Virtual Console Roundup

Harvest Moon and Donkey Kong Country 3.

Not much to talk about this week, I'm afraid, so bear with me while I do a little editorialising.

Look, it's not like I'm not grateful. No company is obliged to offer anything more than it needs to, and gamers all too often develop a weird sense of entitlement when they've been 'loyal' to a certain publisher which leads to unrealistic expectations. But even so, attempting to pass off the Christmas Day release of Donkey Kong Country 3 as some sort of 'special update' when the following Friday brought us sweet bugger all is more than a little cheeky. That's not a special update - it's just an early (and rather small) update.

Now that the Nintendo elves are all back at the giant lever that uploads new games, normal Friday service is resumed this week...but we still only get one new game. That's two games in two weeks. For the record, the US got six games in the same period (most of which are already available here, admittedly) and it seems strange that at the time when the ranks of Wii owners will swell, that the Virtual Console is at its lowest ebb.

Of course, the pragmatic side of my brain tells me that they need to ration out the good stuff. Even so, it's hard not to play armchair manager, given the selection available. With access to the back catalogue of six consoles, across multiple hardware generations, Nintendo is sitting on thousands of possible games. Sure, many are officially out of bounds thanks to expired licensing agreements but it's still a reservoir of gameplay that dwarfs anything Sony and Microsoft can put their hands on. Surely they could afford to offer a crop of ten solid titles for the Most Magical Day Of The Year? Or one really great game for a knockdown price? Just to thank longtime owners and welcome the new ones? We'll never wake up one Friday to discover GoldenEye is available for just 500 Points, but that's not to say that this festive season has felt more than a little Scrooge-like for Wii owners.

Anyway...there are two new games on the VC, and for all my moaning they're both damn fine entertainment. Lets fondle them to pieces.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble

  • Platform: SNES
  • Wii Points: 800
  • In Real Money: GBP 6.00 / EUR 8.00

Merry Christmas! Under normal circumstances, the final chapter in Rare's DK trilogy would be a welcome addition to the VC. When it's the only game of the week - and a supposedly 'special' update at that - the hat doesn't quite fit. I'm sure we can all think of at least one Nintendo classic that we'd like to have instead.

1

It's a decent platformer, naturally. The pseudo-3D stop-motiony feel remains charming and effective. Levels are still enjoyable to explore, with plenty of secrets to find and a gentle learning curve. The Donkey Kong Country template was well-honed by the time this one stomped into view, but while that's one good reason to recommend it, it's also one of the reasons why it carries an air of disappointment. There's really not very much to distinguish this from the others in the series - a few tweaks here and there, but nothing radical - so with the two previous (and marginally superior) games already available this becomes more of a completist's upload than a super treat with which to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour.

If you haven't got any of the DK games, you're still best off with the first one - added to the VC in December 2006 - simply because you can see the inspiration and innovation leaping out of every level. This, by comparison, is an exercise in reworking the same elements and going through the motions in the process. They're fun and well designed motions, yes, but motions all the same.

7/10

Harvest Moon

  • Platform: SNES
  • Wii Points: 800
  • In Real Money: GBP 6.00 / EUR 8.00

This, on the other hand, is precisely the sort of game the VC needs more of.

For one thing, it offers hours and hours of gameplay and loads of incentives to play it over and over, thus making the price a little easier to swallow. For another, there's nothing else like it in the VC line-up. When a service is as overstocked with shoot-'em-ups, platformers and fighting games as the Virtual Console, a gentle rural RPG about growing crops and rearing livestock is a welcome change of pace.

2

All the usual JRPG quirks are present and correct - super-cute character designs, reams of clumsily worded dialogue with largely unimportant peripheral characters and lots and lots of item-grinding. But, somewhat bizarrely, it's the item-grinding that makes it such an addictive little beast. After all, when you're a farmer, generating as many vegetables as possible is more than just a means to an end - it's the very reason you're spending hours digging little square grids of soil using a joypad.

It's about as niche as it's possible to get, of course, but the Harvest Moon series has always been very much in tune with the audience Nintendo are chasing with the Wii so perhaps this isn't as leftfield as it once seemed. When Animal Crossing and My Sims get primetime TV adverts, the prospect of running your own space farm is arguably a more mainstream proposition that whatever grungy FPS the 'hardcore' gamers are fapping over this week.

8/10

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