Version tested: Wii
There's no real common thread or unifying theme behind this week's VC additions - not even a made-up one - so I'll have to ditch my usual nonsense about badgers, cakes or whatever else I use to pad these intros out and just get on with the games.
Is that cheering I can hear?
Sonic 3D: Flickies Island
- Platform: Megadrive
- Wii Points: 800
- In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 8 (approx)
It was a pretty reliable rule of thumb in the '90s that a long-running series suddenly sprouting a "3D" suffix was your cue to make like Bruce Dickinson and run to the hills. Mario aside, few platform heroes made that leap with anything resembling success while those who bore witness to Bubsy 3D are still fighting to have their melted corneas recognised as a legitimate medical condition.
Sonic's first excursion into additional dimensions, released in 1996, is nowhere near as bad as some of its grotesque peers, but it still stands out as a curious and only partially successful speed bump in his career.
Although programmed by UK dev folk at Traveller's Tales much of the design and level layouts were already supplied by SEGA, so it's they who must take the blame for the generally pedestrian feel of the thing. An isometric platformer, coming at the very arse end of the Megadrive's life, it failed to impress those bowled over by the "real" 3D of the PlayStation, Saturn and N64 and though time has evened the playing field where graphics are concerned, the gameplay is still problematic.
The main gripe is that the switch in perspective essentially kills Sonic's main selling point - his speed - stone dead. The spiky blue mascot trots around the level, only picking up speed when you use gyros to send him hurtling up ramps or loops to reach new areas. It's not as if the pseudo-3D effect is used to enhance the gameplay in any way - you still just collect rings and free cute animals - so the result is a Sonic game that just doesn't work as a Sonic game.
Taken on its own merits as an isometric collect-'em-up it's not that bad. Those with younger kids may like to give it a try, since the game is fairly easy, but if you were to draw up a list of Sonic games that need to be on the Virtual Console, this wouldn't be on it. And if it is, you're weird.
- Platform: TurboGrafx 16
- Wii Points: 600
- In Real Money: GBP 4.20 / EUR 6 (approx)
Samurai Ghost is actually one of my favourite TurboGrafx games, although I should qualify that statement by reminding you, gentle reader, that I do have a weakness for bizarre games that attempted something new and failed, but in an interesting manner.
In concept, Samurai Ghost is a fairly obvious scrolling platformer-slash-fighter-slash-shooter. You control a red-haired sword-wielding fellow - quite possibly the samurai ghost of the title - and must stroll from left to right, despatching enemies with your sword or by hurling big swooshy magic attacks right into their stupid enemy faces. The reason for all this is unclear - "It's an order from the king of heaven!" cackles the opening screen, which sounds fair enough - but story isn't what this is about.
No, what makes Samurai Ghost interesting is that it attempts to mimic a more realistic sword fighting style, with your characters floppy arms moved up and down with the direction buttons allowing you to line up overhead chops and low slices as well as the standard forwards attack. It doesn't really work, of course. But they tried, and that's the main thing.
Other than that, the standard gameplay and uninspiring pace mean that Samurai Ghost is a fun curio for collectors of oddball gaming obscurities such as myself, but not something most gamers should bother with.
Art of Fighting
- Platform: NeoGeo
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
Another week, another blast from the NeoGeo trumpet, and its one that's well worth heeding. After the rather flimsy World Heroes, it's nice to see a proper NeoGeo fighting series make its debut.
The first thing that jumps out with Art of Fighting is the sprites - enormous, colourful and superbly animated, with SNK's arcade expertise put to good use in terms of sheer "ohmygodthatlooksamazing" impact. The second is the fighting itself; fast but not impossible, tough but fair, complex but accessible. It's not a game for button-mashers, but nor do you need to have memorised thirty different split-second combos in order to make progress.
The only things that should prevent you from downloading it immediately are repetition - unless you're a beat-'em-up completist, there's nothing here you can't already get from the cheaper Street Fighter games on the VC - and expectation; this is the first in the series, and thus features a limited selection of characters. The later titles will surely be available soon, either on the VC or as part of the planned Wii port of the Art of Fighting Anthology set.