Monday, January 22, 2007

Virtual Console Releases - January 22

One of these weeks, someone at Nintendo needs to come up with a better method for announcing its Virtual Console releases. Every week, I have to scour half a dozen websites in order to track down what's coming out. This time, I not only have to hit Nintendo's site, but Sega's as well. It seems that Nintendo only announced one game - their own, Zelda 3. Nice. Way to give the fans the impression that you're not supporting your console.

Whatever. This is one of the "good weeks," and right on schedule are the good games. We've been expecting three more Genesis titles, but Nintendo surprised us with one of their bigger guns. Not a moment too soon, I'd say. In any case, as I've said in previous posts, we're starting to get the interesting stuff, now that we're reaching the end of the usual titles that appear on every emulation compilation. The Turbografx games are a good example, and now we're seeing that again with Gain Ground and Bonanza Bros. Eventually, the lost gems will have to be pulled out.

Anyway, here goes - I have no idea what's coming next week. Assume it will suck eggs.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Nintendo for Super NES - 10/10

Hmm. Should I even say anything about this? Isn't this like commenting on The Beatles? You either know it by heart, or will never care. We're preaching to the choir. I did write an essay on Zelda 3 as part of the Videogame Classics series, so feel free to read that.

For most gamers, Zelda 3 represents the peak of the series. The original Zelda carries an arcade flavor that's unique, but this is the title that, really, has been ripped off in all the sequels. Ocarina...Majora's Mask...Wind Waker....Twilight Princess...all great games, naturally. But they're essentially 3D versions of Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo. For all intents and purposes, this is the apex of the Zelda franchise.

Again, you all know this by heart, and this is about as close to impulse buy as one gets on VC. One of the all-time Nintendo greats, and different enough from the original to still feel fresh. You can switch from one game to the next without feeling any burnout.

Bonanza Bros - Sega for Genesis - 5/10

I'm feeling generous this week, so I'll give a decent score to this little-understood and little-enjoyed Sega arcade title. Perhaps it just reminds me too much of Activision's Keystone Capers on the Atari 2600, and that's why I never enjoyed this.

However, stealth games became the vogue several years ago, somewhere between Goldeneye and Metal Gear Solid and the Patriot Act. So now a game like Bonanza Bros, which emphases stealth and strategy, will improve in the minds of gamers. What was a slow little game becomes one with depth, character.

I still say it's a glorified Atari 2600 game, but it does possess a lot of character, like flies landing on your head whenever you hide in one place for too long. Oh, and there's a 2-polayer split-screen as well, which adds a bit of fun. You may want someone to join in on the action. Maybe that's you. Good for you. Still, not really my speed. The Genesis is a bit toned down from the System-24 arcade game; the usual Genesis treatment circa 1990. The music is a little weird (in that Sega-rock sense), and there's some scratchy voices that weren't in the coin-op. Can't imagine why they tried to put that into the cart, since nobody liked the Genesis' voice sampling.

Again, if it works for you, good. Not my trip. I'll raise it one point for generosity. This is one of those things that you'll either enjoy as you play through, or you'll walk away bored within sixty seconds. But, then, we must remind ourselves - this was an arcade game. This was part and parcel of its whole design. Fun for five minutes, or boredom in five seconds. Those are the stakes we find ourselves in.

Gain Ground - Sega for Genesis - 7/10

Gain Ground is one of those more obscure Genesis games that's enamoured by a good number of fans, and classic gamers and what-have-you. This is probably a good opportunity to jump into the pool and see what the fuss is all about.

Basically, Gain Ground is a slow, single-screen variant on Gauntlet, with a good amount of action and tension as you lead a small squad against a horribly outnumbered set of enemies. The time-travel setup sends you through different ages, from spears to bows and arrows to armor and castle walls. It's a nice style, it adds character.

For me, however, here's the main beef, and you'll have to judge for yourself whether this will influence your own thoughts. The pace is extremely slow. SSSSLLLLLOOOOOOWWWW!!!! Fans would explain, I guess, that this is more of a strategically-minded game, not a mindless Rambo shooter. You have to bob and weave and use a little guerilla warfare to pick down your foes. And there's no denying that the tension is there once you get past the first half-dozen or so levels.

Again, I'm not really feeling this one. Gain Ground's always been a little lost upon me. Whatever. This is the space of my mind this week. When you're spending the weekend with your heavily-conservative Republican family, you learn to be diplomatic and generous. If that's your thing, good for you. It's not for me. Didn't DEVO say that once?

Hmm. I think I'm supposed to be writing about videogames. I'll give a thumbs-up for this one. Give it a try and see what it does for you.

Comix Zone - Sega Technical Institiute for Genesis - 8/10

Here's another one of the Genesis classics that reappears a lot on various formats, so, like Zelda, you're already going to know about it. It really is one of the best games from the latter Genesis period, showcasing a number of visual tricks and a terrific comic-book style. The whole thing just screams of character and style, and this was a trademark for Sega Tech. Not all of their games were hits - The Ooze was unfairly ignored - but you can never deny their skills or their American ingenuity.

Yes, Comix Zone is one of a thousand beat-em-ups, one that's even more limiting because it's strictly 2D, instead of the slanted 3D floors that's standard from Double Dragon and Final Fight and Streets of Rage and yadda yadda. It's an extremely challenging game that never lets the pacing or intensity lag for a moment. You're always going to be facing some new threat.

And, it should be noted, there are a lot of moves at your disposal, from punches and kicks to blocking. The trick is that you actually need these skills; you'll fare far better by utilizing your whole arsenal instead of merely bashing the punch button, which has always been the Achilles' Heel of this genre of games. It's a pretty mindless style of game, better suited to channel surfing than anything else. That Comix Zone can bring a level of skill and panache to these proceedings, and succeed on nearly every level, is a major achievement.

I don't have any interest in seeing beat-em-ups return to the fore of videogames, but if there's a few titles like this one, that would be nice. Well, hey, lookit that! This really was a good week.

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