Retroing It Up With Oracle of Ages

The situation that I’d been referring to earlier is kinda sorted out, at least for now. So I’m back to a little bit of gaming. Sadly the only computer I have easily available to me right now is a tiny little netbook, so continuing the whole Morrowind thing is out of the question right now. In fact, most PC stuff isn’t really an option.

(Image originally from Zelda Wiki)So, instead, I decided to blow the dust off my old Game Boy Advance SP and play some Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons. I’d never finished the games, and I’d enjoyed what I’d played of them. Arguably my favorite Zelda game is Link’s Awakening, and the games are pretty much an extension of that game right down to the sprites and tiles; and since I prefer the 2D to 3D Legend of Zelda games anyway, the completion status of those old Game Boy Color games had been something that I’d want to look into.

(Next one may well be Minish Cap, though THAT one I can play on my DS if I want to. The Oracle games? Yeah, they’re Game Boy-only.)

You could argue that they aren’t “real” Zelda games, since they were made by Capcom “Flagship” subsidiary on Nintendo’s behalf. People do.  It isn’t something that I’d ever thought about, and for the first while replaying Oracle of Ages I’d dismissed it entirely. It’s Zelda! You’ve got Octoroks, you’ve got Moblins, you’ve got Sparks, what more do you want? I went through that first introductory dungeon, booted around outside a bit, finished the first real dungeon, booted around some more, travelled through time a bit, ran through the second dungeon, and had a grand ol’ time in the finest top-down Zelda tradition. Didn’t even have to deal with any of that repetitious gimmicky nonsense that mars the DS games.

Then I got to the boss of the second dungeon and had the whole “not Nintendo” thing just LEAP out at me. Hoo boy. In a game that I generally liked, this one stood out like a sore thumb.

First, it’s a side-scrolling jumping-style boss. That’s, um, not Zelda. Sorry, Zelda II aside, that just ain’t Zelda. I’m pretty sure that Link’s Awakening had that sort of thing, but I certainly don’t recall that any of the BOSSES were side-view battles. Link’s just not made for that sort of thing; the jumping is fine when you’re leaping over pits and whatnot, but there’s no fine control. It’s like playing Rastan or something.

In fact, if anything, it’s something like a Mario or Sonic boss. (Which makes sense, considering his name is “Head Thwomp“. What the hell is a Thwomp doing in a Zelda game?) You have to jump onto these floating platforms that are rotating around the boss and huck bombs into the opening on top of the the boss’s four spinning faces. Once you do, the rotation slows down and then stops; if you get the right face, you do damage. If you don’t, he goes nuts and tosses fireballs at you. Toss enough bombs in, and you may eventually win.

This fight sucked.  It sucked badly. It was nearly impossible to predict which face was going to come up, and little indication of any sort of correlation between which face was showing when the bomb got in (IF it got in; Zelda’s timed bomb mechanic didn’t exactly work well here) and the face that’d ultimately show when it stopped spinning. Maybe it was the same face. I couldn’t tell. I didn’t have time to sort it out; since this was such an early boss, I only had a few hearts, and so there was little room for error. As a LATE boss, this guy might make sense, since you’ll have some leeway to work things out. As it is, poor little Link will probably get roasted by those fireballs before most players even get their head around what the hell this thing is DOING in this game.

So, yeah, I died. Didn’t think much of it. It’s a Zelda, right? They get you RIGHT back to the end boss with ease if you die. No worries. Except, well, not this time. No, Flagship didn’t get that right at all. I had to cross over pretty much the entire dungeon, re-fighting a WHOLE lot of baddies, just to get to that fight. It didn’t even save the state of some of the fixed barriers related to the level’s whole mine cart system. They were reset to their original state, so it was necessary to go and do it all again. It took longer to get back to the boss than it had to die to him.

Sure, I beat him. But the whole thing stuck in my craw. Not so much the weird side-scrolling thing, but that return thing. It soured me on the experience, because it did something that Nintendo rarely does: it wasted my time for no good reason. That’s one of the reasons I really LIKE Zelda games; they don’t really make you backtrack much. One of the fondest moments in any Legend of Zelda game for me is getting through a whole bunch of barriers, getting a new item or key or whatever, and then finding myself right near the beginning again. Not only does it really give me a sense of completion and a sense that I’ve explored something, which is critical in any action-RPG, but it tells me that I don’t need to worry about having to redo things if I mess up. Having a quick route to the boss doesn’t seem like much, but it really does show care for detail and for the player’s experience, especially when you’ve got a save system as dodgy as the ones featured in Legend of Zelda games.

So I’ve moved on, and I’m on my way to the third dungeon. I’m hoping that this was just a minor setback; I remember enjoying what I played of Oracle of Ages, and am still looking forward to playing through the series again. But, yeah, I now get the whole “not Nintendo” thing. These aren’t mistakes that Nintendo would have made. They may be conservative, but they’re craftsmen. Even if they keep on milking their old franchises, you gotta give them respect for that.

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