As Ho Chi Minh said to Jane Fonda, have we got a bumper batch of VC fun for you this week! Not only do you get reviews of this week's latest uploads - Diddy Kong's Quest and Mario & Yoshi - we're also going back in time to start bringing you up to date on all the Virtual Console releases we've missed between Kristan's initial launch round-up and this throbbing new weekly column. New reviews of new old games and new reviews of old old games? Sweet potatoes! Don't say we never give you anything.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
- Platform: SNES
- Wii Points: 800
Never let it be said that the chaps at Rare were afraid of a little cliché. This sequel to The Game That Saved The SNES sets out its stall using one of the oldest plot contrivances in the business - the lead character from the first game (that would be Donkey Kong) has been kidnapped by the main villain of the piece (that would be K. Rool) and the task of rescuing them falls to characters previously relegated to supporting roles in the series (that would be Diddy Kong and his sister, Dixie). They must be guided through this quest by joypad-wielding human in the real world (that would be You).
So before you can say "brand extension" the family Kong are off on another barrel-throwing, rhino-riding, banana-grabbing adventure, with the requisite array of animalistic foes standing between them and DK Sr. Easily despatched with the traditional head bonk, advancement through the game's numerous stages and sub-levels becomes more a matter of timing than real exploration and as you can always return to the simple early stages to stock up on lives and bananas, nobody need feel intimidated by some of the later levels.
That's not to say that - as Miyamoto once grouched - the gameplay is mediocre. It's big, bouncy and a hell of a lot of fun. It's just...not terribly imaginative. The same could be said of the original Donkey Kong Country, that beneath the impressively animated graphics lay a slightly vanilla platforming experience, with all the expected genre tropes duly ticked off without ever breaking new ground. As this sequel merely serves up more of the same - and only a dedicated Donkey Kong nerd would claim that the thin spread of "new" features represent any real evolution of the series - it's not entirely clear why its been chosen over the vast number of more deserving SNES titles for another shot in the Virtual Console spotlight. Titles like the sorely underrated Unirally. Hint hint.
So it's rather a weird one to rate. As a game in its own right it's every bit as polished and funky as its predecessor, and undeniably fun to bounce through, while as a sequel it defers its lack of ambition using the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" defence. This is hard to argue against in this case, but unless you absolutely adore the Donkey Kong Country series and simply have to own every entry, there are certainly more interesting ways to spend your 800 points.
Mario & Yoshi
- Platform: NES
- Wii Points: 500
The attempts to jam the marketable Mario cast into generic puzzle games has resulted in some unusual, and largely forgettable, titles over the years. Following hot on the lukewarm heels of Dr Mario, this was yet another Tetris riff in which slowly descending patterns of objects must be lined up and removed before they fill the screen.
The key difference here is that rather than controlling the tumbling shapes, you control Mario (or Luigi) at the bottom of the screen, and can swap columns over, hopefully moving the right lines under the right shapes at the right time. In another minor twist on the formula, you're no longer trying to match like with like. Now you have to try and place as many different Mario monsters between the bottom and top halves of a Yoshi egg. The more monsters, the larger the Yoshi that hatches.
It's not a bad concept, and the two player mode is considerably more entertaining than solo play, but it's all just a little bit too fiddly and too reliant on the randomly assigned egg pieces to ever really feel like a coherent challenge where skill or tactics can really make a difference. The Mario connection is as tenuous as it sounds, and it simply lacks the simple complexity of Tetris needed to hook you. While the VC would benefit from more puzzle games, it'd be nice if they could be chosen based on quality rather than the prominence of a certain hairy plumber.