ron, Dec-21 2007

Chimney-bending VC Friday

Going to town to shop for physical goods can be a stressful experience around this time of the year. Thankfully, escapist couch potatoes have other venues to satiate their most basic needs, and today the Wii Shop Channel gets another chance to reaffirm itself as being one of them.

Skate Or Die

This NES title actually integrates several skate-boarding games: there's a half-pipe where you try to build up momentum and pull off the best possible tricks in the air-time you get without falling flat on your face; then there's a sort of competitive obstacle course racing (complete with fisticuffs when you're close to your opponent), and a solo downhill racing discipline with lots of branching paths and opportunities to make your own shortcuts.

Monster Lair

This TurboGrafx game is a strange twist on the Wonderboy franchise that combines traditional Wonderboy gameplay (hop across platforms, avoid hazards, dispatch enemies, collect fruit and do it as quickly as possible because your health meter keeps dropping) with shoot-em-up elements (automatic scrolling, absurd weapon upgrades). In fact it adds in whole shoot-em-up levels where you fly around as some other character.

Blades Of Steel

This is the second NES ice hockey game to appear for the Virtual Console, but unlike the other one, Blades Of Steel is more celebratory of close-up brutality by integrating an actual boxing mini-game. It's fast, and the vagaries of controlling a whole team with just one d-pad make it somewhat of an orchestrated chaos. There's a difficulty selection, and of course a competitive multiplayer mode to round the package.

Blades Of Steel is probably the best NES team-sports game you can get right now. It has the frantic but balanced core gameplay down, it's easy to pick up, and the improved presentation (bigger sprites, more realistic perspective, close-ups, a few speech samples) makes it overall superior to Nintendo's own Ice Hockey. We can recommend this game under the limited-edition sports game caveat (only 600000 copies are going to be made): there's no real single-player campaign. It's just a match, then another match, and so on.

Skate Or Die's half-pipe mode is good, stupid fun for twenty minutes, but then the novelty wears off and you're left with half-baked obstacle-course racing that is difficult either because you can't really see what's coming up next, or because you can't really control your fate, momentum and all. It's almost a shame, since it looks really nice and would theoretically be a good value package, but the individual games just aren't executed all that well. Even though we don't really despise it with a fiery passion, we still have to shush you away from it.

Monster Lair is something that probably shouldn't have happened. If you want Wonderboy gameplay, that's easy enough to get, and if you want a shmup, well, there are tons of them available. Monster Lair might do both, but it does them both poorly, and then goes on to combine them poorly. It also features what feels like the most terrible music in any video game ever, despite, or no, scratch that, probably because it is one of those CD titles where the desire to show off what could be done with virtually unlimited space for audio displaced every artistic consideration in a 50km radius around the production facility.

Summary: Blades Of Steel probably yes, if multi-player sports gaming sounds fun to you. Be strong and say no to the other two.
This is all a bit tragic. We had expected something special on the Virtual Console to match the season, but no, there just went this year's last Friday before christmas, and it went in a wholly unremarkable fashion.


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