"Take Dodongo, for example. To defeat this chap, you first have to use the tried and true strategy of feeding him bombs. Then, after he's stunned by the explosion, using the power bracelet, you must pick him up and toss him onto a bed of spikes before he regains his equilibrium."
I have to give Nintendo credit for the way they got the most out of the Game Boy. In the early non-color days of this system, I would have thought a game like The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons to be impossible to put on that handheld system. While, in the grand scheme of things, the graphics and music in this game are nothing to write home about (although they are superior to most GBC offerings), this game is both huge and complex -- feeling far more vast than, say, the SNES' Link to the Past.
Released along with its non-identical twin Oracle of Ages, this game has Link attempting to rescue some fairy chick from the evil general Onox (psh, tyrants, what can ya do about 'em....), who is looking to take control of the power of darkness.....or something like that. Unlike Ages, the plot in Seasons is barely noticeable after Onox kidnaps the girl and sends the Temple of Seasons deep within the earth, throwing spring, summer, autumn and winter into disarray, in the early moments of gameplay. This game wastes no time getting down to the action, as Link must learn to manipulate the seasons in order to get to eight dungeons and, finally, Onox's tower.
Initially, as players walk through the game's world, it doesn't take long to discover the chaos Onox's power has created. While a few screens might be in the heart of winter, traveling just a bit may cause the scene to shift to one of summer. With each season opening up new ways to meander through the overworld, as well as closing off old ones, it's imperative for Link to find his way to the fallen Temple of Seasons, so he can gain the ability to change them at will.
Necessary for him to obtain this power are a number of support items. Some, like bombs and the boomerang, are the standard fare seen in most every Zelda game. Others, like the magnetic gloves, used to propel and/or repel Link to or from metallic objects, are original creations. Not only do they help grant him access to the various temple chambers, but they'll also be of assistance in getting to and through dungeons and in finding many of the game's seemingly limitless amount of items.
And all of those items are essential to getting through the game's dungeons. While the first couple are pretty simplistic, as you progress through Seasons, they can get very complicated. Getting through the last couple of mazes is no small challenge, as there are a few dozen rooms and many of them require the proper use of at least one tool, as do most of the boss fights -- many of which are revamped versions of the original Zelda's baddies. Take Dodongo, for example. To defeat this chap, you first have to use the tried and true strategy of feeding him bombs. Then, after he's stunned by the explosion, using the power bracelet, you must pick him up and toss him onto a bed of spikes before he regains his equilibrium.
Unfortunately, the lack of buttons on the GBC can make things a bit clunky at times. With all of Link's tools (including his sword) being used via the "A" and "B" buttons and with him, obviously, only able to equip two things at once, you'll be finding yourself going to the menu screen to switch items more and more frequently as the game progresses, which acts as a disruption to the gameplay fairly often as the game goes on. The aforementioned Dodongo's an early-game boss -- now, look at the main adversary of the eighth dungeon. The easiest way to topple this thing involves the use of three items: the sword for swiping it, the slingshot equipped with certain seeds that temporarily freeze it in place and the roc's cape to jump over a couple of its attacks. This means you'll constantly be interrupting the fight to switch these items in and out, which is annoying. Previous Zelda games forced players to switch between items to get from one place to another, but Seasons takes this to a very intrusive level that just sapped my enthusiasm.
And that forces me to lower my rating for this game. Through the first few dungeons, I was really getting into Seasons, but the need to go to subscreens on what felt like a screen-by-screen basis during those final mazes just made me want to finish this game quickly to be done with it. Considering all the things Nintendo gives players to do here, that's not good. You can collect 60 or so rings and, while many are purely novelty items, there are a few VERY useful ones scattered throughout the world. There are a number of ways in which Link can earn these rings and other goodies -- from winning at minigames to planting magical seeds around the overworld. And, after beating the game, you'll access a password system, which can be used with Ages in order to enhance that game. However, it's hard to get the most out of these activities when you're in a "let's speed through the rest of this one, so we can get to something else" mode.
Oracle of Seasons is still a good game and I had my share of fun playing it, but as a Zelda title, I found it to be somewhat disappointing. The thing I've probably liked the most about that series is how simple and accessible its games are -- the sort of thing that can be picked up during a rainy day and messed around with for an hour or two just because they're fun and easy to get into. Seasons just doesn't have that same "it" factor that made me want to keep coming back to it after the dungeons got more complicated.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 09, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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