Tag Archives: capcom

DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.


DuckTales (1989)

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DuckTales (1989)

Licensed games are trash, or at least, that was the lesson the video rental store taught me as a child. Renting a video game on a Friday night was a special occasion in my house. Maybe a friend was sleeping over, or my parents wanted to rent a movie they didn’t really want me watching, so they got a video game to keep me occupied. The only thing that could ruin the evening, or rather the weekend, was renting a bad game so early on I learned what games to avoid. Usually, those games featured a licensed tie-in:  Roadrunner, Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, X-Men – all terrible games with attractive box art.

One consistent exception to that rule were the Disney games, especially the ones centered around the Disney Afternoon programming block. Recently released in a bundle for modern consoles (though sadly no portable devices), The Disney Afternoon Collection is a reminder of just how much better these games were than the usual licensed junk. Developed by Capcom, these were real games meant to entertain with their play mechanics. The games didn’t need the license, the license needed the games. And the cream of the crop was DuckTales, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989.

DuckTales was not the first of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it soon became the flagship series for the block. Featuring a great cast, stories adapted from the renowned works of Carl Barks, and the best animation on television by a mile, DuckTales was an easy hit and it’s a cartoon that holds up remarkably well today. It’s adventure themes are easily adaptable for a video game, so in some ways it should come as no surprise that the game matches, even exceeds, the quality of the program.

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In DuckTales, Scrooge’s adventures take him beyond Earth.

DuckTales is a pretty traditional game for its era. The player controls Scrooge, notably decked-out in his comic attire red coat instead of the blue from the show, who can run and jump his way through five stages collecting treasure as he attempts to recapture his lucky dime from the villainous Magica DeSpell and Flintheart Glomgold. Scrooge handles like a standard character from the era, with the notable distinction that he can’t simply stomp on the heads of his foes to defeat them. Instead he must utilize his cane. When standing next to certain objects, he can swing it like a golf club to knock objects into enemies or objects. Mostly though, he needs his cane to function like a pogo stick. Bouncing off the head of an enemy utilizing his cane in such a fashion is Scrooge’s primary method of dealing damage. It also helps to give his jump an extra boost allowing him to clear wide chasms or reach higher platforms.

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I think every side-scroller was required to have an ice stage.

It’s the pogo quality of Scrooge’s cane that lies at the heart of what makes DuckTales so much fun, even today. Also playing a role are the large, open, levels. There may only be five of them, but they’re much larger than your garden-variety Mario or Mega Man stage. Scrooge can roam around them in basically any direction, and all are loaded with secret chests and treasures for Scrooge to find. Amassing a fortune is part of the game, and the amount of cash a player finishes the game with affects the ending cinematic, a rarity for 1989. Scattered through-out the levels are also other characters from the show, including Scrooge’s nephews and Launchpad, who are able to help out in small ways.

The visuals and sound of DuckTales are also areas where the game performs well. Naturally, the game makes liberal use of a digitized sample of the DuckTales theme, though I never found myself tiring of it. The sound effects are pretty standard for Capcom games of the era and are probably more enjoyable today with the aid of nostalgia. The graphics, while good for the time, are probably just a little above average for the NES. Some of the enemy sprites and character models are quite fun and expressive, though the bosses sometimes leave something to be desired.

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Launchpad isn’t totally useless, but he also could be more helpful here.

Games for the NES are sometimes considered quite difficult by today’s standards, but DuckTales is a fairly forgiving title in this regard. While it lacks a password or continue system, the adjustable difficulty makes it pretty easy to taylor the game to one’s skill level without making it embarrassingly easy. Changing the difficulty largely affects how much damage Scrooge receives from enemies, which is a simple and fair way to measure difficulty. The game doesn’t throw anything odd at the player, or introduce a foreign play mechanic at any point (unlike say Battletoads which just throws a racing level at the player out of no where), and anyone who has played a decent amount of 8-bit platformers can probably find a way to finish the game. It’s not a long game, though the desire to find all of the hidden treasures and achieve the best ending help provide incentive to play the game again and again.

Mostly, DuckTales is a really fun action-adventure game for the NES. It’s the type of game I can play today and hope that younger generations are able to see what made the game so much fun in 1989. As I mentioned early in the post, DuckTales was recently re-released as part of a bundle of Disney Afternoon titles so you don’t need to have a working NES on-hand to play it, though that’s currently how I enjoy it. And this is a game still worth playing, even after all these years.


Forecasting the Eventual SNES Classic

snesWe’re now past Thanksgiving here in the US which means the holiday shopping season is already well underway. The recently released NES Classic continues to be a hot seller, perhaps the hottest of the season, though that seems to have more to do with product scarcity than true demand (after all, children by and large are not interested in a gaming device with 30 year old games on it). That said, no one would deny that even in limited quantities the NES Classic has been a commercial success for Nintendo, something that’s been hard to come by for the venerable game developer of late. Most analysts peg the NES Classic as being pretty cheap to manufacture, and the power under the hood is likely sufficient to support a comparable quantity of N64 games, so speculating on a potential SNES Classic seems like a waste of time:  it’s going to happen. And if we’re going to get an SNES Classic then immediately the mind next moves onto what games will Nintendo include on that collection?

The Super Nintendo has arguably the greatest library of games of any console ever released (not giving modern consoles credit for digital backwards compatibility, of course), so Nintendo has its work cut out for it when narrowing that library down to 30 titles. Why 30? Well, that’s what the NES Classic contains so might as well stick with it. This post is my prediction of what the SNES Classic will include, and isn’t a collection of games I would necessarily choose if given free reign to do so. In looking over the games of the NES Classic, it became rather obvious that Nintendo wanted to include as many Nintendo developed and published titles as possible, likely for licensing reasons. Also, games featuring licensed characters from outside gaming (Mickey Mouse, TMNT, etc.) weren’t included, so let’s assume the same will be true of the SNES Classic. I’m going to order this list by what titles I think are most likely to be included, starting with the most obvious. Before we get to that, let’s quick-hit a few games I think won’t be included, but probably should be.

Demon’s Crest – A spin-off of the Ghosts ‘N Goblins games, Demon’s Crest is a platform title with RPG elements, a genre almost always referred to as “unique” on a game-by-game basis even though it’s uncommon. The game is available on the virtual console, and if you never played it (and considering it was a late era release for the SNES you probably did not) you’d do well to check it out.

Fire Emblem:  Mystery of the Emblem – For many years, Fire Emblem was the series American audiences were left to wonder about. It was the rare Nintendo property kept in Japan, likely out of fear that American audiences wouldn’t enjoy the gameplay. Wrong! This one would have a shot of being included on the SNES Classic if it had been properly localized, but I’m guessing Nintendo won’t want to do that. It, or another Fire Emblem, is a virtual lock for the Super Famicom Classic though.

Mortal Kombat II – Mortal Kombat was a smash-hit in the arcades, and when it was released for consoles it was a huge hit for the Sega Genesis. That’s because Sega allowed Midway to include blood and gore as long as they put it behind a code. Nintendo did not, and when Mortal Kombat II came out they wisely reversed course. MKII was a huge hit, and while it hasn’t held up over the years as well as its chief rival Street Fighter, it feels like it should be included as it was just so oppressively popular. Nintendo has never had a great relationship though with the Mortal Kombat franchise, so it’s unlikely they see it as important enough to include.

Some other games I considered include TMNT IV: Turtles in Time but that won’t be included for licensing reasons. Sparkster was an awesome platform title and sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures, a Genesis exclusive. Mutant League Football, Shadowrun, and Harvest Moon are also deserving of consideration.

  1. 250px-super_mario_world_coverartSuper Mario World (Nintendo 1991) – The original pack-in title for the SNES and best Mario game to date, it’s a no-brainer. The more interesting thing to ponder is how will Nintendo pack the SNES Classic with Nintendo branded games as easily as they could the NES Classic since Mario, Link, and others had fewer outings on the SNES.
  2. yoshis_island_super_mario_world_2_box_artSuper Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo 1995) – I loved this game when it first came out, and for awhile after. More recently, I’ve found it hard to get into as a lot of the gameplay frustrates me. Not to mention the audio. Still, it will be included and it remains Yoshi’s best solo adventure.
  3. smkSuper Mario Kart (Nintendo 1992) – Arguably Nintendo’s most reliable franchise today, it seems every Nintendo console since has had at least one Mario Kart game. The only one that did not was the ill-fated Virtual Boy. For awhile, the original game was my favorite of the series. Those who grew up with its sequel on the N64 as their gateway of the series are probably surprised to hear that most people felt it was inferior to the SNES game when it first came out. It’s no longer the best, but it’s still playable and the battle mode is still a lot of fun.
  4. attpThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo 1992) – The best game of the series, and perhaps the best game ever? I suppose I could have said the same of Super Mario World, and I could say that about more SNES titles which further illustrates how awesome the system was. This game will be included, and it will be enjoyed by any who purchase it.
  5. 250px-star_fox_snesStar Fox (Nintendo 1993) – Nintendo’s flashy on-rails shooter, the Super FX powered Star Fox was a pretty big deal at the time, even if it’s one of Nintendo’s lesser franchises these days. The game was so good that Nintendo has essentially remade and released it several times with minor alterations. It’s probably too much to ask for Nintendo to include the never released Star Fox 2 on this set.
  6. 250px-smetroidboxSuper Metroid (Nintendo 1994) – If any of the games on the NES Classic had a “Super” version on the SNES, then it’s probably fair to assume they’ll make it to the SNES Classic. Not that Super Metroid needs to be included for that reason, it needs to be included because it too has a claim to greatest game ever made. It was very influential, especially for the Castlevania series, and the only downside to including it is that it might make people a little depressed when they think about how the franchise is treated by Nintendo today.
  7. kss_boxartKirby Super Star (Nintendo 1996) – Another late arrival for the SNES, Kirby Super Star takes what was good about the NES game and multiplies it tenfold. Easily Kirby’s best game, Super Star is a bit of a forgotten gem on the SNES and holds up quite well. It also features some fun 2-player action so be prepared to have to hunt down an additional controller.
  8. snes_f-zero_boxartF-Zero (Nintendo 1991) – Nintendo kind of ignored the racing genre with the NES, so it’s not surprising they rectified that with the SNES. Racing games were one of those genres that really benefitted with the move to the SNES as the hardware could finally keep up with the speed needed to make these type of games as fun as they could be. F-Zero was a flashy title with its futuristic visuals and also plenty difficult. Not one of my favorites, but I’d be shocked if it was left out.
  9. pilotwings_boxPilotwings (Nintendo 1991) – Pilotwings was kind of the debut of the Nintendo developed tech demo released with all of their future console launches to show off the new console’s capabilities. It was to the SNES what Wii Sports was to the Wii. It’s basically a collection of mini games, and personally I remember all of my friends looking down on this title. I haven’t played it in years so I can’t say if I’d enjoy it more now, but since Nintendo developed it they’ll likely include it on the SNES Classic.
  10. dkc_snes_boxartDonkey Kong Country (Nintendo 1994) – The title that reinvented and brought modern relevance to the Donkey Kong character, Donkey Kong Country was a visual wonder when it was first released and an instant hit. Some people love this franchise more than the 2D Mario one. I’m not one of them, but there’s no way Nintendo doesn’t include this one.
  11. 250px-dk_country_2Donkey Kong Country 2 (Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo had three main series Mario games to help pad the NES Classic, chances are they’ll look to DK to help do the same for the SNES Classic. Some think this one is the best of the SNES trilogy of DKC games, I have no real opinion on the matter as I don’t remember even playing this one.
  12. 250px-dkc3_snes_boxartDonkey Kong Country 3 (Nintendo 1996) – This game arrived really late for the SNES, though if memory serves it still sold all right. This one might not make the SNES Classic, it’s certainly the least likely of the three, but since Nintendo wants to put as many of their games on the system as possible it feels like a safe assumption to include it here.
  13. superpunchoutboxSuper Punch-Out!! (Nintendo 1994) – Punch-Out!! was immensely popular for the NES, Super Punch-Out!! was less so for the SNES. It wasn’t bad by any means, and it felt more like the arcade version of the original, but aside from a visual upgrade it didn’t really feel much improved. I think part of that was the new perspective of being behind Little Mac made him feel like more of an equal to his opponents as opposed to being a diminutive underdog.
  14. 2363827-snes_finalfantasyiiFinal Fantasy II (Square 1991) – Now we’re into the non-Nintendo games, and this is actually where the list really begins for me as far as ordering by most likely. The first 13 could be ordered however you want, aside from maybe DKC3, they’re all going to be included for sure. The SNES was the console where the JRPG really took off, and it’s kind of where Final Fantasy was truly born (at least in the West). Final Fantasy III is the better game, but for some reason I suspect that II is more likely to be included if only one is.
  15. chrono_triggerChrono Trigger (Square 1995) – Another one of those “best ever” contenders, Chrono Trigger is as beloved as any game in the Final Fantasy series, even if it never took off as a franchise on its own. The only thing that would keep it from being included is if Square-Enix wants to be protective of how often they re-release the game. Or if they want too much money in the form of royalties, which could be a problem since they made a lot of awesome SNES games…
  16. 250px-secret_of_mana_boxSecret of Mana (Square 1993) – …like Secret of Mana! Lazily referred to as a Zelda clone, Secret of Mana is a delightful action RPG and the type of game Square-Enix has seemingly forgotten how to make. The sequel was also excellent, but never released outside of Japan. Following that though, virtually every other game in the series has been a shallow hack n’ slash and a major disappointment. Thankfully, this one holds up so well we really don’t need another (though Square-Enix really should just finally localize the damn sequel for some kind of release).
  17. 250px-super-bomberman-box-art-snes-palSuper Bomberman (Hudson Soft 1993) – The ultimate party game for the SNES, Super Bomberman was probably my most rented title for sleepovers and such as the four-player mode rocked. If Nintendo does include this title, and it should, it needs to make sure the SNES Classic can handle four-players, even if it means messing with the aesthetics of the system by including four controller ports on the front.
  18. 35805c88363c1f2ef17b39288c11676f-650-80Street Fighter II (Capcom 1992)- Capcom’s fighting game is almost certain to make an appearance, it’s just a question of what version. They should probably just go with Super Street Fighter II, but maybe they think the importance of the original makes it the more worthy title.
  19. mega_man_x_coverartMega Man X (Capcom 1993) – Mega Man was huge for the NES, so he’ll be included on the SNES Classic even if he played a lesser role for the console. His one main entry, Mega Man 7, is regarded as one of the worst in the series so Capcom will probably push for Mega Man X, and it should. Mega Man X was what the character needed to remain relevant and remains an excellent Mega Man game to this day.
  20. super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_artSuper Castlevania IV (Konami 1991) – another NES tentpole franchise, Castlevania would see its stock plummet in the 16 bit era, even though Super Castlevania was an excellent game. It’s one of the last traditional Castlevania titles as Symphony of the Night would soon follow with its Metroidvania gameplay becoming the preferred style of future titles in the series.
  21. supermariorpgsnescoverartusSuper Mario RPG (Nintendo/Square 1996) – could Mario do RPGs as well as he could platformers? If Square is handling most of the game design, then yeah of course he can! Super Mario RPG was a surprise hit and remains a fun game to this day. In a way, it might be more likely to appear on this collection than the Final Fantasy games as at least Nintendo shares publishing rights with Square-Enix on this one.
  22. contra_iii_game_coverContra III (Konami 1992) – Probably the last relevant title in the Contra series, Contra III was more of the same which is what people were happy to have at the time. Being a sequel to an NES Classic game is what guarantees it a spot here.
  23. 1130115-snessimcityfSim City (Nintendo 1991) – Another Nintendo published title but with the royalties a little messy compared to a Mario or Zelda game. Sim City was another surprise hit in that there was skepticism the city builder simulation would find an audience on a home console. It did and it did well with its success leading to other sim games being released for the SNES, including “classics” like Sim Ant…
  24. 2363896-snes_killerinstinct_3Killer Instinct (Midway/Rareware/Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo, and Rare’s, answer to Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct was a perfectly acceptable fighter for the era. Rare, and now Microsoft, hold the publishing rights for the franchise and I don’t know how that affects the original game’s inclusion. If Nintendo needs to only split royalties with Microsoft/Rare then I think it will be included. Anything more and it probably won’t be.
  25. earthbound_boxEarthbound (Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo’s answer to Dragon Quest, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 outside the US) has never been real popular with Nintendo. It’s the only title in the series to be released outside Japan even though Nintendo fans seem to adore it for its quirky humor and real world setting. It’s a game that has amassed a cult following over the years, though personally I don’t think it’s one that really lives up to the reputation. It’s a Nintendo game though, so it will most likely find a way onto the SNES Classic.
  26. 510ahyhdidl-_sx300_Final Fantasy III (Square 1994) – You know it, I know it, and I bet even Nintendo knows that this game should definitely be included among the top SNES games released. Will it make it to the SNES Classic though is a harder question. If Final Fantasy II does, then it may not, even though it seems ludicrous to split those two games up.
  27. 250px-tetris_attack_box_artTetris Attack (Nintendo 1996) – Many have tried to improve upon the formula of Tetris, and few have succeeded. Tetris Attack found a way with a competitive two-player mode that’s a blast to play. It’s been ripped off for other puzzle games like Puzzle Fighter and Pokemon Puzzle League. And thankfully there’s no Super Dr. Mario to bump this one from the collection.
  28. actraiser_coverartActraiser (Enix 1991) – A legitimately unique game that combines the sim elements of a world builder with the action RPG gaming of Castlevania, Demon’s Crest, and so forth. Few games have tried to do what Actraiser did (Dark Cloud being the only one I can recall off the top of my head) and even though it wasn’t an immensely popular title, it feels like one that received its due in the years since so if Nintendo leaves it out I’d actually be pretty surprised.
  29. 2364727-snes_zombiesatemyneighborsZombies Ate My Neighbors (Konami 1993) – This game was so thematically outrageous at the time that it couldn’t be ignored. People remember it, even though it never turned into a bankable franchise or anything (though zombies in general certainly have). It’s extremely memorable as a Super Nintendo game, so much so that it seems like Nintendo won’t be able to ignore it.
  30. 250px-the_legend_of_the_mystical_ninja_coverartThe Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami 1992) – Our last title is from a franchise that was far more popular in Japan than the US, but worth including. The co-op play was some of the best on the system. I never owned the game, but I remember renting it multiple times as it was a lot of fun to have around when friends were over for the night.

So there you have it, my prediction of what Nintendo will do for the eventual SNES Classic. In addition to the games, hopefully Nintendo smartens up and doesn’t pull the intentional scarcity card again. It would also be nice to see Nintendo correct some of the issues the NES Classic has such as the lack of expandable software and absurdly short controller cords. My guess is that the NES Classic isn’t natively able to add additional games so that Nintendo doesn’t cut into its own Virtual Console market, but that just seems like a bad move on their part. If the NES Classic continues to sell as well as it has been then I suppose Nintendo will have no reason to change anything. And even though I feel pretty good about this list of games as a prediction, it still feels like Nintendo will try to cram more of their own games into the console than what I’ve included. I’ll put it on record though, if they include Mario is Missing then I’m not buying the damn thing.


The Games of the NES Classic

nes_classic_retro_blast_splashIf you’re into video games then you have probably heard by now about the NES Classic, the plug and play gaming device that resembles a mini Nintendo Entertainment System. You’ve also probably heard about how Nintendo shipped a minuscule amount of the units for the system’s launch date and now it’s impossible to find at retail. It’s a cute product that’s going to be popular due to the nostalgia factor and low price ($60), but if properly stocked it’s probably not flying off the shelves in mass quantities like the current shortage would indicate. It’s a particularly great device for those who do not still own, or never owned, an actual NES and want to get a retro gaming fix. The NES Classic comes pre-loaded with 30 games and each one has four save state slots making hard to beat classics like Zelda II that much more manageable.

This isn’t a post about the NES Classic on the whole though. If you want my opinion on it, it’s definitely a neat little device worthy of your hard-earned sixty dollars. It’s definitely not worth six times that amount which is what some people are paying on the secondary market right now for one. And I also expect the console will be re-stocked in the coming weeks in greater numbers, so if you want one just be patient. The only real knocks against the device are the much maligned short controller wires and the lack of a way to add to the game’s library. Which brings me to the topic of this post:  the 30 pre-loaded games of the NES Classic.

There were over 500 titles released for the NES. That number rises if you include Famicom games never released outside of Japan. A lot of those games are forgettable and not worth anyone’s time in the year 2016, but there’s enough quality on that console to make even narrowing things down to thirty a difficult endeavor. And when it comes to crafting that list, what takes precedent? The games the system was known for? The ones that were the most revolutionary? The ones that sold the most? There’s also a financial and legal component as well. Nintendo could load the thing with thirty games it self-published to save money on royalties, but then you would be missing out on the classics released by Konami, Capcom, and others. And if you want to include a Konami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, well then you have to compensate Nickelodeon who holds the rights to TMNT in 2016. Obviously, that makes things messy and Nintendo had a lot of factors to weigh when selecting these thirty games. I’m not going to hold myself to those standards though as I’m going to rank all thirty for you, and where I deem it necessary, suggest an alternate title that should have been included instead. Let’s start with number 30:

250px-iceclimberboxartnes30. Ice Climber (Nintendo 1985) – Most probably know Ice Climber as that weird double-character controlled by a single player in the Super Smash Bros. series. Older folks remember it as an NES launch title that the unlucky ones received instead of one of the better games. Ice Climber represents the early, primitive NES games that were little more than better looking Atari 2600 games. Some of these games were worthwhile because they first existed in the arcade and were just now getting home versions on par with those arcade originals. Ice Climber is not one of those games though, but it costs Nintendo nothing to include it here. As a title for the NES Classic, the only thing it has going for it is that it features 2-player simultaneous play.

What Nintendo Should have included:  Blades of Steel, Konami’s excellent hockey game that was mostly known for its fighting mini-games ahead of its hockey. It features an ice element and simultaneous play for 2 players, and the simple game of hockey can be enjoyed by anyone when experiencing it via video games. If Nintendo wanted to stick with an ice motif but save money, they could have just gone with their own Ice Hockey, also a very good game.

220px-balloonfightnesboxart29. Balloon Fight (Nintendo 1986) – Another early Nintendo game, this one first appeared in arcades before making it home. It’s slightly more interesting than Ice Climber, but isn’t a game you will have much interest in returning to over and over. It’s been re-released a ton over the years, and including it here is just overkill.

What Nintendo Should have included:  Battle Toads, the relentlessly difficult brawler featuring TMNT knock-offs Rash and Zits (gross). With save states, the game might actually be beatable, though Turbo Tunnel would still be a nightmare.

mariobrothers28. Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1983) – Super Mario Bros. is the game most synonymous with the NES, the original Mario Bros. is not. If you had a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 (and you probably did) then you experienced all you needed to from this game. It was never a popular NES title and Nintendo is basically only including it because it has Mario in the title.

What Nintendo should have included:  DuckTales, one of the best platforming games released for the NES. There’s really not much debating that, and it’s likely not featured on this set because of licensing costs, or because Nintendo wants to save a few games for a second edition of the NES Classic.

1881188-578616_35495_front27. Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo 1982) – Donkey Kong Jr is another arcade classic (I’m using that term liberally here) that was never really all that popular on the NES, but Nintendo obviously felt the old arcade games needed (significant) representation on the NES Classic. Donkey Kong Jr. is most notable for putting Mario in the role of villain as the player takes control of Kid Kong and tries to save his old man, I mean, ape. It’s fine, but lack replay value outside of just shooting for a high score isn’t much of a home console experience.

What Nintendo should have included:  Bucky O’Hare, Konami’s unofficial take on the Mega Man franchise. My love affair with Bucky has been fairly well documented on this blog, but my opinion is not clouded by that affection. Bucky O’Hare is an awesome game, and I can’t imagine it would have cost Nintendo much of anything to include it.

nes_galaga_box_europe26. Galaga (Namco 1981) – a slightly younger generation maybe familiar with Galaga not as an arcade classic, but as a popular loading screen diversion of Playstation era Namco games. Galaga is another arcade great that never had much of a life on the NES. Tastes had moved on, and Galaga really doesn’t need to be included in a set of great NES games.

What Nintendo should have included:  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is what was most representative of the arcade scene when the NES was popular and would have made for a much better option within this set.

pac-man-box-art-front25. Pac-Man (Namco 1980) – Pac-Man was Mario before Mario. Unlike a lot of the other games on this list so far, there actually was some appetite for an arcade perfect version of Pac-Man on the NES. It’s a game almost everyone is familiar with, but still not really one that people are clamoring to play.

What Nintendo should have included:  Dragon Warrior II, or Dragon Quest II for you purists. It’s the classic RPG series that started it all, and not including at least one title from the series is pretty lame.

donkey_kong_throwing_barrels_on_mario24. Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) – Donkey Kong, like Pac-Man, is another game that consumers did have some appetite for when the NES made it to retail. And since DK is one of Nintendo’s most popular characters, it’s not surprising that he’s included. Still, there’s a lot of arcade games on this set, too many if you ask me.

What Nintendo should have included: How about Faxanadu, a relatively obscure game that still holds up really well. A device like the NES Classic should in part be utilized to give new life to games that were overlooked.

tecmobowlfront23. Tecmo Bowl (Tecmo 1987) – More known for how game-breaking Bo Jackson was, Tecmo Bowl was the first great football game of its kind. It’s pretty dated at this point, but is a top 50 NES title, and for diehard sports fans, probably a top 30 one too.

What Nintendo should have included: You could argue a game like Double Dribble has held up better than Tecmo Bowl, but for the most part, I have no issues with Nintendo including it here.

250px-ff1_usa_boxart22. Final Fantasy (Square 1987) – Few franchises are as synonymous with gaming as Final Fantasy. The first title is also known as the game that saved Square, now Square-Enix, hence why it was called Final Fantasy since there was a very real chance it was the publisher’s final title. It was a Dragon Quest clone that did a few interesting things on its own, but played today it’s quite clear that Father Time has not taken a liking to it. Only the truly dedicated NES Classic owners will see this title to the end.

What Nintendo should have included: I already mentioned Dragon Quest II, and this set doesn’t need another Dragon Quest title. Final Fantasy is pretty important, so it’s place is earned based on that, though if some people think it should have been passed over I won’t argue.

dr-_mario_box_art21. Dr. Mario (Nintendo 1990) – One of the first examples of Nintendo realizing it could just slap Mario on anything and boost sales, Dr. Mario is a Tetris clone that does enough to separate itself from its predecessor, but not enough to better it.

What Nintendo should have included: Tetris! Duh!

250px-excitebike_cover20. Excitebike (Nintendo 1984) – Excitebike has been re-released so many times it hardly seems worth talking about anymore, let alone including it here. It’s an okay racing game, and the level editor was pretty cool, but dated by today’s standards. It’s not the best racer on the NES though, and if Nintendo was only going to include one racing game on the NES Classic it picked the wrong one.

What Nintendo should have included: R.C. Pro-Am, another Nintendo published title though one that was developed by Rare. It holds up as one of the best racing games for the system, and likely wouldn’t have affected Nintendo’s bottomline to include it.

4ca050f712700fd48cb4957af38a315219. Gradius (Konami, 1985) – Gradius is a classic on-rails shooter by Konami known for its difficulty. The on-rails shooter genre has actually aged really well, because there isn’t really much better technology can do for it aside from make it look better. So from that standpoint, it holds up.

What Nintendo should have included: I’m not really an on-rails shooter fan, and it feels like River City Ransom should have been included somewhere on this set, doesn’t it?

250px-zelda_ii_the_adventure_of_link_box18. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo 1987) – I’ve talked about this one a lot already, but to keep things short, I appreciate that Zelda II tries something different but the execution was lackluster. I rank it as high as a I do here because the longer gameplay experience offered by it will likely feel pretty rewarding among these other games. And the save state feature will make it a lot easier for players to actually beat the game.

What Nintendo should have included:  If you love Gradius, then kick this one out for River City Ransom. Otherwise, I really don’t see an issue with Nintendo including Zelda II.

nes_double_dragon_ii_packaging_front17. Double Dragon II (Acclaim 1989) – The arcade beat-em-up most synonymous with the NES. It was a good debate over which was superior, Double Dragon II or TMNT II, but both were fun games, particularly for two-players. Double Dragon II is also miles ahead of the original so good call by Nintendo for being able to recognize that including it over the original was the right move.

What Nintendo should have included:  Nothing, Double Dragon II belongs as the only knock against it is that the NES version wasn’t as good as the arcade one.

castlevania_ii_simons_quest16. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (Konami 1987) – The sequel to the smash-hit original, Castlevania II, like Zelda II, is known mostly for its big shift in gameplay. Simon Belmont still handles the same way, but the RPG mechanics make for a vastly different experience. Some people loved it, some people hated it, everyone was frustrated by it’s cryptic puzzles. That last part isn’t really an issue today thanks to the wonderful invention known as the internet, making this game actually more playable now than it was in 1987.

What Nintendo should have included: You could argue that Castlevania III is the better game, and I wouldn’t disagree, but it’s also really similar to the original Castlevania which is also included on this set. For that reason, I like Castlevania II being on here over that. If you think one Castlevania title is enough, then maybe Nintendo should have raided Konami’s library and selected Jackal in its place.

bubble-bobble-usa15. Bubble Bobble (Taito 1986) – A simple, but challenging, two-player experience is how I remember Bubble Bobble. It strangely holds up really well, and its timeless gameplay plus two-player simultaneous play makes for a worthy selection.

What Nintendo should have included:  I have an admitted soft spot for this title, and I’m not sure why. Naturally, I don’t see a reason to kick it out of the NES Classic.

2362264-nes_superc14. Super C (Konami 1988) – Also known as Super Contra, it’s the sequel to Contra and features the same basic run n’ gun gameplay. For whatever reason, no one seems to remember this game even though the first Contra was mega popular. As an aside, it’s pretty amazing how many Konami games made this release.

What Nintendo should have included:  Contra, obviously. I’m pretty sure everyone who picks up the NES Classic will wonder why Super C was included instead.

86c02e32ef3ea0deaa4bca99502e95ed13. Super Mario Bros (Nintendo 1985) – Obviously, this one was going to be included because it’s probably the most important game that Nintendo ever released, and it could be considered the most important and famous game of all time.

What Nintendo should have included:  All that being said, am I the only one who is just really sick of this game? I have no desire to play it again and would have preferred The Lost Levels for the simple reason that I’m less familiar with it.

ghosts-n-goblins-nes-box-art12. Ghosts ‘N Goblins (Capcom 1986) – Finally, a Capcom game! It surprised me how many Konami games made this release vs Capcom as I always viewed the two as equal during the NES days. Ghosts ‘N Goblins was a hard, but fun, game and gamers will really appreciate the save states on the NES Classic when they tackle this one. It’s another run n’ gun styled game, a genre that has held up really well.

What Nintendo should have included:  Nothing, this one belongs, as do all of the rest of the games to follow thus eliminating the need for this postscript on each release.

250px-castlevania_nes_box_art11. Castlevania (Konami 1986) – A no doubt classic. I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, right? It’s hard, but fair (mostly), and it’s style of play is still rewarding today. None of the NES sequels really did enough to warrant consideration over it either (and Nintendo included Castlevania II anyways) making this selection completely warranted.

 

metroid_boxart10. Metroid (Nintendo 1986) – It’s a good thing games were so expensive in the 80s, otherwise how would anyone have gotten anything done in ’86 and ’87 with so many killer releases on the NES? Metroid is a bit of a tough one to rank as it hasn’t aged too well, but the game’s mood is still so captivatingly barren and lonesome that I find it charming even today. Obviously, future games in the series were able to vastly improve upon the original formula, but since none of them were NES games it makes Metroid’s inclusion a no-(mother)brainer.

250px-kirbys_adventure_coverart9. Kirby’s Adventure (Nintendo 1993) – Kirby is a character who peaked early. Kirby’s Adventure, only his second outing, is probably second only to his outing on the SNES among all of the Kirby games. Kirby’s Adventure is a great inclusion here because not only is it a fun and unique platformer, but it was also a late release for the NES when a lot of gamers had moved onto the Genesis and SNES. The NES Classic gives those gamers who missed it the first time a second chance to experience it.

kid_icarus_nes_box_art8. Kid Icarus (Nintendo 1986) – Poor Pit has been mistreated for years by Nintendo, but at least he gets to be among the 3o games on the NES Classic. His original outing was a difficult platforming/RPG hybrid that may be more appreciated today than it was in 1986. The controls aren’t the best, but they work, and the save state feature gives this one new life. Since it is so often cited as a forgotten Nintendo classic it has probably ceased to be one, but many gamers will probably still get their first taste of Kid Icarus with this set.

220px-punch-out_mrdream_boxart7. Punch-Out!! (Nintendo 1990) – Obviously, this is the version featuring Mr. Dream and not Mike Tyson. It’s the same game though, and while one could argue that this one has been re-released too much, it’s harder still to argue it’s not one of the most fun games released for the NES. It’s timing based gameplay also means it’s held up well in the age department. It’s challenge has always been fair and rewarding, though people will still probably abuse save states to beat it.

250px-super_mario_bros_26. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo 1988) – Ever notice how no one, and I mean no one, ever acknowledges the box art’s Mario Madness subtitle? What was that even supposed to mean? Anyways, you probably know all about Super Mario Bros. 2’s odd path to release, so I won’t bore you here. It’s a great game, even if it’s very different from its predecessor, and Nintendo wasn’t going to exclude it from this release.

 

250px-startropics_box5. StarTropics (Nintendo 1990) – StarTropics is an often overlooked game from the NES era that feels like the spiritual sequel to Zelda, since Zelda II felt so different. It improves on the original Legend of Zelda in some ways, and it’s use of contemporary items as weapons definitely feels a lot like Earthbound. It’s a really good game, and one you probably haven’t played, so go ahead and play this one first. You have my permission. Just be warned that you will need to consult the internet to make it through one particular part.

ninja_gaiden_nes4. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo 1990) – Few characters on the NES are as fun to control as Ryu Hayabusa. It’s just too bad the world around our badass ninja Ryu makes him feel not so badass since everything can kill him. Ninja Gaiden is a brutal game, but it still manages to be a fun one. Some of the stuff it does seems unfair, but it always manages to bring gamers back after some rage-induced quiting. Just remember, the chord on that NES Classic controller is really short before you throw it.

250px-megaman2_box3. Mega Man 2 (Capcom 1988) – Naturally, you can’t have a collection of thirty of the best NES games ever created and not include Mega Man. And if Nintendo was limiting itself to just one Mega Man, then Mega Man 2 is probably the best option. Yeah, future games introduced elements like the slide and Rush, but Mega Man 2 is iconic for its boss selection, music, and stage setup. It’s considered the best in the franchise by many still to this day. The only real argument is why did Nintendo include one Mega Man game but two Castlevania titles? The easy answer is that Simon’s Quest is pretty different from its predecessor, while all of the Mega Man games are very similar. It still feels odd, though.

legend_of_zelda_cover_with_cartridge_gold2. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 1986) – It’s The Legend of Zelda.

 

Okay, and it’s a great game. Really though, there isn’t a whole lot more I can say about this one. If you’ve never played it because you were born after A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or even later, then go back and play the original. Once you get accustomed to the visuals (which were never considered good, to be honest) you’ll likely find that the core Zelda gameplay is present here and it’s captivating even at its most primitive.

 

250px-super_mario_bros-_3_coverart-21.Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo 1990) – Super Mario Bros. 3 is among the greatest games ever made, and it’s the best game on the NES, so obviously it was going to be included. There’s no argument against it, other than maybe that everyone has already played it before. The only negative thing I can even say about it is that Mario has brown sideburns but a black mustache on the box art, which makes no sense. Then again, Nintendo really hasn’t mined the Mario back catalogue like it has some other games so it really doesn’t feel exploited. I may have suggested playing StarTropics first, but come on, you’ll play this one first. Just about everyone will.


Demon’s Crest

Demon's Crest (1994)

Demon’s Crest (1994)

There is something about the 16bit era of gaming that I just find inherently charming. This is the era where games started to grow up, tell complex stories, but without losing site of what makes games fun. The visuals, music, sound effects, pacing – it was like gaming nirvana. That’s not to say it’s been all downhill since; far from it, actually, but I always enjoy going back to these games. And when I can find a good, quality game from that era that I’ve never played? Well, that’s just divine.

Demon’s Crest is one such game. Released by Capcom late in the Super Nintendo’s life-cycle, Demon’s Crest has garnered a reputation as a cult classic. Because of its late arrival, few people actually picked up a copy and experienced it in 1994. The Gargoyle franchise also has never been one of great importance for Capcom. For those unaware, Demon’s Crest is the third game in the Gargoyle trilogy which started on the GameBoy. The main character of these games, Firebrand, is that annoying red, flying enemy from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins games thrust into a starring role. The storyline for these games isn’t all that interesting or important, but credit Capcom for spinning off a seemingly random enemy into its own franchise. Since the end of the 16bit era and the dawn of the retro era, Demon’s Crest has become one of those handful of SNES carts that fetches over 100 bucks routinely on the secondary market. Thankfully, the Virtual Console exists so these games can be experienced by anyone with a Wii/Wii U console and a game like Demon’s Crest can get the recognition it deserves.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Demon’s Crest is essentially a side-scrolling platform game, but it’s a hybrid title in that it incorporates elements from the run and gun genre and the RPG. As Firebrand, the player explores various stages from the ground, in the air, and underwater. At the start, Firebrand can shoot a fireball as his lone attack, cling to walls, and fly through the air. The flying mechanic is neat and doesn’t feel cheap, as it often does in many games like Super Mario Bros. 3. By pressing the jump button while in air, Firebrand deploys his wings and can hover indefinitely. He can move side-to-side but cannot gain altitude (a power-up later in the game allows him to ascend in the air from a flying position). He can still attack, and pressing the jump button again causes him to drop and re-pressing the button at anytime while falling will initiate the process all over again.

After the first level is completed, the player gains access to a world map not unlike what is seen in the Final Fantasy titles from that era. Firebrand can fly to any stage from here and the game can essentially be completed at any point, though playing thru every stage multiple times is encouraged to collect power-ups and explore every nook and cranny. Firebrand is on a quest to recover various crests, each one grants him a new power. The earth crest, the only one that basically can’t be missed, removes Firebrands wings but gives him access to a dash move and a ground-hugging projectile. The water crest lets Firebrand breath underwater, the air crest lets him fly freely, and the best crests are basically a jack-of-all trades kind of power. Additional projectile attacks for Firebrand’s normal form can also be found, along with other power-ups, bottles for storing potions, and vellum for spells. The goal is to conquer the enemy Phalanx, but the secondary goal is to collect everything and get the best ending plus additional content in the form of power-ups and additional boss battles.

Some of the game's bosses dominate the screen.

Some of the game’s bosses dominate the screen.

At first, the game seems like it’s going to be massive, but it can be completed in an afternoon, especially if you’re not after the best, ultimate, ending. There’s an element of trial and error at play, as the game intends for the player to acquire new powers to advance past certain spots. The game is forgiving in this regard as it grants unlimited continues and you can always quit to the map if a scenario seems too difficult. The levels are not simply “go right” kind of levels. They encourage exploration in all directions, and additional gargoyle powers will open up new sections so re-playing levels is practically essential to completing the game. Uncovering new powers is addicting and fulfilling and I was always eager to try out each new one I found.

Acquiring these new special abilities make the game easier, which is welcomed since the game is fairly challenging. No, Demon’s Crest is not among the most difficult of games to grace the SNES (like the title it’s spun-off from) but it isn’t a breeze. Most of the early challenge involves getting used to Firebrand’s controls. He handles easy enough, but the mind needs to be trained in order to best utilize the hover/flying ability. There are usually numerous enemies at ground level and in the air to contend with, and learning to dodge is the best way to succeed. The game is also fairly cryptic in that it doesn’t explicitly tell you what your new powers are capable of. As a result, the player has to experiment a little which may lead to some deaths here and there, but it’s not too bad. The game is fairly generous with restorative items and the in-game currency allows the player to stockpile health potions and the like. There are also some mini games to spend time on, though nothing exciting. The boss fights are usually a test to figure out what the best approach/power to use is. Some boss fights will seem impossible without the right ability, but once found, they’re a piece of cake. The hardest bosses are a challenge no matter what. They’re not controller-tossing hard, but will offer a nice test for the player.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

The music in the game is heavily reminiscent of other gothic-inspired titles, most notably Castlevania. It’s tempo is slower and Demon’s Crest finds it’s own sound. It’s not on Castlevania’s level, but it’s very enjoyable. As a later era SNES title, the game is pretty nice to look at. Firebrand is nice and big without dominating the screen. Many of the boss characters have a lot of personality or take up the entire height of the screen. The regular enemies, the canon fodder, are a little boring though and the game gets bogged down at times when a lot is going on. Sometimes the slowdown is actually helpful, but it is a weak point of the game. The controls are quite good, but there’s some missed opportunities to be found here. The shoulder buttons are not utilized when they could have at least been devoted to cycling thru Firebrand’s gargoyle forms. It gets tiresome having to constantly pause the game to switch relics, and many boss encounters require this very thing. The spells available to Firebrand are also fairly useless, and the only potion worth spending money on is the best one which restores all of Firebrand’s health.

When it comes to old games, I always prefer to experience them as they were intended: on their original console. When that is not possible (or in this case, too expensive), the Virtual Console is more than adequate. I played the game exclusively on the Wii U Gamepad utilizing the Gamepad’s screen instead of a television. The game plays just fine, and the ability to save is definitely welcomed. The original cart only provides a password save functionality, and while the game isn’t terribly long, it’s one I chose to experience in one or two hour at most sessions. It probably took me around six hours to finish the game, with some additional time spent after the fact going back and finding the items I missed to tackle the secret boss. This strikes me as being a pretty average game for the era in terms of length making it comparable to Super Metroid and Super Mario World.

Demon’s Crest is an excellent example of a forgotten classic. It’s probably not a top 10 game on the SNES, but that’s only because the SNES has arguably the greatest library of games of any console. Demon’s Crest is a unique blend of several genres, and its setting and style help set it apart from many of its contemporaries. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, I can’t recommend it enough as it’s worth the 8 bucks Nintendo is charging. And if you’re on the fence, I still say give it a shot because it’s a game that’s just inherently fun. Hopefully, this re-release on the Virtual Console makes Capcom some money and inspires them to revisit the Gargoyle series. A modern take on the franchise would be a most welcomed thing, indeed.


The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda series tends to be late to the party when it comes to Nintendo’s newest technology.  The only exceptions I can recall would be A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess.  Twilight Princess should come with an asterisk though considering it was in development as a Gamecube game (and even released on that platform too) before being ported to the Wii to make that system’s launch.  Typically gamers have to wait a couple of years for Link to grace their latest console or handheld.  That was especially the case when it came to the Gameboy Color.  Nintendo, partnered with Capcom, focused on making a set of three games that would take place in the world of Zelda and interact with one another to form one grand adventure.  This would take time, and to placate eager gamers to have a Zelda adventure on the go and in color Nintendo re-released Link’s Awakening with some minor color enhancements and a new dungeon (which took full advantage of the new color palette).   Development was delayed on the series with Capcom, and eventually the three titles became two.  Worse still, they didn’t arrive to market until after the Gameboy Color’s successor hit retail; the Gameboy Advance.  Did this stop people from picking up the old tech?  Of course not, this is Zelda after all, Nintendo’s most consistent franchise.  And for those who upgraded to the Gameboy Advance, the system was backwards compatible so as long as gamers could get passed the fact that they were playing a fairly low tech set of games it was a pretty easy thing to convince them to go out and pick up the latest Zelda titles.

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (2001)

There are exceptions though, and for whatever reason I became one of them.  I was a day one purchaser of a Gameboy Advance and I was eager to upgrade my portable gaming.  I had a Gameboy Color and primarily only used it for Pokemon (I had a copy of Shantae and never got into it, and I ended up trading it in at Gamestop which proved to be a mistake).  After over a decade of playing sub-NES quality games on a Gameboy I, and many others, were more than ready for the GBA.  Plus I knew the eventual A Link to the Past Advance was on the way and figured I’d get my Zelda fix then, so I completely overlooked the two GBC games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.  It took a long while, but finally Nintendo has released both titles on its e-shop and both are playable on the Nintendo 3DS.  A good portion of my summer has been spent on these two titles, and in short, they’re quality Zelda experiences.  You don’t want short though, so feel free to read on for more!

If you’re an owner of a 3DS and are thinking of playing these games I would recommend that you play Link’s Awakening DX first, if you have not done so already.  While the games are not connected in a narrative sense, the three play pretty much identically to one another with the Oracle games feeling like sequels.  I imagine the fact that the groundwork was laid with Link’s Awakening is what allowed Nintendo to feel comfortable about handing the series over to Capcom.  These portable Zelda games all feature diminished visuals when compared to most of the series, with the only exception being the original Legend of Zelda.  Link can have two items equipped at any one time via the A and B buttons, and they can be any two items the player wants making it theoretically possible for Link to go thru the bulk of the game without a sword.  These games also are unique in that they allow Link to jump once a certain item is obtained.  Link could jump in the side-scrolling Adventure of Link, but not in his other top-down adventures.  The portable games also bring back the side-scrolling screens present in the first game often as a basement of sorts throughout the various dungeons.  There are some sequences where Link has to swim and some familiar faces from the mushroom kingdom make appearances.  I actually prefer Link’s Awakening to the Oracle games in large part because of all of the Mario references which just give the game this offbeat feel.  There’s even a sequence where Link needs to take a chain-chomp for a walk.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of.  Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of. Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons distinguish themselves from the prior games with their special items, the harp of ages of rod of seasons, respectively.  In Oracle of Ages, Link is able to use his harp to move thru time.  Early versions of the harp only allow him to do so at certain patches of soil but later versions allow him to move thru time at will.  Since there are only two versions of Labrynna, where the game takes place, it’s bound to evoke a similar feel to the light and dark worlds from A Link to the Past.  As expected, changing things in the past affect the present, which is sort of the nature of the game.  It’s not real specific though, and sometimes the past or present is different from each other seemingly just for sake of it (sometimes a wall is bomb-able in the past, but not the present, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense).  As such, I was actually kind of disappointed with the whole time-traveling aspect of the game and it started to feel like a hassle.  In Oracle of Seasons, Link is able to manipulate the seasons with the rod of seasons.  This has obvious applications such as lakes becoming frozen in winter or dried up in summer.  A weird type of mushroom is only harvestable in the fall, and certain special flowers only bloom in the spring.  Having to cycle thru each season one at a time is a bit of a chore, but overall I felt the application of the seasons worked better than the time-travel in Ages and it also offered a fun visual change as well.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that sections of the overworld map are arbitrarily broken out and are assigned a default season.  This results in the player changing the season on one screen, and then having it switch to another season by going as few as one screen over.  The designers obviously did this to make it easier on them to block off certain sections of the map until Link obtained a certain item, but it feels lazy.

In addition to their gimmick, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are often distinguished by type of gameplay present.  Ages is often described as being the more puzzle-centered game with Seasons being more action-oriented. I found this to mostly be the case, but make no mistake, both are tried and true Zelda experiences.  There are still plenty of enemies to take down in Ages, and there’s also plenty of dungeon puzzles to solve in Seasons.  I expected to enjoy Ages more as I usually like the Zelda puzzles, but I actually ended up preferring Seasons.  The problem I have with Ages is just that a lot of the puzzles felt really drawn out and the constant switching between items (since there are only two action buttons on a GBC, everytime you need to re-assign something you have to go into the menu and do it) could get tiresome.   There are also plenty of “Zelda Puzzles,” which to me mean puzzles with no logical solution that forces the player into trial and error mode.  These types of situations seem to crop in every Zelda title and are often the result of the game just not being consistent.  There was one dungeon where I got stuck for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to get a pot onto a floor switch that needed to be pressed in order to open a door.  I tried all kinds of different things and just couldn’t get it.  Then I just stepped on it with Link and walked off and the door stayed open.  Every other switch in the game necessitates an object being placed on it to keep the door open.  I was so annoyed.   That’s a Zelda puzzle.  There were some of these in Seasons too, but they just felt more prevalent in Ages.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game:  Twinrova.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game: Twinrova.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons share many of the same dungeon items.  Both also have a trading game which leads to an improved sword for Link and both feature seeds.  All around the map are soft patches of soil where Link can plant a seed.  After a certain amount of enemies are slain a tree with a nut will sprout and inside the nut will be an item.  Usually this item is a ring, which is the only equip-able accessory for Link in both games.  They usually add some function or improve another such as Link’s throwing distance or damage output.  They’re not all that essential to the experience, and both games seem to have the same rings.  There’s also a password system that allows players to transport items back and forth between games.  This is the only way to get some traditional Zelda items like the mirror shield and master sword.  These items just make the game easier, and to be honest, they’re easy enough as is, so I never did much with them.  I did take advantage of the game-link where beating one game provides a password for the other game which alters the story.  The story in both games is basically crap, but if you want to face the ultimate boss you have to link the games and it does add a little more fun to the experience.

I’ve been a bit nit-picky with these games, but both are enjoyable and worthwhile entries in the Legend of Zelda series.  If you were to play only one, I would recommend Oracle of Seasons as I found it to be the better overall experience.  One thing I liked about Seasons over Ages is how it’s a total nostalgia trip for gamers who played the original Legend of Zelda.  Oracle of Ages is basically just as good though, and if you can, you really should just play both.  These two games, together with Link’s Awakening, are among the best portable games ever created and are still the best portable Zelda games ahead of The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.  Hopefully, the upcoming A Link Between Worlds is able to give them a run for their money as these games have reigned supreme for long enough.


Circle Pad Pro: Revelation or Ruination?

Today Nintendo released a new peripheral for its handheld system, the 3DS.  Dubbed the Circle Pad Pro, this attachment adds additional buttons to the 3DS along with an additional circle pad.  To make things slightly more annoying for gamers, it’s only available through Gamestop and will set you back $20.  Me, being the curious person I am (and since I received a gift card to Gamestop for Christmas), I hit the store and picked one up for myself.

The Circle Pad Pro, the best friend of the 3DS or hungry parasite? You decide.

An additional analog stick, or circle pad, is something many gamers wanted on the 3DS from the start.  While it certainly wasn’t a make or break feature, it’s nice to have.  Ever since Sony released its first version of the Dual Shock controller for the Playstation, the dual analog setup has become commonplace on controllers.  Often one stick controls player movement and the other manipulates the camera.  Other games, like first-person shooters, use one stick for movement and the other to aim.  A genre that was once cumbersome with a controller now has gamers feeling right at home.  And going from that setup to a non dual analog setup can be a bit odd, which is probably why upcoming Playstation Vita sports two analog “nubs.”  As I played through Ocarina of Time 3D I sometimes would find myself feeling for another analog stick out of habit to move the camera, and finding none.

Even though an additional analog input is something I would like to have, my initial reaction to the Circle Pad Pro was muted.  Peripherals often never work out well for consumers.  They’re often expensive, cumbersome, and lacking in support beyond an initial batch of games.  Very few end up being worthwhile.  Then again, no one has really tried to release something like this for a portable.  I’m trying to come up with something similar and the best I can come up with is the Gameboy Printer and Camera.  Neither was worth owning.

It looks like it's trying to swallow the 3DS.

The Circle Pad Pro almost looks like it could be a stand-alone device.  It’s much bigger than the 3DS as it’s meant to house the system like a cradle.  The 3DS fits into it snugly without any locking mechanism that could scratch the system or wind up broken.  The fit is tight enough that there’s really no worry about the system sliding out, but just in case Nintendo did include a wrist strap.  The Circle Pad Pro runs off a single AAA battery (included) which is a good thing because the battery life on the 3DS is bad enough as is. For some reason Nintendo decided to fasten the battery cover in place with a non-removable screw.  It’s good that the screw can’t fall out and get lost, but why was that even necessary?  It’s annoying.  The Circle Pad Pro does add considerable weight to the system, making it weigh just about as much as a first generation PSP.  It’s also quite bulky and definitely detracts from the portability of the system. This isn’t something that fits in most pockets.  And as far as I know, the Circle Pad Pro only comes in matte black, so if you have a blue or a pink 3DS it’s going to be quite the eye sore.

The peripheral may be bulky, but how does it feel?  Pretty nice, actually.  The 3DS is small and the rectangular shape may be efficient but it’s far from comfortable.  Often my hands are pretty tired and cramp after 45 minutes with the system, especially after some Mario Kart.  I’ve spent roughly the same amount of time with my first play session with the Circle Pad Pro and can report little to no discomfort.  The attachment makes the system feel more like a controller and the added weight is actually a welcome thing when it comes to the ergonomics of the device.  The second circle pad feels just like the one on the system, which means it’s a tad loose for my taste but it certainly gets the job done.  In addition to the additional circle pad, the Circle Pad Pro also adds two additional shoulder buttons to the 3DS.  They’re clicky buttons, not triggers, but feel fine.

Rear view, for those who like that sort of thing.

It’s not all gravy though.  The peripheral does cover up the game card slot so the 3DS needs to be removed from the Circle Pad Pro to switch out games.  It also covers up the wireless switch and stylus port, which is kind of annoying.  The added plastic on the right side of the system also makes reaching the face buttons a little awkward.  That will definitely take some getting used to.  Nintendo at least wisely left space for the AC input so you can use the Circle Pad Pro while the 3DS is plugged into a wall outlet.

The Circle Pad Pro could be a flawless addition to the 3DS but it would be terribly useless without software that supports it.  That’s why Nintendo held it back for today which just so happens to be the day Resident Evil: Revelations arrived in stores.  Some of you may have already read about that one and how Capcom released it with an embarrassing typo on the game case’s spin, and if you’re wondering, yes it appears every copy is like that.  Apparently anyone who picks up a copy of the game with the typo can get a free replacement insert but I have no idea why anyone would be bothered to go through the trouble.

Oops.

I picked up a copy of Revelaitons (sic) alongside the Circle Pad Pro.  I was surprised to see that there’s no mention of the device on the game’s packaging.  I figured there would be a tell-tale graphic of some kind alerting would-be consumers that the software supports the Circle Pad Pro but I guess not.  Worry not gamers, Revelations does indeed support the Circle Pad Pro and firing up the game with the Circle Pad Pro attached will cause the game to ask if you wish to make use of it.  I obviously haven’t played enough of the game to render a verdict on how good or bad it is, but I can report that the Circle Pad Pro works, for the most part.

The left circle pad controls your character, Jill, and the right circle pad pivots the camera and makes her turn, pretty much just like a first-person shooter.  When a baddie appears on the screen, pressing the new ZL button causes Jill to draw her firearm and the ZR button shoots.  The regular old R button (actually, that’s kind of new too as the Circle Pad Pro replaces the R button on the 3DS with a new button) causes Jill to bust out her knife or other equipped secondary weapon.  When running around, the ZR button appears to function as the action button which feels kind of odd but I imagine I’ll get used to it.  The face buttons do not appear to be used much though one uses herbs to restore Jill’s health when prompted.  I actually didn’t try the game without the Circle Pad Pro, but I can’t imagine the control scheme working better.

Ready for action!

Visually, Revelations appears to be a stunner.  It’s comparable to Resident Evil 4 or some of the best looking games on the PSP.  A lot of time was definitely invested in Jill as she looks noticeably better than some of the scenery.  The backgrounds I’ve seen have been a little drab but there was some nice lighting on the first scenario which takes place on a darkened ship.  The game immediately places the player in some close quarters which is an uncomfortable feeling, a good thing for a survival horror game.  There’s a lot to take in on the 3DS’s rather small screen and I did experience some minor eye strain after a little while.  And if you’re curious, most of that was spent with the 3D featured turned off (I mostly hate 3D).

I’m pretty optimistic for Revelations.  It feels like Resident Evil and it’s pretty nice looking.  I do find aiming kind of cumbersome as hitting the ZL button immediately brings you into a first-person perspective.  Jill feels kind of slow but the enemies seem pretty quick.  I’ll have to see if that becomes frustrating or not further into the game.  As for the Circle Pad Pro, it does get the job done but if no one supports it then it will just collect dust.  Metal Gear Solid 3D figures to make use of it, and there’s rumors Kid Icarus might as well.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  If it doesn’t bother you to spend the extra dough to get a little more out of Revelations, then I say go for it.  At least it’s not as expensive as the 32X.