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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: The Order (2019)

the order 2Time spent at college is considered to be extremely exciting for so many people. It is a place to experience freedom, to make friends and to discover things about oneself. Some people have these experiences in societies that they pledge for and grow with. What if it was a secret society though? What if that society was a supernatural one?

In Netflix’s new series The Order this is a question that is explored. The Order premiered in March of 2019. The story for the show was created by  Dennis Heaton and Shelley Eriksen. The Order has a great cast, including: Jake Manley, Sarah Grey and Adam DiMarco, who are billed as the show’s stars. It has been cleared for a second season in 2020.

What if your mother had died under mysterious circumstances? How far would you go for answers and, maybe, even to avenge her? Those are some nagging questions that Jack Morton has as he starts his time at a prestigious university. Now Jack is juggling classes, secret societies, a super odd roommate, a bunch of mysterious deaths and things right out of folklore. Can Jack make it out alive while he tries to navigate through this complicated new world? Oh and to get the girl too, of course. 

The dark and humorous world of Belgrave University is accompanied by a well made soundtrack. As the audience and Jack stumble through the mysterious story lines that make up The Order, they are guided by music to set the mood. The sets are amazing. I don’t want to give much away, but the settings have clearly been well thought out. Even the classrooms and hallways make the viewer feel like they are back in school.

The characters themselves are well written. Not only that, but they are also incredibly interesting. I want to know more about almost everyone in this show. Their costumes give the viewer clear clues about the characters while still making you believe that they are also just still in college. The characters go from worrying about essays to the next bit of danger that they are stumbling into. 

I really enjoyed this first season of The Order. There were twists that I didn’t see coming. The ending was great. I am excited for the next season. 

I would highly recommend this show. I think it appeals to a wide range of audiences. It also has interesting takes on the supernatural elements.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

Review: FAR: Lone Sails (2017)

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FAR: Lone Sails
2017

FAR: Lone Sails is an exploration adventure game by Swiss developer Okomotive. Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4. Where you traverse a dried-out seabed littered with the remains of a decaying civilization. Keep your unique vessel going, overcome numerous obstacles and withstand the hazardous weather conditions. How far can you make it? What will you find?

Now that that’s been said, I’ve beaten this game 5 times in 3 days and got 100% steam achievements. That’s something I rarely do. It isn’t a long game so beating it several times will only take a few hours. However, this game is full of magic.

Let me explain. In this game, you have an androgynous character traveling a grayscale landscape with red being the only other color. The art style is beautiful. As you side scroll in your large land vehicle, the scene is ever-changing. 

You start in a small house/workshop after taking a moment to honor the passing of, what I assume is your father or mentor. After leaving the building behind you walk until you come across a massive vehicle. It reminds me of many things, reminiscent of movies about a dystopian future, you do everything you can to keep your vehicle operating. 

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Stopping to gather items for fuel, solving puzzles to upgrade the vehicle, outrunning disasters. All while a quiet story is told in the background. A story without words, which can be the best story there is. As I travel, my mind races to try to fill in the blanks. Wondering if it’s a comment on our current society and where we are headed or it’s just a simple story to be interpreted how we wish. This was magic to me. 

As I stated, I played the game over and over, hoping to grasp more and get all 14 achievements on steam. Each playthrough I noticed something different, something I was surprised I hadn’t noticed before. Honestly, these discoveries excited me and now that I’ve achieved everything I may slowly go through one more time to see if I’ve missed anything else.

This is definitely a comfort game for me and I could see myself booting it up after a long/bad day. It’s stunning, well worth the price and time. I can’t wait to see what else this developer has to offer.

TL;DR: Great Game, Must Play

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: F-Zero

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It’s shameful, I know, but up until I got the SNES Classic, I’d never played a game in the F-Zero series.  I didn’t even know what type of game that it was, though the title sounded familiar.

For those in the same boat, F-Zero is a racing game set in the future.  It’s the series that introduced everyone to Captain Falcon, though he doesn’t have a clear presence in the first game.  If you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer like me, I recommend reading this interview with Kazunobu Shimizu, Yasunari Nishida, and Takaya Imamura, three of the original developers of F-Zero.  They share some great stories about the history behind the game and the reasoning behind some of the decisions they made.  Some highlights include: Captain Falcon was initially designed to be a mascot for the Super Nintendo system, not F-Zero, and that the game was set in the future to work around different programming issues.  They didn’t have the technology yet to create effective tires that turned, so they just took out the tires and designed hover cars for the racers.

The original game allowed you to pick between four different cars and race through three different sets of tracks: Knight, Queen, and King.  In a manner similar to Mario Kart, once you pick a set, you have to play through all of the tracks. I wish these games would just let me select a racetrack that I really enjoy and let me play it without going through hoops to get there.  That’s something that I appreciate more and more about Diddy Kong Racing.  (And yes, F-Zero has a Practice Mode that lets you do this, but only for seven tracks.)

Regardless, I fell in love with the original F-Zero. I couldn’t get over just how fast and smooth it feels, even when using a control pad.  It doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles that you get with racing games like Mario Kart or Diddy-Kong.  You can’t pick up items that give you colorful shields or the infamous Blue Shell missiles.  But that’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s just straight, pure racing and I appreciated the change.

When you start a race, your hovercar has a Power gauge that functions similar to health.  If you hit the edge of the track, or your fellow racecars, your power diminishes.  If it drops down to zero, your hovercar will explode and it’s game over.  You can also fail if your hovercar goes completely off-track or if you fail to complete laps after a certain period of time.  It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things, and it helps having Practice Mode available if one ever needs a quick refresher.

If there’s one thing that holds F-Zero back from being a perfect experience, it’s the lack of a multiplayer mode. While it is fun and challenging, playing against an AI can get boring after a while.  Having the option to play with friends would have made it even better and increased the replay value.

Still, I’m so glad that I had the chance to discover the original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo Classic.  I’ve had a blast playing it, and if the other games in the series are just as good, I’ll have to check them out too.  If you’re a fan of F-Zero and have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

I’m rating this game 9 out of 10 hovercars.

Review: Detective Pikachu (The Game)

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Between the movie adaptation coming out and one of my friends highly recommending the game to me, I finally decided to play Detective Pikachu.  It’s a spinoff of the Pokémon franchise for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS that’s not as bizarre as it sounds.  I had no idea what to expect from it.  What I got was a fun game that kids and diehard Pokémon fans should enjoy.

Detective Pikachu follows the adventures of a teenage boy named Tim Goodman, who’s looking for his missing father.  Harry Goodman was a famous police detective who went missing after a suspicious car accident.  Only his partner, Pikachu, could be found at the scene.

By the time that Tim arrives in Ryme City, two months after the incident, his father’s Pikachu has somehow gained the ability to speak- but only Tim can understand him.  He presents himself as “the Great Detective Pikachu” and wants to help Tim find his missing father.  Unfortunately, Pikachu isn’t much help in one respect: he suffers from amnesia and can’t recall what happened during the accident.  So Tim and Pikachu team up to investigate Harry’s last case and figure out why he disappeared.

The game is divided into nine “chapters,” each concerning a unique case.  Tim and Pikachu work together to solve crimes by interrogating suspects and searching the crime scene.  Pikachu gives the duo an advantage by talking to all of the Pokémon witnesses and translating their testimony for Tim.  It’s all very straightforward and you’re not likely to get stuck on any point in this game.  If you’re looking for a serious challenge, don’t expect to find one with Detective Pikachu.

Don’t expect to collect any Pokémon or engage in battles either.  In the world of Detective Pikachu, most people have one Pokémon as their “partner,” similar to Ash’s friendship with his own Pikachu.  The secretary at the Baker Detective Agency has a Fletching that delivers mail for her, a talented violinist works with a Kricketune that helps her practice, and a police office partners with a Manetric that uses his nose to solve crimes.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get as much out of the world building or the Pokémon cameos as I ought to have.  As a kid, I stopped paying attention to the Pokémon franchise after the first movie and I’m only just starting to regain interest now.  My knowledge of Pokémon begins and ends with Gen 1.  As it is, I liked the game’s setting and the Pokémon that I encountered.  Lifelong fans will probably love everything about them.

This game does an impressive job with episodic storytelling.  Each case leads directly into the next and has some importance to the whole plot. When I think of other video games or TV shows that try to do this, they usually follow a certain format: the premieres and the finales are where all the important stuff happens.  Then you get a lot of “monster of the week” episodes in between that are loosely connected to what the characters hope to accomplish.  Without going into spoilers, I can say that that’s not the case with Detective Pikachu.  Granted, not every mystery directly ties back to Harry and his investigation.  But Pikachu and Tim always have a reason to be where they are and they find clues in every case that help them piece together the larger mystery.

Speaking of Tim and Detective Pikachu, they had a nice partnership and I liked all of the human characters in the game.  However, I found Tim to be a little too flat and generic.  As of this writing, the movie hasn’t come out yet, so it’s too early to pass judgment on who will ultimately give the superior acting performances.  Still, based on what I’ve seen in the trailers, I’m enjoying Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith much more.

Overall, Detective Pikachu is a solid game and I recommend playing it if you have a Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS).  It’s simple to play, which makes it a good choice for young kids to try out.  Fans will enjoy the story, the setting, and the many different kinds of Pokémon. Enjoy it before you watch the movie!

Maid-Sama!: An Anime Review

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Everyone has different versions of themselves that they present to the world. Who we are at work or school verses who we are when in the comfort of our own homes. Sometimes these worlds collide before we are ready.

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In Maid Sama! that is exactly what happens. Misaki Ayuzawa is a girl on a mission. She and her female classmates are the minority at Sieka High School as it has just become co-ed. The rowdy boys of the school are harassing the girls and Misaki is not about to stand for it. With her top marks, get it done attitude and a passion for equality she becomes the first female class president. To protect the girls and to get the boys in line her persona at school that of a unrelenting dictator.

However Misaki has a secret. At home her mother is ill. She has a younger sister and her father has left them in debt. So she has a part time job at a Maid Cafe. Yes, outside of school she wears a maid outfit and waits on patrons with the most demure of dispositions. What happens when her a popular boy from school discovers her job?

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The story of Maid Sama! started off as a manga written by Hiro Fujiwara in 2006. The drama and the romance of the story attracted many readers. In 2010 Maid Sama! came to life in the form of an anime. Again the drama of the story and it’s continual twists drew viewers. The artistic style of the characters is lovely, particularly the differences in Misaki school verses maid looks. The music is cute, particularly the upbeat theme.

Maid Sama! is an anime that I would recommend to a viewer who is looking for a love story. There is a lot of humor in the series as well.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

Review: The Umbrella Academy

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Everyone wonders what it would be like to grow up with superpowers. How would we be? How would we take those powers and make our own justice? We grew up inspired by the heroes of comic books and want to be like them.

Netflix’s new hit show, The Umbrella Academy, gives viewers a look into the lives of superheroes. The children of the Umbrella Academy were adopted as babies by an eccentric billionaire. He schooled them, fed them, clothed them and trained them to fight. These children have grown up in the spotlight created for them and the consequences that come with that. Some of them left, running from their demons, and some were lost. Now those that are left have been called back to their childhood compound by the one thing that unites them, their “father.” They will be faced with a mystery that will lead them to a crisis. Will this dysfunctional and emotionally stunted group be able to band together to save the world one more time?

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The Umbrella Academy started off as a comic which was rolled out by Dark Horse Comics. Written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá this dark story took fans by storm in 2008. After rumors of a movie the title was picked up by Netflix as a series. We can all be grateful that Netflix did because The Umbrella Academy is almost too good. The line of dark realism and humor is straddled perfectly in this show.  

The casting is spot on and they give fantastic performances. The sets are masterfully crafted, really allowing the viewer to become immersed in this world. The soundtrack is perfection. It sets the mood for every scene and helps the audience to get to know the characters. The costumes were also perfection. Every character has their own look. It is clear that a lot of attention was put into giving us clues about the characters, both what they want to be and who they truly are, through their clothing. The cinematography is a thing of beauty.

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I would highly recommend The Umbrella Academy. I was blown away by the experience that is this show. Everything comes together to tell an interesting story. The characters are well thought out. You feel for them and root for them. My only words of caution are be careful about binge watching it, and you will, because when the ten episodes are over you will be left with a very real need for the next season. Seriously though, just go watch it.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!