I think I’ve mentioned before that I have had a curious relationship with most of Nintendo’s flagship series. A lot of this comes from the systems that I owned: First a Game Boy, then a Sega Genesis, then a Sony Playstation. As a result, I tended to play Nintendo games either at my friends’ houses or in their weird, off-beat, portable incarnations. I had the opportunity to spend time with and appreciate games that nobody else seemed to–but I never really played many of the classics when they first came out.
The common wisdom is that Ocarina of Time is the pinnacle of the Legend of Zelda series, and it has been on my list of “games I ought to play” longer than perhaps any other entry. I knew that, of all of the gaps in my gaming education, Ocarina represented maybe the biggest.
Now, however, having played it, I’m in a heated debate with myself over whether I think that it represents a “must-play” game.
One thing I want to make clear: Ocarina of Time is a brilliantly crafted game, thoroughly engrossing, and difficult to put down. I have never been in doubt that if you decide to sit down and explore this particular version of Hyrule, you’ll have a great time. And really, that’s probably enough–if you want to have fun, play Ocarina.
Part of my consideration for this blog, however, is an examination of what it means to be “well-played,” and what constitutes a sort of baseline knowledge for gaming history. In this respect, the Legend of Zelda series is an interesting case, because the entire series is essentially a variation on one of two templates.
If you have never played a Zelda title, then I would posit that in order to really understand the series you ought to play two games: the original Legend of Zelda for NES and Ocarina of Time. The first is the origin of the formula and the second is the first entry to take that formula and rework it for use in a three-dimensional space (a feat which it accomplishes brilliantly). These two games are the archetypal Legend of Zeldas (“Legends of Zelda?”). They offer the purest, most distilled version of the series.
Unfortunately, they’re also sort of the least interesting. This might be a little heretical, but as someone who doesn’t have an enormous amount of nostalgia wrapped up in the games, the entries that have grabbed me the most are the ones that take the basic theme and do some riffing on it.
Link’s Awakening, Link to the Past, and the Oracle titles (not to mention Four Swords and Minish Cap) are all basically playing around with the same idea: Large, grid-based, open world divided into single screens and filled with several discrete dungeons in which you acquire an ever-increasing set of tools with which to defeat Ganon/Other. In order to separate themselves from the original, they take a new aesthetic and/or gameplay lens and apply it to the formula: Link’s Awakening gives us an actual plot; Link to the Past stuffs itself to the gills with sidequests and adds an entire second world map; Minish Cap… had a hat that made you small? I don’t really know, I never played that one.
When Ocarina came along, it was almost like a reboot of the series, taking all of the essential elements and applying them to an entirely new play space. As I mentioned, it does this very, very well–in fact, between this and Super Mario 64, Nintendo’s record for translating their series into the third dimension flawlessly on the first try is pretty spectacular. It took Konami ten years to give us a 3D Castlevania that wasn’t abominable.
And yet–Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword are all riffs on the exact same tune (In this one he’s a wolf! In this one he’s a Powerpuff Girl!), and because these successors all have to do something with themselves stylistically to distinguish themselves from Ocarina, they’re all far more interesting than the original template. (Full disclosure: I haven’t played Skyward Sword yet. I hear it’s pretty neat!) What’s more, the formula at the heart of Zelda doesn’t change as drastically from incarnation to incarnation as, say, the gameplay in each iteration of the Mario franchise (In this one he has a water cannon! In this one he’s in space! …You know what, on second thought…).
I know that being a wolf and sailing the seven seas seem pretty different from hoofing it across Hyrule Field for the eighty millionth time, but you’re still going to elemental dungeons, solving environmental puzzles, collecting keys, and Z-targeting to smack enemies in the face with your Master Sword. I’m not suggesting that Zelda is stale! Not really, anyway. I’m only saying that in order to understand the way the Zelda series works, you don’t have to play every incarnation.
And so, when the time comes to educate yourself as a gamer, when you sit down and try to fill in the gaps in your “gaming education,” you have a question to ask yourself: when it comes to the Legend of Zelda series, what’s important for you to know? If you want The Legend of Zelda at its most basic, then you should play the games that set the tone and offer up the template.
If that’s not important to you, I would suggest that you can come to know and understand Zelda by playing just about any game from each of its two formulae. If all you’ve played is Link’s Awakening and The Wind Waker, then you already know what The Legend of Zelda is all about and you can talk about it intelligently. You can sit down with any game in the series and find a creative, compelling adventure on which to embark–but if you don’t, you’re not missing as much conceptually as you might imagine.
Summer is upon us! The season of sun, surf, and freedom is just beginning, and the blue skies and long, warm evenings are calling to all of us. But with three months of endless possibilities stretching out before you, how do you plan to fill that time? Are you at risk of spending all summer bumming around your apartment, your parents’ basement, or your Arctic doombase? Are you worried that you won’t make yourself get out and do something?
Don’t fret! There are thousands of potential exotic locales you might visit, and of all these, there are a couple that immediately jump out as superb destinations. No matter your disposition, I guarantee that you’ll find a place on this list where you can make your summer satisfying.
1. Besaid Island, Final Fantasy X
Looking for someplace to get away from it all? Someplace with sun, sand, surf, and Sin? Well, okay, maybe not the Sin part. Nevertheless! If you’d like to spend the summer working on your tan, hiking through the tropical jungle (complete with waterfalls and ancient
forbidden machina ruins), or just tossing the blitzball around in the sand with your bros, then Besaid Island is the paradise for you. The villagers are friendly, the local wildlife is low-level, and the jaw-dropping vistas just can’t be beat.
If you’re thinking of vacationing on Besaid, timing is key: you want to plan your trip after the colossal avatar of destruction that decimates the towns of Spira has been defeated. If you can swing this, then there’s nothing to prevent you from enjoying three long months of good weather, hospitable company, and beautiful scenery.
2. Mineral Town, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Of course, some people aren’t happy unless they have a project to carry them through the summer. For anyone inclined to spend the long daylight hours working up a sweat, there’s no better place to head to in June than your grandpa’s farm out in the country. A place like this is just waiting for some ambitious upstart to restore it to its former glory! Mineral Town, in particular, offers several amenities for the hard-working farmer: monthly festivals, beautiful woods and hills, excellent fishing, and a town full of personable characters eager to meet a newcomer from the big city. Who knows? You might even find romance! There are a disproportionate number of attractive young people in this quaint farming village.
Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done on a farm– planting, watering, feeding, milking, collecting, mining, inventory management– but at the end of the summer, you can sit back proudly knowing that you’ve made something that will last. You might have such a good time, you decide you want to stick around through the winter!
3. Casino Night Zone, Sonic the Hedgehog 2
For those to whom a leisurely, rural vacation does not appeal, I would heartily recommend a visit to the Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2. A veritable ocean of glittering neon, the Casino Night Zone offers everything a gambler or gamer could ask for: slots, pinball… rings. If you’re the sort of person who is up all night at the blackjack table and spends most of the day in bed, then this is the vacation destination for you. Just be careful that you don’t get caught up in the whirlwind adrenaline rush of gambling and leave your partner behind… offscreen… to catch up to you what seems like eons later.
Seriously, Tails, you’re an abominable sidekick. Moving on!
So perhaps gambling isn’t your thing. Perhaps you’d like someplace that combines the rural pleasures of a country vacation with the nostalgia of your youth. What better way to relive the summers spent away from your parents than going back to camp? Whispering Rock has everything a camper could ask for: friendly bunk-mates, counselors who are experts in their fields, and a terrifying, abandoned insane asylum just across the lake! A few weeks spent at Whispering Rock and you’ll have made friends, done some arts and crafts, and learned how to set things on fire with your mind.
There are some potential hazards in visiting Whispering Rock, as with any summer camp: you might not get along with some of the counselors (especially if they force you into the twisted hellscapes of their subconscious), you might get picked on by the other campers (or captured by a hideous, building-sized lungfish for use in maniacal experiments), and, if you’re not careful, you might get cooties. Nevertheless, if you have even a passing interest in clairvoyance, telekinesis, or levitation, then Whispering Rock is the summer destination for you.
5. Star Tropics, Star Tropics
Maybe you’re the adventurous type, an individual whose summer would be incomplete without a little action and danger. Does spelunking through creature-infested caves in a tropical paradise, armed only with a yo-yo and a baseball bat, sound like your cup of tea? That’s what the Star Tropics have to offer. Well, that, and maybe a little early-90s residual racism toward Pacific Islanders. But hey! It was developed by the same guys that made Punch-Out. A little cultural insensitivity oughta be expected.
Star Tropics has several amenities which make it well-suited to being a summer getaway: plenty of unspoiled, pristine islands to explore, a submarine in which to cruise around and take in the sights, and a surprising number of English-speaking native creatures! I’m pretty sure there were at least a dolphin and a parrot, maybe more. If you’ve spent too many summers in Hyrule and need to find a retreat that’s just a little more balmy and pleasant, the Star Tropics are the place for you.
6. St. Mystere, Professor Layton and the Curious Village
If, on the other hand, you’re the sort of person who would prefer their summer to contain the least possible amount of danger, I would suggest seeing if you couldn’t find boarding at the inn in St. Mystere, a quaint little town full of friendly personalities and charming character. Just… never mind that ominous, looming tower in the distance. St. Mystere has plenty to offer, including lovely parks, a cozy cafe or two, and beautiful, old-world style architecture. You’ll spend your summer reading outside a coffee shop, listening to the soothing strains of French accordion music, and trying to put your finger on what, exactly, seems to be amiss in the quaint little town…
A word of warning, however: if you’re planning on vacationing in this Curious Village, make sure to pack your thinking cap. You can’t get anywhere in this town without solving a puzzle. Want to check into your room at the inn? Hope you’re good at chess! Want a place to park your car? Get ready to slide some blocks around. Like a cappuccino from the shop down the street? Better be able to get those chickens and wolves across the river without any of them eating each other. Students eager to leave the brain-twisting challenges of academia behind might want to pick a different destination.
7. Shibuya, The World Ends With You
Maybe your idea of a good summer is to bombard your senses with as much stimulation as possible. If you can’t stand the thought of leaving the madding crowd and feel most at home in a sea of strangers, then you would do well to check out Tokyo’s Shibuya ward, one of the world’s primo shopping districts and centers of night life. Of course, if you’re visiting the Shibuya of The World Ends With You, you might be a little distracted by all of the abstract animal/graffiti monsters trying to snuff you out to have a good time, but still! Think of all the shopping!
Reapers and Noise aside, there’s no better place in all of videogamedom to be bathed in neon, deafened by club music, and surrounded by your fellow human beings. Anybody looking to spend most of their summer holidays in a dance hall, Shibuya is the place to be. And if you happen to be interested in being hunted “Most Dangerous Game” style and fighting back with stylish pins and the latest fashions, Shibuya works for that, too! If you have an aversion to anime kids with huge hair, you might want to look elsewhere.
8. The Great Sea, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Hyrule is one of the most beloved vacation destinations of gamers everywhere, whether they’re seeking a link to their past, an awakening of sorts, or are just out to feel like a hero (of time) for a while. But it’s the Great Sea of The Wind Waker that I’m going to recommend as the optimal place to unwind for the discerning gamer on vacation. Refreshing sea breezes, the call of seabirds, and the gentle rocking of a boat beneath your feet all combine to create a truly idyllic escape. The Great Sea sports many tiny islands to explore and take in, each with its own unique charm. There are several dungeons to traverse and investigate, if you’re adventurous. If you’d prefer, however, you could while away your summer sipping fruity drinks on the beach or immersing yourself in the native culture.
If you’re not a sailor, you won’t be able to make the most of a visit to the Great Sea, so be warned: there is a lot of sailing involved. A lot! We’re talking hours and hours here. However, if the thought of setting out onto the bounding main with the wind rushing through your hair fills you with the spirit of adventure, then this is absolutely where you should book passage this summer.
9. Mushroom Kingdom, Mario Series
The Mushroom Kingdom is the Disney World of videogames. This is the kind of place to which you’ll want to bring the kids, book a stay for a week or so, and devote at least a day to taking in everything there is to see. Forget your Wii Sports Resort; the Mushroom Kingdom has everything: tennis, golf, baseball, soccer, go-karts, they even have their own Olympics. You’ve got castles, haunted houses, picturesque volcanoes, a mountain where you can literally climb to the stars… and did I mention dinosaurs? Or that you could compete in the luge against penguins?
Everything’s very kid-friendly, of course, and so there’s not much “adult” entertainment available–but when you can race your friends on go-karts through an active volcano, there’s not much to complain about. There are parties all the time, cakes are getting baked by royalty–it’s a good time for everyone. Even the bad guys seem pretty friendly. This is one vacation destination that I can wholeheartedly recommend without reservation.
I just hope you don’t mind Italian food.
In this modern day and age, when almost everyone has a communication device with access to a global, mostly-unregulated data network, we are confronted with an existential quandary which our forebears could not have even imagined: How to ensure your phone’s ringtone matches your winning personality.
This is a humdinger, make no mistake: Leave your phone on one of the default sounds, and people might think you lack imagination. Select the incorrect pop single, and people will think you shallow. You don’t want your friends and relations to cringe every time you receive a call and Justin Beiber’s “Girl Hair Blues” plays, do you? (Full disclosure: I do not know any Justin Beiber songs.)
With that said, there is a source of simple tunage to which all gamers may turn in this time of need: the Nintendo Entertainment System. NES music is chippy and simple enough to function well as a ringtone, and by necessity the songs’ melodies usually assert themselves quite clearly in the first thirty seconds of play–perfect for using as an alert sound on your futuristic communication devices!
Here, for your consideration, are a sample of some excellent ringtone choices from the 8-bit era, with an explanation of how they might be right for you.
1. Mega Man 2 — Stage Select
Why this is a good choice: Simple, effective, and with a loop no more than a few seconds long, this tune is immediately recognizable to an old-school gamer and won’t make you inclined to let the ringtone play for thirty seconds so you can get to the good part.
What this says about you: “I’m going to check the Caller ID before I pick up to make sure I’m properly equipped for this conversation.”
2. Castlevania — Vampire Killer
Why this is a good choice: The first incarnation of a theme that appears throughout the entire Castlevania series, “Vampire Killer” is the most recognizable of the bunch and will help you to keep your cool in stressful situations.
What this says about you: “I am an unrelenting badass.”
3. The Legend of Zelda — Overworld Theme
Why this is a good choice: Hearing this music coming from your phone will remind you that there is adventure and freedom to be found in all aspects of life, even in the midst of a boring work day.
What this says about you: “I do my best work when I’m at full health.”
4. Ducktales — The Moon
Why this is a good choice: The Ducktales Moon Theme is the pinnacle of all human musical creation.
What this says about you: “You would be impressed by my extensive collection of precious gems.”
5. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins — Stage One
Why this is a good choice: Another track whose melody is prominent right from the get-go, the main theme from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins is packed with tension and is up-tempo while still feeling ominous. When your phone rings, you will at once be alert for spooks, spirits, and haints in your immediate vicinity.
What this says about you: “I can get the job done in my underpants.”
6. Final Fantasy — Prelude
Why this is a good choice: The Final Fantasy prelude is possibly the piece of 8-bit music best able to transport the listener to another world, and it can do so in just a few seconds with a handful of simple arpeggios. By putting this on your phone, you will make each call you receive feel magical, mysterious, and possibly even epic. Even if it’s from your Mum.
What this says about you: “I have a close-knit group of friends with whom I have gained a lot of experience.”
7. Ninja Gaiden — Basilisk Mine Field
Why this is a good choice: It’s highly likely that hearing this song coming from your phone will get you so pumped up that you will kick bystanders in the face.
What this says about you: “If I don’t take this call, it’s only because I’m too busy slicing someone in half.”
8. Dr. Mario — Fever Theme
Why this is a good choice: Despite the fact that this piece of music goes through a couple evolutions in a minute or two and you won’t get to hear all of it as a ringtone, the first thirty seconds are still enormously chippy, peppy, and happy. This is the kind of music that gets you going in the morning, like a good cup of coffee or the news that school has been canceled due to snow or chemical leak.
What this says about you: “I’m high on life, or perhaps psychoactive medications.”
9. Super Mario Bros. — Starman Theme
Why this is a good choice: Never has a tune so simple conveyed something so clearly.
What this says about you: “I am invincible.”
10. River City Ransom — Running Around the City
Why this is a good choice: This is a piece of music that clearly suggests that you are on a mission, but that you’re going to take your time getting around to it while you pummel the crap out of anyone who deigns to get in your way. A perfect ringtone for someone who spends a lot of time in malls, someone who likes to twirl a metal chain menacingly, or someone not afraid to throw their best friend’s prone body into a crowd of thugs.
What this says about you: “I am going to spend all my pocket money on a book that will teach me to spin-kick people in the face.”