Version tested: Wii
It was, as Lennon and McCartney so presciently trilled, twenty years ago today. OK, they were talking about Sergeant Pepper teaching the band to play, not the release of Super Mario Bros, but the point still stands. Even though, yes, Super Mario Bros was actually released twenty three years ago today. And, admittedly, by "today" I actually mean "the Thursday just gone".
Gah. It's not going well, is it?
So, as I stumble awkwardly from the wreckage of that ill-conceived intro, the point I'm trying to make is that to celebrate two-and-a-bit decades of Italian plumber action, Nintendo have designated the rest of September as their Hanabi Festival. Over the next three weeks, we'll be getting themed VC updates of cult games never seen outside Japan. This week it's Mario, next week brings ninjas, the following week Sci Fi games.
Sadly, and rather cheekily, this Very Special Event also seems to have resulted in a few curious price hikes...
Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
- Platform: Famicom Disk System
- Wii Points: 600
- In Real Money: GBP 4.20 / EUR 6 (approx)
This is the real treat of this whole Hanabi business - a title steeped in gaming lore, officially unseen in its original form and available only for a limited time. Unlike the other games to be released over the next three weeks, this one will vanish from the VC at the end of September. Possibly in a little puff of smoke.
What is it? Well, to Mario fans, it's the real sequel to Super Mario Bros, released as SMB2 in Japan but deemed too hard for us feeble gaijin. Instead we got a re-jigged Doki Doki Panic with Mario sprites. The Lost Levels finally saw the light of day over here as part of the SNES Mario All-Stars pack, but here you get the chance to sample the unaltered Famicom Disk System version - which is presumably why the price has crept up to 600 points, rather than the usual 500 for an NES game. Cheeky.
While The Lost Levels are considerably tougher than the original Super Mario Bros, they don't stand out as particularly savage when compared to some of the other games of the mid 80s. It's no longer a two player game, but you can choose between Mario and Luigi at the start. Both now have different abilities - Luigi is better at jumping, Mario is faster - though the game itself looks pretty much identical to the first.
What you do get are some fiendish level designs, new enemies, and even environmental effects such as gusts of wind that make precision jumping even more difficult. There are even some sly tricks, such as poisoned mushrooms that can kill you (they were recoloured for the SNES version to make them easier to spot) and some very nasty warp gates that actually send you back to earlier levels, rather than allowing you to skip ahead.
For the Mario purist, this version is vastly preferable to the SNES do-over and it's technically a much better game than the western Mario 2. Retro collectors will appreciate having such a historically important game in its original form, but for casual players I'm not entirely sure it's worth the extra points for a game that can often feel more like a remix than a true sequel.
Mario's Super Picross
- Platform: SNES
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
Here's another cheeky price hike, and it's even less clear why this one has bumped up by 100 points from the usual SNES price. Perhaps we're paying extra because it was never released outside Japan. That'll teach us to live in the wrong hemisphere.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game is presented in its original Japanese text format, thus immediately increasing its appeal to those who gain sick carnal satisfaction from working their way through foreign language puzzle games (i.e. Tom).
Thankfully, the gameplay is simple and English instructions can be called up via the usual Home button Operations Guide should you panic. Basically, chip away at a grid of stone tiles to make a picture, with time penalties for mistakes. Numbers above and to the side tell you how many tiles need to be chipped away in each column and row, so careful thought is required to work out where the gaps must be placed. It's easy enough to grasp, but the fact that many of the early puzzles are of Japanese characters (as in "letters", not "Godzilla") can be yet another potential hurdle for nervous PAL players.
Once you've mastered it, though, you can try some of the Wario levels which mix things up by not penalising you for mistakes, but you won't actually be told you've made a mistake either. It's a small change that makes a big difference to the difficulty.
It's a tricky one really. Picross is a justifiably beloved puzzle game, and one that's lots of fun once you figure out what's required. Sort of like Sudoku for people who hate numbers. The in-game text isn't really a problem, but some familiarity with the Japanese language can definitely be a benefit. It's also impressive to see Nintendo branching out into cult waters and sharing some 60Hz Nippon obscurities - an act which will hopefully put an end to some of the nonsensical chatter about how the Wii isn't for "hardcore" gamers. But...there's no denying that there's little here to justify a 100 point increase over the usual SNES pricing, especially as a good chunk of these levels can already be downloaded into Picross DS for free. A great puzzle game, then, that may be of only limited interest and/or value in this form.
- Platform: TurboGrafx 16
- Wii Points: 600
- In Real Money: GBP 4.20 / EUR 6 (approx)
And here, unrelated to all this Hanabi Festival excitement, is another quietly decent TurboGrafx role-playing game, the sequel to a game that only arrived on the VC a few weeks ago. So if you've finished the old Neutopia, here's some new Neutopia to keep you busy.
Beyond the usual general refinements and tidying up that usually accompany a Part 2, things haven't changed drastically - it's still a blatant riff on the Zelda template - but, as with the first game, if you're going to crib from another series you might as well look to the top of the pile for inspiration.
The game is solid, the price is more than reasonable for the amount of gameplay within, so retro role-players should tuck right in.