Wednesday, 30 November 2011

REVIEW: Professor Layton and the Lost Future

Professor Layton and the Lost Future
[DS] [Level-5] [2010]
For a series that revolves around solving ridiculously clever puzzles throughout numerous bafflingly genius adventures, the history of Professor Layton is a rather strange case in itself. In February 2007, the original Japanese version of what us here in the UK know as Professor Layton and the Curious Village was first stocked up on store shelves. The quirky little puzzle game received much critical acclaim, and went on to see an English release in the US just about a whole year later. Back then, it was positively baffling as to why Nintendo, the rather known folks who published Level-5's series at the time and continue to do so now, never decided to release the first game in Europe. After all, the excellent title revolved around a British character, Professor Hershel Layton (who would've guessed?) and his young cockney apprentice Luke Triton, yet this adventure still failed to see release in the UK because quite frankly, quirky Japanese games like this one never really sell that much over here. At least, that's what Nintendo thought at the time. It was a risk worth taking, then, when the big N decided to release Professor Layton and the Curious Village here in the UK and the rest of Europe over a year and a half after the game was originally played by foreign Japanese super-humans. Curious Village sold by the bucketloads, mainly thanks to Nintendo of Europe's clever advertising campaign which pushed the game as a title that adults could enjoy, regardless of their gaming experience. Every subsequent year following the amazingly successful release of the first Professor Layton game in Europe, a translated version of the already-available-in-Japan-a-year-earlier Layton title would see another critically acclaimed launch, and it's all thanks to the decision to unleash the top-hatted Professor's first case over here.

Here we are then, three years after Professor Layton and the Curious Village entered our DS systems in the form of a PAL release. The fourth Professor Layton title, titled The Last Specter over here, has just seen another critically acclaimed release. The first in a prequel trilogy to the original three games, the next Layton title looks just as ace as the original three games, and I can't wait to get my hands on it, most probably on Christmas day. Enough about the now though, and back into the past. Or rather, since the third title in the acclaimed series is based around jumping ten whole years into a future version of London, let's head back to the future. The Lost Future, to be exact. Today I'll be reviewing what at this moment in time is without a doubt my second favourite handheld game ever, topped only by the legendary The World Ends with You. The gripping conclusion to the original trilogy is not only without a speck of denial the best Layton game of the first three, but it's also one of the most well-written adventures to date.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the first two games in the puzzling series, but the title following those games properly chased them out of their puzzle-infested waters like some kind of conundrum solving genius... in a top hat. A noteworthy upper-hand that Lost Future has over Curious Village and the slightly disappointing Pandora's Box, is the greatly increased amount of content to be found in the game, which can only be described by how much more time you'll invest into the game without getting bored in comparison to the first two. It took me 15 hours to reach the end credits of the original trilogy's conclusion, almost triple the amount of time it took me to 100% finish the first and second games respectively. And I won't forget to mention that, even after I conquered Lost Future's main plot I still had another two or three hours worth of extra content to get my brain running with, which is pretty spectacular if you compare and contrast with the first two titles. Even when I did some kind of speed-run of the third game for this review, it still took me twice as long as it did to finish the first two games without rushing through them. I wouldn't go on about the length of any game this much unless the game in question is The Lost Future as, while 18 hours is only really a decent amount of time to reach most games' end credits, it's such an improvement over its predecessors. However, I'm not saying anyone should start at the third Layton title completely ignoring its rather short following completely, as the Layton saga is very much as focused on plot as it is puzzle solving. Speaking of which, The Lost Future happens to showcase the most well-written, most enjoyable and drastically importantly, the most emotionally impacting plot of any of the games in the series leading up to the fourth game which of course, I'm yet to play.

The plot of The Lost Future is one I certainly won't spoil, but will at least touch upon due to the fact that this is my first review of a Layton game and you as a reader might not actually be familiar with the Professor and his short, timid cockney apprentice. The two protagonists of each game in the original trilogy take the form of Professor Hershel Layton and Luke Triton, self-employed freelance investigators who tend to have a knack for solving the most baffling of cases that many, including the players themselves, won't be able to completely wrap their heads around. In Curious Village the gentlemanly duo were tasked with solving an inheritance dispute in, you guessed it, a rather curious village, although not all was as it seemed. In the sequel, Pandora's Box, a mysterious box said to lead to the murder of whoever was to open it was the main focus in the plot which also tied in with various other things, although again, not all was as it seemed. Having played through the first two titles, I knew the plot of The Lost Future wouldn't be quite as it seemed, but the story of the third game is so well-written and gripping that I was just as confused as I was when trying to wrap my head around its predecessors, in a good way that is. Without spoiling anything past the half an hour of this 15 hour investigation, Layton and Luke set the scene of Lost Future by pondering a letter that they have supposedly received from a future version of London. As if this wasn't ridiculous enough, the letter's sender is stated to be a slightly more elderly version of Luke. The letter itself concerns the future Luke's homeland, still London, but a London that has been thrown into utter chaos regardless. Any true gentleman and his apprentice would normally ignore something like this, but when reminiscing about time-travel related events that took place a week earlier, the duo set out to a clock shop where the letter from the future Luke wishes them to travel in order to receive 'further directions'. What happens from there onwards is something you as a player should experience yourself, to be perfectly honest. Let's just say that you'll need a handkerchief ready for one of the most tear-jerking ending sequences in video game history.

While the majority of each Professor Layton game's story is told through dialogue sequences (many of which in the third title are voiced) you'll often be treated to some truly excellent animated cutscenes. These video segments use an art-style that feels like a brilliant fusion of the artistic movements of Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki, the same guy who brought us Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle among many other Studio Ghibli-produced gems, and Sylvain Chomet, French director of Belleville Rendezvous and more recently The Illusionist. This art style fits the Layton games perfectly, and makes for an excellent way to present the fully animated and fully voiced cutscenes, by which there are more than ever before in Professor Layton and the Lost Future which is definitely pleasing as the amount of animated sequences in the first two titles was slightly lacking. Again, this is another aspect regarding a larger amount of content that places the third Professor Layton game high above its two predecessors.

The gameplay of the Professor Layton games took 'interactive novels' a giant leap further when Curious Village was first released, and what you'll be doing yourself in Professor Layton and the Lost Future actually hasn't changed very much since the series' elements were first unleashed upon the majority of DS owners. Most of the time when playing any of the series' first three titles you'll be using your head to solve some truly genius puzzles from the minds of Japanese puzzle masters, as they call them in the trade. While the prospect of these conundrums may sound a little bland, it really isn't. Ever since the first title in the series, the puzzles in Professor Layton games have packed just as much charm as the story segments, not to say both of the original trilogy's two main elements aren't intertwined in any way. A puzzle is quite clearly shoehorned into even the most ridiculous situations, and the 'this [insert object here] reminds me of a puzzle' gag is often used by the Professor in order to send the player off into a conundrum in relation to the object they just tapped.

There are a fair few puzzles that are required to progress through each Layton game's main plot, but there's even more optional ones to take part in than those that are actually compulsary. At some points however, the player is asked to solve a certain quantity of puzzles before they can move on so they do have to solve the optional ones, which is a much better way to move things along as the player has a choice over which puzzles to partake in. And trust me, you'll have a lot of trouble with some of these brainteasers. Luckily, that's where Hint Coins come into play. Throughout the point and click segments outside of puzzles, you'll find coins hidden in certain areas of the hand-drawn scenery just by giving their locations a tap with the stylus. If you're having difficulty getting a puzzle solved, you can buy up to four hints with the coins you've collected, ranging from the first hint not really helping you at all to the Super Hint, which basically tells you the solution straight up to the puzzle you're finding tricky. Your reward for solving puzzles other than in some cases to move on the story, come in the form of Picarats, a numerical value that acts as a sort of currency for unlockable after-game content. The more times you get a puzzle wrong, the less Picarats you earn, which is a clever way of ruling out the possibility of tapping every option available to the player, or in other words cheating. You can unlock each bit of bonus content with the minimum amount of Picarats, but then you'd have to solve every puzzle in the game. All in all the puzzle system in every Professor Layton game to date has worked, and while The Lost Future isn't at all a revolutionary take on the standard fare for these games, it really doesn't have to be. Unfortunately, the third game's only real striking flaw is in some of the puzzles. Quite frankly, the first thirty or so are an absolute breeze to get through which can't be said about the first two games. This is due to the fact that, since Layton 3 was already in development by the time it was decided that the first Layton game was to be released in Europe, an amount of puzzles that simply wouldn't translate from Japanese to English had to be replaced with easier tasks. After playing through the first two games, these easier puzzles felt like a bit of a slog to get through in all honesty.

Let's not end on a slightly down note, though. Professor Layton and the Lost Future is not only the best game in the acclaimed series thus far, it's also some of the most fun you can have on a certain handheld with two screens. It's a massive improvement over the first two games, not to say you shouldn't play through Curious Village and Pandora's Box beforehand (and trust me, you'll need to for certain story elements to make a genuine impact in the third title). It has more animated cutscenes than ever before, a much better written story than its predecessors and more brain bending puzzles to get your teeth into, despite the fact that the first 30 or so won't take quite as much thought processing to solve this time around. As the great Professor Layton himself has stated time and time again, "Every puzzle has an answer," and if you were to ask me if you should buy this game, then here's your answer: Definitely, at least unless you're genuinely not into these sort of games. And that's another puzzle solved...


Saturday, 19 November 2011

First Impressions: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I must admit, the title of this post is pretty misleading. These are less first impressions, and more what I think of the twenty wonderful hours I've experienced of Skyward Sword so far. I'll let my main thoughts on how the new Zelda adventure ranks up against its predecessors right away; Quite simply, from what I've played at least, this is the best Legend of Zelda game of all time, and the closest a Nintendo game has ever come to perfection. And you can certainly trust me in saying that I wouldn't make these controversial statements often. Still, despite me being lead to believe from what I've played so far that this is the greatest Zelda adventure, it doesn't necessarily make it my personal favourite. Let me explain: In terms of what the game offers, it's absolutely incredible and pretty much flawless. I've come across practically no flaws thus far, the game harks back to its predecessors in countless ways and the plot is very well-thought out considering it's a prequel to the much-proclaimed best Zelda before Skyward Sword was released, namely Ocarina of Time. There's so much positive to say about the newest installment in Nintendo's legendary franchise that, if the game even had any flaws, it would blow them out of the water. It really is that amazing a game, and the last bit of actual story progression that I conquered was the third dungeon, meaning I'm not even halfway through this amazing experience yet.

What Nintendo has done with Skyward Sword over the past near-six years is pretty amazing. They've made a Zelda game that removes all the bad out of past adventures, borrows quirks from the majority of its predecessors and chucks in loads of new stuff in the process. It really does show that Skyward Sword has been Nintendo's most expensive project, a project they've been working on for just over half a decade. They've completely smashed the former polygonal Zelda formula and built a game that combines a perfect mix of familiarity and freshness that will please anyone who remotely enjoys anything like a past Legend of Zelda game. One might say I'm overshadowed with hype here, but I would completely deny this if anyone were to claim that I am overemphasizing things a little bit. Anyone who disagrees with my comments needs to play the game immediately. Without waffling on about how utterly awe-inspiring the game for too much longer, I'm going to talk about some of the things I've experienced in the title so far. Unless you want to know absolutely nothing about the game, I wouldn't consider a single word in the next two paragraphs to be spoiler-related at all, so no worries if you don't mind a small heap of text detailing quite possibly the biggest release of the year.

Quite possibly the aspect of Skyward Sword that deserves the majority of my praise is the fact that they've made everything outside of the main storyline properly fun now. The newest Zelda title is packed with loads of extra content, ranging from different sized side-quests to a bunch of extremely fun mini games that had me playing for hours simply because they were so fun. Practically nothing is a slog, even the slightly tedious 'travelling across a field' sections have been blown away by the system of exploration in Skyloft, the sky-bound land that acts as some form of hub in the game. You'll explore the land above the clouds, coming across small Wind Waker-esque islands that sometimes hold valuable treasure, among other things. The main on-foot hub is located in the dead centre of this sea of clouds, a huge floating island that some might refer to as Skyloft's capital. There's a ton of stuff to do here, and simply wondering around to see what you can find in terms of new side-quests and secret locations and whatnot is a joy. As I progress more through the main story, I find myself spending more time in Skyloft than when I did before I made more story progression, as more and more of the world above opened up to me. In the event that I did want to continue the plot, that was extremely fun as always too. Most of the action takes place below the clouds, with three central locations on the land below to be accessed via three pillars of light that can easily be spotted when flying around Skyloft. How do you transfer from the sky to the surface, you ask? Well, you hop off your Loftwing (your mode of transport in Skyward Sword that I must add is the best way to travel yet in any Zelda game) and freefall downwards in the direction of one of these light pillars, of course. When you're exploring the surface, the areas outside of what would typically be considered a dungeon feel less like traversing around bland landscape and more like conquering more of the game and making more progression, which is a first for Zelda.

Outside of the gameplay aspects featured in Link's latest adventure, the storytelling is also brilliantly done through some amazingly well-animated cutscenes, which are made even better by the tremendous art style on show in this title. The visuals of the game combine the best of Wind Waker's charming cartoony designs and the focused realism of Twilight Princess to create an art style very much based around impressionist paintings. What's more is that Nintendo have used this visual flair to their advantage, with background details looking like actual parts of a painting. This not only looks superb, but it also helps maintain a sturdy, solid frame-rate within the Wii's technical limitations. Quite simply, this game is among the best-looking on Wii; In fact, scratch that, it IS the best looking game on Wii. I mentioned a few sentences ago that the cutscenes in Skyward Sword are particularly incredible, both in design and ambition. These sequences really do have to be seen to be believed, as they add an amount of charm many wouldn't have considered possible in the past, especially in one of the already charming Zelda games. Quite simply, this post has been nothing other than yours truly babbling on about why Skyward Sword is the best experience I've had on Nintendo's home console in its entire lifespan thus far, and I'm not even halfway through the game yet. If you don't have The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword already and you do own a Wii, buy it as soon as your pockets are packed with enough cash to do so.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Feature: My Top Five Personal Favourite Legend of Zelda Games

To celebrate twenty-five years of epic quests of legendary proportions, here's a look at my five favourite adventures from Nintendo's pinnacle franchise...

I've said time and time again in previous posts that The Legend of Zelda is a series of games that I can call, with not a speck of hesitation in my mind, my favourite video game franchise of all time, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. Ever since I first discovered the universe of this epic series in The Wind Waker, my first Zelda purchase to be followed by many others, I've kept it at the top of my list when it comes to gaming. This year clearly marks the 25th anniversary of Link's escapades through Hyrule and other magical locales, and Nintendo have thrown quite the celebration. The brilliant Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Orchestra did some musical hijinks in London and New York City recently to the amazement of fans of excellent compositions and hardcore lovers of the great series' superb music alike, with these persons reactions consisting of comments such as "The best night of my life" and "The whole room was truly transported into the Zelda universe" among other such positive feedback. These comments are definitely no understatement, as many gamers will most probably be aware that the Zelda soundtracks contain some of the most celebrated tunes of all time, and you could only better them by having them played by a huge symphonic orchestra, as demonstrated at the event. Some surprising faces even turned up alongside the orchestra to the shock of attendees. composer Koji Kondo and Nintendo Prez Eiji Aonuma allegedly dropped by alongside Zelda Williams, who apparently got a bit emotional when talking about her favourite games, and when it's a series of games such as The Legend of Zelda, it's perfectly okay to do so if you ask me.

However, as brilliant as the 80 minute set list of celebratory Zelda tunes seemed to be (nope, I didn't go) the one true celebration of 25 years of adventuring through Hyrule will be found in the form of the next instalment in the series. And if you don't know that the next instalment happens to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, then there's something going on in that brain of yours. The reviews are in, with the game scoring a whopping 98% from the relatively biased but still believable Official Nintendo Magazine, a perfect 10 from the usually critical publication many know as EDGE and another perfect one-oh from US magazine GameInformer, among many other stellar review scores (and a few hilariously poor ones that were clearly put up for a joke). If you're reading this post on the day it has been published, Skyward Sword will have been released and I'm most certainly playing it right now, unless Amazon have screwed up the delivery or something. At the time of writing I wouldn't know how I personally feel about the game, but Skyward Sword will most certainly be the next truly astonishing game in a truly brilliant series and a fitting celebration of 25 long years of excellence from what I would consider to be Nintendo's greatest franchise.

I'll also be celebrating this landmark year for gaming in the form of today's Feature, in which I'll be discussing my top five games from the Legend of Zelda series. Like a genius, I've named this post 'My Top Five Personal Favourite Legend of Zelda Games' just in case you didn't notice from the title above the paragraph following closely behind the paragraph following the one you're reading now. In this feature, I'll naturally be talking about my favourite titles from the long-running series out of the many I've played, but keep in mind that this list renders a number of games invalid. A Link to the Past, The Minish Cap, Link's Awakening and the Oracles games haven't actually found themselves in my grasp at the time of writing, but every other Zelda game has and this Feature is all about those games. Also, I must add that this post does contain some spoilers past this point. If you haven't finished a game from the series that isn't on this list, I advise that you don't read about it unless you couldn't care less about spoiling some story elements key to the single greatest franchise in gaming (in which case I pity you). Really, you don't want to spoil these amazing games and I wouldn't want you to either. Anyway, with that out of the way and without further celebratory rambling, let's begin this nostalgic journey with a rather unexpected entry...

5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
[Nintendo DS] [2008] [In a Word: Underrated]
In retrospect, the two Zelda titles that appeared on the DS during the system's run really weren't anywhere near as good as most other instalments in the series. By the time I played through Spirit Tracks, the series' second dual screen release, I knew for a fact that both that game and former release Phantom Hourglass really didn't have anything on the vast majority of other Zelda titles. So, with the fact that I've played well over 5 Legend of Zelda games in mind, why on Earth is Phantom Hourglass, a game that I would easily award a solid but not spectacular 80% to, peaking at my all important number 5 spot that every other game bar my top four have been fighting over to at least make an appearance on this list? Well, I'll tell you. The Wind Waker was my first Zelda game, followed by this handheld title which I received in conjunction with my amazing but now frustratingly broken Gold Zelda Edition DS Lite at a rather young age. Back then I didn't think it was as good as Wind Waker, which you'll find takes a higher position on this list, but it still gave me that warm, nostalgic feeling that few games outside the Zelda series can give you. Many fans decline to say they love Phantom Hourglass as much as the other, 'main', instalments in the series, yet I reckon it's enjoyable enough to warrant a purchase and, as I said, a solid review score. The game itself wasn't bad at all, in fact, it was one of the best games on the DS when it was released. Phantom Hourglass happened to introduce some of the most inventive uses of the touch screen, that so many other titles have desperately attempted to replicate since. The whole Phantom Hourglass experience was played without the use of any buttons - Everything was controlled through the unique features of the DS, from the touch screen to the microphone. Link's movement was carried out through dragging the stylus across the lower screen, as if it was an invisible analogue stick in that the further you pushed down the screen, the fast Link would sprint around the field. All of the items in this title were also given new life through touch controls, as they allowed you to send the trademark boomerang flying in any direction you want, and fire arrows like there's no tomorrow at a simple tap of the screen. What's more, the touch screen mechanic never, ever felt broken which is impressive as the player took control of pretty much everything through it.

As a Zelda story the game held up too, and was one tale told through some pretty brilliant visuals that were surprisingly crisp and very impressive considering Phantom Hourglass was on the DS. As per usual you took the role of Link, this time the same one we saw in The Wind Waker. Not too long after the events of its predecessor, the hero is found travelling once again with the pirate chums he befriended in the previous chronological game, as part of a simple life outside of saving the world and such (and trust me, the only thing Link needed after Wind Waker's epic quest was a good ol' rest) but before long, all Hell breaks loose at the arrival of a ghastly Ghost Ship on the pirates' ship's starboard. Naturally, Link's gal Tetra is kidnapped and taken aboard this huge house of ghosts, with the protagonist's attempt to save her ending in a fall downwards straight into the deep end of the great sea. Link wakes up in a mysterious land to find himself journeying on another epic quest to save the world, with next to no help from his lovable new found ship-owning sidekick, Linebeck, the old geezer that sparked that brilliant character design and remarkable charm found through the faces you see in most home console Zeldas... only this time on a supposedly inferior handheld adventure. With this stuff in mind, I find it difficult to deny that The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is nothing but another core Zelda experience that you can truly enjoy on the move, this time. It may not have been the first great handheld title in this superb series, but hey, it's still an ace one. Some very frustrating flaws aside, such as the annoyingly short length of the game (I clocked the ending at about 10 hours, which isn't too long considering the series' other titles) and that annoying repeated dungeon that everyone hated, myself partially included, Phantom Hourglass is a superb, nostalgic title in my honest opinion that is well worth this spot on my list. Next up, we'll be moving onto even more controversial ground...

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
[Nintendo 64, remade for 3DS] [1998/2011] [In a Word: Overrated]
Yes, that's right, the game that so many have given the ridiculous title of the single greatest game of all time... Isn't my favourite Zelda game, nor is it my favourite game altogether. I realise there's been a graphically enhanced remake of the game on Nintendo's latest handheld system, but Ocarina of Time hasn't really stood the test of time in my eyes. Feel free to say I'm crap at games (although I'll whup anyone at a good brawl in Tekken anytime, anywhere) but the amount of times I got stuck in Link's so-called greatest adventure due to the fact there was no incentive of where to go next was absolutely ridiculous when I first played Ocarina of Time a few years ago. So yeah, I'm not part of the popular opinion when it comes to the best Zelda game - And what many consider to be the best game of all time. It ain't even in my top three, as you know, peaking at number 4 in this list. But still, don't let this put you off at all - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest accomplishments in video game history, even more so than my preferred games of the same series that were basically inspired by Link's first ever 3D adventure on the Nintendo 64, and more recently the Hero of Time's first ever 3D adventure on 3DS (see what I did there?). Ocarina of Time is truly an outstanding achievement - It's the Nintendo 64's biggest and best game, just like Skyward Sword is set to be for Wii, and I would agree that at the time it was released it was one of the best games ever made if not the best.

So, what with me praising Ocarina of Time to such an incredible extent, why would I place it 2nd to last in this top five? Well, I'll tell you: the game simply didn't grip me as much as the other titles in the series. I'd already played through The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks before finally and belatedly hopping into the world of Ocarina, and I have a feeling that my experience with the newer and more refined titles brought my enjoyment of the original polygonal masterpiece down a bit, which is a massive shame. Still, I don't want this segment of the post to completely consist of negative notes - Ocarina of Time made it on this list for a reason. I don't have to tell anyone that this is one of the landmark achievements throughout video game historyOcarina, and I have a feeling that my experience with the newer and more refined titles brought my enjoyment of the original polygonal masterpiece down a bit, which is a massive shame. Still, I don't want this segment of the post to completely consist of negative notes - Ocarina of Time made it on this list for a reason. I don't have to tell anyone that this is one of the landmark achievements throughout video game history alongside the likes of Pong and the original Super Mario Bros., defining a genre much like these titles before it to the huge critical acclaim that Ocarina achieved. The game featured a huge quest spanning 50 hours of both fun (if a little clunky) adventuring and some great storytelling, detailing the adventure of a small Kokori boy who grows up to become the legendary Hero of Time, who is celebrated both in the game and in real life quite often. The time-travelling Ocarina that granted its user the ability to travel between a seven-year gap in Hyrule's history was a very interesting and innovative gameplayGanondorf's towering castle.

When it comes down to it, what can you really say about Ocarina of Time? It's the one game that defined Zelda titles for another 13 years following its release, and one that introduced a formula that has never changed too much until the series' next instalment finally hits. It may not be my favourite game out of personal taste, but if I had played it at the time (and with a developed enough brain to understand what was going on) I think Ocarina would've made it a bit higher on this list (although most probably not at the elusive number one spot) but if you ask me about my personal opinion, the game is a little bit overrated. I realise I called a masterpiece a few paragraphs ago, and it is worthy of that title, but really... Ocarina greatly improved on its predecessors just as the sequels improved on it, like a poor parent who tells their child of their past failings so that the child can improve on these errors and become a better person. Ridiculous analogies aside, I think I've perfectly placed Ocarina here at the number 4 spot, even though I know the majority of folks will disagree with me. In the end, there is a reason I stated this as my own personal list in the title of this feature. It's a truly amazing game that everyone who can needs to witness. Now, on to my next controversial pick...

3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
[Nintendo 64] [2000] [In a Word: Disturbtacular]
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is about as disturbing as it gets when it comes to games published by Nintendo, unless you count the frightfully odd spin-off DS title Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland (which shockingly didn't make an appearance on this list, for whatever reason). If you ask me, it's the whole vibe and oddity of Majora's Mask that grants it a shiny bronze medal for reaching the number 4 spot on my top 5 Zelda games. A direct sequel to Ocarina of time, this amazingly niche title is almost as loved as the much-proclaimed greatest game in the series, and in all honesty I actually prefer this game to its over-celebrated predecessor. While Majora didn't make anywhere near as much of an impact as Link's first 3D adventure, it was still a brilliant title that for me personally shines a dark, moody and frighteningly shocking light on the usual cheery vibe that is other Zelda titles, and it's one of the standouts in the series for being such a black sheep in my eyes. In Majora's Mask, Link, in his child form, finds himself travelling the lonely path of a lonely loner who walks down lonely roads after crawling away from the events of Ocarina of Time in which he saved both the world and time itself. When trotting through a mysterious forest on steed Epona, The Skull Kid, a minor character who made an appearance in Ocarina is found sporting the devilish Mask of Majora, which possesses the ability to transform its wearer into an insane psychopath. Alongside his two fairy pals, the Skull Kid turns our lonely protagonist traveller into a Deku Scrub, one of the enemies you previously fought in past Zelda games, as a filthy prank. Let me rephrase that and allow you to sink in the majesty of this moment, a minor character who appears in Ocarina of Time transforms the Hero of Time himself into a Deku Scrub. Just five minutes into Majora's Mask, I was already slightly baffled. But baffled in a good way, nevertheless.

After the Skull Kid plays his ridiculous prank on Link and precedes to MURDER Epona, the hero finds himself in Termina, a parallel universe of sorts to Ocarina of Time's Hyrule. Castle Town is now Clock Town, an established city that, in three days time, is going to be destroyed alongise the rest of all existence by an extremely disturbing moon, which is possessed by Majora's Mask just like the psychopath Skull Kid. This tyrannous moon is set to coincide with the planet's atmosphere and kill everyone after 72 hours of game time, which is about an hour in real life. Oh, and did I mention this moon has a properly weird, smug grin on its face? Did I mention the moon in Majora even has a face? Weird stuff, for sure. And so, Link is found attempting to save Termina, the city that sounds like the creation of someone with a terminal illness, from the moon itself. And honestly, 72 hours, at least in the game's time stream, is clearly not enough time to do so. Not to mention the fact that you not only have to save the world,  Inevitably you realise that, as the Hero of Time, you can travel through time with your precious Ocarina and end up going back three days a large number of times before finally fixing everything and witnessing the end credits. It's sort of like a disturbing version of Groundhog Day set in the Zelda universe. 

The celebrated quote, "I... I shall consume. Consume... consume everything..." perfectly sums up the dark atmosphere of this dark, dark game, and it's the dark vibe of Majora's Mask that for me personally puts it above the vast majority of other instalments in the Zelda series. It's one of the creepiest games Nintendo have ever created, not only because of its dark and poetic vibes, but also because it's a perfect parallel to Ocarina of Time. Minor characters from Link's first Nintendo 64 appearence shine as main stars here, from the aforementioned Majora-possessed Skull Kid to the weirdo that is the Happy Mask Salesman, who is just as psychotic as the game's main antagonist. Majora's Mask isn't an epic quest, it's a dark experience that strays the furthest away from the standard Zelda formula and in turn provides the player with a dark adventure that might just be succeeded in completing for nothing but a lost cause... Oh, before I finish this segment of the feature, I'd like to muscle in the fact that I don't prefer Majora's Mask to Ocarina of Time, or vice-versa. No, I love both of Link's Nintendo 64 equally, and I really couldn't put one above the other if you asked me to. I just felt that the underrated title should take position above the one I consider to be pretty overrated, which is why Majora's Mask takes pride of place as my third favourite Zelda game, even though I find Ocarina just as awesome a title as this one. The day Nintendo decide to make another adventure starring the same Link from Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask is the day I decide I'm going to die happy. And now, on to our next game. This title was the first Nintendo game I own, and the title that practically defined games for yours truly. The penultimate Zelda title; The game that made me a gamer; One of the greatest games of all time - It can't be anything other than...

2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
[GameCube] [2003] [In a Word: Beautiful]
While I wouldn't say it's the game that made my childhood, that would be The Legend of Dragoon on PS1, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the one game that defined my interest in all things Nintendo. It was my first ever Zelda game which I bought for the first ever Nintendo console I owned, and I still ponder to this day what my view of videogames would be like today if it weren't for this title. The Wind Waker was absolutely incredible when it came to both gameplay and visuals. The cel-shaded approach Nintendo went for may have seemed controversial when this title was first unveiled over a decade ago, but it definitely payed off and is one of the sole reasons that Wind Waker often ends up pretty high on most best Zelda game lists, and best game ever lists for that matter. It wasn't all about the beautiful visual approach Nintendo took with this title that truly defined it as one of the best Zelda games, however, the story was absolutely wonderous too. It followed on, although not directly, from the Hero of Time's larks in both Ocarina and Majora's Mask, this time following the adventure of a different Link. Hyrule has been washed away by a great sea which happens to be filled with a number of islands, one of which holds refuge to a surprisingly unlikely hero, who happens to be celebrating his birthday on the day Wind Waker's epic tale begins. After various escapades and hijinks, Link sets out on an epic quest alongside a crew of pirates lead by the awesome Tetra, who turns out, rather unexpectedly, to be a very familiar face later on. The very young Link's incentive to set out on this journey is due to his little sister Aryll's kidnapping by the ruler of the deadly Forsaken Fortress, the first of many dungeons you visit throughout Wind Waker's epic quest. Who exactly is the ruler of this castle of doom? Well, let's just say it's an evil man we're all familiar with...

The beautiful art and great script isn't the only thing that defines Wind Waker as the second best Zelda in my opinion. The gameplay itself was the same tried and tested formula from Ocarina of Time that, at the time wasn't getting old so it wasn't as big a deal as it would've been if a new instalment didn't revolutionise it. Overworld, dungeon, overworld, dungeon and the occasional side-quest or set-piece basically built up the structure of Wind Waker, and while this may seem a little dull (like I said, it probably would be if the game had been released in this era of fancy new games) it's brought to life by an amazingly creative assortment of characters. Aryll, Link's little sister, is likeable enough for you to have incentive as a player to go and rescue her from the clutches of evil, and the pirates who join you are all quirky and packed with personality traits. The Legend of Zelda has always had likeable characters, but the Twin Peaks-inspired personalities of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask didn't come close to the folks you'll meet in this game. The expansive Great Sea is packed with islands that can be reached on The King of Red Lions, a ship that literally co-operates with Link on his quest by talking to him. The first time I witnessed the scene where the boat turned its 'mane' around and sprawled out dialogue, I must've burst out laughing. Dated hilarity aside, this guy was also a very likeableoccasional side-quest or set-piece basically built up the structure of Wind Waker, and while this may seem a little dull (like I said, it probably would be if the game had been released in this era of fancy new games) it's brought to life by an amazingly creative assortment of characters. Aryll, Link's little sister, is likeable enough for you to have incentive as a player to go and rescue her from the clutches of evil, and the pirates who join you are all quirky and packed with personality traits. The Legend of Zelda has always had likeable characters, but the Twin Peaks-inspired personalities of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask didn't come close to the folks you'll meet in this game. The expansive Great Sea is packed with islands that can be reached on The King of Red Lions, a ship that literally co-operates with Link on his quest by talking to him. The first time I witnessed the scene where the boat turned its 'mane' around and sprawled out dialogue, I must have burst out laughing. Dated hilarity aside, this guy was also a very likeable companion, much more so than Ocarina's annoying Navi. All these folks and more helped make Wind Waker a much less dull experience than it could've been thanks to the tried and tested gameplay formula that the series has finally moved away from with Skyward Sword. This game is worth playing just to experience the personalities of the varying cast, the absolutely wonderful visuals, the superb setting and one of the best scripts in Zelda history, if not the best yet. Sure, the game was immensely let down towards the end by an extremely annoying fetch quest and it certainly isn't the longest Zelda game you can play, but nevertheless it was pure brilliance in its own right.

Going back to play the Wind Waker for this feature was an insanely nostalgic and truly magical trip of soaring proportions. I haven't touched the game in years, and seeing the game's wondrous cel-shaded visuals and witnessing the story unfold once more was mesmerising to say the least. The music in particular was extremely nostalgic, and to this day I happily state that The Wind Waker has the very best Zelda soundtrack to this day, which is a mean feat considering its competition. Naturally Koji Kondo handled the music, and quite frankly the soundtrack of this game ranks up as some of his best work. It's safe to say by now that I absolutely adore this game, and that it's well worth the second best position on the pantheon of Zelda titles in my opinion. If you've not played The Wind Waker yet, I recommend you purchase it as soon as possible if you want to experience one of the finest games ever released. If you have played it but, like myself, haven't touched it for a while then do so for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. So, at that, we're left with one final question that will be answered shortly; What exactly is my number one Legend of Zelda game? I've already included Wind Waker, Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time, the more obvious choices for the top spot on this list, so what could possibly be the pinnacle Zelda game in my personal opinion? It couldn't be... that instalment, could it? Read on and find out...