Monday, 6 March 2017

Norrin_Radd Plays - Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link (FDS 1987 \ NES 1988)

Seeing as how the Nintendo Switch and the new game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were released, I figured this is a perfect time to showcase the ultimate black sheep of the Zelda franchise. The now 30 year old Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link.

In many ways Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is a perfect time capsule for what games were like in 1987\88. It seemed like side scrolling games were becoming the new standard is Triple A game design. While the sidescroller was not a new concept, telling a story in a sidescroller was something that was.

Whether it was Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, Rygar, Goonies 2 or Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, it seemed like RPG concepts of "leveling up", or collecting items to progress and gaining new moves was the new trend in game design. As it turns out, I owned all of these games and this trend has become something that I actually treasure quite a bit. How fitting is it that a Zelda game fell in to that era, and managed to be one of the best examples of it done well?

The crazy thing is, Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is almost universally panned and disregarded by core Zelda fans. A permanent outlier in the pantheon of the Zelda series. Is this because it too closely tell in to this one unique zeitgeist of gaming concepts? The 1987\1988 interpretation of games?

In any case, Zelda 2: the Adventure of Link is not genuinely just my favourite Zelda game, but it is also genuinely one of my favourite games of all time. And I am not alone in thinking this. The Zelda 2 fan base is very very adamant. For a lot of people, this is "our" Zelda game.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Norrin_Radd Plays - Super C (NES 1990)

The perfect way to follow up Contra is with the sequel, Super C! This time in 60fps. I might actually go back and re-render the Contra video at 60fps now that I see how much better it actually does look (though, it takes about 4 times the rendering *groans*)

Super C was one I only rented a single time as a kid. I distinctly remember thinking it was way too hard. Even with the Game Genie. Even with a 10 lives code. The game was just brutally difficult for a 7 year old to wrap his head around. Unlike Contra, Super C seems to have a lot more variety. In enemies and challenges. Not all of them feel perfectly balanced, but the game has razor sharp control and rewards supreme button mashing skills. So, it's a game that challenges the player to "beat" it, for all of it's short comings.

Though a lot of the game's difficulty can be beaten by reflex and button speed, the game does also have some pretty cheesy "gotchas" that can't really be avoided until you know they are there. Most Nintendo games are positively rotten with this though, so I can't fault Super C now. But as a kid, it all kind of worked against the game.

That's not to say it's a bad game though. In fact, I think if you were to weigh everything together it might even be a superior game to the original. There is just more going on. More bang for your buck. More chances to mash, more bullets to dodge. More enemies to kill. It's a hectic game that throws a lot at you. Sometimes a unique enemy will only appear once or twice in the entire game, which makes it very hard to prepare for or figure out at first, but the fun thing about Contra is that the game is still so well built that you really do feel like you are testing your skill with every new and zany challenge.

All of this variety though does have a down side. I feel like the purity of the experience is diluted only sightly. There is something magical about the pacing and the level design in the original game. And of course, you do have to compare the years they were made and retrograde your ranking. Contra was 1987, and was a remake of an arcade game of the same name that was almost terrible.

They took that original arcade game and turned it from a quarter muncher to a game that rewarded the player for being good at it. Even though the entire game can be beaten in under 20 minutes, it does not relent for a moment, and the penalty of even the smallest mistake is death, and the loss of your power ups. the original game seemed to be a perfect balance, where as Super C appear to take everything to the next level for better or worse.

Playing through both of these games again has been very fun. These were two games that I really made an effort to become good at in my later teens, and the game play still holds up. Everything about these games, from the music, to the graphics, to the controls to the level design really just does embody all the best aspects of the NES. The Nintendo Seal of Quality was legit as hell back then. Where games can actually be made better on the NES than in the Arcade is a clear turning point for the gaming industry.

As a little aside, I was too young to really notice the implosion of the home game industry with the Atari. I was so young that even crappy games seemed novel and fun to me. But when I started becoming slightly more sentient as a person was right around the time the Nintendo was cleaning up the mess of the early 80s home console scene. It was simply perfect timing for me to grow up along with the industry. That's why I think games like Contra and Super C resonated with me so much in my later teens, and still to this day. There is a purity to the experience, and a savagery of the experience that really still does seem relevant to this day.

If you want to know how a great game should *feel*, replay these two games and remember that sometimes it is not asking too much that the player be good at the game. But it is also not asking too much that the game be good.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Norrin_Radd Plays - Contra (NES 1987)

I want to start getting some more videos out there, so I lobbed myself an easy one. Another game I know front to back.

Contra is a game that I used to speedrun before I knew there was such a thing. I used to compete against people on the GameFaqs forum to see who could beat individual levels faster, and to see who could beat the games the most amount of times in a row on the original continue (beating the game takes you back to level 1). We used to beat the levels then post our times on the forum. It was the wild west of major League Gaming. based entirely on the honor system, haha.

Contra, for me, is the game I wish society thought of when they heard the term "8bit Nintendo". I can confidently say that the vast majority of people associate 8bit games with Mario and more happy cartoony kind of gaming experience.

Contra was nothing like that. Contra was savage. The name itself is conflict! The first sentence on the back of the box reads,

"The universe teeters on the brink of total annihilation at the hands of the vile alien war monger, Red Falcon"

A far cry from the pleasant cartoonish imagery of Mario and Zelda. This was a game that blatantly took the Predator, Rambo and Alien franchises and mashed them in to one Zeitgeist of the time that was clearly not meant for small children. The kicker? Small children everywhere played the hell out of this game!

That's kind of what video games were for a lot of us. Though the pixels forced games to have a cartoonish look, any number of mature themes were interpreted through them, in a language that children who really only understood cartoons would get. It was a gate way drug in to bad ass shit!

Further to that point, I would be remiss if I did not also point out the music was no exception. Mario, again, has such elegant bouncy and playful tunes. Stuff that everyone and their grandmother can now hum. But Contra seemed to say, "While we are already creating the pixelized version of bad ass shit, why don't we also create the chiptune version of it as well?"

And with that, Contra proceeds to create one of the most anthem-like heroic bad ass soundtracks ever to grace the system. It was for many a gate way drug in to heavy metal and prog concepts, once again seen through this language that the children of the time could resonate with. For many of us, the NES was the first exposure to difference genres of music and song writing concepts. How fitting that is is also our first exposure to these kind of melodies and rhythms and time signatures. I know that this game, as well as the Ninja Gaiden and Double Dragon games, all had a profound impact on the exact notes I hear in my head when I am writing music.

Anyway, I could go on for a really long time, but I'll cut it short now. Let's just say that I feel Contra was a dramatic turning point for the possibility of what games could be, in relationship to the gamer.

Norrin_Radd Plays - Super Dyna'Mix Badminton (NES 1988)

For those that don't know, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei were the gold and silver medalists in the 2008 Olympics and the 2012 Olympics.

For almost a decade both of these men were the number 1 and 2 ranked players in the world. Lee Chong Wei was the number one ranked, meaning he won the most games the most often. However, Lin Dan the number 2 ranked would win the tournaments that counted, and was widely considered to be the best player. and it was Lin Dan who had won the gold the prior two Olympics.

For the 2016 Olympics, both players were still favourites to win, and there was a ton of excitement about whether it would be a finals match between both of them again, and if so, who would win. Well, as fate would have it, their rankings throughout the year in the professional circuit pitted them against each other in the semi finals, and although it was not for all the marbles, we got to see these two guys finish their trilogy, and it was amazing!

I wont spoil it here, but I will share with you the hype video I did leading up to their game by playing one of my all time favourite games: Super Dyna'Mix Badminton!

This might be the only badminton simulation that has ever been made for consoles, but they got it absolutely perfect. No need to make others. I originally played this game through emulation when I was in highschool, and before I had a decent controller. One thing I noticed and loved was just how savage team China was as a final boss in the game.

A lot of that has to do with the nuance of the games mechanics itself. While the game is excruciatingly fair, it is also leads to you having to really earn your points, and China does not goof around. While it took me years to be able to beat China with a keyboard, I eventually found a copy of this game on eBay and was finally able to play the game with a decent controller. What a world of difference!

After that, I knew that the game wasn't just an oddity with ridiculous difficulty, it really was one of the best sports simulations. Especially considering the era it was released. This is absolutely a desert island kind of game, and I really just wanted to make a video to break down why the game is so awesome. And if I could hype of the rematch between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, all the better!


Also, watch the highlights from the rematch here