Rayman Origins (not that it actually has anything to do with his origins, but that’s artistic license for you, I guess).

Rayman Origins PS Vita boxart
Rayman Origins PS Vita boxart
Title: Rayman Origins
Format: PlayStation Vita
Release date: 2012
Obtained: 2012
Place of purchase: Amazon
Price: £29.99
Completed?: Yes

I’d never really been a big fan of Rayman, only ever having played Rayman Revolution (an enhanced PS2 version of Rayman 2 that I really only bought because I didn’t have many PS2 games at the time), but the amazingly-beautiful graphics and animation of Origins grabbed my attention. It seemed like a perfect fit for my snazzy new Vita. And, indeed, it was. The game looks astonishingly lovely on the equally-astonishly-lovely screen of the Vita.

The game is incredibly fun, if a trifle difficult at times. It’s that good sort of difficulty, though, where you know you can get past a certain point with enough skill and the right timing, rather than it being a matter of luck or unfair game design. The final ‘main’ level, ‘The Reveal’, caused a great deal of teeth-gnashing but also a massive sense of achievement when I finally made it to the end after the twentieth-or-so try.

In fact, I can’t remember having this much fun playing a 2D platformer in ages, not even New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, which just felt a bit too traditional. Rayman has, I think, got a new fan…

End-of-level Rayman, demonstrating the French quirkiness (read 'craziness') that is typical of the game.
End-of-level Rayman, demonstrating the French quirkiness (read ‘craziness’) that is typical of the game.

Re-Wind Waker

Zelda - WInd Waker box art
Zelda – WInd Waker box art
Title: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Format: Nintendo GameCube
Release date: 2003
Obtained: 2003
Place of purchase: GAME
Price: (Included with hardware)
Completed?: Yes

I guess like a fair few people, Wind Waker was the game I bought a GameCube for. I remember quite vividly going to GAME and purchasing the special silver console hardware bundle. I mainly remember it because, on the way home my second Ford Escort (colour: Pepper Red (burgundy, basically), engine size: 1.6, 0-60 in: geological timescales only) got written off by a guy who was apparently driving to get some insurance at the time, rather coincidentally. This was rendered even more of a crappy day by the fact that, after driving my car to the local garage for a quick assessment, due to the now-misshapen back-end I managed to scrape the side of the car next to me in the car park on the way out. Of course, the car just happened to be owned by the assessor for my insurance company, so really it couldn’t have gone any worse if a hole in the ground had opened up and dragged me into the ninth circle of Hell (reserved for traitors and bad parkers).

The main thing everybody remembers about Wind Waker are the graphics, and the huge controversy they caused. At the time, lots of people were a bit miffed that Nintendo hadn’t gone with the more ‘grown-up’ style of Ocarina of Time that had been previewed when the GameCube was in development. Those people were, of course, wrong as the art style of WW still looks incredible today, oddly much more so than the later Twilight Princess (which did have the more ‘mature’ look). The game is pretty much the interactive cartoon that had been promised to us for years, albeit one with a bit of a dodgy camera that can cause immense frustration at times.

I’ve replayed it over the last couple of weeks as part of a Zelda ‘marathon’ inspired by my recent completion of Skyward Sword, and the older title still stands up. Perhaps the main problems with it nowadays are that it is perhaps a little too easy in parts, albeit with a couple of frustrating difficulty spikes, and that the final section of the game involves a bit too much sailing around and not really doing much of interest. Nintendo really should have abandoned the whole ‘find the eight pieces of the Triforce’ business that forces you to find maps and then go treasure-hunting (once for the rupees to decipher the maps at the hands of the ever-annoying-and-slightly-creepy Tingle, and again to actually find the things. At the least, it would have been better to cut this down to a shorter segment and just add in an extra dungeon or something. Also, the Great Sea is perhaps too much sea and not enough stuff in it; most of the small islands are uninhabited or have little of any interest on them.

These are all minor flaws, though, and the game remains a gem of a title. Shame, really, that my purchase of it is intermingled with memories of my car being smashed up, and my replay of it is meshed with that of my wife moving out. Must be cursed.

It's Link, doing Link-y stuff.
It’s Link, doing Link-y stuff.

Skyrim’s the limit.

Title: Skyrim
Format: XBox 360
Release date: 2011
Obtained: 2011
Place of purchase: Amazon
Price: £35
Completed?: Yes

Here’s my problem with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: it was dull. Its large world felt dead, despite the meticulous attention to detail that was doubtless lavished on it.

Here’s my problem with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: it was dull. Its large world felt dead, despite the meticulous attention to detail that was doubtless lavished on it.

I did, therefore, approach The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with a certain amount of trepidation. The pre-release hype was immensely appealing, though, and there were dragons. Lots of dragons. Big, fuck-off dragons with fiery breath, flappy wings and a propensity to go ‘roooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh’ at inopportune moments. Let’s be clear about this: in my fantasy-addled mind there is nothing that cannot be made better by the inclusion of dragons. Bethesda were making all the right noises about the game: the clockwork automatons of the previous titles will be replaced with more realistic ones, the combat will be improved from the frankly rather dull click-click-click of before, and so on.

Delightfully, I pre-ordered the game. Excitingly, it was dispatched. Thrillingly, it arrived through the post. With a quivering sense of anticipation dampened only by the fact I knew I’d have to install a patch, I slipped the disc into my 360 and prepared myself to play. Some 80-odd hours I came away feeling, well, a little exhausted. In truth, I’d wanted to get my character up to about level 50 and clear off most of the big side-quests before attempting the end-game, but I got bored. Bored of the wandering around, bored of going into dungeons and killing Dragurs, even bored of fighting dragons, which is something I never thought I’d say. I think I’d just played it too much; I’d really enjoyed the first 60 or so hours, but after that it did just become a bit too much like a job, and a tedious one at that.

I know of some people who’ve spent hundreds of hours in the world of Oblivion, and no doubt there are plenty others who’ve done the same with Skyrim, but all I can say is that they must be happier than I of essentially doing the same thing over and over again. This, perhaps, is for me Skyrim‘s problem: it’s just too big. Too big, and again a touch too ‘dead’. True, the world is a more believable one than previous Bethesda titles, but it still seems false. Maybe it’s me, but it seems less alive than Baldur’s Gate II did, or even Dragon Age (maybe not Dragon Age II). The people wander around and do the same things day after day, the shop-keepers are always there and always say the same things, the world just doesn’t change enough. Oddly I think the difficulty is that they try too hard to make the world real. Designers like Bioware who are creating some that is perhaps a more linear, traditional gaming environment have an easier time of it since they can work within the generally-acceptable boundaries of a game and make something that seems more ‘full’ though actually isn’t.

I’ve no idea if any of that makes any sense.

In any case, I did enjoy Skyrim, but do feel as if I spent too long in its company and now don’t really want to go back and play the (apparently slightly disappointingDawnguard.