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Virtual Console Roundup

The last ten! Including Secret of Mana.

Typical. You turn your back for a few months and the Virtual Console fills up with games, including a sprinkling of bona fide classics. There's a lot to catch up on, so let's not waste time on introductions, eh?

Secret of Mana

  • Platform: SNES
  • Wii Points: 800
  • In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 7.70 (approx)

It's always been something of a mystery to me how Final Fantasy came to be such a juggernaut, dominating the JRPG scene with such ubiquity. They're good, often great, games but they're far from being Squaresoft's best. Witness Chrono Trigger, for example, which does pretty much everything that its more overbearing cousin can, arguably with a lot more charm.

And then there's the Mana series, which even started life being misleadingly marketed as a Final Fantasy entry on the GameBoy before finding its feet with this absolutely wonderful SNES adventure.

Heavy on the whimsy, with bold colourful sprites and spunky young characters, but the story isn't anything out of the ordinary for the genre - there's a magic sword, an ancient evil and prophecies galore. That's not really what makes Secret of Mana so special. See, with its real-time combat and intuitive inventory system, it plays more like Legend of Zelda than its more dense JRPG counterparts and its this immediacy that gets you past the more generic story elements and into the explorative meat of the game.

It's been a while since the Virtual Console was blessed with an RPG, and even longer since it offered one as essential as this. There's no better way to spend 800 Points right now.


Sonic the Hedgehog 2

  • Platform: Master System
  • Wii Points: 500
  • In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 4.50 (approx)

Eyebrows were arched in quizzical fashion when the Master System version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog was added, what with it being almost identical to the Megadrive version already available. No such problems with Sonic 2, since the Master System version not only came out before the Megadrive one (which isn't on the VC...yet) but also offers an entirely different game.

This means that while we sadly still get the introduction of ginger-furred irritant Tails, we also miss out on the Spin Dash move, which proved so integral to the series evolution on the Megadrive. Balancing out these disappointments is a robust entry in the series, full of the multiple twisting pathways you'd expect. It even manages to include a dash of variety, most notably in a fun hang gliding section. It does start with a mine cart section though, so lets not blow the Originality Horn too loudly.

This isn't the highlight of Sonic's early career - that would be the still-absent Sonic & Knuckles - but this is an affordable and enjoyable nugget, and one which puts the hedgehog's recent wretched efforts to shame.


Space Invaders: The Original Game

  • Platform: SNES
  • Wii Points: 800
  • In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 7.70 (approx)

This is the sort of release that demands careful thought about the legacy of gaming, and how we value it. If, say, Fritz Lang's Metropolis were available on budget DVD for this price, few film fans would express outrage at the cost or decry the film itself for being old and not as cool as Aliens.

Yet that's how too many gamers react when faced with the commercial revival of the titles that form the very basis of our lovely hobby. We're so quick to toss the classics aside, denying them any commercial value in the industry they created. Space Invaders is about as seminal as it gets, yet the temptation to balk at being asked to pay money to play it in 2009 is hard to resist.

I don't know why this is, and frankly this is probably the wrong game to use as the starting point for the debate. It's exactly what it sounds like - the original Space Invaders, on the SNES. Now, Space Invaders is still a great game, provided you can look at it with an open mind. The concept is about as pure as it gets, while the execution - though restricted by the technology of the time - is the epitome of compulsive gameplay. There's a reason why the DUM DUM DUM sound effects as the alien force descends is still so iconic - it's gaming's equivalent of the Jaws theme, a panic-inducing primal beat.

And yet...and yet...this isn't the most compelling package. It's a recreation rather than an emulation. You get the option to recreate the various arcade cabinet styles, from monochrome to faked transparent screen overlays, but it leaves the experience feeling like a cover version. To return to the original comparison, if Space Invaders is Metropolis then this is the colourised version with the Giorgio Moroder score. It's technically the same, but the presentation is off. It feels wrong to give such a classic game a bad score for such ephemeral reasons, but there's too much here that doesn't feel right.