134273 is a quasi-random number.

Beyond Good and Evil: Zelda, if it weren’t Zelda

November 9, 2004 review

Before I get into my opening remarks, let me be clear: I did indeed enjoy Beyond Good and Evil. Also, this is all based on the Gamecube version. And now, my opening remarks…

In the year something-or-other, Nintendo released a game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It went on to be the best game the face of the planet ever hoped to be blemished with, according to gamerankings. Years later came The Wind Waker, and, while enjoyed, didn’t quite possess the pizazz that its prequel held.

Somewhere in there the people at Ubisoft thought “Well. Hell, Zelda is great, right? But it’s too limited, you know? No story to speak of, and that’s a shame. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll make a Zelda game that — and get this —is not Zelda.” The Zelda parts of it: large dungeon-like facilities, a sword-like weapon that powers up, heart-container-style energy, water areas navigated by vehicle, taking pictures of things, and the general puzzling ethic. Non-Zelda elements: no octoroks.

Let’s explore what Beyond does differently and similarly from Zelda. Its main difference is its story, but there are some minor differences in gameplay. But there is, as mentioned, a whole host of similarities in style. Not a bad thing for Zelda-enjoying types.

The largest difference is not related to style, but to story. It is set in a semi-futuristic world of humans and human-like animals. And animals. Instead of rescuing a princess, you are trying to rescue something much more important… the truth. Yes, it’s painfully clear the ethical position of the writers. When one music track’s only lyric is “Propaganda!”, there’s not much room for misinterpretation.

On the other side of Ico’s perceived misogyny, Beyond tries to stand as a progressive voice, with a non-oversexed female lead: Jade. She has, in fact, a very modest chest. If it weren’t for the fact that her uncle (O.K… adoptive uncle) is a squat pig, she’d feel like a very normal, nondescript person. With bright green lipstick. Interestingly enough, it has been pointed out by one person that this difference — a normal human against a world of talking animals and odd cariacatures — is what makes her stand out. I do not think this is enough to trivialize her character, however.

The biggest difference in gameplay is the introduction of mostly unhelpful, but not aggravating, teammates. There are times when they are used for puzzles, and will often help distract an enemy whilst you take on others, but for a large part of the game they are either absent or simply “there”. It is nice, however, that they do not get in your way.

The game also has moments of strong cinematic touches — especially in the first and last battles. The introductory battle is, in fact, remarkably captivating. There are also a couple of well-realized set pieces which find a pleasing middle ground between game and action movie.

So what are these traits that Beyond borrows liberally? Progression is heavily linear; one item is needed to open new areas, which in turn will unlock new items. But Jade’s arsonal is much more limited than Link’s. In fact, she only has two weapons. (And really only three active items.) Most of the “items” are related to her vehicle. Jade spends most of her dungeon time sneaking, not fighting. The puzzles are, more like Ico, mainly figuring out how to get from A to B. It’s hard to describe this: if Hyllis were instead called Hyrule, and the DomZ were instead Moblins, you’d be playing Zelda, but without the need to switch between your boomerang and hookshot and fire arrows and music instrument and floation boots with every new room you enter.

However, the control is nearly identical. You interface with the game in nearly the same way as with Zelda, both physically using the controller and in your reactions in game-space. Again, a good thing, as you explore the environment in a very fluid manner, and exploration is a key play element here.

If you just put down Ocarina or Wind Waker, you will play through Beyond with no problem. It’s a strong game that breaks the rules just enough to be applauded, but treads too lightly in other ways. Almost every minute of the game was completely enjoyable and often rewarding. But the familiarity of much of the gameplay is what prevented it from really holding its own. An interesting note, this is much of what held Wind Waker back.

Let me take an aside to discuss one of the mini-games. We’ll call it “Future Air Hockey” (or “FAH”) for now.

The differences between FAH and normal air hockey are: there are eight pucks in the play field (each player starts with four on his/her side); there is a barrier in the middle of the field with a small passage in the middle; a player wins a round by getting all the pucks into the other player’s half of the field. A cursor selects the “active” puck; you pick and angle, and you send it flying. If it goes into your opponent’s play area, the cursor selects a new puck.

The biggest flaw of FAH is that you cannot determine which puck will become active. Thus, there are times with the computer will select the sub-optimal puck for you to deal with, and you may have to toss it randomly away so that you can control the puck you wish. I can live with the small passage in the middle of the field, thought I’m not entirely sure why it is diagonal and curved.

While not an impossible game, the cursor issue makes it more of a frustrating experience than it should have been. Naughty, naughty, Ubisoft. Shoulda used the +Pad!

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