Thursday, July 05, 2007

Virtual Console Releases - June 25

Moving into the Way-Back Machine, let's travel all the way back to June 25, 2007. A magical time, an exciting, heck, you know better. It sucked. This week is better, right? Whatever. I'm going to be catching up on Virtual Console reviews by moving backward week to week, until I'm done. Fortunately, this is one of the better weeks.

As an aside, I'm planning on publishing a book version of Videogames of the Damned. It's really just the blog entries in book form. I'm still mulling over whether or not I should include the VC reviews, or if that should belong in its own book. For now, though, I'd rather bound everything together in one volume, and just publish new volumes on a regular basis. Every year, for example. The floor's open for suggestions.

Anyway, let's get to the Virtual Console!

Street Fighter 2 Turbo - Capcom for Super NES - 10/10

Small surprise here. Thankfully Capcom waited six months after releasing the first Street Fighter 2 last Christmas. We all knew this was coming, anyway, so the more savvy among us could just wait it out for the better version.

I recently read that Street Fighter 2 on the Super NES was Capcom's best-selling game of all time, over six million. That would include, at the time, just about every Super NES owner, and a whole lot of new fans, eager just to play SF2. SF2 Turbo was released a year later, and brought home the latest coin-op versions, Champion Edition and Turbo Champion Edition. Likewise, this was a great success, though clearly not as big as the original.

The first three variations on SF2 are now all considered one game, since the later sequels and spin-offs made so many changes as to be unrecognizable. As for me, I hold Champion Edition as the best of the entire series. It's as balanced and nuanced as the game gets, and after that, things just get out of control. Capcom falls victim to its chronic sequel-itis, and the need to always tinker with formulas to keep the kids coming back.

Whatever. Here is the best home version you're likely to ever see on the Virtual Console. Alpha 3 and Third Strike won't be arriving, not now, not later. Again, whatever. This game is so perfectly playable that I can't imagine anyone really minding. Well, until I get that RAM cart for my Sega Saturn, that is.

If you bought the first SF2 last Christmas, you're likely wondering if you should pay again for the new cart. The answer is yes. There are quite a lot of graphics changes, especially in the character designs, which are older, sleeker, and slightly more brutish-looking. Background stages are the same, apart from some color changes (day to night).

Most importantly, there are a number of changes to your moves and attacks. Chun-Li gets a few crucial kicks, Honda and Zangief can move during their blitz attacks, and Ken has been turned from a Ryu clone to a crazed berzerker. Can you say, "Triple Dragon Punch?" Oh, and by the way, you can now play as the boss characters, which at the time was a really big deal.

I come back to a lot of older games as nostalgia, or a quick fix. Street Fighter 2 is one of the true greats, one that you can jump right back into no matter how much time as passed. And CE/Turbo perfected the formula that spawned a thousand imitators, none of which could really match that original thrill. The best fighting games of later years evolved in new, different directions. Heck, Virtua Fighter is practically a martial arts sport now, than a humble videogame.

I played SF2 Turbo on my Z-SNES emulator, just so I could grab some screenshots. I end up playing for a couple hours, running through every fighter, kicking ass, chewing bubblegum. In the end, I had to pry my hands away with a crowbar. Frankly, I'm surprised I'm here writing this, instead of playing another couple rounds. Just one more fight, that's all I ask...famous last words.

China Warrior - Hudson for Turbografx - 1/10

It's no surprise that Hudson Soft is in charge of releasing the PC Engine/Turbografx library to the Virtual Console. They were responsible for the lion's share of the console's games. And a lot of them were really very good. China Warrior is one of the worst. Actually, no, scratch that. It is the worst. This might be the worst game ever released on the Turbo.

Let's see...thinking...trying to conjure up worse games than China Warrior...

Nothing. Yep, it's official. This one's the worst.

Here's what the game is. Remember the Irem arcade hit Kung-Fu Master? Well, this is Hudson's attempt to follow that game. So, instead of featuring Jacky Chan, they'll use Bruce Lee. And instead of small character sprites, enormous characters that fill over half the screen. Then hurl lots of small targets at poor Bruce, like knives and rocks and small birds. And then, just so nobody is confused, they send wave after wave of the same monk guy! Only one guy!

And, finally, as the final straw, make the frame rate really jumpy and patchy, so it looks like you're skipping along instead of actually, well, walking. Gee, thanks.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to move away from tiny little objects when you fill up half the entire screen?! How is that supposed to be fun? How about, oh, I dunno...let me fight some real people instead of cooking ware and bats!!!

Did I mention those monk guys? They don't actually do anything. They just walk up to you so they can get hit. I dunno. Maybe they want autographs.

The only interesting moments are the boss fights, when you actually square off against another enormously large fighter. If you're too young to remember fighting games before Street Fighter 2? Well, let's just say you're going to learn just why there were never any good ones. Except for International Karate, of course. Did you know you can actually get that game on the Gameboy Advance? Really. Dropzone, too. GBA is a real Archer Maclean love-fest.

Hold it! No more changing the conversations.

So...there's this game called China Warrior. It was one of the very first PC Engine games and was later ported as one of the first Turbografx games. It's hideous. You'll probably prefer to stick your head in a toilet after an evening of booze and chips. Actually, that sounds much better than playing this game. Especially the toilet part.

F-Zero X - Nintendo for Nintendo 64 - 10/10

Finally this evening, just to show you that I'm not sadistic, here's another great game. Another fun game. Another game that you'd prefer to that toilet thing.

If I owned a Nintendo Wii - and that's assuming I could actually find one, and that's assuming Nintendo isn't really creating shortages to pump up demand - I'd get F-Zero X. That would probably be one of my first purchases, in fact. I say this as someone who has a large collection of emulators on his computer, including Project 64.

I'd much rather play this game on a large television, with three others, racing away. For one thing, the emulator's still a bit stiff and glitchy on this game. It's always been a slightly compromised experience. This is a console game, and it really deserves to be plugged into a tv set. Preferably a large widescreen.

F-Zero was one of the standouts on Super NES, and one of the best racing games of its time. The only real weakness was that it was single-player. Technology of the time never allowed for good multiplayer racing - unless you wanted to settle for Atari 2600 graphics. Nintendo's sequel changed all that. Oh, boy, did it change. Four players, split-screen, and blazing speed at 60fps.

And the track design! Good heavens, here is a model for designing insane racetracks. Racing games during the 32/64-bit era were more inventive by and large, at least the best ones were, thanks to the hardware limitations that forced designers to create better racetracks. Wipeout was a model for excellence. So was Sega Rally. F-Zero X is another.

You'll find yourself hurled in all directions, up, down, left, right, curves, loops, tubes. I've had quite a few times when I was racing and simply didn't know which direction was up. Where the heck is the ground?! Ahhhh! Oh, yeah, there it is. Boom!!

Expect that to happen to you every now and then. Nothing personal. Happens to everyone.

F-Zero x includes a large cast of characters, and you'll get to drive all the vehicles. 30, was it? Quite a lot. There's also a lot of racetracks along the various competitions, as well as a secret cup, which features randomly-generated tracks. Oh, and have I mentioned that you can ram into other vehicles, destroying them or knocking them off the track? Oh, yes, you will be spending a lot of time playing this. A lot of time.

The one sacrifice made in F-Zero was the graphics, which were toned down in favor of the high framerate. At the time, remember, 60fps was a rarity in console games, and unheard of for multiplayer. Heck, Sega Saturn's hi-res mode still amazes today. Still, I never really understood the conventional wisdom that Nintendo scaled back the graphics in their N64 racer. For me, it was a retro style, a throwback to the classic arcades. The game is packed with color and texture, anyways, so I really don't know what the fuss was ever about. I don't think this will be an issue in the 21st Century.

The only problem with a game like F-Zero X is that it shames the Wii library with its mediocrity. Where are all the killer racing games, folks? Maybe Nintendo is using the Wii shortage as an excuse to spend more time on its games. But, still. I can't think of anything in the pike that could take the racing crown from F-Zero X. Can't think of any games on any console, frankly.

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