Nintendo has promised to release 10-12 games for its Virtual Console every week, after launching the Wii console with a short cross-section of titles across a number of consoles. I thought I should offer a buyers' guide for the current and upcoming VC games.
I understand Nintendo has left open the door for updates to the VC library. The Holy Grail that we're all really hoping for, of course, is online multiplayer. From a technical point-of-view, it shouldn't be hard to implement, and it's easy to see how successful it could become. I don't have much of an incentive to pay for emulated classic games when I already have them on my computer, but if you add online multiplayer - well, now you're talking a whole new ballgame. Give the kids the chance to play Goldeneye or Super Mario Kart online, and you'll see the classic games becoming more popular than the new Wii releases.
Keep your eyes peeled when Nintendo fully rolls out thier online service early next year.
Anyway, let's take a look at the upcoming VC titles, based on the Japanese release schedule for 2006 (I'm assuming these will all be available in the States) - Ratings out of ten:
Baseball: 2 - Most of the early NES games were pretty lousy. This is one of them. In fact, I'd go so far as to pull out that quaint, 20th Century lower-class euphanism. It's shit.
Donkey Kong: 5 - The NES version of Donkey Kong, which notoriously skipped out on the intermissions, and one of the four levels. Gimie a break.
Donkey Kong, Jr: 5 - Same as above. Another chincey port that's best forgotten.
Gradius: 8 - Now this is more like it. One of the most influential of side-scrolling shooters. The Konami Code works in this one, but only once per level.
Ice Hockey: 8 - Give me online multiplayer, and I swear this will become the greatest sports game of all time. Bring on the fat kids!
Pinball: 3 - It's shit.
Soccer: 2 - Total Shit. Why, Santa, why?
Solomon's Key: 7 - Great action-puzzler that was once in vogue on NES, due for a comeback. And, hey, look at at that! It's not shit! Unlike some other games.
Super Mario Bros: 10 - Not counting the arcades, this will be the fifth time you paid for Super Mario Bros. Maybe I should just send Nintendo a check every month.
Tennis: 3 - Absolute Total Shit. My eyes! The goggles do nothing!
Legend of Zelda: 10 - This is only the third time you're paying for this. Still a classic, but today's kids won't have patience to bomb every wall in search of secrets. I don't.
Urban Champion: 1 - Absolute Utter Fucking Shit. If you know someone who paid for this, hit them repeatedly over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Bad dog! Bad!
Xevious: 6 - Not a very good rendition of the Namco coin-op. It was okay, so until MAME or an Atari 7800 emulator appears on VC, this is your only option.
Mario Bros: 5 - Yet another chincey port, ala Donkey Kong and DK, Jr. It's okay, but it's not the arcade. Wow, those early NES games were really lame.
Wario's Woods: 5 - Somewhat overlooked as a mediocre puzzler. But for now, it's your only option. I keep getting this confused with Walden Woods for some reason.
The Legend of Kage: 4 - Why would you waste your time on this when Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden is sitting on your shelf? Wouldn't you rather watch paint dry instead? C'mon.
F-Zero: 8 - Loved this game to death in 1991. Really wish there was a multiplayer mode.
Street Fighter 2: 9 - The game that really saved Nintendo's bacon in the 16-bit war. Many wasted hours while listening to Megadeth and Metallica records. Many blistered thumbs.
Castlevania 4: 9 - All the kids who are used to the easy walk-in-the-park Castlevanias after Symphony are about to have their asses handed to them.
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: 10 - You could probably spend the next six months playing nothing but Zelda games on your Wii.
Sim City: 9 - One bit of advice: learn the infinite money trick. It makes all the difference in the world. That, and you should name your town "Mr. Butt."
Super Mario World: 10 - This is the reason why we all lost interest in New Super Mario Bros. after two weeks. I promise not to tell you how to beat this game in five minutes.
Donkey Kong Country: 7 - The best of the DKC games, a little overrated, still looks better than everything else. What's with that? And did Sean Combs really name himself after Diddy Kong?
Contra 3: 10 - Gunstar Heroes without the drugs. Unless you're talking steroids. Then, yeah, this game is loaded with drugs. Cough.
R-Type 3: 7 - Is this the one with the really crappy slowdown, or the one with the only-slightly-crappy slowdown? I forget.
Super Mario 64: 10 - Duhhh. What planet have you been living on? Destined to become another Nintendo game you'll have to buy again every four or five years until the end of time.
Altered Beast: 3 - There's a reason it was the pack-in, kids. It was totally lame. The whole thing's over in 20 minutes.
Columns: 5 - Looks okay, but it's aged terribly. Spawned a whole pile of pointless sequels for some reason.
Ecco the Dolphin: 10 - Didn't I already write about this in Electronic Games magazine?
Golden Axe: 7 - I have fond memories of reading the strategy guide in Game Players. That, and beating up those little gnome guys and stealing their potions. Heh-heh-heh-heh.
Sonic the Hedgehog: 10 - Before Sonic became a burned-out meth addict, he kicked everyone's ass and then some.
Toejam and Earl: 9 - Destined to become a VC classic, if there's any justice in the world. Throw this on while listening to your favorite Public Enemy albums.
Gunstar Heroes: 10 - Contra on a lot of psychedelics while watching Future Boy Conan or Lupin III reruns, which officially makes it the Greatest Thing Ever.
Puyo Puyo: 7 - The second game is the better one, but, hey, it's been a whole year without another Puyo Puyo game. You're probably going through a sugar withdrawl.
Ristar: 6 - Colorful platformer. Tries to be Sonic, comes off more like Poochie. Sega keeps sticking this one in like a hanger-on at parties. The "desperate nice guy" of videogames.
Shadow Dancer: 6 - Competant action-platformer, but it was a great letdown after the glorious Revenge of Shinobi. Just another paint-by-numbers Genesis game of its time.
Space Harrier: 7 - Really does look a lot better than Space Harrier on 8-bit machines, but still a step below the arcade version. Ah, well, whatever. It's fun stuff.
Super Star Soldier: 9 - Didn't I already write about this one? You want a classic videogame, get this one. It's the best Turbo game on the VC until Devil's Crush shows up.
Bonk's Adventure: 7 - A little unfair to compare to Mario or Sonic, but a good solid platformer nontheless. Spawned more sequels than it was ever really worth.
Battle Lode Runner: 5 - Um....no. I'm going back to my battle breakfast cereal now. Where did I put my battle spoon? Oh, there it is, right next to the battle sugar.
Bomberman '94: 8 - Maybe this is the '93 edition. I can't remember. Whatever. It's not Super Bomberman 2 or Saturn Bomberman, but great kicks if you can get 'em.
Dungeon Explorer: 7 - A good Gauntlet rip-off with some impressive stereo sound. It's probably aged somewhat, so this is probably more of a nostalgia kick than anything.
Necromancer: ?? - Which one was this one, again?
New Adventure Island: 7 - Never released in the US, as it also appeared on NES. Don't know if we'll see it here, but we'll cross our fingers.
Victory Run: 5 - Listed in the dictionary under "fucking boring." Here's the ending: you watch the sunset. In real time. There. I saved you six bucks.
R-Type: 8 - Excellent port of one of the greatest arcade shoot-em-ups ever made. Everybody and their uncle has ripped it off.
Military Madness: 7 - Wasted away far too many hours on this game back in the day. This is the actual war simulation used by the planners of the Iraq War. Which kind of explains a lot.