The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (Game Boy Color) review
"Nintendo have had several best-selling franchises since the NES days. The most recognisable is almost certainly Pokèmon or Mario, but in terms of pure gaming genius, Zelda must surely top most people's list. For those not in the know, the Zelda series of adventure games was born on the humble NES, way back in the 1980s (remember them? No? Okay, now I feel old). The very first Legend Of Zelda was quickly followed by The Adventure Of Link, before the series flew it's NES coop. Since then it's appe..."
Nintendo have had several best-selling franchises since the NES days. The most recognisable is almost certainly Pokèmon or Mario, but in terms of pure gaming genius, Zelda must surely top most people's list. For those not in the know, the Zelda series of adventure games was born on the humble NES, way back in the 1980s (remember them? No? Okay, now I feel old). The very first Legend Of Zelda was quickly followed by The Adventure Of Link, before the series flew it's NES coop. Since then it's appeared on the SNES, the N64, and on the original Game Boy (resulting in what is probably my favourite game of all time). And now it's the Game Boy Color's turn. With the arrival of the Game Boy Advance, the GBC is nearing the end of it's life. But rather than let the once proud cream of the handheld crop fade away in a sea of games featuring Nickelodeon's 'finest', Nintendo decided to see the GBC off in style, releasing not one, but two Zelda games for the system. Thanks, Ninty.
Well, saying that there are two games is a bit misleading. There are two separate games, yes, but put them together and they make something bigger (in a manner not dissimilar to when those mini-Transformer characters turned into one big, ass-kicking metal behemoth). Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are two independent adventures, and one can happily be played without the other, but at the end of one, you are able to carry on your quest into the next game, to fully get the big picture. The games can be played in either order, making for truckloads of replay value. As fantastic as this is, though, many people may not be able to afford two Zelda games in one go, so this review will focus solely on Oracle of Ages as a standalone game.
Oracle of Ages starts with Link (the elfish hero of the series) rescuing Impa, Princess Zelda's nurse, from monsters. Rather than being grateful, Impa asks Link to move a large boulder that is blocking her path to see singer Nayru. This Link does, only to find out that Impa is possessed by the evil Veran. Nayru is really the mystical Oracle Of Ages, and with the boulder removed, Veran possesses and flees into the past, hoping to create a new age of darkness. Link can't help but feel a little responsible for this mess, it being his fault and all, so clutching his trusty sword, he sets out to travel back in time and stop Veran's dastardly scheme, rescue Nayru, and generally be the hero. But this is a rather large task, and one that Link may not be able to do alone. Luckily help is at hand, in the form of a large talking tree.
Link's leafy friend is suffering, though. The essences of time have been scattered across eight dungeons, and Tree-girl won't be able to help Link unless they are collected. Cue classic Zelda style action, then. For those of you who have never played a Zelda game before (and if that applies to YOU then stop reading this and go play one, now), the basic concept is simple. You control Link as, viewed from an overhead perspective, he wanders around the world, talking to people, fighting monsters, and exploring dungeons. While there is a distinct set of levels (the dungeons), the game is not split into levels as such - it's much more free roaming - a great deal of the game takes place between the levels. And, I'm pleased to report, Ages sticks to this formula very closely. One thing that will stand out to Zelda vets, though, is that Ages focuses much more on the puzzle elements of the franchise, as opposed to the action elements. That isn't to say that there isn't any action in the game, because there's plenty, but the balance is tipped more towards those that think with their head than toward those that think with their sword. While this is balanced out by the fact that Oracle of Seasons is more action based than puzzle based, as a standalone game, Ages may not appeal too much to the hack-and-slashery buffs out there. Still, those of you who think that you can handle having to, well, think, will find plenty to enjoy here. The exploration and fighting are always a pure joy to undertake, and as you wander the world map killing monsters or chatting to locals about nothing in particular, don't be surprised if you find that hours have passed - this game sucks you in with it's superb and addictive gameplay, and it won't let you out until you've seen it through and rescued Nayru. The puzzles are also superbly crafted - some are difficult enough to leave you scratching your head for a while, but none are hard enough to get you smashing the tiny GBC screen in frustration. The only parts of the game that might lead to Game-rage are the boss fights. While none of the fights are hard when you know what you're doing, working out what you're supposed to do can take quite a few tries, and if you have acres of dungeon to traverse to get back to the boss after each failed attempt it can all get a bit wearisome. Still, the satisfaction you get from seeing the boss finally get what it deserves is enormous, and makes every failed attempt, every second of the frustrating backtracking utterly worthwhile. The only real oddity about the boss fights is that they seem to get easier after the second boss (up until the final battle of course). The odd thing is that the second boss was far harder than any of the others in Link's Awakening, too. If this was a deliberate trend on Nintendo's part, then it is certainly a bizarre one, and if it is coincidence, then it's a considerable one. Maybe it's just that after playing Link's Awakening, I've developed a psychological problem with second bosses....?
Although at the start of the game Link is limited to just having a sword and shield, he quickly adds to his move list by gaining several other items that allow him an impressively diverse repertoire. The Roc's Feather allows Link to jump, the Power Bracelet allows Link to lift heavy objects, the Shovel to dig, the flippers to swim, and the Rod to create blocks. In addition, many of the trees across the land grow seeds, which have many different effects - some act as warp points, sending you across the map in an instant, some burn enemies while others attract them, and some allow Link to travel at a much greater speed. At first you can only use these seeds in the area immediately surrounding you, but before too long you'll pick up a seed shooter that allows you, with a little luck and judgement, to send your seeds anywhere on the screen. While all these different abilities may make it sound as if Ages is a real pig to control, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Two items can be used at one time - one is assigned to the A button, one is assigned to the B button. Almost painfully simplistic, this system works astonishingly well.
This game also boasts some impressive mini-games. The 'trade' game from Link's Awakening (the first Game Boy outing) is back - a system where you come across an item that someone needs, they give you a different item in exchange for it and so on. There is also a game that borders on the insanely frustrating, where you must feed all of the creatures that travel increasingly quickly down both sides of the screen. This in itself is frantic and enjoyable enough to pass as a full on puzzle game. This game even has hints of ToeJam & Earl or Parappa, as you must get into the groove and dance along in time to a mountain dwelling peaceful monster. It's little touches like this that add variety, and set the Zelda games a cut above others in the Adventure genre.
There are a few gameplay flaws, though. While the fact that puzzles in a dungeon are nearly always solved by using the item that you find in that particular dungeon is almost a Zelda staple, it stands out more in Ages due to the fact that a large portion of the puzzles outside the dungeon are solved using the Harp of Ages, an item that allows you to travel between the past and present. While this is fine to start with, by the halfway point, you'll be wishing things were a bit more... diverse. In addition, there's the inescapable sense that this game just isn't as captivating, isn't as magical as Link's Awakening. It's something that's hard to explain - maybe it's due to the fact that you know that even if you finish Oracle Of Ages you haven't really completed the whole thing, but it's certainly there. Still, that doesn't make Oracle of Ages a bad game by any stretch of the imagination - it's still one of the best that the Game Boy Color has to offer, so don't let these minor complaints put you off.
Graphically this game is stunning. The style hasn't changed one bit since Link's Awakening, except that it's now in colour, obviously. Link is perfectly formed, and moves with the sort of smooth frame rate that makes you forget that this is the crusty old GBC that the game was designed for, rather than the ultra slick Game Boy Advance - it really does look that good. A nice sepia-shaded look means that it is also very easy to work out if you are in the past or the present if you return to the game after a few days off. This game also boasts some swanky cutscenes. Link's Awakening had an animated intro, but Oracle Of Ages sees this style sequence pop up to convey key moments in the game These may only last a few seconds, and they are admittedly extremely rare, but they add just that extra little hint of polish to the game.
The music, too, is similarly superb - without a doubt the Zelda games contain the best tunes on the Game Boy Color. The first time the Zelda theme tune kicks in I felt the warm glow of nostalgia spread across my stomach, and the rest of the tunes were good enough to live up to this exceptional start, especially if you listen through a good set of headphones. The sound effects are slightly below par - hollow-sounding chinks as your sword hits a wall, comical 'boings' as you jump and bomb blasts that sound more like someone's stomach rumbling, but the truly fantastic music far outweighs this, and you'll be playing this game wit the sound as far up as it will go. Again, it is easy to forget that this isn't a GBA game, the presentation is so slick.
Overall, this game is a real must. It isn't as gutchurningly, breathtakingly outstanding as the very first handheld Zelda experience, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a true masterpiece. Combined with Oracle Of Seasons it makes for one half of the greatest game for Game Boy Color, but on it's own it more than manages to hold it's own. With roughly twenty hours worth of gameplay good enough to sell your grandmother's underwear for, there really is no excuse not to own this game (unless you don't own a GBC or GBA, of course, in which case you're excused... this time). Believe me, you must play this game if you can.
Community review by tomclark (March 07, 2004)
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