Action & Adventure
There isn’t much needed to be said about a title that is, pixel-for-pixel, a faithful port of the revered SNES classic. However, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is more than just a remake of one of Link’s earliest adventures in Hyrule. From the very beginning, players set forth on dungeon-dappled journey save the one-and-only Zelda, only discover an evil curse has befallen on the land courtesy of the diabolical Agahnim and his minions. Obviously, Link must take up the Master Sword and break the curse, frequently traveling between alternate light-dark worlds and solving an assortment of box-shoving puzzles along the way.
The game’s graphical presentation is identical to the original and the thrilling overture not far off, but quite frankly, it’s the components found in the accompanying multiplayer mode giving the revamped title its shimmer and shine. Aptly dubbed Four Swords, the spinoff sports enhanced visual flare and design, catapulting up to four players through an entirely new network of foreign dungeons and challenges in which cooperation is key. Commonplace tasks such as lifting massive boulders and pulling apart enemies may require more than one Link to carry out, but completing the entire Four Swords adventure will unlock additional dungeons and mini games within the single-player campaign — so long as you can find other players and enough link cables to beat it with.
When The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was first released, it remained unclear of whether it would represent Link’s final top-down, 2D romp on portable handhelds. We now know that to not be true — ahem, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds — but the Minish Cap still incorporated new elements and represented a slight, structural shift in a line of successful titles sprawled across differing platforms. The action-orientated gameplay is still formulaic, founded in a world where princess Zelda has been turned to stone and tiny “Minish” beings live beneath towering Hyrulians, but the eponymous hat’s uncanny ability to shrink Link at varying portals throughout the land opens up a salmgundi of opportunity and unique puzzle scenarios.
The game is rather short if you plow through the six short dungeons, but additional side quests, mini games and the perpetual quest for medallions known as kinstones add weight to an otherwise straight-shootin’ RPG. It’s visually modest, yet attractive, taking a cue from the likes of the Wind Waker and Four Swords, while culling music from past titles and incorporating new songs that easily fit the overarching Zelda aesthetic. Is the Minish Cap on par with a Link to the Past? No, but it’s pretty damn close and proves developer Flagship is more than capable of producing an original, and downright exceptional, Zelda title.
The GBA Castlevania trilogy — Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria Sorrow — were more than just three terrific installments in a series spanning nearly three decades, they were three of the best games in the entire Konami series. Aria of Sorrow is unique in that players don the role of Soma Cruz, not an official vampire-slaying Belmont of the series’ past, whisking players to a mysterious castle from which Cruz must escape to overcome his fate becoming the next incarnation of Dracula. Despite plot deviations however, Aria of Sorrow is still deeply rooted in hallmark Castlevania mechanics.
Players scour the castle, wielding an arsenal of weapons, hacking and shooting their way through an onslaught maniacal beasties and frenzied boss battles. The game is more difficult and strategic than past games in the series, partly due to the Metroid-inspired, soul-collecting mechanic that provides Cruz with additional abilities when he absorbs the souls of fallen enemies, but the main game can still be beaten within 12 or so hours if you merely relish in the bare minimum and the lackluster ending. Thankfully, the 16-bit visuals are a pleasure and the characters well-designed, further encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny of Dracula’s castle until the game is 100-percent completed. It exudes the best of the two previous Castlevania titles … even if you can’t whip enemies like Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You may not be familiar with Osamu Teu’s original Astro Boy manga, or any of the series’ anime spinoffs beginning in the late ’60s, but that doesn’t mean the severely-underrated action title won’t appeal to you on some level. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is the best GBA title in one Japan’s most popular franchises, with word-heavy, interconnecting storylines lifted directly from the Astro Boy universe and accompanying TV series. With Omega Factor, players must fight their way through 32 stages spanning two individual episodes, using the D-pad and a variety of combo maneuvers to send robotic enemies flying off the corner of the screen.
Special attacks, harnessed through the execution of successful combos, also enhance the game’s balance, while the title’s emphasis on leveling and customization allow players to specifically tailor their character to fit their playing style. The animation and sprite effects are rendered beautifully for the time, pulsating with bright explosions and rolling cityscapes, but they do slow the game down considerably during more frantic moments of combat and high intensity. Developer Treasure’s aforementioned storyline can also read somewhat ambiguous, especially when coupled with dialogue issues resulting from the game’s translation. Still, Omega Factor is one of the most challenging and enjoyable titles you’ve likely never heard.
The most memorable revivalist games aren’t the ones mirroring previous port offerings, but the ones that take a classic formula and push it beyond its established limits, incorporating enhancements and twists while never shying far from what’s expected. Metroid Fusion, the first of two great Metroid offerings on the GBA, was a standout due to its riveting story and sublime incorporation of the 2D Metroid mechanics firmly established in Super Metroid, likely given both games feature the same development team. Donned in a reinvisioned getup and aided by the station’s super computer, Fusion swirls around bounty hunter Samus Aran as she explores an infected, deep-space research laboratory in hopes of eradicating the mimicking Parasite X. Unforeseen plot twists and suspense abound, especially within cut scenes and whenever Samus-clone SA-X strolls in, rendering the game more than a typical action title.
Fusion is a classically-driven continuation of the Metroid story, goaded by learned abilities and upgraded techniques that open hidden passages and additional content throughout the game’s duration. All Samus’ basic skills — i.e. her beam weapon, missiles and morph-ball bombs — all make a return, along with the screw attack and a new ability in which she can absorb parasites in exchange for health regeneration. The character animations are fluid and fitting, as is the music, and the environments are richly-detailed and varied given the research station doubles as biosphere haven. It’s relatively short, yet its the quality (not the quantity) that keeps you coming back.
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