Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Legend of Zelda is Not a Puzzle Game!

I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, but I'm becoming increasingly vocal about how much better video games used to be.  Case in point: The Legend of Zelda.  There hasn't been a good Zelda game in a decade.  The last one I really enjoyed was 2005's The Minish Cap for the Gameboy Advance, and that was designed by Capcom, not Nintendo.  Now I'm finding getting cranky at this game, too.

When did Zelda turn into a bland puzzle game?  Did I miss something?  Zelda used to be about action and adventure, with fighting and swordplay against rapid assaults of enemies and monsters.  Now?  Snooze.  It's really a shocker to play through the original Legend of Zelda from 1986.  It's a completely different beast.

Cast in point: here are a couple screenshots I snapped of Minish Cap's first dungeon.  It's the forest dungeon, following the very tired cliche of game levels based on the elements.  Forest castle, fire castle, ice castle, wind castle.  Snore.

No, this is only one beef I have.  What really annoys me is the infantile way the game holds me by the hand and practically shouts at me what to do.  The inclusion of gabby sidekicks who give away hints is a bad habit that goes all the way back to 1998's The Ocarina of Time, the one Zelda game we all decided was the masterpiece.  Now every game needs some sort of sidekick who points out the obvious.  I really, really don't like this.

After playing the original Zelda on my Virtual Console, I've reacquired a taste for red meat.  I want some fast action, and I want it now.  I miss that sense of danger, of always teetering on the edge, overwhelmed by monsters who zig and zag uncontrollably, knocking me senseless as I navigate my way around a hostile world.  None of that exists in Modern Zelda.  There is almost never any action, and you are never in any sense of danger.  It's a safe, secure, baby-proofed world.  Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is tougher than Modern Zelda.

Which brings me back to the Forest dungeon in Minish Cap.  It's bloody boring.  There are no enemies.  Maybe once in a while, a couple slugs drop from the ceiling, but they just sit there like fat steaks.  Everything crawls slooowly.  Compare this to any of the dungeons in Zelda 1.  Now that was a challenge.  The challenge now resides entirely in solving very simple and very childish puzzles.  To Nintendo, Zelda is now a puzzle game.

When the bloody hell did this happen?  I probably wouldn't even mind if the puzzles were challenging, but what's offered is about as challenging as turning on all the lights in your room.  Oh, joy, I get to push a statue over a button on the floor.  I get to press all the switches.  I get to turn on all the lights.  I feel like I'm being handed a Fisher-Price jigsaw puzzle for toddlers....you know, the kind with four pieces.  No, that's not fair.  Modern Zelda would never have that many pieces.

I'm trying not to be too hard on Minish Cap, because I loved it to pieces five years ago, and the rich graphics and beautiful music haven't aged a day.  I love good videogame music - what the kids today call "chiptunes."  I suspect my time reading Sean Malstrom's inspired rants has emboldened my inner child.  Videogames were better 20 years ago!  The NES was the best game system ever made!  2D Mario is better than 3D Mario!  And the original Legend of Zelda smashes the modern sequels to pieces.  It isn't even close.

I'm feeling especially annoyed because Eiji Aonuma, the man in charge of the Zelda series since 2000, is roundly obsessed with puzzles and cheap gimmicks.  Every Zelda game under his direction has been worse than the last.  Zelda with a boat.  Zelda with a wolf.  Zelda with a train.  No overworlds.  No combat.  No action.  No danger.  Only puzzles.  Nothing but those stupid puzzles.  I couldn't even play through the last three games in the series.

Now Nintendo is working on finishing Zelda: Skyward Sword for Nintendo Wii, and they're coming off an extremely impressive showing at the E3 trade show.  That demo showed a Legend of Zelda with weapons, enemies, and lots of combat.  Is such a thing possible?  Will I get to use the Wii Motion Plus for sword fighting and archery, just like Wii Sports Resort?

Ehh....no.  Aonuma only wants to make puzzles.  He's going to take your sword away, so you can solve more clever puzzles.  He's going to take the overworld away, and replace it with more puzzles.  The action from the E3 demo?  Gone.  In its place will be....let's guess....endless chatting with the locals?  Irritating sidekicks that insult the intelligence of toddlers?  Puzzles?

I swear, nobody in the video games business actually wants to make video games anymore.  They all want to work on vanity projects that go nowhere.  They want to make movies.  They want to make Fisher-Price puzzles.  No thanks.  What ever happened to game designers?  Remember those?  I need to find a better hobby.


nekoneko918 said...

Have you tried either of the DS games? Some of those scared the *hell* out of me. Stupid grabby hands...

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Good question. Yes, I did have the first Zelda game on the DS, and it bored the hell out of me. I was really surprised at the time, because I was looking forward to playing. The idea of using the stylus for control was novel, but there was nothing to do. There were no monsters, the oceans were barren, and the dungeons offered nothing but the most simplistic, childish puzzles. I quit at some point, very disappointed, and never looked back.

When it comes to scary video games, I think Minecraft has everyone beat. That game is going to give me a heart attack one of these days!

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