An Ode to Starfox

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For some gaming franchises, the transition to another generation can be a daunting undertaking. From a 2D landscape into the polygon-fuelled world of the third dimension, some iconic characters have stumbled when compared to their contemporaries – Sonic the Hedgehog is a renowned example of this, with Sonic Team failing to successfully recapture the essence of what made a 2D Sonic title so playable upon inception.

Strangely, Starfox has been a mixed bag of experiments and half-baked concepts over the years, beginning life as a technical showcase that demonstrated the power of the Super Nintendo’s 3D FX chip while eventually turning into an in-house behemoth production for the Nintendo 64. After the critical and commercial success of Starfox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe due to licensing issues), the prospect of a next generation Starfox title for the Nintendo Gamecube sounded incredible in its inevitability – the result was a Legend of Zelda clone, namely Starfox Adventures, and a Namco developed action-adventure hybrid known as Starfox Assault. While Starfox Command for the DS attempted to reign in on the experimentation, it still featured overbearing touch screen mechanics that became integral to the map-oriented gameplay – it truly seemed that Nintendo’s affection for pushing ideas forward have somewhat hindered a perfect formula.

Classic.

Classic.

Now, it’s unfair to say that the aforementioned games are poorly designed; they all have moments that worked and should be commended for trying to branch the Starfox universe into something more varied and grandiose. However the core gameplay mechanics are what defined the series – games like Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were incredibly successful in sustaining that original feel while expanding the world simultaneously. Starfox has sadly delved into a amalgamation of different play styles – third person shooting mechanics, dungeon exploration, puzzle solving – it’s quite frankly a mess. Starfox Assault was a game that seemed intent on pushing the series forward, and while it seems admirable in retrospect, it ultimately falls short by a lack of focus.

And that’s the key issue that the Starfox series has suffered with over the generations – the lack of coherency in terms of mechanics, story and characters. Where Starfox 64 had a patriotic and gung-ho charm that helped drive the story, Starfox Adventures’ fictitious language and obnoxious voice acting took it one step back. Where the core gameplay was focused on set pieces and inventive brick-laying level design, other mechanics deterred from this foundation and included a Tamagotchi style pet in the name of Tricky or a non functional vehicular control scheme that makes on ground missions a real pain.

Broken.

Broken.

Starfox 3D is what many could ironically consider the rebirth of the series, despite being a remake of the legendary Starfox 64. The fact that it plays flawlessly after all these years suggests a game series that is in dire need of a resurrection – it encapsulates what made the original so thrilling with its new lick of paint and 3D slider-effect. In essence, what Nintendo needs to do is understand what made the game such a hit – the idea of heart-thumping boss battles and on rails obstacles with the power of the Wii U would be a fantastic addition to the series, not to mention online co-operative play and multiplayer. While Shigeru Miyamoto has been tinkering with the second screen integration for the Starfox tech demo for Wii U, it needs to be addressed that a blockbuster experience is really what the console needs, especially when games such as Bayonetta 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles X are paving the way for action gaming on the system.

Zelda.

Zelda.

Over the years, Nintendo have been highly successful in morphing the overall format of certain games while keeping its charm and atmsophere. Starfox desperately needs to go back to its roots if it wants to maintain relevance in the company’s grand canon of franchises. A focus on characters, acting and set pieces are a must, with current generation standards such as online and co-operative play – all these features would be the push it needs. To take a step backwards and understand what made the game such a massive hit in the 90’s, Nintendo must reassess what works and what does not.

At the end of the day, sometimes less is certainly more.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)

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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

When it comes to truly shock inducing gaming controversies, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker certainly made quite a splash back in 2003. Coming straight out of what could be a 90’s renaissance Disney film (but with less musical numbers), Link’s new look created a cel-shaded wave of cynicism that failed to enlighten even the most hardened fan of Nintendo’s flagship series. In hindsight, however, The Wind Waker’s valiant shift in style and tone is as triumphant as Link delivering a mighty sword attack into Ganon’s ghastly face, and seeing it again in glorious HD has never been more at home in 2013.

It was a risk worth taking – a mantra that rings true with Nintendo as a company – as The Wind Waker has since become a highly touted fan favourite, offering an unprecedented level of humour, personality and swashbuckling high-sea adventuring. In fact, the inclusion of pirates alone is incentive enough for any angst-ridden naysayer – this is a game that will throw you into the vast blue and mercilessly taunt the player with its gigantic array of sub quests, goodies and treats. Like a great big Nintendo themed piñata.

Relax those arms, seriously.

Relax those arms, seriously.

Upon inception, it becomes increasingly apparent that Link’s technicolour world is a work of virtual art. Colours pop with intensity, character animations are inconceivably smooth, level design is cinematic in scope – at times it’s difficult to believe that The Wind Waker is a ten year old Gamecube game. The same can also be said about the controls – Link’s spectrum of moves and manoeuvres offer more in the way of precision and tactics compared to previous games in the series, with more combos and spin attacks than you can shake a master sword at. It’s incredibly satisfying and makes combat all the more enjoyable when faced off with an enemy that requires strategy. A word of warning: button mashers need not apply.

Interestingly, The Wind Waker is also the only Legend of Zelda title that offers fully fledged camera controls – while the Wii lacked a second analogue stick, the Wii U’s gamepad utilises this feature effortlessly, perfectly emulating the smooth overhead feel that made the Gamecube original so easy to manipulate. Couple this with a rousing musical score and you have a game that seems intent on making you weep with sheer unadulterated joy. All the while kicking some serious Ganon bottom, of course.

A damn hot selfie.

A damn hot selfie.

However, in typical Nintendo fashion, The Wind Waker offers far more than fancy technical prowess and flawlessly integrated controls. There are a detestably large number of innovations and tweaks that propel the game into legendary status, most notably the wind and sailing mechanic. As soon as Link commandeers his own boat, the entire game branches out into an overworld that is nothing short than epic. Wind is also a vital factor in both the world of Hyrule and puzzle solving in dungeons, forcing gamers to use physics and momentum to succeed – it’s a gameplay twist that never grows tiresome and seeing Link float through thermal currents Pilotwings style while using a leaf as a parachute is always a joyous delight.

While some have complained that the Gamecube original is overwrought and cumbersome in its approach to these mechanics, others have vehemently argued that exploring the vast ocean is what makes The Wind Waker the epitome of an ‘adventure’ game. Nintendo have addressed these qualms for the Wii U re-release however, effectively streamlining the overall experience with the gamepad by making the maps and inventory easily accessible on the second screen. It’s a noteworthy addition and requires no pause button but a mere flick of the finger. Miiverse is also brilliantly conceived throughout, allowing players to communicate by either sending messages in a bottle or, more importantly, the ability to send selfies in glorious new media fashion. It’s downright hilarious, especially when players are daring enough to send a Facebook style snap in the midst of a heated boss battle. It’s just a shame that Ganon and his minions aren’t particularly photogenic.

The Wind Waker is an important landmark for a number of reasons. It fearlessly altered the Zelda formula despite consistent backlash and remarkably, ten years later, it still stands as a timeless piece of work that transcends the medium into the realms of art. It is a game that constantly inspires and excites – every corner features something new, something intriguing, something so uniquely Nintendo that it becomes a daily task to refrain yourself from leaping into the television screen. No matter what generation we enter over the coming years, it will become an inevitability that The Wind Waker will never age. And like a fine wine, it will only improve in time.

Here’s to another ten years.

Rating: 10/10

An Introduction…

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The existential years of a post graduate, eh? The constant barrage of expectation, the sleepless night of formidable unknown, the sheer terror of rejection – this comes with the territory. However, while I have yet to create a clear focal point in the vast world of multimedia, there too also becomes a fresh starting point. Enter Second Opinion, my official foray into retrospective gaming, movies and all things musical.

So the purpose of such a blog, you ask? The idea of nostalgia has forever been a concept of intrigue – we are drawn to certain things due to being a reminder of past memories, however are we truly more cynical when we become older or is the mind more logical in its overall deconstruction?

Hopefully the philosophical nature of my intention will change the depth of a typified retrospective review – have we been looking through rose-tinted glasses with a warm filed glee all these years? Does it still hold up well today? It’s time to delve deep into our childhood psyche and see if your second opinion is still the same!

I sincerely hope you enjoy the upcoming content and, naturally, feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

Josh Gimblett – Head Writer for Second Opinion.