on the new zeldavideogames

July 20, 2017
Videogame Nerdery Ahoy! (Got a lot more long-winded than I planned) I'm trying to figure out if I should stick with the new Zelda, if it's a good investment of time for me. It's high quality in many ways, but the cooking/crafting doesn't grab me, the endless treadmill of "get a weapon, wear out a weapon" rankles (especially with the limited inventory slots that cost a lot to improve), and in general I'm not as engaged as I would have hoped.

While in some ways the game has that "more than one way to solve a problem" approach, 90% of those feel like something clever the programmers thought of first and then coded in, rather than an organic, player-driven combination of basic interactive elements. They give you a cool "magnet" tractor beam power that you can only use in carefully defined areas, magic bombs that can't really aim and take forever to damage anything anyway, a "freeze time" thing that A. is misnamed (it's more about messing with certain object's kinetic energy, but I guess they thought "kinetic energy" that was too fancy a term) and B. also only works hardly anywhere...

I guess the game doesn't resonate for me in two critical directions; one is the world-building. "Far Cry"s, which feels like such a big influence, do a much better job of painting "living breathing" worlds that mask the fact that they exist only as a place for the player's story to take place in. Vs Zeldas: Link, is (spoiler alert?) the knight errant destined to come back and fix everything in Hyrule, and by the way here are all these precious little mini-dungeons scattered about to test his mettle and build him up gradually for doing so.

Which leads to the second game theme Zelda does, one I respect intellectually but don't find deeply engaging: the classic "from zero to hero" journey, the grind up of gathering intrinsic strength and various add-ons that lets the player slowly grow into the role destiny (or rather, the game designer) has laid out for them. I know in the real world I have a blind-spot for personal growth; people seem to be about the same to me on the inside throughout their lives (Hmm, this is probably why preschooler's incompetence so startles me... Like, "C'mon, color in the lines! Focus! I can talk with you, you have the raw physical control here, why can't you do this?") It's troublesome for me in life- I tend to feel like I can gain knowledge of how to do things, but the process of "growing" a skillset per se seems.... I don't know, unlikely. I assume at some point quantitative skill improvement can become qualitative ability increase, but I never really *feel* it. (Similarly, even in a game, "practicing and getting better" is sometimes indistinguishable from "try and try again until I get lucky and can move on"...)

It's why I feel Mario games have more in common with Grand Theft Auto than they do with Zelda games or Metroid games. Mario is the same guy, with about the same skillset, at the start of the game as he is at the end, there's no "take away all your skills at the game start so you can grow 'em back", and so is the protagonist of a GTA game, he just has more access to vehicles and money and weapons. (Conversely, Mario games have even more of that "this world exists only for the player to experience" than even the Zelda games, but still).

Also, now that I think about it, the physics of this latest Zelda are all too down-to-earth. Link jumps about as well as I do, more or less. He's a much better wall climber, but that's a plodding straining process. He's got a glider, but that's only a slow parachute with a bit of horizontal movement. He can do some tractor-beam/grav-gun manipulations, but only in certain designated areas and times. Compared to a later Saints Row and those games' joyful leaping, bounding, running up the side of buildings, magic grabbing and blasting nearly anything, or Just Cause's kinetic soaring and goofy playground of "link two things together with a wire and see what happens"... those games have more of what I come to video games for, superhuman empowerment fantasies set with visuals and interactions convincing enough to be viscerally enjoyable. (and while Zelda has plenty of mooks to dispatch for its adolescent empowerment fantasy, other games serve 'em up and knock 'em down wholesale -- sword combat is still pretty much a one-on-one, retail experience in Zelda....)

This went on much further than I expected. I'd love to hear from folks who dig the game what works for them, hopefully I've done a good enough job couching my critique as highly subjective, as I puzzle out (so to speak) why a game that is clearly so good in so many ways is on the bubble for me making time to play through...

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