Version tested: Wii
After last week's four-game blowout, this is a rather muted Friday fanfare for the Virtual Console. Only two new games, neither of which are likely to have you drooling in anticipation, but at least there are no absolute stinkers this time.
- Original platform: TurboGrafx 16
- Wii Points: 600
Another unsung gem from the vaults of the PC Engine, Ninja Spirit failed to make much of an impact against the likes of Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden back in the day while the infamously rotten Legend of Kage (already stinking up the VC lounge) is another obvious influence. Despite the generic familiarity that comes from guiding yet another shuriken-wielding avenger across side-scrolling stages stuffed with leaping foes, Ninja Spirit is actually worth a look, since it boasts several features that make it more than worthy of sitting alongside its better-known arcade peers.
The story, as always, is a feeble gust of pointless exposition about a son tracking down the man-beast that slew his father, but the game has the decency to get this out of the way in the quickest way possible. A man walks on screen, green blobs hit him, he dies, a wolf howls...and off you go.
You then make your way methodically from left to right across seven stages of relentless ninjitsu assault, with enemies attacking from all sides. Not only is your forward momentum slowed by constantly having to turn around to deal with bad guys approaching from behind, they can also appear above and below you. Luckily, Ninja Spirit boasts one of the better control systems of its genre, with a directional attack system that can be used to fend off unwanted attention wherever it appears.
To further beef up your offensive arsenal, you start the game with the traditional katana sword plus a chain weapon, infinite throwing stars and bombs. Power-ups improve the power and range of your weapons, and also summon up to two shadowy copies of yourself who mimic your movements - an idea that was later incorporated into Ninja Gaiden II.
But even with this seemingly impressive assistance, Ninja Spirit is still very much a member of the hardcore old school. You have the option of playing the absolutely savage arcade original, with its one-hit-kill rule, or the slightly easier PC Engine version, which generously gives you a diminishing health bar. Either way, getting to the end of the second level involves using a lot of skill...and a lot of continues.
The only complaints of note are some occasionally stiff controls which can prove fatal when surrounded by villains, and some very noticeable slowdown when there's too much action on screen. Being a PC Engine game, everything runs in its native 60Hz but even so - the game does chug quite frequently.
Not the sort of game you should rush off to download immediately then, but if you're a fan of the side-scrolling hackenslash genre then you certainly won't feel any remorse should you fork over 600 points for this one.
NES Open Tournament Golf
- Original platform: NES
- Wii Points: 500
This is a weird one. I mean, the game itself is par for the course (ho!) for an 8-bit golf simulation but it seems like a very strange choice for the VC line-up, given that it's appearing on a console that comes with a free golf game.
Boasting one of Mario and Luigi's many extra-curricular appearances, Open Tournament doesn't skimp on the options. You can play through three international courses, using either stroke or match play, with one or two players. It features a full range of clubs, and you can even add spin to the ball - albeit in a rather binary spin/no-spin sort of way. Control is via the expected power bar method, with aiming done on an overhead map before you switch to Mario (or Luigi) at the tee. There are three stroke speeds, but even at the slowest you need fast reactions to avoid a nasty hook or slice. However, as charming as it may be and as admirable as its features surely were in 1991, Open Tournament's primitive origins do mean that its value in 2007 is debatable.
Unlike shooters or platform games, where great gameplay remains great regardless of the graphics, the clumsy ball physics and jerky control left over from an era of tiny processors and non-analogue controllers can't help but make this comparatively weak when it comes to doing what is necessary - namely, playing golf.
It's amusing enough if you don't mind missing putt after putt because you can't see how the green slopes because of the chunky pixels, but the only reason to fire this up rather than Wii Sports is to drink from the fountain of quaint nostalgia. While this may be enough to warrant 500 points from your Wii purse, personally I'd be happier paying twice that and getting the N64 version of Mario Golf.