Sunday, September 09, 2007

Virtual Console Releases - August 27

Moving back, I'm trying to honestly get caught up with the Virtual Console reviews. Heaven knows there's a lot of 'em. I don't think any new Wii owners will be able to get away with the excuse that there aren't enough games to play on. The Virtual Console is pretty fairly packed. And I should know, because I'm actually sitting down and wasting time on all of these damn games. Yuck. I should have done all this earlier. Whatever.

There's not a lot to say with this bunch, so we'll dive right in and see what all the hype was about. Start cracking open those wallets, kids...

Super C - Konami for NES - 6/10

For the NES faithful, and for action game fans in general, Contra is the greatest thing ever. It's probably still the champion of run-and-gun games. More specifically, it was the NES version of Contra that was the true masterpiece. For some reason, everything came together in the home version.

So Konami pulled out a sequel a couple years later, and, as often happens when following up the monster hit, it doesn't meet the original expectations. The typical sophomore slump. And that's basically what Super C is. At least that's the way it was for me.

Now, for most of you, you'll have a fine time. What more are you expecting, beyond the ability to shoot and blast everything in sight, from bad guys to aliens and such? But, then again, I really don't know how a 21st Century crowd reacts to 8-bit games from 15 or 20 years ago. Either you'll be far more forgiving, or far more impatient. Which means that either you'll play along with Super C and have a good time, or you'll just start fuming within five minutes, muttering, "hey, what about the first one?"

Hmm. So I don't think I'm really a fan of this game, although it is solid and well built. I can't really explain it too much, which really won't help matters for you. Some critic I am. This is what happens when you don't write videogame reviews in the standard Mad Libs format. Let's see about this.

Alright, here's what I don't like about Super C. I don't like the level design. The levels are more straightforward, more running along a single platform. I prefered the tiered designs from the original Contra. The first level, that snow level, that seventh level with the mine carts and metal spiked doors that only sat there so you could blast them.

Oh, and don't forget that giant robot guy who throws discs at you and hops all around. And those tanks with the battering rams that you finally destroy at the last possible second. And that giant beating heart you have to shoot at while avoiding the giant spiders...

Do you see where this is going? All the cool, memorable, exciting moments happened in the first Contra. Now what do I remember from Super C? Not much. Dropping from a copter. And a bunch of overhead levels that I just hated. I always admired Contra for its changing viewpoints on every other level, but those overhead levels in the sequel? Forget it.

But I don't want to pile on too deeply. It's really not fair. Super C is a good game, by any standards, and probably more so if you missed the NES days altogether. The only other alternative on VC right now is Gunstar Heroes and Contra 3 - both of which were created by the same people. Hmmm. Throw in the original Contra, which will arrive sooner or later, and I'd put Super C dead last on that list.

Breath of Fire 2 - Capcom for Super NES - 7/10

I had to check the VC releases in North America to see if the original Breath of Fire was released, and oddly enough, it wasn't. Normally, this sort of oversight isn't done, but I've seen Capcom do this before, when they reissued this sequel for the Gameboy Advance. They really only dabbled their toes into the PRG scene, and I think they recognized their limits and stuck with their best game in the field.

Breath of Fire came out when the Super Nintendo was awash in RPG's, which proved the console's best strength. Everyone jumped on it at some point, the way that mascot games flooded the shelves. Capcom did a pretty decent job with their first title, but it was widely accepted to be a practice run for the sequel, which it was.

Breath of Fire 2 was considered a success by fans, and it does a good job for the genre. Fortunately, it wasn't totally overshadowed by the Final Fantasy games, and there was enough room for everyone to get along. Is there anything really distinctive, really, that sets it apart from the rest of the genre? Not much, but that's not a bad thing. I seem to remember that the story dealt with themes of religion, but don't quote me on that. I also think Chun-Li makes a cameo somewhere.

Strangely, there haven't been any Role-Playing Games to appear on the VC as of yet. Perhaps this will be the start of something more to come. Let's cross out fingers. This is a good title that should find a new audience.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts - Sega for Genesis - 9/10

The winner and champine...Ghouls 'N Ghosts on the humble Genesis. I remember when the young EGM heavily promoted this game with its fourth issue. Steve Harris, the founder, boasted in no small way that this was the greatest home videogame, like, ever. Ever! Okay, he was prone to the hyperbole in those days. But he and his writers had their fingers on the pulse of gaming. They knew their stuff.

If I remember correctly, this was the game I bought a Genesis for. Or, more precisely, this was the first genuinely great game I played on it. Does Altered Beast really have to count? Ugh. It shouldn't. Start with this one instead.

Sega had established a unique partnership with Capcom early on, and it resulted in some of the best of the early Genesis games. Capcom would license their arcade hits, the ones that were not available on the NES, and Sega would develop and produce. From this partnership, we got Forgotton Worlds, Strider, Mercs, and Ghouls 'N Ghosts.

Younger gamers need to understand something very important. When Nintendo ruled the roost, they ran the place like tyrants. They called all the shots, bullied everyone into submission. Basically acted like jerks. For third-party developers, their demands were simple: no games on the NES could appear on any rival console, and companies could only release so many titles per year.

Sega learned from the Master System era, and entered the 16-bit age more aggressively. And Capcom was no doubt looking to expand their horizons. Perhaps they even knew that Nintendo's reign was bound to end, that the videogame market was expanding too rapidly to be contained by one player. Whatever the reason, Capcom's arcade titles started to appear on the Sega Genesis in 1989.

When Ghoulss 'N Ghosts appeared, it gave Sega a crucial advantage in the console race, as well as one hell of a game. Poor Turbografx was crippled by Nintendo's policies, and its chief patron was Hudson; they were a quality player, but they were not on gaming's A-list, and they had little to no presence at the arcades. The Genesis quickly became the place to turn for your arcade thrills.

Good lord, how I miss the arcades. This business is so much poorer without them, it's uncanny.

Anyway, that's the history lesson. What does this mean for you in the new century? It means you get a classic home version of a classic video arcade game. You get one hell of a challenging platformer, one that will shake your confidence and test your reflexes like nothing you've seen before. This game will knock your teeth out; and when you've thought you had reached the end, you'll be asked to complete the whole thing all over again, a second time. Those brave souls able to carry the distance will be rewarded with one of the greatest final boss fights of all time.

This remains my favorite entry in Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series, mainly because it's the only time you can throw your weapons up and down, but also because of its brilliant level design that remains varied and challenging without ever becoming kitschy or dull. That's a tough needle to thread. But this was Capcom at the peak of their arcade skills, and the days when they had the entire platform genre mastered. Good heavens, they were only at Mega Man 2. The horrible sequel curse hadn't struck them yet.

Pretty much a no-brainer for an addition to your VC library. Good luck nursing those blisters.

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