Friday, 22 November 2013

First Thoughts on A Link Between Worlds

         1)      Wow, I sure stayed away long, almost 4 hours!  I dove in, mainly through some moral weakness, mainly because blogging helps me alleviate anger. 

         2)      ALBW is so awesome.  Everything about its first hour or so of content is amazing, and perfect.

  The game is a near perfectly polished jewel of gameplay and aethestic.  Nintendo has drawn from some choice new lessons in gameplay design to improve on the Link to the Past base.

         1)      The overworld is exactly the same, with subtle tweaks to throw off memories of the original.  A persistent gripe you may hear is how small this makes Hyrule feel.  In truth, LttP Hyrule was a little small when it was new, and ALBW chains itself to a map that feels like other portable Zeldas have already outsized, for example the Oracle twins. 

          2)      The first dungeon has everything in the right proportions, but a different build.  There is still a trap disgorging marbles at you, there are still paths running back and forth in the high roads and low roads, and there are still shortcuts that can cut down on the backtracking, or greatly extend it if you jump down wrongly.  Each room is a puzzle, and is realized perfectly.

        3) Ravio hasn’t yet set up his shop, and so he’s only lent me his bow.  I’ve just obtained the power to merge into a painting, and I’ve had little time to master this new ability, but already, just in leaving the Eastern Palace, the puzzles built around this power are clever and enjoyable.

  On the question of help, description text runs a trifle long, but only appears once you’ve gained a new power.  Mastering the use of that power is the job of the player, and the game (and it’s mysterious voice from nowhere) back off and let the player explore fully.  There is no helpful partner character this time out, recalling the good old days of the Oracle games and Link’s Awakening in more ways than one.

  The script is well written so far, and characters talk in a believable manner.  Time will tell how deep the characterisation goes, but this is Nintendo we are talking about; I’m happy with quirky Zelda characters and everyone is good, except the one root bad guy.

  Perhaps I should take a moment and discuss the aesthetic in more detail; it will come up, and it will start fan wars, so let’s have it out, already.

  For my generation, which is a word that makes me feel old, but is only supposed to mean the 1986 crowd, the presence of colorful, happy, and exciting worlds is the norm.  A Link Between Worlds satisfies this aesthetic beautifully, and I think it is because of the skilled use of emotion, of foreboding, and tension, of happiness and helplessness.  You’re never helpless for long, in other worlds, before a helpful cut scene comes along to steer you right.  The example is the helpless scene in the boss room at the Eastern Palace.

  The now recently ended “brown” generation of gamers will find nothing here to savour.  Bear in mind, I don’t share their aesthetic vision, but the reasoning, as I heard it, was that games should favour immersion over iconic.  You should be able to smell the world, feel its textures’ grit, and by imagination transport yourself there.  ALBW’s textures carry a certain sense of unreality to them.  The walls for instance are helpfully tiled over in brick wallpaper, and they abruptly break down to represent a region of the walls that Link cannot traverse as a painting.  Otherwise, meter after meter of the wall structures look like they were made of monochrome legos with a different color for the mortar.  Chain floors have a steel look, but otherwise could be “Made In Isle Delfino” for all the texture they carry; there is no rust, no grit to speak of.  Nintendo’s made the differences in the aesthetic be functional, not ornamental nor historied.

  What about the current generation?  The one that favours games like Tearaway, or Knack?  Or Little Big Planet, or Kirby’s Epic Yarn, or Puppeteer.  Man I could go on naming these for a while.  These games certainly have no more story in their art than ALBW, but their art departments appear to have been directed to try something completely new.  There doesn’t seem to be much difference in their art styles than difference itself, and the quest to stand out in a crowded market.  This new generation is just coming into its own, with recent hits building their gameplay out of their visuals.  Does ALBW answer to this art system?

  Not really, no.  Skyward Sword is likenable to this new generation (loosely) because of its use of Impressionistic arts.  Some of that shows up in ALBW, but by and large, the game is strongly visually familiar to A Link to the Past on the SNES.  Unless we formally acknowledge ‘SNES game’ as an art style, then it doesn’t fit.

  So these are my first impressions.  More is coming, and man the game is good.  Everything feels just right so far.  The controls are spot on, the sound effects are perfect pitch, the cooldowns from using tools is just as I remember it.  The making-every-tool-dependent-on-the-magic-meter design is new, but it works; Link can use his tools freely as long as he can pay the magic cost, and when he can’t, he needs to start defending while the magic meter recharges.

  I love this game so much.  I’d say Nintendo’s art direction is bang on, and I cannot wait to see what else awaits me!

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