Sunday, September 30, 2007

Virtual Console Releases - September 10

Can you believe that I forgot about this week? What's the deal with that? I even had it written in the notebook and all. That probably doesn't say much for the games that came out....heh heh.

Ah, well. Actually, this was an excellent week. Only one lame game this time, which is fine by me. At least we're no longer being assaulted by those early NES know, the ones that Nintendo shouldn't even be allowed to give away for free. Nope, we're out of that muck. Now we're on to a higher grade of slop. But, like I said, only one dud this week. The other two are must-see titles, both sequels. Hmm...the third game was actually split off into a couple sequels as well. Perhaps this is why I forgot about the September 10th games.

Whatever. I've got far too many screenshots, as usual, so let's try and make space for 'em. Enjoy!

NES Play Action Football - Nintendo for NES - 4/10

Across the spectrum of gaming, there's something you learned fairly quickly: Nintendo can't do sports games. They really can't. No, wait, they actually did make one good sports game. That was Ice Hockey on the NES. But that is literally it.

The important to know is that this is not Tecmo Super Bowl. Not Tecmo Super Bowl.

Thank you and good night!

What, you want more? Um...why? What would be the point? This game sucks. No, really, Play Action Football sucks like a bilge pump. It's a shame, actually. You can tell that it's a game Nintendo put great effort and time into. I will give them that much. The graphics, the whole visual presentation, are top notch. Not only do you have players that are large and drawn nicely, but numerous animated scoreboard sequences appear after crucial plays. You have something that, in the modern mindset, would be a strong foundation for future versions.

But here's the problem. Well, the problem after the fact that it's not Tecmo Super Bowl. It's just this game doesn't play very well. It's incredibly slow and choppy. Do you remember those old Game and Watch handhelds that Nintendo made in the early '80s? Play Action Football moves exactly like that. I can't even call it animation, really. The players don't move. They just shuffle from one still pose to the next down the field.

Perhaps the NES just couldn't handle speed with a field full of players, I thought. But then I clicked know, that other one...wink, wink. And that game plays fast and smooth, with no problems.

Then consider that Play Action Football switches to a faraway arial view for pass plays. See that screenshot above? Forget it. That view is replaced with tiny ants. And they still move in patches. So I really don't know what Nintendo was thinking. Either the programmers were too inexperienced, or the game was designed way over in Japan, where no one in their right minds has any clue what the heck American Football is all about.

But then, there's Tecmo. So those alibis are thrown out the window.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I couldn't find the running plays for my offense? There's only a handful of plays in the entire game, and I can't find any running plays. Which only adds to the confusion when the computer runs the ball. And then it just hikes the ball to the running back, which confuses me more. Did the programmers even know what American Football was? Maybe they watched a commercial on tv once. Harumph.

At least the scoreboard clips are nice. Whatever. Tecmo Bowl smokes this one by a country mile, and Tecmo Super Bowl leapfrogs the lot of 'em. Hang onto your cash for that little gem, folks. And somebody tell Nintendo to stop making serious sports games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Sega for Genesis - 10/10

I've written about Sonic 3 for my never-ending Videogame Classics series. To be more precise, I wrote about the complete Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The pair join together in videogaming's great double album, released several months apart from one another in 1993 and '94.

You can read the full essay there. For whatever future book project these Virtual Console reviews assume, I'll most likely just reprint that original piece. So, yeah, I'm feeling a bit lazy here. But you know enough to get this game, anyway. You don't need my advice. Sonic 3. Sega Genesis. What more you need?

One issue does come to mind, and I'm not aware of any solution. While it is true that you can play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles seperately, first one and then the other, Sonic & Knuckles was designed as a top-loaded cartridge, where you stacked Sonic on top. Doing this brings the two sides together as one, and you'll see numerous little changes, like a different title screen and a few staged clips. At least one scene is present in the full game, but not separately.

Now here's the question for Sega and Nintendo: will the ability to join the two games be possible on Virtual Console? This question hasn't been answered thus far, and I'm assuming that the answers would arrive when Sonic & Knuckles does. But I could be wrong. VC users may end up missing out on the full experience.

Perhaps - and this really is the most cynical idea in my arsenal - Sega will release Sonic 3 & Knuckles at a later time. I'm thinking of the emulation scene, where it's just like that. There are ROMs for Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, and then the complete Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The only catch, if this became Sega's plan, is that you have to play money for each download. Perhaps they could find some way out of this, by allowing for a free download of the double album.

I'm just thinking ahead while writing. It's very likely that Sega won't do anything beyond releasing the four Genesis Sonics. Someone really ought to contact someone who knows these things, and dig for answers. If I were a Nintendo Wii owner, I'd have to wait for answers before getting Sonic 3. Just so I know one way or another.

And every time I see one of the old Sonic's, I always come away feeling sorry for the guy. Poor spud. He really used to be something long ago. Sonic the Hedgehog has become Fat Elvis for the videogame world. Poor guy.

Neutopia 2 - Hudson Soft for Turbografx-16 - 9/10

Hey, didn't the first game come out, like, last month? August 20, to be precise. Hudson likely figured that you had enough time to finish that game, and since you had such a fun time wasting your precious hours away, here's the crack sequel, better in every way. Pony up the cash, kids.

If you thought that first game was a ripoff from Legend of Zelda...hoo, boy. Get a load of the title screen from the sequel. Hudson didn't even try to hide it this time. They gave up any pretense of originality, and instead focused on creating the best damned Zelda ripoff they could. I think they really did a great job. No, I still insist that Sega's Golvellius was the best Zelda clone ever made, but chalk up Neutopia 2 for the runner-up.

This game features one unique premise, and it's one that I'm surprised Nintendo never tried. In this game, you play the son of the hero from the first game, who has turned up missing. You spend the game chasing him down. Travelling through towns and exploring dungeons just happens along the way.

I've spent some time with this game, since I've missed it entirely the first time around. I only had one or two chances to spend time with the Turbografx back then. Fortunately, I knew this kid in my high school, and we swapped game systems - his Turbo, my Genesis - for a few weeks. It was a good plan. I think this was after Sonic the Hedgehog appeared, by which time Nintendo was in the game, and poor Turbo was on the way out. The next time I saw any consoles was when local stores were dumping their excess stock for sale.

That's too bad, because it meant that a great game like Neutopia 2 largely missed out. And you have to admire Hudson's drive to push the system's limits, and push themselves. The tendency would be to just run through the numbers, planning their jump to greener pastures. But Hudson and NEC were joined at the hip, and the PC Engine was popular enough in Japan to keep the game running for another couple innings. Good news for us.

The first Neutopia looked very good for the time, and the sequel improves in every way. It's really amazing, actually. Far more color and detail, for more touches like grass and trees and rocks, desert and snow, and underground caves without any light. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into the graphics, and the assortment of monsters that lie scattered across the landscape. The landscape, of course, looks terrific, brilliantly conceived and varied.

Your hero, Junior, or whoever he's called, can also move and attack in eight directions. This is a great addition, one of those obvious things that too few developers noticed when copying the original 1986 Zelda. The feel is looser, as well; the pace seems a touch faster and more limber. Neutopia 2 is like an athlete who's already warmed up and ready for action.

I find myself constantly praising Hudson's virtues with their Turbografx reissues on VC, and there's a reason for that. They definitely deserve their praise for this effort. If the greater gaming public doesn't stand up and take notice of the Turbo, then there's really no hope for 'em, is there? They'll probably just go back to their karaoke games and custom drinks.

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