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Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: August 24, 2001
We’re at an interesting time in the handheld market, as Nintendo still runs the show, but their product line is in the midst of a changeover from the tried and true GameBoy Color to the GameBoy Advance. Fortunately for the handheld gamers out there, the Advance is backward compatible all the way to the original GameBoy system’s cartridges, making it a versatile beastie indeed. During the changeover, Nintendo has apparently recognized that it will take a while for the Advance to catch on, but in order to speed its introduction the company has introduced some nifty gimmicks into their last-generation GBC releases. One of these nifty tricks can be found in the parallel releases in the Legend of Zelda series, dubbed Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons respectively. In these games there’s a special shop, which is only open if you’re playing on a Game Boy Advance. That gimmick is hardly necessary, though, since the name Zelda has brought the big N about as much success as Mario.
Oracle of Ages features a fairly involved storyline that will make perfect sense to those who’ve leaped back and forth through Link’s life in the N64 release of Ocarina of Time. Link wakes from a fitful sleep to find himself in the land of Labrynna and quickly encounters Impa, Queen Zelda’s nurse who has also come to Labrynna to warn the people there of impending doom. Working briefly alongside Impa, Link helps her get past a stone that is blocking her way, but in the process he unwittingly dissolves a protective barrier. Impa, it turns out, is actually possessed by Veran, the Sorceress of Shadows, who has designs as dark as her epithet on the peaceful land around her. Arriving in a clearing, Link meets briefly with a beautiful maiden named Nayru, who is singing to a group of animals and friends. As Link approaches, Veran’s shadowy form leaves Impa and quickly possesses Nayru’s body, disappearing into a mysterious vortex and somehow causing countless creatures and people around Link to disappear entirely.
Things become clear when Nayru’s friend Ralph reveals that Nayru’s role is that of the Oracle of Ages, which gives her the ability to move through time. Veran’s plot is to corrupt Labrynna from the past, thus erasing much of Link’s present. Link, savvy to this sort of temporal hijinks, immediately leaps into action and starts working with Ralph and the land’s guardian, the Maku Tree. A sentient plant, the tree informs Link that he must recover eight mystical Essences that contain the spirit of the land, along with what are essentially backup memories for the Maku Tree, who was an immediate target of Veran’s historical terrorism. In order to recover these essences, Link will have to explore eight dungeons, and often move back and forth through time to achieve his objectives.
As you explore this new land, you will maneuver Link through screens that are primarily top-down, and thus reminiscent of the early Legend of Zelda games from the NES. Link has an impressive arsenal at his disposal, including his trusty sword and shield, which are the primary weapons through most of the game. Link can swing his sword quickly, though if he pauses a moment with the sword extended, he can power it up for a devastating 360 degree swing that does extra damage. The shield, of course, can block incoming attacks provided it is powerful enough to resist the current enemy, with stronger foes requiring stronger shields. Extra equipment includes a bracelet that lets Link heave large objects over his head and toss them out of the way or at enemies, as well as a vast collection of magical rings. There are also magical seeds which can be found scattered throughout the land growing on the appropriate type of tree. In order to acquire more seeds, Link will often have to travel back in time to plant the tree, and then leap forward again to see the fully grown specimen, complete with slowly regenerating seeds. Letting you toss fireballs, ride the winds to another tree or even jump long distances, these seeds are vital to your quest, which may encourage players to buff up on their horticultural expertise.
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