they had to go back and examine the series’ debut installment with a fine-toothed comb.

Before they began developing this game in earnest, the developers designed a playable 2D prototype bearing the distinct 8-bit visuals of The Legend of Zelda to experiment with physics-based puzzles. To ensure everyone was on the same page and to recapture the original’s essence, the staff had to periodically cease working on the game. Whenever this happened, they were tasked with playing through The Legend of Zelda in its entirety. Over the course of this development cycle, the developers had played through the game at least ten times.

Their game was to be released on the Wii U, making extensive use of the touchscreen features on the console’s tablet. Developers then reconsidered when they found looking away from the main screen was distracting. Eventually titled Breath of the Wild, it was originally slated for a 2015 release. However, later in the year, Mr. Aonuma announced that it would be delayed to 2016. In April of that year, another delay was announced, but this time, it would be for a different reason. Around this time, Nintendo was working on their newest console: the Nintendo Switch. After having dominated the handheld market for the past four console generations, the Switch was to be a unique hybrid. Making use of a docking station, the gameplay projected itself onto a television screen. By removing it, one could easily transport it as though it were a tablet. Despite having a selection of quality games, the Nintendo Wii U was a commercial failure. To make their newest console all the more appealing, Breath of the Wild was to be one of the Switch’s launch titles. Because many people claimed to have purchased a Wii U purely for the sake of getting to play Breath of the Wild, a version would be made available for both consoles.

After much speculation, Breath of the Wild was at last released worldwide on March 3, 2017. Though the gaming press had no shortage of praise for the series, the universal acclaim previous titles had no trouble amassing seemed to be utterly dwarfed by how critics felt about Breath of the Wild. A mere few days after its release, countless critics were quick to call it a masterpiece and one of the greatest games ever made. This acclaim translated to a stellar commercial performance. By March of 2018, Breath of the Wild had moved nearly ten million copies across both platforms, making it the best-selling game in the franchise at the time.

When taking a look at what critics had to say about it, one would rarely find a less-than-perfect assessment. Despite this, fans of the series were slightly divided. As the game was being showered with praise, they took to aggregate review sites such as Metacritic to write negative pieces in protest. At one point, it boasted a 7.0 fan rating – a noticeable contrast to what critics had to say. Some fans accused the series of selling out to Western sensibilities while others, observing the greater amount of praise Breath of the Wild got compared to the latest open-world experiences such as Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry Primal, concluded that critics let the Nintendo brand cloud their judgement. It should also be noted that the mid-to-late 2010s marked a severe deterioration in the relationship between fans and critics. Fans would say critics were out of touch; critics insinuated fans had no taste. The takeaway is that while the mainstream media unanimously deemed Breath of the Wild one of the greatest games of the decade, fans weren’t completely convinced. Could the overwhelmingly positive coverage of Breath of the Wild have been the result of the critics’ close relationship with developers at the time? Did the fans overstep their boundaries?

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The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Introduction

With The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo accomplished a difficult task by making a worthy follow-up to A Link to the Past over twenty years after the fact. During this time, director Hiromasa Shikata expressed the desire to make a multiplayer Zelda title. However, he wished to stray from the competitive nature of Four Swords and its standalone sequel. Furthermore, he acknowledged the limitations players faced when attempting to play those games. Anyone who wished to play Four Swords with friends would need them to possess a copy of the game along with a Game Boy Advance and a specialized cable. Multiplayer sessions in Four Swords Adventures were even more demanding, requiring those interested to locate as many as five discontinued consoles. This is because any such venture would need as many Game Boy Advance consoles as there were total players plus a GameCube or Wii for the actual disc.

Because the Nintendo 3DS linked to other consoles wirelessly, it could easy avoid these problems; players didn’t even need to be in the same room to interact with each other. Therefore, Mr. Shikata along with series producer Eiji Aonuma and a majority of the team behind A Link Between Worlds reformed and started work on this new multiplayer title. Using the aesthetics of A Link Between Worlds as a primary inspiration, Mr. Shikata and his team dubbed this new game Tri Force Heroes – a pun referencing the mystical artifact that had played an integral role in the series from the very beginning. In something of a departure from how the series’ entries were usually handled, Tri Force Heroes ended up being released in 2015 to little buildup or fanfare. This relative lack of excitement seemed to reflect in what critics had to say about it. Compared to its predecessors, all of which had little trouble amassing acclaim, Tri Force Heroes received a lukewarm reception. Would it be accurate to describe Tri Force Heroes as the series’ first significant misstep?

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