Tag Archives: Nintendo

On… The Legend of the Legend of Zelda

In another one of those moments which seem designed to make people of my generation feel old, The Legend of Zelda turns thirty this year. Thirty. Three zero. That’s a whole three decades worth of people getting Zelda and Link mixed up, during which we’ve seen some eight main console titles, eight handheld games, four remasters, a number of weird spin-offs (Link’s Crossbow Training, anyone?) and a handful of hideous CD-i games that Nintendo and the world in general would rather forget.

I was a little late getting into Zelda games, with the first one I ever owned being Link’s Awakening on the gloriously monochrome Game Boy. Since then I’ve owned and played pretty much every single main title. But – I hear you shout from across the blackened void of fibre-optics and tubing that constitutes the Internet – please, Gareth, tell us what are your favourites.

Okay, then. Have a list, I know the web likes those kind of things. In reverse order, my favourite five are…

5: Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess's Midna, looking awesome as always.
Twilight Princess’s Midna, looking awesome as always.

In many ways, Twilight Princess always seemed to me a reaction to Wind Waker. Thanks to all the whingeing about the art style of WW, the world of Twilight Princess is a thoroughly more sombre one. This is a Zelda for people accustomed to the ‘realism’ (in relative terms) of the fantasy worlds presented in the likes of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Link is now most definitely an adult, and the world around him is one where forgotten ghosts shiver in abandoned homes. On paper, TP should be the perfect Zelda game: there’s a huge overworld, tons of items, a heap of dungeons. In reality, alas, it isn’t. Why it isn’t is rather a hard question to answer. It seems utterly tripe to say it, but what TP seems to lack is a bit of magic.

Compared to Wind Waker or Ocarina of TimeTP seems like Nintendo playing it a little safe and adding things for the sake of adding them. Yes, there’s a big overworld, but it’s empty. Yes, there are loads of items, but most of them are ones you’ve seen before. Yes, there are a lot of dungeons but, frankly, to me it was a game that outstayed its welcome. By the time I had got to the end I was wishing it had finished two dungeons ago.

All of which sounds horribly negative when, really, TP is a brilliant game. Sadly it’s like a Booker prizewinner in a family of Nobel literature laureates: in any other context they would be stellar, but in such illustrious company they don’t shine quite as bright.

Obviously I’m still getting the HD remaster, though.

4: Link’s Awakening

Link in a shop run by a crocodile. Really, this should have been a sign that not everything was tickety-boo.
Link in a shop run by a crocodile. Really, this should have been a sign that not everything was tickety-boo.

Aside from a few brief minutes of A Link to the Past on a friend’s SNES, Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda game I ever played. The Game Boy typically played host to ‘side stories’, with the likes of Super Mario Land where the intrepid Italian plumber went around shooting aquatic life in a submarine. The titles were usually good, but they always felt a little ‘cut-down’. LA was different. Whilst the story is most definitely out on the fringes (it follows on from ALttP and follows a ship-wrecked Link exploring a strange island away from Hyrule), the game didn’t feel as if it had been compromised to fit the handheld. There was a huge (well, for the time) overworld, eight main dungeons and a number of side-quests. In short, everything you’d nowadays expect from a Zelda title.

The title is a joy to play, making the most of its host console’s humble graphic and sound capabilities. I must have finished it at least ten times, if not more, and I never got tired of it. It’s a testament to the skill with which it was designed that playing today, over twenty years since its original release, it doesn’t feel particularly dated. Okay, the cut-scenes seem basic and in comparison to modern titles it may seem a little small, but overall it’s as excellent a game today as it was back then.

3: The Wind Waker

All aboard the cartoon ship.
All aboard the cartoon ship.

Be it the original GameCube version or the remastered Wii U one, The Wind Waker looks glorious. As a child of the 1980s my initial gaming experiences were filled with those titles from the likes of Codemasters that promised ‘cartoon adventures’, though they could never deliver given the limitations of the technology of the time. TWW is that dream made real. Bright, colourful, this presents a world that seems an endless joy to inhabit. Which is a bit odd, really, as Great Ocean we traverse in TWW is essentially the post-apocalyptic remnants of Hyrule, buried beneath the sea after a time when evil rose and the hero did not come to save the day.

The game is not without its faults. Most notably, there are some obvious places where content is just missing, presumably the results of a truncated development time. The end-game hunt for treasure maps also wears thin a lot sooner than it actually ends. These are minor gripes, though, in a game that offers such a fun experience.

When it was released, there was a lot of anger at Nintendo for heading down the cartoon route. I never subscribed to this point-of-view, but I hope that those who did can, in retrospect, see that it has lent the game a timeless quality. The HD remaster in some ways seemed a bit superfluous, as the original version still looks good, even running on a flatscreen TV which are normally unkind to pre-HDMI consoles. The art has lived on, of course, with the now-monikered ‘Toon Link’ appearing in the Super Smash Bros. series, Hyrule Warriors and two follow-up DS titles, The Phantom Hourglass and The Spirit Tracks. But there is more to TWW than the art, the game itself is a typical Zelda masterclass of design. A particular stand-out moment for me was the discovery of the old Hyrulian castle, filled to begin with by stone statues which later come to terrifying life after you retrieve the Master Sword.

2. Skyward Sword

Skyward Sword's flying is great, if RSI-inducing.
Skyward Sword’s flying is great, if RSI-inducing.

Here’s the weird thing about Skyward Sword: it’s an utterly, utterly brilliant game but, my God, if I never have to play it again as long as I live I’ll be a happy man. It is, in many ways, one of the most astonishingly well-designed games I’ve ever had the fortune to play. The Lanayru Desert, for instance, with its localised time-travelling mechanic, is a work of sheer genius. The switch from a giant overworld with multiple dungeons to a game where you explore several main sections a number of times, uncovering other areas as you can new abilities, at first sounds like a retrograde step, but actually it works brilliantly. The story is one of the best in a Zelda title and, by acting as the earliest chapter in the series’ rather convoluted chronology, is able to shake off a number of tropes while paying homage to the lore in general.

The one big problem with SS is the controls. I don’t want to be one of those people who comes across as hating motion controls or bemoaning the decision Nintendo made. In fairness, the implementation of them is great (probably the best of any Wii game) and it adds a high level of immersion to the combat. That being said, whilst I must admit to never having been a medieval knight, I can imagine that swinging a sword around constantly for hours on end can tire your arm out a bit. This is the problem with SS.  I know, I know: I’ve read the safety leaflets and realise I shouldn’t be playing it for ages without a rest, but even just an hour or so was enough to make my joints ache. The final boss fight was a grueling experience, physically as much as anything else. It almost drove me to the point that I was ready to quit and walk away, cradling my poor arm. Only perseverance and sheer bloody mindedness saw me through. Following the post-credit sequence, I stuck the game back in the box and have never taken it out since. For all they add to the game, the motion controls take more away. The fact that the default interface has a good quarter of the screen taken up with a ghostly image of the Wii Remote seems to demonstrate a certain lack of faith by Nintendo in its inclusion, and the ability of others to grasp it.

It’s perhaps a testament to how great a game SS is that it still ranks so highly despite the difficulties I had with it. It could do with – and undoubtedly at some point will get – an HD remaster where they strip out the motion controls and replace them with something more traditional.

1: Ocarina of Time

Hyrule Field, its tranquility shattered only by Navi shouting 'Hey!' every twenty seconds.
Hyrule Field, its tranquility shattered only by Navi shouting ‘Hey!’ every twenty seconds.

What is there to be said about Ocarina that hasn’t been said a lot better many times before. Since its release on the N64 in 1998, the game has consistently appeared at the very top of ‘best game ever’ lists. Playing it today is still a wonderful experience, especially if you’re using the 3DS remaster which sharpens the graphics. In part, though, I think to understand how remarkable a game OoT is you need to have an awareness of the context of the industry it was released into. In 1998, 3D gaming was still in its infancy especially on console. Super Mario 64 had revolutionised console gaming along with the N64’s analogue stick, but there were still questions to be answered about other elements of the control system and how players interacted with an environment that had an extra dimension than they had grown up with.

When OoT cam along it introduced what-was-then-termed ‘Z-targeting’ (because of the controller button it mapped to) that allowed you to focus in on enemies and objects. It seems so obvious now, of course, but that’s the smugness hindsight leaves you with (“Oh, yes, obviously the wheel should be round.”). Then there’s the overworld. Once you’ve left the starting area, you’re thrown into Hyrule Field which stretches out as far as the draw distance can show. By modern open world standards it’s tiny and empty, but it still looks beautiful and there’s still a sense of wonder to be had as you gaze at Death Mountain with its sinister cloud halo, knowing that you can climb right to the very top of it.

There are so many things that OoT does right and better than its peers or, indeed, most of the games that have come since. The movement to the 3D world allowed Nintendo to experiment with puzzles that made you think in terms of height, width and depth. This wasn’t just a 2D game made to work in 3D, it was a game revelled in its extra space. Even the Water Temple – which is now infamous in the frustrations it caused dues to its layout – is a triumph of design.

If Wind Waker is a cartoon and Twilight Princess a high fantasy epic, then Ocarina is a fairy tale. The majority of Zelda games have typically followed the route of an everyman (or, rather, everykid) plucked from obscurity rising to become a great hero. OoT very much follows this line, but it does it better than its successors or predecessors. There’s just the right level of sparsity in its story-telling, just the right amount of charm and humour in its characters. Link is always a silent hero; in OoT this feeds into the feeling of the story as you are both a participant in the world and a separated observer. Like all fairy tales, the route is predefined, your destiny is written and you just need to follow it through to the end.

OoT presents a world that isn’t believable: characters stand around doing nothing other than waiting for your arrival; the towns and areas are obviously designed for you to play in rather than for people to live in. It doesn’t matter. Ocarina isn’t trying to give you reality, it’s trying to give you a myth, a story that you follow and a journey that you make. The transformation part-way through from a child to an adult is a masterstroke: in one movement it both provides new game mechanics and a new way to see the environments, whilst also giving you impetus to play on. As we move from childhood to adulthood, we slowly but surely realise that the world that at one time seemed so safe is actually anything but. Transported through time, Link sees an abrupt version of this: the twisted, corrupted Hyrule of the future is in stark contrast to what has come before. Who amongst us would not, if we could, wish to change things so that the world forever seemed as safe and assured as it did when we were young?

If you have never played Ocarina then you really should. It is the template by which all later Zelda games are judged. It is such an important milestone in  the development of games as a medium that, honestly, it seems a privilege to have been there when it was new. You can compare it to the influence of the Beatles, or the release of Star Wars. It remains in all ways magnificent.

On… Mario Maker

My recent acquistion of Mario Maker has made me realise two things: firstly, my five-year-old daughter is a sadist; secondly, Nintendo’s genius remains undiminished. A bulwark of the video games industry, Nintendo sometimes seem a little blinkered to what is happening around them. You only need to spend five minutes trying to set up your existing Nintendo Network ID on a different 3DS to realise that. What Mario Maker shows, though, is that the company still knows how to create something that is as accessible and as brilliant as anything Sony or Microsoft, or even Apple for that matter, could come up with.

My experience of level and game creators has not been a great one, I admit, probably due to my incompetence and lack of skill more than anything else. From the 8-bit days with the Shoot-‘Em Up Construction Kit and Graphic Adventure Creator through to the likes of Little Big Planet, I have been consistently unable to come up with anything halfway decent without getting bored or frustrated. Part of the problem is my own lack of foresight or ambition, but also there is a common theme with all the tools I’ve seen that they have a steep learning curve followed by a plateau when you realise the limitations of what’s possible.

Mario looking like he's cosplaying as Fix-It Felix Jr. from Wreck-It Ralph.
Mario looking like he’s cosplaying as Fix-It Felix Jr. from Wreck-It Ralph.

Mario Maker does a few things differently. For starters, it has a wonderfully simple interface that makes the best use of the Wii U’s Gamepad I’ve seen so far (though admittedly that isn’t saying much). My daughter was able to pick up the pad and start creating her own devilishly hard levels within minutes (‘Daddy, try this level with three giant flying Bowsers and a giant chasm before the flag’). From the simple drag-and-drop placement of item onto the square-paper landscape to the way you make enemies bigger by feeding them a super mushroom, it all makes sense. Though I believe it was a bit of a controversial decision, Nintendo’s choice to only provide a handful of items at first and then have others ‘delivered’ to you as the game progresses I found inspired. It gives you enough time to experiment with the basics before you start piling on the ‘extra’ things. The only downside of it is that it can be a little annoying that you can play levels made by others that are utilising tools you haven’t got access to yet.

Of course, Mario Maker is Mario Maker: the tool is designing specifically for creating 2D Mario levels and that’s it. There are some ingenious uses of it out there that have shoehorned RPG style elements and those of others titles into it, though these only really work as one-off showcases: you can’t really stretch it beyond it’s very strict remit. But whilst you might think that’s limiting, it actually makes it a better tool because it’s so focused. If you suffer a nut fixation or have been cross-bred with a squirrel, it’s far better to have a nutcracker than be given a sledgehammer.

One of my daughter's typically evil level designs, complete with bottomless pit (apologies for the rubbish lazy screengrab).
One of my daughter’s typically evil level designs, complete with bottomless pit (apologies for the rubbish lazy screengrab).

There’s nothing really bad I can say about Mario Maker. Yes, okay, it’s a shame that you can’t string a set of levels together into a world, which does make the collection of coins and extra lives seem a little superfluous, but that’s the only really feature I feel is missing. Everything else is just pretty much perfect, from the tactile interface to the way you can swap between designing and playing in an instant, Nintendo have not only managed to nail this but also to put some put some lovely shelving up around it and line it with a collection of worthy titles that wouldn’t look out of place in an Ideal Home showcase.

What the title also makes you appreciate – if you didn’t already – was how much sheer effort and skill goes into creating real Mario games, even those that don’t seem particularly innovative (I’m looking at you, New Super Mario Bros. Wii). The placement of objects, enemies and platforms which at first may seem haphazard in fact is a masterclass in level design; you realise that everything is in its place for a reason and because somebody has calculated through play-testing that it is exactly where it should go. Of course, odds are you won’t have the same level of skill or patience – heaven knows I haven’t – but it does give you a whole new level of appreciation for the Nintendo genius.

Mario Maker, then: brilliant.

Twilight Princess, thankfully devoid of sparkly vampires

Twilight Princess GameCube boxart
Twilight Princess GameCube boxart

Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Format: Nintendo GameCube
Release date: 2006
Obtained: 2006
Place of purchase: Gameplay.co.uk
Price: Unknown (probably around £30)
Completed?: Yes

Warning: Spoilers contained not just for this game, but also Skyward Sword!

Twilight Princess spent longer languishing in my ‘must complete’ pile than any other Zelda game apart from Majora’s Mask (which, to date, I still haven’t got around to finishing). I finally this year made a concerted effort to get through it, and did actually manage it. TP is pretty much everything you’d expect from a modern Zelda game; in many ways it seems a kind of ‘greatest hits’ compilation, with modern redressings of settings from Ocarina of Time with a darker edge to the story and graphics that are reminiscent of Majora.

It is a brilliant game, as you might expect from its pedigree. There are wonderfully tricksy puzzles, a combat system that is really the pinnacle of the non-motion-controlled Zeldas (I’m talking about the GameCube version here, of course), and one of the best supporting characters ever in the shape of Midna. But there is a problem: it’s too long. It took me around forty hours to complete, and I didn’t really do an awful lot of the side-quests as they mostly seemed likely rather tedious collect-a-thons. For some titles, forty hours isn’t an issue, but in the case of TP it seemed rather as if the last few hours were rather tedious. Unfortunately for me I’d reached the point of ‘oh-not-another-dungeon’ around three of them before the end. It doesn’t help that the last couple of levels don’t really add anything new to the game other than some locations which occasionally lapse into exercises in frustration when you mis a jump by pixels because of the 3D camera. The final boss fight is also dragged out by virtue of taking place over four separate phases, the last of which features a Ganondorf with more hit points than you can shake a Deku stick at. It’s not hard to beat him (certainly a lot easier than Demise at the end of Skyward Sword), just rather tedious because it lasts that long.

This all sounds rather negative, though, which is unfair because for the vast majority of the game the typical Zelda excellence shines through. There are a few brilliant stand-out moments, like the battle on horseback on the Eldin Bridge against the Moblin boss, and searching for the tears of light, but it’s the general high-quality of the game that’s most noticeable. I’m glad I went back to complete it, though I don’t think I’ll be attempting it again for quite some time.

It's Midna. Midna is cool.
It’s Midna. Midna is cool.

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.

Skyward Sword: It’s a sword that’s pointing up. To the sky.

Zelda: Skyward Sword boxart
Zelda: Skyward Sword boxart

Title: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Format: Wii
Release date: 2011
Obtained: Christmas 2011
Place of purchase: Gift
Price: N/A
Completed?: Yes

I finished Skyward Sword just the other day, and thought I’d try to put some thoughts down about it. It was, in turns, one of the most amazing and one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played. Let’s deal with the frustrations first… A big part of my problems lies with the motion controls. I won’t lie, I have a problem with such controls in general that problem stems back to my extreme idleness. Swiping the Wii Remote to launch an attack is fun most of the time, but becomes very tiring after a while in a way that traditionally-controlled games don’t. And whilst it’s a credit to Nintendo’s developers that Link’s actions so closely mirror your own physical ones, sometimes your movements result in the wrong attack, or just aren’t picked up quickly enough, and there are a few battles in the game where this becomes quite important.

Link, kicking some butt
Link, kicking some butt

The game also suffers from a level of hand-holding that is quite often over-the-top, but weirdly at some times irritatingly non-existent when you need it the most. I’ve read a few comments elsewhere about the stating-the-bleeding-obvious nature of Fi, your sort-of robotic sword-based companion, and depressingly it’s all fairly accurate. A typical exchange involving Fi goes like this:

Random other character: Well, in order to get through here you’re going to need to find a way past this door.

Fi: Master, I estimate with a 90% probability that in order to proceed you will need to find a way past the door.

Gee, thanks.

There are other bits in the game as well where the exposition and frilliness of the game gets in the way of actually playing it. Towards the end of the game I kept wanting to buy some heart potions, which isn’t a difficult task but does involve a fair amount of tedium. To whit:

  • Find a bird statue;
  • Return to the sky;
  • Flap your arm about like an idiot to move your bird towards Skyloft where the only potion shop in the world is located;
  • Land in Skyloft;
  • Traipse towards the bazaar;
  • Move towards the potion store and twiddle the analogue stick until the context arrow hovers over the red potion (which isn’t always easy to tell given the camera perspective);
  • Press the A button to examine it and have to sit through the same two-page explanation of what it is from the store owner (even though she’s sold it to me fifty times before);
  • Move the remote across to the ‘Okay’ button to confirm that I want to purchase it;
  • Watch Link scoop up some of the potion;
  • Watch Link do a little ‘ta-da!’ pose with his newly-purchased item and read a description of what it does (again) and how to use it;
  • Read some more dialogue from the shop owner who tells you that you can get your potion infused if you scoot down to her husband at the end of the shop;
  • Repeat ad nauseum.

Really – is all of that necessary? Surely at some point during play-testing somebody must have mentioned that maybe, just maybe, this was all utterly monotonous after you’ve watched it for the umpteenth time? Apparently not.

But, you know what, it’s still a phenomenally good game. The puzzles in the game are as cunning as ever, and are usually a joy to figure out. There’s relatively little moving of blocks from one place to another, and more using items and the environment in clever ways. The puzzles in the Lanayru Desert region, involving timeshift stones that change the environment, are a particular highlight and it’s a lot of fun to make your way through the game in general.

The storyline – often something I’ve found to be pretty weak in Zelda titles – is also pretty good. Yeah, it’s the usual ‘Zelda gets kidnapped’ business, but as a prequel to the other Zelda games it works well, and there’s even a fair bit of character development going on. Sure, it’s not going to win any Booker prizes and there’s a few too many MacGuffins around, but by the end you’ll find yourself caring about the characters and wanting to know more about their lives (maybe a handheld sequel is a good idea, Nintendo?).

I’d perhaps grown a little disillusioned with Zelda after Twilight Princess, which I felt was just a little too similar to previous titles, but Skyward Sword has reignited my passion for what is surely one of the best game series around.

One, twice, Super Mario Bros. 3 times a game.

Super Mario Bros. 3 NES boxart
Super Mario Bros. 3 NES boxart

Title: Super Mario Bros. 3
Format: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release date: 1991
Obtained: 1992
Place of purchase: Gift
Price: N/A
Completed?:Yes

To really understand the impact SMB3 had on me, you have to bear in mind that I was never really into music, and that games have been the dominant cultural anchor in my life. To me, playing SMB3 for the first time was akin to the experiences people had when they originally heard the Beatles, or David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. I remember vividly playing it originally at a friend’s house in their bedroom; at the time I only owned a C64 and was used to relatively small games that took 30 minutes to load in from a cassette tape. In contrast, here was a game that seemed absolutely massive in scope and loaded in an instant. I wanted it so much…

That was probably in the spring of 1992 – I can’t really remember the exact time. I then saved up my pocket money for the next few months and bought myself an NES. It came complete with a copy of the original Super Mario Bros. which, though it was a great game, when you’ve played SMB3 it can’t help but seem a little… basic. SMB was actually the first Mario game I’d played, but that had been on an arcade machine in Blackpool Tower and it was only for a few minutes. The third game in the series (though, as every true gamer knows, it was really the first proper sequel to the original, since we can discount the-not-really-a-Mario-game SMB2 and the unreleased-in-the-west-and-more-of-an-expansion-pack Lost Levels) was the first one I played to death.

Mario 3 had everything: fantastic graphics; incredible gameplay; a huge, varied world. From taking to the skies for the first time as Raccoon Mario, to discovering how much easier it was swimming in the frog suit, to seeing giant goombas stomping around world four, SMB3 just made you feel like you were in the midst of an imaginative whirlwind, and you were enjoying every second of it. Compared to the other games I’d played at the time, this seemed like something from another world; a giant leap forwards in terms of professionalism and invention.

I recall getting in trouble for borrowing the game from a friend just before we were about to go on holiday, I think to Great Yarmouth or possibly Exmouth. My dad had this big hang-up about people breaking into the house and stealing things, and he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of somebody else’s property being left in our house whilst we went away. After we came back from our holidays, though, my mum and dad bought me a copy of my own (on the same day we got our first microwave as well, I believe – a rather exciting day in the Hall household!). I must’ve played it pretty non-stop for some while afterwards, and eventually completed the whole thing – in one sitting, since there was no save mode – one day in the August holidays when I’d taken my NES to my Grandma’s. I used to stay with my Grandma and Grandad on my mum’s side during the school holidays, and decided this time to take the Nintendo with me. My Grandad had never really gotten used to the fact that televisions no longer had valves in them, so there was a constant concern – shared by my Grandmother – that the TV would overheat if left on for more than a few hours at a time, and she was very worried as I was making it through worlds seven and eight. Thankfully I managed to complete it before the TV combusted.

Perhaps because of the impact it had on me and the memories connected with it, in my mind SMB3 remains the pinnacle of 2D platform gaming. The SNES’s Super Mario World may have had better graphics and a cute green dinosaur, but to me SMB3 was more fun. Nowadays it’s rightfully revered as a classic, though to youthful eyes today it must seem fun yet limited. Back in the very early ’90s, however, it was jaw-dropping, and despite its vision being dulled by the advancement of gaming, its play mechanics are as fluid and enthralling as they ever were.

Will you still love me when I’m Donkey Kong 64?

Donkey Kong 64 Boxart
Donkey Kong 64 Boxart

Title: Donkey Kong 64
Format: N64
Release date: 6th December 1999.
Obtained: On release.
Place of purchase: GAME (online).
Price: Approx. £60.
Completed?: Yes.

Three main things stick in my mind about Donkey Kong 64: 1) the damnably awful ‘rap’ song that started every time you plug the cartridge in; b) spending an absolutely age playing the in-built version of the original Donkey Kong arcade game just so I could get one of the game’s collectable golden bananas; and iii) the fact that my copy came with a free inflatable banana that I kept in my room for a long time before it deflated into oblivion.

DK64 was developed by Rare and was pretty similar to Banjo-Kazooie. Replace golden jigsaw pieces with golden bananas, and swap musical notes for, erm, differently coloured bananas, and you’ve pretty much got the same game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and indeed I remember DK64 quite fondly. Sure, it was incredibly frustrating in places and the continual collection of lots of different items became a bit tedious after a while, but it was pretty fun.

Swapping around between the characters provided a fair bit of scope for variety, as they were all sufficiently different as to give some interesting challenges each. There were plenty of good ideas around, as well, albeit sometimes you did feel that they were just a bit stretched out and indeed, the game overstayed its welcome a bit.

Graphics-wise DK64 was pretty decent for an N64 title, more impressive given the scale of the levels. Having said that, the title was the first to require the use of the optional RAM expansion pack. Thankfully the initial release of the game came bundled with one, which saved me the bother of having to source one from elsewhere.

That rap, though, that rap was really, really bloody awful. Whoever thought it might be a good idea to have some polygonal apes doing a cheese-infested rap number that would have embarrassed the makers of Saturday morning cartoons deserves a slap around the face.