Virtual Console Essentials

The Retro goodness you should own.

Break out the cake and bunting and then put them on ice, or something: Nintendo's Virtual Console is almost two years old. There are currently over 250 emulated retro games available in Europe, drawn from eight different gaming platforms and covering a span of two decades. It's a daunting tombola of choice, so here's our rundown - in no particular order - of the Virtual Console games that you really should download.

NES Essentials

The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo)

While it took Final Fantasy several sequels to refine its formula, Link's epic world arrived pretty much fully formed in 1987. Even today, look past the dinky sprites and this remains a staggeringly impressive piece of videogame design and precisely the sort of classic title that deserves the renewed exposure the VC offers.

Mega Man (Capcom)

With Mega Man 9 currently reminding gamers what it's like to feel real pain, it's a good excuse to re-rewind back to 1987 and see just how faithfully retro the new sequel really is. The original is every bit as tough as you'd expect, and perhaps a tad clunky compared to later sequels, but for a few quid it's a real slice of history.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo)

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This is the game that changed everything, at least as far as platform games were concerned. Goodbye forced scrolling, hello free-roaming non-linear levels and secrets galore. As different to the original Super Mario Bros as GTA IV was from Grand Theft Auto, SMB3 is one of the greatest - and most important - games ever made. Well worth a few quid, then.

Street Gangs (Technos)

Or River City Ransom, to use the more famous US title. This cult gem is not only a fine beat-em-up in the Renegade style, it also mixes things up with what we'd now call RPG overtones. Shops where you can stock up on items, characters who develop over the game... for anyone who enjoys games that do things a little bit differently, this is highly recommended.

SNES Essentials

ActRaiser (Quintet)

This oddity is strictly for fans of esoteric gaming, but most people should at least be intrigued by a game that combines shooting, city-building and platforming. Only Nintendo's squeamish content policy stopped this from essentially being marketed as God Kicks Ass: The Game, and for that alone it's well worth investigating.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (Capcom)

No "essential games" list can be complete without at least one entry from arguably the best - and best known - 2D fighting game in history. Always barmy but balanced, there are four Street Fighter II versions currently on the VC, but for argument's sake we've chosen Hyper Fighting, because we like it fast. Ooh baby. Whichever you choose, though, you're guaranteed to be in punchy-kick heaven.

The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (Nintendo)

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As with Mario, the Virtual Console is home to many Zelda classics - and it's a testament to Miyamoto's perfectionist design work that an essentials list would feel half-baked if we only included one of them. For all its tonal similarities to the NES original, Link to the Past is where the series really took flight with more complex dungeons, more flexible control and a more varied inventory system. It's another game worthy of its place in the all-time Hall of Fame, and any whippersnappers yet to sample its awesome might should hit the download button right now.

Breath of Fire 2 (Capcom)

If the Virtual Console has one huge advantage over rival services from Sony and Microsoft, it's the vast library of Japanese classics to which it has exclusive access. RPGs are a particular benefit and the Breath of Fire series, so often overlooked in the rush to praise Final Fantasy, deserves more exposure to gamers over here. All the tropes of the JRPG genre can be found here, along with some of the first examples of peripheral activities like hunting and fishing. Large and lush, you'll get your 800 Points worth.

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