Thursday, 11 April 2013

Harvest Moon Memories

A couple of weeks ago, the Gameboy Color port of Harvest Moon was released for the 3DS Virtual Console. This was actually the very first game in the Harvest Moon franchise that I ever played. Since I've recently got back into the series, I figured it would be a good time  to talk about some Harvest Moon games and share some memories of the franchise with my readers (though not as good a time as two weeks ago when it was actually released!).

Years ago, when Harvest Moon GBC was first released in England, I remember reading about it in a magazine. I can't remember if it was Computer & Video Games or Official Nintendo Magazine, but I do remember that the game received a very good score. So I bought it and it turned out to be really addictive.

The problem is, my brother wanted a turn. You could only have one save slot so he erased my save file and hogged the game for himself. My dad said that we should share it. I don't really see why, considering that I'm the one who bought the game with my own money, but whatever. So you know what I did? I saved up and bought another copy.

Yeah, that's one way to make more money; have only one save file, so if the gamer has a sibling with entitlement issues, they have to buy another copy!

But anyway, the gameplay is actually quite therapeutic. Even today, playing it for a while is an effective cure for a bad mood. It was so satisfying to see your crops ready for harvesting and making money. Saving up to buy animals or improve your house always gave you something to look forward to.

Years later, I found out about some other games in the series. I was able to play the original Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo and, unsurprisingly, it was even better. The game world was bigger, the festivals were better and more engaging and you could marry a local girl.

It is, just as long as it's not snowing...

 A while after that, I was browsing Youtube and I saw a video in which a gamer listed his top 5 Harvest Moon games. I found it very interesting, so I decided to go and try some of them. I went on Ebay and bought a copy of Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town for the Gameboy Advance. When it arrived, I spent the following week with the GBA practically glued to my hands.

It combined the simple pick-up-and-play feel of the Gameboy Harvest Moon with the elaborate game world and dating system of the console titles. It had memorable characters, entertaining cutscenes and the system for upgrading your tools was much better this time. This is the kind of game you pick up to play for a few minutes while waiting for a youtube video to load and the next thing you know, it's four o' clock in the morning by the time you bring yourself to turn it off!

But the good times couldn't last forever. I turned the game on one evening to discover the message "There is no saved data." I pressed B to get back to the title screen. I selected "Continue" again and this time the file came up. It happened again a few days later and this time it took more times entering and exiting the file menu for my file to finally appear. As the days went on, it became worse and worse. Obviously, something was wrong with the cartridge. Perhaps my save file had become corrupted or the battery that powers the memory was dying.

So, yeah. Great game, but my save file seems lost forever.

Then, on 3DS, I turned to The Tale Of Two Towns, the latest Harvest Moon title to be released in Europe (I know there's also Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, but that game isn't available in Europe, at least not yet). Looking at the name, I couldn't help but think of Charles Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities. I also like the artwork on the cover. That's a good selling point, if you can grab a gamer's attention just from the box art! I'd been thinking about getting it for a while but couldn't decide on whether to but the standard DS version or pay a bit more for the 3DS version. One day, I noticed that GAME had the 3DS version marked down to £19.99. Then I decided "Yeah! Why not?"

When I started playing, it was a bit slow paced at the beginning. The mayor keeps visiting you every morning to explain a new gameplay mechanic. It was annoying at first, but when you get to farming, it's just as fun and addictive as ever. One thing I like is that you can dig trenches to plant your seeds in. These allow you to water a bunch of crops with a single pour of the watering can. Another great thing about this game, is that your farm pets (dogs, cats etc) actually serve a function this time. When they have a high enough relationship level, they can herd your livestock outside for you on sunny days. It's great that the game has all these features to make things less tedious. 

The characters are great too, like Howard, the hilariously flamboyant owner of the cafe, Sheng the panda loving blacksmith and the two mayors, Ina and Rutger who bicker as sitcom arch enemies do best. Then there's The Harvest Goddess. Her appearance and mannerisms remind me of Lady Palutena from Kid Icarus Uprising. The dialogue in the game with definitely make you smile if not outright laugh.

You also have the option of going on dates with potential spouses. This is a good opportunity to increase your relationship level with them. The only bad thing about this is that going on dates is the only way to trigger their "Heart Events" and you need to see all of them if you want to marry them. The heart events are triggered by going on a date to a specific place on a specific day. Some of these events you can find easily, but with others, you may have to look at a guide on the Internet.
Another interesting thing about the dating system is that going on dates with a potential spouse builds "Jealousy points" in other bachelor(ette)s. When they reach 10 points they get mad at you and won't accept any gifts or request deliveries until you apologise. While this may seem like an inconvenience, they usually give you the chance to apologise right away and I think it adds a bit more personality to the characters.

On the day I bought Tale Of Two Towns, I was looking through the Wii titles as well. I was flipping through the "H" section when I stumbled upon this-

I remember in the Top 5 Harvest Moon games video, Magical Melodyy was Number 2, just below Friends of Mineral Town. It came as a surprise to see that there was a version on the Wii, as I heard that it was a Gamecube title. Then again, Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released on both consoles, so again, why not? The price was £7.99. Pretty good and I had heard that it was a great game, so I bought it.

The graphics reminded me of Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker with it's "chibi" characters and anime cell shading (Wow, two Zelda references in the same blog entry for the same game). The music was great too. My favourite track in the game is the "Spring" theme.

The game also seems to bank on nostalgia; it takes place in Flower Bud village, like the original SNES version and the N64 sequel. The five original bachelorettes from the first game also return. Characters from other games are thrown into the mix too, like the cast of Save The Homeland for the PS2. Nami from A Wonderful Life also makes an appearance during the Summer. This game is basically a love letter to the franchise, bringing characters from all these other instalments together.

Since then, I've been playing other Harvest Moon titles as well, but if I talk about every game that I've played, I'll be sitting here typing till next week. I just wanted to talk about how I got into the series and bring some attention to the Gameboy Color game's Virtual Console release.

You heard Ann. Go buy it.

 It may be a watered down port of the original Super Nintendo version, but it's every bit as fun and addictive. There were two sequels, also on Gameboy Color, but the third one was never released in Europe. Harvest Moon 2 had a bigger game world and Harvest Moon 3 brought back the dating and marriage system. They are also notable for being the only Harvest Moon sequels that were actually numbered, besides the Rune Factory titles on the DS.

Hopefully, if the first Gameboy Color game sells well enough, Nintendo will release the sequels on Virtual Console too.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Link To The Past Vs Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda is the pinnacle of adventure gaming. It’s a series that’s been going strong for decades and is one of Nintendo’s biggest money makers.

This entry is going to look at two of the games that were released for the Game Boy Advance; Link To The Past and Minish Cap. (Well, technically there were four if you count the original Zelda and Zelda II released on GBA as part of the NES Classics series).

I decided to play through them both and find out which is the better of the two.

What’s the point of comparing the games, you ask?

Well, I’m planning on making top ten lists of games for all the Nintendo handhelds that I’ve owned over the years and I’m planning on putting a Zelda title on the GBA list.

So, why don’t I just put both of them on the list?

I’ve watched a lot of top tens on Youtube and I think the more interesting lists are the ones that keep it to one game per franchise. Besides, even if I did put both of them on the list, I’d still have to do this to decide which one goes higher.

Aside from that, it gives me an excuse to play through them again and just make this comparison for a bit of harmless fun.

I’m going to compare them in five categories. Best 3 out of 5 wins. Let the battle commence!

Round 1: Graphics

In Minish Cap, the backgrounds are a lot more detailed. The character sprites are very detailed and the animation is better. There's more vibrant colour pallet in the backgrounds.
When you shrink down, the giant leaves and nuts look amazing. They really emphasise the size difference. In the first dungeon, there's also a spinning barrel that has a great
3D effect to it.

Link to the Past also showed off impressive graphics for SNES standards, but Minish Cap just looks a bit better. Link To The Past was only 16-bit, but Minish Cap is 32-bit.   
Now, the GBA port does include the Four Swords sub-game that features the same graphics as Minish Cap, but you can only play it with friends and a link cable. So chances are you're going to be looking at Link To The Past’s 16-Bit more than Four Swords’ 32-bit. 

Best Graphics: Minish Cap

Round 2: Sound

Minish cap features most of the background music from Link To The Past, as well as some great music of its own. I love the bouncy upbeat theme of Hyrule castle town. The music in Minish woods reminded me of the first Rayman game on the Sega Saturn for some reason.
I also love the bouncy music of Minish village.

Link To The Past has some classic music to it, but I like the remixes Minish Cap offers better. Minish Cap definitely has more musical variety.

Best Sounds: Minish Cap

Round 3: Length

Minish Cap: In every Zelda game, most of the game revolves around solving puzzles in dungeons to acquire treasures, or “Plot coupons” that are needed to unlock the final dungeon. In Minish Cap, Link is after the four elements needed to repair to Picori blade. One of the elements is actually taken from its dungeon and put in a fifth. That felt so cheap when I found out the element was gone. It felt like an excuse to throw in another dungeon to artificially lengthen the game. You finish that dungeon and feel like it's just been a big waste of time.

Link To The Past: In this game, you actually have two sets of plot coupons. First, the
three medals needed to unlock the Master Sword, and then you go to the dark word to rescue the seven maidens. That's a grand total of ten plot coupons.
So as you can imagine, that's a lot of dungeons to get through. So when it comes to
game length, you really get your money's worth with this title.

Best Length: Link to the Past

Round 4: Best Items

Both games had the usual weapons for the Zelda series, the bombs, the bow & arrow, the boomerang, the lantern, the Pegasus boots and the ocarina. But they also each had items not available in the other. 

Minish Cap: You items sheet has a total of twelve slots. This includes the sword, the shield and the Pegasus boots. In Link To The Past, you always have the sword and shield equipped by default.  The items unique to this game are the Cane of Pacci, which flips certain items and enemies over and the Gust Jar that sucks things in and blows them out again. It's needed for sailing on certain lily pads. There's also the Mole Mitts that let you dig through specific rocks. These three items aren’t bad, but they're only useful for certain situations.

One advantage Minish Cap has over Link To The Past is that the boomerang gets upgraded to the Magic Boomerang that you can steer briefly when you throw it, but it's not especially game breaking. Of course, there are the Tiger Scrolls that let Link perform special moves, but in Link To The Past you could do three of them anyway, without needing any great sensei teaching you how to do them. The peril beam is basically letting you use the sword beam when you have one heart left and the rock breaker just lets you use your sword to break the pots with. Since you can just lift and throw them anyway, it's not really useful, except for saving a small amount of time lifting them. The only really good one is the Great Spin Attack, which is several spin attacks done continuously.

Link To The Past: The item sheet here has TWENTY FOUR slots for items and this doesn't include the sword, shield, boots or gloves. Those are all assigned to different lists, so Link To The Past gives you a lot more items to play around with. This game features the Hookshot, Ice Rod, Fire Rod, Hammer, Magic Powder, Invisibility Cloak and the medallions that let you use full screen magic attacks. So yeah. This Link has quite the arsenal. One thing that’s literally pretty cool is that you can freeze enemies with the ice rod and the ether medallion, then pick them up and throw them into each other like in Mario Bros 2.
In Minish Cap, it is fun to use the Roc’s Cape to jump over enemies and their projectiles, but you can’t beat getting out Link To The Past’s Bombos medallion and nuking the entire screen!

So in terms of both quality and quantity, the items round goes to Link To The Past.  

Round 5: Frustration to Fun Ratio

Every gamer you play exists in a delicate balance of frustration and fun. A game can be boring if its too easy, but if its too difficult you’ll just get angry and won’t enjoy playing the game, as is the case with original Ninja Gaiden trilogy for the NES. Along with difficulty there are other irritations.

Minish Cap: Ezlo constantly interrupting the game to state the obvious. He tells you how to defeat an enemy right after you beat one for the first time. That might have come in handy BEFORE I figured it out on my own! Or telling me that falling into Lava is a bad idea. No shit Sherlock...

Due to the game's world being smaller, the over world map also relies too heavily on a single linier path, which is just frustration to navigate. You’ll be trying to make your way from Hyrule Castle Town to the Minish Woods, but then the carpenters get the way and won’t move until later. Don’t you just hate it when you have to stop for useless road works? There's also this part of Crenel mountain, where you need to backtrack all the way to the base of the mountain to get Crenel hot spring water, to pour on a plant, even though normal water worked fine on the blue ones. So, Elzo will interrupt the game to tell you how to beat an enemy that you've already defeated, but he won't tell you that the seeds are colour coded for what specific water they need? The whole backtracking gimmick just seems like a cheep way to artificially lengthen the game.

Link To The Past:  You have to rely on a Magic Meter. You have a good number of items that need Magic, and they all come into play in the last dungeon.

Also, the biggest frustration is cheap difficulty. When you first start the dark world dungeons, enemies do much more damage than before. It gets really frustrating in the Swamp palace; you have fast enemies coming for you and projectiles flying in every direction. It's the last thing you need when you're trying to solve a block puzzle! Everything that touches you takes away two hearts. You know that annoying beeping sound that plays when you’re low on hearts? Well, you’d better get used to it, because in the Dark World dungeons, you’re going to hear it a lot. You'll spend more time looking at the game over screen than actually making any progress. 

The Skull Woods temple has these hands that keep grabbing you and taking you back to the entrance. There's so many of those that I was temped to make a mean spirited comment about the level designer and his own hand.

In temples, the game gets REALLY stingy with the health items. It'll give me stuff like arrows when my quiver is full, but no hearts when I need them.

Challenge is a good thing, but there’s a difference between fair challenge and just plain cheap.

There are armour upgrades, but you only get them late in the game. By the time I found the blue tunic, which doubles Link's defence, I had four of the seven maidens already.

So when it comes to frustration vs. fun, both games make me want to rage quit and throw the cartridges against the wall!

But instead of doing that, I went for a cup of coffee and gave myself time to cool off. Having thought about it with a clear mind, I was able to make my decision.

In the end, I decided to give the point to Link To The Past. Because while both games have a frustration factor, Link To The Past's frustration comes in late in the game. It is difficult, but there are optional items to make it easier. In Minish Cap, the annoying stuff is there from the start.  

So in the end, Link To The Past wins. But that’s not to say that Minish Cap is bad. It’s not as good as Link To The Past, but it’s still a fun game. The presentation clearly had a lot of work put into it. It also has a heavier emphasis on story than its SNES-born predecessor. You know how people gush over Link and Zelda having an actual relationship in Skyward Sword (albeit the cliché anime childhood friend thing)? Well, it’s basically a carbon copy of their relationship in Minish Cap. 

Well, now that I’ve picked a Zelda game for my Top Ten GBA games list, I’m ready to start it! Check back next time and I’ll be talking about more nerdy stuff!   

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Happy St Patrick's Day!

I really need to update more often. But, as it's St Patrick's Day and thus the busiest drinking day of the year, what better time to update? Last night, I was up late. I noticed that it was the early hours of Sunday morning. It was already St Patrick's day, so I figured it was a great excuse to have a can of Guinness before bed.

So, later today, I'm going to down some more Guinness and sit in front of the telly for a few hours of...

But first, into town for dancing, clapping and general merry-making.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Wigan Ale Fesitval 2013/Griffin Reopening.

Last night saw not only the first day of the Wigan Real Ale Festival, but also the reopening of the Griffin on Wigan Lane. With the introductory offer of Cooers Light for only £2.00 a pint, I'm already happy with it. Whats more, they have a jukebox. As I was browsing through the songs, one in particular caught my eye.

Do you remember the song Tongue Tied from season II of the Sci Fi sitcom Red Dwarf?

Well, it turns out there was a cover of this very song in that jukebox. The artist is simply credited as "The Cat", although it sounds like a different singer. Seeing this song in the jukebox, I thought it was too good to be true, but the music started and true it certainly was. What a great way to start a night out!

Next, it was off to The Anvil to catch the bus to the Robin Park Sports centre for the first night of the ale festival. My favourite ale of the evening was Floris Apple. A Belgian fruit beer.

Looking at the label, I was a bit unsure of it. When I think of apples and beer together, I usually think of Snake Bite; that vile mixture of lager and cider which is guaranteed to give you a headache and nausea for at least twenty four hours after drinking. But I remembered an non alcoholic apple beer I tried once called Iron Horse, which gives no such feelings of impending vomit. So there was a chance Floris would be an okay drink. Feeling adventurous, I tried it.
And yes, it was really nice. Essentially it was like fizzy apple juice. I later saw a couple of coasters with the Floris label on, so I asked if I could take one home as a souvenir. They let me have two. Thanks!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Many are the tales told of The Red Fleece of Wigan. The infamous bore of the Wigan pub circuit. Always ready to pounce on unsuspecting bar staff with a wealth of useless film and video game trivia.

This, is his blog.

So, what am I about? I volunteer at Book Cycle in Beech Hill and I sometimes help out at Wigan Little Theatre.

I enjoy computer games, films of the 80's and 90's (and the Carry On the series from the 60's) and light hearted detective novels. I'm hoping to make it as a writer myself someday.
I also enjoy going down to the pub. Booze and good conversation; that's what it's all about.

What kind of stuff am I going to talk about in this blog? This sort of thing-

  • Memories of old films
  • Video Game reviews
  • Comedy
  •  My exploits in the Wigan pub circuit
  • Pubs in general.