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Virtual Console Roundup

Mario Bros. 2 and more from the archive - including Mario Kart 64.

Welcome back to the VC Lounge. You're looking well. Have you had a haircut? This week sees three new additions to the Wii retro broth, and we'll also be continuing our catch-up session by running our metaphorical tongue up and down the spine of seven titles already available. So pull up a stool, remove your stomach harness and let waves of retro carry you away.

Super Mario Bros 2

  • Format: NES
  • Wii Points: 500

Much like Elm Street 2 and Highlander 2, the second US outing for Super Mario Bros was a sort of quasi-sequel, hurriedly cobbled together to take advantage of demand but having only vague continuity with the official series.

The proper Super Mario Bros 2, released in Japan in 1986, was allegedly deemed too difficult for western gamers and so another NES platform game - Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic - was treated to a quick palette swap, Mario sound effects were dropped in and it was shoved onto US shelves in 1988.

And while the end result isn't all that bad, it's also clearly not a real Mario game. Even this early in the series' history, Miyamoto's design aesthetic was distinctive enough that even a close facsimile is noticeably not quite right. While the scrolling and leaping action is broadly similar, the jumps are floaty rather than precise and you no longer kill enemies by squashing them with your dungaree-clad arse. Now you land on enemies and ride around on their heads, before picking them up and throwing them at other enemies. Not a seismic shift, but enough to make it feel undeniably Not Mario.

In fact, it plays much like one of the many hacked Mario ROMs lurking in the digital netherworld, in which graphics, music and sound are changed for humorous (or, more often, pornographic) effect. Not that this game is pornographic, you understand. Mario doesn't turn into a hopping phallus or anything. But it's only an essential download if you want to sample a curious hiccup in the early development of that plumber fella.


Mach Rider

  • Platform: NES
  • Wii Points: 500

One of the original NES launch titles in the US, Mach Rider was a pretty compelling showcase for what the little console could do. A post-apocalyptic motorcycle game, you hare down a series of twisting courses, dodging debris and blasting evil vehicles that try to run you off the road.

You can retaliate with front-mounted cannons, while your bike comes with four gears - and at full speed you can easily out run your foes. In fact, speed is this game's greatest asset, as it absolutely thunders along in a way that made Pole Position look like a Sunday drive with Grandma.

Sadly, this means the game crashes straight into the old difficulty barrier that surrounds so many old games. On the later levels, simply navigating between rocks on the road and dodging the enemy cars that appear from behind and destroy you on contact is a nigh impossible task. Or, at least, a task that is unlikely to entertain today's gaming audience for long. A rudimentary rear view mirror gives you some warning of impending rear-end shuntage, but it's still fiendishly hard to avoid repeated death by chunky explosion.

The one (almost) saving grace is a course designer, which is actually quite clever and advanced for its vintage. Admittedly, the complete lack of instructions doesn't help - leaving you to work out how to select and place track pieces - but the game is smart enough to only offer pieces that will join up to wherever the cursor lies, so your creation is guaranteed to at least fit together. You can also - finally - save your design, something that was never possible in the past unless you had the Famicom Data Recorder, which never reached European shores.

However, even with the inclusion of the dinky designer, Mach Rider is a game of limited entertainment.