Whose anatomy should we look at next? [REDUX]

Now that I’ve finished with The Anatomy of Zelda II — wherein I learned that Zelda II is in fact quite good — it’s time to move on to new ventures. But… which? I had some thoughts in mind for what should go under the microscope next, but I can’t settle. Honestly, with as many changes as have been happening for me lately, I’m all over the place. Just this once, I could use someone else making a decision for me. So then… what next? You tell me.

Remember that Anatomy of a Game should be about games that do a good job of teaching you to play as they go along without resorting to lengthy dialog or tutorials; I’m ultimately interested in seeing ways in which good developers communicate mechanics and structure through level design and well-considered difficulty curves. That’s why you see practically zero contemporary titles on the to-do list; publishers no longer extend that measure of trust to developers or audiences. (This is why most interesting games these days are self-published.) I think there’s value in studying the old ways. I’ll probably never have the opportunity to make a game of my own, but if I do, I’ll be well-armed for the venture as keeper of all this forgotten knowledge.

Vote now or forever fume in silent rage that you failed to participate meaningfully in this tiny sliver of democracy.

73 thoughts on “Whose anatomy should we look at next? [REDUX]

  1. I loved your Zelda 1 & 2 anatomy segments, so why not keep the Zelda train a’rolling with Link to the Past?

  2. I’d love an in-depth exploration of the games made by Quintet during the Super Famicom era.

  3. I’ll probably be in the minority here, but I think Bionic Commando would be quite neat, possibly then compared to the Rearmed version. I always thought it was interesting how Grin managed to modernize the game despite changing almost nothing about it.

  4. How about the original Megaman? That series’s strength has always been in the level design, especially the early installments, always teaching you about obstacles in a simple way and then quickly raising the difficulty.

  5. I am just going to assume that Simon’s Quest, Bionic Commando, and Goonies II will happen organically eventually, so I’ll throw out a more random suggestion: The Magic of Scheherazade. Definitely a flawed game, but still fascinating to me in its “hey, why don’t we just combine Zelda and Dragon Quest without much thought?” kind of way. Thanks for a great series!

  6. I stand by my opinion that Link’s Awakening would be interesting, particularly in how it provided an ALttP-esque depth on such primitive hardware, so looking at the corners being cut could provide interesting insight?

    I’ve also noticed that, aside from the first four dungeons, I’m fairly certain you can skip every single boss and go to the next one with the former dungeon’s item. Sure, there is a small sentence at the obtaining of each Siren’s Instrument and the owl has some stuff to say, but you still need to explore the intricate overworld in order to find out what to do next and how to advance.

    The part where you said somewhere that LA’s overworld was incredibly detailed would also warrant an interesting look, wouldn’t you say?

    Then, of course, it’s also just one of the best Zeldas ever, which is a reason in itself, isn’t it? :D

    Although I imagine that, considering it built so much on ALttP, it would be logical to do that game first. I would also understand if you decided to take a break from Zelda and keep these for later. I’d be totally heart-broken, but understand nevertheless.

    I would also totally be cool with the Game Boy Castlevanias, comparing them to their NES counterparts? Although I have an irrational love for Adventure and Belmont’s Revenge, so I would also understand if you don’t do that >__>

  7. I’d be really interested in seeing something done with Metroid II: Return of Samus – it’s been quite some time since released, and while it was a springboard for Super Metroid, it seemed to get passed over for the remake treatment like 1 got with Zero Mission.

    If the original Metroid was the progenitor of the “Metroid-vania” genre, Metroid II did a lot to refine the formula and introduced the Chekov’s Gun equivalent of exploration (Samus’ Gun?) – if you can see it, and you can’t get there, try coming back to it a bit later on with your new toys.

    So, thank you for writing these, and I hope my scant contribution to democracy was enough!

  8. I think Shiren the Wanderer might be a good candidate for your next Anatomical analysis for several reasons:

    1. Unlike most game genres ( in console gaming at least), roguelikes do the opposite of providing dialog or tutorials to teach you the game. They throw you into the thick of the game without much of any information, and you must sink or swim (usually sink). Shiren capitalizes on the trial-and-error method of rogue-likes, but I think it has a deliberate structure that does communicate the game’s mechanics. It might be useful to explore this.

    2. I know you love this series, so I’m sure it won’t be hard for you to get into it.

    3. I want to love this series, but get too frustrated once I reach the later dungeons. Perhaps a deeper perspective will help me slog through it.

    I look forward to any game you choose for your next dissection. Are you considering an “Anatomy of a Game” podcast for the new retronauts?

  9. Yeah, I assumed Zelda 3 would be next on the menu, but if it isn’t (due to Zelda burnout or maybe the basic mechanics of the game already having been explored in the Legend of Zelda writeup), maybe something from the 16-bit era?

    Thinking of game genres that really exploded with 16-bit consoles, fighting games or RPGs immediately spring to mind, though if you started dissecting RPGs you’d probably be best served by jumping back to NES Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

    Maybe a catch-all Anatomy of 8-bit *and* 16-bit RPGs?

  10. My personal top 3 :
    1) A link to the past, so as to make another HUGE Gamespite ;)
    2) Super Castlevania IV. Seriously.
    3) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. 2D platformer at is finest.

    Insanely great job anyway, I’m gong to buy some printed Gamespite.

    Cheers from France,

  11. I also vote for Shiren The Wanderer. I think it is an excellent example that can showcase how a game can teach its players without tutorials and other hand-holdy techniques.

    Also, I noticed that A Link To The Past II is listed in the Anatomy Of A Game listings and I am now very confused.

  12. I would say Megaman X (ridin’ on cars!), or to continue the zeldas. Think about it: if you do have the A Link to The Past done, it can be used as a comparative template when the new 3ds zelda hits the US this year.

  13. How about Crystalis? Going directly to LttP would be awesome, but I would like to see how close Crystalis is to classic zelda and any improvements that game brings to the table before you tackle LttP. I haven’t seen that many articles on the game and I feel the game deserves more recongintion. Yes I know the game is great, especially since its from SNK, who’s more arcade action, but the game has kinda slipped in contempary times. Before Okami, there was Crystalis.

  14. I would understand not doing A Link to the Past right now, as long as you think you can get around to it before the sequel is released later this year. I think that Bionic Commando would be a great choice as Rhete said. The old and new comparison would be awesome!

  15. Of course 16bit castlevania and zelda would be obvious, same as Metroid. But how about looking at the disney-games getting remakes right now? Castle of illusion and duck tales… Or maybe some Sega. Sonic, shinobi, wonder boy?

  16. Definitely Shiren. No game teaches you so much about the world without having to listen too much to tutorials or even bother with the villagers. Sure, you learn by perishing miserably, but since you invariably pass through the same spots but in a new way, with a new dungeon layout, it’s learning without being tedious. To the contrary, with its eternal tension and learning, it’s, as the DS version’s Japanese box says, a game “you can play 1000 times and never get bored of playing!”

  17. I love Mega Man, but it has already been done (incredibly well) in the fourms. I suggest Little Sampson! Or Rygar! Or Contra! Or, if you choose to move into the 16 bit era, Soul Blazer!

  18. Metal Gear 2. I bet a lot of people here don’t know how great that game was, since it didn’t receive a US release until 2006. Dragon Warrior would be good to do right now too, because of all the comparisons you made between it and Zelda 2, and the latter will be fresh in your head.

  19. If we’re not diving straight into LttP, I guess I’d vote that it’s finally time to bite into some Metroidvanias. Like, straight to Super Metroid or SotN maybe.

    Though some Mario anatomies could be good fun, too. I dunno, I’m way too indecisive to be much help with this sort of thing.

  20. I’d like to see you look at another black sheep: Secret of Evermore, otherwise I’d throw my weight behind Metroid II or Shiren.

  21. Unsure if you’ve played it, but a more recent game, La-Mulana, would make for an excellent Anatomy of a Game.

  22. In my opinion (and maybe yours and others, as well), you can never have too much Castlevania, so I’m throwing Super Castlevania IV or Dracula X: Rondo of Blood into the ring.

  23. I’ll second some things that have already been suggested: Super Metroid, Castlevania: SOTN, and Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls. Actually, I think that Dark Souls (and Demon Souls, to a lesser extent) does a terrific job of teaching the player through level design. Though perhaps it would be more difficult to show this through images than it would be for an older game.

  24. A Link to the Past first comes to mind, especially with the recent announcement of the sequel. Otherwise, I’d suggest Mega Man 2, Castlevania IV, or… Metroid? If you haven’t done Metroid already.

  25. Short Answer: Final Fantasy V or VI?

    Long Answer: something very different from what you’ve done so far. Really, if you did an ‘Anatomy’ for any game on the list I would find it interesting. The reasoning behind my suggestion is that I want to see the writing evolve in these pieces evolve, and changing the style of game might be a good spark.

    Evolve how? Well, if I could say precise how then I would have. Something about the core subject, how subtle and/or wordless gameplay instruction works, feels thoroughly explicated to me by now. Breaking down instance after instance feels like it could use something fresh, like a different overall style or more meta commentary (to be all but hopelessly vague :-) ).

    Here is an aside that I just want to throw out there: When I read these I often find myself skipping past sentences that comment on undulating difficulty (where one states that the present section is easy/medium/hard and that this compares/contrasts to the previous one. The designers must (not) be going easy on us.). I first noticed myself doing this in the Megaman analysis done in the forums and then eventually here too. The more places this type of comment is used the less interesting each one becomes. And in general this aspect of a game doesn’t feel very “designed” unless pointing it can be connected to a larger thesis.

    • What a weird thing to say. Difficulty is completely tied to game and level design. The instances I’ve been calling out are specifically artifacts of thoughtless level design, poor player direction, or situations where the developers crammed too many different hazards into a scene.

  26. There’s always the elephant in the room with the overalls and the mushrooms. The design of the first screen has been explained at length to everyone within earshot, but I can’t recall ever reading a level by level breakdown of the whole thing.

  27. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Mark of the Ninja, so I’d like to see someone pick it apart.

  28. I don’t think you’ve ever done a game not on the NES and maybe that is the through-line for the entire Anatomy series.

    However, I think LttP is the most logical next step. You did the first three Castlevanias and the first two Zeldas, it just feels right to do the third Zelda game next. Furthermore, the previous games you’ve done have been console-defining experiences (except for maybe Castlevania 2), and LttP certainly falls into that category for the SNES.

    If you were going to stick with only doing NES games, Bionic Commando seems like a great choice. It presented a unique mechanic and slowly taught the player new, more advanced ways to use it.

  29. Why not do an rpg? Hit up something that most people think is pretty bad, like ff2, and see if it’s really worth all the negative hype.

    River City Ransom is pretty cool too.

  30. I would like to see an analysis of ffiv. FFIV has a lot of great innovations, some of which continued in the series others didn’t.

    As for NES, perhaps Gargoyle’s quest 2 or perhaps another game with different gameplay elements within the same game, like contra.


  31. FF Tactics! For something a little different. Also, no hand-holding. But the fact that certain unlockable jobs are pretty much moot when their weapons are unavailable… like a ninja, for example. But wait! Said ninja can learn the knight’s “Equip Swords” ability, etc. The game’s job system is ripe for an in-depth analysis.

    That’s the first one I could think of – but I think a lot of FF games are really ripe for “Anatomy.” More in terms of narrative matching the game’s design, and less about game mechanics, but yeah. Something a little different. I think there’s a good article to be written about how FFVI and FFVII are basically the same game – ironic, given that these are the two games that pretty much split the fan base. I see FFVIII as the first real “modern” FF, and FFVII sort of stuck in between modern and old-school.

    But if RPGs are out, then I would definitely echo the Bionic Commando/Rearmed analysis and comparison. Another game that Gamespite turned me on to, like Etrian Odyssey, that led me to kick myself for not getting into it sooner.

  32. Oh yeah – I don’t know what Mega Man games were covered in the forum, but what about Mega Man Legends?

    And another overlooked action-adventure from 1998, Brave Fencer Musashi. Its enemy skill-absorbing combat seems like good material for this sort of thing.

  33. The first Wario Land would be an interesting pick for sure, seeing as how it is this strange branching point, gameplay-wise, between Super Mario Land 2 and what the Wario Land series would become in later iterations.

  34. How about Chrono Trigger? I remember reading some series of articles you wrote for 1up (“Chrono Trigger Revisited,” I think), and even though it wasn’t as in-depth as these Anatomy pieces, it was still fascinating.

  35. Since my original pick isn’t easily played on a portable (Marathon Trilogy), and the fact that lengthy dialog is half of the game, my second one would be Tomb Raider. The PSX version should be on PSN, and Anniversary was released on PSP if you want to compare/contrast the remake. It’s quite a bit newer than your previous titles, and the sequels would have diminishing returns if you wanted to do a full series. Still, the first game has plenty of originality, and could pair well with other games of that era.

  36. Funny, I was just thinking of how much I’d love to see a one-off of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES. Like Zelda II, I think it’s a better game than people give it credit for, due to its difficulty and some of the ways games were designed back in the day (limited continues and no health regeneration, for instance).

    I know the arcade and arcade-based games and fighting games wouldn’t work so well, but the original reminds me of the original Castlevania– rather difficult, but if you know what you’re doing, then you can do well in it.

    It’s only about six stages long, too, so it seems like it would be a good chaser in the interim before whatever potentially larger effort came next.

  37. I have been waiting to see a lengthy analysis from you on Metroid/II/III for a while now. Would love it it you would consider doing so for a future AoaG.

  38. …and I just saw the comment for StarTropics pop up after I posted. That would be a good one, too. I loved so much about that game except for actually playing it. It was fun at first, but overwhelmed me with its difficulty maybe a third or halfway through.

  39. Well, since it’s on your list and it’s a fairly different game style from the others, why not take a bite out of the Metroid series? The first game isn’t that expansive from a design perspective, so you could likely cover it in only a few entries (probably fewer even than Castlevania, but it depends on how in-depth you go). I’d like to see your insights and impressions regarding this game, especially since in my opinion it doesn’t hold up as well as any of the other NES franchises that began in the NES era, due probably to the developers’ vision overreaching the limitations of the hardware at the time. I’ve touched on some of its issues in an entry on my own blog, but since my focus right now is the level design of the Mega Man series (ironically, I didn’t learn about Glass Knuckle’s “A Critical Look at Mega Man Stages” or this brilliant feature until well after I started planning my own blog), my treatment was limited to a couple of salient points relevant to my current focus.

    Whatever you end up doing, though, I’m positive I’ll enjoy reading it. Good luck!

  40. The 800-lb. gorilla is Mario. But I’d rather see something like Bionic Commando, Shatterhand, Shadow of the Ninja, something a little more off the beaten path.

    Or maybe the Gargoyle’s Quest games, including the spectacular Demon’s Crest. Drawing parallels to Castlevania might be really interesting.

  41. I see NES TMNT already got mentioned, but that one gets my vote as well. It’s perfect for an in-depth look. If you’re looking to start another series I’d go with Metroid. Seems like to most logical series to analyse after CV and Zelda.

  42. Jeremy, quite honestly anything you choose would be fantastic. Of all the 1up personalities over the years, you of all of them have been the one I look to the most often. Anything you choose next will be eagerly read by me but since you’ve asked, here goes. A Link To The Past. Besides being my favorite game of all time, it totally fits in with the theme of classic game design. Not too mention it fits in well with having done Zelda 1 and 2.

    Either way, keep up the good work sir.

  43. I would vote for:

    Metal Gear
    River City Ransom
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES (if only to read your thoughts on the Dam stage)
    Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins

  44. I would like to be casting my vote for Shiren the Wanderer, but it doesn’t really have what you would call level design (which is a big part of your analyses). What about something Western, like Ultima IV, or Doom?

    If you end up doing Doom, please watch the film “Falling Down” afterwards.

  45. Mario 1-3 are a low fruit to pick, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad fruit.

    Metroid 1, 2, and Super would be my top pick for series.

  46. Someone mentioned Yoshi’s Island and I concur, though I am being biased, this is my favorite game of all time. I would love to hear your analysis on this gem.

  47. When I was reading Zelda II`s anatomy, I kept trying to remember how it fared to a similar game, far less popular but really good, that took elements from that formula like no other: The Battle for Olympus. Other than the lack of overhead exploration it was practically a Zelda II clone down to the final boss, Hades, being a shadow figure. It had its fair share of obtuse roadblocks, like having to fall in certain pits to find rooms that were not a bonus secret, but rather essential to progress, with most pits being naturally lethal. Also, to find some items like a particular piece of life extending Ambrosia, you had to slash in mid air in the most inconspicuous of places to make them appear. As unfair as that sounds, that was another game I finished (with a full inventory and full power ups) with no hint or help of any sort back in the day, so it must have been intrinsically well designed. Unlike my beloved Castlevania II.

  48. Holy crap, 70 posts? Democracy works. I’ll drop in another vote for Yoshi’s Island. I’m not sure that TMNT would be very interesting, as it is designed rather poorly. It’s kind of interesting that some stages have an “overworld” but the game really does very little with it, and unless my memory fails me it does absolutely nothing to teach you how to accomplish its objectives. It seems very old school in that approach, basically the game is trial and error, with error most likely resulting in death.

  49. obvious choices:
    Link’s Awakening DX (GBC)
    Castlevania: The Adventure (GB)

    Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru/For the Frog the Bell Tolls (GB): In some ways a spiritual predecessor to Link’s Awakening, but very unique at the same time.

    Todd’s Adventure In Slime World (LYNX): A Metroid-esque and yet quite different game containing some of the traits found in the Dark/Demon Souls-games (you die a lot and the game is better for it).

  50. Haha I’ll second the request for backlogged Gamespite journal entries. So many PSX essays left to read/revisit!

    I’m also enjoying Mario 3D Land’s refreshing lack of text-based tutorializing.

    For a game that others have mentioned, Shiren would be pretty neat to read about.

  51. I know you need it to be portable, but what about portal? It’s short enough for a mini anatomy, is a great example of newer design, and fairly original. It is full of examples of the game teaching you how the game works by giving you lots of “aha!” Moments.

    Of course with my luck this will have already been done on the forums.

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