We’re Just Playing (Remakes): Link’s Awakening, Yakuza Kiwami 2, Katamari Damacy REROLL and Panzer Dragoon

Collage of Zelda, Panzer Dragoon, Katamari Damacy, and Yakuza Kiwami 2

You’re probably awakening from your tryptophan haze as we speak. Well, at least if you’re from America, where we celebrate Thanksgiving. Sure, 2020 has been a nightmare in many ways, but we all dream of better days ahead, and with that thematic foreshadowing taken care of, let’s segue into the first game on the docket for this week’s installment of We’re Just Playing.

Johnny Malloy

With the combination of a Black Friday sale, and a birthday gift card, I finally got The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake for the Nintendo Switch on the cheap-cheap. I was never in any rush to get this glossy (is it ever glossy) remake of the Game Boy/Game Boy Color classic. I owned the DX edition on my 3DS and play it often as it’s a breezy (and somewhat easy) game you can pick up and play anytime.

This adventure, the fourth in the series at the time of its Game Boy release, sees Link wash up on the shore of Koholint Island after a nasty storm wrecks his ship. The game famously nixes series mainstays, such as the Triforce and the titular Princess Zelda, in favor of a more meta and self referential approach. Characters will tell you how the controls work, and then comment that they don’t understand what they just said. One character will give you a heads up that they will get lost in the woods later on in the game. The whole game has a lackadaisical approach that is fun and playful, but the game also explores some darker themes.

Those who have played the game are aware of the glorious sleeping Wind Fish, and the moral quandary Link is faced with in regards to waking him up. For those who haven’t played, I won’t spoil the plot, as it’s bittersweet and wonderful.

As for the remake itself, it’s so pretty. The animation is cutesy to be sure, but it fits for a game that incorporates Super Mario characters into the plot. As for the performance, I did have some issues with slowdown. Normally, I don’t mind a game with a stuttering framerate. Breath of the Wild gets laggy at times, and I just accept it. I come from the golden era of video games. The original Zelda would slow down whenever you reached later dungeons infested with Darknuts, I roll with it, Katamari Damacy-style. However, we’re talking about a current gen game here, and a triple A title as well. There’s no reason the game should slow down every time I enter a new area and the screen displays the location name.

At the same time, the shift to a more open world seems to have introduced a new problem. The game never really chugs, but there are some definite framerate drops as you wander through Koholint. It seems to be more prevalent when playing in handheld mode, but I was encountering similar drops docked as well. Thankfully, the drops are short and light, making them easy to ignore in favor of the grander scope of Link’s Awakening.
– our Day 1 Review: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

If you look past this odd issue, you’ll find a beautiful remake that works in a lot of new features while remaining faithful to the original and it’s gang of wacky characters. Crazy Tracy is here, as are the (now expected) sexual innuendos the Zelda series is low-key known for.

Link meets Crazy Tracy, a magical healer.
Many video game fans would be surprised to know how often Zelda games traffic in innuendos.

There is a frustrating crane games (just like real life), where you can spend all your gems trying to get anything from collectible Mario-themed characters that can be displayed in local homes, to a Heart piece or two.

The original game was—at times—a bit obtuse, mostly due to the graphics not always clearly conveying what you were looking at. Here, the graphics are pretty and there is no mistaking what things are. Plus, over the years, other Zelda games borrowed gimmicks from LA, so if you have a solid history with the series, you can probably solve many of the puzzles this game throws at you simply through memory recall.

Long before Link showed off his pitiable verticality in BotW, he could jump in LA using the Roc’s Feather. Speaking of jumping, several underground sections in the game switch over to side scrolling affairs where Link will encounter Goombas, Petey Piranhas, and other famous baddies from the Mushroom Kingdom. Seeing Link stomp enemies and attack enemies spouting out of pipes must’ve been a surprise for gamers in 1993, but with Smash Bros series being a phenomenon these days, Nintendo mashups are old hat to us fans now.

I played through a third of the total game in one sitting, and most fans familiar with the game can finish it in under 12 hours, while new players will probably struggle, not knowing the secrets that old fans are aware of, such as using the Chain Chomp to access a key area early on.

Rife with callbacks and references to other Zelda and Mario games, Link’s Awakening is a perfect pick-up-and-play top-down Zelda game. The vibe and aesthetic is a cross between A Link to the Past (the game that preceded it) and A Link Between Worlds (the excellent 3DS title). At its current low (for a Nintendo triple A game) price of $39.99, it’s now or never if you plan on picking it up.

Link holds an Ocarina above his head.
The Ocarina of Callbacks.

Collin Henderson

In between bouts of desperately trying to find a not-awful ending for the terrible project I’m working on for National Novel Writing Month, this past week I managed to beat Yakuza Kiwami 2, a from-the-ground-up remake of the second game in the Yakuza series.

In the past year or so, I’ve become a massive fan of this franchise. It does everything to its own beat, with a bizarre mixture of Japanese crime story melodrama, extremely detailed world building, minigames that are so fleshed out they could be standalone releases, and a huge abundance of side stories that range from heartwarming to gut busting. Each games features scenes of extremely serious people talking about extremely serious things, but it’s also unafraid to place its stone-faced lead, Kazuma Kiryu, in a position where he has to voice act in a homoerotic visual novel.

In most other games, this severe tonal clash would probably make for a confusing, unpleasant experience, but somehow the Yakuza series has managed to juggle them deftly, at least so far. This remake of the second game takes place a year after the first and sees Kiryu mourning the loss of many of the people who died in the first game’s 10 billion yen incident, and of course, it isn’t long before he is roped in to a plot involving a previously-unmentioned incident from the early 80s that saw some Yakuza members slaughtering a Korean gang and a modern day cop’s own mysterious past. It’s compelling stuff, of course, with twists aplenty and lots of climactic showdowns with super powered criminals, although I will say there are many moments near the middle that see the plot sort of go off on strange tangents.

Kiryu interacts with a mysterious figure.
Even though the game takes place in 2006, a Switch is clearly seen here. Like all the other bizarre inconsistencies across the series, don’t think too hard about it and just roll with it.

That being said, seeing the locations of the previous two games, Kamurocho and Sotenbori, which returns from the incredible Yakuza 0¸fully fleshed out in RGG Team’s Dragon Engine is really impressive. You can explore both cities with barely any loading screens, and can even go in numerous buildings seamlessly. The attention to detail is the best I’ve seen yet, and I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for the step backward that will inevitably come when I play through the PS4 port of the third game, which has yet to receive the Kiwami treatment like the first two games. Enemies also use Havok Physics instead of pre-done animations, so you can kick an enemy 50 feet down the street during combat, which is never not hilarious. And the series Heat Moves, which act as super powerful and high damage attacks, have never looked better than in this game, and of course they’re still comically lethal despite Kiryu never actually killing anyone (there’s a description for a move that sees Kiryu slash an enemy twice, then ram a sword through their chest that says, “Looks painful, but he’ll probably be fine”).I did take issue with the combat, which felt like a step back in certain ways. In both 0 and Kiwami, Kiryu had access to up to four different fighting styles (which is to say nothing of Goro Majima’s own fighting styles in 0). Each style had their own trees to level up, and each felt distinct from one another. There was the light footed fast fighting type, the heavy hitting slow type, and the inbetweeny type, as well as a fourth mode that was a sort of blend of all three. In Kiwami 2,RGG Team got rid of that, and instead had Kiryu focus on one fighting style, which was kind of disappointing to see. Fighting goons is still inherently satisfying due to the brutal nature of the Heat Moves, but it felt like a step back to limit the player in such a way.

Still, I really enjoyed my time with Kiwami 2, with its intriguing story of past sins affecting the present and its usual mix of absolutely awesome and often hilarious side content. Even though the story lost its way at times, and the focus on a single fighting style did feel a bit regressive, Kiwami 2 is a great game, just like other entries in this wildly unique series, and I’m looking forward to continuing Kiryu’s story.

Sean Parker

I was happy to get nostalgic this week as Katamari Damacy REROLL released last weekend, once again tricking me into thinking I won’t hurt my thumbs by pressing too hard against my analog sticks. Blisters aside—I adored the original Katamari Damacy for PS2 as well as its PS3 sequel Katamari Forever for their innovative, if not simplistic, gameplay which, if you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing, is literally about picking up as many things as possible while spinning an ever growing ball. There is a far more obnoxious plot point involving the King of Space going on a bender of some sort and destroying the cosmos and volunteering you, his smallest prince, to fix it by rolling things up on earth and turning the chaotic ball of random items, animals, and people into replacement stars.

The plot is silly beyond all reason but it only adds to the game’s charm, the surprising amount of fun I have from cleaning a virtual room with deeply concerning amounts of small food, erasers, and 9V batteries meanwhile noticing my own utter disregard for cleaning the room I physically sit in playing the game is irony that is not lost on me, but at least the ball of junk at the end of my endeavor in Katamari becomes a star instead of a pile of things I need to figure out what to do with. Still, the King of Space does set some stringent time constraints and that may be easier for me to deal with than getting bored of cleaning an actual room after twenty minutes resulting in playing video games anyway.

The features of the new REROLL version are mostly in the graphics update and HD resolution which do truly make a difference in the bright colors and now purposefully boxy looking people. It also boasts  some new dialogue in the cutscenes as well, but mostly this is a throwback game for fans of the original because honestly I don’t really remember the dialogue from the old game which released sixteen years ago. I would argue that its $30 price point is a bit on the steep side considering that you’re not getting a lot of new features in the game, but if you’ve never played Katamari Damacy before it’s not a bad price for a new game. I would have loved to have seen an online multiplayer challenge mode happen to roll against friends or online compatriots but maybe this will give Bandai/Namco a push to create a new Katamari game in the future for the next gen consoles.

Whether you’re looking for a bit of a mindless break from coordinating between three buttons to attack an enemy or you’re a big fan of puzzle games, Katamari Damacy REROLL will be right up your ally. I’d compare it to the fun satisfaction one gets from playing 2018s Donut County because even if you may need to do a bit of planning in order to focus your efforts to meet the requirements, the game is still very whimsical, simple to accomplish, and completely satisfying.

Lor Gislason

I’ve been a bit busy with work and other commitments this week, so I wanted something short and sweet I could play in one sitting. Luckily I also happened to get Panzer Dragoon: Remake on Switch recently so it was meant to be!

I’ll admit I never played the original Panzer Dragoon, but I quite like rail shooters so I had a feeling it would be right up my alley. The graphics are gorgeous, with a variety of bio-mechanical and natural settings. Colors are vivid and the music is fantastic, definitely the highlight of the experience. I quite like the simplicity of the game, there’s just your health bar and the firing reticle. You can “target-lock” on to multiple enemies and rotate 360 degrees to reach moving targets. There are no upgrades, but you are awarded credits for your performance at the end of each level which are used to recover from a game over. I admit I died a few times, mostly from projectiles I was too slow to destroy. Oops! Still, you can get through the game in around an hour and that suited me fine. I could see myself coming back to this, and I’ve heard they might be remaking the other Panzer Dragoon games in the future so that’s something to look forward to. The regular price for this is a little steep, so I would maybe wait for a sale if you pick it up.

Panzer Dragoon remake screen capture.

Written by TV Obsessive

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