Category: games

Leap Year reviewed

I’ve spent about 30-45 minutes in Leap Year so far, and it’s one of the stranger platformer games I’ve played.

The game’s tagline, A clumsy platformer, clues you into what to expect. The jump mechanic is unique among platformers, in that your default jump is generally fatal to yourself. Fall height is what does it; and you can only safely fall one grid-height, approximately the height of your own body, without injury.

But your standard jump height is two grid squares, making it deadly most of the time if you try to jump without a good bit of planning first. You can’t control your jump height by a light press or brief press of the button. You always get the same jump no matter how you try to press the button.

So this forces creativity. A normal jump on level ground will take you up two squares, and drop you fatally onto the ground. So you can work around that by jumping up to a higher platform, one or two squares above your starting level, and thereby avoid falling too far. Or you can jump under a low ceiling, which prevents you from going too high, and thus land safely on the same level you started from. There are perhaps a few other ways to survive falling, if you can figure it out. But I don’t want to give away too much and spoil the puzzle aspect. Figuring it out for yourself is definitely where the fun is found.

The goal of the game is to collect numbers which correspond to the dates of the month of February, 2024, which is a leap year, so there are 29 altogether…. er, I think — I’ve only managed to get through the first 15 so far. Each date is a checkpoint, which you’ll respawn from if you die. You can expect to die a lot, because most stuff you’re thinking is easy and second nature in a jumping platform game is fatal in Leap Year.

The levels provide a solution for getting safely through, and it’s a puzzle to work out for yourself how. So this is pretty clearly a puzzle-platformer. It’s fairly non-violent, despite tripping and dying constantly, and failure is never much of a setback as long as you’ve touched a checkpoint recently you won’t have to repeat much.

The game does require a bit of planning and thinking through your actions, if only because you have to carefully consider how the rules work in this game, since they’re so counter-intuitive to how most platforming games work.

I found that the level design is a bit obtuse and obfuscated — there are walls and platforms that you can move through, but the game doesn’t make it obvious. You can discover these things readily enough through experimentation, but there’s little in the way of clues or signposts. Only the bare minimum is explained: arrow keys to move left/right, space to jump, you figure out how jumping kills you, and what the rules are for surviving. About halfway through, the game throws another mechanic at you: shift will allow you to bounce safely from a normally fatal jump height, and rebound to a taller than usual height than you can jump… but only under certain circumstances, which I’ve yet to completely figure out. So sometimes you can do the bounce move, and other times you can’t, and I haven’t figured out why, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a dummy, or because the game design has an issue, or perhaps because figuring it out is the game, and it’s meant to be a mysterious puzzle that I have to discover through trial and error until I experience gestalt.

I’m currently stuck trying to figure out how to get to the 16th. I seem to recall seeing the 16 flag once, early on in the game, and it seemed that it was out of sequence, skipping a lot of the earlier numbers, so I tried to get it but I couldn’t, and I’m not sure if that’s because I wasn’t meant to, or because I just didn’t understand the rules for how to move and solve the platform puzzles well enough to be able to do it. So I went a different way and ended up getting all the rest of the numbers in order, and now I’ve gotten the 15th and the map sort of looped around and I’m back in an area where I’ve been already, only I’m not quite sure how to get back, or where exactly I need to go to find the 16.

So I may need to start over and play through again, noting more carefully where I saw that 16. Or maybe I’ll figure it out eventually.

So what other tricks will this game offer me? I don’t really know, but it’s been pretty fun so far. A bit frustrating, and so unlike most platformers that I’m used to that I bet it will be a game that a lot of platformer players dislike. It can be frustrating in ways that won’t feel fair to players approaching it with the expectations of the platformers that they’re used to. It’s counter-intuitive, clumsy, and a bit clunky. But that said, it tells you straight up that it’s a clumsy platformer, so you can’t say they didn’t warn you, and if you play with an open mind and with the understanding that this is a platformer that is trying to explore the space that is enabled by subverting the usual expectations of the genre, then you may come to appreciate its subtleties.

The graphics are charming, crude abstract stick figures, clumsily hand-drawn, as though doodles, and if you enjoy children’s art, you’ll find it delightful. The background music is relaxing and pleasant to listen to, although I’m not at all sure how to describe it.

Leap Year is a bravely contrarian platformer that subverts expectations, but if you’re looking for something deliberately different, and you understand the design language well enough to know the difference between a poor designer who, ignorant of the conventional rules of platformer design, just creates something sloppy, unplanned, and poor quality, and a master designer breaking the rules deliberately in order to achieve something unexpected, then you may just enjoy this game for what it is meant to be.

Leap Year by Daniel Linssen released on Steam

I first encountered Daniel Linssen through Ludum Dare more than 10 years ago. He was using GameMaker and created a wonderful platformer called Javel-ein. Linssen has gone on to make many other games, all of which are amazing. He has quite a knack for design and for coming up with interesting and novel play mechanics. I love everything he’s created.

His latest release, Leap Year, just came out on Steam, and without having played it yet, I can’t give it a review, but I can without reservation give it a recommendation. For just $5, it is guaranteed to be worth your time and money. Go check it out.

Boulderdash by Andrew Davie

Boulderdash was a classic early 80s videogame. I remember seeing advertisements for it, but I don’t think I ever had a chance to play it. It was available on many platforms, and for some reason I think it was more popular on personal computers of the day (DOS, Apple ][, Commodore, Atari, Amiga) than it was on consoles.

Andrew Davie is a programming legend in the Atari homebrew scene. For the past year-plus, he has been developing a Boulderdash remake on the Atari 2600 that is incredible. It runs on a stock system, no special hardware mods needed, thanks to an ARM chip in the cartridge. That ARM chip is a significant power boost to the processing capabilities of the system, so really the console is just relaying controller input to the computer inside the cartridge, which uses the VCS’s Television Interface Adapter (TIA) chip to draw to the screen. The results are far beyond the normal capabilities of the 1977-vintage hardware. And the program does things that you have to see to believe. If you run this game next to a 2k launch title like Combat or Slot Racers, you wouldn’t believe that it’s running on the same exact hardware. It’s a 32kb ROM, as compared to the 2kb or 4kb of most Atari 2600 games.

Davie has announced through his website that he has obtained permission from the owners of the Boulderdash IP to release just 100 individually serialized copies of the game ROM will be produced, and they are not redistributable — this means that one may not legally obtain the ROM from anyone other than Andrew Davie, who is giving them away for free, but only for 100 lucky Atari fans. This is a must-have for an Atari collector.

It’s my hope that the Demo will be followed up by a full version of the game, hopefully in unlimited quantities. Nothing has been announced formally, but the “demo” label implies that there should be more to come. But it’s possible that the Demo may be all that he will be authorized to release.

The graphics are higher resolution than the 2600 is normally capable of displaying, very detailed, more objects on the screen, more colors, it has music, animation, parallax scrolling, asymmetrical playfields, everything that you would not expect to be possible with the stock Atari 2600 hardware. It’s literally incredible.

Atari acquires Intellivision brand

Atari SA announced that it has purchased the Intellivision brand and “certain games”.

What is Atari getting exactly?

  • One less competitor
  • The Intellivision trademark and brand
  • The incomplete, unreleased Amico platform
  • The Intellivision game library consisting of some 200-ish titles.

It looks like Atari intend to bring the Amico console to market. That’s a surprising decision, considering that they are now supporting the Atari VCS and Atari 2600+ systems. It might have made more sense for Atari to put Amico titles on the VCS rather than try to launch another console. Adding another misbegotten console to their lineup will not benefit the company — it will only serve to divide up the already tiny Atari customer base and increase the companies expenses in supporting another console that doesn’t have enough customers. Considering that Atari is just barely supporting the VCS, it seems crazy for them to split their customer base by resurrecting the Amico from the dead and trying to complete the promise made by Intellivision more than five years ago.

I think it makes sense to buy the Intellivision brand and IP, if it can be had for a bargain basement price. I’m not aware of which games Atari will now own, but whatever they are, having the rights to use those titles, characters and other IPs would be an opportunity for Atari. But what games are they? What unique game titles did Mattel produce for Intellivision back in the day, that would still hold value for nostalgic retrogamers today? I can’t think of too many. B-17 Bomber, Astrosmash, Shark! Shark! …that’s about it, really. And that’s… not much. Most Intellivision titles had generic-sounding names like “Football” or “Sea Battle” and none of them produced anything like a trademarkable, charismatic mascot to carry the brand.

Meifumado kickstarter resurfaces back from dead, releasing this summer?!

In 2022, I backed a project on Kickstarter for a video game called Meifumado. I donated $20, the cheapest level to get a copy of the game when it was finished. It looked promising. The graphics were pixel art, very detailed and it looked great. The combat animation reminded me of Shank, mixed with a bit of Samurai Champloo.

Immediately after they reached goal and the fundraising period ended, the developers apparently disappeared from the face of the earth, and it seemed like everyone had been had to the tune of some $48,000. People were pissed.

Today, developer OldBit resurfaced and posted a rambling, long-overdue update on the project page. The post is visible to backers only, so the short of it is that OldBit is located in Belarus, and was affected by the embargo on Russia and its allies in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March of 2022.

It’s odd to me that these events are linked, because man did it feel like Meifumado was a lot longer time ago than just two years ago. Apparently, Kickstarter doesn’t offer service to Belarus, and so to even get listed on Kickstarter in the first place, they had to partner with an intermediary in another country. Then they couldn’t get the funding transferred as expected after the embargo went into effect.

And… it took two years to provide this update? People were asking questions, for months, with nothing but silence, and they couldn’t respond for two years? Seems really weak. OldBit admits that they should have come forward to let backers know what was going on much earlier, and apologizes for it. I can’t say that the apology resonates with me, because there just isn’t any excuse after so long with no update. My confidence in OldBit was shattered, and I wrote off the $20 as a lost cause and forgot about the project.

However… OldBit says that they are close to having the project completed now, and will be releasing in the summer (it’s almost June, so that’s going to be rather soon if it indeed happens, but I’m not holding my breath; I’ll believe it when I believe it.)

If it does come out, and I get my copy for my $20, then I’m satisfied, and it’s certainly not any later than most of the other projects I’ve backed on Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo. So from that standpoint, the only real difference between this project and most of the others the complete dead silence from the developers. And if that’s all it is, hey, whatever, right? Results matter, and if they do deliver the game they promised, it’s an unexpected nice thing. Like seeing someone you thought was dead, alive and well.

It’ll be anybody’s guess if the game is as good as the kickstarter pitch video made it look. But if it is, it’ll be something special.

A pair of remade sequels, perfected

In 1987 a pair of NES games had noteworthy sequels: The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania. Both games were successful and popular, yet as the years went by they came to be regarded as flawed games that aged, let us say, less well than nostalgia would have wished.

More than 35 years later, two fan-made projects to remake and pay homage to these classics have been released.

Zelda II Enhanced Edition: Link is Adventuresome

Hoverbat has created an incredibly faithful homage to the Legend of Zelda franchise’s sophomore entry, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. A remake and expansion of the original, Zelda II Enhanced: Link is Adventuresome is available (for now) at I’m not going to link directly to it, but it is not difficult to find. Created in GameMaker Studio 1.4, it runs on Windows. It’s one of the most impressive projects made with GMS 1.4 that I’ve seen — right up there with the Mega Man Maker project and Hyper Light Drifter.

The game boldly reimagines the original, taking license to fix a number of “quality of life” issues and add new content and challenges while looking, sounding, and feeling exactly like the original did on the NES. I’m blown away at just how well the Zelda II engine has been reimplemented in GaneMaker. This game is a must play for anyone who enjoyed the original version in the late 80s.

Zelda II is remembered these days as being the (so-called) “worst” of the Zelda games on Nintendo hardware. (No one counts the Philips CD-i games,which were truly awful, as official anymore). While many LOZ fans defend Zelda II, it’s not unreasonable to call it the least-best Zelda game in the mainline series. But to call it a “bad” game is really unfair. At the time of its release, it was the most highly anticipated a video game, a sequel to what was probably the best video game ever made to that point in time.

As a sequel, it daringly changed up the formula and offered a completely different experience to the player. Featuring side-scrolling action, and introducing a new magic system and RPG-like elements like leveling up, it was an ambitious and innovative game. It was extremely challenging, and it was imperfect, to be sure, but it was extremely popular and well received by gamers at the time.

Famously, a chip shortage made it very hard to come by during the Christmas season that year, amplifying the demand. It wasn’t a perfect game, the main complaint being that some of the secrets and solutions to puzzles were too cryptic and made buying a guide book necessary to win the game. And while these criticisms are certainly valid, they don’t stop Zelda II from being one of the top releases in the storied history of the NES.

This fan remake addresses much of these issues, and improves the quest design in ways that surpasses the original. It’s essentially a re-telling of the original game, which looks in most ways exactly like the original, but with embellishments. That’s all I really want to give away about it; there’s a lot of new things to discover, and some things have been changed, but pretty much all for the better.

There’s no chip shortage this time, but we all know how protective Nintendo has always been with their IP, so probably don’t expect the game to be available indefinitely. Get it while you can.

Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest

The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest project, demo available on and coming soon to Steam, started out as a remake of the 1987 Konami classic, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.

Originally it was intended to be a faithful remake that addressed numerous problems with the original, which suffered from a poor translation, cryptic puzzles, numerous programming glitches and errors and weak boss fights. Despite all these shortcomings, the core game concept was strong: a non-linear adventure quest with a day/night cycle, towns full of shops and people to talk to, hidden secrets and puzzles. Exploration, a sense of narrative progression, building your power, and finding secrets/solving puzzles were given emphasis roughly equal to the action-based elements of fighting undead monsters.

The remake project ended up evolving into its own thing, rather than trying to remake Castlevania II, it’s become a completely new game, albeit one which owes much inspiration to the original, and is a wholly new game built with the same engine. It feels just like the original, with a look, sound and feel so much like the original, you’d think that they brought the original development team back.

You definitely will want to get this one, too.

Is it too much to hope that someone will do this for Metal Gear? A properly done remake of Metal Gear, which was a hit on NES despite being ridden with numerous bugs and glitches, has been on my wish list for quite some time.

140: A late review

140 is a synaesthetic rhythm puzzle platformer indie game released in 2013. I remember it getting favorable reviews, and bought it, but like so many people who buy games on Steam, I didn’t play it for a long time. I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did.

So far I’ve completed the first four levels.

The design of this game is so, so good. Let me tell you that straight off. I’ve never played a game where the various design elements are do tightly and intricately interwoven. The graphics are abstract, shapes and colors. The background of the levels animate in sync with the music, which has a strong beat, I presume, of 140 beats per minute. The platforms and obstacles in the game move in synch with this beat as well, so if you are attuned to the music, it helps you time your jumps and when to move to avoid death and achieve success.

The title of the game symbolically represents the 3 states of your avatar. 1, represented as a rectangle, or square, is you when you are motionless. 4, represented as a triangle, represents you when you are airborne, jumping or falling. And 0, represented as a circle, is you when you are moving, rolling on the surface of the ground. Thus, the title serves as a subtle reinforcement of the basic play mechanics: wait, jump, run. It’s brilliant.

The game uses this subtle, abstract visual language pervasively throughout the game, communicating to the player without words what they are supposed to do. This lets you discover the game on your own terms, and you don’t feel like the game is ever holding your hand or hitting you over the head with tutorials. The early stages of the game are simple and very gently pull you in to learning how to read the visual cues, as if instinctively.

The result is that you get get really deeply immersed in the action. As you learn how you can move, at just the right time the game provides you with a new challenge, and it’s up to you to work out for yourself how you’re supposed to overcome it. There are pits to jump over, ledges to jump up to, moving platforms, disappearing and reappearing platforms, platforms that alternate between being safe and being deadly, ceilings that will crush you, platforms that have a trampoline effect that will bounce you with a super jump in rhythm to the background music. There are keys which you can pick up by jumping into them, and you can carry them to a circular “doorway” which the key will unlock, changing the level in some way, activating dormant platforms or introducing some new play mechanic or transform the level to up the challenge.

It’s a combination of hand-eye coordination, rhythm, and figuring out puzzles for how to get through the obstacles. At the end of each level, there is a special challenge, a kind of boss battle, where you have to quickly learn a new puzzle mechanic and master it, handling iterations of the obstacle repeatedly until you’ve succeeded in defeating the level.

The first four levels were a fairly quick play, I probably completed each one in about a half hour or so, dying a lot, and taking breaks here and there. It felt like after the fourth level I had won the game, but after watching what seemed like some kind of ending, I found myself back in the starting room, which serves as a level select, and discovered that there appears to be another four levels waiting to be unlocked and played.

I started the fifth level (or is this more of a “second quest”? and found that now instead of moving to the right, this level seems to be all about moving to the left, which for some reason feels less natural and therefore more difficult. I guess since English is read left-to-right, and most platformer games tend to follow the convention established by Super Mario Brothers, and treat scrolling to the right as “forward”. It makes the level seem more difficult than it really is. The obstacles are simple, but then I died and instead of starting over at a checkpoint the game kicked me all the way out back to the starting level select screen. So it’s super-hard, you have to beat the entire level on one life, no mistakes. Yeah, this definitely feels more like “second quest” level difficulty increase. Well, as much as I died in order to get through levels 3 and 4, I have no idea if I’ll be able to get through level 5 at all, so this might be as far as I get.

I really enjoyed the challenges of the game, and have a great deal of appreciation for the style and design of the game as a whole. Everything feels so purposeful and deliberative, like every single thing in the game was done just as it was after a good deal of thought had been put into it — its purpose in the game, how it relates to other elements of the game, and how to tie those elements together to make everything seem like a unified whole.

It does seem a bit brief, but if the difficulty continues to ramp up from levels 5-8 as it has from 1-5, you might well never get to see all the game has to offer.

Everyone should give this one a try. It’s timeless and will be just as good another 10 years from now as it was back when it was first released.

MyArcade Atari GameStation Pro hands-on

I pre-ordered the day it was announced, 7/31/2023. The original ship date was supposed to be 10/1; this was quickly moved up to 9/1. My delivery date was supposed to be 9/5. 9/5 came and I still didn’t have a shipping number; Amazon finally acknowledged there was a delay. The listing on went offline for a few weeks, then came back, with a new launch date of 10/31.

I started hearing a few weeks ago (early October) that units had showed up in Costco and were selling for 20% off. I still didn’t have a shipping number from Amazon. I don’t have a Costco membership, so it didn’t do me any good, but then I heard that these were at Target retail stores, so I went to my local store and they had them. I canceled my order with Amazon, who were still telling me that they were delayed in shipping these and couldn’t tell me the truth about a shipping date. Always 2-3 days from the point I contacted customer service to ask for an update on when my order would ship.

I bought one at Target, and played it a bit today, and I’m not as impressed as the reviewers who received advanced copies of the system were. In fact, I’m totally disappointed.

The main problem seems to be with the controllers. They do not feel good.

Previewers said that they had some weight and felt like quality sticks, and gave me a false hope that this system would be worth buying. I don’t agree. The joysticks are lightweight and while not exactly flimsy, they don’t feel robust, either, and the joystick switches do not have satisfying travel, and buttons do not have satisfying click. The joystick sensitivity felt off, and I didn’t feel like I had the fine control that I expected — and received — from original hardware.

Worse, the tiny buttons on the base of the stick which are used for menu, game select, and start, are prone to accidental presses, which can abruptly end the game in progress and restart it or return you to the main menu. This is a disaster for user experience — a game should never be one easy accidental button press away from being abruptly ended.

And many of the games MyArcade picked to include in the system’s built-in library simply are not well suited to the controller.

All of the Atari 5200 games are seriously compromised by the fact that the GameStation joystick doesn’t have a 10-key pad like the original 5200 joystick, nor does it have an analog joystick. You can’t play a game designed for play with an analog stick with a digital joystick worth a damn. And any functions that depend on the 10-key pad are simply not supported at all. RealSports Baseball is a decent game on the 5200, but on the GameStation Pro it’s terrible — batting relies on the analog stick, and the 10-key pad is critical for pitching and fielding. It’s a tragedy — the Atari 5200 had a decent library of games, and most people don’t know it because the original console didn’t sell well.

The original joysticks for the 5200 were pretty terrible, too, but mainly that was due to being engineered to be cheap, which meant they were fragile and broke easily. The non-centering analog stick was also not a good design choice, but could be overcome through practice or by buying a 3rd party controller with a self-centering stick. The sticks included with the GameStation Pro just simply aren’t the type of controls that the games for the 5200 were designed to be controlled by, and that entire section of the game library is basically unplayable. I mean, you can start a game, but you’ll be frustrated, denied the real experience that the game’s original development team delivered to the original platform it was built for.

The menu screens are inadequate as well. The thumbnail images of the game box art are terrible low-res images that are just barely readable. The “About” info on the screen is just a brief paragraph of some 25-50 words or so, and not complete instructions. Many of the games are simple enough that you can just figure them out by playing, but that’s no excuse. Storage is cheap, and MyArcade easily could have included full manuals for each game title. But they didn’t.

The tiny dial for controlling the paddle games doesn’t feel good — I tried a game of Super Breakout, but the paddle wasn’t smooth, and I lacked fine control. The experience is terrible compared to how the game played on 1977 hardware, and it’s a travesty.

Tempest, an arcade game controlled by a spinning knob, doesn’t use the paddle dial, it uses the joystick, and it feels completely off, and basically unplayable.

And there are trackball games on this system, which just don’t play well with the substituted joystick.

I’m not sure how many of the 200 built-in games are actually playable, as in designed to be played with a digital joystick with up to 3 buttons. But whatever fraction of the built-in library does, pretty much most of them will simply not play as well as they did on original hardware.

I have to wonder if anyone who was involved in the design and engineering of this product ever played the games on original hardware. They picked too many games (even one is too many!) that weren’t supported by the input device the provided, and it just screams WHY.

Why pack in 200 games and give such a terrible experience of them? Even the games that nominally do play with a digital joystick don’t feel very good due to the travel and click characteristics of the hardware MyArcade provides.

The games from the Atari 2600 and 7800 libraries are a lot more playable. Both systems used a digital joystick, no 10-key pad, and 1 or 2 buttons, which will work with the included sticks. But even then the included sticks don’t feel as good as the original CX10, CX40, or Atari 7800 Proline sticks did, and you’ll be frustrated by how imprecise they feel.

The Arcade library will be a mixed bag as well. Many of the Arcade titles are obscure, black-and-white era games that are really interesting as historical artefacts, but they deserved better treatment than they receive, thanks to the poor feel of the joysticks.

Verdict: D. Do not buy.

Even for $100 it’s just not worth it for the experience you get. It would have actually been better if they had not included the games that wouldn’t play well with the included joysticks.

Maybe a fun device to “hack” with a sideloaded SD card, but even then it’d be better to pick one up secondhand or on clearance.

TOTK Diary 58: Gloom Hands

I haven’t played the game in over a month, because I’ve been too busy with other things. I’ve been wanting to get back into the adventure and advance in the quests, but I’ve been away for so long now that it feels like I’m going to have to review my old entries to recap where I’ve been and what I’m doing. Which is great, that’s the whole point of my keeping these diary entries.

In the meantime I wanted to post something, and I was just ruminating about this, and thought it was worth sharing…

One of my favorite new enemies that they added to Tears of the Kingdom is the Gloom Hands.

They’re super creepy and the first time I encountered them, I thought they were fantastic. I didn’t know too much about how they worked, I just kept my distance as much as possible, climbed to high ground where they weren’t able to reach me, and hit them with distance attacks. But later on I got into melee with them, and found that they pick you up and squeeze you, draining your life and afflicting you with Gloom sickness, which has the effect of draining heart containers from your life bar, temporarily.

If you kill the Gloom Hands, a Phantom Ganon sometimes will appear, seemingly to enact vengeance on you for defeating the Gloom Hands. Or maybe the Gloom Hands are like Phantom Ganon’s herald.

My initial take on Gloom Hands was that they were Wall Masters, only they appeared in the open spaces in the overworld, and not in dungeons. And I loved the callback to LOZ1 part of that.

I also immediately connected Gloom Hands to the Gloom plague that came with the Upheaval, and connected it with the Underworld, because that’s all plain and obvious.

I think a missed opportunity the designers could have taken advantage of was that the Gloom Hands should drag Link into the Underworld, if they manage to grab him and hold him for long enough.

Imagine being grabbed and abducted into the underworld, weakened by the drain of the Gloom sickness, only to be dragged downward through the earth, in a manner opposite of the Ascend ability you gain, creating a neat “bookend” to the design idea of Ascend. And once you’re pulled under, they drop you into that world, and rather than finish you off, they just drop you, leaving you weakened and lost in some random part under ground where you have no idea how to return to the surface, and you are forced to explore and rely on stealth as you fight your way out.

That would have been really great gameplay, and I’m sad that they just grab you and squeeze you until you break free or drain to 0 hp and die. They could have done more with them, and I wish that they had.

TOTK Diary 57

It’s been about a week and a half since I last played, so where was I?

Oh yeah, outside Lookout Landing, I had just expanded my zonai charge battery pack, and now I have a lot more power to run contraptions.

I guess I ought to go back to Death Mountain and help Yunobo and look for Princess Zelda.

I fast-travel back to the shrine near Goron City, and ride the rails out to YunoboCo HQ. I’m hoping that I can buy the rest of the fireproof armor suit here, but I find out that they only sell the body piece of the set. So where the hell am I supposed to get the pants and the helmet from? I don’t know.

I figure I’m going to need this in order to explore Death Mountain, but for the time being the temperatures are not deadly to me, so I’ll explore the area. Yunobo said that he saw a Hylian woman matching Zelda’s description at the peak of the mountain, and wants to go back there to look for her again. The game doesn’t often tell you that explicitly what to do, so I figure I better get on it.

Walking out over the lava plain from YunoboCo HQ, walking in the general direction of Death Mountain, not far from the HQ I come across a pair of Bokoblins and a Moblin sitting around a fire. I use Yunobo to charge them, and he does a lot of damage, and also triggers some explosive casks near their camp, and takes them out pretty easily. I pick up the loot and move on, climbing up over a rise, and before too long I come to a mining camp, where I find a few gorons, still zonked out on marbled rock roast, some digging, some eating. They tell me I can go ahead and take one of their mine carts if I want, and that the rails here run right up to the summit of Death Mountain.

That’s all they had to say. I hop in the art and hook up a fan, and start it up. I don’t go very far, when I find a spot where there’s a cave that I’d like to explore. It’s the Eastern Death Mountain cave, and blocked with explodable rocks, which I destroy with Yunobo, since I don’t want to waste bombs, and there’s a lot of places where bombs will spontaneously combust here, and I need to be careful.

Inside the cave, there’s a rail system, and the temperature is hot. There’s a lot of lava in the cave, and the only way forward is to ride a rail cart. Fortunately there’s another cart and fan here, which are easily assembled and allow me to make ingress. When I get to the end of the line, I see a green gem, which I recognize as a shrine gem, embedded in a pile of glowing rock, which I rightly presume to be an Igneo Talus. I’ve come this far, I might as well fight the thing.

This is tricky, since I’m not protected against heat fully. I can hit the Talus with frost weapons, which cool it down to where I can stand on it, but I still take damage doing so. I equip my heaviest hitting hammer weapon and run a spin attack, hitting 9-10 times, before being thrown. I also manage to use Recall to reverse the path of the Talus’s arm when it hurls it at me. This requires some close timing, but it works pretty well, I avoid the damage it would have dealt, and it hits the Talus, doing some decent damage. I re-freeze it and jump on to finish it off, and it drops hardly any gems, but I do get an Igneo Talus heart which I fuse to my most powerful sword. Taking this Talus down broke my Flux Construct Core club, which kind of sucks, but at least I won the fight. I also got the shrine gem, which is now projecting a beam in a direction basically pointing back out of the cave. There’s some ore deposits and brightbloom bulbs here, so I take the time to clear out the cave entirely, then grab the shrine gem, put it back on the mine cart, and ride it back out of the cave.

Once out of the cave, the shrine is not a very long walk away, on the other side of the minecart tracks, and I pick up a Rauru’s Blessing, refilling my life meter, which the Talus fight had taken me down to about 1/3.

I feel like I missed something when I was in the cave, so I return to have another look. Sure enough, between the rock island where I fought the Igneo Talus, and the opening of the cave, there was a smaller island, almost like a sand bar, which had some additional forage materials, and a hard to see crack in the wall, which lead to a tunnel, where I found a bubbul frog. I slay the frog and take its gem, and then I decide to check my location on the map to see how close I am to the summit of the mountain. Since I’m inside a cave, I might as well see if perhaps Ascend will get me to the top quicker.

I pop up maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of the way up the remaining slope of Death Mountain, a fairly short climb away from the summit. And it’s an easy climb. I check the temperature, and change out of my Flamebreaker armor and into my Climbing Gear, and get all the way to the top.

The crater of Death Mountain is desolate and empty, devoid of anything. I see no sign of Zelda anywhere. No story cutscene triggers, and I’m left standing wondering what I was supposed to expect. I walk around about the caldera, avoiding hot pots and gloom puddles, hoping to trigger something. Eventually, I do trigger the story cutscene. Apparently, based on the camera angle and the way the scene looks, I was supposed to go back and keep riding the rail cart all the way up. On the other side of the mountain, the final destination of the cart, a platform, is where the cutscene unfolds. Yunobo recalls what he can of his last moments before putting on the mask that Zelda gave him, and then his memory goes blank. It’s pretty clear that this Zelda is a lookalike impostor, but the characters don’t seem to get it yet. I feel like this is maybe storytelling aimed at a younger audience, because it seems to me that if I can tell what’s going on, the characters in the game ought to have some suspicion as well. But it feels like this is a deliberate design choice to allow younger gamers to feel smart since they too probably will have an idea that something’s not right, and figuring it out ahead of the characters in game will make them feel like they’re solving a mystery. But as an adult gamer, it’s not much of a mystery. “Zeda” clearly isn’t Zelda, and we’ve already seen one impostor in the Yiga Clain’s trap on Dueling Peaks, so this Zelda sighting must not be her either, since she’s not behaving like Zelda would, using mind control to take over Yunobo and enslave the Goron people with the drug-like marbled rock roast.

Just then, “Zelda” appears before us, and disappears into the volcano, which suddenly erupts! A huge monster appears out of the crater! It has three rocky, worm-like heads. It spews giant flaming rocks which don’t seem to be terribly well-aimed, thankfully. Yunobo wants to fight it, but says it’s too high in the air for him to charge it. He asks what should we do?

Well, there happens to be a pre-built Zonai wing with two large batteries, four fans, and a cart bottom and control stick laying right there. I grab it with Ultrahand and set it upright, hop on and start to take off. It is extremely heavy and slow, and clumsy to fly, but it does get us up to a level where I can fire Yunobo off at the heads. The heads are extremely easy to target, it seems like the game is auto-targeting Yunobo for me. Which is fine, I’m very happy with that since controlling the wing sucks so much, I couldn’t do much otherwise.

It only takes three hits, one on each head, and the thing is defeated. Zelda is no where to be seen. A deep chasm in the bottom of the volcano crater has opened up. Yunobo thinks she must be down there, and jumps in. I hesitate, but follow. But the temperature is too hot, off the scale.

I notice that although the temperature gauge is telling me it is deadly, I don’t seem to be taking any damage as I fall into the chasm, transitioning between the overworld and the underworld. So I end up having a lot more time than I should. I fall all the way down, and am inside a huge cavern — it looks like the whole mountain is hollow. I spot a Light Root and try to glide toward it, but I run out of stamina and fall, and would have died from the fall but for the fact that I have a single fairy left in my inventory, who revives me. I run to the light root, and activate it. So now I can fast travel back down here. I’m going to need to get more elixirs or flame resistant meals, or find the rest of the Flamebreaker gear if I’m going to explore down here. But for now there’s nothing I can do.