Our United States of Whatever

By the Life & Art staff

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Console: GameCube
Rated: E for elves, epic-size, umm…Easter eggs

Over the last four days, I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for approximately 30 hours. It beats the hell out of studying for physics and eating Asswells, but the game is not good. First off, just like last month’s Metroid Prime, this mini-disc creeps up on you like an addiction to heroin, which is scary but fun in a thumb-or-die sort of way. Feeling like the Lou Reed of Nintendo quickly dissolves, however, upon realizing that unlike the NES’ Legend of Zelda, its Internet-debated sequel, and the Super NES’ A Link to the Past, this time you’re not poking monsters on a hyper-quest of romance. Let the nerds declare my review vulnerable for viruses…
“0010101010100! What about ye ol’ N64 masterpieces, The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask? Those sequels surpassed thy blessed original and appealed to all ages. 01010.” Yes, the nerds have a relevant argument, but that is when the Zelda franchise began to feel more like a Disney film. Unlike 64-bit updates on Donkey Kong or Castlevania, joysticking The Ocarina of Time made you feel like an after-school pedophile. The Wind Waker is even weirder.
Besides a plot that drags like Twisted Sister, there are too many suspect mini-games. Before you can “advance,” you have to advise a gang of kids not to harass their school teacher, play hide-and-go-seek with them, and perform acupuncture on a fish by shooting arrows at him as he jumps out of water. Unlike previous entries, this game lacks confrontations with difficult enemies (and probably registers with the FBI when you rent it). Of course, the graphics are killer and the rotating angles are smooth, but it’s for a 128-bit system. It’s exactly like playing inside Aladdin – lots of trippy smoke and water. Whoa. Dude. Wait a second…
This seems to be a trend among recent video games – they start to dominate your life and try to suck you into some endless biodome where a pixilated Pauly Shore is the secret reward. Maybe if the villagers in this game actually talked, but all they do is mumble elf-speak and way-long text. Remember those elf statues you’d see in cigar stores in the mall, with a stupid tree coin glued to them? People would buy one every month for $50 and go home and sit it on a table, and what…whisper to it? After playing The Wind Waker for 30 hours, I can relate to those people. They’re now my best friends. Take that as you wish fellow player.

– Willis Joyner

Game Boy Advance SP
Console: duh
Rated: n/a
Rated (fake): F for free Game Boy

Before Nintendo mailed me this luxx Game Boy Advance SP to review, I considered Game Boy to be the Heather Graham of portable gaming consoles – it should have retired a long time ago, but top execs still enjoy pushing its buttons.
That’s a cheap observation, but (unlike basketball and boxing) when it comes to video games, I prefer the underdog systems – in this case, the Atari Lynx and NEC’s Turbo Express (Game Gear deserved its fate). The Lynx (for nerds: Lynx Classic) was an oblong device with a color screen sold only in sleek black with speakers that hit harder than clock radios. Americans were privy to this technology in 1989, yet few people seem to remember the Lynx – only the Game Boy. In middle school, I’d bring the Lynx and blast California Games (so much better than NES’) while everyone else was playing Kirby Puzzle Magic IV. It was the digital equivalent to showering after gym in reverse.
If Lynx was Flight of the Navigator, Turbo Express was Tron. Released in 1991, the GB-sized Turbo Express was a color portable as well, but unlike the Lynx, it served as a mini-TV and only played games for its parent home console, yes, the TurboGrafx 16 – arguably the “raddest” system ever sold at Toys R Us (reverse the R). But TE didn’t have Tetris, so American kids weren’t feeling it, so their parents never realized they’d be hitting two birds with one stone game-wise. Turbo Express quickly followed its mascot, Bonk, into pre-mature extinction – leaving Game Boy to thrive and evolve.
Nearly ten years after Lynx, Game Boy went color (sort of) with…Game Boy Color. It shared a strange resemblance to finger paint, so I never touched it. Game Boy Advance followed, stretching the original shape horizontally, into a Lynx-like design. For GBA, Nintendo went all out with the advertising, producing chic and subtle commercials aimed at adults, in which various games intermixed with reality in taboo settings like a cathedral. Personally, I never played the GBA, the main turnoff being its clunky size. Obviously Nintendo disliked this as well, because the new Game Boy Advance SP is, when unfolded, close to the size of a T-Mobile Sidekick. The simple design is quite nifty – as if I’m carrying around a high-tech calculator or mini-scale – and the “Platinum” color (also in “Cobalt”) is modernized, according to the online press kit, for the BET “Spring Bling” demographic. In other words, it’s the perfect gadget for a new Busta Rhymes video.
The only game available for this review was Golden Sun, a Final Fantasy-like RPG with an entire world packed into a cartridge half the size of one for the original Game Boy. A few minutes into Golden Sun a thunderstorm erupts and thousands of raindrops splash down onto a grassy mountain terrain. The graphics are concentrated and stunning. The game’s sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age was just released and literally picks up where this one ends, advancing characters from one cartridge to the next. Damn. Portable video games are reaching fresh levels of complexity and demanding higher levels of investment. Capitalizing on home console compatibility (sound familiar?), both Game Boy Advances connect to the GameCube via a wire (sold separately). This enables access to minor secrets, codes and things – seemingly for the hardcore gamer.
When the rubbery power-switch is pushed forth, there’s a nostalgic, generational impulse to hop in the back of a van and go on a road trip. But exams are coming up, so that’s not possible. Instead, I now possess a window into a tiny village with shivering little people on my desk next to a stack of textbooks. Hours of gaming aside, Game Boy Advance SP is a quite a stress reliever.

– Hunter Stephenson

Tenchu: The Wrath of Heaven
Console: PS2
Rated: M for midnight killings and major
ninja badassery

If you played the first Tenchu for PS1 (Tenchu: Stealth Assassins) then maybe you’ll have a better right-out-of-the-box feel for this than I did. After a few attempts at getting the controls down I got a little sucked in; until I realized – I’m not quite the ninja I should be.
This game’s missions are intricate, so you have to put reality on hold for hours. Under an Eastern moon of death you silently creep along the roofs of enemy lodgings, until arghhhhh, you hop down and decapitate deadly wise men. Similar to Metal Gear Solid, it’s key to stay on the low, and in this case when you end a life unnoticed, a blood red “stealth kill” symbol pops up. During a kill, the graphics are shockingly realistic, prompting our “guy who lives on the couch” to mumble out “this game is pretty brutal.” Yep. Even more interesting is the fact that watching people play Tenchu: The Wrath of Heaven is more appealing than playing a game of pool.
The multi-player mode allows for nice specialized-mission team ups, and also offers the chance to pit players against one another. The game is completely thorough and overwhelmingly vast (I got lost every minute or so on the third mission) but makes for a legitimate challenge, even on the normal difficulty setting. Do not rent The Wrath of Heaven unless you’re a 10-year-old who patrons the “death match” club/shop at Sunset Place.
So, I’d go to Virgin and buy this disc with the new Little Brother CD (Tenchu’s music doesn’t do the trick). Live by that code and you’re set.

– Sven Barth

The Life & Art staff is busy playing newer product.