Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Last Week's New VC Releases

I decided that if I'm going to regularly review each week's games for the Virtual Console, I should go back and post some more specific thoughts on last week's three games, Golden Axe, Ecco the Dolphin, and Super Star Soldier. Besides, it really needs to be said again, this week's crop of releases were all duds. Last week was far better.

If you've missed out on these games the first time, then here's a perfect chance to play catch-up. And if you're just too young, this is a good opportunity to see what a real videogame looks like - unlike the formulaic "puppet theatre" drivel you get these days. Dagnabbit.

Golden Axe - Sega for Genesis - 1989 - 7/10

Golden Axe was among the first and best games to follow from the beat-em-up mold popularized by Double Dragon. It was an excellent arcade game that introduced the novel idea of the magic special weapon, that can be built up by stealing blue bottles from these little guys in blue hats. The tough coin-op was brought faithfully to the Genesis in 1989, and became an early standout for anyone looking to impress their friends with Nintendos.

Golden Axe spawned a number of arcade sequels, all of which were terrible and lacked the magic of the original. The Genesis saw two exclusive sequels; of these, I think Golden Axe 2 may be the best of the whole series (at least, on the Genesis), but GA3 was a shocking disappointment.

At its core, Golden Axe is an arcade game. Its function is to steal quarters away from you every few minutes, and on that front, it was very successful. There really isn't much depth aside from mashing the punch button and knowing when to get out of the way. The genre became oversaturated by the end of the 16-bit era, and pretty much died with the Genesis and Super Nintendo. Strange, isn't it?

Ecco the Dolphin - Novotrade for Genesis - 1992 - 9/10

Ecco is one of the very best games made for the Sega Genesis. It's reputation has faded over time, despite Sega's attempts to bring the character back on the Dreamcast a few years back. It's another casualty of the games industry's move away from 2D sprites in favor of 3D polygons. Whole genres of games, and volumes of game theory, were thrown to the four winds.

Ecco represents one of the smartest, most diverse, and most challenging adventure games yet made. There are elements of adventure, platforming, action, and puzzle games, each weaving into one another from one level to the next. That diversity was remarkable in 1992. It still is. And don't fool yourselves; Ecco is one tough game.

One personal note: I wrote a review for Ecco which was published in Electronic Games magazine in 1992. Or was it early '93? I forget, but I still have my copy around somewhere. I think that was my very first published work. I was smiling on a cloud for days.

Super Star Soldier - Hudson for Turbografx - 1991 - 8/10

The PC Engine was popular in Japan, but the American counterpart, Turbografx-16, failed to gain any real traction. The tragedy largely resides in the large library of games that could never be brought to the States. But, occasionally, one or two great games squeaked through, just enough to let you know that there was more to be seen than what we were getting.

Super Star Soldier is one such example. NEC's console was home to many quality shooters, and this game is just about at the top of the list. I'll freely place it among my favorite shooters of the 16-bit era, up there with the likes of Blazing Lasers, Thunder Force 3, Fire Shark, yadda yadda. The pace is frantic enough, with some diversity in the landscapes, enemies, and weapons available to you.

Like Golden Axe, Super Star Soldier belongs to a nearly-extinct genre of games, although bullet shooters keep popping up every once in a while. I'm not much of a fan of the bullet shooters; it's too much pattern memorization, and too little action. My reflexes need a real workout. Here's one game that will give you a real workout.

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