ron, Jun-13 2008

Reconciling VC Friday

The eyes, they almost fell out!
Apparently as an apology for last week's profound neglect, Nintendo blesses this Friday with the wow-worthy release of five new Virtual Console games.

Alex Kidd In Miracle World

This 2D platforming adventure for the Sega Master System marks the fabulous beginning of the Alex Kidd franchise, which then hastily transformed into inedible swamp matter, and worse, with its sequels.
This first one presents a wide variety of traditional 2D platforming gameplay variations, vertical, horizontal, underwater sections, and there's a bike and a gyrocopter too. The overarching theme is young Alex Kidd's innate ability to punch the square directly in front of him, which can often break blocks and reveal even more cash than was lying in wait to be collected to start with. All this money can then be spent at stores, to buy a shiny new bike or extra lives.
Famously, the many encounters with bosses are fought as games of rock-paper-scissors.

Fatal Fury 2

One-on-one fighting, NeoGeo style. Fatal Fury's sequel is significantly extended, features more characters and more moves, while keeping the innovative layer-hopping mechanic intact. The game also (newly) features dashing, so players can cover ground very quickly.

Last Ninja 2

This is obviously a sequel, and following the traditions of the first game, another isometric C64 action adventure. You explore non-linear areas built of discrete rooms that switch over at the edges (instead of scrolling), collect items such as "gate keys" that allow progress in other parts of the level such as "the gate", master platforming challenges, collect better weapons, and of course fight (or avoid) lots of aggressive ninja-opponents. Enemies are still confined to their rooms, but now they can regenerate their health and come back to harass you once again, so if you need to grab something, you'd better grab it quick and get out.

Nebulus

As opposed to linear stages, in this 2D platformer for the C64 each level is a set of platforms on the outside of a round tower, which means each stage wraps around horizontally after a short while. There are also doorways which lead straight through the tower, to the opposite side. You control what looks like a frog around that tower, ever climbing upwards, hopping over the platforms, avoiding enemies and riding elevators, to reach the top within a time limit. Your frog can also shoot, which allows him to fend off some of the nasties.
Between levels, your frog gets presented with the unique opportunity to shoot crustaceans with his personal submarine's underwater machine guns.

Ninja Combat

A side-scrolling mass brawler for the NeoGeo. Besides the expected repertoire of punches, kicks and makeshift weapons picked up from the environment, this one also does what Ninja Gaiden does, and gives your character a ranged attack, and Ninpo a charge-up blast of … something that's not called Ninpo. Your "shuriken" is more like a wave of small fireballs spreading out in front of you, and there's no ammo limitation.


Out of the many many attempts it made, Alex Kidd In Miracle World is probably the best 2D platformer to ever come out of Sega. From an era before Sega was enamoured by pretentious character-concept-driven design and ridiculous mechanics just for the sake of separation, they made this one game with a simple yet effective and controllable protagonist and full of nice platforming challenges. It's all about the gameplay in this one, and who'd have thought, that worked out well. Must-have.

Last Ninja 2 is a significant improvement upon its predecessor in every way. Enemies are more aggressive, regenerate their health over time, and more closely guard crucial items, so combat, while still a simple affair, is now much harder to avoid. The addition of more varied puzzles that span different rooms is just as welcome, the room transitions seem faster, and the soundtrack is one of the best on the entire system. All this taken together places Last Ninja 2 squarely into recommendation territory.

Fatal Fury 2 is clearly better than the first game, looks and sounds terriffic, and offers enough unique elements to make it stand out within the genre. It sadly doesn't seem balanced enough for serious competitive play. For devotees of the fighting game genre, this one surely is a highish-priority consideration. If on the other hand you're just a bit into fighting games, it's better to stick with two or three games and try to become good at them. Fatal Fury 2 does not need to be one of them. Better to stick with maybe a Soul Calibur and/or Virtua Fighter plus a Street Fighter of your liking.

Nebulus is a nice little idea with too little flesh on its skin. Between the bouts of the completely broken shmup mini-game, that seems to be thrown in almost as an excuse, you are climbing up the ever-same looking towers where the single biggest thrill you may expect is the different color of the next level's tower. It's just not worth doing when you can wash yourself away with a whole flood of fully fleshed out 2D platformers that present you whole worlds of variety, not just visually, in all kinds of different styles. Pass.

Ninja Combat joins the ranks of second-rate brawlers that are hard to make an argument for in the face of the good brawlers we already have on the Virtual Console. The game is an almost complete failure. It doesn't challenge, it doesn't encourage experimentation with your moves, and it doesn't treat you fairly. Incessant spamming of your ranged attack will take you all the way to the end of this acceptably looking romp. We'd rather not do that, and raise the "avoid, seriously" card.

Summary: you need Alex Kidd, you want Last Ninja 2, you might care about Fatal Fury 2, and you may forget about the rest.

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