The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

This was only the second Zelda game that I ever played – as you can imagine, I feel a great deal of nostalgia for it and I am very fond of it. However, I don’t think my fondness is entirely rooted in nostalgia. I think this is genuinely one of the best instalments in the series.

Something I really like about this game is that its story is very different from the others. Link is onboard a ship which sinks in a storm and he then wakes up on Koholint Island. He then gets caught up in the mysteries of this island and finds himself on a quest to awaken the Wind Fish, who sleeps within a giant egg on top of the mountain. It’s much smaller scale than a heroic quest to save a kingdom from a dark lord, but I find this quirky little tale rather charming.

The original Game Boy wasn’t a particularly powerful console and Koholint Island is broken up into a large number of screens which you tranisition between. Despite this the island comprises of beaches, mountains, forests, swamps, caves, rivers, graveyards and more. At the time, it felt amazing to have this miniature world contained within a Game Boy cartridge and to this day, it’s something which remains appealing to me. It’s really satisfying to explore every nook and cranny of the island as there are a lot of secrets to discover.

A part of what makes Koholint Island so charming, is the people who inhabit it. First there’s Marin, a kind hearted girl who helps you out when you first wash up on the beach. There’s her Mario-lookalike father, Tarin, who loves hunting for mushrooms. There’s a talking alligator who loves eating dog food. Syrup, a witch who lives in a crooked tree who can make magic powders for you. There’s also a whole village of talking animals, including a hippo who’s a model. It’s beautiful.

And guess what else? This island is full of Nintendo cameos. Shy Guys, Goombas and Piranha Plants all appear as enemies. An evil version of Kirby, named the Anti-Kirby, is another one. There’s also Mr. Write, an introverted man who loves writing letters, who is also quite literally just Dr. Wright from Sim City. There’s a lady who keeps pet Chain Chomps and part of the game (a really good bit) involves taking one for a walk. Wart the villain of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic is an NPC. I love this kind of stuff.

Besides all this, you have a solid Zelda adventure, which involves exploring various different dungeons in order to collect ancient instruments. Despite being in black and white and working with 8-bit graphics, the game succeeds in making each of the eight dungeons feel unique and distinct. A part of this comes down to the fact that each one has its own musical theme. Speaking of which, the game as a whole greatly benefits from its soundtrack – though 8-bit, it helps set a mysterious tone (sometimes veering on creepy), helping to intrigue you about the dark secrets of the island.

Overall, I think this is a great game. It’s also a little melancholy, for reasons I won’t get into just now to avoid spoiling it, but it’s only really comparable to Majora’s Mask in this regard. If you’re in the mood for a classic Zelda adventure, but one which also goes against the mould in some regards, then this may be your best choice. I heavily recommend it to any fan of the series.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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John-Boy Walton and the Fight Against Fascism

Donald Trump recently tweeted that ANTIFA has now been classified as a terrorist organisation. Considering the fact that ANTIFA isn’t actually an organisation and just a word used to describe the community of people who oppose fascism, it’s very concerning news. I suppose it would be the equivalent of making feminism a terrorist organisation.

On a more positive note, I was recently watching what is, perhaps, the best episode of The Waltons: The Firestorm. Why am I mentioning this? It’s because it’s an episode which deals with fascism. In fact, it’s more than that: it’s an episode which shows just how fascism could begin to arise within the United States.

In the episode, as he grows concerned about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, John-Boy plans to write an article about Mein Kampf – printing excerpts from it to highlight how concerning it is. However, the local church group takes an interest in his idea and opposes it as they believe that printing the excerpts is just spreading Hitler’s word. The reverend then openly condemns John-Boy and his article during a sermon.

The response from the local people… is to start acting like Nazis. They’re pretty ignorant about what’s going on in Germany, so to their minds, it’s just a case of Hitler = bad, without being aware of realities of his fascist regime and the systematic oppression of the people there taking place.

So what happens to John-Boy? Local hooligans break into his car and toss all his copies of his newspaper out onto the street, he arrives just in time to stop him and they run off shouting “Seig Heil!” over and over again. All of his customers, who usually buy advertising in his newspaper, turn him down as, due his newfound bad reputation and they don’t want to be associated with it. Someone tosses a stone through the window of his house and he finds that the stone has a swastika on it. Even his friends and family start to turn against him… a situation similar to that of someone who might have spoken out against Hitler.

The anti-fascist message of the episode is very clear and it holds a warning too: when fear and ignorance run rampant, fascism can happen anywhere even in a country like America. This idea, today, would be considered controversial and even offensive to some, but it’s very true and it was ingeniously expressed in this episode. On a much larger scale, you can see how fascist views are beginning to spread through the country and that’s not because people like fascism (they don’t even realise what it is) but because misinformation has made them ignorant and afraid.

What’s ironic, is that The Waltons are considered an archetype of the all-American family, yet the views expressed on the show are more and more at odds with the vision for the country created by Donald Trump. President George Bush Sr. once said that America should be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Simpsons, but they should certainly be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Trumps. In the conclusion of the episode, a burning of German books is arranged and John-Boy makes them realise they’re burning a Bible among them, just like Nazis do, causing them to realise they’ve become the thing they’re most afraid of. Let’s hope the John-Boys of the real world can help people come to this same conclusion.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Growing up, I had quite a fondness for foxes and I was also very fond of the few Roald Dahl novels I was aware of. As such, I was pretty intrigued by Fantastic Mr. Fox, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading it. That is, until now.

You may think that by waiting until I was an adult, I might have missed my opportunity to properly enjoy and maybe you’re right, but I still quite enjoyed reading it.

The story follows Mr. Fox as he evades a group of hideous farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean) who are trying to kill him because he steals chickens to feed his starving family. I suppose it’s a very simple premise, but it’s quite a short book, so it didn’t need to be more complex. The farmers are a good mixture of comedically ridiculous and genuinely intimidating. I have to admit that I was surprised by how dark it was at times: they’re there with guns, shooting at our cheeky talking animal protagonist and plotting other ways to try and kill him, his wife and his kids. I’m not sure a modern children’s book about a talking animal could get away with this.

Also, even though it may not have been intended by Dahl at all, I like to see it as an anti-fox hunting novel. People like to say that foxes are vermin who kill farmers’ innocent chickens and that’s why it’s okay to hunt them for sport, but as this book shows they’re just trying to feed their kids! What gives the farmers any more right to the lives of these chickens than the foxes?

So if you’re looking for a short, light-hearted children’s novel, then I think this might be just your glass of water!

Rating: 7.6/10

Buy it here.

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No thanks, Manscaped!

Recently, I keep seeing adverts for a company called Manscaped, who sell male razors specifically designed for body hair removal. In theory, I am not against the existence of such a product, but in practise these adverts make me downright angry. They’re so toxic.

The all follow the same general premise: a man with body hair (and not ever really any excessive amount) will be out somewhere where his body hair is visible, usually a beach or something, then he’ll end up being shamed for it and end up shaving it off. To quote one of them directly “the thought of hair down there is disgusting!” and then some of them give statistics along the lines of “Did you know 80% of women hate body hair?” one even had a woman saying “If I’m going to be smooth, I expect you to as well!”

I hate it. It is a simple fact of life that people have body hair. Almost every single adult who ever lived has the capacity to grow body hair. And these adverts, by the way, tend to focus specifically on pubic hair. Nobody should feel self-conscious about this, because who’s even going to see this? Besides which, it’s a normal part of the human body. I’ve not seen a large number of people naked, but all of those who I have, have had pubic hair – male or female, it’s just a part of us and nobody should be made to feel it’s disgusting.

To clarify, I am not anti-shaving. All people are entitled to do as they please with their bodies. Some may want to shave, some may not and that’s fine, but what’s not fine is pressuring people to shave or telling them that they are disgusting because they don’t do it.

As a final side note, I also don’t like the implication of the advert that men should care about whether or not women find them sexually attractive. Absolutely not. Aside from the fact that it ignores homosexual and asexual men who won’t have any reason to care, even those who are seeking a female partner shouldn’t pay too much attention to it – this is not the path to confidence (the most attractive quality), rather it is the path to self-consciousness and insecurity.

I appreciate that this issue is one which disproportionately affects women rather than men, but it’s these adverts specifically targeted at men which have gotten me worked up recently. By all means, everything I’ve said in this blog posts applies to every person, regardless of gender. So if you have ever been made to feel that your body hair is gross, it isn’t – please don’t worry about it.

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Wario’s Woods

Wario’s games come in many different shapes and sizes. From platformers which aren’t too different from Mario games, all the way through to really bizzare mini-game collections. Wario’s Woods was one of the first Wario games and it’s very different to everything which came before or after.

Player’s may be a little disappointed to find that they don’t play as Wario, but instead Toad. Wario has invaded the Peaceful Woods and filled it with monsters, so Toad heads into the trees and has to stack bombs on different coloured enemies to make rows of fours to destroy them, eventually making your way to Wario.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best puzzle games Nintendo ever created and one of the best games on the NES. For a while, I played a level of this game every day after work and it was the perfect way to relax an unwind. It was pretty addictive actually and I often couldn’t stop after only one level. I was sad when it came to an end.

In some ways, it feels like it’s building on some of the ideas of Super Mario Bros. 2 and then implementing them in a puzzle game. Toad has never been a character I’ve been hugely invested in, but this is probably my favourite of his playable appearances because this is a fun and unique game and it’s all ‘his’. It’s also nice that it has some kind of a story (the end is pretty funny) and Birdo is there too – which is kind of random, but interesting early use of the character.

So if you like puzzle games, you should definitely try this because it plays really well and hasn’t really aged too badly at all (despite being a NES game). I think it’s a shame that this game is so overlooked because I consider it a real classic.

Rating: 9/10

Buy it here.

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A Video Tribute to The Waltons

Nine years ago, I saw a video by a YouTuber called BabelColour who had made a Doctor Who tribute video set to the song ‘What About Everything’ by Carbon Leaf. I think he did an excellent job. It was also my first time hearing this song – I loved it. I thought to myself “It would be great if somebody made a tribute video to The Waltons set to the same song.”

The years went by and every time I listened to the song, I imagined which clips would appear alongside which lyrics. Then, a few weeks ago, with the time on my hands that the lockdown has afforded, I thought to myself “Why don’t I have a try at making it myself?” so I did just that. I tried to encompass every aspect of the show, including clips from every season and representing all of the major characters – but there was a lot to represent! Anyway, you can watch my video below and I hope you will enjoy it:

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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

My first Victor Hugo book was Les Misérables – a truly beautiful novel. I didn’t really know much about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame going in, but I thought I might enjoy it in the same sort of way. As it turns out, it’s a very different book and also, it’s a very weird book.

Essentially, it’s about the way in which the lives of several people in Paris in the 15th century tie together. Those people are Quasimodo, a deformed hunchbacked man living in Notre-Dame. Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl who performs in the area. Claude Frollo, an outcast alchemist who raised Quasimodo and who has a perverse obsession with Esmeralda. Gringoire, an unsuccessful poet who’s kind of useless and through an unusual sequence of events, crosses paths with Esmeralda quite significantly. Finally, there’s Phoebus – a sleazy, unintelligent, womanising soldier who Esmeralda somehow falls in love with.

There are a lot of characters involved in this story and I’ve only mentioned the most important ones. Though it was sometimes harder to keep up with the less significant characters, I will say that each of those main five left a pretty distinct impression on me. I was perpetually concerned for Esmeralda, amidst the dangerous world of 1500s France. I had endless pity for Quasimodo and the extreme amount of prejudice and persecution he faces for his disabilities and appearance. Gringoire was a kind of comic relief and I had a kind of sympathy for him, being as ridiculous as he was. Phoebus was also a ridiculous sort of comic relief, but he was more of an annoying character in that his unintelligence and lack of empathy have serious consequences for others. Frollo, on the other hand, was downright detestable – a horrible and disgusting villain who made me uncomfortable and angry.

I’ve mentioned that the book has elements of comedy in it and I have to admit that it made me laugh a few times. However, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a light-hearted novel. Though it is occasionally humorous, the overwhelming feeling that I had while reading it was distress and sadness. Loads of really horrible things happen in this book and as I was quite invested in the characters, it was actually hard to keep reading at times. Of all the books I’ve read, this one might just be the most deserving of the ‘Tragedy’ label. At the end, I thought that it was all so cold and meaningless. Suffering without end or release.

Sadly, the biggest flaw of the book was the fact that beside sadness and despair, my most felt emotion while reading it was probably boredom. I don’t think the storyline is boring and overall I enjoyed reading it on the whole, but there’s an element of Hugo’s signature style that does get rather grating the more you encounter it. Without warning, he’ll go off on excessively long tangents covering different subjects or themes included in the novel. For example, one chapter took me over a hour to read and was all about the architectural history of Paris. This isn’t necessarily a subject I’m not interested in, but I don’t think he does a good job of making these things interesting, because he goes into such endless amounts of detail and it’s all irrelevant to the plot. These tangents sometimes go on for several chapters at a time, to the extent that you might even forget what’s going on in the main storyline because of them.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book. I’m glad I read it. However, it’s not something I’d recommend to everybody. It’s a very heavy read and I’m sure it would leave a lot of people feeling quite depressed. If you enjoy classics and are still interested, I’m sure you’ll love it – but tread with caution!

Rating: 8.2/10

Buy it here.

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A Song for Our Times from Chris Hunter

If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you’ll be listening to a little more music now that you’re in lockdown. If that is the case, then I have a recommendation for you! One of my very best friends, Chris Hunter, has recorded a new song which I think nicely encapsulates the general feelings of the world at this time. You can listen to it on his SoundCloud page.

Titled ‘together as 1’, it’s a very emotional song and a very epic song. Though it is about the difficulty of life during the pandemic, it’s also a hopeful song and one which, I hope, would at least partially lift the spirts of anybody who’s struggling to deal with things right now. Anyway, rather than just reading what I have to say about it, why don’t you go ahead and listen to it yourself? I’m sure you won’t regret it. After my first listening, I went back and listened to it again and you know what? I’m gonna just go ahead and listen to it again now.

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Super Bomberman

This was the first Bomberman game to be released on the SNES and it’s a pretty solid instalment in the series. If I’m completely honest, a lot of Bomberman games are all pretty similar, but they all have a very solid formula at their heart (especially for multiplayer) which makes the series fun to return to regularly.

The single player story is your standard affair – the planet of the Bomber people is threatened by an evil villain, so you have to go through various levels in order to defeat their minions and to work your way up to them. You walk around through mazes full of destructible walls and have to defeat all of the enemies in them and find the exit, collecting items which enhance the power of your bombs as you do. Levels include fun fairs, factories and sky scrapers. What I found most fun in single player were the boss battles, which are all giant enemies which require a little more strategy to defeat. The final bosses in particular were impressive, though also rather tricky!

Then, of course, there’s the multiplayer mode. I think this is the selling point for most people – not that the single player mode is bad. In this, two to four Bombermen are put in an arena together and have to blow each other up. It’s really fun running around and trying to out-manoeuvre your opponents with bomb placements. It can be hilarious to watch people accidentally blow themselves up and the feeling of trapping somebody in a corner with your bombs is delightful. What makes this one especially remarkable (historically) is that it was a four-player game on a console which only allowed two players – it came with a special device which let you add two more controls.

So if you get this game, you’re getting the amazing Bomberman multiplayer fun that has been highly regarded for so long… but you’re not really getting anything you can’t get anywhere else in the series. It’s a shame, because at the time it was highly innovative, but what made it impressive has ceased to be so.

Rating: 7.8/10

Buy it here.

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Writing Revival

One thing I’ve been very pleased about is the fact that I’ve been much more productive as a writer since the lock down began. I don’t mean to take the angle of saying that this is a good situation, because the lock down is certainly a bad thing (though necessary) and there are a lot of things that I miss, but my newfound productivity in writing is a definite positive.

I set myself the goal of writing one short story a week and, so far, I’ve been able to stick with it. This is fantastic. I’ve written more in the last few weeks than I have in the last two years combined. I’m even looking into opportunities to get my fiction published again, which is something I’ve not done in a long time!

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve been this enthusiastic about writing fiction since 2012 – during which time I was studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and had a large group of people to share my work with regularly and friends who were happy to talk with me about my ideas whenever I wanted. I didn’t think that spark of creative passion would ever shine quite so brightly again, because I thought it was dependent on that specific context – but it has.

Ideas come to me as I’m doing the dishes, making lunch, having a walk and whatever else and I can’t wait to get them down on paper (digital paper). It’s hard to convey just how important this is to me, but it makes me so happy. Though I don’t imagine my day to day routines will change at all for some time, I hope that I am able to keep up this writing pace for a long time as it is endlessly rewarding.

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