>> Saturday, October 27, 2007
OK, first things first -- it's a side-scroller, not a top-view game. Deal with it. If you're still with me, you're not such a Zelda purist that you prefer to see Zelda as the sky-cam view of a poofy round dress and a lock of hair. Good. "Zelda: the Wand of Gamelon" is a side-scroller game, also known as a "platform" game. That means we see the character from a side perspective, as she walks along the ground, walls, tree branches, etc. and jumps over obstacles or enemies. She can also climb ladders or ropes to change levels, and can deliberately fall to move down. It's a simple, familiar system, and that's an advantage in this adventure game. Worth mentioning is the beautiful art by Rob Dunlavey. The options in this game are kept to a minimum, allowing the player to focus on exploration, fighting, and searching.
The game opens with an animated sequence setting up the story: the King, Zelda's father, has travelled to the land of Gamelon to join forces with Duke Onkled against the evil Gannon. A month goes by with no word, so the heroic Link goes after the king... and also disappears. Zelda sets off to find both of them.
The animation is charming and gives the game much more character than the text boxes of the Nintendo versions. Appropriate voice acting helps -- the king's regal, Zelda's innocent but determined, and Link is a complete jerk.
One effect that doesn't work, however, are some zoom-to-close-ups in the animation. The animation is pasted on top of a static background, so the background doesn't move even when the ''camera'' does. The effect is a little disorienting.
The player then gets a map of the land of Gamelon. He or she can move the "triforce" around to select an area of the country to start in. At first, only three will be available, although good play will open up more of the map for exploration.
PROS: Easy to learn, good music and graphics, will keep players interested for a long time.A good place to start (aside from the handy "help" feature, in which Zelda tells you how to move her around) is "Sakado". The enemies on the street of this town are pretty easy to kill with your sword, and the rubies they yield can be used as money at the local shop. It's the first house in Sakado -- simply stand in front of the door and press button 2. Once inside, you can buy lamp oil, ropes, and bombs, for 5, 10, and 20 rubies each.
Hit the shopkeeper with your sword for more info -- hitting friendly characters brings up an animation in which they talk to you, give you information, etc. It's another welcome improvement over the text of the Nintendo versions. As with the other games, you learn more about the story with each person you meet, and it's not as straightforward as you'd initially think (there's a particularly nice twist in the ending!).
To use items bought or found in your quest, crouch and hit button 2 for a display of your posessions. Select the item you want to use. Next time you hit button 2, that item will be used -- meaning you'll throw a bomb, hoist a rope, drop the bread, etc.
There are two ways to get out of a land in Zelda. You can hit the "triforce" parchment with your sword -- there are two in each land, one where you started and one hidden somewhere within, usually after you've found a major treasure or defeated a major villain.
You can also bail out when you die -- Zelda has a series of hearts at the upper left representing her strength (the old "hit points" idea from Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games). She starts with 3 hearts, but can gain more as the game goes on. A minor hit will cost half a heart, while some monsters can wipe them all out in one shot. When all the hearts are gone, you get the option to ''continue'' from a nearby point in this land... but you only get three chances in any one land before you're sent back to the map of Gamelon.
Fighting in Zelda is hampered only by somewhat sluggish response from the controls -- the scrolling and movement can be a little choppy, probably because of the CPU firepower required to move the colorful and detailed backgrounds. Fortunately, discovery of a "power sword" early in the game gives Zelda a decided advantage.
Most of the gameplay involves meeting people and finding stuff that'll help you in your quest. For example, one woman wants an Arpagos Egg... find it later in the game, go back and talk to her, and she'll trade you for some object that'll help you open up new areas of the map or fight the nastier bad guys.
CONS: Slightly choppy animation and scrolling, sluggish control. A nice feature of the Zelda games is its non-linearity. You don't just automatically go from a "level one" to a "level two". Instead, you can go anywhere you like in the available regions, any number of times. Sometimes you'll have to, because you're allowed into regions even if you don't yet have all the tools you'll need to prevail in them. Sometimes you'll even find you're absolutely stuck, at which point you need to backtrack through regions you've already traversed to see if you missed something. Here's a tip that would have saved me two hours of hacking and slaying: Sakado has a back street!
The game takes a LONG time to play. Fortunately, there's a save feature which allows up to three players (or three versions of the same quest) to be saved in the CD-i's memory.
While the game isn't gory (bad guys generally just go "poof" and disappear), there are some moments here and there where the animation is thankfully blunt about the violence. One animated evil character, when hit, says "you've killed me!" as he dissolves. Cut to Zelda, who replies "good"!.
In general, the game is a strong mix of arcade hack & slay with just enough searching, second-guessing, experimenting and communicating to keep it interesting. Despite what many people think, this Zelda is a keeper.
Thanks to Chris Adamson, Quebec Games and Rob