The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Twilight Princess was my first exposure to the Legend of Zelda franchise. Whilst I enjoyed it, it wasn’t a game I actually wanted to own for it’s own sake; rather because I wanted to use it to hack my Wii. I enjoyed it well enough to make sure that the next instalment would be a pre-order, though to be honest I didn’t expect it to improve upon its predecessor and figured it would end up the same way: trade-in fodder for something else.
That didn’t happen and it’s not because the controls are any better; in fact I’d say the use of Motion Plus and the focus on using directional sword swings rather than learning new combat techniques is a big minus for this game (and my sword arm). No, it’s because Nintendo did what they seem to do best: create a world that’s enjoyable to play in filled with likeable characters and a story that you want to see through to the finish.
Some folk might not be as happy with the more cartoony look of Link and the other inhabitants of Skyloft, but I found the designs quite appealing. The animation of the characters is even more impressive than the previous Zelda game with great subtlety of emotion and quality motion-capture bringing these voiceless characters to life. As with Twilight Princess, empathy with our mute hero was a big part of my enjoyment of Skyward Sword and I was happy to have my expectations exceeded in the story and acting departments over the previous instalment.
There are certain aspects of every Zelda game that make it a Zelda game, but the creative teams do enough with the story and setting that it doesn’t simply feel like a dressed-up retread of the last Zelda game you played. As with other Zelda games there are a few element-themed areas to explore and revisit further as the story advances, but it doesn’t feel like a chore thanks to the ability to fly between shortcuts. Motion controls are put to good use in flying between ground areas and Link’s home in the floating islands of Skyloft, providing peaceful interludes between monster battles on the ground below the cloud cover.
You’ll find the trademark Zelda puzzles when trying to navigate level sections (the rather clever use of “timeshift stones” in the desert area being a particular highlight), but none of them are so tricky as to require going to cheat sites. If you do get stuck there are stones about which will give you hints if you talk to them, but I used these sparingly.
After a successful finish you’re given the option to replay with a harder difficulty. I’m not hanging on to Skyward Sword so much for the extra challenge of that harder mode, but more because I think my daughter would enjoy playing it someday and it’s nice to have a game like that in my collection.
The Last Story
My last round-up covered the excellent Japanese RPG Xenoblade Chronicles and as much as I’d like to say that the second in a series of three Japanese RPGs to get European localisation is another quality title, I’m afraid I cannot.
I put over 140 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles, but less than 20 hours into The Last Story I threw in the towel. It wasn’t because of the voice acting, which was excellent (the audio being limited to English dub will disappoint purists) and it wasn’t because of the novel realtime combat system. I couldn’t complain about the visuals or the soundtrack either. The Last Story is an extremely slick-looking Wii title, with flashy menus and visual effects. The soundtrack is cinematic and also of high quality. In fact everything about this game makes it seem like it could be on-par with or even exceed Xenoblade Chronicles, but for one key factor: it’s a story game without an interesting story.
Unlike Xenoblade’s high-concept setting on the body of a dead god and surprisingly deep metaphysics, The Last Story is a more conventional sword and sorcery tale. As with Xenoblade Chronicles it features the totally overdone “chosen one” for a main character, but there’s just not as much to do and the story doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. The villains are obvious and the conflict just isn’t compelling. The first time I hit a tough boss battle, it was only a few attempts at beating it before I realised I just wasn’t interested in seeing what happened next.
Aside from the limited settings to explore (I’ll warrant the city you can run about in is large), it’s the linearity that gets me. I accept that the story overall is going to go a certain way, but honestly why give me two dialogue options at key points in the game only to have a response to one of them end up effectively being “actually you want to pick the other one.” Seriously what’s the point of that, other than to present the false illusion of choice and waste my time? Added to a rather small collection of side quests, I often felt that the story was only plodding along to give me the feeling I was getting my money’s worth. As I’ve said about the Resident Evil games: if you have a short story to tell, tell it well and make it worth repeating; don’t pad it out and make it feel like the reader (or player) is investing a lot of time for minimal payoff.
If you’re such a massive fan of the genre you feel that you must play them all or if you want to support localisation efforts by buying every niche Japanese title Nintendo publishes, go ahead, but I’d rather replay Xenoblade Chronicles or Skyward Sword instead.
Williams Pinball Classics
It’s probably safe to say that when it comes to retro-gaming nothing hooks me more than a quality video pinball game. Farsight Studios are the “Kings of Pin” for doing re-creations of actual pinball machines from yesteryear – their ongoing mission being to keep these artistic marvels alive into the 21st century.
System 3 took their sweet time bringing this to British shores; I think by the time it popped through the mail slot in August 2011 I had waited a total of 3-1/2 years since the original American release! Needless to say the wait was well worth it. Not only are Williams the creators of the best pinball tables of the 80s-90s (in my not-so-humble opinion), but this collection manages to address a lot of issues from the Gottlieb collection which preceded it as a system launch title.
You’ll still find those brilliant narrated table tours which tell you how to play the machines and a choice of camera angles and unlockable ball effects, but the motion-controlled “nudge” feels a lot more natural and, more importantly, the ability to unlock tables for free play is a lot easier. Rather than having one extremely difficult table goal, each table has five standard and five “wizard” goals to complete. Each of these on their own is a lot easier to accomplish than the goals from the Gottlieb tables, so a decent amount of play on each machine will see you getting those tables unlocked in no time. Of course you can also unlock free play on a machine by purchasing it with 100 credits and these are also far easier to come by than in the Gottlieb collection, where it seemed you’d have to play for months to accumulate enough for even one unlock code.
The flip side is that there are no cheats for unlocking anything, so if you want to play the bonus table, Jive Time, you really do need to complete the Williams Challenge by beating the target score on all the other tables in the collection in one sitting. Thankfully this is a brilliant collection of tables with not a dud amongst them (Jive Time itself is debatable), so you should enjoy that particular “chore.”
The regular table list reads like a who’s-who of some of the greatest pinball machines ever made:
so if you’re only going to have one pinball game for the Wii, this is definitely the one to get.
Fans of Farsight Studios’ efforts at preserving these old machines by creating video reproductions of them will no doubt be interested to know that Pinball Arcade is where they’re putting their future efforts with tables from this and the Gottlieb collection as well as tables from Bally and Stern getting the treatment. You can find the Pinball Arcade in the iOS and Mac App stores as well as Xbox Live and the Playstation online shop. Hopefully we’ll see it on the Wii-U as well because nothing can beat that motion-controlled nudge on the Wii!