Innovation vs. Iteration Scott's Thoughts

Innovation: to revolutionize, change, transform, or evolve.

Iteration: to repeat, improve, patch, or expand.

Historically, Nintendo is a very iterative company. Most of their characters and concepts came from the mid-80s, when the company created its first batch of games for NES.

For many subsequent generations, they’ve followed the formulae, making a Mario game. A Zelda game. A Metroid game. Sequels got marginally better, improving upon past issues.

They’ve been honing their craft. Perfecting.

The only problem with this tradition is that it’s not very exciting. People start saying things like “if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all,” and “they keep recycling the same story over and over again.”

Nintendo Wii was the company’s first major hardware innovation in a long time—and they knew it, naming it codename “Revolution.” We were starting to see a brand that was ready to transform the gaming industry. Funny enough, the console’s success caused the console-maker to follow up with a safe “half-step” successor, but the masses weren’t listening anymore.

The good news is: innovative Nintendo is back, and that culture is seeping into their most beloved franchises. Breath of the Wild and Odyssey took a big leap in evolving the gameplay front. Next, we’ll see bigger shifts in story and presentation.

Buckle up! Your responsibility is being open to the change.

What it’s like being an OLD MAN


Miles is here to have an important discussion with Scott; what’s it like being an old man? Old men are important to video games, ever since the one in the cave told us it was dangerous to go alone. Miles will share his insight into being an old hero.

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

What this Nintendo Fan is Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Here at the Crew, we’re a thankful bunch, and this is the perfect time of year to count our blessings and reflect on the many things we have to be grateful for.

Thankful for Switch

Nintendo’s latest and greatest console has been welcomed with open arms by the faithful few and, seemingly, the masses as well. The R&D team crafted a unique piece of kit that’s exactly what we wanted, and the launch was amazing. In the months following, software support has been both steady and spectacular. With Switch, Nintendo ushered in a new Golden Age of gaming, and it’s really special to have a platform that brings pure pleasure.

Thankful for the Crew

Two Button Crew affectionately refers to our viewers and subscribers as the greater “Crew,” and greater is the perfect word to describe you folks. The Internet can be a nasty and hate-filled place, but none of that comes with the viewers we attract. It’s been magical to see the sincerity and kindness demonstrated by people who tag along with our content. Every few days, we receive a nice note from a Patron or long-time subscriber, telling us how our entertainment has helped them and wishing us to keep going. The encouragement means the world.

Thankful for Podcasts

Nintendo podcasts are becoming more and more prevalent, with long-running ones still pumping out episodes and a number of new ones that popped up with the release of the Switch. Content creators are more eager than ever to discuss news, impressions, as well as an increase in meaningful topics being lobbied. If you aren’t a podcast listener, you’re missing out on some excellent sound-bites from insightful industry reporters and analysts. For hosts, podcasts are a chance to sit back and talk freely about what’s on their mind in the gaming spectrum. For listeners, it’s like having a group of friends (just as dedicated to Nintendo fandom as you are) that meet together weekly to celebrate all things Mario, Metroid, Zelda, and the rest. The podcast we started this year has been a lot of fun.

Thankful for Unforgettable Games

2017 will truly be a year to remember. We now have our modern version of Ocarina of Time vs. Super Mario 64, with the brand new installments Breath of the Wild and Odyssey. The debates between greater game will live on for decades, hopefully not overshadowing the outstanding Splatoon 2, ARMS, Mario + Rabbids, and swaths of indie games flooding the eShop each week. Switch is quickly becoming a home for masterpieces, whether they are brand new experiences, definitive editions, ports, or remakes.

Thankful for a Bright Future

This year was laser-focused on software quality and quantity. I picture Nintendo’s offices being “all hands on deck” to make this new hardware a success. However, there are other ventures that Nintendo is preparing to embark on; namely a theme park, an animated Mario film, more mobile titles, and more. Development on great software will continue as we are promised new entries in the Metroid Prime series (!) and Pokemon, which will sell systems like absolute bananas. The install base is shaping up to be so huge, no developers will be able to ignore it!

When Nintendo bounced back from the Wii U, they bounced back hard. They’re back in the spotlight, which is a huge payoff for people like us who have followed the brand through thick and thin. I’m thankful we’re currently in the thick of the action!

Have a wonderful Holiday, hug your family, and drag them to your room to play some Switch!

Rocket League & New Bundles Launching Soon!


Black Friday is almost upon us, and Nintendo is gearing up for a big holiday season! Third parties and indies are also joining in the festivities and launching a slew of games soon. Let’s look at what’s coming up!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

There’s a 2D Breath of the Wild on Switch eShop Scott’s Thoughts

On the Nintendo Switch eShop, there’s a 2-dimensional Breath of the Wild for sale.

It’s called SteamWorld Dig 2.

This is an indie title by Image & Form. You don’t have to like steampunk culture or have beaten the original to enjoy this title, it stands on its own as a must-play.

Everything that you loved about the the open-world Zelda adventure is here, in this little downloadable title.

Strictly speaking, Dig 2’s genre is most like a Metroidvania, but fans of Breath of the Wild will feel right at home in the game’s underground caverns.

Did you like defeating shrines? You’re in luck; with caves, puzzles must be completed to earn collectibles and power-ups. Just like shrines, caves feature additional hidden secrets apart from the main objective, for explorers and completionists.

Like Link’s stamina mechanics, the main character (Dorothy) has meters for water and light that the player has to keep an eye on and take into account while trying to reach new areas.

The game can be played nonlinearly, any time you wish to take a break from the main plotline to enhance your strengths.

Filling in Hyrule’s map by locating towers is not unlike uncovering new caverns and locating fast-travel points.

Special abilities can be unlocked that are very similar to the Champion Abilities in Zelda. I activated an especially helpful modification in SteamWorld which I lovingly referred to right away as “Mipha’s Grace.” Even the HUD elements share attributes in common, like how the special abilities indicate on-screen when they are ready to be used.

Don’t miss this title! Even if you don’t feel like you’re ready for “another Breath of the Wild,” keep in mind that this game is much smaller. SteamWorld Dig 2 doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

It’s also plenty unique, with a creative world, interesting characters, and fun gameplay loops that keep you coming back and digging deeper.

2017: One of the Best Gaming Years in History?

Fall is already upon us. Leaves are changing, the air is becoming cool and crisp, and good games are seemingly being released left and right. Alas, this blog is not about the season, but about 2017 as a whole. Yes, we have a few more months before it wraps up, but in less than a week, Nintendo’s juggernaut, Super Mario Odyssey will finally be released. I for one cannot wait to sink my teeth into this game. Having already received a perfect score, I think we are in for a fun ride. That being said, I want to focus on what has already been released, and why I think 2017 has been one of the most glorious years for gaming in recent history.

Nintendo is a company that fans expect a lot of. They always seem to set the bar of quality game design higher and higher. Take Breath of the Wild for instance. This game takes the best aspects of the franchise and capitalizes on what makes it great. I felt no greater sense of adventure since I was a young kid playing Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time for the first time. This is undoubtedly special, and why so far Breath of the Wild is currently* game of the year for me.

*subject to change

A franchise that was essentially brought back from the dead this year is Metroid. Samus Returns does everything that I was hoping it would. Appealing visuals and tight controls, along with the new melee addition, make for a really addictive journey. I would love to see the developer have free reigns and make a brand-new Metroid game.

This year in particular, smaller, more tightly knit developers are also getting more attention. Sonic Mania is living proof that sometimes, fans know exactly what is best for a franchise. The game was made by only a handful of inspired and passionate people, and look what resulted. The same can be said for the recently released Cuphead. Though not on a Nintendo platform, I couldn’t pass this one up. The 1930’s art style is one that I have never seen before in a game, and pushing through the brutally hard difficulty is so worth it only to experience more. My point is, gamers are starting to appreciate the hand crafted, quality approach, and developers are responding.

A Game of Year Contender for sure. Competition is fierce this year.

The release of the Switch was also monumental, and completely necessary, to erase painful memories of the Wii U era. I love that Nintendo doesn’t feel the need to compete with competitors by powerful processing or graphics, but with intuitive design. A portable home system is something that will pave the way for years to come. When Nintendo becomes irreverent in the industry, Nintendo is at its strongest. We were also fortunate enough to get the SNES classic, so I can replay some of my favorite games of all time the way they were meant to be played.

Perhaps I consider 2017 so impressive because it made franchises relevant again. It made Nintendo relevant again. No, we didn’t get a new Animal Crossing game or a Pikmin game (at least not the type I’d want to see), but we did get a plethora of games that were not afraid to redefine themselves. When I look back on the year and reflect, I see a year of revitalization. A year of redefining what gamers actually want: quality.

Will Odyssey Deliver on the Mario Formula?

It’s hard to believe, but this month marks another monumental game release from Nintendo! Joining the ranks of games discussed for decades like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 is the newest game we won’t stop talking about for generations: Super Mario Odyssey. Link did a fantastic job carrying Nintendo’s new console through its infancy, but the torch is being passed to the plumber himself. Buckle up folks, this is gonna be big.

There’s no doubt Odyssey will sell millions, even a few tens of millions, or that it will be a hot topic for the entire Switch lifespan and beyond. But that’s not to say it’s a guaranteed hit. What we don’t know yet is: will it be good? Will it be truly great?

The potential is there. The track-record is evident in the series’ preceding entries. All Mario needs to do is avoid a few pitfalls, stick to what has worked, and wow us from time to time. A combination of tried-and-true best practices and fresh experiences will create a masterpiece.

Half of the puzzle has already been completed. The fresh ingredients: totally accounted for. We won’t be left wanting for any wow-factor, as already evidenced by numerous surprising trailer moments: Mario jumping out of a realistic city street’s manhole, Mario’s hat being alive, the game has T-Rexes… just to name a few.

Today, what I’m concerned with is this: Did the developers keep what worked from previous entries in the series? From the short time I’ve played Mario’s new adventure, and from what I’ve seen of others’ gameplay, I’m not so sure. I keep looking for those non-negotiable Super Mario elements, and unfortunately, some of them aren’t evident. Take a look for yourself.

Tight Controls

If we choose to ignore the Arcade Mario Bros. title, we can safely say that the Mario series has always featured tight controls. Whether you were making pixel-perfect adjustments with a D-Pad, or performing aerial cartwheels with an analog stick, the player always had complete and finite control over the mustachioed hero’s movements. However, Nintendo is pushing a control scheme on this game that will prove to be unideal. They say that disconnected Joy-Con with motion controls is the best way to experience Odyssey. However, that leaves us with the Switch’s signature small sticks (or S.S.S.S. for short). The analogue sticks on Switch aren’t very tall, and thus have a reduced range of motion. That’s fine for games like Breath of the Wild, where your character is often traversing in the same direction for long periods. But for intricate platforming, more range is needed.

I would recommend the Pro Controller as an alternative, but we run into further complications with that scheme, just like we do in Handheld mode: motion controls disappear (good), and are replaced with complicated combinations (bad). You would think with all the face- and shoulder-buttons at the Switch’s disposal, simple assignments would suffice, but unfortunately, performing the spinning-Cappy-throw (for example) requires you to physically spin Mario in a circle before hitting the Cappy button.

Another area you will notice the absence of tight controls is in 2D segments—you know—the really cool-looking 8-bit graffiti art portions? As attractive as those look in trailers, it’s really weird and off-putting to play with a modern controller. Imagine trying to navigate the original Super Mario Bros. with an analogue stick, and you’ll get an idea of the sensation. Furthermore, 3D “rules” of Mario still apply during these retro levels, which means running into a Goomba doesn’t make you shrink down, but you lose part of your life meter instead, resulting in a feeling of disconnect.

Level Design

If there’s one thing Super Mario Maker proved, it’s that we all have a long way to go in becoming level designers. The community generated courses simply caused me to appreciate Nintendo’s internal team more, who have proved time and time again that they can carefully craft experiences that will pull newcomers and veterans through to the end. Each level in a Mario game has clear goals, features, and themes. In Super Mario Odyssey, this clear-cut level design might be ditched in favor of an overly-open, sprawling collection of miniature attractions. Places to earn Moons are abundant, which could be a detriment to more meaningful challenges.

Progression Structure

To be perfectly honest, I’m most concerned about this one. We just discussed the plethora of Moons that this game contains, and it doesn’t excite me. 120 Power Stars was a lot to collect in Mario 64, but it was manageable thanks to a cohesive overworld that guides you to specific worlds, and specific tasks within those worlds. The developers of this new Switch title tout the fact that gameplay is returning to a sandbox nature, but that implementation can be taken too far.

In past Mario games, you know if you’re missing something. You know if a world is incomplete, and if a level was too difficult to clear for the time being.

In Odyssey you are provided with a list of Moons collected (with dates), but how will you know where new ones are? How will you know if you got all the Moons in a certain area, except one that you’re missing one in the corner? How much backtracking will be involved, and how many Moons will I pass up simply because I didn’t think to ground-pound a certain summit, or break an inconspicuous box?

You see, I’m a Shrine kind of guy. I love counting down from 120, hearing my Sheikah Slate alert me to a Shrine’s proximity as I enter a new area of the map… but you’ll never catch me trying to collect all the Korok Seeds. And I’m afraid that Moons are more akin to Seeds than Shrines. I hope I’m wrong.

Power-Ups

Gotta love Mario’s power-ups, right? Fire Flowers, Capes, Penguin Suits, Boo Mushrooms, and more! Well, they’re gone, folks. At least, that’s what this quote from the game’s producer heavily implies:
So when we wanted to create Mario games this time around we wanted to focus on the actions Mario can do and in previous Mario games he was able to get power-ups and new abilities. But this time around when we were making many different prototypes and changed our approach that found capturing or “possessing” enemies worked well so we stuck with that. -Mr. Koizumi

It’s unfortunate, to see such a mechanic go. In 2D Mario games, getting a Super Mushroom and earning that feeling of added security and power is iconic. In 3D titles, power-ups haven’t ever been as strongly implemented, but as a result, getting a Fire or Ice Flower felt like a treat. These elements have been discarded in favor of Cappy.

Gimmicks

Speaking of Cappy, he’s the new gimmick! New entries often feature a defining “gimmick,” be it Yoshi, Fludd, or over-the-top new power-ups like the Cat Suit. These open up whole new gameplay opportunities and dictate much of the level design. Odyssey’s most prominent and promising mechanic is Capture, which satisfies this aspect of the Mario formula nicely.
Let’s just hope Cappy doesn’t turn out to be the new Navi, eh?

Music

Mario music typically accomplishes two things. One: it’s catchy, and it gets stuck in your head. Two: it provides strong location associations. You can close your eyes and know exactly when Mario is underwater, in a dessert, or in Bowser’s castle. Did you just hear each of those themes in your head? I haven’t seen enough to know if Odyssey will deliver on this front, but there’s a good chance it will.

Enemies & Bosses

Baddies in the Mushroom Kingdom are always fun to stomp, and they don’t usually get repetitive or bothersome like the creatures in Metroid: Samus Returns. Hopefully, this game’s design will still lend itself to some combat, rather than just Capturing the majority of enemies in sight.

Bosses, while providing a spectacle, are typically an easy three-hit affair. This is an area where the new Switch title could easily improve upon tradition, and make boss encounters more intricate and memorable.

Charm

What would a Mario game be without charm? Character design, animations, music, and polish all create a compound for charm. Mario may be formidable when facing the forces of evil, but he’s equally adorable.

So… what’s this about real tyrannosaurus rexes roaming around? And realistic, proportionate humans walking alongside Mario in New Donk City?

I’m really questioning these design choices, and have been ever since the game was revealed.

Conclusion

Overall, Super Mario Odyssey appears to be a hodge-podge.
That’s the word for it. Just a big stew of locations, art-styles, new and old Mario sensibilities, and certainly a gigantic mix of objectives and tasks.

Will such a recipe, with that many ingredients, actually turn out well? I sure hope so, because I’m a day-one customer and lifetime Mario fan. I do trust Nintendo, but I’m not fully sold on this new direction, and I know I won’t be unless I take the game home and it proves me wrong. If that happens, I’ll update you! Fortunately, I’m entering the experience with low expectations, and that’s the safest posture to take. We’ll find out on October 27th!

DLC – Is it Actually Doing the Industry a Favor?

I finally got around to playing Breath of the Wild’s First DLC pack and I had a lot of fun with it. When I finished it though, I started thinking whether or not DLC is really essential to enhance the experience of the game, or is it something that company’s feel obligated to do now, because it may look bad if they don’t. Obviously, there are different types of DLC out there, including but not limited to: enhancements (BoTW DLC Pack 1), additional story elements (BoTW DLC Pack 2), new modes, etc. I get that the advantage of DLC is that companies can release their games without further delay if they want to make an addition to the game but it is too late to fit it in the release schedule, and DLC can make a game last longer. But is that also opening the door for companies to release “unfinished” games? Nintendo themselves have even expressed disinterest in DLC in the past, saying that they want the consumer to have the full experience up front, but the tide has apparently turned.

A while back, I recall a company releasing DLC that was actually already loaded on to the original disc. Long story short, this created a huge controversy, and ever since, DLC has had sort of a negative tone to it, for me at least. The fact that you could buy the disc and not truly own all of its content seemed, well, cheap. I know that this is a rare case, but I consider it a turning point for this type of additional content. Just the idea of adding something after the fact makes me question the motive and ethics in general.

But from a positive viewpoint, DLC can drastically increase the life of a game if done right. I’m hoping the second DLC pack for Breath of the Wild, The Champion’s Ballad, will add a lot more to the game and justify the $20 price I paid for both DLC packs. Considering $20 is 1/3 of the price of the entire game, I’m expecting a lot of content. I do think it’s smart for Nintendo to “sell” the DLC a little more by releasing amiibo with it, hence the four Champion amiibo, which do look amazing. In my opinion, the more DLC can stand alone, the better it is. Yes, add-ons and enhancements are nice, but I think it’s tougher to pay for those compared with actual, fresh content. I do want to disclaim that this is in no way a review of The Master Trials DLC.

Mario Kart 8 is another game that comes to mind. I loved the bonus tracks included in the DLC, but I still can’t help but think they should have been included in the actual game. My fear, and point of this blog is that DLC in general, if not done right, can only decrease the value of the consumer dollar. Nintendo has surely jumped on the DLC bandwagon, and I think they are still in the experimentation phase. It seems like when it comes to releasing content after the fact, more developers have been getting away with charging more for less. At least that’s how things seem to be trending. The Master Trials was a fun motivator for me to get back in the game, but I really felt like it should have been included in the first place. Hopefully, the Champion’s Ballad proves to be a breath of fresh air (that pun was intended).

The Champion’s Ballad is scheduled to release this Holiday Season

It seems like the DLC trend Nintendo has been riding is here to stay. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Guilty Pleasure Games

Game of Pwns.


#578 – Make sure you watch to the end of this one – Simeon shares something super embarrassing and HILARIOUS!

Footage credit: cobanermani456, kngdmhrts3MvG, Super Best Friends Play

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

What Nintendo Character Am I?

If you ever need your eyebrows slimed, call us first.


It’s popular with the kids and it’s popular with the squids – SLIME! Simeon and Scott are here to play with slime (in a Nintendo-like fashion) for YOUR enjoyment. So play along and see if you can guess the characters that their slimy faces portray.

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Nintendo Slime Co-Op Challenge

You could call us “YouTube Trendsetters,” but… you’d be completely wrong.


#553 – Never seen a video like this before on YouTube, have you? We’re playing with Slime, and you can just chalk this up as a Splatoon video, alright? The object of the game is for us to get each other to guess Nintendo related characters, objects, icons and more, simply by manipulating stubborn slime with our bare hands. Should be fun, right?

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Linkle & The Question of Female Link

Linkle? Female LINK?! FEMALE ZELDA?!?! Wait…


#550 – Out of nowhere, Linkle appeared and paved the way for a female Link. Simeon and Scott sit down today to discuss the issue of Link and gender. Will Linkle ever star in her own game? Should the Hero of Hyrule reincarnate as a woman in a future game? WHY NOT?

Footage credit: Direct-Feed Games

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

The Master Trials (Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC)

Should have raised the stakes from a sharpie drawing to a tattoo…


#544 – Breath of the Wild’s first big DLC drop just happened over the weekend, and Simeon and Scott are wasting no time in getting their competition on. Who can make it further in the Trial of the Sword within 5 minutes? TIME will tell!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Flat Peaks (Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is huge. Not just in terms of the scale and scope of the world it presents to players, but also in terms of its reception in the gaming industry. It’s received numerous perfect scores from critics and the Switch version of the game has reportedly sold more copies than the Switch itself. It’s a big flipping deal, and yet…I couldn’t throw myself into it. In the first episode of The TBCast, I stated that—while I thoroughly enjoyed this game—it didn’t even rank in my top three Zelda games. While I aired several of my grievances with the game’s design in that discussion (some of which will be making an encore appearance here), I never got around to going into detail on my biggest complaint about how the game was structured. But before I can explain what that hang-up is, we need to discuss a concept important to game design and narrative media in general.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the interest curve! An interest curve is a graphical representation of the excitement and engagement the audience of a work experiences throughout the duration of said work. The peaks of the curve represent moments of high excitement and intrigue, while the lows represent the story’s slower, quieter moments. While lows sound like they should be avoided, an optimal curve actually alternates between highs and lows, never staying in one or the other too long. The reason for this is that human beings (who are most game developers’ primary demographic) tend to get acclimated to things pretty quickly. Even action can get boring or even tiresome if there’s too much of it.

I got nothing...Seriously, I can't be expected to come up with a joke no one's even going to read for everything!
A depiction of an idealized interest curve. Note how it starts with a bang, alternates/rises in the middle, and includes falling action at the end to provide closure.

That’s not to say that interest shouldn’t slowly increase over time. The base level of interest—that is to say, how far down the graph dips—should increase as a game progresses. If the graph dips down further at the end than it did at the beginning, then the game feels like it screeches to a halt, thus killing the player’s sense of progression (*cough* Triforce pieces *cough*). Finally, the story shouldn’t end on the climax, but instead include a gentle falling action to give the player a sense of closure—commonly known as the denouement (pronounced day-noo-Maw…it’s French). Without a denouement, a story’s ending feels abrupt and rushed.

If you’ve ever heard a reviewer talk about a game having a good “gameplay cycle”, he or she is referring to this concept—most likely without even realizing it!

So what’s all this have to do with Breath of the Wild? Well, my primary issue is its interest curve looks something like this:

It's amazing how useful graphs are for describing fun!
NOTE: The time between dungeons has been greatly compressed for the sake of legibility. Just increase them by a factor of five or six and you should be good.

Oh gosh, this is a mess…After a great introduction, everything just sort of flatlines. Now to be fair, this is based on my personal experience with the game, but even when the order of events are swapped around, I think this pattern basically holds true. The game’s overall arc seems to just maintain a complacent constant; there’s very little escalation, evolution, or extrapolation of the ideas the game presents. This ultimately leads to the game feeling repetitive.

The game’s overall arc seems to just maintain a complacent constant…

So what happened? What are some ways that Breath of the Wild hamstrings its overarching interest curve? What could they have done better? Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Main Quests

The easiest way to create a good cycle of engagement is to carefully craft a brilliant narrative and guide the player through it in a thoughtfully paced linear sequence…the whole point of Breath of the Wild is to not do that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. My favorite Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: a Link Between Worlds, was at the time of its release notable for being very open-ended. And that game had me hooked the whole time! So clearly, a carefully guided plot isn’t necessary.

That said, there are some notable differences between the the overarching structure of BotW and ALBW. For starters, A Link Between Worlds keeps the series’s usual two-part structure: in this particular instance the first half taking place in the light world, then after a plot twist the second half takes place in the dark world. This means that while the story doesn’t advance much throughout the halves of A Link Between Worlds individually, the events that link both halves of the game still give it the opportunity to raise the stakes of the game’s narrative thus raising the interest curve’s baseline mid-game. This compromise allows the player to pick how he wants to complete his adventure, while simultaneously ensuring the narrative escalates in a natural fashion.

Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, doesn’t follow this two-act structure. Instead, it features a main quest primarily consisting of two parts: awakening the Divine Beasts and the search for Link’s lost memories. Let’s start with the Divine Beasts. The Divine Beast quest is fairly modular, what with each part technically being optional. This means each segment aims to have a similar level of challenge and importance to the overall plot, consequently flattening the interest curve. While A Link Between Worlds dungeons faced a similar issue, as stated before, having a discernible half-way point lets the game escalate the challenge and perceived stakes between the first half and the second making for a more engaging narrative, something Breath of the Wild‘s structure doesn’t.

Another trick A Link Between Worlds used to keep players from noticing the fairly steady baseline engagement throughout each act was the number of dungeons to complete. The concept of an interest curve is scalable, meaning it can apply to a level or chapter as well as a complete work. To this end, dungeons act as climaxes for the (for lack of a better term) chapters of the game they appear in. With several dungeons, the player is constantly experiencing the rising and falling action of finding a dungeon, completing the requirements to gain entry, and then clearing the dungeon and slaying its boss. So long as this cycle isn’t repeated too many times, this cycle sustains the player’s interest until he completes all of the dungeons and moves on to the next plot arc of the game. The problem is that the dungeons in Breath of the Wild are both short and very few and far between. This means that this part of the game is either over too quickly, or these local engagement highs are very spread out (as they were when I played the game).

The concept of an interest curve is scalable. To this end, dungeons act as climaxes for the chapters of the game they appear in.

Compounding with these issues are how the memory quest is presented. If the player follows the early quests in the manner the game suggests, he’ll quickly wind up with both the Divine Beast quest and the lost memory quest at the same time. They’re both very lengthy and the benefit of the latter is never really made clear (Spoiler: it changes the game’s ending and little else). This makes it hard for the player to prioritize which one to attempt first. I think the developers wanted players to search for memories intermittently (which is how I completed it), but this makes both quests feel very disjointed, unfocused, and the memory quest far less consequential to the overall experience. Honestly, I think the memory quest should’ve been saved until after the player completed all of the Divine Beast quests: by that point, the player would already be very familiar with Hyrule’s landmarks, making for a shorter quest that required the player to apply their knowledge, instead of one where they wander around looking for the N.P.C. that tells them where to look. It also would provide a makeshift second act, which would give the player a better sense of progression, pace, and momentum.

Anticlimax

Okay, on a macro scale, the game only manages to provide a complacent sense of pace, but the interest curve is a scalable model, right? So, how does it fair on a more granular level. Well…it is admittedly better moment to moment, but even then there are times where it outright shoots itself in the foot. Some of the moments of the game that should be exciting, epic, or climatic were memorable precisely because of how underwhelming they were when they play out.

Case in point, the Master Sword: in all prior Zelda games in which the “blade of evil’s bane” appears, getting the darn thing was a major plot point and consequently required some effort on the player’s part. As a result, it’s a big moment. In Breath of the Wild, the only real challenge is figuring out how to get to it. The game does provide some cutscenes upon discovering it and after obtaining it to try to hype it up, which is a good start, but the method in which the player does obtain it feels tacked on, like the quest was an afterthought.

For the record, I wasn't able to pull it when I first found it.
Cutscenes are no substitute for a good quest. If I didn’t have to work for it, I don’t feel like I’ve earned it.

Previously, the player had to collect some items that represented the three virtues of the Triforce—power, wisdom, and courage—to prove their worth, but in this game all they have to do get enough hearts to pull the sword out of its pedestal without dying (it drains hearts to attempt). For any player that is actively looking for shrines, that’s something that’s going to happen in normal gameplay regardless. This means the quest for the Master Sword could be over as soon as the player finds where it’s hidden. This makes the quest’s pacing lopsided and its conclusion anticlimactic, especially for players used to the way previous games devote large portions of their respective stories to acquiring the Master Sword. Instead of an epic moment of triumph that’s built up to, it’s something on the player’s laundry list to be checked back on periodically. “Am I strong enough? No? ‘Kay, see ya after another four shrines!”

To make matters worse, there are three shrines dedicated to said virtues hidden throughout Hyrule. Why didn’t the game include those in the quest to get the Master Sword? I’d guess it probably had something to do with time constraints, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to provide a memorable and unique quest to the player. How much cooler would it be to have to scour the land to find the shrines and overcome a unique trial for each shrine related to the its respective attribute? Now I know some of you are probably saying, “but it’s a callback to the first Zelda,” to which I say, “so?” If the callback is really that important, they simply could’ve just done both methods.

Speaking of weapons, weapon durability also brings with it problems. While I admit finding new types of weapons is exciting, finding weapons themselves gets boring, especially in the game’s second half. One of the exciting aspects of finding a new weapon or item in previous Zelda titles was the understanding that Link was now innately more powerful. He had a new ability that made him more capable in combat or exploration that opened up new possibilities for the rest of the game. Not so in Breath of the Wild. That excitement quickly fades as the player realizes that the shiny new weapon he found will eventually break. In essence, weapons are just temporary power-ups like mushrooms or fire-flowers in Mario. Consequentially, players ultimately have less attachment to—and thereby less investment in—weapons than they would if weapons didn’t degrade.

In essence, weapons are just temporary power-ups like mushrooms or fire-flowers in Mario.

As a point of comparison, let’s examine clothing. Unlike weapons, clothing doesn’t break. This immediately makes clothing a more interesting item as it stays with the player as long a he wishes to keep it in his inventory. More over, it can be upgraded. This adds an element of mystery and intrigue to clothing as certain items gain additional bonuses when upgraded to a certain point. As a result, receiving clothing is exciting and immediately gets the player invested.

Now, I understand why the developers made weapons break. As several critics and apologists have already pointed out, having weapons be fragile forces the player to experiment with different weapon types and thus learn to be versatile in his fighting style. Again, I think a compromise would be fairly easy. Simply let the player find (after much effort) weapons that don’t break. Unlike other weapons, however, they would start off weak and need to be upgraded to be viable against the game’s stronger opponents. Even then these unbreakable weapons would only be upgradable to the point of straddling medium and upper tier, meaning if the player wanted to deal serious damage or utilize special effects (like elemental damage) he would have to stick to breakable weapons. See, that would at least make some of the weapons worth a darn!

I’d like to end this section with the ending. Don’t worry, I’m not going into specifics…because I don’t have to! If you’ve ever beaten a Zelda game before, I don’t think I can spoil this ending. It hits all of the beats, except—unlike other Zelda titles—it adds almost nothing of its own to the mix, making it feel more like the skeletal framework of a standard Zelda ending. It’s lackluster, boring, and predictable. It’s a real shame too, because pacing issues aside, this is otherwise one of the best written Zelda titles to date.

If you’ve ever beaten a Zelda game before, I don’t think I can spoil this ending.

Variety

Yet another way to keep the player engaged is to provide variety. As stated before, humans get acclimated to stimulus very quickly, so anything monotonous quickly loses people’s interest. To this end, Breath of the Wild features a huge world full of varied environments and unique landmarks…but then completely gives up when it comes enemies and shrines.

Three of the game’s main enemy types—bokoblins, moblins, and lizalfos—are basically all just variations of the same template. Moreover, each region just reuses variations from the same small pool of enemy types. While combat isn’t the main draw of the game, the fact that a hoard of monsters on one corner of the map looks and acts almost identical to a hoard of monsters on the complete opposite side of the world-space makes engagements incredibly boring and repetitive. Heck, even all of the dungeon bosses are basically palette swaps of each other! What makes this especially strange is that there is a lot of variety from region to region when it comes to flora and fauna. What gives, Nintendo? You clearly were able to populate each region with unique creatures. Why not extend that creativity to the enemy design?

Then there’s the shrines: they all look and SOUND THE SAME! *Ahem* Excuse me. If you’re an O.C.P.D. completion-nut like yours truly, you will get sick of the foggy blue corridors and slow, ponderous music of the shrines. If you complete all the shrines, you will have heard that stupid shrine theme at least 120 times! That’s not to say there isn’t variety in the puzzles; oh no, the shrine puzzles are great. But would it kill them to come up with more than one shrine aesthetic? Maybe have puzzle shrines and combat shrines differentiated by their visual and audio design. Or perhaps have the shrines’ interiors vary from region to region, showing that even though they were all built by the Sheikah, each regions’ sense of aesthetics subtly influenced the shrines’ construction (that’s just good world building).

Okay, you caught me. I just reused this screenshot from my last Breath of the Wild article.
Despite an excellent variety of puzzles, every shrine looks exactly the same.

The Consequences of Heroism

Now that I’ve ticked off all of the Zelda fanboys, undoubtedly invoking the wrath of their Yiga assassins, let me talk about something Breath of the Wild did right—at least part of the time. Something that I love seeing, especially in open-world games, is the game’s world responding to my actions. A while back, I praised the first Battalion Wars for making me feel like my actions had a direct impact on the game’s progression. This is a concept I like to call “letting the player happen to the world.”

In most games, the player is an entity that reacts to the game’s environments (i.e. “the world happening to the player”). This is fine for level-based action games, but in narrative-heavy adventures or open-world games, this tends to make the player’s actions feel inconsequential—like everything is basically just meaningless busy-work. While I still think Breath of the Wild has room for improvement in this regard, it does at least actively contextualize many of the player’s actions.

I want to happen to the world, not let the world happen to me.

First, there’s the Divine Beasts themselves. After clearing an area’s dungeon, not only does the disaster afflicting the area cease in typical Zelda fashion, but the Divine Beast become visible for miles around. Next is the fact that the items and enemies scale in proportion to how far the player is in the game. These both give the game a much needed sense of progression. That said, I wouldn’t say either is anything mind blowing. Because the effects of the Divine Beasts are almost entirely localized, finishing a dungeon only really effects the region it’s found in. It would be far more interesting to see characters start to wander around more and more as Link made Hyrule safer to travel. For instance, wouldn’t it be cool if a Rito merchant showed up in Hateno Village after finishing the Rito dungeon? If they threw in a line about him feeling more at ease traveling now that the Divine Beast was no longer rampaging, it would go a long way toward giving the player a sense that his actions actually matter.

A great example of what I’m talking about would be the Yiga Assassins. At one point in the Divine Beast quests, the player has to infiltrate the Yiga H.Q. Not only is this section a great set-piece on its own merits, but it triggers a change in the Yiga’s behavior. After defeating their master, Kohga (one of the best characters and certainly the best boss in the game), the Yiga assassins go from passively waiting for Link to stumble into ambushes to actively hunting him down in an attempt to get revenge. While I’m sure many players found the constant random ninja attacks annoying, the fact that a specific action I took had a logical effect on the way a certain class of foe behaved absolutely delighted me!

I miss him too... :'(
No wonder the Yiga want to avenge him: this guy was awesome.

A Game of Little Moments

To Breath of the Wild‘s credit, it does a much better job of creating and maintaining a healthy interest curve on a more granular level. Individual quests, shrines, and subplots are well structured when viewed on their own, leading me to my conclusion that Breath of the Wild is a game of little moments. Despite the grandeur advertised, the game’s best moments come in small packages: the little references, the ways it rewards out of the box thinking, the clever quest design, surprisingly mature writing, etc.

That said, it still fails to feel like it grows or evolves. From my experience, this is actually a pretty common issue with open-world games. While the individual components work well, they don’t come together in a cohesive fashion. That said, compared to the other (admittedly few) open-world games I’ve played, Breath of the Wild really is a cut above the rest. I don’t mean to convince anyone that this game isn’t good. Heck, I’ll say it just to be clear: go play it if you haven’t already. It’s worth your time. But I fear all of the critical praise and 10/10’s may gloss over the obvious (to me, at least) issues that need to be addressed in future games. As I see it, the series is standing on a precipice: from here it can either take off soaring or tumble into another rut.

TBC 001: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Two Button Crew’s debut podcast release is all about the Switch sensation, the Wii U wonder, the one, the only… Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! Join Scott, Simeon, Ryan, and Glen as they go in-depth on the game’s systems, storyline, gameplay, and DLC. Gear up for The Master Trials with our tips and unconventional methods! Receiving perfect 10s from around the industry, this is a game to remember! So take a deep breath, enjoy the moment, and come along for the ride as we embark on our podcasting journey.

Ready for more TBC Podcast? We are an ad-free show, and you can support us on Patreon: http://patreon.com/twobuttoncrew

Get Your Daily Nintendose of Fandom on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/TwoButtonCrew

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Why Doesn’t Nintendo Sell Soundtracks?

Nintendo turning down money? Hmmm…


#540 – Sometimes Nintendo will create a bundle or incentive for us fans to acquire the rare soundtrack CD, but why don’t they shift their business model and actually sell the music? Or offer it for streaming, because… who uses CDs these days, anyway? It seems like the Big N is behind the times in this regard, and it’s also odd that they aren’t utilizing their tracks as another stream of revenue. They pay a lot to orchestrate this stuff, why not offer them as products?
“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Debate: Mario Odyssey Vs. BotW in Sales

Best way to win a debate: Pick a side and give your opponent the other one to argue for.


It’s amazing how many heavy-hitters the Nintendo Switch is getting in its first year. Some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises are being represented with all new entries featuring innovation and a high level of polish. That said, which game deserves the #1 sales spot when all is said and done? Will Breath of the Wild maintain its momentum from launch and stay king of the hill, or will Super Mario Odyssey become a runaway hit this holiday and dethrone the competition? We want your thoughts – vote in the poll by clicking the “i” icon!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

E3 2017 Reaction Blow-Out!

This is an E3 to remember!


#530 – Nintendo just had one of their best E3s ever, and it’s not even over yet. In the span of 25 minutes, they managed to blow the socks off most of their hardcore fans. They really pulled out some big guns this year! Simeon and Scott are here with their fresh impressions of Nintendo’s newest announcements, discussing their failed predictions, and talking over what excited and surprised them the most. Join in the E3 hype in the comments!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

E3 2017 Bingo Predictions!

How long do we have to keep being right in order for us to become paid industry analysts that make snarky remakrs for a living?


#528 – Each year, before the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Simeon and Scott take a stab at a swath of predictions! Nintendo will be streaming some bombshell announcements during their press conference / Nintendo Direct, and we’ve created a bingo board to keep track of our correct predictions! Can we score 5 in a row? Middle space is free!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

If I Could Change One Thing…

We are not responsible for any first kisses that happen as a result of this episode.


#524 – If you were given the power to change one thing about a Nintendo console, which one would you pick and what would you change? Simeon and Scott are faced with many similar tough choices today – watch to see what they would decide! Comment below what you would change. Footage Credit: Super Smash Bros. Wii U Tripping – Master0fHyrule | Metroid Prime 3 Corruption SD vs HD – thepixelpress

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/