The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

When the topic of the best Legend of Zelda is brought up, A Link to the Past is frequently mentioned as the best 2D Legend of Zelda, if not the best game in the entire series. While I have not played every Legend of Zelda game yet, I have to admit that A Link to the Past thoroughly impressed me in almost every regard. The game is really the true successor to the original Legend of Zelda, and the amount of improvement between the two games is staggering. It is mind boggling to me that A Link to the Past came out in 1991, only five years after the original. The games length, complexity, depth,  mechanics, items, graphics, its dungeons, and its world all feel extremely modern and I feel like this game could have been released this year and still be a solid game.  Unfortunately this was also a bit of a drawback, as the game does show its age occasionally and I had to remind myself that was playing a twenty-five year old game.

While I do feel like this game could have been released this year as an indie title or maybe a handheld game, I do believe that some aspects of the game are dated. The first problem that I had with the game was a combination of two things. The first issue was that Link’s sword hitbox did not overlap with Link’s hitbox, meaning that if an enemy got on top of me, I could not swing the sword to get the enemy off. This is not a terrible mechanic in and of itself, but combined with the fact that Link is very sluggish it can lead to some awkward situations. This combination of the sword’s hitbox and the fact that Link moves slowly means that if an enemy gets on top of you, there is no option but to takes multiple hits instead of just the initial hit from the enemy. This was not that big of a deal but it was certainly frustrating when ever it did happen.

The other aspect of the game that felt dated was how much I had to search for certain items. The game definitely rewards the player for exploration and experience with the game, but I did not want to spend hours looking for the Bottles, Zora’s Flippers, Magic Powder, the Flute, etc.  While I do like the fact that the game rewards the player for exploration, I felt like I spent way more time searching the world for these items instead of playing through dungeons or progressing through the world. There was really no way around spending a ton of time looking for these items either as they were extremely powerful or just necessary to progress. In Super Metroid, for example, there were tons of hidden items to be found around the world that I could spend hours looking for, but they were just small boosts to my character instead of being so strong to the point of being a necessity. I made it pretty far into A Link to the Past without the Bottles to hold Fairies which were basically extra lives, but at some point I realized that the bosses were just too tough for me to fight with only one life. I am usually a huge fan of exploration and discovering items to make my character stronger, but I just did not enjoy how important it was searching for these items.

The game’s modern feel was probably its biggest strength, but the other aspect of the game that really impressed me was the dungeon design. There were a total of thirteen dungeons in the game and I am not going to go in depth with all of them, but they all were well designed in my opinion. Each dungeon had a unique style and way to approach it. Every dungeon had tough monsters to fight, interesting puzzles to solve, rewarding items to be found, and clever boss designs, all of this packed in to an extensive labyrinth to find my way through. My personal favorite dungeon was the Skull Woods, it had multiple entrances hidden in the woods above it and it was like solving a maze as I went in all the different entrances and put the pieces together in my head to figure out how I would make my way through the dungeon. Even though there were thirteen different dungeons each one was of quality design and they were all enjoyable

Despite only coming out five years after the original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past made a ton of improvements to the Zelda formula. My personal favorite improvement was just the overall clarity. Walls that could be blown up with bombs had cracks in them, there were no more obscure hints that only confused the player more, all the dungeons were marked on the map, the enemies were a lot more obvious in how to defeat them, and the path to progression was always known. Another massive improvement was the graphics, I am not usually somebody who revels in the newest and greatest graphic improvements, but it is insane how quickly the industry progressed in the five years between this game and the original. I also enjoyed how much more frequently I actually used to items acquired in dungeons. While in the original game I felt like the items were mostly used just to unlock the next area, in this game I actually continued to use the items throughout the game to fight monsters are find secrets hidden across the world. The world itself was also a big improvement in this game. There were people to talk to, mini-games to play, hidden holes with Fairy Fountains or Heart Pieces, and just a lot to explore. Even though there were plenty of things to do, the world was also very compact and concise, so getting from one corner to the map to the other did not take more than a few minutes.

I personally believe that A Link to the Past is where the Legend of Zelda series as we know it was born. While the original Legend of Zelda set the framework and foundation for a great series, this is the game that enhanced the experience so much and many of the mechanics that we know and love today were first introduced in A Link to the Past. The game does have a couple of flaws but fortunately they were not that major. It is seriously impressive to me that this game is twenty-five years old and it still managed to captivate me and entertain me like a recent title would. While I have not played every other Legend of Zelda game to properly compare them all, A Link to the Past was seriously impressive and a great experience.

Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a continuation of the classic shooter franchise. I have not personally played any of the other Wolfenstein games but I was able to easily jump in as the game was somewhat of a reboot for the franchise and built a new story. The game was solid and had plenty of qualities that I really enjoyed but there were also a lot of flaws in this game. I have played a lot of first person shooters (FPS) and this game attempts to differentiate itself but falls just a little short of creating an entirely new experience. The basic premise of the Wolfenstein games is that the main character, William Blazkowicz, is an American soldier fighting the Nazis. This installment of the franchise takes an interesting twist where the Allied powers lose the war and Nazis now control the world. The story was, in my opinion, the strongest portion of this game.

I was very surprised at the strength of the story in this game. The first thing that surprised me was how quickly and without hesitation the characters are killed off. It always seemed ridiculous to me that in other FPS games how infrequently characters actually died, but this game is not afraid to do so. The story starts off very depressing and makes the player make a difficult choice and at the same time builds up the villain, General Deathshead, to be one of the most evil and sadistic character  in any game. I usually do not feel such hatred for a character, but the game really did a fantastic job at actually making me want to kill the villain. Despite starting strong, I feel like the game is unevenly paced in which most of the story is packed in the beginning and the end of the game. The theme of the game was pretty unique, as it was futuristic and had plenty of advanced technologies but it did manage to keep the gritty feel of World War II. I do not want to spoil anything, but the ending of the game was a bit open ended and I feel like it tries to set up a sequel. On one hand this is a good thing as it leaves you wondering, but on the other hand some people could see it as a cop-out. Most of the major characters are fleshed out well, and the game does give you some small character biographies if you want some more information on any character. Also, there are two alternate timelines in the game that make very minor changes in the story and gameplay. I like this feature as it allows people to replay the game but have a slightly difference experience, but everyone who plays the game is going to have a very similar experience regardless of which timeline they choose. Overall I felt like the first couple missions and the last couple missions had phenomenal story telling but I just wish that the middle bits were also as strong.

The gameplay I also felt mirrored the story in which it started strong but faltered around the middle chapters. While the first thirty minutes of the game are slow and serve as a tutorial, once I began the first mission I was sucked in. The game gives the player four different ways of tackling it and has different perk trees to reflect these choices. While perk and ability trees are not a unique concept, what was interesting about this game was that the perks were not earned through experience or just giving you a skill point to distribute into whatever perk you want, but instead they were achievement based. For example if you stealth kill five commanders you get a perk that reveals the location of all the commanders on the map. I really liked this system as it gave me alternate objectives and tasks during missions as I attempted to complete the main goal. There are four different perk trees, Stealth, Tactical, Assault, and Demolition. Stealth was based on sneaking up behind enemies and taking them out silently. Tactical was about smartly engaging the enemy from a distance and from behind cover. Assault was just DOOM style running and gunning. Lastly, Demolition was all about using explosives to clear spaces. This mix of gameplay options led to some epic moments, for example when I snuck up behind a commander and stealth killed him, then took over the mounted mission gun and mowed down the rest of the enemies from behind before they could react. Unfortunately I felt like there were too many missions that limited all the options that there were supposed to be. Some of map designs felt really lazy and linear, making a lot of missions play out like every generic FPS where I entered a room, posted up behind some cover, kill all the enemies, rinse and repeat until the mission is over. Another issue was the lack of ammunition, there was a plethora of different guns and tools at my disposal but the only guns with reliable amounts of ammunition to find were the Assault Rifle and the Laserkraftwerk. Despite the fact that some missions were limited in the options to tackle it, there were also a lot of really well designed levels that had many different pathways that allowed me to use a mix of the perk trees. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 8, and 13 are in my opinion what the rest of the game should have been when it comes to level design. All five of those missions were very entertaining and allowed me to use a mix of all the different tactics.

Apart from the five fantastic chapters, the rest of the levels were either just too linear or just blatant filler. Chapters 5, 7, and 9 were the most obvious examples of this and they should have just been cutscenes instead of full chapters. All three chapters play out in a very similar fashion and really serve no purpose at all, there are no enemies to fight, no stealth, no puzzles, just walking around to pick up some random item. Some of the other chapters also had some filler sections but these three missions did nothing but lengthen the game. This is really unfortunate because Wolfenstein: The New Order only has sixteen chapters so at least 18% of the game is just filler.

While the level design of the game left something to be desired, the difficulty scaling of the game felt just right to me. I played on the second hardest difficulty “I am death incarnate!” and while the game started off pretty easy it did quickly ramp up and provide some challenge. At no point did I feel like the difficulty was unfair or the game was asking an unreasonable task, but at the same time I knew that if I screwed up I would be punished for it. Unfortunately, a lot of the difficulty in the later stages of the game comes from the overwhelming amounts of “bullet sponges”. These are enemies that have a lot of health and required me to shoot at them for a minute of two to kill a single enemy. I feel like bullet sponges can be implemented properly, but they were not in this case. Since enemies have no health bars I could not even tell if I was damaging the enemies, and since I was shooting at some enemies for a couple of minutes I questioned if some enemies were even killable with bullets or if I needed to find another way to defeat them. Fighting these bullet sponges was occasionally entertaining as I needed to dip and dive out of cover to try to out maneuver them, but they are used way too frequently and there needed to be some sort of indicator that they were actually taking damage. Also, a lot of the enemies just felt inconsistent to me. Some enemies could not spot me when I was standing right in front of them, but I remember in one mission where I was hidden in a vent and a guard twenty feet away spotted me while facing the other direction. Despite the amount of bullet sponges and inconsistent enemies, I really enjoyed the two late game boss fights. Both fights had a cat and mouse feel to them and they did not drag out to long like a lot of video game bosses do. All in all, the difficulty was solid and while it was challenging, it never felt unfair.

The last thing about Wolfenstein: The New Order that I want to talk about is the collectible system. I am somebody who loves getting all of the collectibles in a game, and this game had plenty of them, but I did not get even close to getting all of them. The game has the weird system in which it reveals some of the hidden items locations on the map, but not all of them. So if I wanted to find all of the items I would have to comb the entire map and break open every box and look in every cabinet for items that were frankly tough to spot. I do not mind if the collectibles are hidden and do not show up on the map, but they should at least be easy to spot if that is the case. Despite this issue I really did appreciate how many things there were to collect if the player chooses to do so.

I did not expect much when I first started this game, but it certainly did surprise me with the first couple of chapters in terms of the strength of the gameplay and the impact of the story. If these aspects were carried out through the rest of the game it would have been a phenomenal game, but it does fall flat in the middle, has too much filler, and it has some smaller gameplay issues. For these reasons I give Wolfenstein: The New Order a 6/10. It was extremely fun, engaging, and emotional for a couple of chapters; I just wish that the entire game was like that.


Review Scores

     There is an issue with most major video game reviewers in which even mediocre or bad games receive good scores and therefore deceive consumers. I am not sure if this is a result of a poor critiquing system, corruption, or if it is something else entirely, but it seems like for most major companies a score of 7/10 seems to be an “average game”. Whenever a new Call of Duty comes out you can bet that IGN will give it a 9/10 which is “amazing” on their scale, despite the games just being rehashes of the same stuff every year. When Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and The Last of Us are only 1 point apart on the scale it is obvious that there is a massive issue. When every game is receiving these high scores, it devalues the scores and hurts games that are actually extremely good. For these reasons I will have my own guidelines for scoring a game.

     I think it is extremely unfair to rate a game after a couple of years have passed. The first main reason why I refuse to give a score to older games is the obvious nostalgia factor. I am prone ignoring the faults of games or brushing them off if I played it during my childhood. The other main issue with older games is that they are going to be underscored if there is no nostalgia involved. Things like hardware issues, technical limits, and just lack of knowledge of what works well in games makes it hard for older games to compete with newer games. This is not a knock on these older games, as they did the best they could with the resources they had. A good example of both nostalgia and underrating games because of their age is Super Mario 64. If you played Super Mario 64 today you would definitely underrate the game because you would have no idea of the impact it made on the gaming industry and how revolutionary it was. On the other hand people who did play the game during their childhood overrate the game and tend to ignore its faults like the wonky controls and strange camera angles. I think reviewing older games is fine but giving them objective scores is tough and difficult to strike a balance, so I am not going to give scores to older games.

The ratings themselves are as follows:

10. Masterpiece, no game is perfect but this is close.

9. Fantastic, the game some faults but they are small and infrequent.

8. Extremely good, it has some obvious issues but they do not detract from the game too much.

7. Very good, the problems are more glaring and do hurt the game a good amount.

6. Good, it is entertaining but has some major problems.

5. Okay, the game has merit but has big and frequent drawbacks.

4. Mediocre, there are some enjoyable parts but for the most part is not so fun.

3. Bad, the game just really has nothing interesting or fun about it.

2. Very bad, the game works but is just a disaster all around.

1. Unplayable, the game is just completely broken and has no redeeming qualities at all.