Monday, July 23, 2007

 

Reasons to be Cheerful

Despite that disappointment, however, there are some genuine upsides.
- Almost all of my British friends will be in London next year: it should be fun.
- I never wanted to leave Accenture after just one year - the Washington opportunity was just too good to miss. Sticking around for longer will give me much more experience, which is hugely positive.
- My finances will now work out very well. Previously, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to afford next year; now I'm in a position to wipe out much of my debt.
- I can now take my autumn vacations to Munich and to Bangalore, which had previously been out of the question.
- Hanna, Natalie and Lin haven't found a house yet, and living with them was something I was genuinely sorry to be unable to do. It'll be great.

So, that's nice. It's not all bad.

 

Not going to Washington, after all

The next post, after 'Leaving Archway', was supposed to be about how I was going on to bigger and better things. In retrospect, I think I always knew that it was too good to be true. Living in Washington, D.C., in a chance to get overseas again after four years of dreary England. An editorial position at a prominent foreign policy journal. A beautiful house in Georgetown living with three charming young women. It was like a dream coming true.

And then, just like that, it all evaporated in a puff of smoke. If I wanted to be lazy, I could blame the Federal Government, but if I’m a little more honest it was largely my own fault. I’m a child of globalization at heart: I’m used to being able to go wherever I want, and do whatever I want to whilst there. Within modern Europe, that post-national vision may be largely accurate, but outside of the European comfort zone, it simply doesn’t hold true. I naively assumed that if I had a job sorted out, the necessary paperwork would take care of itself. So did my prospective employer. But that’s not how visas work.

There is a visa which matches my requirements exactly: it’s called the H-1B, and it’s for skilled non-immigrant workers, i.e. people with qualifications who intend to leave the US again when their job finishes after a set amount of time. H-1B visas, however, are not unlimited in number: there is an annual quota available of 65,000. Applications for these visas for the financial year starting in October 2007 opened on April 1st of this year, and promptly closed on April 2nd after receiving 150,000 applications within 24 hours. There are, quite simply, none left.

Having offered me a place, the Nixon Center, to their credit, did their very best to try to make good on their word. They hired an immigration lawyer, they looked into exchange visas, they even investigated whether they could register themselves as an academic institution to qualify me for a non-work visa. But the system refused to be played: time and costs were not unlimited, and by the start of last week they were running out of ideas. There is, quite simply, no appropriate visa available at present, and that, as they say, is that.

Although it is bitterly disappointing to come through a highly competitive application process only to be foiled by bureaucracy, it’s difficult not to be faintly amused at the absurdity of it all. The H-1B visa is applied for by the employer, not the employee; assuming that the 150,000 hopefuls on April 1st all had a realistic chance, that means that 85,000 skilled workers with secure jobs lined up will have been rejected without even being considered. And that’s just the first day. Take into account the number of people who will have been dissuaded from applying by the evident difficulty of getting in, and the number who won’t have been offered jobs at all for that same reason, along with the off-putting hassle of having to apply for a visa a full six months prior to actually starting the job (at a minimum: 18 months at a maximum), and the scale of the difficulty inherent in the system becomes obvious. True, this doesn’t apply to foreign workers transferring within their companies, to students, or to green card aspirants, but that still means that a very large skilled workforce is being kept out.

Even the most rabid proponents of restricting immigration would hesitate to identify this outcome as being highly desirable. When engaged in rhetoric about immigration, even the most liberal of politicians will usually be fixated on the hordes of poor Hispanic people pouring across the Mexican border. Few fulminate on the influx of clever foreigners, and policy wonks do not exercise themselves on how to keep them out. It is fairly self-evident that one does not erect fences to impede the usual entry routes of Oxford graduates. Moreover, the twin populist fears of immigration that are usually played to are those of losing your job and of being overrun by a foreign culture. Working class communities are sometimes right to fear an influx of cheap, unskilled labour: when few skills are required, price will indeed be a key determinant of who gets hired. The cosmopolitan skilled middle classes, by contrast, generally don’t mind the arrival of more people such as themselves. Who could object, after all, to a greater availability of doctors to treat their illnesses, to universities hiring the best professors in the world to teach their children, to technology firms picking the greatest talent from around the globe to keep their national economy ahead of its competitors? When can you ever say for certain that you have lost your job, or failed to acquire one, purely because an immigrant was present? Most people don’t have an objection to the concept that employing the best workers available, wherever they are from, makes the economy more dynamic, in turn enhancing growth and generating further employment.

From a financial perspective, as well, immigration can hardly be said to be painful for the receiving country. Skilled migrants earn above-average wages and pay their own way through their society, contributing far more in tax payments to the government than they will ever receive in government assistance. If you arrive with your skills already in place, the government doesn’t have to fund your education; if you leave when your job winds up, the government doesn’t have to fund your pension; if you’re in secure employment, you’ll likely have health insurance, and will anyway be in the age range least likely to fall ill. In short, by limiting the numbers of skilled immigrants so dramatically, the Federal government is responding to a public will that isn’t there in order to limit an increase in some of the most productive contributors to society. (Those Hispanic hordes are hardly a drag either, when considered calmly. People come to America because there are jobs for them there. Non-skilled jobs, often at the minimum wage, are usually filled by immigrants when locals are unwilling to take them.)

But even when the economic arguments are set aside, there is a good reason to be more open. People emigrate for two reasons: fear, and hope. People who emigrate because they are rightly afraid to remain in their own countries are granted asylum. People who emigrate because they hope for a better life are often not admitted. Hope is a quintessentially American characteristic; American history is littered with figures who arrived at Ellis Island with nothing but the clothes on their back and rose to greatness through hard work and sheer pluck. It is the potential to better yourself and to improve your life that leads people to move to the United States, whether they are running with an unexpected opportunity to work in the foreign policy community in Washington or simply seeking to earn enough to send money home to feed their families. What more profound statement of admiration can there be for a foreign country than to seek to leave your home country in order to live there? By putting quotas on immigration, the government is putting a cap on hope; a limit on the dreams and aspirations of millions.

This is not a good time for the United States; it is not widely loved in the world today. Its most powerful draw is still itself: its inexhaustible economic dynamism, its remarkable cultural appeal, its mystique as a country founded on values and built through the aspirations and ambitions of those people who have chosen to come and live there. It is, more than any other, a nation whose very existence is built on the hope of a better future. To shut off this great wellspring of hope, this great enabler of the most positive impulses inherent in human nature, can be nothing other than the height of foolishness.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 

Family Abode


Moving house has certainly improved since the days when I would have to move all of my possessions down three flights of stairs and across the quad to put into storage at the end of each term, but the last few weeks have definitely demonstrated that it can still be tiresome. After the stress of moving all of my belongings out of Archway and then cleaning the house there, I spent last weekend assisting the parents in their own move, from rented accommodation in Woodchester (near Stroud) down the valley (and up one side) to Nailsworth, where they have recently purchased a rather nice Cotswold stone cottage with a very pleasant view. I must say that Gloucestershire has never really grown on me, but the new place is very attractive, and looking out of the window across the valley, and up towards Stroud, reveals the Cotswold landscape at its finest. The house itself is very cool: with occasional stone walls, large airy rooms, and a sense that it’s all been slightly improvised (with different rooms at different levels, it has something of an adventure playground aspect to it) all make it seem very distinctive and settled. It has a large, open ground floor living room with a step in the middle to distinguish a sitting/entryway area from a TV-viewing area, which then leads up two steps to a small dining room perfect for our Bavarian Eckbank (table with matching corner bench). Around the corner from there is the kitchen, with a stairway in between leading up to the bathroom & toilet on the first floor, with my sister’s room on the left and a study and master bedroom down a step. On the second floor is a large attic storeroom and my room, an attic space with inward-sloping walls and a secluded feel. It’s all very nice.

Unfortunately, it all came to us in a rather dirty state, so much of the weekend was spent just cleaning it up. The paint was brought out and some of the grottiest rooms turned pure white, while my sister shampooed some carpets and we ripped out others. Trying not to think about the previous owners living with dramatically filthy carpets and a colony of dead woodlice under a living room cupboard, we eventually managed to make it look really quite habitable, just in time for the gang of movers to show up on Monday and deposit a vast accumulation of our belongings– a collection of all of my stuff from London, all of the things from the previous house in Woodchester, and the entire contents of our separate storage compartment containing everything else that had come over from Germany. When everything was moved in, it started to look like it might eventually be very cozy, especially in my room where vast numbers of boxes are slowly disgorging their contents onto shelves. Opening up some of the old boxes from Germany was quite a pleasure, as old books that I’d not seen in years came tumbling out, alongside the obligatory large numbers of old copies of PC Gamer and forgotten soft toys.

I return to work exhausted, but pleased that the family finally has a permanent space to inhabit here in the UK.

Monday, July 09, 2007

 
“WHEN Nathaniel Kent died at Fulham
on 10 October 1810 an obituary in
the Gentleman's Magazine enthusiastically
proclaimed it to be 'universally
allowed that no professional man ever
rendered more substantial services to the agriculture
of his country than the late Mr. Kent'."

Googling yourself is always entertaining. A genuine historical Nathaniel Kent appears to have appeared since the last time I tried it, as the above quotation – from a scholarly journal, no less! – attests. Apparently, Nathaniel Kent was a land agent in the late 18th Century who contributed significantly to the agricultural revolution. Remarkable.

Other Nathaniel Kents include a civil-war era ancestor of Superman and a one-armed Pirate in a romantic novel. Very entertaining. On a sadder note, one Nathaniel Kent Thomas died in Salt Lake City recently. And the real me? Well, this blog pops up in third place on the first page… and then my Amazon profile. Oh, and I’m on Wikipedia. Remarkable? Well... not really. I must admit that I actually wrote the Lawsoc page, which appears to now be on the verge of being deleted. Oh well.

 

Security Questions

Credit card security. We all know how it works. What with the internet and the new tendency for people to put their old statements outside their houses in recycling bins, paranoia in the financial industry is running higher than ever. Card issuers are responding in the only way they know how: by making it so difficult to access your card accounts that no-one, not even the card owner, is able to get in any more.

A fairly typical exchange goes like this.

Me: “Hello. I’d like to check the balance on my account, and maybe pay some of it off.”
Card Company: “All right, sir. We’ll just need to ask you some security questions to confirm your identity, if that’s all right. Could you tell me the password on your account?”

Passwords, as we all know, are devilish things. I probably have upwards of 100 accounts secreted around various websites, protecting everything from my emails to my favourite train journeys to my Nintendo STARS points balance. Each password is supposed to be different, and various different ones have specific requirements. For example, “Must be 16-18 characters long, be at least one third in capital letters, include at least two numbers, and should not be a recognizable word related to you which someone would be able to guess. An example of a good password is ‘uRgLYF145jSbL5nbX’.”

Me: “I haven’t the faintest idea. I only call you once every two months or so. I can’t remember it.”
Card Company: “All right then, sir – perhaps you could tell me the favourite colour of the primary cardholder’s paternal grandmother.”
Me: “Er – actually, no, I don’t think I could.”
Card Company: “Well then sir, why don’t you tell me the last transaction that you used the card for.”
Me: “I honestly don’t remember. I’m trying not to use it at the moment – I don’t think I’ve put anything on there for weeks.”
Card Company: “I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid I can’t allow you access to the account. Perhaps you could try using your online account.”
Me: “What will I need to know to get into the online account?”
Card Company: “You’ll need to tell us your favourite singer, the name of the hospital in which you were born, the name of your first school, and the fifth letter of your first pet’s favoured brand of cat, dog and/or goldfish food. And you’ll need to enter each word exactly the way that you entered it when you set it up.”
Me: “But I don’t know any of those things! And you told me not to write them down when I set it up 14 months ago!”
Card Company: “I’m sorry, sir. I suggest that you look them up and get back in touch with us then.”
Me: “Wait! I’m trying to pay you money!”
Card Company: “Goodbye.”

And so it goes. Actually accessing any of your financial information is ridiculously difficult. Every password has to be different; many are randomly assigned numbers or have arbitrary requirements; and you are categorically forbidden to write them down anywhere. When you’re only checking the state of your account once a month or so, it becomes impossible to remember everything. (I’ve now actually had to ask one of my card companies to resume sending me paper statements after having to call them up to reset my (forgotten) password once a month for five months straight.) The only solution, especially for people who find it hard to remember their PIN numbers, let alone 16-digit encryption keys, is to write everything down and keep it together in a safe place, which is, of course, much more dangerous than simply allowing you access to your account through the old trusted method of “date of birth” and “first line of your address”.

Still, full credit where it’s due. It’s always interesting to come across new security questions. “Could you tell me which supermarket you usually shop at?” is a good one. But as ever, my high-tech employer is way ahead of the curve. When I recently called up our internal IT support desk to reset a contractor’s password, I was bemused to be asked if I had my mobile phone on me.

CIO: “Do you have a voice mailbox on your mobile, sir?”
Me: “Yes…”
CIO: “All right then, sir. I’m going to put you on hold for a moment, and while you’re on hold, I’m going to call your mobile phone.”
Me: “OK.”
CIO: “Please do not pick up your mobile phone when it rings. When I get through to your voicemail, I will leave a message containing a 6-character alphanumeric password. You can then access your voicemail and repeat it back to me on this line. We can then deal with your request.”

Full marks for imagination. But while waiting for this sequence of events to laboriously be carried out, I missed my train. Sometimes, you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Friday, July 06, 2007

 

Finishing Zelda

I distinctly remember feeling that buying a Wii would be worth it for the purposes of playing the new Zelda game alone. I think I probably said so to quite a few people as well. Zelda is such a formative gameplay experience for so many people that the sentiments probably weren’t that uncommon amongst the keenest Wii purchasers. The night before last, after fifty-six and a half hours of gameplay, I finally finished Wii Zelda. Was it worth buying the console for it? Well, it was worth buying the console for Wii Sports alone, but the new Zelda certainly sweetened the deal. Even now when I watch the trailer in the intro sequence, it makes my hair stand on end. But it has to be said that it didn’t really challenge N64 Zelda for the “Best Zelda Game”/”Best Game Ever” epithets (the two seem to go together).

(Warning: plot spoilers appear below. Don’t read if you’re likely to object to knowing the ending of the latest game.)

My first Zelda experience came with the Nintendo 64 version, back in the 9th grade, when I picked up an N64 second-hand from my math teacher and the game came thrown in. It was my first console gaming experience, and was quite a formative one, and my loyalty has remained high ever since. But the game also had a broader significance. Zelda has been a key Nintendo franchise ever since the first NES version back in the 80s, and despite a very poor sequel to the original (which essentially turned the action-RPG aesthetic of the original into a Golden Axe-style platformer) and some ill-judged licensed sequels on the Philips CDi console, it’s managed to maintain its place. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the defining RPG experience on the Super Nintendo, and remains a fan favourite. But the key moment which defined Zelda as the best game ever was when it jumped into 3D on the Nintendo 64. Super Mario 64 took the 3D potential of the N64 and built an awesome showcase of both the potential of the new technology (Nintendo was showing off the new Analogue Stick on its controller as well as the graphics power of its new machine) as well as an excellent game. But The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time surpassed it with its sheer size and depth. There was so much to do and to see in the new 3D iteration of its world, and the epic story that it told combined with its neat and clever gameplay mechanic to create a game that is still regarded as the best ever made. Sadly but predictably, everything that has followed has suffered in comparison to its purity and success. Any Zelda game that tries to replicate the epic formula will end up simply retreading what’s already been done, while any addition to the series that tries something new will end up being looked down on because it deviates from the perfect formula. As a result, the handheld additions to the series (the two Oracles games for Game Boy Colour, and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap for Game Boy Advance) have followed the formula closely in the cut-down manner that befits handhelds, while the home console sequels have all fallen short in some way or another. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the N64 sequel to Ocarina of Time, and introduced a new world and an entirely new gameplay mechanic, but as a crazily imaginative remix it bemused many players. Fans were heavily stoked at the time of the GameCube’s announcement by videos showing a “proper” sequel, which led everyone to believe that what was coming was Ocarina of Time with better graphics. When the real Gamecube Zelda – The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – was announced, its remarkable aesthetic and gameplay overhaul led to a great deal of profound disappointment (despite being a very fine game). Nintendo’s second GameCube Zelda was the GBA-interoperability multiplayer showcase Four Swords Adventure, but that title notwithstanding the next GameCube Zelda was billed as a return to what fans expected, stepping back from the cel-shaded graphics and returning the land of Hyrule as we know it from Ocarina. But as time went by and the GameCube sank faster than expected, Nintendo’s attentions shifted towards the launch of the Wii, and the GameCube’s last swansong was turned into the key launch title for their new console. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the result: probably the largest Zelda yet, looking great, playing well, and proving that Nintendo’s new controller really is able to deal with traditional blockbuster videogames as well as the new breed of games growing up around the controller. But for all its size and length, its twist on Hyrule is strangely charmless and its gameplay dynamic is probably the weakest yet.

Zelda games mostly all work the same way. You start off as a child or young man (traditionally known as Link) living a tranquil life in some remote corner of Hyrule, but something evil is threatening the land and you pretty quickly get drawn in to trying to stop it. You do this by playing through a series of “dungeons” (self-contained areas packed with puzzles and bad guys), defeating the monsters that dwell within and slowly liberating the various bits of the world from the evil that’s choking it. Certain areas and character types recur – the volcano-dwelling Gorons, the aquatic Zora, the Gerudo of the desert, and the Castle Town in the centre of the world. The bad guy is invariably some incarnation of Ganondorf, an embodiment of pure evil; the main quest is always to save the world while also saving the Princess Zelda, daughter of the King of Hyrule, who is the embodiment of everything good. You invariably have a helpful companion – a fairy in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, a talking boat in The Wind Waker, a talking hat in The Minish Cap, and an impish denizen of the Twilight Realm in Twilight Princess.

So what makes these games different from each other, when they have so much in common? Essentially, the answer is that all the ingredients are perpetually being remixed. The world in which you find yourself is different in each game, making the rediscovery of each location a joy as you discover and appreciate the variation in each version. The dungeons and weapons at your disposal are all unique, and increasingly imaginative. And, most crucially, each game has a unique gameplay dynamic, providing a compelling new twist on the world and how you interact with it. In Ocarina of Time, the twist is that you can use your magical ocarina to move between the innocent Hyrule of your childhood and the corrupted Hyrule when you’re grown up, and seeing how the locations change – and making changes in the past to affect the future – fascinates. In Twilight Princess, the twist is that you turn into a wolf when entering the lands dominated by evil, and you see the world in different ways depending on whether you play as wolf or human. Because each game is familiar yet different, playing each new iteration is like seeing an old friend for the first time in years, where what’s familiar and what’s new are all mingled together. It’s nothing short of a joy.

Ocarina of Time is probably the most classic. You start out a child in a village of children called the Kokiri in the Lost Woods, guarded over by the Great Deku Tree, a sort of a tree spirit. Link is the only child in the village without a fairy, but at the start of the game is summoned to the Deku Tree by the fairy Navi, who is to help him on his quest. A dark force is spreading evil across Hyrule, and Link is sent off to the various corners of the land to try to combat it. Too late to stop Ganondorf from taking power, the fleeing Princess Zelda gives him a magical ocarina which he can play to go into the future, to a Hyrule corrupted by evil under Ganondorf’s rule. The quest to defeat him takes Link from dungeon to dungeon, with various tasks to undertake in the wider world in between. With plenty to explore, collect and do, the world comes alive, and the memorable locations, characters and music all complement the epic storyline (and a number of neat time-based puzzles) to make a thoroughly engaging experience.

Majora’s Mask is very different. Kidnapped by a strange masked creature and taken to a parallel world away from Hyrule, Link is trapped by a mask that turns him into a Deku shrub (a sort of small, plant-like creature) and stuck in a city called Clock Town where the world is counting down towards the end, as the Moon falls to earth. With just three days to sort out what’s going on, the dynamic becomes an intriguing time-based structure where everything happens over those three days on a timeline, and Link must use his ocarina to transport back to the beginning every time. Link retains what he acquires and learns, but whereas he develops sequentially, the world is stuck on a loop, meaning that as you acquire new skills, new actions and areas open up to you at the various points throughout the timeline. Complementing this remarkable time-based mechanic is the addition of a system of masks: Link can collect these to transform himself into various creatures. Rolling around the landscape as a Goron is tremendously entertaining, as is swimming through the lake as a Zora, and various other masks give additional powers that can be used to solve individual puzzles. The remarkably complex environment of Clock Town, with so much to do, helps make the game complex and intricate – a pretty daring piece of game design, and a remarkably innovative and successful one if taken on its merits.

The Wind Waker alienated many people through its graphics – cartoonish and cel-shaded, the game appeared to be appealing more to children than to adults. But that wasn’t the only reason that it alienated – the Hyrule that fans had come to know was gone, replaced by a huge ocean filled by numerous tiny islands. The negative reaction was so overwhelming that it seemed to overshadow the charm that suffuses every corner of the game. The animation is wonderfully expressive and perfectly suited to the story it tells, lending it a lighter touch that keeps things from getting too depressing. As a result, the characterization is the strongest out of any Zelda game. Link in this iteration is a little boy living on Outset Island, who is given the traditional green garb by his grandmother on his birthday. When his beloved little sister Aryll is snatched by a giant evil bird, he joins up with the pirate queen Tetra to go on a quest to rescue her. When he is befriended by a mysterious, magical boat, he is free to explore the world, and the ensuing quest takes him all over the giant ocean as he saves his sister and discovers the evil spreading across the ocean. The ocean is genuinely huge, and the graphics are seamless – no transitions between locations – and the vast number of islands is wonderfully well-realized, each with its own little puzzle to figure out. Although the length of time it takes to sail between islands becomes a drag, and the whole sailing thing isn’t a match for your trusty horse Epona, the game is nevertheless enchanting and tremendously good fun. Series fans needn’t be disappointed, either – if you pay attention, the usual roster of characters are all present, including the King of Hyrule, an incarnation of Ganondorf, and even the Princess Zelda.

Twilight Princess is the latest iteration, and clearly the designers were, to a certain extent, chastened by the reaction to The Wind Waker and, to a lesser extent, Majora’s Mask. Out goes the tinkering around with the core gameplay dynamic. Banished are the cartoon graphics. This game is intended to scream, “Epic! Realistic! Bigger, better, more!”. So we get a straight quest, we get an overhauled Ocarina of Time graphic style, and we get the world as we know it. That isn’t to say that things aren’t very different to Ocarina of Time, but I’m sorry to say that the game is poorer for its lack of experimentation. Link in this iteration is a farm hand – a young man – in an idyllic rural village, whose life is shattered when the evil that is sweeping Hyrule reaches his little corner of it. The village children are kidnapped, the land is covered by a shroud of twilight that corrupts everything it touches, and Link is transformed into a wolf and taken captive. Befriended in jail by an impish creature of uncertain provenance named Midna, Link escapes and is led to the captive Princess Zelda, who recognizes him for what he is and entrusts the quest to save Hyrule to him. As a wolf, he must remove the twilight covering vast sections of the world by restoring the great fairies that have been hobbled by the evil Zant, a leader of the Twilight Realm. Then, when restored to human form, he tackles dungeons to gather the artefacts needed by Midna to defeat Zant. All the while, the aim is to save the village children and rescue Zelda.

The world is huge – much larger than any previous Zelda game, with more to do, with more activities needing to be done in wider Hyrule to ensure progress. While most of these are suitably grand and epic, the increased space between dungeons elongates the game tremendously. The problem with all of this is that, for all its graphical dazzle, the world is strangely un-compelling. The characters don’t grab you in the same way as the more abstract (or primitive) N64 ones did, and certainly not as well as the wonderfully expressive denizens of The Wind Waker. The locations, too – although vastly increased in visual quality and in size, with huge amounts of Hyrule available to explore – are largely unexciting re-imaginings of the world we discovered in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess simply doesn’t have a central idea to build on as in Majora’s Mask or The Wind Waker, and isn’t tightly focused enough to replicate the success of Ocarina of Time. The key dynamic of playing through areas first as a wolf and then as a human is strangely unappealing, as well. It took me a good five or six hours to really get into the game.

Once I did get into it, of course, I was hooked – it still has that Zelda magic. The formula is so well-established that it would be very difficult to hurt the core gameplay enough to make the game unworthy of playing. (Nintendo even handed development duties for Minish Cap on the GBA to Capcom, with no discernible loss of quality – the formula is well established enough to be outsourced.) The web of side quests and collections is still compelling, and the plot – though convoluted to the point of just being pointless in places – always drags you forwards. And although the world isn’t as well-realised as in previous Zeldas, the outstanding dungeon design stands tall and largely makes up for it. Although there are a few duds, some of the areas – including the snow mansion where the aim of the dungeon is to find enough ingredients to go into a soup to cure its occupant of its cold – are really playful and imaginative, and the boss design really stands out. The game’s climax is pure Zelda, including the obligatory sword-tennis with balls of energy (this time facing off against a possessed Zelda herself – spooky), a test of reflexes and accuracy with your bow against the beast-like Ganon, some excellent horseback combat, and then the mother of all sword fights with Ganondorf himself. Running through all of this is the curiously poignant and tragic tale of the quirky (and, to me at least, adorable) Midna, as worthy a companion as could be hoped for. All in all, it’s not as compelling as one might expect, but still has the Zelda magic that everyone was looking for.

Now that it’s done, though, I find myself done with all my Wii games and facing a genuine shortage of attractive games to move onto. The Wii is curiously short of triple-A titles, and until we start to see some more coming through the pipeline, I’ll be heading back to some GameCube highlights that I never finished the first time around. While my attachment to Wii couldn’t be stronger, and while it’s doing extremely well at the moment (the latest sales figures from Japan show it outselling PS3 six-to-one last month), sooner or later it will have to move beyond Wii Sports, WarioWare and Cooking Mama to something with real meat. Here’s hoping that a new Zelda, developed for Wii from the ground up, will find itself amongst the line-up. At the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like it.

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