Version tested: Wii
The arrival of an N64 game on the Virtual Console is usually cause for some celebration, like finding a great big chocolate cake in the middle of a plate of biscuits. It's wrong, of course, since a great many of these biscuits are as good as, or even better, than a cake and such is the case this week with the gooey cake of...well, frankly, my dessert based analogy is already collapsing around my ears like so much badly made soufflé, so let's just say there's a semi-classic racer and a rather wonderful TurboGrafx title on the VC this week and get on with the show.
Wave Race 64
- Platform: N64
- Wii Points: 1000
- In Real Money: 7 GBP/10 EUR (approx)
Wave Race 64 is notable for several reasons. It was one of the first games to simulate wave physics, and it does such a good job of it that, quite honestly, it can often feel a lot like a playable tech demo. It's also the first game to reach the VC with a little bit of modern tinkering, as banners alongside the courses now extol the virtues of the DS and Wii.
Not that there's anything sinister at work, it's just that Nintendo's original 1996 deal with Kawasaki (whose logo previously occupied these spaces) has obviously come to an end, necessitating a literal change of scenery. Let's face it, if you're playing an N64 game on the Wii, it's unlikely that you need to be sold on the benefits of the machine by an in-game banner.
As a game in its own right, Wave Race 64 is undeniably slick but despite the oceanic setting I've always found it a touch shallow. Arf. While the sensation of bobbing and bouncing across a genuine watery surface still impresses today, the championship races themselves are fairly straight forward affairs with three laps around some very short courses. There are a smattering of ramps, and a few sharp bends, but the real challenge comes from conquering the waves rather than the track.
At first it's easy to oversteer horribly, overcompensate for the undulating surface, and find yourself missing the checkpoints - depicted here as floating ice cream cones that must be passed on the left (yellow) or right (red). You can miss five before disqualification, but you also lose power for each one you fail to pass correctly. Conversely, passing them in the right way boosts your power, enabling you to extend your lead or catch up with the other racers.
There's still an often frustrating feeling that even the best racer can be fatally thrown off course by an unlucky wave, while mapping the sharp turn move to a backwards tug on the stick feels weird even once you've mastered it. Ironically, once you have got used to the different skills required for racing on water (using inertia to your advantage, basically) the game actually becomes quite easy, even when the sea gets choppy and random boxes are foolishly left bobbing in the surf.
The two-player mode works very well, since jet skiing is one of those innately fun things that's far more amusing when shared with a human foe, although the stunt mode is nothing particularly special. You race around the same courses, slip through rings and pull of tricks with stick waggles on ramps. Not bad, but not quite the combining stunts with jet skis. It's also a rather ugly game. Just producing the realistic waves obviously kept the old N64 busy and, as a result, the riders look like cardboard boxes held together with string, all oblong limbs and bizarrely enormous square arses.
Wave Race 64 won't be for everyone. The unique handling is an acquired taste, and the ever-changing waves can frustrate as often as they thrill. For those who click with it, it can be one of the most enjoyable racers ever. For those who don't, it's a short-lived curiosity piece. Personally, I've never been that fond of it, but I can certainly understand the appeal.
- Platform: TurboGrafx 16
- Wii Points: 600
- In Real Money: 4.20 GBP/6 EUR (approx)
Cratermaze may not be the most original game in the world - it's essentially Bomberman and Dig Dug wrestling in a sack - but, by golly, it's fun. You scurry around sixty mazes, picking up all the treasure until you get the key to move on to the next stage. Monsters plod around, and can be defeated by digging holes for them to fall into. Once they've taken a tumble, fill in the hole and you get a few minutes respite before they respawn.
What makes it so compelling is that each level brings some new twist to this basic concept, either in the form of new power-ups (spades allow you to instantly dig long rows of holes, guns trap enemies in bubbles or gems) or environmental objects such as springboards and teleporters with which to traverse the maze.
It's gloriously simply, in the way that all the best retro games are, and the difficulty is nicely judged, giving you just enough time to work out what each new element does before throwing something more tricky at you. And, like most TurboGrafx games, it's bright and colourful and relentlessly cheery. If you bought your Wii for the kids, then this is precisely the sort of game you should be downloading, and you'll probably find yourself slyly having a go when they've gone to bed.
Put it this way, I happily played through to level fifteen before remembering I was supposed to be writing about it as well, and that's always my handy litmus test for a game's instinctual appeal. Good old fashioned fun? Ain't nothing wrong with that.