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Virtual Console Roundup

Blades of Steel, Monster Lair and Skate or Die.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

With the Wii still in short supply, this year I'll be doing the same thing I did last Christmas. I'll put my sought-after console in a sturdy plastic case and take it to a nearby children's hospital. For two glorious hours on Christmas morning, I'll allow these miserable pallid waifs to look at my Wii from a distance of no less than three metres, and imagine the fun they could have with such a device, were their wretched parents able to sit all day on the internet waiting to see which retailers have the magic white brick in stock.

Then I'll hold a raffle - just £1 a ticket, for petrol money - and the winner will be able to approach the Wii and, wearing a pair of thick gloves (these kids are sick), after all), caress its smooth plastic skin for a whole minute while their cellmates gaze on in bitter envy.

Then I'll pack up my Wii, toss some fun-sized snacks over my shoulder and head home to spend the rest of the day carefully cleaning both myself and my console with a gallon of disinfectant.

I'm just a natural giver I suppose, but what of Nintendo itself? What festive generosity lies in store for loyal Wii Shop customers in this, the last update before The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year? Price cuts? Some classic SNES games? Something for free? Um, nope. On the eighth day of Christmas, Nintendo gave to Wii...two NES sports games and the worst of the Wonder Boy series.

Wow. You shouldn't have. No, really.

Blades of Steel

  • Platform: NES
  • Wii Points: 500
  • In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)

We'll start with this one, since it's the closest to being a Christmas game in this utterly disappointing festive line-up. It's ice hockey, you see. Squint a bit and you can pretend that the players are elves and the puck is a mince pie. Or something.

Despite being of negligible interest to European gamers, it's actually pretty good fun. There are eight generic teams, the option to play a one-off match against a CPU opponent or a tournament with a friend, and it all moves fairly smoothly and quickly. Control is pretty basic - one button does pretty much everything you need - but this simplicity actually works in the game's favour. You don't have to know anything about ice hockey to grasp the concept of walloping the puck into the goal. There are fights as well, should players collide too often, where you hammer the button to knock the other player on his ass.

The graphics aren't particularly good, even by 1987 NES standards, with the same model repeated over and over for the players, and some garish colour combinations are used to tell the teams apart. The player in possession, or in your control, also flashes at an epileptic rate, which is either distracting or hypnotic depending on your mental state. The sound, meanwhile, features some surprisingly decent speech for the era - almost enough to create the illusion of a running commentary - although the constant whistles and cheeps do make it sound like the matches are played in a giant aviary.

Blades of Steel is beloved by many American gamers, and I can see why. To them, it probably has the same nostalgic purity as Sensi Soccer - although the game itself is nowhere near as streamlined and immediate as that particular classic. It plays a decent enough game of hockey, and for the price it should keep fans happy.


Monster Lair

  • Platform: TurboGrafx 16
  • Wii Points: 800
  • In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 8 (approx)

Also known as Wonder Boy III, released this time in its TurboGrafx CD version - which was only available in Japan and America - rather than the Megadrive edition we got in Europe. As with all Turbo CD games, the benefit is mostly musical as the additional space is used for a crisp soundtrack rather than any gameplay changes.

And what of the gameplay? Well, for me, it's the weakest of the Wonder Boy series. The other Wonder Boy games have a distinct sub-Mario chunky platforming charm, but this effort never really congeals into something that feels right. It's split into two alternating sections - on-foot platforming and aerial shooting - but with relentless forced scrolling it's more of a shoot-em-up than a platformer really. Power-ups last for about five seconds, and even a two-player mode can't overcome the lifeless tone. The game also has the weird notion of constantly eroding your health as you play, meaning you have to keep collecting fruit to stave off certain death.

Wonder Boy as a metaphor for terminal illness? It doesn't really work and given that there are far better Wonder Boy games already on the VC, not to mention a plethora of good-to-great side-scrollers, this is a fairly unappealing title.


Skate or Die

  • Platform: NES
  • Wii Points: 500
  • In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)


While Skate or Die probably looked, like, totally awesome to gamers back in 1987, it's one of those titles where noble ambition has curdled over the years into something less than enjoyable.

Rather blatantly inspired by California Games, you get a series of skating challenges ranging from half-pipe stunts to downhill races to jousting in an empty swimming pool. They're all linked by a skate shop hub, where you can opt to practice or sign up for the real thing, and there's a smattering of cartoonish arcade characters (Pete Poseur!) to compete against. If that doesn't appeal, the races and jousts can be played against a friend.

Despite this appearance of variety, there's really not much to it though. All events control in much the same way, and suffer from the same central flaw - the pseudo-3D graphics make it a real pain to land accurately, or line yourself up with objects. As a result, the whole thing is a tiresome chore to master. Like most vintage games, this can be overcome with patience and practice, but there's no real reason to bother.


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