Rise of the Tomb Raider: Transformation

The Lara I have followed in Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the Lara I knew in Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 series reboot.

This is not a criticism; it’s representative of the path Lara has followed after her transformation on the lost island Yamatai. The Tomb Raider reboot’s first act focuses on Lara’s struggles when she is marooned on Yamatai, piecing together tools to survive while fending off hostile wildlife and a cult of deranged men. Her first kill of a wild animal is hesitant, her pained “Sorry . . .” to the fallen deer, a soothing hand on its flank while it takes its last breath, makes it clear she is doing this only out of a necessity. Her first human kill, made in self defense, is mournful, Lara’s anguish captured in tear-bathed flames as she laments the price paid for her own life. The impact of these moments are compromised by the ensuing videogame: Dozens more deer and hundreds more men will be slaughtered in the name of “survival” (item crafting) and “self defense” (plot-moving set pieces), these videogame mechanics growing fat on the narrative’s gravitas like a parasite. By the climax, when Reboot Lara is dual-wielding bottomless pistols like Classic Lara of old, the naïve college student I observe in the first act is dead, reborn as a bloodthirsty videogame badass.

Continue reading

Dragon Quest Builders: Structure

I’ve never played Minecraft.

Partly this is due to not wanting to support Notch, reprehensible person that he is, and though he would no longer reap any profit from my purchase, I can’t extricate his presence from the context whenever it is brought up. The well has been poisoned by his presence. But mostly Minecraft is not the type of videogame that holds my attention. I need structure; I am incapable of committing to my own goals. When dropped into a sandbox and told to make my own fun, I fall into that old paradigm:

“When given the opportunity to do anything, I tend to do nothing.”

So it was with trepidatious curiosity that I entered Dragon Quest Builders, by all accounts a shameless ripoff of Minecraft with a Dragon Quest aesthetic and injected with the structure I require to guide myself through a videogame.

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Linebeck

It feels like the Zelda titles of the mid-00s focused on pairing Link with a strong supporting character. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask had the fairy companions Navi and Tatl, but they developed a reputation as being mouthpieces for each videogame’s instructive systems than actual characters who have an impact on the plot. But The Minish Cap introduced Ezlo, a cranky older character who guided Link, not revealing his true motivations until late in the plot; Twilight Princess introduces Midna, a mischievous and devious character who develops a strong bond with Link through adversity; Spirit Tracks pairs Link up with the Princess Zelda herself, giving players the longest and deepest look at her character in the entire series. And The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass has Linebeck, a greedy scoundrel who offers Link reluctant transport on his steamship.

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: The Temple of the Ocean King

There are many controversial parts of the Zelda series—Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics, Skyward Sword‘s motion controls, the sidescrolling deviations of The Adventure of Link, the mere existence of the CDi titles—but one addition that seems to be a universal agreement: Few like, and fewer are willing to defend, the Temple of the Ocean King in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I do not count myself among their number, but do I count myself among those willing to defend it? I’m not so sure of that either.

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Gongoron

As I guide Link into the eastern ocean in search of the Pure Metals that can forge the Phantom Blade, he arrives on Goron Island and meets the petulant Gongoron. The son of the local chief, Link must work with this young Goron to retrieve the first Pure Metal, Crimsonine, in the depths of the Goron Temple. It’s a unique moment in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, one which is not repeated anywhere else, making it seem all the more special and unusual.

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Oceans

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel to the earlier The Wind Waker, and it shows. In a broad sense, both are about traditional Zelda exploration on smaller islands, navigated between by boat in a broader ocean environment. As a DS game, Phantom Hourglass makes compromises over what The Wind Waker is capable of on the more powerful Gamecube hardware, but still manages to stand out in its own unique, and surprising ways.

Continue reading

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Dual Screen Bosses

The DS and the 3DS are strange artifacts. With a single digital world occupying two screens simultaneously, new possibilities are created for interaction between player and videogame, providing new and unusual possibilities for perspective and understanding the world. But most of the DS and 3DS games I have played do not attempt to take advantage of these possibilities, instead delegating one or the other screen to maps or statistics, information which is hidden behind a button press on other hardware. It’s a typical story of software development on a Nintendo console: Nobody quite captures what the hardware is capable of like Nintendo, for whatever reason. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is by no means a standout example of what the DS is capable of, but it does use its second screen in intermittently creative ways. This stands out most especially in the boss battles.

Continue reading