Version tested: Retro
Usually when the Virtual Console delivers up a slew of games with numbers on the end it's a sign that shovelware sequels are filling up the download slots. However, the past few updates have showcased the benefits of gaming's long-standing love affair with sequels, offering three great games that helped define their series. We also get a religiously inspired Miyamoto Pac-Man clone. Not every day you get to say that.
Phantasy Star IV
- Platform: Megadrive
- Wii Points: 800
- In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 7.70 (approx)
Phantasy Star IV's subtitle, The End of the Millennium, is rather appropriate. The last game before the series fractured into loosely related spin-offs like Phantasy Star Universe and Phantasy Star Online, it marks the untimely end of a hugely promising JRPG saga.
At least it went out on a high though. Truly epic in scope, and boasting a style that sets it apart from the likes of Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire and others, this is one of the unsung gems of a genre so often criticised for its lack of distinctive creative decisions. It's not just that it opts for a planet-hopping sci-fi approach rather than the predictable wizards, warriors and dungeons though.
The characters look like real people, for instance, or at least small and minimalist representations of real people. No huge-eyed anime moppets here. And while the turn-based combat looks fairly generic on the surface, the ability to use combo attacks with more than one character shakes things up a tad. More inventive is the option to create and edit your own prefigured sequences of actions, so you can order your strongest characters to attack in certain ways, while another heals, for example, all with one quick button press.
While some of the later games to bear the Phantasy Star name were decent enough in their own right, it's hard not to feel a twinge of sadness at the fact that this particularly promising adventure strand never got to develop beyond the 16-bit era. On the other hand, maybe that's for the best. It was never watered down or spoiled by over-exposure. One thing's for sure - anyone with a fondness for JRPGs should investigate this at once.
Mega Man 3
- Platform: NES
- Wii Points: 500
- In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 4.50 (approx)
The best of the series, or so the die-hard fans claim. It's an easy argument to support, since Little Boy Blue's third outing is an impressive refinement of the already solid design aesthetic established by the previous two games.
The first thing you notice is how good it looks. Maybe since playing Mega Man 9, Capcom's self-consciously retro continuation of the series, I'm more attuned to how crisp and detailed 8-bit sprites can be but there's detail, shade and texture here that's delightful to see. Check out the subtle blends of green on the screenshot. It's rather lovely.
And the gameplay is also as cruelly specific as ever. Leaps must be precise, enemies must be dispatched rapidly and accurately, and there's a constant state of delicious near-panic as you wait to see what vicious demands the next room will place on your platforming skills. Making things a touch easier is Mega Man's slide move, introduced in this game and very handy for slipping past bullets and barriers, and Rush, the robot dog whose Swiss Army Knife interior offers a buffet of fun gadgets.
There's no question that this isn't a game for the short-tempered, but beneath the tough exterior there's a logical and well-balanced game, rich with brilliant design decisions and unforgettable moments. Rank it alongside Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 as an NES classic that more than warrants a 500-Point purchase.