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SummaryThe best of the bad Zelda games
The GoodThe classic adventure games with the top-down perspective are still quite edible and Oracle of Ages is no exception. Moving around Labrynna with Link and watching the screen shift from area to area in less than a second is quite entertaining and nostalgic to me. In terms of combat it's also quite fun because most other classic adventure games bogged themselves down with random encounters (like in Pokemon), while Zelda has real-time combat which is a lot more fun.
When I first heard this game had you travelling through time I got kinda worried because it is very easy to mess it up. Ocarina of Time did it quite nicely, but this was not Nintendo, this was a different studio making the game. I am however relieved to say that travelling through time is made quite easy and all you need is one item to do it, once you went back to the present or past you also don't have to worry about constantly going back and forth between a portal and the location where you are solving puzzles, because once you have to go back, you can assume that you are going to stay in the same time for quite a while.
I really like it that you can change your sword for another item if you think you don't need it. This allows you to equip two items that help you solve puzzles and navigate the area instead, which can result in you not having to open the menu every time you need to move a vase or jump over a gap. Items can also be used combat, such as jumping high with the feather and then slashing something with the sword.
Labrynna looks pretty nice and it reminds me a lot of the original Legend of Zelda, with my only complaint removed. In my review of that game I argued that Hyrule looked nice, but it was kind of empty and lacked villages or even people to interact with. This time around it has been fixed and not only are there multiple villages, but there are also quite a lot of characters (though none of them are truly memorable) to talk with.
While the graphics are not all that fantastic, the game often shows you an image instead of sticking to in-game graphics. I like this a lot because the images are very awesome and well drawn, plus it doesn't distract you from the gameplay for too long, in fact I actually found it to be a good way to help me immerse myself into the story.
I find it really entertaining to watch Link do his little flips when in the 2D side-scrolling sections of the game. It adds literally nothing to the experience, but I just find it so cute.
The BadThe game is a bit too reliant on nostalgia and doesn't really add anything to the series. Just like with Majora's Mask it teleports you to a whole new world, but again like that same game it is quite similar to what we have already seen. The overall map is rather reminiscent to the one from Zelda II, gameplay is very much like the original title, the world in the past has the same idea behind it as the Dark World from A Link to the Past and the way time travelling is used is kinda Ocarina of Time-ish.
There was one point in the game where I just put the Game Boy down and thought to myself: "How was anybody supposed to figure that out". This was when a character said I needed a chart to proceed to an island and as it turned out I had to get this chart from Tingle. Now, let's just assume that I had never played Majora's Mask and Wind Waker: How would I know Tingle sells maps? The game never tells you about Tingle, none of the characters refer to him and up to this point you couldn't even reach him. This is expecting way too much from your players.
After completing the second dungeon the game also said: "Go to the island in the south", but this apparently translated to: "Go to a completely random house somewhere on the map and talk to some guy who will tell you more about what to do". Again: How was I supposed to know this. This time around this wasn't even a character from an earlier game, it was some random old git living far away from anything I had to visit up to that point.
The dungeon design looked okay to me at first, but having arrived at the third temple, I started to notice something. Every temple feels exactly the same and they have terrible design. Give the original game some credit: It only had a handful of textures, but it made up for that by shaping the dungeons into something recognizable. Here the dungeons again have a very limited amount of textures, but they are multi-layered clusterfucks.
The textures in this game are nothing short of horrendous, Link doesn't even look like himself and most of the the characters looks worse than the Old Man from the original game and their animations make no sense. There are also the blocks that you can push, but whenever you do the floor texture just changes into a completely different texture. If the awesome pictures helped you immerse yourself into the game, than watching the floor transform itself shatters that immersion entirely.
The music is nothing special and the few tracks I did like were old familiars such as a dungeon theme from Link's Awakening and the overworld theme from the same game. Just like in Skyward Sword the music certainly fits the atmosphere of the game and it always feels appropriate, but the best thing about the franchise is that the music is not in the background, but it's right into your face and that is what is missing here. When I sail the seas from Wind Waker and I hear that adventurous song play, that feels a million times better than actually doing something in this game with some random noise in the background.
Ever since A Link to the Past it has been a tradition that money in these games is hidden in grass, pots and the pockets of those that fall victim to your mighty blade, but here they decided to mix things up a little. While you can still get a single rupee or heart from massacring someone's garden, you now have to dig your treasure up with a shovel. However, clearing out every single patch of dirt in every screen of the game is a boring and tedious progress, especially when you remember that there is nothing to spend it on.
The whole idea of the Oracle games simply perplexes me: Some random studio making two Zelda games that are planned to launch at the same time and are both very similar to one another, but both have to be played and finished for the actual ending... The funny thing is that they actually planned a third game (because there are three goddesses in the Zelda universe), but somebody figured that this was a very expensive joke and only the most dedicated fans would actually buy all three games.
The Bottom LineIt is commonly known that I am not a big fan of Flagship, the company that made this game and the Four Swords sub-series. They are rather determined to take the Zelda franchise in a direction that I don't like, but to be honest: Oracle of Ages is not as bad as Minish Cap was and it's actually pretty decent. It gets a lot of important stuff wrong, but it also does a lot right and if you really liked the original Zelda than this game will feel like the adventure many wished Zelda II would be.
With that said: This game is only for the really dedicated friends. It is really dates, adds very little and not even little kids would actually like this due to the difficulty of the puzzles.