The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

I was cautious when starting Ocarina of Time, a game heralded as the best of all time could not possibly live up to the hype, or so I thought. After playing the game I am not sure if I could say that is the best game of all time or even my favorite Legend of Zelda game, but I can say with confidence that is outstanding and certainly one of the most impactful games of all time. It is a quintessential action-adventure and the most classic Legend of Zelda game I can think of. If I were to recommend a Legend of Zelda title to a new player, I think Ocarina of Time is the most representative of what the series is about. I have to preface the rest of this article with the fact that I played the original Nintendo 64 version on the Wii U emulator, so a couple of the issues I will mention with the game were fixed in the 3DS remake of the game.

The first thing that really stood out to me about Ocarina of Time was the controls. For being released in 1998 on a console that time has treated unfavorably Ocarina of Time has pretty tight controls, even by today’s standards. This game introduced Z-Targeting, which allowed players to lock-on to enemies and move around them with great ease. Z-Targeting was a revolutionary advancement in video game controls and it is even still used in some modern games. Occasionally it was a little difficult to lock-on to the correct enemy in Ocarina of Time, but it usually pretty simple to cycle through different opponents until I had targeted the correct one. The sword fighting in this game was remarkably simple but it is some of my favorite sword play in any Legend of Zelda title. The only big issue with controls in this game was aiming. Aiming the Bow, Hookshot, and Boomerang was pretty rough. A single small tap on the control stick would send the pointer across the screen. There were plenty of instances of having to shoot at moving targets with extreme precision and it was usually more frustrating than fun. Even though aiming was unnecessarily difficult it was not so impactful or frequent that it significantly worsened the game.

One of my favorite features in Ocarina of Time was just how alive the world felt. Every area felt unique and it was interesting to see how the world changed from seven year gap between young Link and adult Link. The supporting casts of characters also were memorable and likeable. Watching the grumpy Darunia dance and smile when I played Saria’s Song was a joy and the whole game in general was just charming in that sense.  The world was very fun to discover and explore.  Whether it is uncovering Heart Pieces, finding Golden Skulltulas, or doing side-quests, there were plenty of extra things to do in Ocarina of Time. Everything felt very rewarding as well; it was properly gratifying to complete all of these optional objectives.

One of the core ideas in Ocarina of Time was using music and songs to manipulate the world around you. I absolutely loved this feature as it introduced a number of playable catchy songs on top of the already great soundtrack. Songs can be used to change the time of day, talk to your friend, access different areas, or even teleport to the major dungeons. The songs were such a vital part to the game and they were extremely useful and fun to play. I still occasionally whistle Saria’s Song unconsciously, that says a lot for how catchy these songs are.

The dungeons in Ocarina of Time were pretty stellar for the most part. The first three dungeons were played through as young Link. They were very simple, but rightfully so as they are the first 3D Legend of Zelda dungeons ever, so they are meant as an introduction. I was not a huge fan of the third dungeon, Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. The aesthetic was unappealing, the design was a bit repetitive, and I had to carry around an annoying companion, these factors led to a mediocre dungeon. Luckily most of the following dungeons were so amazing that it made up for it. Most of the adult Link dungeons had great themes, puzzles, enemies, and bosses. The Forrest Temple, Fire Temple, Spirit Temple, and Inside Ganon’s Castle in particular were my favorites. All but one of the adult Link dungeons I would describe as phenomenal, the one outlier is the Water Temple.

I could write an entire thesis on how much I hate the Water Temple, but I will attempt to keep it brief. The biggest issue with this dungeon was the frequent use of the Iron Boots. In order to sink in water you have to equip the Iron Boots, and to rise to the surface you need to take them off. This would not be a big issue if you could assign the Iron Boots to a button like most other major items, but you have to go into the menu every time you want to equip or unequip them. This slows process to a grinding halt whenever you want to descend of ascend in water. Often times I would have to go into the menu twice within three seconds just to use the Iron Boots. The dungeon’s design in itself was an interesting concept but it was poorly executed in my opinion. There were so many branching paths that could be accessed and made this dungeon an incredibly confusing affair. The combination of the Iron Boots and the confusing nature of the dungeon made it incredibly tedious and slow. The mini-boss and the boss of this dungeon were also pretty bad in my opinion as they were ridiculously easy and felt like they were just a formality instead of actually interesting bosses. The Water Temple is a pretty big stain on the otherwise clean Ocarina of Time.

While I may not think Ocarina of Time is the best game ever I cannot deny its greatness and the magnitude of its achievement, especially considering its age. It is the best representation of what the Legend of Zelda series is all about. It still holds up pretty well today, although I recommend getting the 3DS version as it fixes a number of the flaws in the original game. It was definitely an enlightening experience for me, getting to see the roots of one of my favorite series was great. Ocarina of Time is the highest rated video game of all time, and I am certain that it deserves a playthrough by anybody and everybody.

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Owlboy (2016)

I have to admit that I am a sucker for indie games, metroidvanias, and pixel art. Clearly Owlboy was made for me, as it has all of these elements and more. This game was a highly anticipated indie title as it has been development for nine years and I was curious to see how it would turn out. I was more than pleasantly surprised, from the first moments I was gripped by the polished and charming visuals, as well as the heart-wrenching tale of Otus. The unique combat and movement systems were a boon and kept me engaged throughout the course of the game.

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Owlboy had a very interesting take on combat. Otus, the main character, is an owl and as such he cannot fight enemies by himself, but he can fly. He enlists the help of his best friend Geddy, a human mechanic and soldier to help him fight enemies. It felt extremely smooth and natural to carry Geddy around and both aim and dodge enemies at the same time. Otus also recruits a few other unlikely friends to join his ragtag band of heroes; all of these characters have unique combat mechanisms and utility to allow Otus to access different parts of the world. At first I was worried that carrying around these different characters would become tedious, but it was extremely easy to get a grasp on how the combat worked. Controlling Otus was a blast and his variety of movement options led to some entertaining fights as I dipped and dodged hordes of enemies.

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The dungeons in this game were fun and they all had unique concepts and ideas that made them enjoyable. I do think that they did seem to run on a bit too long and got a little repetitive at times, but for the most part they were very well designed, especially the boss battles. I absolutely loved all of the boss battles in this game; they were all fast-paced, challenging, unique, and intense.  Having the ability to fly seems like it would make any platforming non-existent, but that is not true. The game is cleverly designed to have challenging platforming sections despite being able to fly. There are also some stealth sections to add some flavor and variety to the game.

The gameplay was fantastic, but that was not the only thing that kept me interested in Owlboy. The hi-bit style of pixel art was masterfully done and it led to some beautiful visuals. There seems to be a trend in indie games to have great soundtracks, and Owlboy is no exception.  Calming and relaxing songs to match the aesthetic of Otus’ home of Vellie, and intense songs to match the high octane boss battles.  I was also very surprised by the quality of the story. Very few games manage to leave me wondering and interested even after the game has ended, but Owlboy did precisely that. Throughout the entire game there is an air of mystery, but not until the end of the game did I realize the scope of these small hints and mysteries. The game’s story is not that interesting in the beginning, but it is setting up and alluding to the wonder-inducing ending.

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The world of Owlboy is also very well crafted. It does not take long to travel from one point to another and every section of the world has a distinct feel to it.  I only wish that there was a map of the overworld to see how the world really comes together. I did not have a big problem with this because I have been navigating metroidvanias for years, but some players might be thrown off by the lack of a map. In a game that constantly revisits areas and branches out in many different directions I could see how it may be confusing to some people. There was also a couple of interesting side-quests to play and enjoy, the Boguin Cannon in particular was very fun. The characters in Owlboy were also interesting and were memorable. Even characters that I did not like at first grew on me. The game has a consistent motif of friendship that drives the story and adds to the lovableness of certain characters. The game also was plenty silly and funny, there were many moments that had me smiling. The silliness, backstory, and characters of Owlboy and its world is certainly interesting and worth the time.

Owlboy also has plenty of collectibles, in the form of coins. I genuinely enjoyed collecting the coins scattered across the world and reaping the rewards in the form of trinkets. Trinkets could be health increases, goofy hats, or upgrades for your partners. The upgrades were definitely powerful enough to warrant spending time collecting coins to unlock these power-ups. My only complaint is that some of the coins were hidden in really strange spots. Invisible passageways in walls meant that if you want to collect every coin you are going to need to run into every wall, ceiling, and floor in the game to see if there are any hidden hallways. Granted, most of the coins were pretty easy to find and you can get most of the rewards in the game just casually collecting the coins. There were also three Golden Disks which unlock a very interesting secret at the end of the game. I will not spoil anything, but it is 100% worth it to look out for those Golden Disks.

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Owlboy has so many elements that I love, and it was one of my favorite games that I have played this year. If you enjoy indie titles, hi-bit pixel art, metroidvanias, lovable characters, and mysterious stories I definitely recommend this game. I am going to give Owlboy a 9/10, it was excellent and I loved every moment of it. Do not hesitate to pick up this title as it is an absolute joy to play and experience.