>> Saturday, December 22, 2007
Apparently more people know about the Zelda CD-i games and more than often dislike them without ever having touched a CD-i player. Thankfully John Szczepaniak is from a rare breed who tries to convince the internet of the quality of the Zelda CD-i games, and I have to credit him for his ways to do that. John: "I am one of the minority who sincerely enjoys the first two CDi Zelda games, Wand of Gamelon and Faces of Evil. I bought a CDi to play them, since I had never seen any explanation of the gameplay amongst all the criticism. People only talked about those awful cinemas. I didn't pay too much, and started them thinking they'd be awful. I used a 3-button hardwired pad, and was surprised to find them very enjoyable and clever in places. If you use a gamepad, as opposed to the infrared remote, they play rather well. I’ve heard good results from emulating the system and using a 360 pad. I like them for many reasons, some of which I’ll try to explain."
John: "I enjoyed them so much, I tracked down and interviewed the guy behind them. I then wrote a couple of articles on them. The latter of which was, in truth, very loud in its praise. Balancing I thought, since almost everything else about them is stupidly loud criticism. I now pleasantly find that Interactive Dreams has written not ONE but in fact TWO pieces on the games, stating they're good, and asking: "What if they weren't lumbered with the Nintendo license?"
The games are cleverly designed, with staggered progress like you’d find in the official Zelda or Metroid games. I’m not going to explain the whole game(s), but I’ll describe two of my favourite bits that really made me really think the games were clever.
Here we see a key, but we’re not sure where the key needs to be used. Later on you’ll meet a character who’ll tell you she locked a cave door to keep the monsters away, and hid the locking mechanism inside a skull.
The skull was only a little way to the right. I’d never even thought about using the key on it!
Key and lock, a common gameplay mechanic in videogames, existed on the same level, in nearly the same screen, but it was never made obvious. When you’re finally told where the lock is, it’s like a revelation. My other favourite section is pure “Metroidvania” in terms of design.
These guys drop snowballs.
These fire lizards can only be killed with snowballs, and in doing so, they drop firestones.
Which are the only things that can kill these monkeys.
The game has several sections like this, where you progress a little, then have to have to go back to a different stage to acquire items, progress a bit further, and so on. Very much like Super Metroid, or any other such game. It’s not original design, but it works, and is fun (I’m only breaking it down into baby steps to make it easier to understand why I enjoy this game).
Item collection works as well as you’d expect, and being able to keep everything you’ve collected up to the point when you die makes the game painless. When I first started playing, and only had three hearts, I died maybe a dozen times (I died twice as much when I played my very first NES game), but at the end, I’d accumulated a lot of money for the item stores, and also a magic lamp! All that effort felt like it paid off. Die a dozen times another game, and it means nothing.
Ignore the cinemas. No offence to Sergei Servianoff (or my father), but East European cartoons are crap. On the other hand, I like it when a game tries something different. Okami tried something different and was praised. The Zelda games have a kind of Monet-like style to them. No, they’re not as good as Monet, but they’re trying something different which is not unpleasant. In fact, it’s quite stylish in places.
The in-game graphics are another highlight of LZ, especially the backgrounds, since rather than being traditional pixel-based sprite-art, they have a Claude Monet-like pastel impressionist quality. This should be evident from the screens - strokes from when the backgrounds were first painted are still visible. Over the years only a few games have tried experimenting with different visual styles, which elevates LZ to the plateau of titles like Okami (Japanese brushwork); Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct (CG renderings); Skullmonkeys (claymation); Rakuga Kids and Rakugaki Showtime (graffiti); Saga Frontier 2 and Legend of Mana (water color) plus of course, Yoshi's Island (wax crayon), among others.
This was a direct result of the CD medium being able to hold the higher resolution scans, and it's a pity that not more games have tried being a little different. Also as clever, as previously stated, is that character dialogues are introduced via portrait-cinemas which overlaid onto in-game action. The problem though is that all the FMV-style cinemas are of a very low quality.
The reason for this proves fascinating: a bunch of Russian animators were flown over and placed in an apartment, then drew everything. Not to offend anyone from Eastern Europe (my surname reveals that I too hail from that area), but when you think about it, the post-communist east-bloc styling is painfully evident in the cut-scenes, and for anyone who enjoys Japanese anime (a staple in most videogames) or the kind of output from Ghibli studios, then those in LZ aren't very palatable. More beautiful Zelda shots. Viking shipwreck on a mountain:
There are many others. they play a lot like most Zelda, Metroid and other adventure games, though with some rather clever ideas thrown in (and yes, they could retrospectively be considered a Metroidvania-type pair of games).
Gameplay for both is the same: you start with a large map (too large to fit in a single screenshot) and three selectable areas. Choose one to start that stage. Finishing a stage involves moving to the end and striking a triforce symbol. Doing so ends the stage, opening up a new one on the map, and so you progress. Occasionally instead of a triforce there will be a boss to defeat.
You can scroll backwards and forwards at will. Killed enemies drop items (such as snowballs and fire crystals) and rupees which can be used to buy essential items like lamp oil (for dark areas, useable once you've found an oil lamp), rope (for climbing to high platforms), and bombs (for killing enemies and breaking rocks).
Some enemies can only be killed with specific weapons, while some areas can only be passed using certain items. There are also NPCs who request you bring them items in exchange for other valuable things (such as jars to hold fairy water which restores health, the ability to shoot from your sword, and so on).
Progress is staggered, and all of this makes it very comparable to the first two Zelda games and also the Metroid titles. You're shunted to-and-fro, acquiring items which each time enable you to progress a little further. This style of design is hugely satisfying and is pulled of really well. The only flaws found in the games are due to inherent hardware problems, not sloppy design or structuring - the actual pacing and structure is impeccable.
The biggest problem is control, in that you only have 4 direction and 2 action buttons (less options than even a NES pad). Jumping is done by pushing up, which takes time to master, though a winged helmet later on enables bigger jumps and makes things easier. This doesn't stop the game from being enjoyable, but you need to learn its subtler nuances to make movement easy. Sword attacks are done via button 1. Accessing the inventory meanwhile is done by ducking and pushing button 2, the same button assigned for using special items. This genuinely can be annoying, since it means you can't use items such as bombs or anything else while ducking. Still, not a major problem once you're aware of it.
Some people complain it's impossible to avoid enemy projectiles without getting hit, resulting in repeated deaths. Not so! If you had read the booklet, you'd know that Link or Zelda's shield only become active if you stand still. That's right. Do nothing, and all those enemy axes, rocks and spears will simply bounce off. Once I started doing this, I found it possible to traverse stages without taking any damage - you must resist the temptation to constantly move.
Another complaint is the flying enemies, which people claim harass you relentlessly. Not so! If you stand still and continuously kill them (resulting in a lot of useful rupees), they will eventually stop. Between twenty to thirty need to be killed, but once done there are no flying enemies until you change stages. Furthermore, you can buy loaves of bread which will distract them, and you can also later acquire a bell which allows you to freeze them in mid-air (making them ripe for a quick, easy killing).
A general problem encountered by people playing LZ for the first time is one of difficulty. In truth, once you know the weak spot for certain things (enemies, jumping areas, and other sticking points), the game becomes fairly easy. There's also the jars which can hold fairy water and restores your hearts, plus also the ability to shoot from your sword and items to jump further, all of which makes things easier still. Finally, even if you die in a stage, there is no such thing as game over. You're simply placed back on the map with all the items you've collected so far in that stage. This was a brilliant move, since it means that no game time is ever a waste. If you play through an area only to die at the boss (I only ever found one boss to a major challenge), you'll still keep all the rupees and special items you've collected up to that point. This means it's possible to load the game up for fifteen minutes, dive right into a really difficult monster-filled area, kill a few brutes to rack up some rupees, then let yourself die so you can try a different stage. It ensures the gameplay remains painless.
Overall the atmosphere is one of a grand adventure, with great excitement as new and exotic areas open up. The first time you board the Viking longboat, or venture through the Harlequin Bazaar, is quite special. It feels satisfying as progress is made and, thanks to some beautiful backgrounds and unique music, makes for some memorable gaming. It baffles me how people could have such hatred for these games, and I can only assume that they've never reached later stages, or were blinded by Nintendo loyalty.
Examined in isolation from their source material, and acknowledging the inherent faults with the hardware, there isn't actually any complaint which can be raised against the raw design of the two games. They contain fun and unusual ideas, while making clever use of a well implemented item system (the feeding Glutko bombs puzzle is a personal favourite, and mimics the Grumble Grumble boss in the first Zelda).
I love the music in this game, and if I could get decent recordings without sound effects I’d put them on my MP3 player. Again they try something different. Panpipes and middle-eastern music, and other non-conventional sounds. Maybe it’s a bit electronic in places, but it’s quite pleasant.
Listen to a few tracks of the soundtrack. I quite like Kobitan Village and Sakado Town. The overworld music is also fairly good. Sadly they don’t have the desert music.
People get so hung up about these being non-canon because Nintendo never made them. If that’s so, then Metroid Prime must be utterly rubbish because it was made in Texas (it’s not rubbish, just in case you were wondering, though I still prefer Super Metroid).
Ignore the Nintendo licensing, ignore the names of the characters, ignore the cinemas, and try to see the genuine quality in these titles. They’re really not that bad. Actually, they’re rather good fun if you have an open mind."
Credits: John Szczepaniak Screens: Quebec Gamers Source: Insert Credit