Review: The Legend of Zelda – Oracle of Seasons/Ages

Nintendo fans rejoice! My long awaited review of the “Oracle” games is finally here. This review also marks the first of my GBC/N64 era “Final Four”. It has been a long time coming, but I’m proud to finally discuss these two classic titles.

Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are two titles in The Legend of Zelda series. They were released simultaneously and as a result are very similar. In fact, they are actually designed with a special “linked game” mode that allows players to import progress from one game to the other. (More on that later).

At first glance, these games seem very similar to Link’s Awakening. The overall art and sound design are almost identical. But, the Oracle games take full advantage of the Game Boy Color’s graphics – resulting in a much better visual experience than even the DX version of Link’s Awakening

The two games are nearly identical in terms of play. However, Oracle of Seasons tends to focus more on action, while Oracle of Ages shines a bigger spotlight on puzzle solving. The games are designed to be played in any order. But, for those that want to get technical, it is generally accepted that Oracle of Seasons should occur first in the timeline, followed by Oracle of Ages.

Once a player has completed one of the games, they are given a special password. When starting the second game, this password can be entered to enable the “linked game” feature. As the player progresses through the second title, they will be occasionally prompted to enter additional codes. These codes can be obtained by revisiting the completed first game and talking to specific NPCs. Once entered, these codes will grant perks or unlock special items/weapons in the second game. Thus, allowing the player to benefit from having already completed one of the games in the series.  If playing  these games on the original hardware, this same functionality is also available by using the link cable. But, most modern gamers are likely to be enjoying these courtesy of the 3DS Virtual Console.

It is also important to note that if playing a “linked game”, reaching the end of the second entry will activate a special final chapter. This definitive ending is only available for players who manage to tackle both OoA and OoS.

The storyline for the games start off in a similar way. Link is summoned by the Triforce, which then teleports him to a strange land. In Seasons, he finds himself in the land of Holodrum. It is there that he learns about a terrible creature named Onox who has shrouded the land in chaos. Seasons change on a whim and the people are fearful for their lives. To stop this, link must search for the eight Essences of Nature. Once collected, he will be able to defeat Onox and set things right.

In Ages, Link finds himself in the world of Lybrynna. It is here that Link discovers that the Oracle of Ages, Nayru has become possessed. As result, the flow of time has fallen into an erratic mess. This time, link must quest for the eight Essences of Time. Only then can he save Nayru and restore the flow of time to its proper path.

As mentioned above, completing both games unlocks a final chapter that puts a capstone on both adventures and reveals the true villain behind both games. 

For the most part, both games play very much like any other Zelda title. Link explores various dungeons, recovers treasure and defeats bosses. The treasure he finds enable him to progress to new areas, etc. The big difference in these games are the introduction of the Seasons/Time mechanic. In OoS, Link gains the ability to change the seasons at will. This is useful in a number of ways. For example, in winter a mountain path might be blocked by drifts of snow. But, Link can change the season to summer so that the path will be clear. OoA works in a similar fashion. Link can travel through time to overcome obstacles much in the same way. 

At first, one might think that by releasing two games side by side, Nintendo was simply trying to cash in on the concept made popular by Pokemon. But in reality, these are two completely separate games. The “linked game” mechanic does not come off as gimmicky at all. Instead, it actually feels very revolutionary, even by today’s standards.

In closing, I found both of these games to be flawless works of art. They certainly live up to the high standards set by the previous entries in the Zelda series. No fan;s library is complete without them.

Difficulty: Medium – The difficulty level for both of these games is pretty even. Neither is much harder than the other. I found both of them to be of average difficulty. Some spots, especially boss fights, can prove a bit troublesome at times. But in almost every case, there’s usually a weakness or strategy the be found. 

Story: The storylines here are not as in-depth as what was found in the N64 or SNES Zelda titles. But, there’s enough lore here to keep things interesting and to drive players to completion.

Originality: In design, these games borrow heavily from the prior Game Boy title, Link’s Awakening. But the introduction of the Ages/Season switch mechanic, as well as the “linked game” option, really add a breath of fresh air that keep these titles feeling new and interesting.

Soundtrack: For a large part, the soundtrack for both of these games was lifted right out of Link’s Awakening. But each game also offers some of its own unique music. All in all, the new songs are fitting and appropriate, but they don’t reach iconic status of some of the previous titles in the series.

Fun: If you’re a fan of the Zelda series, these games will undoubtedly be enjoyable. The developers did a great job adding Easter eggs from the N64 titles into the these games. Seeing these brought a smile to my face more than once. Plus, It was just plain fun to figure out many of these classic-style puzzles again.

Graphics: There’s only so much you can do with the GBC hardware. But, these games manage to whip out every trick in the book. They are colorful and detailed, despite being held back by ancient technology. These two titles pretty much represent the pinnacle of GBC graphics. 

Playcontrol: Overall no complaints. The controls are very precise and accurate. As with Link’s Awakening, the constant menu switching  can get a bit annoying, but it’s a minor complaint. 

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: No

Value:  Digitally, these games are available on 3DS Virtual Console for $5.99 each. At this price, they are well worth the money. Collectors can expect to pay anywhere from $10-$30 for original copies of the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite having farmed out development of these games to CapCom, the quality of both games matches that of any first-party Nintendo title. The Oracle titles are worthy of the Zelda name and I consider them a must-buy for any fan of the series. I played Oracle of Seasons many years a go, but this was the first time getting my hands dirty with Oracle of Ages. To truly appreciate these games, they must be enjoyed in tandem. I can’t recommend them enough.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

Other Games in this Series: 

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: Wario Land II

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Next on my catch-up list is Wario Land II, a quirky little game that serves as both a sequel to Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land and the start of Wario series proper. I have read that Wario Land II was originally released as a standard Game Boy title sometime in 1998 then later ported to Game Boy Color in 1999. I have tried to verify this, but I have only ever been able to locate copies of the GBC cart. Perhaps, the original version was released in Japan only, who knows. So for the sake of this review I’m going to go full-in with the GBC version.

Aside from the colors, Wario Land II is very similar in many ways to it’s predecessor. As far as the story is concerned, greed is once again a big factor. In the last game, Wario’s goal was to amass as much wealth as possible. This eventually pitted him against the infamous Captain Syrup. This time around, the captain has sent her goons into Wario’s castle to steal some of his sacred treasures. The game begins with Wario waking up in the morning and discovering the chaos left behind by the thieves, It continues as he tracks them to their lair for the ultimate show down with Captain Syrup herself.

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Just like in the original game, Wario’s primary form of defense is dashing and slamming into his enemies. Unlike the last game, the whole hat-based powerup system is gone. This time, Wario will encounter certain enemies that can inflict him with various body-altering conditions. For example, torch bearing monsters will light him on fire, bees will sting him causing him to blow up like a balloon. While these afflictions initially appear to be negative, using them to your advantage is a key element of gameplay. Certain blocks can be eliminated while Wario is aflame, etc. Essentially, each level is a cross between your standard platformer and an interactive puzzle. Players will need to use their wits to figure out how to overcome the obstacles in each level so that they can reach the goal.

While the puzzle aspect can be tricky at times, this is made much more tolerable by the fact that Wario cannot die. Typically the worst thing that can happen to player and finding themselves dumped back at the start of a level, thus having to navigate certain areas several times. Also worthy of note, each level contains a hidden door that contains a mini-game and change for Wario to collect a rare treasure.

The game itself is fairly straight forward and can be played from beginning to end in pretty short order. However, there are a number of hidden levels and treasures to be discovered. If a player wishes to get a full 100% clear on the game, there’s going to be a lot of work ahead of them. This also gives the game quite a bit of replay-ability. There’s a total of five different endings for players to experience.

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Difficulty: Medium –  The base game is fairly simple if your goal is simply to play from beginning to end. The fact that Wario cannot die really helps to make this the case. Some of the boss battles can be a bit tricky, but typically it doesn’t take long to figure them out and overcome. The biggest challenge in the game has to do with completing all of the mini games, collecting all the treasures and getting a 100% completion rate.

Story: As typical with Mario/Wario games, the story is simplistic. Not very much depth here. But for the type of game, this is appropriate.

Originality: Despite being another classic platformer. Nintendo managed to keep this title feeling fresh with the overall design of Wario’s abilities and the way he can use enemy afflictions to navigate and overcome obstacles.

Soundtrack: Nothing really special to note here. The soundtrack of the game is quirky and funky. It’s fitting, but not very ground breaking.

Fun: For what it is, Wario Land II is a lot of fun. It’s perfect for when you just want to kill some time. Perhaps a plane ride, or a road trip. The characters and animations are amusing and well done. This game packs a pretty healthy amount of fun into a fairly small package.

Graphics: From my experience, most Game Boy Color games look like washed-out recolors of black and white titles. Not this game. Wario Land II really shows what the Game Boy Color was capable of. The colors are bright a vibrant. Aside from the blocky limitations of the portable system, Wario Land II is a beautiful game.  This is even more so if you are playing the virtual console version. The backlit screen of modern hardware does wonders.

Playcontrol: This is your standard platformer experience. As before, it has a much different feel that the Mario games, but if you’ve already played Wario Land, you’ll feel right at home.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Considering the surprising amount of content packed into this little game, you can’t go wrong with the $4.99 price point that Nintendo is selling this for on the Virtual Console.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Wario Land II is a simple, fun platformer. This game was made at a time when most handheld games were still intended to be short little time-wasters. With that in mind, the game exceeds expectations. For the price, this is a title that almost any 3DS owner should pick up if they want a taste of some classic handheld gaming.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow

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I swore I’d never touch a Pokemon game. I resisted it for twenty years. To me, it seemed too cute and gimmicky. But now, with the release of the original Pokemon games on the 3DS Virtual Console, I decided to finally  set aside my reservation and see what all the fuss was about. I have finally set foot into the world of Pokemon.

For those not in the know, Pokemon is a huge franchise. What started out as a video game series has since evolved into a television show, trading card game, and a healthy market of toys. Pokemon commands a fanbase that rivals nearly any other in the world of video games. Pokemon fans range from children as young as four years old all the way to adults. I’ve been well aware of the of the mania that is Pokemon for a quite awhile, but as I mentioned above, I’ve always done my best to stay away. It seemed like a big moneysink. You see, unlike most other video games,when you play Pokemon, you have a choice to make. With every Pokemon release, there are always at least two variations (sometimes three) of the game to choose from.  The whole premise behind Pokemon is catching and training monsters and the trick is; each version has monsters that are exclusive to that title. So, in order to “catch them all” as they say, you have to find someone who has the other version of the game and trade with them.

Since I’m currently blogging games from the late-90’s to the early 2000’s, this Virtual Console release seemed to like a great opportunity to jump in and get a taste for the what the series is all about. As always, I wanted have the full experience. So, in my case I purchased a copy of Pokemon Red for me, Pokemon Blue for my oldest son, and Pokemon Yellow for my youngest.  This way, three of us could trade and battle – all the things that Pokemon players love to do. But before I get too much into that. Let’s talk about the game itself.

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The first Pokemon games were released in Japan in 1996 as Pokemon Red and Pokemon Green.  Later, a slightly modified version called Pokemon Blue with updated artwork and different catch-able Pokemon, was made available. When the series finally reached the US two years later, the original “Blue” version was revamped again and released in two flavors under the names of: Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. The western release of the series was a smashing success, this was helped in part by the Pokemon anime that had also found it’s way to the shores  of the US by that time.  Eventually, a third version was also made available to US players; Pokemon Yellow (aka: Special Pikachu Edition). This is is essentially identical to Red and Blue, with the exception that it features the famous “Pikachu” character as the starting Pokemon instead of the regular choice between three different monsters. Despite all these different versions, it is important to recognize that regardless of the version you select, Red, Blue, Yellow are all essentially the same game. With the exception of Yellow, the only difference among the versions are the Pokemon that can be encountered randomly.

Red and Blue were released for the original Game Boy, as a result these games are look and feel very dated by today’s standards. Regardless, they are still quite enjoyable. The graphics remind me very much of those found in the Final Fantasy Legend series. Pokemon Yellow is a bit different, while still being a “Game Boy” title, it offered some direct support for the Game Boy color, so when played on a GBC system, Yellow also contains some crude coloring that cannot be found in most other GBC titles.

As far a gameplay is concerned, Pokemon is essentially a cross between an RPG and a collectible trading card game. The storyline of the game is this; Pokemon, also known as Pocket Monsters, are funny little animals that can be found all over the region of Kanto (the fictional setting in which the game takes place). Right now, the biggest craze in Kanto is collecting Pokemon and training them to compete in battle. But, have no fear. Pokemon don’t fight to the death. You play as a young boy who has aspirations of being a Pokemon Trainer (a person who catches, tames and raises wild Pokemon). At beginning of the game you are taken under the wing of the famous Pokemon Professor Oak, and tasked with making a record of all known Pokemon in the region. This ledger, also called a Pokedex, is updated automatically as you catch and encounter various Pokemon in the game.  It is with this task in mind, that the adventure of the game unfolds. It is important to note, the main scenario of the game can be completed without actually catching every single Pokemon. But, completing the Pokedex is often the ultimate goal of many players.

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Pokemon are caught and carried in little spherical containers called Pokeballs. Pokemon can be summoned for battle and recalled as needed. Each Pokemon levels independently from experience points earned during battles. As Pokemon level up, they can learn new abilities and combat techniques. Many Pokemon will also evolve into stronger versions as they level up. Each Pokemon in the game is categorized under a certain “Type”. For example, there are Grass, Fire, Water, Electric, etc Pokemon. Naturally, Grass Pokemon are weak to Fire-based attacks but Fire Pokemon are weak to Water-based attacks, etc. So the key to game is learning when to to use certain types of Pokemon to overcome battles with your opponents.

As you can imagine, catching and leveling a lot of Pokemon can end up being quite the grind fest. But truthfully, you really only need to focus on a handful of Pokemon to complete the game.  Eventually, you may reach the point where your Pokemon have leveled so high, that they no longer follow your commands.  This is overcome by challenging “Gym Leaders” (Pokemon Champions). Upon defeating a Gym Leader, you will be awarded with a badge. Badges offer a number of perks, often these include being able to command Pokemon of a higher level.

One of main features of Pokemon is being able to trade with other players. As mentioned earlier, this is only way to actually complete the entire Pokedex. Originally, this was accomplished using a special cable that allowed two people to link their Game Boy’s together. However, with the Virtual Console release, this can now be accomplished wirelessly.   It is also through this method that two players can engage in Pokemon battles with each other.

All in all, I wasn’t really certain what to expect with my first Pokemon game. A part of me thought that I would find it a little too childish. But in the end, I really enjoyed it. I wish I knew Nintendo’s plans regarding future Virtual Console releases, as I’d really like to experience the games in their original versions. But as it stands now, I’ve already acquired a number of other Pokemon games and remakes and I full intend to explore the series as a whole.

If I had to give my honest opinion of Pokemon Red/Blue – I’d say that it certainly zeroed in on an fresh concept. Overall, my experience with the game was nothing but positive. If I had to find fault with the title, it would be with inventory management and UI delays.. The game throws more items at you than you can carry at any one time. This is alleviated through a storage system in the game. But accessing storage is bothersome and the UI around this system is clunky and monotonous. I understand that many of these issues were addressed in future versions and remakes. I should go on record now by declaring that I fully plan to check out the remake for this first generation (known as FireRed/LeafGreen). But for my first outing, I really wanted to experience the games that started it all.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Despite appealing to young children, this game is actually quite challenging at times. Completing the main game is no easy task, but one that is manageable for almost anyone. The big challenge here are for those that want to “catch them all”. At the time of release, this would have required a lot of patience and networking with other Pokemon players. These days, this is much easier due to internet forums and Facebook trading groups.

Story: Surprisingly, the storyline in the game is quite rich and enjoyable. The whole Pokemon mythos and lore is very well presented and detailed. Many aspects of the plot do seem to be aimed at younger players, but it can still be quite charming for adults.

Originality: Pokemon was a groundbreaking game. Releasing multiple version of the same title, inter-game trading and competition were things that were virtually unheard of at the time. Not to mention the whole concept of Pokemon collecting. Nintendo really managed to forge their own way with this title.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack here is a mixed bag. The music is catchy, but suffers greatly from the limitations provided by the Game Boy system.

Fun: I found this game to be a much more entertaining that I expected. The game itself was fun, but I actually found more enjoyment in the multiplayer aspects of the title. Organizing trades with kids, planning which exclusive Pokemon to catch helped to pave a pathway of communication that I normally would not have had with them. That’s worth a lot.

Graphics: Game Boy titles are notorious from some pretty crumby graphics. This game certainly suffers from the graphical limitations from time to time, but Nintendo managed to do the best the could with the confines of the system. 

Playcontrol: Overall no problems here. I did find the UI of the Pokemon storage system to be overly annoying and slow. But that’s really the only complaint I can make.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Pokemon games often sell at a premium price. The secondhand market is even more expensive as many titles are out print. Nintendo gave fans a huge break by bringing these games to the Virtual Console and at a price of $10 per game. This is an amazing deal considering the amount of content.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – As much as I hate to come out and admit this… I love Pokemon. Pokemon Red was simply an amazing game. It’s much more than I expected it to be. I fear that this is the start of a new addiction. This game certainly shows its age, and I imagine that the remake is probably a much better experience all around. But, looking at this game through the eyes of a new player, and keeping it’s age in mind, it receives a perfect score from me.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

Red/Blue/Yellow  (FireRed/LeafGreen)    – Gold/Silver/Crystal  (HeartGold/SoulSilver)  – Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald   (OmegaRuby/AlphaSapphire)  – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum – Black/White – Black 2/White 2 – X/Y – Sun/Moon

Review: The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening

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Next up we have the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening. Originally released on the Game Boy and then re-released (with improved graphics) for the Game Boy Color, this is a game that I spent a lot of time with when I was younger.

For this title, we play another version of Link as he explores the mysterious island of Koholint. This makes the game unique as it is the first Zelda game to take place outside of the Kingdom of Hyrule.  In many ways, this game looks and plays very similarly to a Link to the Past, but also introduces several unique features. One of the most obvious changes is Link’s ability to jump. This is something that is a first for an overhead Zelda game.

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   Comparison of original and DX version

One of the biggest drawbacks of the original title is the graphics. In many ways, the game features excellent art for a classic Game Boy game, but many players felt that the screen was too “busy” and lacked fine details and definition, which cause the game to suffer as a result. Thankfully, the re-release fixes many of these complaints. The use of color made obstacles and environmental details much clearer.

Another feature of the DX version is a new dungeon that does not appear in the original game. Naturally, this dungeon takes advantage of the GBC’s new color feature to present the player with color-based puzzles.

To me, the game is very enjoyable but occasionally doesn’t feel much like a Zelda game. I think this is mainly due to the introduction of new monsters and the foreign-style environment. Overlooking these oddities, Link’s Awakening is a solid game and a great way to experience classic Zelda on the go.

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Difficulty: Medium  –  Another very well balanced Zelda title. The game is very playable by most even if it does feature some pretty tough dungeons at some point. The key here is patience and repetition.

Story: Surprisingly, this title features a very in-depth story, even if it is mostly isolated from the rest of series. The introduction of a new locale and new characters and creatures make for a really good time. There’s a cute little twist at the end of the game that I’ve never really been sure if I liked or not. You’ll see what I mean if you complete this title.

Originality: I think the goal of this game was to create a portable Link to the Past experience. And in many ways, this is exactly what Link’s Awakening is. But there’s enough new and original ideas present to let this title shine all on its own.

Soundtrack: The music composed for this game is nothing short of wonderful. One of my favorite memories from this game is the ever popular Ballad of the Wind Fish. Classic chiptunes.

Fun: What’s not to love? Portable Zelda and it’s done right. Great fun to be found in this title.

Graphics: As I mentioned in the main review, the original version suffered a bit. The artists filled the screen with lots to see, and the pixel art is not bad per se, but in a black and white environment, things got really confusing at times. The DX version of the game was a much needed improvement and is the only way to go if playing the game on modern hardware.

Playcontrol: Overall no complaints. The controls are very precise and accurate. However, playing with only two buttons get’s a little annoying with all the menu switching.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 –  Again, another four-star Zelda game and a must-have for any fans of the series. Link’s Awakening is classic Nintendo and one of those titles that every Game Boy owner should have.

Currently available on: 3DS eShop (DX version)

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild