Wednesday, January 17, 2007

VC Import Games - PC Engine Xevious

Xevious - Namco for PC Engine - 9/10

Sooner or later, the issue of foreign-released games is going to become an issue for Nintendo's Virtual Console. This won't happen just yet, as there are more than enough big-name American titles to work through first. But it will rear its ugly head eventually, and the console that's most likely to be the focus will be the PC Engine, aka Turbografx.

During the NES era, Nintendo locked developers into a rigid system, forbidding them to release any NES title on a competing console. This rule almost guaranteed that NEC's next-generation system would fail, as most of its best games - released on the PC Engine in Japan - were barred from any US release. This included arcade ports such as Space Harrier, Afterburner, Gradius, Lifeforce, and Xevious, among others. I'm sure you can scan through the rom lists and see for yourselves.

The end result is that a lot of the best PCE games were never seen here, and that's a perfect opportunity for the Virtual Console. Hudson Soft has done an admirable job of porting the old Turbo games, but the system had a short life, and at this rate, we're going to run out of games before too long. Nintendo's current policy is to limit VC titles to only those released originally in that region. Sooner or later, that rule will have to be challenged.

Xevious is an excellent example of a great PCE title that would be welcomed here in the West. I've been on a Xevious kick this week, I know. Can't really say why, other than I'm a fan of the game, and it's a fun shooter that holds its own. Maybe I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong with the NES version. Yadda yadda.

Namco's PCE version, as you can see, is faithful to the arcade, a sharper and more detailed version of the Atari 7800. The gameplay is fully intact, and it's easy to lose time blasting away. Namco has also included a second version on the game card, which offers different enemies and targets, some power-up icons that don't seem to do anything (letters that spell out words, for bonus points, I'll assume), and newer, bigger bosses that require multiple bomb hits to be destroyed. Oh, and there are a number of anime cut-scenes that were standard for 16-bit shooters.

On the whole, I'll still stick with the original version. Two things that may stand out, though, if only for the veteran Xevious fan. The game is notably easier than the 7800 version, even though everything's faster and smoother. There just aren't as many "panic" moments as you'll find on Atari's version. No doubt a lot of this is because the bomb target is closer to your ship in the 7800 version, which gives you a lot less time to bomb those pesky domes. Also, I can't seem to find any of the hidden bunkers and flags again. Did I just lose my mojo over time, or are there really more secret bunkers in the Atari version? I really can't tell.

Ah, well. Unless Nintendo starts courting whoever owns the Atari name these days, and pushes for them to add Atari's old consoles to VC, this will be our best hope for a killer version of Xevious. Yeah, I know, there are already half a dozen shooters out already. Whatever. There were just a lot of shoot-em-ups back then. Deal with it. Besides, you really want to see all those PC Engine games appear on our shores, and a good chunk of them are - you guessed it - shooters.

The game blogs have got to start rumbling on this issue. Let's see what you can do.

No comments: