Version tested: Wii
- Platform: C64
- Wii Points: 500
- In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)
Back in March, the original International Karate was one of the first C64 games to grace the Virtual Console, a bold opening salvo that showed that whoever is picking the Commodore games for the service is doing a far better job than the person currently plucking SNES games at random out of a hat.
I also said, in my usual uncannily prescient manner, that "it might be best to hang on and see if the phenomenal IK+ is on the way". Lo, and indeed behold, for here it is - one of the very best fighting games ever made, a mere 21-years-old this year.
The core of the first game remains - it's a genuine karate game, using rules similar to an actual martial arts tournament rather than the usual health bar shenanigans. You take part in a number of rounds, and must land as many hits as possible to earn points. The moves are all genuine karate strikes - apart from the headbutt, I'm pretty sure Mr Miyagi would frown on that - and the game becomes a matter of timing and evasion rather than dragon punches and special moves.
What's remarkable is how wonderfully different IK+ feels simply because of a few important changes. Most notably, there are now three fighters rather than two. This three-way fight mechanic is essentially simple - there's just an extra guy on screen - but it livens up the proceedings so fundamentally that I'm amazed it didn't become a regular fixture of the genre. Progress through the game depends on scoring high in each round, and with three players scrapping for points the dynamic is automatically more interesting than a simple "you lose, you're out" system. It's sadly not possible to have all three controlled by human players, but you can have two-player matches with the CPU taking over the third fighter.
Even the mini-game is fun - as balls bounce towards you at different speeds and heights, you must swing around with a shield, blocking high, medium and low on both sides. As the pace increases, the effect is fantastically addictive - there have been plenty of NES games with less entertainment than this throwaway extra - and it's almost a shame to return to the combat.
The only criticism is a familiar one - control feels stiff and weird now that the game doesn't use a big comforting joystick. The remote's d-pad makes diagonals something of a fiddle, while using the sticks on the classic or GameCube controller takes some getting used to. It's not a massive problem this time, but it is something that dedicated retro heads will have to get past. It's also a shame that many of the game's cheeky Easter eggs - like pressing "T" on the keyboard to drop the fighter's pants - seem to have been removed. Either that or the effect is masked by the enormous keyboard covering the screen.
These are truly minor considerations, though, when you consider what a timeless piece of software this is. It's really only the surface details - the chunky pixels, Rob Hubbard's wonderful SID-chip music - that betray the game's 1987 origin. In terms of gameplay, you'd be hard pushed to find a fighting game as fluid and as innovative today.
Neo Turf Masters
- Platform: NeoGeo
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
The news that this had popped up on the VC prompted EG editor Tom to send me an excited email. His glee was partly due to the fact that this was a retro game he'd actually played - Neo Turf Masters first came out in 1996, and Tom is apparently thirteen or something - but also because it was, to quote the manchild himself, "one of my favourite golf games ever".
And while Tom may not be allowed to rent 15s from Blockbuster yet, his ability to spot a good golf game is impressively developed, even if he was mistaking this arcade/console version for the 1999 NeoGeo Pocket game he played in junior school. Neo Turf Masters is a big wobbly jelly of fun, whatever your age. [Or future employment status, in your case. - Ed]