April's Together Retro game club pick at http://Racketboy.com was Deja Vu, a classic adventure game that goes back to the early Mac gaming days, and found a bit of a cult-following on the NES. It was later ported to the Game Boy Color, which is arguably the best version of the game out there. Not only are the graphics bright and the command interface refined, but the cartridge also features the lesser-known sequel as well.
As a fan of adventure games, I was really looking forward to playing my way through this one. The game borrows heavily from film noire, as you a hard boiled detective who wakes up in a bathroom stall with amnesia. And you don't know that you're a detective, but you feel like you've been drugged. It's up to you to piece this case together and figure out who you are. Sounds like fun, right? Well, not so much.
The problem is the utterly frustrating puzzle element of the game. Much of the puzzle solving in this game is completely infuriatingly unfair. So while the game isn't actually incredibly long, it can last much longer because you'll often need to start over due to some game-breaking situation. For instance in my first playthrough I was going from location to location via taxi cab. Each trip cost me 3 of my 20 coins. Eventually I got to a point where I was out of coins and couldn't leave the location I was at. I was stuck and irritated by the time a fellow forum member told me I could get more coins by gambing in the casino (back in the building I had started in). With this new knowledge I restarted my game. I went to the casino and gambled away all 20 of my coins in a slot machine. Turns out the slot machine on the left is a winner, but the one on the right is a loser. So I had to restart my game again.
So how much trial and error is too much? For me, Deja Vu was far too brutal. Too demanding. Too unfair. I think it's easy to write this off as a matter of "games were just harder back then," but I don't think that's the case. I tend to think that making the game so unfair was an attemt at making it last longer. I've played my way through some excellent adventure games like The Secret Of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, and although I may have found myself stumped at times, I never thought that the solution was completely arbitrary either.
But sadly I couldn't even finish Deja Vu, a relatively short game even when I used a FAQ. You see at the very end of the game you must ditch all of your incriminating evidence in a sewer before bringing your proof of innocense to the police department. But the computer wouldn't let me dispose of my gun. After days of trial and error and scouring the internet it came down to the fact that I had never shot open a certain cabinet. I had collected all of the proof I was supposed to, but I couldn't complete this game without shooting open a stupid cabinet. How exactly would anyone be expected to figure this out? Had they made it as far as I had, and seemed to have solved all of the amnesiac puzzles, how would they know they missed a cabinet that had to be shot open?
I was so disgusted that I just stopped playing. I didn't even care if I beat the game or not. And I was certainly not motivated to start up the second.
Last month The Legend Of Zelda turned 25. And because of this every single retro-gaming related website ran a bunch of features related to the series. So I figured I'd wait for the celebration to die down and then get into it here. Or rather, I just got sidetracked and forgot to get around to it until now. Whatever. But the series is certainly important to me. And as such it's important to this blog. Seeing as how the blog started as a way to showcase lesser known Game Boy carts, it should be noted that my purchase of the Nintendo Game Boy Player attachment for the GameCube was based almost solely on the fact that doing so would suddenly mean that there were a pile of Zelda games that I could play on my TV. So let's take a look at all those Zelda games that found their way to a Game Boy handheld.
The Legend Of Zelda was re-released as part of the Game Boy Advance's Classic NES series. That choice was certainly a no-brainer. The game is of course not only a high-point of the NES, but of gaming in general. It basically created an entire genre that meshed action with elements of role playing. The GBA port is excellent and cheap-n-easy to find on the after market. All GBA enthusiasts should have this one.
Surprisingly the sequel Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link also made it to the Classic NES line. Strange considering the phrase "black sheep" being almost synonymous with the game. Though for all the flack it receives, I'm a longtime fan of this one. The truth is, Adventure Of Link was actually my first Zelda game. I got it for my birthday soon after its release. At the time the first game was impossible to find in local toy stores, so this was my introduction to the series. Say what you will about it. There's a very unique and daring quest within. The GBA port is wonderfully faithful to the original, and considering it's probably the cheapest GB-related Zelda game to find in the wild, it's worth giving it a go even if you don't remember loving it the first time.
A Link To The Past is my favorite game ever. So I'm totally biased when I say that everybody should own this game either in its original SNES form, or here on the GBA. It looks fantastic on a GBA SP screen, although suffers slightly from a few oddly annoying voice samples that were added to the re-release. They aren't nearly as overdone as in the GBA port of Super Mario Bros. 2 though.
The GBA re-release is also notable for including a bonus game, the brand new Four Swords which would be the first multi-player Zelda game. It recycled sprites from Link To The Past which was welcome artistically, but it was also somewhat of a burden to play. Sadly unlike its GameCube sequel, there's no single-player campaign on the GBA game. This means that some of us (me) who don't have local gamer friends with their own GBA's and copies of the game never got the chance to delve in to this one.
Link's Awakening was released for the Game Boy in 1993, and was a total revelation. Although the GB's hardware was lesser than that of the NES, the graphics, gameplay and story of this one actually aligned with the SNES' Link To The Past. Playing the game on Game Boy hardware back then was stunning to say the least, as nobody realized that the handheld was capable of such things. Even to this day the title remains a cult-classic in the Zelda series, often considered the standard by which to judge all portable outings.
Link's Awakening received a Game Boy Color re-release in 1998 which adds to the game by giving it vibrant colors, an extra dungeon and even compatibility with the Game Boy Camera.
Perhaps the two most overlooked titles in the official Zelda cannon, Oracle Of Ages and Oracle Of Seasons are the definition of ambition. What began as an attempt to port the original Legend Of Zelda to the NES somehow turned into an original game, then three games, and eventually scaled down to two games. The misconception among gamers seems to be that these are two takes on the same game -- like Pokemon Red and Blue. But that's not the case at all. The two Oracle games are completely different and original quests. One relies heavily on puzzles, the other on action. One toys with time, the other with nature. But each of them are remarkable little gems that should get a bit more attention than they do.
Minish Cap would be the final Zelda game to come out on a GB handheld, and it's a solid affair. Admittedly it's the one that I've spent the least amount of time with as I personally got slightly bored with the shrinking and growing gimmick. However, I can certainly say that it's artistically great, borrowing heavily from A Link To The Past's art style and features some jaw-dropping visuals on the GBA. Fans of the heavy-puzzle side of the series will enjoy this one quite a bit, though the game's biggest criticism tends to be its brevity.
So there we have it -- the GB side of Zelda. What are your favorites and why?
The Game Boy Color's launch in the Winter of 1998 should have been a big deal. It had been nine long years and the original Game Boy's outdated hardware was still chugging along. Finally Nintendo decided to offer up what would basically be a portable version of the NES. And maybe eventually a lot of GBC titles would live up to such standards, but upon the launch of hideously purple Game Boy Color system, there were only four games to choose from. Strangely none of them would really demonstrate exactly why a colorized Game Boy was something to get excited about. My only guess is it's because these early GBC titles were the black-GB cartridge type that were also backwards compatible, so perhaps they were purposefully stripped down games?
I often wonder about the board meeting that Nintendo had when planning the Game Boy Color's launch. And I figure it went something like this:
Well it's been nine long, hard years of research and development but we've finally done it! We've created a new Game Boy with a processor twice as fast as the original, with four times as much RAM, that's able to display 56 colors simultaneously on screen from its palette of 32,768! Which means it can play Centipede, a game that looked dated upon its release 18 years ago with absolutely no problem.
I mean honestly. Why Centipede? Even a port of the original Donkey Kong would have made far more sense after the success of Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. But Centipede just looks really shitty with its tiny nondescript little sprites. I just don't get it.
Game & Watch Gallery 2 is probably the best looking of the GBC launch titles. The bright colors of the modernized Game & Watch titles is really nice. Admittedly, I'm not the hugest fan of the series, so I may not be the best judge of the game. Although I can admit it can be a brief fun time-killer, at the same time most of the six included games just feel like variations of either juggle-this-stuff or dodge-this-stuff; in both instances pressing only left or right is the only requirement. However, as mentioned the cartridge does include six games to pick from, and each of them record high scores so this could keep you interested for a while if you're one of the many big fans of the series.
I actually skipped the GBC launch myself. But if I had a time machine and traveled back in time to the launch and had to choose just one of the four games, it would have been Pocket Bomberman. The Hudson original is a fun little platform-puzzler that takes the classic Bomberman formula and combines it with a side-scrolling quest. The sounds are nothing to write home about, but the graphics are at least passable as an (early) NES game. As mentioned above, Pocket Bomberman certainly doesn't show off exactly what the new GBC hardware was fully capable of, but having said that it is still a fun and overlooked little title.
Okay so Tetris DX sort of stumps me as a launch title. Most new adapters of the GBC were upgrading from their original Game Boys, which would pretty much mean that they probably already owned Tetris. And if they popped their original Tetris cart into the GBC, it would be in color, right? Well. Yeah. For the most part Tetris DX is unnecessary. It's the same game as the Game Boy original, minus the awesome music. However there is one thing that makes Tetris DX superior: it saves high scores. Of course that's only going to be a selling point to a certain batch of gamers, but for some of us it's enough to make Tetris DX a must-own cartridge.
So now that we've reviewed these four titles, what do you think? Was the launch an indication that Nintendo was already far more focused on the eventual Game Boy Advance? Was GBC always destined to be the awkward middle-child? Or am I just being over-critical?
From time to time I've encountered some pretty awesome ads from the history of the Game Boy line of handhelds. I was 8 years old when the first Game Boy was released, and I've followed the line rather closely. So in a way it's endearing to see this time line grow up with my generation. For your review I've assembled a bit of a retrospective of the Game Boy line and how each new iteration has been presented to the world.
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