Version tested: Wii
After a rather limp and short Hanabi Festival and the launch of WiiWare, I'm pleased to report that the Virtual Console seems to have pulled its socks up, straightened its tie and put its nose to the grindstone with some elbow grease. It's making an effort, in other words, and the past two weeks have offered up four games of commendable quality. Don't worry though, I'm sure I'll find something to grumble about.
- Platform: C64
- Wii Points: 500
- In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)
First Uridium, now Paradroid. Not all the C64 games released have been particularly well-suited to console play (see: Ninja, The Last) but spank me with a rolled up Zzap 64 and called me Rignall if seeing Andrew Braybrook's masterpieces blown up on a HD screen, played with a joypad, doesn't confirm just how far ahead of his time he really was.
You play as a robot - or rather, you play as a helmet on top of a robot. A series of space freighters have been overrun with rogue droids, and the best way to end the crisis is to use this helmet to transfer control from one droid to another, working your way up the robot hierarchy through cunning combat and fast-paced puzzling.
You hover around a 2D maze, and can move between different areas of the ship using teleport pads. Holding down the fire button activates transfer mode, and you'll initiate a battle of wills with any droid you collide with in this state. You then have a limited time to choose one side of a circuit board and select the wires that will turn most of the central column to your colour. Sounds baffling. Really isn't.
If you've never played Paradroid then don't look at the screenshot. Seriously, don't. Put a Post-It on your monitor or something. The game does not look impressive in 2008. All the robots look identical, apart from their rank number, and those chunky sprites will send out all the wrong messages, and you'll miss the chunky minimalist artistry that was designed to complement the game design, not overshadow it.
It's a game where exploration, arcade reflexes, rapid puzzle-solving and tactical strategy all get mashed up together, with no one element dominating the others. A sublime brew. It is, in other words, the sort of game that we used to get when solitary programmers, blessed with bright ideas and the freedom to make them a reality, could still make their mark on the industry. It's the best kind of gaming nostalgia, one based on all that was genuinely good about the olden days rather than fuzzy fondness for things that seemed awesome to a twelve-year-old in 1985.
While I've spoken out about the Virtual Console's wonky price structure many times, this isn't a battle worth fighting in this case. If you can't find it in your heart to pay a few pounds for a perfect copy of Paradroid that you can play at any time without digging your old Commodore out of the loft, then there's no hope for you.
- Platform: NeoGeo
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
You know it's a good week when the worst game of the Virtual Console bunch is actually pretty good, and only stands out because of its derivative nature. Yes, this is SNK's answer to Streets of Rage and Final Fight, and by "answer to" I actually mean "blatant copy of".
You pick from three characters - the generically named Duke, Ryu and Billy - and then clobber your way through stop-start scrolling stages, duffing the crackers out of the various street punks who get in your way. There's no kidnapped girlfriend to be saved - you're just smashing people up because they're naughty. It occasionally feels unfair, with some enemies repeatedly using dash attacks that are all but impossible to dodge or block, but with generous health, lives and continues it never becomes too frustrating.
You can pick up the weapons dropped by pummelled foes, including guns, while scenery items can be smashed to reveal items such as hot dogs, brooches and... handbags. Hmm. Breaking up the action are occasional mini-games, much like those in Street Fighter II, in which you demolish a screen full of objects to earn points and health. There's really very little here that won't feel overly familiar.
Yet despite being so painfully in debt to better games, Burning Fight is not without its appeal. The beat-'em-up genre has been absent from the VC for a while, and for those pining for some scrolling violence, this is an above average option.
Pokemon Puzzle League
- Platform: N64
- Wii Points: 1000
- In Real Money: GBP 7.00 / EUR 10.00 (approx)
I said I'd find something to grumble about, and here it is. Not the game itself, which is actually one of the better block-matching puzzlers, but the peculiar timing with which Nintendo has released it.
You see, May has already seen the release of Puyo Puyo 2 on the Megadrive and the revamped Dr Mario on WiiWare. These games may not be exactly the same as Pokemon Puzzle League (or Panel de Pon, the Japanese puzzle game it's rebranded from) but they're close enough that anyone in the market for such a game will surely be feeling somewhat fatigued by now. How many block-swapping games does the average person even want or need?
And this is to the detriment of Pokemon Puzzle League, since I prefer it to both Puyo Puyo and Dr Mario. The basic premise - matching horizontal or vertical rows of the same colour to dump blocks on your opponent - remains constant but you're only able to swap blocks left or right. Sort of like Puzzle Quest, only with a more limited range of moves available. At first this restriction feels claustrophobic, and frustrating as potential lines seem out of reach because you can't move blocks up or down. Once you get past that, you realise that there are actually a whole heap of strategies available to you, and before long you're shuttling blocks across the screen, dropping them from the top of columns and clocking up chains and combos galore.
If there's one persistent complaint it's that the Pokemon façade is just that - a thin veneer slapped on top of an existing framework with no real purpose. You choose from different trainers and Pokemon for each round, but this has no impact on the gameplay whatsoever. Different character choices don't result in different block patterns, and while you win badges for victory, these have no practical use either. There are clips from the TV cartoon, revoiced or with retouched text to make them tie in with the game, but it's hardly convincing.
It's a lazy and rather cynical attempt to use Pokemon to shift a few more games then, but this is balanced out by an abundance of options including plenty of gameplay modes, a puzzle editor and a 3D version of the game in which the blocks ascend up the sides of a transparent cylinder.
- Platform: NeoGeo
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
It was only a matter of time before SNK's other big fighting franchise joined the likes of King of Fighters on the VC, and it holds its own surprisingly well considering how many other 2D fighting games are already available.
Blessed with the large, colourful, arcade-perfect sprites that the Neo Geo promised, Samurai Shodown ditches the complex combo-based fighting of Street Fighter and others and instead opts for a system that places the emphasis on fast, effective strikes and smart timing. Needless to say, this makes it much easier to get into, since you don't have to have memorised the move lists in order to really enjoy yourself.
There are also some quirky little touches, like the man who throws chickens and other items into the arena to help the fighters. The character roster is rich and varied, ranging from the gigantic Earthquake to the green-skinned Freddy-gloved Gen An. Environments are colourful and agreeably interactive, shown off by the dynamic camera system from Art of Fighting. You can even have your weapon knocked from your grasp, forcing you to fight on with your bare hands.
It's a meaty and immediately appealing fighting game that finds a fine balance between accessibility and depth. It's one of my favourite old school fighters, and the only reason it doesn't score higher is because I'm sure the sequels will be joining it on the VC before long.