Ambassadors Get Advanced

Nintendo makes good on its promise with 10 free GBA games!

It was a few months ago when Nintendo decided to cut the price of their new 3DS system by nearly 100 bucks less than 6 months after the system’s debut.  To combat the anger they were sure to receive from early adopters, they offered 20 free games to current owners of the 3DS whom they dubbed “Ambassadors.”  The first 10 of those games were released in September and all were downloadable versions of old NES games.  I went over them here.  These 10 NES games are set for a release to the general public sometime in 2012 for a small fee but will include all of the usual Virtual Console features other old releases benefit from (right now, they’re pretty bare-boned).

It wasn't a big hit, but I still have my GBA Micro and consider it a neat little device.

This past Thursday, Nintendo delivered the rest of the games it promised.  These 10 games are all from the Gameboy Advance platform (well, one is a port of a Super Nintendo game) and as of right now, there are no plans to make any available to non-Ambassadors.  I’m not sure if that’s supposed to give me and other Ambassadors a sense of pride, but it seems stupid to spend the time to emulate these titles and then not release them.  Anyways, this latest round of releases is much better than the NES games.  The NES games were of varying quality and a few were obscure releases given a new chance to shine.  They’re okay time wasters, but few kept me coming back either because they were too simple for my taste or because I already played the Hell out of them decades ago.  About half of these Gameboy Advance games I had never played and thus my impressions are some-what incomplete as a result.  I was a day one purchaser of the Gameboy Advance and have actually owned all three styles (the original non-backlit device, the SP, and the Micro) but didn’t really take advantage of the console.  It came at an awkward time.  It was basically a powered-up Super Nintendo but developers were mostly still focusing on simple, Gameboy type games, or were making ports (even Nintendo was guilty of this as many of their initial releases were ports, sound familiar?) and had a hard time pulling me away from my Playstation 2.  Now that I’m a working man in a commuter’s world, I think I’ll get more out of these titles.  Enough with the overview, what are the titles you say?  They are:

F-Zero:  Maximum Velocity – A solid addition to Nintendo’s flagship racer.  Well, I suppose Mario Kart is the new flagship racer, but F-Zero is a more straight-forward game.  Known for high velocity and punishing difficulty, this one isn’t too bad.  It’s kind of like a portable version of the original SNES game in terms of tech  The 2D and small screen add a bit of extra challenge to an already difficult game.  I’m not a big race fan, or even a fan of this franchise, so I probably won’t dabble in it much.  Those that did like the original though will find few faults here.

Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 – This one is a direct port of the SNES game Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2.  In it, you play as Yoshi with the task of guiding baby Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom to safety.  Baby Mario is awful, this game will make you want to kill babies as any contact with an enemy causes Mario to wail and scream as he floats around in a bubble until Yoshi catches him or an enemy snatches him (causing you to lose).  Good news though, baby Mario is the game’s lone negative as the gameplay is a blast.  It’s a clever platform title and Yoshi’s new morphing abilities add some spice and variety to many levels.  The visual style is interesting (though it’s not as crisp as it was on the SNES) and suits the tone of the game well.  Unfortunately, the 2-player is useless for this port so a part of the game is missing to those experiencing it on their 3DS.  Still, if you missed this one on either the GBA or SNES now is a good time to experience it.

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror– Kirby, Nintendo’s small-screen star, arrived late

You may have missed this one when it came out in 2004, but it's a solid little title starring everyone's favorite pink puff thing.

on the GBA so this is a fitting port considering many gamers probably missed out.  Kirby is kind of Nintendo’s B mascot.  His games are usually pretty fun, and he adds different play mechanics than Mario, but rarely is one of his games heralded as anything special. Amazing Mirror kind of fits that bill as well.  It’s tried and true Kirby: he floats around, sucks up enemies, and copies their powers.  This time he has a bunch of clones that can be called upon to aid Kirby in his adventure, but they’re mostly a gimmick.  I will say, this one feels a little more challenging than typical Kirby games which is welcomed, and it’s good enough that I’ll play through it and finish it.

Mario VS Donkey Kong – This one’s title implies a far greater game than it really is (though I guess any of the old DK games could have bore that title) as this one is a puzzler.  Mario is once again the protagonist, and he has to get some mini Mario’s through each level to advance.  Apparently this has worked well for Nintendo as this game has spawned many sequels, all on their handheld systems.  I don’t see the appeal, but I’m not a big fan of puzzle games so this one isn’t for me.

WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgame$ – The original manic title that has spawned many similar sequels, WarioWare is an odd title that doesn’t sound very interesting on the surface but ends up being perfect for pick up and play gaming.  The game is a collection of mini, or micro, games that individually last less than 10 seconds each.  They’re usually really quirky like picking a nose and only involve a button press, but somehow it works.  They’re delivered in a rapid succession and after a dozen or so a “boss battle” commences that’s usually only slightly more advanced than what you were already playing.  This is a great title to have on the go, and the original is still the best (well, the Wii one was pretty good too so maybe it’s tied at worst).  Nintendo would be foolish to not release this one on the Virtual Console down the road, though I’m sure there’s a new one in development.

Wario Land 4– Wario, until very recently, basically took over the Super Mario Land

Visually, it gets the job done, but makes up for it with gameplay.

franchise in the mid to late 90’s with a sequence of games.  All were pretty good and received quite a bit of praise with Wario Land 3 perhaps representing the peak for the franchise.  Wario Land 4 is still pretty damn good.  Visually, it kind of lags behind some of the other games released here but it’s fun and differentiates itself enough from the other platformers put out by Nintendo.  Wario has moves unique to him that Mario or Yoshi do not possess like his shoulder tackle and ability to throw enemies like a baseball.  He also has a different feel as there’s no run button, making the transition from Mario to Wario feel kind of odd.  It has its own charms though, and this is another quality release.

Mario Kart Super Circuit – The handheld debut for Nintendo’s cash cow, Mario Kart Super Circuit was a welcomed release when it first debuted in 2001 though it has aged noticeably.  When it came out though, it was my favorite Mario Kart yet.  It’s kind of funny how time has chosen to view Mario Kart 64 with rose-tinted glasses, because at the time of its release it was kind of a disappointment.  Super Circuit better captured that manic feel of the original Super Mario Kart and returned all of the classic racers.  The only downside was the reduced tech which does affect how the karts handle.  This game also wasn’t as balanced as future installments, as the lighter vehicles have a distinct advantage over the heavy ones which is why seemingly everyone would use Toad or Yoshi and stay the Hell away from Bowser.  As an added bonus, the original tracks from Super Mario Kart are unlockable giving the player a lot of incentive to play through the single player mode, which is essential since this release won’t benefit from any 2-player mode.  Maybe that’s why Nintendo didn’t mind releasing this against the recently released Mario Kart 7, as Mario Kart without 2-player feels like only half a game.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones – For a long while, Fire Emblem was a franchise only enjoyed by Japanese gamers as Nintendo didn’t think it could be commercially viable in the States.  Thankfully, they had a change of heart when the GBA was released and The Sacred Stones was actually the second Fire Emblem release for the GBA.  Fire Emblem is a fantasy themed, strategy RPG that should be familiar to those who have played Advance Wars.  I prefer Fire Emblem to the Advance Wars franchise and this is a welcomed release as a VC title.  The gameplay is dense, and while it isn’t the best in its genre, it still proves quite rewarding.  Visually, it’s nothing special but since I never played this one I’m looking forward to spending time with it.  This should provide several hours of entertainment for me and other Ambassadors.

Metroid Fusion – Since release, this one has been retro-actively titled as Metroid 4 making it the most recent entry in the series from a story-line perspective.  Metroid Fusion takes the formula established by the original and refined for Super Metroid and points it in your hands.  For most fans of the Metroid series, the debate over which game is the best includes this one, Super Metroid, and the Metroid re-make also released on the GBA, Metroid: Zero Mission.  I’m partial to Super Metroid, but the fact that this one is even in the discussion is a good thing.  This is a great and challenging run n’ gun game with memorable boss battles and timely power-ups.  I still have this game on GBA so I almost didn’t download it but I figured, why not?  It’s a great game and if you missed this one years ago it may end up being your favorite of the 10 games released last week.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap– This one was a nice surprise.  I figured

Bright and colorful, this one is still a treat for the eyes.

since Nintendo has been selling us all on Zelda’s 25th anniversary that another Zelda title would get released, but I expected it would be the GBA remake of A Link to the Past.  The Minish Cap is a forgotten and overlooked entry in the Zelda franchise.  Stylistically, it resembles Wind Waker but plays like the classic top-down games.  Link has always had great success with Nintendo’s handhelds, and this title may be his best for any of them.  It’s not as gimmicky as the DS games, but more advanced than the Gameboy ones.  I would have easily paid 5 bucks to download this one, maybe more, and had been considering buying this for my GBA as recently as this summer (when the 3DS games kind of sucked).  I missed this one on the GBA, but it’s nice to know I won’t miss it this time around.

I consider it a great thing that Nintendo chose to reward the early 3DS adopters with free content.  I would have been disappointed initially at the price drop, knowing I could have just waited and not really missed out on anything, but that’s the price one accepts when buying new tech.  Often times, that tech is improved upon and made better, cheaper, or both not too far down the road.  In fact, I fully expect a new model 3DS will show up probably within the year that will have better battery life and a second circle pad.  If Nintendo had stopped with the 10 NES games it already released free, I would have been thankful for the gesture, but that’s all.  In truth, I’ve played very little of those games and they fall into the “nice to have” category.  These 10 GBA games though are games that I’m truly excited to have.  While I’ve already beaten or even owned some of them, there are others like Fire Emblem and The Minish Cap that I’m experiencing for the first time and am sure to spend dozens of hours on.  Nintendo, in my eyes, has more than made up for the difference in price between what I payed for my console and what current consumers are paying.  Not only am I getting some kick ass, free games, but I got to enjoy Ocarina of Time 3D during the summer and other freebies.  I’ve never been a Nintendo fanboy, but this is the kind of promotion that does create some brand loyalty.  Well done, Big N!

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