ron, Apr-11 2008

Electrified VC Friday

I was getting a bit worried earlier this year, as the Virtual Console well seemed to dry up. But with the recent addition of new systems, the stops seem to have been pulled, and this Friday I was pleased to see Nintendo release four new titles onto the Wii Shop Channel. Whew!

California Games

This is a collection of simple sports games for the C64, not at all unlike current "mini-game collections". You can do a full tour of all six events, and compete in the multi-player mode if you so wish, or practice single disciplines. In most of them you have to perform tricks in a limited time to rack up high ratings, but there's some rhytmic skating action as well.
The reason for the unusual selection of sports events in California Games is simply that Epyx had already exhausted every major type of sport with their popular Winter Games and Summer Games titles, and had to get creative.

Fantasy Zone

This is a colorful shmup for the Sega Master System, with several unique quirks. First, if you want to, you can turn your ship around and fly back to the beginning of the (very short) levels. Second, enemies (and the prevalent enemy generators) tend to drop coins when you shoot them down, and those bounce around until you pick them up. You use the coins, of course, to purchase ship upgrades, which is done by flying into a special shopping ship that appears inside the actual levels. When you fly to the end, you'll face a special boss encounter.

Impossible Mission

This C64 classic may defy accurate single-sentence categorization, but it incorporates elements of stealth, platforming and puzzling. You control a spy through a tower, which is a big non-linear 2D web of interconnected rooms and elevators. The actual rooms are 2D platforming courses, and there are desks and terminals strewn about which you must search for puzzle pieces and keys.
These rooms are protected by robotic enemies which follow different movement patterns and are lethal on contact. Because you have no weapon to defeat them, you must be quick and evasive while searching through the rooms.

Wonder Boy

This is a quirky little 2D platformer for the Sega Master System. You basically race through 2D levels against the clock, because your health meter continues to tick down, and you must keep on collecting fruit to refill it. You get to jump over spikes, bottomless pits, rocks, enemies and moving platforms, you have a trusty throwing axe to fight back, and at some points you can hop onto a skateboard. The downside of the skateboard is that you can't stop at all, you can only go slightly slower by holding left, but of course the upside is that you can jump farther and get to the end of the level more quickly.
There are a lot of different backgrounds and enemies, and every few levels you'll get to fight a nasty boss.

Fantasy Zone is a simple, sweet shmup, but far too easy for my tastes. It's not that it's lacking in upgrade options, on the contrary, but as the challenge just isn't there, it doesn't feel necessary to spend much thought on your ship loadout. The visual style is great and all, but it just gets repetitive far too quickly. Probably better to stay away.
California Games is clearly the worst of Epyx's sports compilations, and I can't recommend it in any way. It makes too little sense, and is too prone to just mashing. Everything is more fun with friends, and this is true even for California Games, but I suggest you hold out for Winter Games or Summer Games. Those are much better.

Wonder Boy is, surprisingly, still a quite unique concept, and very well balanced. It's a real, substantial game with a lot of variety and a smooth difficulty curve. I very much recommend it. However, as you may know, the Wonder Boy and the Adventure Island series are twins separated at birth, and if you already have New Adventure Island, you have the same gameplay style and overall quality, just with different levels. Wonder Boy itself, particularly this version of it, still holds up very well, and if you have none of the equivalents, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in 2D platformers.
Impossible Mission is among the absolute best games to ever come out on the C64. It holds up very well, and hasn't been copied to hell and back, so you'll get something unique out of it for sure if you do get it, which you should.

Summary: Impossible Mission for anyone who cares about VC games at all. Wonder Boy for anyone who doesn't already own (New) Adventure Island. The other two aren't recommended.


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