Monday, December 18, 2006

This Week's Virtual Console Releases

Alright, kids, it's time for this week's Virtual Console reviews. I'm becoming aware of a peculiar little pattern on Nintendo's part. Perhaps you've noticed as well. It seems we keep veering back and forth, good games one week, lousy games the next. It's been the pattern since the Wii's launch last month. Really, what's the deal with that?

There's something else I'm sure you'll note - there are only three games this week. What the heck happened to Nintendo's promised four-game schedule? It's not as though they're desperate for titles. Last time I checked, these consoles are drowning in them. There are several thousand games to choose from across five different platforms. And yet, Nintendo is already chincing out on us. Again, what's the deal?

It's easy to feel a little cynical, with the high price of games (Nintendo really should move to a monthly fee), and all those quality titles in Japan. Those lucky kids got Super Mario World, Contra 3, Castlevania 4, all on day one. We got stuck with...Urban Champion. Are you freakin' kidding me?

In any case, there's little good in protesting, and, besides, next week's bound to be a winner. I think we're getting Toejam & Earl. Let's spend a couple minutes with this week's crop.

Tennis - Nintendo for NES - 2/10

Ah, another winner from Nintendo. This was totally worth waiting in line at Best Buy for six hours! Yay! You're not a total sucker for buying that Wii on Ebay! More hideously painful NES games! Yippie!

Seriously, what is it with Nintendo releasing all their worst NES games, and the earliest ones, at that? I'm beginning to openly speculate that this is their way of pumping up the quality of the Wii's library. Suddenly, when compared to NES Tennis from 1983, Wii Sports looks like a work of genius.

Some executive, somewhere, honestly believes that you, dear reader, are either too stupid, too desperate, or too brand-name loyal to pass up such moder videogame classics like Urban Champion, Pinball, Soccer, Baseball, and now Tennis. None of them are playable in any real way, and they never were. You can't actually hit the tennis ball, although a lot of the time you'll connect with the handle of your racket, and kill the damned ball. At least, that's my best theory on what happens.

I don't get it. Activision made a good Tennis game for the Atari 2600. Hell, Atari's Realsports Tennis had better music, far better controls, and you could actually put your name on the scoreboard. What does Nintendo Tennis offer? Players that can't hit the broadside of a barn. The choice of two ball speeds - sloooowww....and fucking sloooowww.

I say this is the worst Virtual Console release yet. Who's with me?

Military Madness - Hudson for Turbografx - 6/10

Alright, here's the deal. Back around '89 or so, Hudson released a strategy game for the Turbo called Military Madness. It was an okay game that nontheless stood out on the console. Eventually, it gained a reputation as one of the "lost classics" of the 16-bit era, and is remembered fondly while everyone blazes away on Advance Wars years later.

So I will grant a certain nostalgia value for this game. It certainly has its adherants. But I can't really count myself among them. To be brutally honest, I don't think Military Madness has anything going for it but nostalgia. It's a retro trip for thirty-somethings who still don't want to let go of their adolescence.

I don't think this game will carry nearly the same appeal to new eyes, especially anyone who's played a few rounds of Advance Wars. Comparatively, MM is too slow, too unbalanced, too passive. The game was built around single-player, which usually involves overcoming heavy odds against a better-equipped computer opponent. That means 2-player games are always unbalanced, sometimes embarassingly so. Hey, if you want to re-enact the first Gulf War, by all means, go ahead.

Then there's the fact that Technosoft happened to release Herzog Zwei on Genesis at the same time. It was an evolutionary leap forward - fast, intense, built for multiplaers, and building the groundwork for what became real-time strategy games. Herzog Zwei is a timeless classic. Military Madness is a dinosaur bone.

Space Harrier 2 - Sega for Genesis - 6/10

Finally, just to show everyone that I hold no grudges for or against any one console, I'll say the same things about Space Harrier 2 on the Genesis. Another early game that was fun and enjoyable for a time, and then aged terribly.

I'd certainly say that this was a quality version of Space Harrier for its time, although its choppy scrolling - software scaling only appeared on Genesis later - was always a turn-off. It's better than either the NES or SMS versions. But the game was still a bit sparse, and still a step below the arcade game. And did I mention the choppy scrolling?

I don't know how a simple arcade shooter like this would sell today. I do remember that Sega tried to revive the franchise with Planet Harriers a few years ago, but it pretty much came and went. I think this is one of those games that relies upon its graphics. Strip all the paint away, and you have a very basic shoot-em-up, the kind you used to see back in the Atari days.

Again, Space Harrier is dependent upon nostalgia. That, and a really lousy VC release schedule. I think if Sega's going to bring us the early Genesis titles, then they really need to start with their A-material: Forgotten Worlds, Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Revenge of Shinobi, Herzog Zwei, oh, and maybe Last Battle if they bring back the exploding heads from the Japanese version.

Dammit, get us some real games, and stop screwing us around.

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