A New Era…

Last night I had cause to look something up on this blog – a quip I’d made at some stage – and happened to notice that it was nearly three months since I’d posted an entry here. That caught me a little by surprise, really; and now it’s time to make amends, and time to get back to writing. And I’ll open with a grandiose statement:

It’s a new era at The Moobaarn.

Indeed, it’s a new Moobaarn.

In the three months since my last post on this blog, I’ve moved house, bought my first new TV in over 15 years, and – gasp! – acquired a brand spanking new PS3. Luckily, those last two events were linked, thanks to Sony’s latest promotion; I’ve not assisted SCE’s ledger by actually purchasing one of their now-profitable bits of gaming hardware. And the out-of-box experience is great; it’s a lovely chunk of kit, and was set up with no real drama.

Turning the PS3 on yielded another story. It strikes me that the XMB at the core of the PS3’s interface is every bit as cumbersome as the original blade interface of the 360, and completely at odds with the ten-foot interface paradigms of the Wii and the NXE. I reckon the interface – like the DualShock controller, something I’ve never really got on with – was designed by engineers, for engineers; the organisation and design is very clean and regular (symmetrical, in the case of the DualShock), but it fails to compensate for the volume of information… it just doesn’t feel fit-for-purpose, lumbering under the load of the options forced upon it by the opportunities afforded by the hardware.

Anyway, enough bitching.

Having a big HD telly for the first time led me to crack out some of the more graphically impressive 360 titles; Bayonetta‘s arse looks spectacular, Prince of Persia a cel-shaded work of art, and Space Giraffe even crazier than I remember. I tried getting my eye back into the twin-stick-shooter genre with little success (Mutant Storm Reloaded and Geometry Wars Evolved^2 both rebuffing my advances), and there was even some Halo 3 multiplayer during a zombie-themed Double-XP weekend that netted a few new achievements. Yes, the acquisition of a HD TV certainly performed wonders for my flagging gaming mojo.

Prior to delivery of my new TV, though, I was stuck in my new Moobaarn with most of my possessions trapped away in a barely stable structure of boxes. Sure, my old TV had been setup, but the 360 and Wii were buried underneath scores of books and old videotapes that had (perhaps mistakenly) also made the move. Desperate to make some impact on The List, I dug out my original Xbox and started flicking through the pending titles there; Panzer Dragoon Orta got a bit of a bash, but surprisingly I spent a fair wodge of time playing TimeSplitters 2. Now, I’ve ranted at length at this game on various internet fora, especially targeting those that recommended that game to me; as the second console FPS I ever played, it was a woefully abysmal experience compared to Halo. In fact, the in-game stats indicated that I’d spent a scant six hours playing TS2, completing it on the easiest difficulty setting, before running away to play something that felt right. I really didn’t like it at all.

Those same in-game stats, however, indicated that I’d only “completed” 10% of the game on offer… and that just doesn’t sit well with my OCD. So I started churning through some of the Arcade and Challenge modes, determined to attain Gold Trophies in all events… and, lo and behold, I found myself actually enjoying the game! What a pleasant surprise. Anyway, the percentage had crept up to about 34% by the time the new telly arrived and the old Xbox was consigned to a disused part of the entertainment unit; I will return to play more TimeSplitters 2, though, you mark my words.

My sole PS3 purchase so far has been the original Uncharted, and… well, colour me unimpressed. Woolly controls, glaringly shiny teeth, and paint-by-numbers action has done little to warm me; it really does feel like a prettied-up Tomb Raider clone with an awful lack of precision. In its defence, I’m only about half-way through the game, but my favourite bits thus far have been the oft-maligned jetski sections. Sure, Uncharted 2 may have been the critic’s choice for 2009, but on the strength of its predecessor I’m not sure I’ll bother.

But the good thing about this experience is that I think I’m starting to crystallise what appeals to me as a gamer. Without wanting to sound patronising in any way, Uncharted conjures up the same feeling, the same approach and mood, as Gears of War did for me; not in the gameplay (though there’s certainly some similarities there too), but in the way it’s presented: linear progression with well-defined set-pieces. And, just as GoW irked me massively (co-op hijinks with friends notwithstanding), I think Uncharted is going to pan out the same way.

Ummmmm, what else have I been doing in the last couple of months? Well, I’ve knocked two Wii games – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Paper Mario – off the list, the latter being a paniccy weekend completion of one of my aforementioned In Case Of Emergency games when I realised that I wasn’t getting my skills together to complete Wii Play. Yes, the best part of five grand dropped on a nice new HD telly, and I’ve spent most of my time playing Wii games. And that continues even now, with the local release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 last Thursday… a couple of days solid play has allowed me to gather 118 Power Stars, enough to access one of the finest levels of gaming I’ve ever encountered… but more on that later.

Next week? Crackdown 2… and I cannot fucking wait. Which makes me reflect on the fantastic world we live in; only a fortnight ago, I wandered into my preferred vendor of gaming goodness and slapped down pre-orders on Super Mario Galaxy 2, Crackdown 2, and Halo: Reach, and two of those are released within a week of each other. How awesome is that?


Well, my Gaming Mojo still appears to be missing a little bit, with distractions like my upcoming move into a new Moobaarn and a certain girl commandeering huge chunks of my time. But I’m forcing myself to push on with my gaming; luckily, my current selections lend themselves to that particular absent-minded approach.

Zelda: Twilight Princess is the main focus at the moment, and it’s proving to be perfect brain-off, plodding-progress gaming. I’m about 34 hours in on my second playthrough, halfway through the second “quest” of the game, and it’s proving to be enjoyable enough – though, almost necessarily, not nearly as emotionally engaging as my first encounter. Though, surprisingly, it’s proving to be much easier than I remember; I wonder how much of this is due to my familiarity with the Wii controls now, as opposed to launch-day nervous excitement?

My good mate Spencer finally got a free night for some Achievement whoring, so we organised an interstate Xbox Live play-date and managed to rack up a plethora of ranked online wins to clean up my online Achievements for Brütal Legend. A spot of single-player AI battling, a perusal of all the Tour Diary and Concept Art entries, and boom – that’s another one off The List. Sixty-nine to go.

A bit of sporting – and hilarious – card divulging saw my penultimate Texas Hold’em Achievement fall, thanks to Spencer’s help. And there was a little single-player thrashing of Shadow Complex, too, leaving me just one-and-a-half XP levels shy of my final Achievement there; unfortunately, that one has a series of “internal” Achievements which I feel I must satisfy before crossing it off The List, and those tasks are… daunting.

So – an uninspired entry, this one. I may well ease up over the next few weeks; the Big Move is about a month away, there’s much fussing to be done before then, and every entry is likely to read “Mopey. Did a bit of grinding. Got some stuff done. Hurrah.” Christ, even I don’t like reading that sort of stuff over and over, and it’s my bloody blog! ;)


As I noted last week – between the lines – my gaming mojo’s been a-wandering post-Fringe. Initially, I thought this was the usual post-Fringe malaise but, as this week drew on and I still had no yearning for any gaming at all (save my brain-waking sudoku, which surprisingly works wonders for my concentration at work), I began to think something else was wrong. Maybe it was the French Film Festival, patchy in quality and attendance, or maybe it was the running around associated with fitting my new abode out prior to my arrival. Or maybe it’s a distraction of the feminine persuasion, buried deep within my mind and ever-so-delightfully niggling me, keeping my usual thought processes slightly off-kilter.


An unofficial target I set myself is to knock at least one game off The List every calendar month – hey, if I can at least manage that, I’m making some progress, right?

Oh wait – I typically buy more than a dozen games a year. Christ, I’ve bought three this year, and the glut is yet to come.


…but yes, finish one game a month. And that tends to make February and March a little stressful, given that they both get impacted rather heavily by the Fringe. February got off easy this year, with Portal falling early in the month, but March was always going to be a bit problematic.

I’ve got a couple of nearly-completed games that I always figured I could use In Case Of Emergency – there’s a dialogue-tree run-through of Super Paper Mario which couldn’t be more than a day’s work, maybe another weekend recipe collecting for Paper Mario. Super Galdelic Hour is a bit nebulous on its completion requirements – I’ve got a feeling the mysterious sketch that gets displayed at the end of a season will become ever more detailed, but I’ve no idea what may trigger that event. And Electroplankton… well, how hard can it be to explore those little sub-games?

And so I was moping around on Friday, resigned to the fact that I was going to have to pick up one of these games again, essentially playing a trump-card. But the very idea scared me; panicking, I started thinking of other long-shots: snaffling another 25 ranked wins on Brütal Legend? Not likely. A bit of quick whoring and a couple of wins of Texas Hold’em? Ugh – my poker ability is up there with my FPS skills. And then it hit me: Frogger.

A quick perusal of the usual haunts, and I found an amazing co-op “partner” (well, I say partner, but let’s face it – he did all the work) in BUGAJ75 RETURNS, whose ruthless efficiency and friendliness was exemplary… so much so that I actually registered with x360a just to leave him positive feedback (amonst other sites). And so, after about twenty minutes… Frogger was off The List. After nearly four years.

(Four years, eh? Oh yes – this past week also marked the fourth anniversary of my original launch Xbox 360, bless it’s rowdy fans.)

So the unofficial milestone had been reached – but the mojo was still AWOL. And I started mulling on some of the other “unofficial” benchmarks I’d set myself – like trying to knock off as many Wii games prior to acquiring a monstrous HD TV. So I looked at my List again, and thought “fuck it – Wii Play must succumb.”

Now, my Wii Play requirements are pretty lax: Gold Medals in every mini-game (yes, I know there’s Platinum Medals in there too, but if you think I’m playing through one hundred levels of Tanks, then you’re sorely mistaken). So far, I’m missing three: Find Mii (an annoying dirtbag of a game), Pose Mii (an insolent shit of a game), and Tanks (which I’m not very good at). A bit of practise absolutely failed to get me anywhere near my previous high-scores, but I shall persevere – and it shall fall.

Finally, though, I started a 100% run through Twilight Princess. I must admit to having dreaded the prospect – my memory of the early parts of the game (fuelled by my own blog post) was one of wading through stupefyingly twee boring bits before getting to the Zelda dungeon goodness. So it was with some trepidation that I started the game and selected a new save-file.

I don’t know what the hell I was talking about, really – it felt like less than an hour passed before I was rid of all the cat-feeding, goat-herding, annoying-child dullness and wodged deep into the game proper. And bloody hell, it’s good, isn’t it? Having a read around this evening, I was actually amazed that the Wikipedia entry for Twilight Princess states that it’s often considered the Best Zelda Ever; I wonder whether I’ll be espousing the same opinion by the end of the game (especially on the tail end of having had no less than seven 100% Zelda playthroughs last year).

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

First thing’s first: what’s my Zelda background? I claim completage of the original Legend of Zelda, the much-maligned Zelda II, Ocarina of Time, and Wind Waker. There’s moments of utter joy to be found in all of them, but there’s also moments of “WTF?”, “you fucking bastard” and “fuck this, I’m off to GameFAQs”. The mood of the Zelda games is what sucks me in and permits me to label them “great”, despite their penchant for occasionally obscure problems.

They grow up so fast…

And so we come to a new console, and a new Zelda; and, as usual, it all starts out a little twee, meeting all your chums and catching fish for cats and befriending birds and avoiding bees and… it’s pretty boring. But here’s the thing: if you can survive the dullness of the first few hours, you’re in for a treat – it gets much much infinitely much better. If, on the other hand, you really enjoyed the goat herding, horse washing, and the bloody annoying clan of children who dote on you, you’ll literally explode in bliss later in the game.

I can’t pick the point at which the game turned from a somewhat tedious trek to a blissful bounty – but I suspect it was when a baboon spanked its arse in my general direction. That made me laugh – a lot. In fact, despite the darker-than-usual storyline, there’s a lot to laugh at; incidental characters like the Fortune Teller and the flamboyant Cucco master add a lot to the giggles.

All your Zelda regulars are here – the mazes that have you running around in pointless circles until you get off your arse and map the buggers out. Dungeons that are a perfect mix of “whaaaaa?” and “aaaaaah!” Some familiar weapons are a little tweaked; the upgrade for the old hookshot is a pleasant surprise, and works like a charm. Likewise, the boomerang gets a bit of a makeover, and the inventory screen gets tarted up and is a treat. There’s plenty for the O/C amongst us to do – Heart Pieces a-plenty, along with the usual Poes and a few other little collect-em-ups which initially shock in scope before you realise that it’s 5am and you’ve just spent the last 8 hours roaming Hyrule but at least that’s done no wait there’s more.

Boss battles are epic, engaging, visually delicious and – above all – fun; more Wind Waker than Ocarina. And taking another leaf from Celda, there’s a fantastic boss battle redux near the end of the game which reminds you of all the goodness that has come before.

And that’s the thing about this latest Zelda installment – it knows exactly what it is, and where it’s come from; there’s a certain self-assuredness about it. But it’s learnt from the mistakes of earlier games, too – there’s no obscure puzzles (even all the Heart Pieces are easy to find!), there’s no long treks required, and there’s certainly no fucking annoying bosses (Bongo Bongo, I’m looking at you). It all just effortlessly flows along, dragging you blissfully in its wake.

Twilight Princess is just packed full of Moments – extravagant boss battles, great storytelling, arse slaps, character entrances, the thrill of the new. Minutes or hours spent fishing. Oddball action sequences that, as in Mario 64, just seamlessly blend right into the game. The first time you stream onto Hyrule field atop a motion-blurred Epona, sword drawn, hacking evil minions… akin to the first steps onto Hyrule field as young Link in Ocarina, it’s one of those Gaming Moments that you’ll never forget.

Of course, the benefit of having not one, but two “platonic” love interests (the rather plain Zelda and the fiery hotness of the eponymous Twilight Princess) for our effeminate hero merely adds two inches of sweet, sweet icing to an otherwise calorific cake. Dreams of a Princess threesome leave me in a sticky slumber most nights, now.

It’s pretty obvious I like this game. And I’ve not mentioned a thing about how the Wii handles… so let’s be brief: the graphics are fine, the sound is great (except for the tinny Wiimote speaker which occasionally feels overused), and the controls are brilliant. By game’s end, when you’re dispatching Lizardmen with a Z-lock, two jabs of the Wiimote and a flick of the nunchuck, you’re convinced that there’s no other way to play the game.

So – is this game perfect? Hell no – to attain that status, I shouldn’t have had to hunt out orange rupees like a madman to complete one sub-quest, nor had that dull intro, and the end-game would have involved female nakedness and hard-core lesbian frivolities. Many interweb twonks will cry “it’s too easy!” or “it’s too linear!” or “it’s just a GameCube port!”

And you know what? They’re right (except for that guy who says “it’s too easy.” Possibly the most rock-fucking-hard Zelda moment ever is hidden in there.)

But you know what else?

And pay attention, because this is the really important part:

It’s A Really, Really, Fun Game.

I’ve spent 75 hours and four AA batteries traipsing around the world of Twilight Princess, and I’m not bored yet… nor am I finished. And nor has it stopped providing me with FUN. It all adds up to the deepest, most complete experience on the Wii – nay, the entire Next-Gen – so far.