Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Failure that was Zelda II

I enjoyed the Angry Video Game Nerd’s recent review of the NES game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (a warning to those not familiar with James – his reviews are full of extremely salty language).  However, I can’t agree with his assessment that it’s a great game despite its flaws.

The problem is not that it’s mostly a side-scroller, with the other Zelda games being from and overhead perspective.  I’m not a Zelda enthusiast so that makes no difference to me.  There’s an NES game similar to Zelda II named Faxanadu (buy my used copy here).  It involves swords, magic, jumping, monsters, and labyrinths.  It too is a side-scroller, and far superior to Zelda II.  If Zelda II was of the level of quality of Faxanadu, it wouldn’t be considered a disappointment.

No, the main problem is that the overworld view is visually horrendous, tedious, and an embarrassment.


No, those graphics were not good or even acceptable by 8-bit standards.  Here’s how an overworld should look in an 8-bit game, roughly:


That picture if from Phantasy Star, a game that puts Zelda II to utter shame.  Notice how the water near the coasts has some subtle surf effects (the water line moved in and out to simulate waves), the sand features cactuses and dunes, there are some shadows around the town.  Zelda II has none of that.  It’s like they didn’t try.  Is that a characteristic of a great game?

Zelda II’s dungeons are bland and repetitive.  There’s very little variation in appearance, with the color of the bricks being the main thing that changes from one dungeon to the next.  The environmental obstacles don’t go much beyond pits to jump over, blocks, and elevators.


It’s true that that complaint could be leveled against the first Legend of Zelda, but for whatever reason the labyrinths in the game were fun most of the time and rarely tedious.  Faxanadu is a good example of variety and creativity in 2D dungeons.

faxanadu  faxanadu-2

James’ review covers the game’s difficulty and frustration level, so I won’t go into that aspect of it.

So, this was basically just a rant about a game that I think is overrated.  Yes, it’s part of a beloved franchise, but even fans of that franchise should be honest and admit the Zelda II is a total lemon of a game.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Demo Assessment: Castlevania Harmony of Despair

Castlevania Harmony of Despair sounds like it would be right up my alley.  In an earlier post I said, “Konami and everyone else -- we will gladly pay $15+ for classic games on our modern consoles if you put some effort into optimizing them. Widescreen and high definition are the main things I want. Achievements, enhancements, different modes of play are also nice.”  CHoD has all of those things going for it.  Its price is exactly $15.  But...



The graphics are attractive.  They’re widescreen.  They’re HD.  By today’s standards though, I’m afraid they just don’t cut it.  They’re too pixel-y.  They’re too 16-bit.  I would point to Braid as an example of a sprite-based game on a modern console with excellent graphics:


Braid’s sprite’s don’t have jagged edges.  The game looks like a painting in motion.  It’s an independent game, released two years ago.  You’re telling me that a game released by Konami today can’t look nearly as good as that?

Visuals aren’t the only problem for CHoD.  The controls are stiff, and the pace of the game is slow.  This is typical of Castlevania games, but I think Konami could have retained the basics and still have made the controls feel more fluid and responsive.  I keep mentioning Bionic Commando:Rearmed, but it is the standard for games of its type (as far as I’m concerned), and it has great controls that are faithful to the original.  When you consider that just about any random platformer on the XBox 360 – Rocket Knight, for example (another Konami game) – has better controls, it’s hard to make the case for playing Castlevania.

The lack of local multiplayer is disappointing.  Hydro Thunder Hurricane, last week’s XBox Live Arcade release, has to render complex 3D environments and water effects.  That game has a 4-player split screen mode.  All that CHoD has to render is 2D sprites.  Given the zoom out / zoom in feature of the game (which is very cool), you’d think that a multi-player split screen mode would be easy.

Castlevania has a lot of good qualities and I’m pretty sure it’ll be a hit.  The effort that went into it is clearly about 2000% greater than the effort that went into the terrible emulated Contra releases for XBox Live Arcade.  I’m sure I could have a lot of fun playing it online with 5 other players.  But given the other great games to choose from, I can’t justify buying this one.

I still have high hopes for Konami’s upcoming Hard Corps: Uprising (a Contra modernization) and Rush’n Attack Ex-Patriot.