Throughout last September, Nintendo celebrated the Hanabi Festival with weekly offerings of games that had never reached Europe on their original release. Mostly cult Japanese titles, with a few US games as well, it was a nice idea and one that added rare gems like Sin & Punishment and Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels to the VC. Except they took The Lost Levels off again at the end. For no reason.
Well, with surprisingly little fanfare, the Hanabi Festival is back, which at least means we get two weeks on the trot with three games to choose from. Admittedly, this week that means two shoot-'em-ups and a puzzle game, but as always with the VC, let's not look a gift plumber in the mouth.
This also means, sadly, that the utterly random and pretty much unjustifiable price hikes have returned. Yes, an extra 100 points has been slapped onto the cost of each game, presumably because they games are foreign and therefore the ROM file is heavier and costs Nintendo more to post down the internet wires. Or some such bollocks. With grumbles about the VC price structure forming an ever-present background murmur, these craven shenanigans aren't likely to cheer the fans up.
And on that sour note, here be the games!
Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou
- Platform: TurboGrafx CD
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 (approx)
There are two shooters on offer this week; one vertical, one horizontal. This is the horizontal one and it is, as they say, strictly for the hardcore. For one thing, it has the sort of convoluted background that trivia-obsessed enthusiasts love. Gradius is also known as Nemesis but this version was released as Vulcan Venture for US arcades, but only available in Japan as Gradius II. There are elements taken from Gradius spin-off Salamander which was also called Lifeforce which, if I'm following this correctly, would make Gradius II its own grandfather and wife all at the same time. Dirty.
It's one of those shmups where you get to choose from a selection of weapon sets at the start, as well as one of two shield options. As with most hardcore Japanese blasters, it's all about memorisation and pattern recognition, boasting an onslaught that will leave most casual players blistered and sore in all the wrong places.
For this console version Konami pushed the boat out with a stereo soundtrack, a new animated intro sequence and a whole new level not seen in the arcade. It's an Egyptian temple sort of affair, suspiciously similar to the first level of Gradius III. Other than those additions, it's pretty much arcade perfect - although the absolutely purest of purists will no doubt find the frame-rate implications of going from Japanese arcade to 1988 console to the PAL Virtual Console rather annoying.
But how to mark such a thing? For all its narrow appeal, and despite being yet another shoot-'em-up on a service now home to 7,324 of the things, it is a pretty great shoot-'em-up, albeit one that is really only of interest to the handful of shmup fans collecting all the entries in their beloved genre on the VC.