This week's European releases. And they all involve a Game Boy, oddly.
Did you catch up on much? I didn't. I've still got a large stack of unfinished games sat on my left speaker. I blame a mixture of festive excesses, celebrations and a worrying recurrence of migraines for various stolen evenings, which I had expected to spend wearing down my thumbs on analogue sticks and not pint glasses, pork pies and Nurofen.
Fortunately January's looking rather barren, with a mixture of US sports games and other slippery characters we'd expected to see in 2004 clamouring rather half-heartedly for the attention of whatever currency might be lingering in your wallet - which, by now, you're presumably having trouble wrestling away from your expanding waistlines.
So at least we've all got some more time to play catch-up. Unless, that is, you're tempted by this week's array of Nintendo releases - another four in the Classic NES Series and one-for-four in the shape of multiplayer oddity The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure. Or unless you're spending every waking hour at the gym. (What are the chances?)
Let's start with the latter, since much as we like the NES, our bulging paunches couldn't really cope with the added stress of the sort of guttural outpourings of rage and uber-frustration that the original Castlevania and its ilk are poised to extract. Four-player SNES-style Zelda, on the other hand, is plainly something that anybody with the right equipment ought to be coveting.
And there is at least the hope that some of you will have GBA-to-Cube "connectivity" cables lying around after struggling with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles or, even less likely, the hideously mismanaged Pac-Man Vs. during 2004. If you do, Hyrule is almost certainly worth a visit.
We've already remarked just how simultaneously awe-inspiring and cultish the idea of four-player Zelda puzzling and dungeon-crawling sounds to us in our Cube Games To Watch in 2005 feature, but it's worth reiterating: we love the idea of having to marshal the skills of four top-down Links to unlock doors, uncover chests and defeat bosses.
The Western versions of Four Swords Adventure may have lost the Tetra's Trackers bit of the Japanese original, but there's still plenty here. Even played as a lone Link with a band of three AI-controlled accomplices, Four Swords is receiving warm praise, but having decided to let four players loose on this adventure Nintendo seems to have really worked at the multiplayer design, chopping out constant inventory juggling and using the GBA screen to frame indoors bits and NPC conversations without breaking up the flow for all concerned.
We're assembling a crack team of Links for a proper playtest this weekend, so you might want to wait a bit longer to hear what we think of it in retrospect, rather than just banking on our pre-match enthusiasm. Or you might not. It is Zelda after all.
But then so is Zelda II: Adventure of Link - one of Nintendo's growing range of NES Classics, or Classic NES Series, or NESsies, or whatever you want to call them. We don't fancy it'll stand up to your rose-tinted recollections of it at all though (we'd just go and play one of the other Zeldas instead if we're honest; and there's bound to be one or two you haven't finished yet), but if you're intent on stuffing some retro treats in your cartridge slot, you could do worse. Kristan's currently playing through all four of today's NES Classics, and insists that Zelda II and Metroid are "painful" whereas Castlevania "is at least playable if you persist".
If you wanted to do better, though, you might like to look to timeless puzzler Dr. Mario, which seems to be just as addictive as the day we last put it down. Granted, it's no Tetris, but then what is? And it'll look so right in our NES Classics GBA SP. Dammit.
In all honesty though, January looks like a bit of a washout, and given the absolutely enormous number of games released in the run-up to Christmas that we lost ourselves to, there's bound to be something you missed. And now might be just the time to take advantage. If only to get that blasted Need For Speed nonsense off the top of the chart.
Tell you what, I'll go out and buy Metroid Prime 2 this weekend if you do. Deal?
- PAL Releases
- Classic NES Series - Castlevania (GBA)
- Classic NES Series - Dr. Mario (GBA)
- Classic NES Series - Metroid (GBA)
- Classic NES Series - Zelda II: Adventure of Link (GBA) - if only it was Link's Awakening, eh?
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure (Cube)
- Key US Releases