The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

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A rant about videogame graphics, and why they suck.

Let’s have a quick nibble of the retro-shroom and take a trip to nostalgia-land.

You’re a young gamer, holding in your hands the Nintendo 64’s tri-pronged controller, eyes glued to the curved, glowing surface of the CRT television. Your green tunic wearing hero has just crossed the massive green field of Hyrule, and are approaching the massive stone walls of the city. Suddenly, the skies turn black, and from the arched entryway a white horse with two riders — The Princess Zelda and her guardian Impa — gallop across the bridge and off into the distance. The look on Zelda’s face is one of fear and sadness as she turns to look at Link. They’re running from something — or someone. Standing in the pouring rain, Link turns to see their pursuer: the massive desert warrior Ganndorf with fire-like hair sitting atop an armored horse. He cracks a smile, lifts his hand, and sends Link flying with a magical shock from his fingertips.

That was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of not just my young gaming life, but many others’. It’s one of those event you hold on to and remember; the way it felt, sounded, and of course, the way it looked.

Well, as I’m sure many have done, going back to the game today, it looks like shit. No I’m serious. It’s muddy, smeary textures wrapped around sharp polygonal models in flimsy, bare environments. Now, compare that against the Zelda of the SNES era, A Link to the past: vibrant colored sprites, intricately designed maps, and charming (albeit simple) animations. It looks just a good as the first time you laid eyes on it.

Not exactly the sprawling land we remember it to be.

Why is that? Because 2D graphics don’t depreciate in quality. They may not be quite as impressive as 3D graphics, but games like Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island, Super CastleVania IV, Street Fighter, and the early Square RPGs look exactly the same as they did when they were the height of game design and graphical power.

But 3D games? Pop in an N64, Ps2 — or hell, even an early game from the current generation — and you’ll find the experience hampered by the now-archaic graphics. Some times, games will even be unplayable. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy gorgeous graphics as much as the next guy. Games like Uncharted, Skyrim, and at the time Doom 3 and Half Life 2 left me floored by how gorgeous they looked. But in a few years time? They’ll be eclipsed by the next cutting-edge engine, and their experiences diminished due to a major reliance on the visual components of these games (if they haven’t been already).

More of this…

I’m not advocating a return to 2D game design here. Many of my favorite genres and favorite moments happened thanks to the evolution of 3D gaming. Instead, I’m trying to point out a very common misconception: powerful, more realistic graphics do little to heighten an experience. Instead, its art design and atmosphere. In the past I’ve discussed several games I feel have great art design, most of which are 3D games. It’s their art design that make them so memorable. Metroid Prime, Mass Effect, Shadow of the Colossus, and — the Bilbo Baggins of 3D games — Wind Waker, are all memorable because of how they looked. I use the Ocarina of Time example specifically because it was recently re-released with updated graphics — everything from the textures, to the models, to the animation and lighting has been overhauled, and it looks great, mostly due to the art direction being better realized on the new engine.

…less of this.

As we begin to see graphical leaps diminish, it’s really only a matter of time before we reach a plateau. My concern though is that I don’t want that plateau to be filled with games stretching for “realism;” I want games with unique and impactful art design. I don’t need any more Call of Duties, but I could certainly use more Bastions and Dust Forces. AAA development seems to be crumbling, and many developers — indie and otherwise — seem to be flocking to creative game design. Hopefully, this will mean less emphasis on graphic power, and more attention being given to gameplay, art, and atmosphere. We could full well be moving into a new golden age of video games — that is, just as long as we give up these notions of “realism” and “powerhouse graphics,” and focus on what matters and what makes this medium is so unique.

Brendan’s Top 10 Best Videogame Soundtracks

My two favorite forms of media entertainment are videogames and music. Obviously, I enjoy to occasional TV show or movie, listen to quite a few podcasts, and I actually read quite a bit as well. But when push comes to shove, if I’ve got time to space I’d almost always prefer spending with a controller in my hand or headphones over my ears. Luckily enough, videogames are a pretty great source of good music. And to be clear, I don’t mean themes — there are tons of great videogame themes The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Halo, Uncharted, etc. I mean full on soundtracks. Granted, as games try harder and harder to be movies, we’re left with far less memorable, overly “epic” orchestrated scores that begin to blend together. But there are still some that manage to be impactful and memorable, not to mention the myriad of retro games whose 8- and 16-bit soundtracks went on to inspire an entire genre of music.. Anyway, enough blathering — here are my 10 favorite videogame soundtracks.

10. Brutal Legend

Is it unfair of me to include this game? Probably, but I’m doing it anyway because I love metal. Brutal Legend is a metal-as-fuck game about metal that uses over 100 awesome metal songs in some of the most metal ways ever. The end.

Not only that, but there was a bunch of original music composed for the game as well.

9. Rayman: Origins

Rayman is near and dear to me. While others were picking mushrooms some fat plumber in a pedo stache and suspenders, I was off exploring the magical dreamland of Rayman. The music in the series has always been important. Often, entire sections of the games would be centered around musical notes and timing. But no matter if the music was integral to the gameplay, or just background to it, the dream-like world of Rayman was brought to life by its music. Rayman: Origins is by far my favorite game in the series, and it also features without a doubt the series’ best music.

8. Castlevania 2

Halloween is my favorite Holiday. Many of my favorite death metal and doom metal bands are that way because they sound like Halloween. Every time I pop in a band like Hooded Menace or Graveyard, I feel like it’s Halloween. Castlevania 2 sounds like Halloween. It’s a bit dark, slightly creepy due to minor chord melodies (that are incredibly catchy). Castlevania 2 has probably my favorite NES soundtrack, and is the perfect example of 8-Bit chiptunes music.

7. Metal gear solid 3

Big Boss makes Chuck Norris look like a chump, and James Bond like a pansey. Hideo Kojima’s complex commentary on the future of war began with electro-symphonic rock, but when the series took us back in time, to delve into the inanity and insanity of the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater took a page from 007, switching things up with funky, 60-era spy flick grooves, complete with it’s very own “Bond Song.” It’s one of my favorite theme songs to any piece of media ever.

6. Metroid Prime

Metroid always had spacey, strange sci-fi songs that offered an ominous sense of being alone on an alien planet. But Metroid Prime added another element: wonder. The beauty and detail of Tallon IV created a strong sense of place. It was lived in, there was history in every crevice and brick. Metroid Prime certainly made you feel alone, and the soundtrack is appropriately alien and sci-fi, but the wonder you feel when entering Chozo Ruins or Phendrana Drifts for the first time compel you to explore this planet in a way few other settings do, and a large part of that is due to the wonderful soundtrack, punctuating every new secret and discovery.

5. Dark Souls

For the most part, Dark Souls is silent. Often, the only soundtrack to your demise is the ambiance of you environment, and the menacing sounds of the enemies that hunt you. When music does kick in, it is usually understated, dark, melancholic — like the game itself. But when you find yourself face-to-face with the morbid and terrifying bosses of the game, the ordeals are scored by massive sections of brass horns and woodwinds, gothic choirs, piercing string instruments, and pummeling drums. Despite the overwhelming obstacles and depressing atmosphere, Dark Souls provides some of the strongest feelings of reward and accomplishment of any game, and the soundtrack underscores that struggle perfectly.

4. Shadow of the Colossus

Much like Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus is a quiet and understated game, for the most part. Traversing this empty land is a lonely and bleak affair; but felling the 16 hulking, majestic beasts that roam the land is daunting and terrifying. Each boss fight  is (again, much like Dark Souls) scored by songs as epic and awe-inspiring as the beasts themselves. And like Dark Souls, there is a sense of accomplishment with each victory. But unlike Dark Souls, you don’t feel like a hero — you feel like a monster. As you watch these beings die, you feel as if you’ve betrayed them of something for more important than just their life. And every note drives the tendrils of guilt deeper into you.

3. The Legend of Zelda (series)

I don’t have to say much here. There’s probably only one other series with as well know and iconic music in the world of videogames (and I didn’t even mention it on this list. GASP!). The Legend of Zelda is the music of my childhood; It’s music I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

2. Doom

C’mon.

1. Mass Effect

Mass Effect’s music is astounding. The synthetic elements of the songs meld into the organic sounds of tangible instruments. This creates and entirely unique sound — you know when you’re listening to a Mass Effect song. But it’s not just the fact that the songs are good, or memorable, or that they give the universe an identity, but that they make you feel something. The mysterious galaxy map song fills you with curiosity and wonder at the immensity of space; Mass Effect 3’s theme weighs down on you as you’re face with an inescapable fate; and the theme for Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission may be the most inspiring piece of music I’ve ever heard. Not matter what the final game did or did not do for you is irrelevant because no matter what, when the final moment comes you feel something.

Runner Ups:

Red Dead Redemption

Pokemon

Diablo series

Final Fantasy XII

The Elder Scrolls series

What are you favorite videogame soundtracks? Think I’m insane for including/forgetting something? Sound off in the comments! Also, suggest some other list ideas to me. I realize that they’ve been mostly broad topics, and thus result in a lot of cross over and feature similar games on each, and to be honest I’m running out of things to say about a lot of these games/series, but I still love doing lists. So if there’s a topic or idea you’ve got for a list, let me know in the comments as well, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com!

Want more video game music? be sure to check out the latest episode of the Power Cast!

Check out this Legend of Zelda post-rock collection

It’s been a while since I posted about music; there’s been a handful of great releases, but I’ve been neck deep in games industry stuff for the past few months. As such, I feel compelled to give this section a bit more attention! So I’m gonna tell you lads and ladies about a wonderful post-rock collection of The Legend of Zelda remixes.

As a fan of The Legend of Zelda (well, a few entries in the series, at least), I’ve always loved the franchise’s iconic tunes. In fact, Ocarina of Time was the first game that really sucked me in, and is probably the biggest reason I’ve stuck with the medium all these years. I played through Ocarina time and time again, memorizing every cracked wall or hidden rupee, and getting every note of every song forever ingrained into my still-plastic brain. My younger brother even taught himself how to play the piano by learning the songs of Zelda by ear.

Today, I’m what some may call a “music nerd.” I enjoy music, the culture, and the atmosphere of it all, and I think I owe a lot of that to videogame music as it was the first type of music I really loved, memorized, and hummed to myself all day long, and The Legend of Zelda most of all.

It’s a rather important part of my family’s history, as strange as that may sound.

So when I learned that musician Cory Johnson had released a collection of post-rock Zelda tunes, I kind-sorta flipped out. Sufficed to say, hearing these songs — bursting at the seams with nostalgia and childhood memories — being filtered through the beauty, complexity and passion of post-rock is a joy. So far, this stands among my albums of the year — something I never say for videogame music (except for Metroid Metal’s Varia Suite). I would very highly recommend this collection to any and all Zelda fans or fans of the post-rock genre. And if you so happen to enjoy both, well I’m sure you’ll be very, very pleased.

And the best part? It’s completely free. Check it out.

(A special thanks to NUReviews for posting the collection.)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — Retro Review

Welcome to Power Cord’s Retro Reviews! Today, we look at the classic SNES adventure, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Over the past few years, Nintendo’s classic, A Link to the Past, has served as one of my few go-to distraction games — the sort of game that you put in 20-30 minutes here and there when there’s nothing else to do. Playing the GBA version, it was always a fun little game for me to flip on and play alongside other titles like Metroid Zero Mission and the old Pokemon games for bit of nostalgia and entertainment. But it was only recently I realized I had never actually beaten the game. So, determined to see the quest through, I set off to save the land of Hyrule once and for all. Once I had finally felled Gannon, I felt compelled to review the game I had finally beaten after all those years.

On the surface, A Link to the Past is just like any other Zelda game: an evil antagonist has either doomed the world, stolen the princess Zelda, or both, and you as the player take control of Link to explore dungeons, find magical items, and ultimately save the kingdom and the princess.

The game opens with that exact scenario having taken place — an evil sorcerer has stolen the princess and taken over the kingdom —  resulting in the apparent death of Link’s uncle. Link takes up his uncle’s sword and shield and sets off to stop the evil sorcerer who has been kidnapping maidens all over the land to open a portal to the dark world.

The game is set in a massive world, filled with caves, dungeons, and hidden secrets to explore. There is a sense of open-ended exploration in A Link to the Past. There’s a certain order in which to do things, but much of it is up to you and how you decided to tackle each objective. Or, more likely, when and where you finally figure out what you’re doing.

A Link to the Past does very little in terms of handholding. Other than small markers on your map screen, it’s often difficult to remember where you needed to go or who you needed to talk to. This sort of thing is fine in some aspects of the game, such as the numerous hidden treasures around the world that can only be unlocked after you’ve completed a dungeon and found a new item, but when you can’t reach a place clearly marked as your next objective because you forget to talk to an old lady in town, the game becomes frustrating. This is of course a sign of how games were back in the day, but no matter how good you are at exploring an open world, obesseively checking every nook and cranny doesn’t feel as fun when the game is tight lipped on what you’re doing wrong. There are games of this generation that did exploration far better than A Link to the Past (say for instance, Super Metroid).

But for the most part, the exploration was fun enough that figuring out where to go or what to do was easy, or at least not much of a chore. The sprite graphics are bright and the world well designed, but the animations aren’t very good and the setting felt rather bland, with the exception of some spots in the dark world. Still, traipsing around the countryside to the soundtrack of classic Zelda tunes is a fun distraction.

It probably goes without saying, but the formula is bland, and the story utterly cliche. Of course he’s Gannon. Of course it’s hidden in a dungeon. For many, A Link to the Past is the zenith of the Zelda franchise’s 2D experience, much like Ocarina of Time is series best 3D game. But for me, when it comes to both titles, the best Zelda experience lie in other games; one’s that change up the story and formula in much bigger and bolder ways. It’s a fun nostalgic title, but isn’t much more than that.

Pros: 2 big worlds to explore with plenty to do and see; adventuring to classic zelda tunes is fun; good, simple gameplay.

Cons: Graphics are lackluster; some parts are infuriatingly confusing; uninspired story; if you’ve played a Zelda game before, the formula feel boring.

Brendan’s Top 7 Games with excellent art design

List time! This week, we’re getting artsy-fartsy. While mulling over what the topic of this week’s list article would be, I was struck by a sudden bolt of creativity in the form of a leaked Rayman: Legends trailer. I was reminded of the beauty of the Rayman series’ art style, and seeing as how art is an aspect of gaming we’ve yet to really delve into here on Power Cords, I decided I’d take a shot.

So! What follows are a selection of what I feel are the best art styles ever seen in gaming. This doesn’t mean best graphics or “most unique;” the entries on this list embody great, memorable art directions in videogames that enthralled and captivated me, and which I still regard to this day as some of the best in gaming. Without further ado, on to number 7!

7. Dead Space 

I love sci-fi. Especially gritty, realistic sci-fi. Any astute listener of Power Cast knows how much I love Alien and Blade Runner, and have heard me praise the terrifyingly authentic look of their practical special effect. In the case of Alien especially, these real-life models and effects created such a strong sense of realism that the movie still holds up well today, even amongst such high standards of modern effects.

Dead Space’s gruesome and unsettling art direction creates an atmosphere very similar to that of Alien. While much is owed to the series’ impeccable sound design, it’s that starkly alien look of the game’s necromorphs that caused players to reel in horror, fumbling and struggling against fear and adrenaline to dispatch the disfigured undead creatures.

Beyond just atmosphere and spooks, the art design of Dead Space just flat out amazing. The necromorphs alone are unique not only in gaming, but in scifi across all mediums. The horrifically disjointed, elongated limbs and tormented faces of these reconstructed corpses are at once repulsing and eerily familiar. Plus the ship, weapon, and tech design come across as practical and not outlandish or exaggerated. The sequel goes even further, introducing ornate temples and giant, city-like space stations to take in.

But seriously, slinking along dark corridors of a space station knowing those disgusting undead monster are after me is one of the most visually memorable moments for me in all media.

6. Dark Souls

Much like Dead Space represents my favorite aspects of realistic and gritty sci-fi, Dark Souls represents my favorite aspects of fantasy.

Grey clouds roll over the decrepit parapets of some ancient, dreary castle; shadowy fog reaches across the bubbling bog of some deep and forgotten wood; a gilded steeple of a cathedral rises among snow capped keeps of towering mountain ranges; the ornate armor of a massive, gluttonous demon glistens red with the blood of my millionth defeat.

Dark Souls was a rough game to get through if you don’t like dying. Really, it was just a tough game period. But the setting of the game — an authentic medieval world filled with darkness and undead hordes — felt so real. The size of the game’s castles and dungeons were massive and awe-inspiring, but also conveyed a true sense of scale. Every aspect of the game was daunting — from ruthless enemies and hazardous traps that will kill you, to giant structures that feel hundreds of years old — nothing about Dark Souls is “small” or “easy,” making it one of the most unique titles to be released this generation, visually or otherwise.

5. Bastion

Transitioning now from realism to whisical, Bastion is a game that really did something different. While it’s not out of the ordinary for indie games to utilize colorful 2D animation, Bastion was unique in the way the world legitimately built itself around you.

Bastion takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where lands and cities float in the sky, above a harsh wilderness below.

You’d walk along the paths of this destroyed world, and streets, forests, towns, and fields would fall and arrange themselves like puzzle pieces from the sky. This created a unique way to deal with both the “fog of war” or light radius mechanics often found in top-own action RPGs, but also an interesting way to entice players to explore each levels fully.

To my memory, no game has ever presented its world in a way quite like Bastion. From the stylized and cartoony character design, fluid animations, and colorful pallet, to the way you experience the land being formed in real-time, exploring the world of Bastion is a memorable and enjoyable experience. Plus, the game is just really damn good.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Continuing on the path of colorful and saturated art styles is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, my personal favorite entry in the Legend of Zelda series.

While causing quite a commotion when first announced, Wind Waker has gone on to be one of the most beloved and well-regarded games in the Zelda series, and videogames in general.

It’s a definite departure from the more “realistic” art styles of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s mask, but the cartoony cel-chaded graphics have proven to stand the test of time. In many ways, Wind Waker is one of the best looking Zelda games (being outdone only by the most recent game, Skyward Sword). Wind Waker is also one of the most unique Zelda games, adding in new mechanics that built upon it’s ocean and nautical-themed world.

Wind Waker filtered the styles of tribal islanders, Japanese fishing town, Inuit villages, and even Pirate and Viking archetypes through it’s whimsical and bright art design.

While the Zelda series is often attacked for being stagnate in terms of it’s game design, Wind Waker is an example of how the series can create wonderfully unique worlds and stories, without sacrificing what makes Zelda “Zelda.”

3. Metroid Prime

Tallon IV is a truly alien and other-worldly planet. From wetlands filled with unknown vegetation, deserts dotted with the ruins of long-dead civilizations, or frozen shrines hiding powerful weapons beneath layers of snow and ice, Metroid Prime was one of the first games where I felt I was truly exploring a world.

I was a young teenager when Prime came out, and I had yet to try my hand at other titles with fully-realized worlds (some of which are on this list), but to this day I still remember the feeling of exploration I had when playing Prime. Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand the layout of the world until later, but once I got the hand of it the fluidity of it all had me hooked.

But that feeling is due to more than just level design.

It could be argued that almost everything in Metroid Prime game was visual — be it obvious things like the HUD, or more intrinsic aspects such as the story. It seemed as if each room had a story to tell: overgrown vines hanging on a crumbling ornate wall; a cliff side eroded by a waterfall; a rusted elevator, unused for centuries. While there was a very basic and immediate story, there was also a background story to be found not only in the hidden texts throughout the world, but in the architecture and natural world of Tallon IV and its long-lost civilization. And what’s more, Metroid Prime managed to keep — even enhance — its great art throughout the Prime series, setting a standard for all future Metroid titles.

2. Rayman 

It’s probably apparent by now my affinity for Nintendo’s Metroid and Zelda series. One would probably assume based off this knowledge that I share that same love for Nintendo’s flagship mascot, Mario, and his platforming excellence. While it’s cerainly true I’ve enjoy a Mario game or two in the past, my enjoyment of the red-capped plumber is hindered by another platform-hopping character: Rayman.

And my biggest reason for preferring the limb-less hero? The art! The art style of Rayman, while going through several slight alterations throughout the entire series, has remained whimsical and magical. That may found fluffy and sappy, but it’s really the only way I can describe such a unique world. There’s a strange charm to everything in Rayman’s universe (especially thanks to Ubisoft’s Ubiart Framework). Every friend, foe, and fairy is filled with personality. But it’s the series’ most recent title, Rayman: Origins, that earns the series the number 2 spot on this list.

Just one look the Origins’ hand-drawn characters and levels, and you immediately want to grab a controller and start hopping around this colorful land. The lush colors and starkly unique style of each world you visit on Rayman’s adventure is far more interesting than anything the Mushroom Kingdom’s ever dreamed up. Rayman: Origins won numerous awards for best graphics last year (including ours!) and it’s no wonder why. Rayman Origins is by far the most beautiful side scroller I have ever played (at least until Rayman: Legends is released).

1. Shadow of the Colossus

It’s not the expansive, unpopulated landscape; it’s not the enormous bridges or ruins; it’s not the soft haze, shrouding the land in mystery.

It’s the massive, hulking beasts that lurk in the far corners of this peninsula that make the art of Shadow of the Colossus my number one favorite art style.

Each colossus is as unique and different as the next. From afar, the colossi are daunting and majestic, inciting both reverence and awe. It’s only when you begin to climb each of these creatures that the nuances of their design becomes apparent to you. Intricate markings and designs have been etched into their ancient, stone-like skin; long, grass-like fur and hair lines their rocky scales; whitish blue eyes gaze at you somberly, behind them a mixture of fear, sadness, and ferocity as you both battle to end the other’s life — a struggle for survival.

There’s so much to be said about this game. Shadow of the Colossus does so many great things, so many powerful moments that challenge you and fill you with emotion. The sight of these majestic creatures succumbing to your attacks is both heart-wrenching and relieving. To watch the beautifully designed beasts live and die are some of the most memorable moments in all of gaming.

And this ends this week’s list. What did you think of it? How about you, what are some of your favorite (or least favorite) videogame art styles? Leave a comment or send us an email at askpowercords.com. And while you’re at it, let us know what other list topics you’d like to see us cover here on Power Cords!

Miyamoto teases Zelda fans with talk of an A Link to the Past sequel.

Not such an unlucky Friday the 13th after all.

Back in November, the Shigeru Miyamoto said he was “interested in creating something new maybe based on, or starting from, A Link To The Past.”

Following up on this statement during a recent interview with Edge, published today, the mastermind behind The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario had this to say,

“I think I’d be even more interested in creating something new maybe based on, or starting from, A Link To The Past. I think it’s important to bring some really new software.”

But seeing as how Miyamoto-san is now in a far less hands-on role at the big N on top of all ready being involved in a number of other projects, one could safely assume he would not play a majot role in the hypothetical game’s development. It lead to the question, who should — if such a project exists — head it?

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eiiji Aonuma, the long-time director of the Zelda series, working on the franchise since Ocarina of Time, picked as the man to make such a remake (or sequel).

But beyond that, I’d love to see Retro Games, the studio responsible for the amazing Metroid Prime series and the Recent Donkey Kong Returns. The studio is obviously masters at rebooting franchises, with the ability to push these frnachises into new directions, while never sacrificing their legacies. I think they’d be a great fit for new Zelda game, be it this project or another.

But, alas, this is all just hypothetical. Whether we see a new Link to the Past or not will only be answered with time. Let’s rejoice that Nintendo is working on new games, and that Miyamoto sees the need for new software.

For now, enjoy this artist’s rendition of what a possible Link to the Past remake could look like:

Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)

Update: my thoughts on Mass Effect 3 specifically have been expanded and fleshed out in this later blog post.

By now, you’ve probably heard about, or experienced for yourself, the ending(s) of Mass Effect 3. I won’t get into it, but my 2 cents on the matter: I find the lack of variation disappointing, and while I can accept the  of choice and the bleak outcome, I find the endings to be ambiguous, and to open up unnecessary questions. 

I’m not going to discuss what aspects I mean by that, but in general it seems a majority of fans share these same sentiments. If you are looking for a discussion about the nuances of the game’s endings, there are plenty of other forum threads and blog posts to seek out. This post is about an issue I feel Mass Effect 3 brings up, but no one is discussing; the Mass Effect series has proven that storytelling in videogames needs to change. Continue reading “Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)”

Brendan’s Favorite Games of 2011(or, the year of buggy RPGs)

–By Brendan

Hey all. It’s list time again! Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to hear from all the Power Cords contributors on which games of 2011 totally rocked their socks. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start us off! So here are the titles that really stuck with me this year.

– Favorite Indie game of 2011 –

Magicka

Magicka is a great game, developed by Paradox games. The game is a Diablo-esque Action RPG, set in a Nose Mythology-themed world where you play as a wizard, trying to stop an evil… Continue reading “Brendan’s Favorite Games of 2011(or, the year of buggy RPGs)”