"Welcome to the Fantasy Zone! Get Ready!"
The simplicity and immediacy of those words combined with Harrier's running animation and the first notes of the theme song playing will forever be cemented as one of the greatest intros to a videogame ever, an enthusiastic invitation to a surreal psychedelic dimension of 3D sprite scaled colors and geometries that extend into the infinite background, akin to an interactive prog rock album cover.
Ditching the methotical built up acceleration of its contemporaries like Hang-On or Outrun, Space Harrier propels you forward on gear 5 from the get-go, turning its shooter facade into a game of dodging and avoiding everything at breakneck speed, as the action is conducted by one of gaming's all-time anthems of pure arcade expression and joy, the spacial ELO sounding main theme that accompanies you from start to finish, never getting dull and dictating the pace of your adrenaline.
Having the confidence to lack any sort of formal narrative, the storytelling happens within the subtle shifts of its relentlessly forward moving checkboarded planes, like the genuine surprise of a one-eyed mammoth in the middle of a blue iced landscape or the relieved sight of open skies and giant mushrooms after going through a claustrophobic gauntlet of grey pillars supporting an enclosed restrictive ceiling. But there's never time to linger.
With its quickly dispatched bosses that can be done within 2 secs and the controls always leading you into the center of the screen towards event horizon, Space Harrier obliges the core appeal of wanting to see what lies ahead, hypnotizing you with its eternally beautiful 3D illusion effect and motivating you on with its announcer's "You're doing great!" remarks. In the span of 30 minutes, you see everything Space Harrier has to offer, and without wanting to overstay its welcome, it bows out dignified as Harrier jumps on his trusted dragon friend and finally rides off into the forever distant background.
Wearing its influences on its sleeve, Space Harrier is a mish mash of what the devs were passionate about at the time, and combined with the non-aging sprite scaller technology, it constitutes one of SEGA's finest that will always stand the test of time, so magical that home consoles at the time couldn't possibly recreate the arcade experience, and I'm left sad with the realization that until I sit down on one of its hydraulic moving arcade cabinets, I won't have experienced it either.
I totally get you, Kamiya.
Prosperity is a nebulous concept that varies depending on who perceives it, but if I had to pinpoint a time and place off the top of my head that exemplifies such a term it would definitely be the videogame landscape of late 80s/early 90s Japan, a period whose people that had the chance to participate in its creative outburst I am extremely envious of. Which is a mindset you have to put yourself into to truly appreciate the beauty of Virtua Racing. Its blocky polygon simplicity is something I would give everything to be able to witness for the first time along with all the arcade habituals who were mesmerized by its vision of the future of videogames all the way back in 1992.
There's something very magical and charming about the dimensionality the different points of views available offer Virtua Racing, a feature that exposes the understanding AM2 and Yu Suzuki already had of the possibilities of 3D. Shifting the POV to a bird's eye view reveals the "toy boxyness" nature of Virtua Racing, a humble playground of colorful polygons that with each further step into driver's seat dispels the archaic software and sells you on the illusion of a real formula 1 racing sim. While lacking that classic sunset driving personality found in previous arcade classics like Hang-On or Outrun, the SEGA touch can be found within the catchy checkpoint jingles and in its drifting curves, and the short selection of racing tracks are memorable and fun to conquer.
SEGA's efforts over the years in preserving its history has consistently been one of its better decisions, with fantastic Sega Ages ports such as these that remind us that SEGA used to rule the world and was once a haven for very talented people on the vanguard of innovation who would consistently tread new waters and change the industry in a span of months. Virtua Racing is now just a footnote on the history of videogames, understandably left behind as subsequent games would quickly use it as a stepping stone for better things to come, but it's important to know that at a very short point in time, it was the best videogames were ever gonna get.
Considering how cacophonous the platforming genre can sometimes get, hardly do I ever see Jak and Daxter be praised for how quiet and serene it manages to be. Not just within its restrained use of a subdued soundtrack that rarely oversteps the game, but also in its ability to utilize the newly provided power and performance of Sony's new console to create what I can only describe as one of my favorite videogame Zen like experiences.
The non existence of intrusive loading times consists to this day one of Jak and Daxter's biggest selling points, which added to its accessible and leisurable difficulty allows for the traversal of the game from start to finish without much setback or frustration. The lack of challenge would in any other case be a contentious matter regarding the game's quality, but it ultimately matters little when it is done so effortlessly in Jak's shoes.
While not to discredit the game's colorful imaginative world and its set of creative challenges, it's Jak's movement that makes the collectathon venture so much fun. Complementing a generous moveset of both vertical and horizontal options are also number of animations and sound effects that give life and expression to Jak and his comraderie with Daxter, be it running down a hill to roll jump off a cliff or when stopping after a long stretch of running as Jak continues to run in place and the wind blows his hair, an effort that sadly even the sequels would eventually diminish.
It's tempting to group Jak and Daxter with its collectathon predecessors and analyze it within the context of being at the intersection of old and new gen iterating on a genre already being left behind, but the chill vibe accomplished by Naughty Dog warrants its place in the pantheon of 3D platformers, and even if my heart is with its sequel's identity crisis, I will always gladly spend an afternoon 100% it and zoning out to the tune of another obtained power cell. It leaves me in such a state of contendedness that I can't even hate on that god awful complenionist ending.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that life once gifted a short precious period of childhood where you had so much free time in your hands that you didn't know what to do with, a sentiment that fills me up with a melancholic nostalgia for a fragile memory of fleeting formative wasted hours that were the stillest Time ever had the decency to be for me. It's a painful little trick Nature does, storing the happiest days of your life at the back of your head like a time capsule devised to torment you for all eternity, and it's within that ungraspable longing that Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 truly excels at.
Not overwhelming the player with a forceful list of quests and things to do, Natsuyasumi 3 finds instead meaning in the little mundane joys, discoveries and curiosities that occur inbetween the dead hours of the time you spend in its little farm house, taking pleasure in the beauty of nature present in its gorgeous pre-rendered painted backgrounds and distant fixed camera angles that let you breath in the open wilderness buzzing with birds and insects. A day is not entirely wasted, if you manage to skip a rock over the water a few times more and you come home at dusk to be greeted by a table with your favorite food.
There's definitely something foreign and alien about japan's ability to find the sacred within the ritualization of daily life, even something so seemingly carefree as a child's summer vacation, which probably had a huge part in barring this series from the west. But those small differences in culture equally expose how universal childhood and the awe of doing nothing for a whole day without a single drop of remorse or sadness are. A lot is definitely lost by not being able to understand japanese, and having your translating phone constantly pointed at the screen is definitely not the experience you wanna be having (seriously, how is it that we still dont have the tv technology to auto translate videogames?).
But the summer trip provided by Boku no Natsuyasumi 3's introspective and nostalgic take on childhood is an achievement that surpasses any language barrier. The unique and anxious experience of being away from the comfort of your family and home for the first time, the excitement of finding like minded summer pals that easily forget yesterday's awkwardness, or the pleasant welcomed tiredness that comes from a day fully lived. It seems like it will last forever, until it's suddenly over.
"If I could have it back, all the time that we wasted, I'd only waste it again"
I'm glad to inform that Inside's dystopic orwellian nightmare is still an effective demonstration of what strong compelling imagery and setting can do for storytelling, acting as spiritual sequel to what was an otherwise meandering experience that indulged on the worst tendencies and trends of the indie "games are art" landscape, trimming out most of the unnecessary fat that would get in the way of the actual meat of the "fragile boy going through a hostile environment" concept.
Beyond the immediately noticeable vast improvement in texture, color, sound design and animation work Inside has over Limbo's amateurish monochrome and blurred style, the addition of depth to its massive and imposing backgrounds that juxtapose with the main protag's railroaded 2D axis manages to instill a sense of bleakness and insignificance unmatched in videogame settings, and utilizing its industrial and desolate landscapes as the core instrument to tell its story, the limited dimension allowed to the player is enough to raise intrigue and curiosity as Inside deliberately ofuscates and limits what you glimpse off its distant and alluring backgrounds.
Tying it all up, you have a seamless and intuitive gameplay experience that manages to rectify the lanky and awkward controls that bogged down Limbo and that instead focuses more on the strengths of the cinematic platformer genre, conveying narrative through the pure act of constant movement. Replaying it again, Inside proves to be a much more exasperating endeavour, as you are stopped dead on your tracks to solve puzzles more often than you would like. Fortunately, the fluid animations and perceptible interactivity keep a brisk pace going and utilize said puzzles to reinforce the themes and narrative of the game with a level of craftmanship that Limbo rarely ever managed to pull off.
These aspects alone put Inside on a pedestal far and above Limbo's artistic aspirations, but it's the finale that elevates it beyond what people ever expected it to achieve all the way back in 2016. The centerpiece of Inside and what the whole game builds towards to, the abrupt shift it takes in its last act is still one of the most incredible and well crafted turns I have ever seen a videogame pull off, feeling simultaneously alien and second nature to control and barrelling its way into a catharsis that recontextualizes what came before it and fills its final note with poignancy by the mere act of taking control away from you for a few secs, as you flick the analog sticks one last desperate time.
Much has already been said about Inside's meta commentary on the nature of player agency and the illusion of control, interpretations that are made evident with the unlocking of the secret ending and the decoding of the game's plot, and while I understand that could lead to some people eye rolling as we get yet another postmodern game using the nature of the medium to exploit these concepts, I think Inside manages to pull it off solely based on the strength of its thematic cohesiveness that brings it all together at the end. And its impressive how Inside is able to balance its prevasive and easily understood authoritarian imagery with more subtle and easy to miss nuances that turn a motionless chick in the background into a masterclass of foreshadowing and establish a simple hidden in plain sight diorama as the game's version of 1984's "boot on a human face".
Regardless, Inside's ability to keep its subtext hidden in its scenery is its biggest strength, running instead on tone and atmosphere alone, telling all you need to know from the first moment you take control of the boy in red, and allowing the player the decision to be invested or not in its world, one you will desperately want to get inside of.
Videogames strike me as the perfect venue to explore ghost stories, considering that so much of what makes them effective resides in the relationship they establish between the deceased of the tale and the setting in which they haunt. The interactivity and sense of presence provided by games enables the development of a ghost story with the tangibility that other forms of storytelling can't replicate, and its a shame that so much of the use of ghosts in videogames usually amount to simple jumpscares that fail to explore the range of the genre outside of survival horror (Fatal Frame still rules, tho).
For this reason Echo Night peaked my curiosity, with its premise of saving lost souls trapped in a boat that disappeared at sea. Sounds like the perfect setting for a ghost story, right? A doomed cruise ship, filled with the hopes, dreams and fears of people of all ages and social classes left forever unresolved, sailing the open sea for all of eternity, real Titanic shit. Ahhh, it's always the ones you root for that disappoint you the most...
Echo Night's biggest failing to me rests in its inability to make you feel like you are indeed on a ship. Being an adventure game, it's disheartening to witness how little panache Echo Night has to offer regarding the description and detail of its world, being content with explaining to you that a lamp on closer inspection is indeed just a lamp. And it's fine that the budget wasn't there to give the look and sound that would sell the idea, but if I so, I question why they didn't lean instead more on the power of words to do that job for them.
Additionally, while I appreciate the ambition to add intrigue and mystery, the murder plot is needlessly convoluted and detached from the plight of what should have been the main event of the game, the ghosts. Lacking any presence or emotional baggage, the ghosts serve as mere obstacles to tackle with little reason for their existence within the overall story, and minus some forced hostile encounters added to spice up the gameplay, you are left feeling that you are pretty much alone on a deserted ship.
It's an unfair comparison, but I can't give Echo Night a pass when games of its era like Silent Hill managed to be more effective at feeling tragically haunted and at giving life to seemingly empty rooms. Ultimately, the biggest criticism I have for Echo Night is that I fail to see why it had to be a story about ghosts, and why that ghost story had to be set on a ship.
I tend to tolerate a lot of bullshit in the pursuit of expanding my appreciation of videogame history and its range of experiences, but my limit is definitely put to the test when I am forced to watch my character die to a crab in one hit after countless hours of tedious grinding.
Shining in the Darkness for the most part is able to replicate much of the strengths of a genre that over the course of its existence has successfully shown the value of brutal difficulty and the reptillian pleasure of watching your party slowly avoiding immediate death for a few seconds more within endless illusory 3D brick walled corridors where each step can spell disaster, but it ends up stretching the concept far too thin for its own good.
Having an atrocious unfair amount of grinding and an aggravating high enemy encounter rate, its hard to find much enjoyment in a game that seems to value wasting your time with stat numbers over engaging and strategic decision making, and the random enemy encounters à-la JRPGs remove the cat and mouse appeal provided by the perceptible threats present in games like Dungeon Master.
While the simple joy of drawing your own grid map never loses its charm, you do so because the brown samey looking labyrinth devoid of landmarks and puzzle solving, admitedly effective at making you feel lost, lacks the variety to make the grind any less unbearable. Which is why I eventually gave in and installed a hack halfway through to remove the grinding.
But doing so was to kill game, as removing the grind means you are just left staring at lifeless corridors dealing with the little color provided by enemies and the few and far between NPC encounters. Maybe there's a reason why Shining in the Darkness does not share the adoration its spin off series Shining Force enjoys. Maybe its that freaking crab. Play Legend of Grimrock instead.
I don't think I will ever be able to forgive the West for robbing us of the Mado Monogatari series and its way more successful spin-off franchise , Puyo Puyo. While I will always have a nostalgic fondness for Mean Bean Machine (the first Puyo Puyo I experienced as a kid that weirdly tied a puzzle game with a cartoon whose dubious quality satiated my obsession with the blue blur at the time), the Arle gang and its mythological aesthetic were and always will be the perfect coat of paint to contextualize the absurd premise of competitive block puzzle gaming.
Thanks to the Sega Ages collection, it's now possible to experience Puyo Puyo translated in its glorious original form. Do you get much more out of it that you wouldn't by playing the untranslated version? Not really, besides some cute quips and banter that you can now understand at the start of each battle. But man, do these characters look and sound fantastic in 16 bit. Considering how the franchise would later evolve its presentation and gameplay, the original Puyo Puyo holds a certain quaintness and simplicity to it that makes it such a fun weird little title to revisit.
It's also a stark reminder of how a seemingly simple change to a concept can tremendously improve it and establish a formula for the rest of the series to iterate upon. This little change wouldn't happen until its revelatory sequel tho, Puyo Puyo Tsu, who introduced the ability to counter your opponents attacks, a mechanic the original Puyo Puyo lacked and would devolve every single battle into a "who is the quickest to make a combo that will fill the opponent's screen with a mountain of garbage puyos impossible to eliminate" match.
Better things would come for the Puyo Puyo series, but this is nice, isn't it?
I'm not a shmup guy. I would love to be able to discuss the merits of something like Mushihimesama's input lag and hitboxes or its Arrange mode's scoring mechanics, but the truth is I do not have the experience required with the bullet hell genre to perceive it as more than just playing the same game over and over again with different coats of paint.
Which ultimately ends up working in my favor, considering all it has to do to make me flinch and move away from the screen like a little giddy kid is vomit an absurd amount of colorful and vibrant impossible to dodge bullets while cheerful and bombastic electronica tracks play in the background. And what a beautiful coat of paint Mushihimesama's bug aesthetic is.
What I love about bullet hell games in general is their ability to, in a span of mere seconds, demonstrate the limitless potential of perserverance, finding skill where you previously thought to be inaccessible as you decode the bullet patterns and your ship simply becomes an extention of your peripheral vision, emptying your head from the needless noise, only to have that burst of primal inspiration shattered by the crushing reality of human fallibility, as consciousness suddenly returns to your body and your eyes glaze over the screen just in time to witness your naive ship lost in a sea of pink little mistakes.
But Mushihimesama so wants you to succeed. Might be hard to at first believe that, but beyond practice mode, the unlimited continues, or the plethora of difficulty and mode options available that let you fine tune the level of masochism you are willing to put yourself up to, Mushihimesama's hitboxes are so generous and its walls of bullets so quick to reveal openings from where to pull hail marys off that it's hard not to get suckered in into thinking that Mushihimesama is something you can conquer. It's the illusion that counts, anyways.
PS: It gets an extra half a star because I've learned that the True Final Boss is so notoriously bullshit that it requires you to glitch out the game to be able to beat it. That's just badass.
Disempowerment is nothing new in videogames. Over the decades, many have dabbled in the art of taking stuff away from the player, usually as narrative device that reflects through interactivity the lowest point of a character's story arc or as a tool to instill a sense of tangible dread as you no longer have access to familiar mechanics that would otherwise quickly solve the issue, but rarely do those moments ever extend past their unwelcoming phase into frustrating territory before quickly bursting into power fantasy catharsis. Some games in recent years have managed to do so to great effect, like Rain World or Death Stranding, but none to my knowledge have achieved the apex that Pathologic has on that particular stage.
Much can be argued in favor of the original Pathologic's outright repulsiveness, inherent to its ugly look, unintuitive UI and disruptive euro jank, that would inevitably compound over what was already an antagonistic game filled with mechanics solely devised to hurt you, but I believe the greatest achievement of its reimagining, Pathologic 2, is in its ability to eliminate that pretense of subjectively interpreting what could easily be attributed to financial and time constraints and instead being a much more inviting play, shining the spotlight solely on the geniously crafted and designed tragedy that unfolds before and around you at the center of it all. This time around, you will not be able to blame the game.
How does it feel to not be the hero of your own story? Surely we have all experienced this idea in some shape or form with storytelling in media, and in some ways we live it everyday in our daily lives, but have you truly ever been put on the act of such conundrum? Videogames pride themselves in allowing a level of choice and emergent storytelling not possible in different mediums, but hardly do we ever realize how truly shackling freedom can be when explored to its fullest, as games have conditioned us to believe there is always a more righteous and intended path if you manage play "better". It isn't until you are crawling through the night streets of Pathologic 2 frightfully murdering people in despair for their possessions, ignoring the call to adventure and letting important events die out because there are more pressing personal matters at hand like not starving to death, that you realize how ridiculous the conceit of videogames are.
The brilliance of Pathologic 2, beyond its imaginative world and intrigue filled story and manipulative cast of characters, lies in the way it predicates the survival of its town with the player's own, creating a much more engrossing and transcendent narrative inbetween the dialogue filled NPC interactions, where you are making deeply and engaging life affecting existential choices such as deciding if you continue to walk slowly to a destination that will consume your ever dwindling limited time, or if you risk running to it and filling your thirst and exhaustion meters with no hope of depleting them. That constant tug and pull in turn ends up informing your decisions and outlook of Pathologic 2, has you quickly learn that no, you cannot save everyone, and how could you, when you have yourself to worry about?
Pathologic 2 consistently reminds you of its nature as a videogame, mocking you at any chance it gets and correctly predicting how you will be deceived next in an attempt to dissuade you. And yet that constant 4th wall breaking only ends up having the inverse effect of drawing you further into its world. You want to win against the machine, you have played this game many times before. And it will continue to break you down until you play by its rules, to the point of even taking away from you the relief of death. Settling into a path of choices you can feel confident about is an utopic wish that videogames have exploited for most of its existence, and Pathologic 2 being able deform that expectation, gamefying it into a tough provoking exercise that puts you in the front row seat of a misery drama, presenting the human condition by the mere act of forcing you to sell a gun to buy a loaf of bread, is some real shit that you will never experience in any other piece of work.
With two campaigns short of being complete, Pathologic 2 is already a masterpiece of game design, a true testament to the possibilities of the artform and how much higher they can aspire to. Transcending beyond its russian heritage, it demonstrates the hardships of the individual vs. the world, and like a great novel, the more you look into it, the more it unravels and reveals about itself and yourself. You will always feel like you have missed some crucial aspect about it, and that you could have done things differently to better solve it. And that's the point.
Being from an overwhelmingly Sony devoted country, my exposure to Halo at the peak of its cultural impact was always one of looking over the fence at the neighbor's garden, indirectly consuming it through magazines, the internet or looking at its intriguing box art at the store. Eventually I would buy Halo CE for the pc many years after its time in the sun and neglect the boring campaign for the addictively fun throw plasma grenades at your own teammates online multiplayer, and only recently have I played it from start to finish, an experience which I can only describe as a Sonic the Hedgehog 1 situation where its couple of highs greatly diminish and disguise its numerous lows.
Historical hindsight had already prepared me for Halo 2's rushed development and anti-climatic ending, but it was still interesting and surprising to witness how many of its steps forward are undermined by a couple of steps back. Presenting a much tigther content-filled campaign with varied environments that lend themselves to more unique combat situations and replace the onslaught of endless corridors and enemy fodder of CE, Halo 2 quickly reveals the cost with its lack of sandbox-y freeform missions that defined its predecessor, and the iconic moments that seamlessly transition into big combat setpieces, greatly elevated by the haunting soundtrack, are severely gimped by the artificial difficulty that has enemies hit scanning you on sight and the baffling new HP system that puts you behind cover for long boring stretches of your playtime.
This sentiment even ends up extending itself into the story of Halo 2, a plot that, even with the introduction of much appreciated new intrigue with its Convenant inner conflict, isn't able to avoid making the illusion of scale and grandeur feel small and inconsequential, revealing a universe already running out of ideas. Halo 2 was a second awkward step from CE's first, and not the solidification of an identity for the franchise that sophmore sequels are known for being in the realm of videogames. Still, that only further cements how much of a big deal its online component was at the time and the transformative influence it had on the online console videogame landscape that is still felt to this day, considering it turned what was otherwise a fairly good-ish FPS series into the biggest franchise on Earth.
Walking around its now empty and quaint servers inhabited with Halo 2 online purists that break you into submission on sight, it's impossible to get a sense of what it represented in 2004, being just a relic of simpler and more exciting times for videogames, and in the same way you will never again experience the Pokemon mania of the 90s or the early exciment of playing an MMO for the first time, Halo 2 is one of those cases where "you just had to be there". And I wasn't.
PS: finding out in real time that "Blow Me Away" was actually from Halo 2 all along is one of those special rare moments in life where you feel like you just gained a better understanding of the universe.
How close can you toe the line of homage without falling completely into plagiarism? While hard to ignore the obvious influences that Kojima and his crew take inspiration from, the gorgeous and colorful 16-bit pixel art of Snatcher is able to create a path of its own into the cyberpunk genre by offering a tonal deviation from the gritty dystopic movies it aesthetically steals from into vibrant comic book territory filled with police procedural twists and turns and injected with just enough japanese melodrama.
Many indie games try their best to recreate the look of those old japanese PC-98 and MSX games, but playing Snatcher nowadays it becomes clear that achieving such an identity extended past just replicating its 16-bit sprite work and was instead a byproduct of the videogame technology and anime cultural zeitgeist that permeated so much of the 80s/90s Japan and filled Snatcher with its color, sound and style, a magnum opus of what can only be now considered a lost art. Despite how static Snatcher can be at points, the power of the Sega CD turns every screen a joy to look at and listen to, making the case for why VNs are a venue to take in the realm of videogames.
Thankfully, at this point in time a not so confident as he is now Kojima was at the helm of the project, managing to restrain his obssessive nerdisms into the background and instead utilizing the premise of his cinema aspirations to create a much more subdued and logically competent thriller that gamifies Blade Runner and takes advantage of the medium of interactivity to immerse the player in clever detective work and satisfying plot point progression in ways film never could. The simple choice of being able to call your wife on the phone and talk about your day and feelings does more for the universe of Snatcher than whatever post 90s Kojima lore dump ever could.
It isn't without it's problems. Much of its "deductive puzzle solving" solely consists of exhausting every combination of "look" and "investigate" commands until the characters decide it's time to advance, the rushed and campy ending would have actually greatly benefited from Kojima's tendency to tie in world socioeconomical politics with his characters personal struggles which would have more strongly cemented Snatcher's themes of human connection and distrust, and the constant forceful "flirt" with every single woman (and child) that shows up on the screen quickly goes from being mildly amusing to straight up creepy. Still, the self awareness and sense of humor keeps things light and fun, and Snatcher's addition to the canon of japanese art that has its finger on the pulse of modern technology makes this a must for Kojima fans. Snatcher 2 would be a joy to witness, though I doubt they could ever manage to recreate the 90s in such a fashion.
A Link to the Past. A monolith of the Zelda franchise, alongside Ocarina of Time, that simultaneously solidified the series formula and set its subsequent sequels on a path that would take 26 years to break free from. Nowadays a divisive title between the fanbase, its reputation for turning the series into a restrictive, hand holding, linear affair is mostly undeserved and severly exagerated. While lacking the first screen statement of the original Legend of Zelda and guiding you through a small set of introductory dungeons with little deviation before opening itself up, ALttP still retains the exploration DNA from its predecessors.
Allowing for a surprising amount of choice in how you tackle its questline provides numerous fun guideless discoveries such as the Zora waterfall or the warp travel bird, and without the intrusive tutorialization and puzzle signalling that would later on plague the franchise, players are left to their own devices to figure out dungeon entry enigmas and solve meticulously puzzle box designed dungeons that do not hold any punches in their mental and physical challenge. In what I consider a brilliant decision, in order to be able to defeat the final boss after a gauntlet of the hardest rooms in the game, you need to have had completed a series of side quests that you would think were just optional content, a devious trick that would make the NES games proud.
Having said that, I unfortunately do tend to agree with most of the critical reevaluation that ALttP has recently gotten from its detractors. While the colorful and detailed Super Nintendo presentation lends a newly found personality to the series, it also ends up removing much of the alluring mystery and mystique of its more simple and abstract looking prequels. The more perceptible aesthetic is itself a double edged sword that easily signals what you are allowed to engage with and what is noise to be ignored, a harmless consequence of technology advancement that ironically ends up reducing the scope of ALttP's map, despite how much bigger it is than Zelda 1 and 2. It's true that ALttP allows room for the player to decide which path he wants to take, but that certainly becomes a harder decision to make when you can just open your map at any time and realize you are going the wrong way.
Make no mistake in assuming I am implying that A Link to the Past forever strayed the Zelda franchise away from its strength and potential, as that's not the point I'm trying to make. But it's hard to deny that the series philosophy took a turn here, in the same manner that something like DMC3 would forever rob the franchise of another DMC1 happening. And maybe it was for the best, as moments like finally being able to pick up the Master Sword in the middle of a shady forest represent some of the most awe-inspiring and affecting iconography the series offered. The true mark of A Link to the Past's success is in the ability of the franchise to ride on its coattails for almost 30 years.
Bar none the greatest strength of the Myst series was always its ability to convey the human mind's fascination with deciphering the unknown and making sense out of the alien and illogical. Myst's cold, empty and artifical island filled with misplaced familiarity beckoning you to interact with its clunky buttons and mechanical contraptions was all about finding meaning in its dreamlike language, which while a fruitful and inspiring endeavor as the series first step, was something that its sequel Riven managed to slightly iterate and expand upon to deliver something much more profoundly alluring.
Masterfully intertwining its worldbuilding with its puzzles, Riven presents a cohesive and tangible world filled with enigmas within enigmas, where understanding the solution means understanding the people, culture, rules and symbols that govern its world, and preceeding titles like The Witness or Fez, it offers a singular idea to the player that progresssively and beautifully flourishes into revelation with each new discovery of its meaning, exposing its crucial purpose and importance to every facet of Riven's existence.
A meticulously designed gameworld that perfectly parallels the antagonist's obssessive imperialistic dreams of divinity and supremacy over the world of Riven, and whose vision is ultimately and inevitably undone by the same reverence he bestows upon the devices and symbols he created in his tyranny. And just as his unsustainable dream crumbles apart, so too does the player's, as figuring out Riven means the destruction of its mystique, leaving nothing but a virtual space of beautiful static pre rendered backgrounds, and while the awe of enlightenment is something that I will never be able to experience ever again in Riven, the joyful smile I get while looking at my notebook filled with scribbles and doodles of its world is proof that I was truly there.
Refrain from resorting to a guide, click anything and everything, close and open every door, observe closely, and take a sip each time you have to endure a grueling slow animation, and I promise it will be worthwhile.
Asura's Wrath being the laughing stock of excessive QTE use during the 7th gen has become a bit of an unfair reputation, considering how little credit it tends to get for how successfully it actually manages to pull it off. Described as an "interactive anime" by the developers themselves, it is clear that the people behind this production knew what they were doing, using all the classic tropes and cliches that have turned shounen into such a successful venue for guys being dudes.
So well executed in fact, that soon you forget that you are for the most part just pressing button prompts as you watch long ass cutscenes of big muscle guy punching another big muscle guy. There is definitely an art to making visceral rage and violence this engaging and purposeful, emotions that the japanese have managed to perfect and capitalize on with animation for decades now, and Asura's Wrath pays tribute to that legacy in a grand display of revenge melodrama between gods that puts God of War to shame.
It's an escalation of every increasingly insurmountable odds that Asura inevitably bursts through with his fists, fury and will alone, surprassing the greatests of Platinum Games finales, and it's amazing what a few buttons can do to elevate a story that we have seen told countless times before to new heights of catharsis. The final boss (which is locked behind payed dlc, a decision that sits at the pantheon of bad Capcom ideas) gets his shit kicked in so hard that by that point you welcome those QTEs with open arms.
The bittersweet ending note of Asura's Wrath is wondering how much more amazing it would have been were it a real ass videogame.