Thursday, December 07, 2006

Virtual Console Reviews - Launch Games, pt 2

Okay, I didn't want to make several different posts for the other game systems on Virtual Console, since the games are too few. Let's just pack everything else together. I think this should bring us up to the present, but as I've written before, I don't have a Wii, and am not expecting to for some weeks. If there are any games I'm missing, let me know. Also, don't forget my earlier post of Japanese VC titles, which included some short, loud-mouthed opinions.

Anyways, here's the rest of the VC lineup:

F-Zero - Nintendo for SNES - 1991 - 8/10

F-Zero was a real rush when it came out at the dawn of the Super Nintendo. It was not only a terrific showcase for Nintendo's machine, it was a thrilling racer that put nearly every other contemporary title to shame. I can't think of another racing game on the consoles at that time, expect for maybe Super Monaco GP on the Genesis, that came anywhere close.

Today, everyone complains about the lack of any multiplayer modes on F-Zero. Yes, it's a shame, but I don't remember too many complaints back in '91. Perhaps we were just too happy with what we had. Besides, there weren't too many multiplayer racing games in the home; those few games had to settle for a split-screen that cut down on any visual details terribly. The machines at the time just couldn't handle it very well. There's a reason Super Mario Kart was so popular, you see.

Anyway, you can't do wrong with F-Zero. There's a purity to the original version that later installments somehow lacked, despite their charms. Nostalgia, probably. Still works for me.

Sim City - Nintendo for SNES - 1991 - 9/10

Sim City was the surprise hit of the Super NES launch, and especially in those later dry months when all the new games were awful. It's interesting that this game came from the same period as those other great "brain games" - Populous and Tetris. These game invented and mastered whole genres that we're still playing with today, while everything else has fallen into obscurity.

I think Nintendo's version of Sim City is the best, mainly because of the graphic style, and all of those exclusive extras. There are a lot more bonuses in the game, things like parks and casinos and a giant Mario statue if your town reaches 500,000 people. The musical selections are magnificent, both catchy and poignant, a tribute to the SNES' brilliant sound chip (designed by a certain company that's now getting its comeuppance). And the mayor character, who dispenses advice to newcomers, adds much needed personality.

If you were observant, you'd notice that the Sim City mayor made a cameo appearance in last year's Zelda game, The Minish Cap. Small world, huh? I'm a real sucker for these creative games, and I'll still pull Sim City out every once in a while.

Oh, and I nearly forgot - the money code. Learn the money code! It's essential to enjoying Sim City. And stop whining about having to use a joypad instead of the Wiimote. Get over it.

Super Mario 64 - Nintendo for N64 - 1996 - 10/10

Hey, lookit that! It's Super Mario 64! Again! That would make this the third time we're paying for the same game. Sure, it's just about the greatest videogame ever made, so I'll bite my tongue and go along. At least there's a Mario game at launch.

I don't know what else to say about this game. I can't imagine you don't already know about it. It's like asking someone if they've ever heard of The Beatles. It's damn near the top of the required-playing list. We'll forgive Mario and Mr. Miyamoto for all the boring and dispirited 3D platformers to come in the aftermath. Who knew that so many game designers were such terrible students? Perhaps they should go back to Mario 64 and try to remember what made it so much fun.

Altered Beast - Sega for Genesis - 1988 - 3/10

Altered Beast was actually a very good arcade game, one of a whole pack of great Sega arcade games during the late '80s. Sega then took that game, stripped it to the bone, sucked out all the challenge, and most of the fun, and crammed it onto a tiny 2-megabit (256k) cartridge for the Sega Genesis.

This was one of the very first Mega Drive games from 1988. Can't you tell? The early Genesis games were not arcade perfect, but they were close, close enough that it didn't matter to most of us. But I'm thinking of games like Ghouls 'N Ghosts and Forgotten Worlds and maybe Afterburner 2. Altered Beast just doesn't belong in that pack.

It's a cinch of a game. Really, you can waltz through to the end in 20 minutes, and still leave time for a coffee break. It was an early work and a cheap conversion, and it shows. The game's only novelty were the voice samples and large characters, impressive in the age of NES. But that's not worth $8; it's barely worth $2. This game makes a mockery of Nintendo's pricing system for VC.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Sonic Team for Genesis - 1991 - 10/10

I wrote lengthy essays on the first four Sonic games as part of my Videogame Classics series. I really don't know what more to add to them, so I'd suggest you read those. To recap, The First Four Sonics - starting with Sonic the Hedgehog in '91, then followed by Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles - represent the apex of the 16-bit era, and everything that made Sega great. It chronicles the comany's underdog rise to greatness and triumph, before hubris and arrogance led to the inevitable decline.

Poor Sonic was once on top of the world. He knocked out Mario and ended Nintendo's reign. Now he's become videogaming's answer to Spinal Tap, a burned-out parody of his former self. Older gamers greet each new Sonic installment with dread, hoping that somehow, this time, the blue spud will pull himself out of the gutter. The younger kids probably just see a sad joke, another poor mascot in a string of terrible games.

Well, kids, here's your chance to see Sonic before he became Fat Elvis. Enjoy.

Bonk's Adventure - Hudson for Turbografx - 1990 - 7/10

Bonk came out before Sonic? Now there's a surprise. I seem to remember that he was the last to the party. Perhaps this was only in the States. Anyway, Bonk's Adventure was Hudson's best effort to create a Mario-style mascot for the PC Engine, aka the Turbografx-16. For a time, it was a very successful game, and aided the console's fortunes for a time. It didn't really make much of a difference in the long run (NEC was finished by the time the Super NES arrived), but fans had a really fun game to call their own.

I think the mascot image has hurt Bonk in the long run. People today expect something on par with Mario and Sonic, and poor Bonk just isn't in that league. Because of this, expectations are raised beyond the game's ability to deliver, and it's a little unfair. What we have is a quality action game with loads of personality. It spawned more sequels than it was ever worth, really, and those later games are just simple continuations.

Whatever. Bonk's Adventure is a very good game, just nowhere near as good or bad as the hype would have you believe.

Bomberman '93 - Hudson for Turbografx - 1993 - 7/10

Hey, how could I forget about a Bomberman game? What was I thinking?

Fortunately, I have everything on my computer, so I can fire up Magic Engine and play a few games to see where this installment of Bomberman stands. As a general rule, Bomberman party games are always enjoyable, but the absolute apex of the series is Super Bomberman 2 on the Super NES - the greatest of all console multiplayer games.

I always wind up comparing Bomberman '93 to the later version, and it's a bit like comparing a rough draft against the final paper. The formula is in the process of being perfected. If you're new to Bomberman, this is a good place to start. It's meant to be a party game and the Wii seems destined to become a beloved party system. That said, here's my short list of complaints:

- Graphics are a little too candy-like, without any environmental hazards like ice. And most of the levels lack that real punch. There is one great level with regenerating blocks, but that was the only real standout for me.

- The pacing is a little casual, a little slow. You can see the elements that gave SB2 its intensity. The ability to kick bombs down warp holes. The ability to knock around the curse items instead of destroying them. The time limit. The speedup icon. The glove. For the love of Elvis, the freakin' glove!

- I miss the extra Bomberman colors. Sue me. Oh, and those slime bombs. And the G-Bomber idea was great.

So, basically, I'm really just shilling for Super Bomberman 2 instead of Bomberman '93. Whatever. At least you know where I stand. Let's all cross our fingers and hope Hudson doesn't just stick with this one Bomberman for the Virtual Console.

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