Call Me “Ambassador!”

Yesterday was the first day of September and for most probably just another Thursday, however, this wasn’t any ordinary Thursday.  This was the first day of the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador program!  That means that for all of those impatient suckers out there (like me) who bought the 3DS at launch earlier this year when the software was terrible, some old Nintendo games are now available for free via the eShop.  This was done to make consumers feel better about paying $250 for something that just got marked down to $170.  Really, Nintendo had no obligation to do anything for early adopters but it’s certainly not a bad PR move to throw your loyal fans a bone, and that’s what they’ve done.

Ten classic Nintendo games have been made available to those of us lucky enough to be called ambassadors.  Truthfully, the term classic is probably a bit much for some of these titles as I’ve never heard anyone pine for a downloadable version of Yoshi recently.  Regardless, I downloaded everything and made some time last night and today to fire each title up for some nostalgic gameplay or to try a title I missed out on.  I’ve actually been looking forward to them as I’m in a dry spell when it comes to new portable games.  While the games play faithfully enough (perhaps too faithfully) they also haven’t benefited from the usual enhancements Nintendo makes to their virtual console titles.  For the re-release of Link’s Awakening a Virtual Console menu was added that included a save state feature, similar to what most emulators have (not that I would know anything about that…) that proved quite convenient.  It’s really nice for a portable to have the ability to save the game at any time.  It’s also convenient for those really difficult old school games as you end up with a handy restore feature when you screw up.  Cheating?  Perhaps, but I’ll never beat Zelda II without it.

There is some good news though.  Nintendo plans on releasing all 10 of these titles to the general public at a later date with not only the restore feature added but two player functionality as well.  At that time ambassadors will be able to re-download the games for free to get the full experience making these current ones just a tide-me-over kind of deal.  I don’t know when the “true” versions will be available though (possibly not until next year) which is too bad.  In addition to these current titles, Nintendo plans on releasing 10 Gameboy Advance titles as well for ambassadors.  Unlike the NES games, these ones apparently won’t be available to new 3DS owners.  Wanna know what I think about the current games?  Read on:

Super Mario Bros. – What’s there to say about the classic Nintendo platformer that hasn’t already been said?  Well, for one it controls a little funky.  I don’t know if it’s the 3DS or just sloppy emulation but it feels off.  The display is also 4:3 which makes Mario and enemies seem tiny on the 16:9 format screen.  It’s playable, but not perfect.

Balloon Fight – This is a game that needs two-player and unfortunately, that’s not available at this time.  It’s a simple, fun title that I never played on the NES.  You flap around suspended from a pair of red balloons and pop the balloons of enemies, then take them out before they can refill their balloons.  Again though, the 3DS controls hinder the experience.  Flying requires rapid tapping of the B button which makes it hard to keep the 3DS steady and thus hard to follow.  It’s still fun, but not something I’ll be playing much.

Donkey Kong Jr. – Mario as a villain!  That’s one of the attractions of this re-working of the Donkey Kong formula.  Definitely old school, but a faithful port.  It’s not a game I was ever a huge fan of but I’m going to make an effort to give it some a chance.

The Legend of Zelda – Hey!  A real classic!  This one is another faithful port and one not hindered at all by the 3DS’s controls.  This old game holds up fairly well though younger gamers may find it too difficult.  I’d definitely welcome the save state feature but it’s not a killer here.

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link – Because one Zelda title is never enough.  Here’s a game that would benefit greatly from the save state feature.  The port is faithful, right down to the “I am error” guy, so if you like the original you’ll like this one.  I’m on record as stating I’ve never been real fond of this title.  It’s difficultly is due to the poor controls and Link has never felt worse to play as.  When the updated version gets released with save state I’ll make an honest effort to beat it.  No promises though!

Metroid – Link isn’t the only one celebrating an anniversary this year.  For some reason, Nintendo hasn’t said much about Samus’ milestone but whatever.  Metroid still plays well today, though it would be nice to replace the archaic password feature with the save state feature (I’m aware I must sound like a broken record at this point).  The only disappointment in regards to this title is that it likely means the re-make Zero Mission won’t be included as one of the GBA downloads.  The excellent Metroid Fusion will be though.  Even without the save state feature, this one is probably my favorite of the freebies.

Wrecking Crew – Here’s an obscure Mario game.  It’s kind of a puzzler where Mario tries to smash everything in the level without getting hit by a personified wrench thing.  I remember playing this as a kid, but not for any great length of time.  When I realized that it wasn’t anything like SMB I probably turned it off.  This is a game that works pretty well and isn’t hindered by any of the VC shortcomings, as a single player experience anyways.  A surprising little gem that will likely benefit from being a free release.

NES Open – An obscure golf game starring the Mario brothers.  If I hadn’t just spent the past month playing Let’s Golf 3D I probably would have been more interested in this one.  It’s just too old and unwieldy for me.  I doubt I’ll play much of this one.

Ice Climbers – This game is mostly pointless without 2-player support.  A good port of an old game.  Those who liked it as kids might get a kick out of it, but I have little use for it.

Yoshi – A puzzle game, though not a particularly endearing one.  It’s amusing for short bursts and I actually prefer it to Dr. Mario but it’s no Tetris.  By virtue of the fact that it’s a puzzler makes it very playable though and Father Time has been pretty kind to it.  I can see myself playing this one for a while when I’m bored with a 3DS in my hand.

So those are my impressions of the initial batch of Nintendo Ambassador games.  With more on the way there’s reason for optimism if you were an early adopter of the Nintendo 3DS.  The more modern GBA games will probably trump the NES ones and while it would have been cool to get a real classic like Super Mario Bros. 3, I’m not surprised Nintendo would want to hold that one back for a paid release (or a 3D remake).  At the very least, this gives me something to do until Star Fox drops later this month.

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