Virtual Console Roundup

Double Dribble, King of Fighters '94 and Bubble Bobble.

It's been a very quiet few weeks on the Virtual Console front, no doubt thanks to the arrival of a long awaited plumber, so hopefully you'll forgive us the indulgence of rolling last week's solitary release into this week's roundup. Luckily, although the number of new games is nothing to write home about, this week's two new additions are both classics of their genre.

King of Fighters '94

  • Platform: NeoGeo
  • Wii Points: 900
  • In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)

Nobody is likely to be surprised at yet another NeoGeo fighting game but, as with so many of that overlooked handheld's line-up, SNK's King of Fighters is a superbly accomplished entry in beat-em-up pantheon. [Editor's note: Handheld, eh? We think he's gone mad. Watch out.]

The idea was to combine as many of the company's characters into one game as possible, a sort of prototype for Smash Bros, so obscure fighting fans will be happy to see brawlers from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and even vertical shoot-em-up Ikari Warriors. There's also innovation on the gameplay front, with a three-man team set up in which you choose what order your fighters will battle, and then scrap in a winner-stays-on style until one team is completely beaten.

kof

There are some weird quirks as well. You can't choose which fighters make up your team, for instance. Instead you choose from pre-selected trios assigned by country. There are eight such national teams, though only three of them bear any resemblance to their supposed home countries. The England team, for instance, features two Japanese girls.

Still, it's a solid, technical fighting game that, like most SNK outings, skews more towards the hardcore player than the casual punching aficionado. It also looks very nice, with some impressive-for-the-time 3D scrolling and beefy sprites. With so many fighting games available on the VC now, I suspect that only an obsessive completist would want to own them all but, taken on its own merits, King of Fighters is a damn fine game.

8/10

Bubble Bobble

  • Platform: NES
  • Wii Points: 500
  • In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)

Here's another classic - Taito's seminal 1986 arcade platformer, although it appears here in its 1987 NES incarnation for obvious reasons. Although it's not quite as good as the original coin-op, it's certainly not the worst conversion around either.

bb

The gameplay survived the translation process pretty much unscathed, keeping the simple purity of 100 levels of monster-bubbling, fruit-gobbling fun, while the general feel of the thing is virtually identical in all the ways that matter. It's only the music that suffers noticeably, with one of gaming's all-time greatest themes rendered squawky and annoying by the struggling NES sound chip.

Like all the best videogame pioneers, Bubble Bobble combines simplicity and accessibility with a surprisingly clever learning curve to keep you hooked for the many hours it takes to obtain the "true ending". Thankfully, the NES version uses a password system so you won't have to start over each time.

Time may not have been kind to its utilitarian looks, but if you can play one level of Bubble Bobble and not feel a glimmer of joy then you are dead inside. Plus, of course, this means we may yet see Rainbow Islands on the VC, and that's something we should all close our eyes and wish really hard for.

9/10

Double Dribble

  • Platform: NES
  • Wii Points: 500
  • In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)

Hmm. So, this was last week's solitary VC offering. It sounds like a senile sequel to Double Dragon, but is actually a basketball game that tries oh-so-very hard to be a glitzy and accurate version of the real thing, but can't help being tripped up by the limitations of the hardware.

dd

You can tell it was trying to appear all "next gen" because it opens with actual sampled speech! Admittedly, it sounds like you're about to play a game called Wubble Wiffle, but the effort is there. You can choose from four 5-man teams, and the game even goes so far as to include penalties for time wasting but, while it amuses in the most basic "look at what we used to play" kind of way, it's too clunky to hold much real entertainment value in 2007.

There are numerous bugs, allowing you to score every time by throwing in the right place, while the collision detection makes stealing - and often just running near an opponent - a real gamble. Many times you'll give up a penalty for "pushing" when all you did was stray one pixel to close to a defender.

Better than Nintendo's own NES Basketball, certainly, but only worth the points to the hardiest retro sports fan.

4/10

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