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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Instead of reviewing a TV show this issue, I am reviewing a fantasy game, The Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess (****).

I've played Twilight Princess for more than one hundred hours now, and it has been challenging, thrilling, awe inspiring.

I played the first Zelda (not when it first came out but in a freeware simulation) and found it primitive, but fun. Then I tried the second game but didn't like it. I've never played the third or fourth or any of the Game Boy games.

My first experience with Zelda was with the first fully animated adventure, Orcanna of Time. I was hooked. Orcanna was followed by three other games to date (not counting games created for Game Boy), Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and now Twilight Princess. I do not know enough about the Game Boy games to comment on them but to my mind, Twilight Princess is the best of the series.

The creator of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, said in a interview what I believe is true of all entertainment. What is important is the emotions the game arouses in the player. Twilight Princess is by turns exciting, puzzling, pastoral, beautiful, and even frustrating -- I was stuck for weeks trying to capture a firefly that can only be captured by rolling and butting your head against a certain spot on a wall! The Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess

What kind of games do I like? I don't have much patience with first-person shooters. To me they seem all fast reaction time and mindless violence. I'm sure there is more to them than that but, frankly, I haven't got fast enough reflexes to find out. And while I loved Myst, the sequels have not interested me as much. Nothing but puzzle after puzzle is as monotonous as endless, mindless combat. I love Tomb Raider for its mix of puzzles, combat, and exotic settings.

Twilight Princess has some great puzzles -- the one with the three large cubes of ice is one of my favorites. And it has some great combat -- I'm currently fighting the Twilit Dragon. Most of the combat is won more by strategy than just by fast reflexes (though I'm actually getting good at the shield block followed by a leap into the air and a strike from above). But even more fun are the constant surprises, which do not necessarily happen inside dungeons. You won't forgot the first attack by warriors riding giant warthogs, or the wagon that catches on fire, or the ice slide.

So, what relationship, if any, is there between fantasy fiction and fantasy games. Not much. Books generally don't have puzzles to figure out, but they do have sympathetic characters. I can't recall a game where I have actually cared about the characters, the way I came to care about Frodo and Wart and Sparrowhawk. Fantasy games also lack the internal logic of the best fantasy fiction, the logic introduced by L. Sprague de Camp in The Incomplete Enchanter. As an example of illogic from Zelda, you sink when you wear the metal boots, but not when you carry the metal boots. The pleasures of fantasy games seem to me fundamentally different from the pleasures of fantasy fiction -- not necessarily greater or less, just other.

The next Zelda game, Phantom Hourglass, is scheduled to be released in the United States on October 1st.

Copyright © 2007 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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