RePost- Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

RePost will be a reoccurring series while I publish articles previously hosted on my user page.

To this day, I think of as the best gaming website by an “enthusiast press” outlet. Its talented staff and active userbase promoted engaging commentary from all sides. My time on 1UP inspired me to write about games, and for that I cannot thank its contributors enough.

Tragically, 1UP’s magic was snuffed out when business decisions got in the way. Soon after its parent company sold ownership, 1UP suffered lay-offs and changes in direction. I abandoned the site once it became a shadow of its former glory. My departure from 1UP, and a newfound need to host my writing elsewhere, prompted me to start this fangblog venture. [So, not only did 1UP’s existence help birth your writing hobby, 1UP’s slow death then helped launch your website? Splendid!]

In 2013, closed its digital doors and stopped updating. The archived URL is still accessible, but it’s closer to a ghost town than a website. The main page rests frozen in time with outdated news articles, missing content, and a final message on the state of the archive. The user blogs are so broken now I can’t access all the posts I wrote, which is why I need to preserve them here.

For most of these articles, it will be the first time I revisit them since frequenting 1UP. The silver lining to this transition is that I’m free to improve the formatting and style of my earliest works while maintaining their original intent. [More like rewrite the worst parts and mock anything left. Hah hah.] After the piece, an addendum section addresses changes between my former opinions and my current views on both the game and article itself.

Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
originally posted June 3, 2007

1-3Anyone with a Nintendo console knows of “The Legend of Zelda,” a mainstay to the console maker’s first-party line-up since the 1980s. Each Nintendo system introduced another gaming generation to the Zelda series.

Twilight Princess, the most recent [sic] Zelda game, was released on the same day as  Nintendo’s Wii platform, making it the standout launch title for the system. This game came out months [now years] ago, and everyone has said their hellos [hello!], so why am I reviewing it?

I had never played through a game from “The Legend of Zelda” prior to this one. Ever. This was my first time playing, loving, and finishing one such legend. A fresh bias on the newest [sic] iteration of an age-old franchise makes my thoughts worthwhile, right? [Sure.] The professional verdict has been given, now here is a virgin critique. [Heh heh.]
2-2Though Hyrule’s landmarks weren’t etched into my brain before starting Twilight Princess, I quickly discovered the rhythm this adventure would take during my 50+ hour quest. [50 hours? Jeez, what a slowpoke.] For those of you, much like my previous self [ahem], who never played a Zelda game before, the series follows a well-established archetype:

1. Start with the clothes on your back
2. Enter dungeon after dungeon collecting tools and gadgets
3. Use said tools and gadgets to complete puzzles, find secrets, and defeat bosses
4. Save Zelda

Without delay, I experienced for myself the challenges faced by noble Link. Combat is quick and fun, doled out by fighting the baddies in dungeons and around the Hyrulian landscape. With seven special moves and a variety of weapons and tactics, Link’s fighting methods can scale to the threat at hand.8-11Link’s gadgets are applied in-game with much aplomb [desperate word usage detected]. The tool found within each dungeon becomes crucial to reaching the end and defeating the boss. Such progression grants a smooth learning curve when familiarizing with Link’s abilities, for the user discovers how to handle the gadgets with every new obstacle.

Despite a well-paced learning curve, puzzles toward the end become increasingly ambiguous. Some areas lack any indication of what must be accomplished to complete the puzzle — but it’s all there, so figure it out. [Don’t tell me what to do.] Not counting the times I got stuck solving puzzles, the pace slowed down during a few more stretches like the late-game fetch quests. Otherwise, the adventure always had something fun in store. [What an empty sentence.]

Seeing as this franchise is over two decades old, there had to be new things thrown in to keep it fresh for Zelda veterans [not like you could compare at the time]. These are the Land of Twilight — an alternate reality to Hyrule [striking originality] — and the ability to transform Link into a wolf. How do they fare?4-9Link’s romp [romp?] around Hyrule is split almost half-half between the light and shadow worlds. Luckily, enough variety between them keeps the Twilight from feeling tacked-on. The Land of Twilight offers its own spin on enemies and puzzles without straying from the core gameplay.

The wolf mechanic, however, seems poorly implemented. Except for particular uses, Link’s powers as a wolf are far inferior to when he’s human. Entering wolf form to complete a task when there was no benefit to remaining a wolf afterwards quickly grew tiresome. I had fun going through the Twilight parts and completing their quests, but I wish I had more playtime as the “real” Link in my first Zelda game [too bad for you].

Nintendo was sure to include a fair share of waggle control for Zelda’s first game on the Wii. Most of the combat moves are mapped to waggle, and shaking the controller for attacks easily becomes second nature. What surprised me most was my accuracy with the motion sensor. I could aim my bow and arrow at a distant enemy and still hit the target as I rode on horseback.5-21The fishing element, another prominent waggle portion, was a real let-down. They made it too much like real fishing, where one must wait for the fish to come to lure. Maybe in real life, drinking beer in a boat while completely oblivious to the fish is fun, but I don’t like waiting when I have no beer in my games. [Funny, I’m a teetotaller.]

My biggest grumble [grumble?] during the game was struggling with the camera. The Z-targeting is a workable feature when focusing on a single enemy, but it seriously hinders survival when large numbers attack together. Twilight Princess lacks a way to accurately select which threat to target. When a mob rushes in, the player can only hope to block the right attack.6-20After playing Twilight Princess, the classic Zelda melodies familiar to many have passed through my ears, and they sound so sweet. Alongside the usual fare, the Twilight World features some stylish tracks with electronic elements that fit the eery landscape and contrast nicely with the standard orchestral music.

Naturally, this addition to the series offers the well-known sound effects integral to the Zelda legacy. I soon developed a Pavlovian response to the tunes that play for solving a puzzle or receiving an item. That celebratory jingle sounds so satisfying after taking hours [hours!?] to beat a puzzle. [Damn, you must suck. Hah hah.]9-5In spite of the quality sound design, I was disappointed by the practically nonexistent voice acting. [Oh boy…] The most we get is a dozen monosyllabic words from the whole cast. Twilight Princess gets high marks for gameplay, but the experience doesn’t add up cinematically [please no, not that word] when the most articulate things said by the hero are grunts and screams.

I’m not very judgmental when it comes to graphics [good for you]. If I can properly navigate the environment and the art style is unique, I’m happy. Twilight Princess pulls off its thing rather well. Hyrule, as a world, feels expansive. The different settings, although typical, provide a variety of themes and colour palettes.7-13I am, however, a stickler on graphical bugs. [Really?] The character models are faultless [except for the NPCs who look deformed], but issues abound within the world. I couldn’t explore an area without running into another flickering environment texture. It doesn’t break the game, but it can get on the nerves of someone who is sensitive to such things [triggered].

When I got the Wii, I knew exactly what it was at first: a Zelda-playing machine. On Christmas Day of 2006, my stars aligned so that I could play my first Zelda game. In a series whose notoriety and appeal have grown since the NES days, a single entry couldn’t possibly live up to its collective predecessors. Despite this, Twilight Princess resides in the upper echelon of action-adventure games. With its experience and seniority comes a refinement of the genre to which little else can compare.3-1Addendum:
For the review-

I knew reworking my old articles would be difficult, but I wasn’t expecting nearly so much BAD WRITING. I found more sloppiness, wordiness, and terrible structure than I ever wanted to see in my self-published work. [Funny how you only notice the awfulness of your “old” writing, eh?]

To be fair, I wrote this review (and many others) before giving a damn about grammar and proper English. At the time, I was writing for fun without serious care given to how nice it looked [or its readability, apparently]. “Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” was my very first review on 1UP, and I simply wanted to share my opinions with the blogging community [and they were generous to accept].

Actually, I like the direction I took with this review even though I couldn’t keep it going. There are so many Zelda games reviewed so many times; adding another one can seem redundant. I found it important, even in my first review ever, to stress my subjective take rather than an objective view of the game.

At least, that’s what my intro wanted people to believe. I keep that line for most of the article, though partway I drift into “standard game review” territory. Since I was so young [gimme a break — you were 19], I was just starting to shape my understanding of videogame critique. I went with aping the style of reviews I saw in magazines and on websites. Excusable, but I’m glad I started experimenting more in later articles.

On the topic of experimenting, I found some real cringe-worthy phrases in the original version of this piece. I had yet done enough writing to find any semblance of voice, so my attempts were completely cheesy and cliché. Most of them got rewrites, but I kept a few for posterity [and laughs].

If I were to write a “fresh” review for Twilight Princess at this stage in my life, I wouldn’t be able to run with the same story as I’ve played through several more Zelda games. With that in mind, I would likely focus the review on what Twilight Princess does differently (and better) compared to other (specifically polygonal) Zelda titles. I don’t think I could resist using a cheap Wii-related pun, so the title would invariably pull a modification on the phrase “shaking things up.” Yes, I really am that bad. [It’s like you haven’t changed at all.]

For the game-

One thing I overlooked during my first play-through was how the Wii’s odd controller affects the game. The controls suffer from shoving too many inputs on too few buttons. The most conflicted buttons are, of course, the most used throughout the game: the A and Z buttons.

Frequently, I found myself rolling forward when I meant to open a door or pick up/use an item (all commands done with the A button), overshooting the object unless I was placed exactly right.

With the Wii controller’s single analog stick, aiming and movement get squashed into a shared space alongside the Z-targeting mechanism. This cramped mess means the player cannot reliably navigate while shooting since the Z button will auto-lock the camera onto nearby targets instead of switching the joystick between character movement and camera panning.

Some things I missed the first time around because they were only appreciable after playing other Zelda games. Midna is finally the companion that Zelda players deserve. She has a biting personality and intriguing design, and she offers more to gameplay than the incessantly annoying intrusions of previous “helpers.” On the other hand, I caught sight of worse aspects such as how the wolf howling sections are little more than cheap imitations of the instrument mechanics from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.

In my review, I was extremely pig-headed to complain about no voice acting in a Zelda game. Had I any real experience with the series, I would have known that voice acting is treated as a non-issue and actually having it would be more out of place in the series. No less, I made such complaints without acknowledging the amazing effort in Midna’s spoken gibberish. The sound designers chopped up English lines delivered by the voice actress and scrambled them to create Midna’s speech. The result is mystifyingly personable and a treat to hear.

Contrary to the initial review, my current self likes the wolf gameplay moreso because I’m no longer a Zelda newbie. Link’s unique form is a welcome change for people who have played Zelda games with no such novelty. My point about wanting more time as “real” Link was valid for a first-timer, but the new elements do the game and the whole series more good than harm.

Replaying Twilight Princess brought me to some realizations. Most of all, I can no longer consider it a 9.0 on my scale. The game has too many faults with what it offers for me to still consider it that highly, and I’m okay with the consequence. The 9.0 score I originally gave was a starting point for my review scale, which has expanded beyond that initial marking — a good sign demonstrating my growth as a reviewer. I foresee further score changes while I continue the RePost series, but this is the first step in revising and updating my grading scale.

  • Play-time: ~55 Hours (first playthrough), ~30 Hours (second playthrough)
  • Rating: 8.9

Borderlands of Opportunity

Ahhh, Pandora, a land of milk and honey — and by “milk and honey” I mean “blood and bullets.” What makes this dangerous planet so special? It’s the setting to the videogame Borderlands. A merchant in-game says that only a fool would search for something of value here, yet the draw of opportunity brings many aspirants, including myself, to this barely inhabitable rock.

borderlandsEDITv2Daring adventurers brave Pandora in search of a mythical treasure trove known as the Vault, but my own motivations are less grandiose than fame and fortune. I came to this wasteland with a single purpose in mind: to play through Borderlands and then review it. In my attempts at meeting that goal, however, the opportunities presented to me complicated my stay on Pandora to the point where I became part of this world as much as it was part of mine.

signUpon starting Borderlands and first setting foot on Pandora, I quickly realized that I would not survive here alone.The local threats read like a list of sci-fi tropes: alien beasts and insects, dystopian criminals, grotesque mutants, futuristic soldiers, and otherworldly beings. Once I had chosen from the rugged mercenaries to protect me on my excursion, I became more at ease with exploring this land of foreign dangers and foreign opportunities.

classesThe unique abilities of Borderlands‘ playable characters influence one’s avenues to victory in combat. The Hunter sends a pet bird to pick off enemies and scavenge items; the Siren turns invisible to ambush foes with her health-draining effects; the Berserker enters a full-on bloodlust to increase his speed, defense, and melee damage; the Soldier deploys a turret to establish a defensive position on the battlefield. Though all four classes are well-tuned against the enemy hordes, they never force the user to depend on said predefined strengths. The focus of combat remains with gunplay and relies on the abundant firearms scattered across this otherwise barren planet.

weaponAccounting for the munitions present all over Pandora, Borderlands‘ weapon creation system can produce over three million distinct results. By procedurally generating each gun’s attributes, it can form combinations that defy expectation. I recall finding a submachine gun that empties its clip in less than a second, a pistol with sniper-like accuracy, and a shotgun that fires rockets. The weapons on Pandora follow no clearly defined rules, and one cannot predict what havoc the next may unleash.

poseAfter familiarizing myself with the capabilities of my allies and the planet’s all-access armament buffet, I began to enjoy the unavoidable clashes with Pandora’s violent inhabitants. Spread over the desolate surroundings, hostile forces congregate around spawn locations that habitually cause wonky or comical results. Enemies pop into existence from nowhere, and the occasional hut or cave opening resembles a clown car with foes streaming out one by one for minutes on end.

packThe glut of enemies per battle creates intense yet crowded combat situations that start out tactical but end up mindless and frantic once overrun with attackers. Thankfully, enemy weaknesses offer some variety to the mindless killing. Certain species are weaker to elemental damage while others allow the player to shoot vital areas of their bodies.

enemiesAgainst such opponents, the landscape is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, combat requires the player to maneuver around threats for the best position — a savvy combatant might climb up to a vantage point for better view of a monster’s weak spot. On the other hand, character immobility is the most fiendish and reoccurring problem in Borderlands. Strafing around hostiles only to become wedged against a rock is unacceptable in a do-or-die shootout. While navigating a busy firefight, the frustration at being stuck on environmental objects outweighs the opportunity to use them for a strategic advantage.

vantageFunnily, the same issue with environmental collision befalls the inhabitants of Pandora, too. Better yet, AI behavior sporadically breaks to the point where hostiles don’t notice me standing beside them while I blast away. Taking potshots at oblivious or immobilized baddies isn’t honourable, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get to the end of Borderlands and onto my review. When the majority of gameplay involves shooting at things or being shot at, I welcome a respite from the return fire.

immobilizedThough the combat in Borderlands can reach tedium at times, key mechanics borrowed from role-playing games eliminate the dullness normally tied to repetitive gameplay. This action game hybrid uses an experience system for improving character proficiencies. As players progress along a hierarchy of upgradeable skills, they develop specialties that shape their role in battle. For example, the Berserker can become a damage-resistant tank, a beefed-up brawler, or an explosives expert. As always, the choice remains up to the user, and there are so many choices to make…

skillsPandora conceals more than just the Vault, many things to distract the fortune seeker as well as the game reviewer. Incorporated with the other RPG elements, quest lines define Borderlands‘ main narrative and side-story progression. Quests range from the commonplace (turning on a town’s power generators) to the heroic (saving the friendly populace from bandits) and the mysterious (uncovering clues about the Vault).

Side-quests, usually retrieved from the planet’s network of bounty boards, exemplify one or two things: Pandora is neither a friendly nor enjoyable place, and the Vault is the only thing worth idolizing on this godforsaken rock. Overall, I find the game contains too many missions that repeat sentiments. Five hours of content could disappear without negatively impacting the story or pacing.

folksThroughout my time playing Borderlands, opportunities piled up before me until I didn’t know what to do with them. At first, they manifested as straightforward choices like picking from the four playable classes. Soon enough, a steady influx of weapons, abilities, and quests diversified my options. The paths I took then furthered my potential but seldom delivered me to a final outcome. Every step forward elongated my stay on Pandora without directly helping me finish Borderlands or reach my review. My in-game decisions, which first appeared beneficial, delayed progress towards the goal I had set, as decisions often do in real life as well.

caveEventually, I beat Borderlands and was ready to review it, but the myriad opportunities available to me soon fragmented my writing. During my play-through, I had thought up many points to include in the review, but finishing Borderlands once proved insufficient to confirm them. I conducted extensive research by replaying the game numerous times. With each replay, I discovered new directions to take with my writing. Budding thoughts grew into content worthy of their own pieces. By the end of my research, I had several full-fledged concepts to write about.

Each article required its own planning, composing, editing…all the effort done many times over yet with no final result because I couldn’t focus on a single project. I saw the scope of my endeavours and began to feel burnt out — investing so much into a fool’s errand like Pandora will do that. After a while, I went catatonic with the review; I stopped playing Borderlands, and I didn’t contribute to my writing for months.

stoopIn the real world, I carried on with my day-to-day activities. In the back of my mind, though, I was stranded on Pandora, slouched on a stoop in some putrid commune just waiting for my ticket off of this place. I was rotting here, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to think outside the box. I knew that, to escape Pandora, I needed to write myself off. So that’s what I did, and that’s what you are reading. The only way for me to leave was by writing about how I was stuck.

titleDespite its outer image showing a destitute planet of dunes and slag, Pandora is practically stuffed to bursting: weapons littering the terrain, enemies spilling out from spawn holes, tasks covering bounty boards, limitless choice and boundless opportunity. Borderlands‘ content emerges from the overabundance on Pandora, but a blend of action gameplay and RPG structure deftly hides most excess from view.

With Borderlands‘ multi-faceted nature, I can focus on whatever aspect is most appealing. When I feel satiated by the bloody combat, I shift to developing my character’s abilities. Once that bores me, I switch to exploring the planet for more quests and then return to the action with newfound opportunities. Every time I change focus, the subject matter differs enough to retain my interest. The guns have randomized stats; the enemies exhibit varied weaknesses; the quests send me to diverse locations around the map. Slight alterations allow me to perceive similar content as fresh experiences. Only when I dwell on a single element for too long do I notice the repetition.

lootIf I fail to look away from a particular angle, Pandora’s bleakness shows itself again. Borderlands‘ combat would get monotonous without the supporting structure of quests and character growth to segment the action. Likewise, its RPG shell would be vacant without gunfights providing the necessary gameplay through which to grind. Borderlands‘ individual components appear simple and bare, but together form a beguiling combination that casts a favourable light from nearly any perspective.

vistaAnd there lies Pandora’s paradox: from so little comes so much thanks to endless amounts of potential. The source of all that potential, though, is false hope. People arrive on Pandora touting dreams of discovering the Vault. While the pursuit is admirable, anyone who strives toward a goal must first come to terms with an important fact: along the way, one will encounter unforeseen delays only resolved through mundane activity. Hope-filled opportunity seekers venturing across Pandora need supplies and safety before they can set out to find the Vault — or to beat a game and write a review.

Inevitably, the hopefuls succumb to Pandora’s wicked charm: turning mundane activities into what appears new and enticing. Once the routine seems enticing, partially-relevant opportunities show up everywhere. No sane person would want to scrounge for food among the garbage heaps of Pandora unless he or she were on the planet that promised treasure of incalculable value. People come for the Vault but stay for every other reason. It’s the only way this place retains a population.

foodSettling into routine can be all too easy even when it means sweating out existence on a planet of dust, guns, and death if only for another crack at a fading, idealized opportunity. Even I, not a vault hunter but a videogame reviewer, became victim to Pandora’s unassuming attractions. With my time spent on this planet, I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of many hopefuls, and I’ve reached a few conclusions.

For various and unpredictable reasons, people’s goals often become unobtainable. Suppose the treasure hunters succeed at finding the Vault. After all the strife they would have endured getting there, the contents could never meet their expectations. The same goes for other motivations; reality can solidify any dream into false hope. At such a point, one must settle on something more feasible. Otherwise, one risks getting trapped in a cycle of misleading opportunities.

vaultI was caught in the same predicament after experiencing Pandora for myself. The review I had planned from the start became impossible to write with my other ideas dragging it down. At the same time, I couldn’t replace my original article with one of my side-projects because that would sacrifice the initial goal for a tangential one. To solve the dilemma, I needed to divert my attention away from the unreachable and falsified opportunities of Pandora and to pursue instead a new motivation that was in itself realistic and of my own volition. By writing this article and escaping Pandora’s clutches, I have achieved that goal.

roadAs I pen these last few lines, I am packing my bags to leave Pandora. Will I ever return? I had so many ideas dug up from this planet that had also dug into me. Nevertheless, I doubt I will write about Borderlands again. There are other videogames to play and other places to explore. Besides, I prefer not to grow any fonder of this diamond in the rough. If I look at it for a second longer, another glint of light, another facet of opportunity, will surely catch my eye. It’s Pandora’s way.

planetplay-time: ~165 hours (eight playthroughs)
score: 7.8

Linking the Past

zelda cube

Continuity within the Legend of Zelda resembles a faulty Rubik’s Cube. Try as one might to find order, glaring contradictions pop up no matter the pieces’ arrangement. The puzzle grows more complex with each subsequent release. How can all sixteen games in the main series fit together? It boggles the mind.

A counter-explanation adopted by certain fans proposes that the Zelda games are separate entities retelling the same iconic legend from varying perspectives. Ardent timeline chronologists swear there exists a linear progression from one game to the next, but my view sits alongside the segmented theory. As such, I’ve had no attachment to playing the games in chronological order. I started with whichever title felt right at the time and continued thereon.

Including this article, I’ve reviewed three Legend of Zelda games: Twilight Princess in 2007, Ocarina of Time in 2008, and A Link to the Past in 2012. Only now, during A Link to the Past‘s twentieth anniversary, have I ventured to beat this hallmark in the franchise. What took me so long?


The question struck me ages ago, long before I visited the Hyrule of Super Nintendo. While searching for an answer, I too became a Zelda chronologist, one delving into a far simpler conundrum than the search for Hyrulian linearity. Instead, I dug through an entirely personal timeline — my own history with the Zelda franchise — to find out whether I should have played A Link to the Past earlier in my life, and whether the delay marks a significant loss to the foundation of my gaming self.

When I was younger, I fantasized about The Legend of Zelda by planning out how to play through its storied history. In my fantasy, I put A Link to the Past first because it seemed like the right introduction to the series. I wasn’t looking for the technological dawn of Zelda or the rumored point of origin. Simply put, I wanted to start with the game that would get me to love The Legend of Zelda.

Twilight Princess

In 2006, I abandoned any premeditated order to my timeline when I received a Wii console for Christmas. With it came the launch title The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. As the first Zelda game I officially owned, it would be the first one I officially played. That much justified the start of my timeline.

Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time came next, and with it my highest expectations for any game. I frequently heard praise for Ocarina of Time, some people calling it the best game ever. Of course, I was intrigued to play the so-called best. I should have taken the proclamations with a grain of salt, though, because they seriously affected my interaction with the game.

omg link

For me, Ocarina of Time fell drastically short when utter frustration ruined my first playthrough. Inevitably, I reached a point where I couldn’t progress. After trying what I thought was every possibility, I sought an FAQ. The walk-through provided a solution to my impasse, but the answer was so simple that I felt embarrassed for not arriving there myself. By reading the guide, I had betrayed my gaming ability for no reason but petty annoyance and impatience. This fall from grace plagued my mind; I couldn’t think about Ocarina of Time without shame.

A Link to the Past

I waited four years before moving on to the next chapter in my Zelda timeline. Finally settling on A Link to the Past, I tried keeping my hopes in check after they were dashed by Ocarina of Time. Even so, I was excited to play the game I had wanted to be my first. Upon my initial boot of A Link to the Past, I watched the opening cut-scene three times in a row…with respect to the Triforce pieces of Courage, Power, and Wisdom, naturally.


A Link to the Past continues the Zelda tradition of real-time adventure. Once again, I found the genre difficult to grasp. The game often served me grueling stretches of exasperation followed by moments of pure joy. In one instance, I spent hours combing the Light and Dark Worlds, searching for a spell needed to open the next dungeon. I wandered everywhere…except Death Mountain. Of all the places in Hyrule, I felt least comfortable there, darting between the boulders that constantly fell. In a last ditch effort, I braced myself to navigate the perilous mountain.


Lo and behold, my objective was located in the last place I looked on Death Mountain. When at last I saw the monument containing my much-needed spell, I felt as though I had reached the promised land. The elation that surged through me for that discovery was unmatched during the rest of my playthrough.


At other points along my quest, I amazed myself by how quickly I parsed the given clues to arrive at a solution — like associating the correct tool from my inventory with an object in the environment, or learning an enemy’s weak point and developing a strategy against it. Almost instinctively, I could follow the exact sequence of tasks in a dungeon from point A, to B, to C, to the nefarious boss. The ease and ingenuity that can, at times, come from progressing through A Link to the Past is a testament to its design.

Flute Boy

Nevertheless, A Link to the Past contains apparent errors in user guidance. Take for example the quest involving Flute Boy, an NPC who tells you to dig up the flute he buried. The text box saying where to dig appears only once. While accepting the quest, I skipped over the flute’s location too quickly to read. I had no idea where to dig. Luckily, I didn’t overwrite my save after talking to Flute Boy, so I was able to reload my file and see the text again. Otherwise, I would have entered a dreaded needle-in-haystack scenario. My only options would have been to dig in all conceivable locations, to look up an FAQ, or to restart from the very beginning. Surely, that is not proper user guidance.

What could my Zelda history have been if A Link to the Past was at the beginning? I would have likely played a game released in 1992 earlier than 2006 when my actual timeline began. In doing so, I would have gotten more time to experience and enjoy such a quality title. Then again, I would have been much younger and perhaps not yet suited to Zelda puzzles. As evidenced by Ocarina of Time, I wasn’t yet ready for them in 2008. My favourite part of A Link to the Past was solving the puzzles using my wits and determination alone. I couldn’t sacrifice that feeling of accomplishment just to have played the game sooner.


With A Link to the Past now officially the third game in my Zelda timeline, I’m quite content with its placement, and I feel no remorse for waiting so long. A Link to the Past provided me the perfect roller coaster of a difficulty curve. The ups, downs, frustrations, and revelations made for an exhilarating first playthrough.

I aspire to build upon my Zelda history in a way that makes sense to me. Thanks to A Link to the Past, I have gained the added resolve from this point on to beat each Zelda game I play without using a guide. Now that’s a genuine first, regardless of its belated position within my timeline.

Playtime: ~42 hours (two playthroughs)
Rating: 8.8

The Trial of Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist


Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist is not intended for people with photosensitive epilepsy. This article, however, is intended for everyone.

“All rise for The Honourable Judge Stuart Matheson. Case 111624: Randy Balma vs. the Municipality.”
“Please be seated. Let’s begin.”
“Mr. Balma, what do you have to say for yourself?”

* * *

Hey, you ever hear of a guy named Randy Balma? He’s sorta famous around these parts — the talk of the town. A trial is taking place right now concerning Mr. Balma. Personally, I’m not interested in what the legal process sees in a man. I’m more curious to know who this guy really is, and what I think of him.

Searching for clues on the internet, I found a videogame developer by the monicker Messhof, real name Mark Essen, creator of Nidhogg, Flywrench, Punishment, and one titled Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist. I figured that Messhof, at some point in time, had ties to Mr. Balma. At least, he knew the guy well enough to include him in the title of a videogame.

I hoped that Messhof could provide me with genuine information on the man of the hour. I emailed Mr. Essen asking for an interview, but he never replied. I felt as though he purposely withheld information, as though there was something that needed to be kept secret.

Questions about Mr. Balma still burned in my head. To learn whatever else I could about Randy, I decided to explore Messhof’s game for myself.

Opening Comments

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist conveys its meaning through abstract imagery. I include extensive screenshots with the following descriptions, but these accounts pale to the game in motion. So please, download this game (it’s free) and play it. If you cannot, then take in the following as though you were investigating the mystery of Randy Balma for yourself.

Booting the game shows a loading icon of white text and a baby’s hand followed by the title screen/tutorial page prominently indicating the deceptively simple controls. Overall, the title screen presents a bleak and foreboding entry point to the game, like the unlabelled VHS tape to some unknown horror film.

The opening cutscene pictures a disgruntled man with yellow skin, red lips, and burning eyes locked in an empty stare. The words “i feel like i been awake before but i can’t be sure and i’m drugged up on drugs and i think they are affecting me” scroll across the screen in red letters. A pulsing gray circle opens up between the man’s eyes, expanding to fill the entire screen. The enveloping grayness transitions to the first playable section.

Exhibit A – Stage 1

Stage 1 is most easily described as the “bus on freeway” scene. The user controls a yellow vehicle reminiscent of a children’s school bus. The user must drive the bus down a lengthy road while navigating an obstacle course of red cars.

Hitting a guardrail or an errant car triggers a cymbal or drum sound, which adds comicality to the dangerous driving. Rimshots play out after the implied joke of bumping into things. Pileups perform cacophonous percussion arrangements.

Despite the constant threat of car crash, safety isn’t a primary concern while barrelling down this freeway. The frantic cars cannot damage the bus, but they will likely knock it off course. Impact with a car shoves the bus around in wild swings.

To make matters worse, the controls switch direction at random intervals. Pressing the left arrow key may turn the bus right and vice versa. This faultiness in steering contributes to the destruction ultimately caused by the user. It’s difficult to finish the level without moments of pure carnage.

Oddly, huge wrecks look appealing instead of gruesome. Explosions billow rainbows of colourful smoke, which morph into pixelated smudges that obscure the freeway and lead to more crashes. Stage 1 successfully combines vehicular mayhem with comedic sound effects and delightful colours to produce an uncomfortable mood that is tough to ignore.

The bus eventually reaches its final destination: a stopped gas tanker intersecting the entire road. Ramming into the tanker cues another crash of sound. Rainbow smoke spews from the collision and covers the entire screen. The game then loads an introduction to the second level.

This cutscene shows open sky with clumps of land in the distance. A shimmering beam of light shoots up, and a red projectile erupts from the multicoloured terrain. It climbs the screen and ascends into the atmosphere.

Exhibit B – Stage 2

Stage 2 commences, providing a better look at the unidentified flying object. Up close and without the burning redness, the projectile is clearly a clock tower flying through the air. Archaic satellites litter the sky as the clock tower’s prey. Hitting a satellite breaks a piece off the flying tower and destroys the target, causing more raucous drums and colourful explosions.

The control in this level once again disadvantages the user. The clock-rocket accelerates quickly and turns with extreme sensitivity, making it easy to spin out instead of executing a gradual turn. In addition, the rocket expels a thick, smokey exhaust that challenges the user to make heads or tails of the situation.

Destroying all the satellites requires careful turning and a clear understanding of the gravity present. Without any more targets, the clock tower is free to soar up to the highest point in the level. Flying off-screen proceeds to the third stage.

Exhibit C – Stage 3

In Stage 3, the player is a small, yellow spacesuit who floats within a circular arena. The arena itself appears to be a complex, layered clock found in space. Various orbs inhabit the clock along with the yellow spacesuit. The larger orbs come in different sizes and depict baby faces, while the smaller, more elusive ones pulse bright colours. The coloured orbs are the targets of this level. Arrows point out their locations at all times.

The spacesuit looks quite helpless while propelling through space. The intrepid suit can swim around the emptiness, sometimes latching onto orbs that block its trajectory. Navigating the space-clock can be tricky because invisible currents pull the player towards the outer rim. When trapped in a current, the suit’s swimming stroke becomes ineffective at best.

Successfully landing and pushing off from a coloured orb pops it and cues an incessant beeping added to the level’s ambience. The sound intensifies by breaking a second orb, and it doesn’t stop until the player eliminates the third. When all three coloured orbs are popped, the whole space-clock collapses, sending the yellow suit, the remaining baby orbs, and huge multicoloured explosions drifting out to space. This solemn scene lingers for a while before cutting to the fourth stage.

Stage 4…I had a difficult time deciding whether to include Stage 4 in my article. At first, I felt it had to be experienced on one’s own. I wanted to omit it entirely so that people would play the game to find out, but I knew of two groups who would never get to see this level first-hand.

The first group includes those with health problems. Stage 4 is the real reason an epilepsy warning sits atop this article. I think most of the game is safe to play for the photosensitive, though Stage 4 uses a constant strobe light effect and should not be attempted by those at risk.

The second group includes those who simply do not care to play. Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist might be too shocking or weird for some to experience in person. I hope that is not the case.

Not wanting anyone to miss out on the fun, I will now divulge the contents of Stage 4. Here it is:

Exhibit D – Stage 4

I like to call Stage 4 “The Creature”—a strange octopus composed of baby parts. Its main body is a large baby head. Dozens of mouths link together forming eight tentacles with hands at their tips. The Creature is the playable character of the level, situated in an environment that looks to be nothing more than rapidly flashing lights.

Stage 4 no longer implements the directional arrows that previously pointed out objectives. Instead, the user must look into the eyes of The Creature for guidance; its irises gaze in the direction of its nearest target. Amid the strobe lights, The Creature hunts down more baby orbs from Stage 3.

Annihilating all the remaining baby orbs causes The Creature to rest momentarily before bursting in the game’s final explosion. The title appears on screen, and fragmented black lines spurt from The Creature’s resting place. So ends a playthrough of Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist.

Closing Comments

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist incites emotion from any manner of appreciation. The title alone is provocative. Randy Balma is a unique and eye-catching name in itself, but the second half makes for a whole other beast. The term “Municipal Abortionist” is an interesting one. Abortion is a heated topic in society, so mentioning it is bound to rile some people. What takes the cake, though, is the word municipal before Mr. Balma’s trade. Adding the thought of a municipality, a very local area, makes the title far more personal than if it were “Randy Balma: Abortionist.” Randy is municipal. He’s in your area.

The game excels due to its narrative or lack thereof, depending on one’s point of view. Going from one playable stage to the next may give the user a sense of progression, but nothing directly indicates that the levels are connected as part of a complete story. The user is the one who must connect the dots, who must string together cutscenes and levels to perceive them as a single thing. The gameplay in each level is disparate from the next, and the cutscenes are nearly incomprehensible, yet together they feel cohesive as they develop the themes and atmosphere of the game as a whole.

Among its themes, Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist toys with concepts of control. The first three stages have elements that hinder the user by obscuring the field of view or by supplying improper movement. Such methods of disorientation make the user feel less capable of controlling the player, and they depict a mix of confusion, inebriation, and powerlessness within the main character. Supposing this game does relate to Randy Balma, how can we criticize his actions if we are not fully in control either?

In truth, it’s difficult to ascertain whether this game really is about Randy Balma. Labelling the bus, the rocket, the spacesuit, or the Creature as Mr. Balma would be a stretch. All gameplay characters are reduced beyond a single human entity. So where is Randy?

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist assaults the senses. Presented so abstractly, its supreme bizarreness leaves the user questioning what they see. The game communicates through feelings and moods, not necessarily by the direct visual representations on screen. Its discordant elements unite to express not an idea but an elaborate, perhaps frightening, concept: the concept that is Randy Balma. And Randy isn’t out to prove a point; he means to make you feel a certain way.

The verdict? Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist does good work. I respect its angle, you might say.

* * *

“The case is dismissed. All current charges are laid to rest.”
“You’re free to go, Mr. Balma.”

Play-time: ~10 minutes (single playthrough)
Rating: 9.7