Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda


Let’s start with a disclaimer: I own Link’s Awakening DX, and I have no interest in playing the Nes Zelda entries. So why did I purchase that Game & Watch, you may ask? First, I owned a couple of G&W as a kid, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get my paws on such a nostalgic item. Secondly, and most importantly, I never quite liked LADX, and always considered the original to be the superior version. As far as I’m concerned, not only does colour bring nothing at all to the game, but it actually detracts from its charm and magic. I find the pure, clear, kinda liquid monochromatic graphics of the original ten times more evocative and attractive than the garishly recoloured graphics of the remake. Back when I purchased my GBA, I tried to secure the original for a decent price and failed, and made do with DX; but deep in my heart, I always regretted not possessing the version I grew up with. I now have it secured on its own nostalgia-inducing dedicated handheld, and I couldn’t be happier. 



I was genuinely surprised by how tiny that piece of kit turned out to be; obviously, it was bigger in my childhood memories and hands. But it wasn’t long before I completely forgot that detail and lost myself in the game, playing with abandon and polishing no less than three back-to-back runs. I had nearly forgotten how much I love that game, and how good it feels to be able to dive straight into gameplay and get a lot done in a short time. LA’s gameplay feels tight and compact, and displays some density and purposefulness I was missing without realizing it. 



I was tempted to chalk this up to the gameplay style of the 90’s, before I remembered that games of that era were choke-full with fake longevity and that I spent a considerable amount of time being utterly stranded during my first run of LA (I was so stuck and desperate at some point that I tried hitting all the walls with my sword in the hope of discovering a hidden room with something that could help me progress heck, I even tried to get rid of the beach monkey in the hope of triggering a miracle, to no avail obviously.) Instead, these pleasant qualities of the gameplay come from the fact that I know the game like the back of my hand after playing it a million times. This bodes very well for the future of my gaming career: once I’m done finding my Cult Classics, I can replay them again and again and get that same feeling of sharp, condensed, razor-like mastery. 



I don’t have much to add about LA, since I already wrote about it here and there; but since I was at it, I gave the original NES Zelda a try. And, well… Maybe I’m missing something here, but I totally failed to see the appeal. I crossed many monster-infested screens, trying to find a dungeon; but the only thing I found were three shops I couldn’t do business with, wobbly hitboxes by the truckload, and a general feeling of wasting my time. It didn’t help that this opening entry stands beyond my own Retro Tolerance Horizon (a concept I’ll expand on later): to put it simply, it’s too barren, too graphically primitive, too ‘where-do-I-go-next’ and generally too ancient to appeal to me. That doesn’t matter, though. Loving the original Zelda would have been the icing on the cake; but the cake was always LA, and it remains utterly delicious and I don’t fancy icing that much anyway. I’ll see you soon with more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers; until then, take care and keep gaming! 



The New Classics #5: Cogen: Sword of Rewind


The Backstory: Platformers are not my cup of tea; yet I can enjoy them under the right circumstances, as my undying love for 2D Sonic games proves. Cogen’s gimmick of rewinding time after death seemed like a dream come true, a player-friendly interpretation of die-and-retry that could make level navigation easier and less stressful. I just had to try Cogen, and I did so by downloading the conveniently available demo on the Nintendo eShop.



The Game: Not gonna lie: the dark and empty levels were a harsh let-down. I wanted these gorgeous crystalline blues, whites and greys featured on the cover art, darn it! From what I’ve understood, the first levels are tutorials of sorts; and an internet search revealed that more detailed environments appear later. Yet, I’ve not encountered a single picture featuring the colours and feel of the official art; instead, everything seems to be on the dark and gloomy side both in terms of colours and general atmosphere. Have you heard of false advertising, Gemdrops? 



Let’s forget about the graphics, and focus on what brought me there: the gameplay, folks. Once again, not gonna lie: the Rewind gimmick rocks. Here’s how it works: death is instant in Cogen, as there is no health bar. Once you die, the screen freezes, and you’re given the possibility to assess your situation and rewind the action up to three seconds. This is perfect in the context of a tough Platformer which Cogen is because it allows you to relax and rush through levels instead of trembling at every step. In fact, cautious progression is not advised in Cogen; from what I’ve played, going fast and reacting on the fly works much better than treading ground carefully.



Now, I have a serious issue with Cogen’s physics. They are really good; however, they’re not perfect. Jumping in particular can be tricky, especially when walls are involved; and I could never shake that nagging feeling of not being fully in control of the MC which means that Cogen’s physics require some getting-used-to. A talented Platformer aficionado could certainly handle these physics without breaking a sweat; however, a reluctant Platformer player with crappy motor skills such as me needs highly reliable and easy-to-master physics.   



Last but not least: as much as it embarrasses me to admit it, Cogen remains too hard for me. Save points are too few and far between, and the levels’ demands in terms of reaction speed are simply too challenging. Even the Rewind gimmick cannot save me from my lack of motor skills misery; what I would really need is save states or an easier game. 



The Verdict: Cogen lacks the things I need to enjoy a Platformer perfect physics, a pleasant atmosphere, and a reasonable difficulty level. But most importantly, playing it doesn’t feel good. Sure, it kinda gripped me in with its constant challenge, and I enjoyed the couple of times I managed to execute a perfect series of moves and progress fluidly; but once I turned off my Switch, I was left with a feeling of frustration, restlessness and emptiness. This is the most telltale sign that Cogen and I are not meant together; and so, I’ll quietly erase the demo and move on to the next potential cult classic. Too bad, so sad!



The New Classics #4: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter


The Backstory: We’re talking about a game featuring anthropomorphic cats and dogs, which already makes me very partial towards Solatorobo. Despite generating lauding reviews, Sky & Robots the title’s literal translation is not exactly well known. It might be because it came at the very end of the DS’ tenure, in 2010/2011; it might also be because it belongs to a confidential series. Also, funny and unrelated anecdote: I remember standing in the custom office, while the parcel containing the game was opened by a custom officer to determine how much I would have to fork out in custom fees. Aaah, unsweet memories. 



The Game: Solatorobo boasts one of the best introductions I’ve played in a long time. That in medias res sequence manages to mix intriguing narrative elements, fulfilling gameplay sequences and shorts yet explicit tutorials and to firmly plant the atmosphere to boot. After going through that intro, you just want to play the game, and to discover that gorgeous world you got a glimpse of.



Said gorgeous world only gets more fleshed out as you enter the game per se. It’s a very vivid and vibrant universe that leaves a deep impression right away to the point where I’m honestly surprised no anime series was ever derived from Solatorobo. And obviously, I had to love the French interjections that pepper the dialogue scenes. Ooh là la, Sapristi, Et voilà, voyons, Nom d’un chien MOAR! The latter, “nom d’un chien” is deliciously fitting: it could be translated as “for pete’s sake”, but it literally means “in the name of a dog”, which is just perfect given that Red is, well, a dog. 



But enough about the game world and its undeniable potency, anime potential and delicious frenchness; let’s talk gameplay, folks! Solatorobo operates on a mission system, which makes it the perfect game for short bursts of play. Story segments unfold between each mission, which seems to indicate that the game is gonna be heavy on narrative; but since the game world is so captivating, I really don’t mind. Plus, these story segments are told through fixed screens in which you progress through the dialogues with the A button, which I find more involving and less frustrating than animated cutscenes you have to sit through.



As for more technical aspects of the gameplay, we’re dealing with an action-adventure game with light RPG elements. The real-time combat system is deliciously intuitive and easy to grasp; the physics, while not outstanding, are perfectly serviceable. The only real issue I spotted is the fact that performing diagonal movement with the DS’ D-pad is kinda tricky; however, a quick try of the game on my 3DS revealed that the analog stick could neatly solve that issue. This is a game I’ll definitely play on the 3DS when I replay it. Oops, did I say too much already?



The Verdict: Let’s end the suspense already: Solatorobo is indeed a New Classic of mine so much so that I actually wanted to keep playing. There is something refreshing and heart-warming in that game, something that harkens back to simpler gaming times. It’s also a game that feels very DS: it boasts that distinctive mix of simplicity, enthusiasm and freshness that shines in most DS games and came to define the DS era; and I genuinely couldn’t imagine it on any other system, nor would I want it remade. Solatorobo is perfect the way it is; and although I’m taking French leave for now, I’ll go back to it without fail. Je reviendrai, c’est promis!