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]
The impact of the dual arcade/home release is very apparent in the gameplay. It's all very brash and bold for a golf game, presented with the same sort of gusto that SEGA brought to bass fishing. You get four courses, six golfers from around the world and the option for match play against a friend, or stroke play with one or two players.
The graphics are as good as you'll find on the VC, given that this is a game that was released fairly recently in comparison to others, while the lashings of clear speech also make it stand out from the crowd. It's pleasantly presented and, because of its arcade roots, skips right past the sort of technical guff that typifies modern golf games.
What really makes Turf Masters click is the control system, which is refreshingly different to the usual method. Sure, it still hinges on stopping an oscillating power bar, but your timing no longer has any effect on the aim of the shot. Hooks and slices are not punishment for stopping the gauge late or early, but assigned to buttons and able to be set with precision before you take your swing.
Instead, you now have a second rising and falling gauge, which sets the height of your shot - something dictated by your power in most golf sims. Hit the gauge dead centre and you'll strike the ball at the perfect angle for maximum distance. However, it also means that you can purposefully take a high, short shot to clear some trees, or aim low to minimise the effect of wind speed. It may not sound like a sweeping revolution, but when so many golf games all use the exact same method of determining your shots, even something slightly different like this can feel liberating.
But while the arcade nature of the game has resulted in something more accessible, it also means that the need to entice gamers to shovel in more coins rather spoils the flow. You have a reserve of strokes, rather than lives, but the effect is the same. Go too far over par and it's game over. This being the console version, there's nothing to stop you from continuing - and the game actually saves which hole you were up to, even if you switch off the Wii - but it does mean that the code has an ulterior motive for ramping up the challenge. Wind speeds can get really silly if you're playing too well, and some of the fairways are downright sadistic. One even has the hole at an angle on the side of a slope.
It's not saying much for Neo Turf Masters to be the best golf game on the VC, but when you consider that it's superior to the brand new Golf: Tee It Up! on Xbox Live Arcade, it's not hard to realise what a shrewd addition this is.
- Platform: NES
- Wii Points: 500
- In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)
After the dizzying discovery of two genuinely great games on the Virtual Console, you have to feel a bit sorry for City Connection. It's certainly not great - it's not a beloved mould-breaker like IK+, nor is it an underseen gem like Neo Turf Masters - but it is a fairly decent example of early arcade gaming, and one that justifies the 500-Point cost.
The concept is as random as it is simple. For reasons unknown, you have decided to drive to various well known cities around the world. To prove you've been there, you have to paint all the roads (aka "platforms") white. The police don't like this, and try to stop you in the only way 1980s arcade enemies could think of - they zip about from left to right and get in your way. Hit a po-po and your car explodes. Yeah. Stick that in your CCTV street crime show, Mr Telly Producer.
The "paint everything" gameplay reminds me of Q*Bert - actually it reminds me of something else, but I can't put my finger on it - while the horizontal scrolling has a very Defender-esque feel. It's simple, it's fairly addictive and it's exactly the sort of thing that people pay to have on the mobile phones, or to play on Sky TV's games service. It's certainly not worth getting passionate about, but if downloading either of this week's other new games has left you with 500 Points burning a hole in your pocket, you could always give this a try.