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FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Note: This article contains spoilers for a game that is either twenty years or one month old. To be clear, the spoilers are not for anything you wouldn’t find in the Gameboy version. You have been warned.

Adventure Time!Forever just isn’t as long as it used to be.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an amazing game. Within the confines of the meager Gameboy, Link experienced one of his most enjoyable and surprisingly expressive adventures. Link saves the day by venturing through Koholint, a mysterious island home to friendly villagers, the occasional demon round boi, and no less than twelve billion moblins. Items of note include a giant catfish that hides an equally giant worm, a walrus that is always happy to hear a song, and a golden leaf (or maybe five). Oh, and there’s that gigantic egg at the top of Koholint’s highest peak. Assuming Link is capable of collecting all eight of the magical instruments (that’s seven more than usual!) strewn around the island, he’s told he will awaken the Wind Fish, and the dream that is Koholint Island will fade to nothingness. Every one and every thing Link encounters across his adventure is ephemeral, and will disappear should his quest succeed.

And that makes me sad!

Which, ultimately, is the point. LA’s Koholint Island is, when you stop to think about it, one of the absolute nicest places Link has ever visited. Yes, there are monsters, and, yes, the rules of life and death appear to be controlled by a lesser Mario villain’s song, but, aside from a few existential horrors, Koholint is a pretty nice place. You can hang out in a pastoral village, enjoy a walk on the beach, or even have a conversation with a welcoming (and surprisingly verbal) rabbit. SING ITAnd even if Link decides to just stay in the Dream Shrine for the rest of the day, there’s a very real feeling that life on Koholint can go on without him. Granny has her sweeping to do, an alligator is busy working on his art, and lovers are catfishing each other with snail mail. And then there’s Marin. Sweet, doomed Marin…

Marin is the first person Link meets on Koholint, and, incidentally, the first woman in the franchise to rescue Link for a change. It is Marin that drags the sea tossed Link back to her cottage, and nurses him back to health after his near-death experience. And when Link is up and adventuring, it is once again Marin that is not only the most useful villager across the quest (learning music is fun!), she’s also the woman that spends the most time with Link. They play crane games together. They smash pots together. They even bond over a shared love of fried chicken. Right down to Marin’s very vocal desire to be free and see the world, it’s clear that you, the player, are supposed to feel a bond with Marin, and maybe even the slightest bit of empathy for this monochrome NPC. Your quest will wipe her from existence, and, only if you’re really good will you be rewarded with the possibility that Marin escaped her fate by becoming the trashiest of trash birds.

But, whether you keep Link immaculate or not, the Marin you know is gone at the end of Link’s Awakening. And nothing is going to change that. Marin was never real in the first place, and you’ll never see her again.

HERE WE GOAnd the Zelda franchise/Nintendo held true to this rule for decades. Marin only reappeared as a trophy (literally, to be clear) in Super Smash Bros Melee, and did not return in any other form, playable, cameo, or otherwise. Marin clearly influenced Malon of Ocarina of Time, but the young lady obsessed with cows shared very little in common with the songstress of the seas. And, if you squint, you can see how Link’s sister Aryll (of Wind Waker) shares a few superficial similarities with the girl of Link’s dreams. But aside from those allusions, Marin, like all of the friendly faces around Koholint Island, was gone forever, another unfortunate casualty of having never existed at all. Papahl, Kidoh, Lattie, Mamasha, Madam MeowMeow, and even Old Man Ulrira are all gone from the franchise, too; but Marin’s absence is felt most keenly. She was more interesting than the titular Zelda, people! Bring her back!

And now Marin returns in the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. She’s back. She’s adorable. And she’s singing her lil’ heart out.

So why am I sad to see one of my favorite characters all over again?

CHOMPWhen you get right down to it, Link’s Awakening needed a remake. Yes, the obvious issue with LA was that it was initially designed for hardware that could barely support an entire Mario Land, but the controls of Link’s Awakening needed an upgrade much more than the graphics or sound. The A/B system of LA was a genius callback to the original adventure, but there’s a reason The Legend of Zelda never let you switch out your sword. Yes, the option of bomb arrows is always nice, but there are way too many places in OG LA where you have to switch out your feather for some boots and then over to a power bracelet and whoops there’s an enemy maybe you need a sword or some bombs. I hate pausing! A modern remake of LA would allow for mapping the constantly used items to constantly used buttons (what is even the point of giving Link a jump if it’s a pain in the ass to use?), and then maybe an island filled with pegasus blocks would be less than annoying. Link’s Awakening was always a shining rupee in the Zelda crown, but some QOL improvements could make it pretty amazing.

And they did! Link’s Awakening: Switch Because Apparently Subtitles for Subtitles Are For Nerds is a pretty amazing experience. The graphics are adorable and appropriately “just wrong enough” for a dream world, the music (mostly) captures the original haunting isolation of LA’s best tunes, and, yes Virginia, there is an excellent control redux. None of it is absolutely perfect (Roc’s Feather should simply be a permanent RT, and why I can’t use the damn cross-pad is some Phantom Hourglass-level nonsense), but this is indisputably the best version of one of the best Zeldas available. It’s a joy to play, and revisiting sunny Koholint is a welcome change of pace from Link’s usually dour dungeons (or that one Hyrule that is not doing great).

So what’s the problem? If I had to put a point on it, I’d say it’s the ending:

GOOD END

The finale of the original Link’s Awakening was something I saw a billion times. LA was one of my few Gameboy games, and I played the living hell out of it through a Super Gameboy. When I was finally allowed my first actual Gameboy, I reamed every last bit of gameplay out of that gray goober. I must have beaten that game literally hundreds of times, and I must have seen “Seagull Marin” about 80% of those times (hey, I didn’t know dying was a bad thing when I was a kid). And, no matter how many times I beat Link’s Awakening, it always made me sad. Marin was gone forever, and, as the years went on, I was only ever reminded that Marin would never return. She was dreamstuff in the first place, and to the shores of The Dreaming she would always return. Sorry, Bob, time to move on to other adventures.

But Link’s Awakening Switch stirs a different feeling in me. That feeling? “Oh, there she is again.”

For a solid two decades, Marin was nowhere to be found. Then, in 2015 (or so), she rolled on in…

BAD END

Yes, she appeared in Link’s sexual awakening, but she was back! There was much rejoicing!

Now, four years later, she’s back in the remake of Link’s Awakening. And now when I see her ending, I don’t feel the same melancholy as before. I experience the unmistakable sensation of “wonder what she’s going to do next for Nintendo?” We saw Hyrule Warriors DLC, so will she be in the inevitable sequel? How about an amiibo? Maybe Nintendo will take the Link Between Worlds route and make an outright Link’s Awakening 2: Koholint Boogaloo. Regardless of future plans, this is less a downhearted finale, and now more Marin isn’t going to be gone forever ever again, dear player, and here’s a little reminder.

FLAP FLAPAnd, yes, it is entirely possible I’m just being cynical about this whole situation. Link’s Awakening: Switches Get Stiches was an amazing game, and I really shouldn’t be complaining about it because Nintendo has an overzealous marketing department. But, on the other hand, I do have to turn the game off. And when I do, I see Cloud Strife advertising his latest adventure (which is the same adventure, but maybe different[?]), Disney advertising their latest live action remake of a beloved cartoon from my childhood (probably The Rescuers Down Under this week), and freaking Boo Berry returning to store shelves because nostalgia even sells breakfast-themed sugar snacks. It’s a little bit hard to believe that Nintendo is going to let any part of Link’s Awakening “rest” when I’ve got seventeen different Link amiibos staring back at me. Come to think of it, the LA Link on the official Nintendo Amiibo website is listed as part of the “Series: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”. So I’ve got a general idea where that phrasing is going…

Yes, I’m actually complaining about more content being provided from a franchise/game that I deeply enjoy. Yes, this sounds like the most first of first world problems. But stories should be allowed to end. Endings should be allowed to be sad without tacking on an ellipse and a question mark. Or, at the very least, I should be allowed to enjoy a piece of media without being reminded it’s just one cog in an unstoppable machine meant to grind me down until I am simply blood and an open wallet. The nostalgia advertised for so many of these projects is less dopamine and more poison when the threat of further, costly adventures is on the horizon.

I’m just an old man complaining, but I’m old enough to remember when a Zelda game ended, it meant it ended. Forever.

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I reserve the right to review the original at some point in the next 100 FGC articles.
  • Number of players: Does dungeon sharing count? Let’s just say one.
  • SpicyGravediggin’: Oh yeah, the big, new content for Link’s Awakening is Dampé providing a “build a dungeon” area. It’s… kind of weird to have a “real” Hyrule inhabitant on Koholint. Regarding the actual dungeon building, I want to say this might have been better received if it was touted as a “Link’s Awakening Randomizer”, and not a real unique dungeon creation system. The concept here is amazing… but in practice, it just winds up being random bits from LA dungeons sewn together. That can be its own kind of fun… but it ain’t no Zelda Maker.
  • Say Something Mean: Whoever is responsible for the load times involved when entering houses that are approximately six pixels wide should be forced to fight a flock of angry chickens.
  • Favorite Nightmare: Now I finally know that Hot Head, the boss of the final complete dungeon, is supposed to be a lava monster that is inexplicably only weak to the fire rod. There was a slight chance that high definition graphics would give some explanation as to why fire is vulnerable to fire, but, nope, he’s just a reject Fry Guy.
  • Favorite Mini Boss: Smasher demands that Link play dodge ball. He’s my kinda whale-fish-dude.
  • So, did you beat it? I certainly did, but I didn’t exactly get every heart piece and secret seashell. I might really enjoy this world, but I don’t feel like figuring out every damn fishing game that crosses my path.
  • Did you know? According to the official Legend of Zelda timeline, the same Link stars in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Seasons, and then The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. First of all, that Link has got to be exhausted by the end of his four separate journeys. But, more importantly, there isn’t an adventure for that particular Link after Link’s Awakening. This raises some… very solemn questions.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I might feel vaguely bad about it, but I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Legend 3 for the Gameboy! Now we’re hitting some monochrome adventuring! Please look forward to it!

I can hear this GIF
I can hear this GIF

FGC #443 Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

NOTE: This article contains spoilers for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. I’ll be light on the spoilers for Bloodstained… but I will have to reveal the identity of the final boss/finale. You’ve been warned!

Here she comes!Now let us compare the feminist themes of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.

In so much as a videogame can have a central “visionary”, we’re going to blame Koji Igarashi for a number of games for which he was writer, director, producer, or all of the above. So let’s produce a list of games credited to IGA…

  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
  • Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
  • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
  • Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
  • Otomedius Excellent: For Some Reason
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

That’s a lot of Castlevania! And, of all those Castlevania games, exactly one game had a solo playable female character. Other than that? Yoko got to stretch her legs in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but she was permanently tied to an amnesiac and a dhampir. Charlotte was half of the duo of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, but there was still no Charlotte (“Charlotte!”) without Jonathan (“Jonathan!”). And what of every other woman in IGA’s Castlevania universe? Well, they’re all either shopkeeps, damsels to be distressed, or literal monsters. The final boss is never a woman (okay, it’s always Dracula, but it’s always a man summoning Dracula), the rival character is never a woman, and a lot of Wallachian women don’t even have walking animations. And that’s pretty depressing, particularly given we were coming off Rondo of Blood, where Maria kicked unholy amounts of ass before being relegated to crushing on Alucard in its (IGA-penned) sequel.

So, suffice to say, one might be forgiven for not having much hope for Shanoa, star of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia or Miriam, lead of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. In fact, it’s entirely possible both of those games are rather disgusting from a feminist (or even just human) perspective, as… Can we take a minute to review how these characters gain new abilities? The stars of many Igavanias simply collected equipment (incidentally, all of these stars were male). Soma of the Sorrow duology gathered souls from defeated monsters, but these souls were happy little wisps that Soma “devoured” while light-headedly puttering around. And the anti-hero of Curse of Darkness forged his own monsters in a proactive manner. Meanwhile, our female leads have to stand around and absorb magical glyphs into their exposed backs (and there’s an odd emphasis in the dialogue on the word “flesh”), or, we’ve got Bloodstained’s…

That stings

And, just in case you though that little flourish was there for some “horror” graphical curlicue, Miriam elaborates on the feeling of absorbing a shard:

Owie

So, congratulations, player! Every time you gain a new skill to advance Miriam on her quest, you are literally torturing her.

That’s… not a great thing to see happen to your female protagonist. It’s an even worse thing when not a single male in the “horror” series suffered violent repercussions for, ya know, amassing powerups.

And, yes, we’re also dealing with worlds where literally every other woman involved in the plot is either a monster or… nonexistent. Shanoa has three other important people in her life: the guy fighting Dracula, the guy reviving Dracula, and Dracula. Miriam at least has one other (adult) woman in the plot, but the finale reveals that she was Dracula (at least She-Dracula) all along. In both cases, there are random female NPCs standing around and dispensing sidequests (so we’re at least on better footing than the first six Star Wars films), but it’s still pretty noticeable that there’s an unmistakable testosterone cloud floating around every character that is actually relevant.

But at least there are catgirl monsters skulking about! There are always catgirl monsters for some reason!

Add it all up, and you would likely expect Order of Ecclesia and Ritual of the Night to be equally abhorrent when it comes to portraying a healthy 51% of the population. But what if I told you that Ritual of the Night is a significant improvement over Order of Ecclesia? Koji Igarashi actually learned something in ten years!

This is offensiveOn the surface level, Shanoa of OoE and Miriam of RotN are remarkably similar…

FGC #441 Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II

Here comes some starsThe original StarTropics game was an action/RPG hybrid that saw young Mike Jones venture through some ill-defined “South Seas” Caribbean-esque tropical venues. Mike traversed caves, spoke to parrots, and eventually discovered the source of all of his woes were mysterious aliens. The aliens are well established as antagonists from early on, though (StarTropics), so they’re not completely out of left field in this otherwise mundane adventure about Mike exploring some deadly vacation destinations. In a time when NES titles were often incredibly bonkers, Mike’s quest was arguably simply a much more ordinary Legend of Zelda.

And then we got StarTropics 2. And it was insane-o cuckoo banana pants crazy.

So, in the interest of properly conveying the plot and further adventures of Mike Jones, please enjoy these 30 unmodified images from my playthrough of StarTropics 2. It’s pretty straightforward!







Let’s see what else happens to Mike…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG