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Tag Archives: Retro

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: A Link to the Past

From what I’ve seen in fandom circles, A Link to the Past is one of the most beloved games in the Legend of Zelda series, right up there with the all-time classic, Ocarina of Time.  By weird chance, I actually own three copies of the game: one for the GBA Advance, one for the SNES, and the one that came included with the SNES Classic. Yet I’m only just playing it now.

No, I don’t know why either.

A Link to the Past starts off with a bang, in a way that its fellow Zelda games typically haven’t.  Other entries, like Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword, ease you into the adventure, as Link interacts with the people in his home village just before the Inciting Incident happens.  A Link to the Past begins with Link receiving a telepathic message from Princess Zelda, begging for help.  So your first job is to break into Hyrule Castle, just in time for Link to find his dying uncle, who also tried to help the princess.  You get his sword, infiltrate the dungeon, and rescue Zelda before she can be used as a human sacrifice for an evil wizard’s scheme.

Once Zelda is safe, Link receives his next objective: find the three pendants that will allow him to gain access to the hidden Master Sword.  Only then will he be able to defeat the evil wizard Agahnim and restore peace to the kingdom of Hyrule.

But, of course, it isn’t that easy.

A Link to the Past fascinates me as a newer Zelda fan because it’s clear from the get-go how much it influenced the rest of the series, particularly Ocarina of Time. The story beats feel familiar: Inciting Incident, Find the Three Sacred Plot Devices, Big Twist Where the Villain Gains the Upper Hand, and Find More Sacred Plot Devices to Defeat Him for Real This Time.  Other elements that feel familiar include certain locations throughout the kingdom of Hyrule and musical cues.  It felt weird visiting Death Mountain without running into any Gorons, but they didn’t show up until Ocarina.

Link also suffers the death of his uncle early in the game, so he has a more personal reason to be involved in the conflict than before.  (Well, in theory.  His little pixelated self didn’t seem too broken up by it.)  Likewise, future Zelda games gave Link more of a backstory, with family members, friends, and neighbors that care about him.

I started playing A Link to the Past earlier this year, right after Kingdom Hearts III, and I’ve been playing it on and off ever since.  It’s not the first time that I’ve played a Zelda game right after a Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy playthrough, and there’s always a learning curve that comes with it.  You can’t really level grind with Zelda the way that you would with a JRPG.  When playing any video game, I have a kneejerk tendency to hunt down every last enemy in a given area so that I can gain more experience points, which translates to better health, stats, etc.  But that doesn’t work with a non-JRPG.

Instead, A Link to the Past forced me to experiment and try new strategies when I died over and over again.  I’d experiment with using different weapons, or figure out ways to avoid enemies altogether.  In a way, I was still “gaining experience,” except that I was the one gaining it, not Link.  That’s not to say that either Zelda or Final Fantasy is superior to the other in terms of gameplay.  They’re just different.

One thing that I do find frustrating- and this is something that applies more to the Zelda series as a whole and not Link to the Past specifically- is saving the game and starting over after dying.  Every time you die during a boss fight, you have to start over at the beginning of the dungeon and navigate through some of the minor enemies just to get back to the fight.  I’d rather just jump right back into the fight and try again.

But, all in all, I’ve found A Link to the Past to be a game that lives up to the hype.  The story is exciting and the world is fun to explore.  And now it’s available on the Switch for Nintendo’s online service subscribers.  So if you haven’t played it yet, now’s your chance!

Review: Diddy Kong Racing

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When I’m not playing video games or writing, I can be found working at the library. Every other month or so, I like to combine my job with my interests by bringing all kinds of video game systems to the library for people to play. When that happens, I’m always amused by the way everyone gravitates towards Mario Kart.

It doesn’t matter which Nintendo systems I put out, whether it’s the brand-new Switch or the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter what games I include. Splatoon 2? Super Smash Bros. Melee? Anything from Legend of Zelda? Just Dance? Nah, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will work just fine, thank you very much.

It makes perfect sense because the Mario Kart series is so much fun to play. It’s a game that you can enjoy whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer. It’s more fun when you can race against one of your friends or family members, but I love it even when I’m playing by myself.

That said, Mario Kart isn’t my favorite racing game. That honor belongs to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64. As kids, my brother and I, along with our friends, spent countless hours playing it. In Diddy Kong Racing, you have the option to choose from three different vehicles: car, hovercraft, or airplane. You’re also required to unlock racetracks in multiplayer mode by completing them in the single player adventure mode. But that’s less of an issue now, if you buy a used copy from your local retro game store with a preexisting save file.

Unlike Mario, Diddy Kong Racing has a story, albeit a very loose one. Diddy’s friend, Timber the Tiger, gets put in charge of his parents’ peaceful island. Unfortunately, a giant, evil pig called Wizpig arrives and conquers the island. Desperate to clear things up before his parents get home, Timber gathers up his friends to defeat Wizpig…by racing him. It makes no sense, but it’s just an excuse plot for racing. I do like that it’s there because it used to give me a feeling of accomplishment whenever my brother and I won enough races to unlock another part of the island.

Each track comes with extra items you can use to give your character a boost. They come in the form of balloons and they’re less random than Mario. Red balloons give you missiles, Blue gives you a speed boost, Green gives you obstacles to drop, Yellow gives you a shield, and Rainbow gives you a magnet that you can use to pull other racers behind you. Unless you’re in a tight spot, you’ll want to hold off using the balloons right away. Hitting a certain colored balloon two or three times will provide you with power-ups. For example, if you collect one red balloon, you’ll get one missile. If you collect two, your missile will have a higher accuracy. If you collect three reds, you’ll get ten missiles.

You’ll need all of the balloons you can find when you finish the regular racetracks. Diddy Kong Racing has four thematic “worlds” on the island: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. (After you’ve defeated Wizpig, you unlock a secret world with even more tracks.) Once you’ve completed the tracks that make up a particular world, you get to challenge the boss. And the bosses are definitely a challenge. They’re fast and they start running before you do. If you don’t hit every speed boost and enough red missile balloons, you’re doomed.

In addition to regular races, you can unlock different mini games in each world. My all-time favorite was Icicle Pyramid. It’s basically a family-friendly version of the Hunger Games. You and three other players get dropped into a pyramid course with a certain amount of lives. Using the Red missile balloons or the Green obstacle balloons, you have to try to take out everyone else before they kill you. My friends and I would often form alliances to knock off the computer AIs and then turn on each other. I was no Katniss Everdeen and often lost. But we all had a blast with it.

Diddy Kong Racing also has a fantastic soundtrack. Even if you’re struggling against Wizpig or one of the other bosses, the fast-paced music gets you pumped and ready to try again. Diddy Kong is bright and colorful as well. Although it’s obviously no Mario Kart 8, the graphics for this Nintendo 64 game still hold up.

I should also point out that Diddy Kong got a remake for the Nintendo DS. It’s okay, but I’m not a fan of it. They had to replace some of the characters, namely Banjo from Banjo Kazooie and Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and mini games like Icicle Pyramid can only be accessed by playing against a friend in multiplayer. So if you don’t know another person with a DS and a copy of the game, you’re out of luck.

(Fun fact: Speaking of Conker, he was my favorite racer in Diddy Kong. One day, I saw a game called Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the game store and got excited. A game starring that cute little squirrel that I loved? HOORAY! Thank God my innocent eleven-year-old self did not purchase it. I had no idea how much Conker’s personality had changed in that M-rated, South Park-esque game.)

So if you have a Nintendo 64 lying around, give Diddy Kong Racing a try! It’s a lot of fun and the bosses provide some serious challenges that you won’t necessarily find in other racing games.

…or you can play Mario Kart 64 instead. I won’t judge you. I’ll probably join you. It is Mario Kart, after all. 🙂