Monday, 11 October 2010

The legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Shortly after Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was released and subsequently conquered by gamers around the world, many began to wonder if they would see another Zelda game within the next five years. Historically, Nintendo has taken anywhere from three to six years to deliver sequels to its hit Zelda franchise. The six year wait from A Link to the Past (1992) to The Ocarina of Time (1998) was almost unbearable. In the end, though, Nintendo immaculately transformed the 2D world of Hyrule into the defining 3D utopia it proved to be. Everything about The Ocarina of Time was something in which all future games could learn from.
Nintendo sold millions upon millions of those precious gold carts regardless of the N64's inadequate user-base. The question was would Nintendo deliver N64 owners one more blissful Zelda experience before the console faded away? There was the secretive Ura-Zelda title for the 64DD, but it didn't look like that would find its way to America and on top of that it was merely just an expansion of The Ocarina of Time's world. That game turned out to be what was temporarily called Zelda: Gaiden, which was then briefly named Zelda: Mask of Majora, and finally the title Zelda: Majora's Mask was set in stone. And so the legend continues as Link sets out on another quest to defend all that is good from the evil that lurks.

  • Brand-new expansive 3D world outside of Hyrule called Termina
  • Real-time night/day sequences
  • Three different days
  • Play as young Link
  • Gain new swords, weapons, and spells
  • Gain masks to change form and get different character interaction
  • Capitalizes on the acclaimed Ocarina of Time engine
  • Utilizes the 4MB expansion pak for bigger worlds and better graphics
The Story
Link's new journey begins where The Ocarina of Time left off. After he rid Hyrule of evil he decided to set out on a quest that would benefit him. He went searching for an adored friend whom he set apart from when his legacy turned legendary. In the middle of this journey Link stumbles into a mysterious new land named, Termina (Note: Termina appears to be based off the word "Terminus", which denotes a limit or ending point). Through word of mouth, Link hears that Termina is in peril because the moon is unmercifully crashing down towards the earth leaving only a matter of days before the land breaths its last breath. On this new territory Link is riding his young steed through a thick forest, when two fairies scare his horse throwing him to the ground leaving him unconscious. It turns out the two fairies are working at the hand of an evil masked thief and all-around troublemaker. Link awakens angered to find them toying with his Ocarina of Time, which was given to him by Princess Zelda. This masked villain steals Link's horse and eventually curses Link himself. This is where the story begins and just three days -- 72 Hours-- later it will end if you don't halt the moons death march towards the land of Termina. Link isn't sure where this disguised troublemaker fits in, but the end of the world awaits if he doesn't vow to help these people.

Like the Ocarina of Time before it Majora's Mask opens up with an exquisite cut-scene that is visually dramatic with moody lighting, fog, and flawless animation. It pulls you into the world of Termina swiftly by inflaming your rage for this masked character that stole your Ocarina of Time and your horse too. Nintendo has done an amazing job of immersing you in the story right away. If you've played The Ocarina of Time the story will prove to be more intimate to you, but even as a newcomer to this franchise anyone will find pleasure with the story line. In fact, one might go as far to say that you don't even need to have played the previous Zeldas to feel like a part of the game. That's not to say you won't feel the nostalgia pouring in, but the storyline is one that doesn't really rely on the Zelda franchise to pull you in. This is truly a testament to the skills of Nintendo's team. Through Majora's Mask they've proved they haven't been forced to rehash gameplay and storylines to create a good piece of software.
The object of Majora's Mask revolves around two things: masks and time. Without spoiling the game too much, the masks stem from the owner of the Happy Mask Shop. The villain introduced to you in the beginning has stole one of the shopkeeper's most important masks. The Happy Mask Shop owner offers to lift the curse that was cast upon you if you agree to get his mask back. In lifting the curse you receive a mask that gives you the ability to transform into a different creature when you put it on. With that said, know that more masks come as you progress through the story. As Link you have three days to save the world from destruction, and in the midst of your quest you gain masks which you need to use to accomplish certain tasks or advance the storyline. The masks play such an integral part to the game you actually can't do many of the things without finding certain masks. There are a total of 24 masks to find, and each of them will aid you in a different way.
At the heart of Termina lies Clock Town, and surrounding it are four lands, each unique in their own way; swamps, snow-covered mountains, beaches, and deserts lie at each corner of the land. In these four areas lie the temples which have been cursed by the masked marauder. The boss figure that protects each temple has also been cursed. The object is to relieve the cursed creatures of their masked suffering and to lift the damaging effects on that portion of the land. For example, the swamps may be filled with poisoned water and lifting the curse on it will leave the water clean again.
Now, many may be quick to point out that four temples are several short of that found in The Ocarina of Time. Well, fear not because Majora's Mask is going to give you anywhere from 30-50 hours of gameplay depending on your skill level. How exactly is there so much to do with only four temples? Well, it all comes back to the masks. Majora's Mask has been designed with many side quests (many integral to the game) that revolve around the masks. Nintendo has designed the title so that you cannot just walk into any temple, finish a set of puzzles, and defeat it. If you don't have certain masks sometimes you can't even access a temple. And, often, you can't do certain things within temples if you don't have the proper masks. There are actually three main masks that change your form. One of those, for instance, is the Deku Scrub mask. With that mask you can hop over water and use flowers to hang glide through the air, which you need to do within the first temple. In the second temple you'll utilize the powers of the Goron mask which gives you great strength and let you roll up into a ball. With those powers you can resist the burn of lava and even smash giant blocks. At later temples you'll need to combine the strengths of the masks to finish the temples. So, it's important to understand how significant the masks are in Majora's Mask.
Aside from the masks the Ocarina of Time also plays a huge role just as it did in the last game. The songs you learn can be used to alter time, warp from place to place, heal, awaken, and even change the weather. If you've played the last game you'll get an idea as to how it's used in Majora's Mask. The usage is very similar.
Also, as mentioned before, you only have three days to save the world. Well, you should be happy to know they are not three days based around real-world time. Each day is actually only about 18 minutes long, allowing for a whopping 54 minutes of game time. How do you manage to squeeze 40 hours out of 54 minutes? Well, the big secret is The Ocarina of Time. With the Ocarina you can warp back to the beginning of the first of the three days and save your progress. The downside is that almost everything resets when you go back to the first day. You lose your money, basic items (deku nuts, sticks, bombs), and the temples reset. There are a few exceptions, though. If you get a major item like a mask or a sword you will keep this as you warp back through time and save. So, as you play the game you'll quickly realize that you have to start a temple and finish it within the given three days of time. There are a few ways to get around the 54-minute problem, however. One of the most important ones is the ability to alter time. By altering time you can turn those three days into several hours to complete a temple or side-quest. Time also stops when you hold conversations or play your Ocarina of Time. So you shouldn't have to worry about wasting time during moments you can't control.
We should also mention that the saving process varies greatly from the Ocarina of Time. You cannot save at any moment in the game. You have two choices. You can either save and return to the first day, or you can find checkpoints marked with an owl statue. When you save and return to the first day you lose nearly all collectible items and anything you've done such as a temple will reset. So unless you finish everything you wanted within those three days to you'll need another solution. That solution is the owl statue, which is usually placed in key areas throughout the land (you can even warp to these statues as you'll find out). At this owl statue you can save your progress up to that exact point and when you turn the game back on it will start you back right where you left off. The trick is, once you've restarted this saved game you'll need to save at the first day again once you've completed your objectives, or you'll have to save at the owl statue again. What happens if you don't save again? The game is programmed to revert to the last time you returned and saved to the first day if you don't save at an owl statue when you turn the power off. It's tough to understand, but understand that you'll need to complete temples within the allotted three days. Otherwise it reverts to your last first-day save.
While considering the topic of time it should also be said that each day varies as it would in a real world. The people of Clock Town are doing different things, the weather changes, and certain advancements in the story can only happen on certain days. Most of the acquiring of masks relies heavily on time. You'll even get a notebook that automatically keeps track of all the things you have to do; this is how detailed this newest Zelda offering is. Put frankly, we can't even sum up all the things that can be done in the game. It is so huge and meticulously detailed that it would literally take chapter after chapter to describe everything. 

Majora's Mask runs on an upgraded version of the Ocarina of Time game engine, which now utilizes the 4MB expansion pak. In fact, it requires it. You will not be playing Majora's Mask if you don't buy/own an expansion pak. The addition of the 4MB expansion pak is thought to be part of Majora's Mask because the title may have started out as a 64DD title which also required the extra 4MB of RAM. Considering the extra money involved with the 4MB expansion pak one might wonder if it's really worth it. We can assure you that the extra features are worthwhile in the end.
Graphically speaking the extra 4MB gives you a greater draw distance, less pop-up, more local lighting, more textures, more animation, and more characters on the screen. The draw distance is so amazing that the first time you step out into the world of Termina you can see almost endlessly. You get the distinct sense that a car would come in handy because of the sheer expanse of the world. There's not a drop of fog to be found. The texture design is also some of the most brilliant we've seen on the Nintendo 64. Admittedly some of the textures are low resolution, but Nintendo has done a fantastic job of making the most out of the limited power of the N64. The textures are colorful and diverse, and each new area has its own unique look because of it.
Nintendo even introduces some new effects like motion blur. Many of the cinemas and even gameplay feature this effect. And, while on the topic of cut-scenes they are just as dramatic and present as they were in The Ocarina of Time. Nintendo has ensured that Majora's Mask maintains the cinematic touch.
However, the graphics do lack some of the finesse we were hoping for. There are some scenes that drop as low as 10 to 15 frames per second. At certain times Nintendo opted to take the framerate hit for some added visual effects. The extra 4MB of RAM allows Majora's Mask to have a lot of characters on the screen, and at a few times Nintendo went overboard which sends the framerate to the grave. But, fortunately it's minimal. The game maintains a consistent 24-30 frames per second most of the time. When it does get chunky it doesn't really affect the gameplay. Although, one of the temples pushes the envelope in the framerate area. One more thing to note is that the extra 4MB of RAM are really put to use in terms of managing all the characters. On any given day the game is keeping track of upwards of 50 characters, which is absolutely amazing.
Put simply, you won't be disappointed with what you see. Majora's Mask has been polished and shined in a lot of areas, and nearly uses all of the N64's resources. It even utilizes certain graphical effects like lighting and textures to remind you the earth is coming to an end. Each day looks distinctly different. This title will likely go down as one of most graphically impressive games to ever hit the N64.

Most importantly the Overworld theme has returned. It was the one thing that many regretted with the introduction of The Ocarina of Time onto the N64. Not in Majora's Mask, however. As soon as you step outside, the sweet sound of the Overworld theme awakens the memories of all the great times you've had with the Legend of Zelda in the past.
Just as the graphics play a key role in so does the sound. The composition changes in some areas as the days go by and especially as the environment changes. For example, on the first day the music is high-spirited and "fun" within Clock Town. On the second day the tempo has increased dramatically, which gives off the effect that time is passing all to quickly. The changes are subtle enough that you don't intentionally notice them, but more or less sense them. It is really only when the moon is crashing down that the music grabs you by your stomach. Admittedly the sound is very N64-ish; meaning there's a lot of MIDI that sounds like very synthesized. However, again Nintendo makes the most of what they have. The music is used in a really brilliant way and it varies by many degrees.
The sound effects are equally well used. Each character has his or her own distinct sound effects that compliment their actions. Many of them make you laugh because of the way they've been used. As well, Nintendo always remembers to take care of the often-overlooked areas in the sound department. They've included the environmental white noise that many games tend to leave out. Just standing outside you'll hear a certain hum that is very reminiscent of real life. Nothing is perfectly silent, after all. Further the cawing of birds and rustling of nearby animals or creatures is always present. Summed up, the sound effects don't miss a beat. The temples are eerie, and a snowy environment is just as crisp as ever as the snow crunches beneath your feet. It may not be the best sound on the N64 in terms of quality, but it's definitely some of the best we've heard in terms of composure and effectiveness. Koji Kondo is the renowned Nintendo composer that has yet again delivered us a moving soundtrack to accompany the dazzling gameplay.
Closing Comments
If there's one thing that Nintendo's new Zelda proves, it's that great gameplay overshadows any minor graphical or even aural flaws that find their way into most games of this generation. As soon as you pick up Zelda you'll be hard-pressed to find the strength to put your controller down. There's not a doubt in my mind that this is not only one of the best pieces of software ever created on the N64, but even in the midst of all the software that's even been released it seems just as brilliant. There's just so many subtle touches and intricacies that it boggles the mind. The way that time flows and is interleaved with the masks is what's most impressive. To get some masks you have to solve some pretty tough puzzles. Whether it's being in an area at the right time, or using a certain mask to trigger a conversation there's a lot of depth to be found. You're going to want to get all 24 of the masks, because not only is it entertaining to do, but it's also very rewarding. We won't give away too much, but to deny yourself all 24 masks would be to deny yourself of some of the most impressive parts of the game. For one you'll get slightly different endings depending on the masks you have when you beat the game and the "best possible" ending if you have all the masks. I only have a few small complaints about Majora's Mask and that is the occasional framerate drop and the fact that (small spoiler ahead) you don't really get to play as adult Link. There's a secret in the game that slightly remedies this problem, but essentially you never grow up. Fortunately the ability to transform into many different characters with your masks more than makes up for it.
If you enjoy action/adventure (with a dash of RPG) this is a videogame you can't afford to miss playing. It is in my opinion one of the most impressive games in its genre. Even after completing this Legend of Zelda I'm going to go right back in and beat it all over again. And, chances are that after that I'll be drawn back to The Ocarina of Time. Surprisingly Majora's Mask has a good amount of replay value because of all the masks you can collect, and the side-quests are so detailed it's worth it. The end verdict? Buy Majora's Mask, and don't let the expansion pak requirement turn you off. This title would have received a perfect score had it not been for the fact that Zelda: The Ocarina of Time already introduced so much to the 3D world of software. Majora's Mask is that good, and better on some levels. It has a storyline that adults can finally get into, and there aren't tutorials around every corner insulting your intelligence. Of course, it's a shame because someone like Matt Casamassina clings to them so dearly for guidance. In any case, you'll get so many hours of gameplay out of this title, and you'll regret missing out otherwise. Any self-respecting videogame player would have pre-ordered their copy by now. If you weren't so fortunate, we suggest you get out to the store soon and you may even land yourself a gold-colored Collector's Edition cartridge.
It should be said that much of the game design was done by Eiji Aonuma and his team at Nintendo. The Zelda creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, actually only supervised this title offering a lending hand at critical junctures. Bearing that in mind we can see Nintendo is starting to develop the talents of other staff. Clearly we'll be seeing more brilliant games on top of Miyamoto-san's own in the near future. We couldn't be happier with how Majora's Mask turned out. I feel honored to have been able to review it.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

I mean, here was yet another first-person shooter, with the only features setting it apart being the neat-looking sniper rifle and the fact that it was based on a movie that just about everyone had forgotten about. I couldn't have been more wrong. GoldenEye not only lives up to the "quality, not quantity" mantra that Nintendo continues to tout, it surpasses it. The sheer joy experienced by putting a bullet in some Russian's head with the sniper rifle, from 200 yards, never gets old, and the countless mission objectives spread across 12 different environments and three difficulty levels ensure that the game has the staying power of - dare I say it - Mario 64.

GoldenEye closely mirrors the plot of the 17th James Bond movie, starting with the daring bungee jump sequence and ending with a showdown between 007 and Alec Trevelyan atop a huge antenna. In between, you'll shoot scads of soldiers, plant explosives, escape from a train seconds before it explodes, and execute other decidedly Bond-like maneuvers. The entire game takes place from a Doom-like perspective, except that holding down the R button allows you to aim anywhere on the screen, and with the sniper rifle, zoom in for a nice, clean head shot.

The graphics in GoldenEye are incredible. From installations deep under the snow to lush Cuban jungles, each environment looks really good, with a decent amount of detail. There is a slight bit of fogging at the edge of your view, but hey, St. Petersburg is a foggy place. The sniper rifle alleviates some of the fog, enabling you to zoom up and peep the action long before the guards are alerted to your presence. Also, the characters in the game look really good. When you run into Boris, he actually looks like Alan Cumming. The only character who doesn't transfer favorably into the 3-D world is Natalya, who looks a little too square.

The music in GoldenEye is absolutely perfect, and adds a lot of ambience to the game. For instance, one of the later levels starts in an elevator, complete with laid-back elevator music. When you exit the elevator, the level's real soundtrack kicks in. A minor point, sure, but it demonstrates the detail of the game. The only thing that could make GoldenEye's sound better is the inclusion of speech.

GoldenEye is the type of game N64 owners have been waiting for since they finished Mario 64. It has outstanding graphics and sound, and contains a certain depth in its gameplay that really entices you to finish it on all three difficulty levels. If more N64 games use this as a model, as opposed to Cruis'n USA or KI Gold, then perhaps the system really does have a shot at toppling the PlayStation's reign as the dominant game platform.

Anyone but me that hated the golden gun?

Friday, 8 October 2010

The legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda is one of those magical series of games that always cause huge amounts of excitement. It sprung onto the NES scene in 1987, and it was a runaway success. Remember the chip shortages that delayed the 1988 release of the Adventure of Link? Or what about the first time you saw pictures of the Japanese version of 1991's A Link to the Past? With the possible exception of Mario, no Nintendo series has caused such a level of hysteria or left behind so many great memories. Ocarina of Time definitely follows in the footsteps of the previous games, and the result is a game that can't be called anything other than flawless.

You begin the game as a child of the forest. But by the time you're done, you'll be a fisherman, an errand boy, the hero of time, and, yes, even a traveling mask salesman. The game is chock-full of minitasks and subgames that run alongside the main quest, saving Hyrule from Ganondorf's evil. This leads to an extreme feeling of freedom, even though a good portion of the game must be executed in a linear fashion. Stuck at the water temple? Then why not go scout around for some extra heart containers while you think about your dilemma?

The control really holds the game together. Most 3D game designers still haven't mastered the art of controlling characters in a 3D environment, but that's not the case here. Link moves beautifully, and controlling his various actions is a breeze. Essentially, your B button will always attack with the sword. The A button, however, acts as an action button, performing every non-item-related task in the game. At various times, A lets you climb, grab, dive, talk, and lots more. Three of the C buttons are used for items, any of which can be assigned to any of the three buttons. The top C button zooms in to a first-person perspective, which allows you to look around. The R shoulder button is used for blocking with the shield. The Z trigger is perhaps the most important button when it comes to dealing with enemies in the 3D realm. Hitting Z while looking at an enemy will cause you to lock on to that opponent. From there you can circle-strafe around them, hop from side to side, and always block in their direction. This is key to fighting all but the most basic of enemies and is extremely well conceived.

While there are some tough monsters, the main enemy in Zelda is the puzzle aspect of the game. Ocarina of Time forces you to think before you act, with numerous puzzles spread throughout the entire game. Some puzzles must be solved simply to exit a room, while other, larger puzzles sometimes cover an entire area. Some of the game's puzzles are totally optional, usually rewarding you with a piece of a heart container - which you'll need, but you won't have to collect every single one as long as you're quick with the Master Sword.The game's items are the usual assortment you've come to expect from a Zelda game. The boomerang is an invaluable tool for young Link, as is the slingshot. These weapons are mere toys for Link's adult body, however, so you'll be using the bow and the hookshot (or grappling hook) for most of the game's latter portions. Bombs, of course, come in handy no matter how old you are. The ocarina is probably the most-used item in the game. Throughout the entire game, you'll learn various tunes for the ocarina. Playing these tunes does a lot of different things, such as turning night to day, opening certain doors, calling your horse, and warping from place to place. In a world as large as Hyrule, warping is an extremely useful time-saver.

Time plays an important role throughout the game. As you proceed, time passes, and day quickly becomes night. At night, the fields of Hyrule can be a dangerous place. Time travel also comes into play, allowing you to jump seven years into the future and back again. The two times act similarly to the light and dark worlds in the SNES Zelda game, A Link to the Past. Things you do as a child will affect locations, and a few puzzles require the use of both time periods.

Graphically, Ocarina of Time is simply unmatched. Everything about the game just looks fantastic. You can see Death Mountain in the background of some portions of the game, complete with various smoke effects depending on what stage of the game you're in. The cinematics, which, of course, use the game engine, look absolutely spectacular, and the effects used (the time travel sequence is especially sweet looking) really give the game a spectacularly majestic look. The game's sound is also really quite amazing. Every tune in the game perfectly relates to the onscreen action. Even the songs you play on the ocarina are hummable. The sound effects are also perfect. The speech consists of mostly laughter, gasps, and battle yelps (heavy on the "hi-yah!") and works very, very well. The game also takes your location into consideration. Dungeons and large canyons sound appropriately echoey, while underwater, noises are nice and warbled.

In a way, Ocarina of Time is a textbook example of retro done right. It manages to combine small aspects from all the previous Zelda games, giving you the same Zelda feel but in an entirely new way. Even in its huge, fiercely 3D world, the game retains a truly classic feel. This is a sequel at its finest, expanding on previous themes and bringing plenty of new stuff to the table.

Even if you're specifically looking for it, it's hard to find fault in Ocarina of Time. OK, to be fair, there's a slight bit of slowdown in a couple locations, such as the water temple, but it isn't frequent or harmful enough to even matter. The game offers a nice challenge, a stunningly well-told story, and the gameplay to back it all up. This game is the real thing. This is the masterpiece that people will still be talking about ten years down the road. This is the game that perfectly exhibits the "quality not quantity" mantra that Nintendo has been touting since the N64 was released. In a word, perfect. To call it anything else would be a bald-faced lie.
That's all folks!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Mario 64

Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible goal and achieved it with SM64. Look closely, Mario's lineage is 2D -- not ideal material upon which to base the most intensely scrutinized 3D videogame ever. But videogames are, in the end, meant to entertain. And entertainment is at the heart of this fantastic title.

Like many previous Mario games, experimentation is integral to the experience of playing. You must explore everything, leave no rock unturned, no mushroom mute, no door unopened. Mario himself has so many possible movements, and the environment is so intensely interactive, that even the least experimental players will spend hours on the first level without achieving anything in particular.

The game is initially less accessible than previous Mario titles, although the three-pronged analog controller isn't really where the difficulty lies -- the joypad itself performs excellently. Overall, the biggest obstacle in the game is finding the correct viewpoint. The camera, which moves on its own (unless directed manually by using the four gold buttons), tries to find the optimal angle to view the action, though occasionally you're simply not able to see where you're going. Additionally, frustration sets in as you spin the camera around while simultaneously attempting to run across a moving plank or tip-toeing across a tiny ledge. But getting the hang of SM64 is all a matter of practice , and as soon you catch on, you will execute these skills unconsciously.

The variety of levels and scale each world is simply breathtaking. The game consists of 15 massive courses in which Mario can attain seven stars per course, with numerous secret areas and bonuses, including 15 extra stars (for a total or 120 stars). It'll surely take the average gamer 60 hours to reach the third and final Bowser and free the princess (not to mention find Yoshi), so the game's replay value is bountiful.

And despite all of their saccharin-sweet cuteness, the graphics are magnificent. Shigeru Miyamoto's dream of producing an interactive cartoon has been fully realized -- the animation is lavish, the textures rich, and even the most superfluous touches have been completely executed. SM64 is not perfect, however. Despite the efficiency of the hardware's Load Management, draw-in is noticeable, and occasionally gamers will look right through walls or objects. Still, this is as close to perfection a game has ever been (64-bit, no less).

Super Mario 64 also puts Nintendo's preference of "silicon over CDs" to the test, with pleasingly familiar results. Most owners of either a Saturn or a PlayStation (or both), have by now acclimated to long load times, though grumblingly. Super Mario 64 will remind them of how gaming used to be: load time is nil, and reaching a playable level is only a matter of seconds. From the time you switch on the unit until you're done, the flow is seamless, and moving from one game area to another is instantaneous. Nintendo's musical prodigy, Koji Kondo, turns in an inspired performance, somehow finding room on the small cartridge to create the appropriate music for each world. Even though some tracks are cheesy, others, like the sitar-laden score of the first fire level, are more than effective in setting the mood for the level, and are as atmospheric as any Redbook audio. Also impressive are the sound effects: Mario's onscreen antics are matched by grunts, whoops, and hollers, fleshing out his spunky personality.
Closing Comments
As a whole, the flagship N64 game more than makes up for any painful delay (or delays) imposed upon the unit's release. SM64 is complete in every way, and the challenging experience of working toward each new level is far greater than the game's minimal flaws. Nintendo's craftsmanship and zeal for creating fantastically enjoyable games has never shown through more than in Super Mario 64.

Pokémon stadium

I am a proud owner of all three legendary bird Pokémon. I've got both Mew and Mewtwo. I picked Kabuto over Omastar and evolved my Eevee into a Jolteon. Oh, and I just found out that my Pikachu is orange. I've played through Pokémon Yellow, Blue and Gold and I'm halfway through Silver. I'm not sure what evil powers make me play these fairly simplistic RPGs, but I know what I don't play them for: storyline, sound and graphics. That leads to only one possible conclusion. It's all about the fun of collection, character upgrades -- and, most importantly, battles.

With that in mind, Nintendo's second-party developer HAL Laboratories has devised an ingenious add-on pack to the Pokémon Game Boy games. Only that unlike the traditional add-on packs that are released on PC all year long, this one actually bridges the gap between two platforms with the help of a new accessory -- the Transfer Pak. The basic idea is to plug your Pokémon Blue, Red or Pokémon Yellow for Game Boy into the Transfer Pak and use the Pokémon you have captured in fully 3D Pokémon Stadium turn-based monster battles.

No, Pokémon Stadium is not a standalone product. If you don't own Pokémon for the Game Boy, it just doesn't make sense to invest the $60 bucks to play a game that shows its best features only when a Game Boy cartridge is plugged into your N64.

I've already covered a lot of this game's features in an eight-part special called Pokémon Times, so here's a very quick rundown on some of the treats that slumber inside this ingenious little game:

* In the game's Stadium Mode, one player competes in 80 different battles, divided into four tournaments. Beat the Stadium Mode and you're in for a bonus battle against the ultimate Pokémon warrior, Mewtwo, as well as a secret mode that gives you 80 brand-new, and devilishly tough battles. There is virtually no way you can beat the secret mode without having trained your own, elite Pokémon.
* One to four players compete against each other or the computer in a no-holds-barred battle with customizable rules. You can select rental Pokémon for these battles -- but that makes them much too predictable since their selection of techniques isn't determined by the trainer. You can also select quick and easy versus and random battles.
* Battle against all the gym leaders that appeared in the Pokémon Game Boy games and win up to eight semi-rare to rare Pokémon that you can add to your Game Boy party and Pokédex!
* Get full control over your Pokémon PC Boxes and examine, sort, group and move your Pokémon. You can even bring up tables that display moves, abilities, ID numbers, area locations, and more on one screen. This lets you easily compare new Pokémon you have caught to see which ones are worth keeping.
* Organize, sort and store whole PC Boxes (which hold up to 30 Pokémon) on the N64 to free up room on your GB cartridge. Up to 240 Pokémon can be stored on the N64 cart. You can even give a whole box full of Pokémon to a friend.
* Store items on the N64 cartridge. You can't give them to a friend since the GB cart ID numbers have to match, but it frees up room in your GB inventory. Up to 400 items can be stored in four different ID boxes.
* Examine and compare Pokémon techniques. See what every attack's accuracy rating is and get detailed descriptions on what they do.
* An expanded Pokédex lets you look at your Pokémon in detail and bring up detailed map data that shows you where you can catch them in the GB games.
* Trade Pokémon with a friend using easy on-screen controls.
* Play Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow on your TV screen using the GB Tower Mode. The emulation is flawless, but HAL actually went a step further. You can unlock two extra speed settings that let you play your Game Boy Pokémon at hyper speeds. This is incredibly helpful if you want to upgrade certain Pokémon and do as many battles as possible in very little time.
* Collect trophies for winning battles. Try to get one for each Pokémon to unlock a secret.
* Compete in nine Mario Party type mini-games with up to four players.
* Snap pictures of your Pokémon in the Gallery Mode and print them out as stickers in participating stores.
* See all 151 Pokémon and all attacks and defense moves in glorious 3D.

As you can tell from the list of features, Pokémon Stadium is packed full with goodies that should make Pokémon Game Boy owners salivate. No, it's not an RPG -- and as such, it doesn't have a storyline or a quest mode. Pokémon Stadium is a clever add-on package that's based on the Game Boy games' popular Colosseum battle mode and not only enhances the GB games, but actually got me to go back and invest even more time into Pokémon Yellow. Sure, the initial attraction is to see your Pokémon in 3D, and Stadium definitely delivers the goods when it comes to bringing the creatures to live. But the battles quickly become meaningless if the combatants you're using aren't really yours.

Although the Pokémon Stadium mode is considered to be the main attraction, the Gym Leader Castle is probably the feature GB Pokémon owners will like best. Every time you beat it, you are randomly awarded one of eight Pokémon. For many gamers who don't have the chance to trade with friends, this is virtually the only way to get a complete Pokédex. I've got myself four new Eevees, two of which I evolved into Flareon and Vaporeon (since I initially only had a Jolteon). I won Omanyte and went back into Pokémon Yellow and had it evolve to Omastar. Pokémon Blue and Red owners can also finally get the other two starting Pokémon (out of Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander). But the upgrades you get in the Stadium mode are equally impressive. Playing the Game Boy games in four-times the speed on your TV screen is awesome. No longer do you have to wait 20 seconds to heal your Pokémon at a PokéCenter. Just kick the thing into overdrive and you're done.

The battles themselves are only as exciting as your Pokémon. If you've got a crew of level 100 mega-monsters, you'll definitely see the sparks fly. But even if you've spent weeks upgrading your favorite six, you can't just blaze through the game without losing some of the duels. Nintendo was smart enough to put a few rules and regulations in some of the tournaments that force you to use Pokémon of a certain size or level. That way, you won't just use Mewtwo, Zapdos and co. over and over again, making for more varied battles.

The computer's AI starts off really easy. You won't have a problem beating the first few tournaments, even if you're using the so-called "rental Pokémon" that are available to fill gaps in your Pokémon lineup (or for those courageous players who say they don't need the GB games to fully enjoy this game). But wait till you get to the higher tournaments and you will see the difference to the GB games' AI! The computer will employ different tactics, such as trying to take your best Pokémon out first with self-destruct moves. It will withdraw Pokémon that are susceptible to your Pokémon type's attacks. It will use Thunder Wave to slow your fastest Pokémon down. It will poison you with Toxic and try to stall you by putting you to sleep or using Fly and Dig. It will drive you insane with Wrap.

But just like RPG battles in games like Final Fantasy, the battles in Stadium can get old after a while. That's where the multiplayer tournaments come in. Competing against a human player who is probably trying to trick you and do things you wouldn't expect adds a whole new level to Pokémon battles. You have to actually try to analyze the situation and figure out what your opponent is likely to attempt next to be successful. Since the battles are turn-based, the fun definitely isn't on the same "I'll get you!" level as in games like Smash Bros. or Mario Kart. It's more akin to a strategy game like chess -- only that the pieces in Stadium roast each other with Fire Blasts and shoot spores out of their heads.

For those with short attention spans, there are also nine Mario Party-inspired mini-games. Some, like Clefairy Says and Ekans' Hoop Hurl make for fun little four-player battles, but most of the other games are just button mashers and won't keep your interest long.

GB Tower mode aside, the most useful mode for Pokémon GB fans is probably the Pokémon Lab mode where you can organize everything, compare Pokémon, and so forth. Once you have used the Lab, you will notice how rudimentary the menu systems in the Game Boy versions really are. Teaching your Pokémonmoves from TMs and HMs is made really easy, since you can now see what each machine does and what Pokémon can learn the respective moves. These excellent additions round off what I think is one of the more original console titles to come along in a long time. It's only too bad the game sells at full price (necessitated by the inclusion of the Transfer Pak), which will make some N64 owners expect more than just an expansion of the Game Boy titles.

All battles take place in closed-off arenas with simple backdrops inspired by the anime series. The environments are pretty unimpressive -- but that's for a reason. The polygonal Pokémon are where it's at. These soft-skinned beauties are not only highly detailed and look exactly like their TV counterparts, they also move with such convincing animation that it seems likely that Nintendo has found a way to motion-capture real-life Pokémon. The bird animations are especially impressive and each of the 151 Pokémon has a unique (and often hilarious) "fainting" animation as well. There are so many neat details, that it's impossible to list them all. Grimer and Muk drip and ooze as they try to maintain their shape, Cloyster's horns rotate, Venusaur gets bloodshot eyes when it's in trouble, Jolteon shakes its head and stumbles backwards after a hit and Lickitung is at its most disturbing. Some of the size differences that weren't apparent in the Game Boy versions are also beautifully reproduced. Just pit a Gyarados against a Magikarp and you'll understand... And best of all, the framerate is rock solid.

The attack graphics are equally impressive, with colorful particle animations and screen-shaking special effects. Like in the Game Boy games, the Pokémon never actually physically "touch" each other -- which comes as somewhat of a disappointment. Luckily, all the elemental attacks and their effects on the Pokémon are shown in their full glory, so it isn't really that big of a deal if you can't actually see two Pokémon make contact with some of the more boring moves like Slash and Stomp.

The high-res menu screens are very well laid out and can be understood and navigated quickly, without the need of a manual. Overall, the game's graphical presentation is top notch, though it naturally can't compete with adventure or platform games since it lacks environment detail.

Pokémon Stadium's most disappointing area is its sound. I was ready to be blown away by some MoSys goodness when I saw the name "Factor 5" appear on the title screen -- but it turns out that Nintendo only used the developer's patented M.O.R.T. voice compression for the game's announcer. While the announcer isn't terrible, he quickly started to annoy me with the phrase "from the word go" and some of the most general statements ever, like "There is a distinct difference in the number of remaining Pokémon!" I was almost expecting to hear things like "One Pokémon won, the other one lost," "The sky is blue!" and "There is one Pokémon fighting another one!"

To make things even worse, there are hardly any real Pokémon voices in the game. Nintendo added Pikachu's trademark noises for the US version (they weren't in the Japanese release) and you can hear some of the voices in the mini-games, but that's about it. For most of the Pokémon, you only get generic monster sounds -- not the endearing "Squoitle!" and "Ekanssssssss!" that made the characters so memorable. I realize that the animations and poly models for 151 different Pokémon take up a lot of room, but considering the fact that Capcom can release a 512 megabit game (RE2), it would have been nice to see Nintendo treat its biggest franchise with the same respect. Nintendo could have at least tried to include the sounds for the most popular Pokémon like Charmander and Meowth.

To add insult to injury, the samples used for the music are terrible, making everything sound really tinny. Sure, the melodies are instantly recognizable and sound better than the Game Boy tunes, but the audio is nowhere near the quality of some of the recent Nintendo releases. On the up-side, the battle noises are all above average.

Stadium supports only the Transfer Pak, which is included with the package. While you can register your Pokémon and play two-player battles with only one Transfer Pak, two are needed for traditional one-on-one Pokémon trading. For more information on the Transfer Pak, check out IGNpocket's detailed special.

Closing Comments
I first played the Japanese version of Pokémon Stadium in August of '98 and I didn't like it very much. Now that I have played through the US version I know exactly why I couldn't get into it back then. I hadn't yet played the Game Boy titles at the time. I was simply selecting "rental Pokémon" and battling the computer with techniques completely unknown to me. I'm sure I used Electric Pokémon against Ground Pokémon and got my butt kicked -- and never even noticed how the different types influenced the battles. It's more than a year later now and I know what happens to a Magikarp at level 20 and how to take out even the fiercest Pokémon with one hit. Now that I finally got to link up my Game Boy games to Stadium and send my hard-earned Pokémon into battle against both my friends and the computer, I understand what this game is all about. It's fun, it's smart, it's jam-packed with cool options and it's for Pokémon owners only. The only complaints I have is the weak audio and the fact that there is no "high stakes mode" which lets you battle your friend over the possession of a Pokémon or for experience points (i.e. you win your friend's Pokémon or take away experience points).

Pokémon Stadium presents a great first step in linking a handheld and a gaming console for a more complete gaming experience. I think Nintendo is definitely on the right track and hope we'll see more Transfer Pak compatible titles on the N64 (as well as expanded compatibility between GBA and Dolphin) in the future.

A must-buy for Pokémon fans.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Up in the morning, out on a run.

So, as many of you made me realize yesterday was that i forgot so many good cartoons and awesome stuff in general like Tail spin, TMNT, Spiderman, Arthur and Doug.

But i actually envy you Americans. Swedish television is crap, utter crap. So i was so happy when the american shows started at around 8 in the morning. Everything that is animated in sweden is for 3-5 year olds, and who wants to watch that when you're 9 and awesome? Also, the TMNT action figures was the bomb!

Actually, i just downloaded some old cartoons, just to let my sisters children watch them. That was just too good, they enjoyed them almost more than i did when i was that age. They even said that they wanted to take the dvds in the car on the long drive home, so i burnt them two copys. My sister was happy aswell, since they didn't fight on the whole way home over what to watch. That's the power of 90's shows, it makes kids shut up :).

We 90's kids had everything good in life. Even the late 80's was good.

I still remember one episode of Rocko's modern life, when he bought some sort of vacuum that ate his house and that sort of things. I still laugh about it today!

Back and refreshed!

So, I was thinking about what i was going to talk about in this post while i was swimming.
When suddenly it hit me like a roundhousekick to the face, I should talk about how I remember the 90s since that is what this blog is all about the freaking 90s!

So, i can still remember those awesome mornings when you know there was something good on tv like Rocko's modern life, Rugrats, Kenan & Kel, Cousin Skeeter or Pokemon.
The first thing i would do in the morning was to fill a bowl with frosties, add some ice cold milk and sit down in front of the TV and just laugh.

The kids of today doesn't get any of that. All of the old shows has either been cancelled or remade. And the kids shows of today is just not of the same quality. It's all freaking CGI or some "you should not do that" moral crap.
We got to watch cartoons that didn't have any hidden moral agenda or taught us to get dressed in the morning, we watched the cartoons for fun. Not freaking education! Doesn't kids get enough of that in school?

Ah f__k, I love ranting.

But to continue. I remember the 90's as the happier decade of my life. I didn't have a care in the world since school was a breeze. Except when i was forced to sing, i had the worst voice evar!

We also had something that kids today lack, awesome candy. Don't you agree? There was no scare about dangerous chemicals or that sh_t. Our parents bought anything that could shut us up. I didn't turn out all fucked up, did you?

Now to something that i still miss from the 90's. The awesome games! Yeah shure, MW2 is fun and Crysis had amazing graphics. But from none of these new games can i get the same sensation as when i played pokémon for the first time, or when i played golden eye on the N64.
As for pokémon, i still play it today. I have an awesome team. And i even got some of my friends to play it with me. Shure it's a bit geeky, but who the f_ck cares? It's hilarious to see my friends rage over that i beat them in pokémon stadium.

So i think that sums up the part of my 90's i wanted to share with you today. Thanks!