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Virtual Console Roundup

F-Zero X, Bonk, Mystical Ninja and friends.

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

So this is the week that the European Virtual Console finally gets its telegram from The Queen. One hundred games old! Well done you. Have a custard cream. Strange, then, that the week doesn't offer some kind of celebratory blow-out as we're getting just two new games, one of which is utter balls. But enough of my yakkin', let's strip off, plunge into the frothy VC bathwater and rummage around together for the soap of gaming greatness...

F-Zero X

Platform: N64
Wii Points: 1000

So this is the century-marking 100th addition to the line up. It's an N64 title, which is good news, and it's also a super-slinky futuristic racer which adds some much needed adrenalin and speed to the rather docile herd of platformers, elderly beat-'em-ups and RPGs already grazing in the VC meadow.

Obviously, the decision to revive an aging space-racey driving series for the N64 was at least partially inspired by the success of WipEout, which had pretty much defined the PlayStation generation a few years previous, but the attempts to crib some of that game's future-cool don't sit that well with the Nintendo aesthetic. The vehicle designs are chunky and unappealing, while trackside details are all but non-existent.

The upside is that this sparse visual nature means that the game moved at a dazzling 60fps, a feat which this emulated version does a mostly decent job of matching, even though there are some tiny borders creeping in at the top and bottom. You also get four-player elimination races (with its peculiar fruit machine mini-game for defeated racers), deathmatches where you have to destroy 30 other vehicles and even the option for randomly generated tracks. The slippery analogue control takes some getting used to, especially on tight bends, but once mastered the looping, gravity-defying courses are a joy to pelt around.

Personally, I actually prefer F-Zero's wide sweeping courses to the claustrophobic chutes of WipEout and, for anyone wishing there was a really fast and aggressive racing game on the system, this is essential. I just can't help thinking that there could have been a more...momentous title with which to break the 100 game ceiling though. Maybe something involving a paper-thin plumber?


JJ & Jeff

Platform: TurboGrafx-16
Wii Points: 600

There have been weird additions to the VC in the past, but few compare to this choice. Originally based on a Japanese comedy show, it's a scatological platforming beat-'em-up. Sort of.

JJ and Jeff are two private man-detectives, quite possibly lovers given their intimate banter at the start, who are on the trail of a kidnapped "wealthy man". You choose which of the pair you want to play as (it makes no real difference) and then you set off from right to left, spraying bugs, kicking moles and slapping your partner whenever you find them mucking about in the scenery.

Toned down from the Japanese original, in which the characters farted their enemies to death rather than using spray cans, this is still full of childish potty humour. Seagulls launch enormous brown coils of poo at your head, characters stop to have a wee, and mini-games loiter in public toilets like Uncle Bobby and his packet of sweets. And all are lovingly rendered in the expected TurboGrafx colourful cartoon style, of course.

It's just a shame that the gameplay is an absolute horror show. Most of the levels are simply a case of walking across the screen - for a platform game, actual platforms are sporadic at best. The controls aren't much better. Everyone moves like they're on ice, with each jump leading into a slippery skid that usually results in more health being depleted by a caterpillar. Or something equally stupid.

The VC is absolutely loaded with similar yet superior offerings, so why this goofy joke was deemed worthy of upload is something of a mystery.


Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Platform: NES
Wii Points: 500

Much as Mario 2 ( added to the VC a few weeks ago) fudged a winning formula for its sophomore effort, so Zelda's first sequel is often left in a dark corner when the saga is being praised, like an embarrassing cousin who smells of radishes.

Such shame is not really justified, as Zelda II isn't a bad RPG once you get past the off-putting switch from top-down to side-on. If you can manage to do that, then you'll discover a game that expanded on many of the areas that would come to define the series, as well as introducing new features that would become staples of the genre.

Combat is more tactical, experience points are more useful, and the magic system is well thought-out. The gameworld also feels more alive, with loads more NPCs and random conversations to be had.

But it is hard to get past the fact that, after the natural charms of the first game, this looks pretty ugly. Link has changed from an appealing little avatar into a creepy, prancing gnome, to the extent that crap horror fans can squint a bit and pretend this is Leprechaun: The Game.

It's easy to see why this entry has fallen between the cracks, and also why they switched back to the old ways for Link to the Past, but this still offers decent adventuring and at 500 points is worth having. You should probably play all the others first though.