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Sega Download: Genesis Virtual Console Vol. 01

The Nintendo Wii has been out for about a month now, and when most people think of the console, they envision it’s innovative controller- quite possibly revolutionizing the way video games are played. I, on the other hand, see a console that marries both the old and the new. The Wii’s Virtual Console successfully offers retro gaming spanning from the 8 to 64-bit eras. Still, I was shocked when Sega announced that it would support the Wii with Genesis titles, I had always seen Sega vs. Nintendo as the greatest rivalry in gaming, and no matter how many Sonic titles show up on Nintendo platforms, its always felt a bit off. I’m glad Sega offered their support though, as now many gamers will be able to experience one of the greatest consoles ever made.

Genesis gaming on the Wii is basically glorified emulation and ROM distribution, and yes, it costs $8 per game. While that price may be high for the majority of Genesis games, it can be a bargain for others. Many gamers have already asked the obvious question: if you can get emulated Genesis games for free on your PC, why would you pay for it on the Wii? I’m not sure Nintendo and/or Sega is aiming solely for hardcore Genesis fans. I think they see it as a way to introduce great games to a new generation (and of course make a great profit in the process). Not everyone is knowledgeable when it comes to emulators and, after all, Nintendo is trying to appeal to non-gamers.

Control Options

Before I go into which games are currently available, I’d like to quickly explain the Virtual Console’s control options. Early Genesis games that utilized the three-button controller are able to be controlled by either the Wii Remote itself (held like and NES controller), a Classic Controller, or a GameCube Controller. And of course, any game featuring the six-button controller requires the Classic Controller or the GameCube controller. I personally prefer the Classic controller, and recommend it for ALL Virtual Console gaming.

Ok! Now on to the games!


Currently Available

Altered Beast

Important and impressive for its time, Altered Beast ushered in the era of the Genesis. As a pack-in game, it succeeded in introducing gamers to the 16-bit wonder. It’s fitting, then, to see it appear seventeen years later as a launch title for Nintendo’s Virtual Console. The game involves brawling with various baddies, and collecting enough power-ups to transform your character into a monster. While the original release proved that the Genesis was a great platform for arcade conversions, the game hasn’t aged well. The battle system is extremely simplistic, the sound effects range from average to terrible, and the animations are stiff. Still, the game can be good, simple fun. And isn’t that exactly what the Wii is aiming for?

Pass or Purchase? Altered Beast is certainly fun as a quick diversion, but I’m not sure a full purchase is necessary. Because the game makes use of the three-button controller the game should be perfectly suited to all control options. Still, there are much better games available to spend your $8 on.


I love puzzle games, always have. I’m a Tetris DS addict (meet me online!). And during the early ’90s, I tried anything and everything that had a similar look and feel to the classic Tetris series. While only two or three games surpassed my high expectations, many provided quick and fun diversions. Columns was one of these games. While not nearly as deep or addicting as other puzzlers, Columns could easily eat up a Saturday afternoon. Like most good puzzle games, the premise was simple: line up three or more gems of the same color to make them disappear. It’s easy, controls well, and is good fun for two players. The problem with the original Columns is it’s basic formula. The game doesn’t really add anything to the tried and true Tetris formula, and it pales in comparison to another Virtual Console Puzzler:

Pass or Purchase? Like Altered Beast, Columns can be great for an afternoon of fun. And like Altered Beast before it, $8 is a little expensive for a game that will grow old fairly quickly. Columns isn’t even the best puzzle game available so far, and the alternate options are just going to get better and better.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is the classic puzzle game Puyo Puyo infused with Sonic The Hedgehog elements. The combination proved to be a great one as the game became one of the most beloved puzzlers on the Genesis. Like Columns, this game requires like-colored blocks (this time in the form of beans) to be linked together in order to make them disappear and score points. Unlike Columns, in this game you are able to rotate the beans, allowing for better control over the placement of the beans. Crazy combos can be accomplished with some simple strategy, and the game is perfect for two players. More than one fight with my brother can be accounted to Mean Bean Machine‘s great multi-player.

Pass or Purchase? Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a great purchase for the Wii’s Virtual Console. It appeals to the hardcore, the casual, and the non-gamer alike. The actual cart itself can be found for less than the Wii’s $8 entry fee, but for those who may have missed out on the Genesis the price is reasonable. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this download.

Ecco the Dolphin

Besides the Sega CD port, the original Ecco the Dolphin was by far my favorite game in the series. The graphics were clean, the music was excellent, and the gameplay unparalleled. It still amazes me how much fun swimming around as a dolphin solving puzzles can be. Unlike most games of the time, Ecco wasn’t based on stomping enemies to death until you get to the rightmost part of a stage. Instead, you are required to think things out, and find a way to move on and complete a stage. Being able to let out a sonar signal proved an innovative way to not only speak, but to solve various puzzles. Add to this the inclusion of several optional quests, and you have a long-lasting masterpiece.

Pass or Purchase? Ecco the Dolphin is an excellent representation of the Genesis on the Wii. The game is stuffed full of innovation and beauty, and now a whole new generation will get to experience it. The long-lasting gameplay more than warrants the $8 purchase.

Golden Axe

As early Genesis hack-‘n-slashers go, you won’t find much better than Golden Axe. Originally released in 1989, Golden Axe once again proved that the Genesis was THE place to go for arcade to console conversions. Being able to choose from a male warrior, a female warrior, and a dwarf – all able to use weapons and monsters to decimate foes – is still great fun. The sound and graphics aren’t what they used to be, but when playing with a friend, none of that really matters. Like most Virtual Console games, Golden Axe is an excellent multi-player game, and deserves to be looked at by a generation who may have missed out on the Genesis.

Pass or Purchase? Golden Axe is just as enjoyable as it was seventeen years ago, but before you go spending your hard earned Wii points, consider this: Which do you enjoy more? Golden Axe or Golden Axe 2? I’ve always found the sequel to be a superior game, and it’s almost guaranteed to show up on the Virtual Console in the near future.

Gunstar Heroes

Quite possibly the best game available for the VC (although Mario 64 does make for some stiff competition) Gunstar Heroes is a masterpiece in every way. Treasure’s most famous game features beautiful graphics, tense shooting, and more fun than you can shake a stick at. Treasure perfected the run-‘n-gun formula with some of the best level and gun design ever used in the genre. It’s hard not to seem biased when talking about this game; it’s simply amazing and deserves to be played by everybody.

Gunstar Heroes is a special game to me. It’s my favorite Genesis title, and because of a recent move, I haven’t been able to locate my actual cart. So purchasing this gem was a top priority of mine, yet I worried. What if the game didn’t translate well to the new system? Well, I’m happy to report that Gunstar Heroes on the Wii is the exact same game as it was on the Genesis with two added bonuses: with the use of component cables the game can be displayed in 480p, and you can save your game ANYWHERE and WHENEVER. Both additions are icing on the cake. 480p means the game looks better than ever before (it’s absolutely brilliant) and being able to save meant that I could pick up my game whenever I felt it convenient. The Wii’s classic controller works perfectly with the game, and not once did I encounter an emulation problem. All added up, this is the best way to play Gunstar Heroes.

Pass or Purchase? While the game was popular with Genesis gamers, it still regularly sells for over $8, which makes the Virtual Console version a value. Based on the $8 price tag alone I would recommend a purchase. With the added functionality of the Wii emulation though Gunstar Heroes is a no-brainer.


Along with Gunstar Heroes, this was the most surprising Virtual Console launch title. Being such a late release in the Genesis’s life cycle, many gamers missed out on Ristar. Well, here’s your second chance. Ristar is an excellent platform game that stands alongside the best the Genesis has to offer. Everything within the game is well conceived and polished. The game feels like a perfect mix of Sonic and Bionic Commando. Your out-stretched arms will accomplish various tasks, such as: Climbing, swinging, grabbing, and attacking. Because the game released in 1995, Sega knew just how to push the system’s limits, and each of the games seven worlds look amazing. You won’t find better use of the Genesis’s color palette anywhere. The game plays just as well as it looks, and it’s a perfect fit for any platform fan.

Upon buying the Wii, I made a decision to purchase two Genesis games a month for the sake of writing this feature. As you can imagine, I’ve struggled with what games to buy. I’ve owned every game available thus far, so it’s a bit difficult deciding which game I should re-purchase. I’m glad I went with this one. Ristar is the best looking game on the Virtual Console. Seeing the action take place in 480p is a treat and everything works perfectly. Like Gunstar Heroes, the emulation runs without a hitch, and the classic controller fits in nicely with the simplistic gameplay. Also like Gunstar Heroes, you can save anywhere in Ristar, but because of the password system, it isn’t as big of a deal.

Pass or Purchase? While Ristar may be a bit obscure compared to the other titles available, it’s still easy and cheap to find. The cart will almost certainly cost less than $8, and the game is included in Sonic Mega Collection for the PS2/GameCube/Xbox. Still, if you don’t yet own the game, I do recommend a Wii purchase. Seeing the game in 480p is worth it alone.

Sonic The Hedgehog

Could you imagine Sega launching it’s Virtual Console line-up without a Sonic title? It would be madness, insanity, cats and dogs living together. Unsurprisingly, the game that started it all is here. Sonic The Hedgehog features – you know what? You already know what Sonic The Hedgehog features; a description isn’t necessary. The true question is whether or not the original game was a good choice for Sega to go with. Of course it was. While it lacks the gameplay features of its sequels, it still plays extremely well. Furthermore, while I find it hard to imagine someone not having played Sonic before, I can see it appealing to the Wii’s target audience: Casual and non-gamers.

Pass or Purchase? While I still love Sonic just as much as I did in 1991, the game is just not worth $8 for the experienced gamer. The actual cart can be found for $1 or less, and it’s been included in just about every Sega compilation ever made. Those who aren’t familiar with the series (both of you) will enjoy it, but fans already have this one almost a half dozen times.

Bottom Line

The first month of Genesis Virtual Console releases was a good start. From decent (Altered Beast, Columns) to excellent (Gunstar Heroes, Ristar), there was a great variety in games from which to choose. It should also be noted that the Genesis has the most titles available for the Virtual Console so far. Will this expose new gamers to the Genny? Hopefully it will. And after experiencing the trouble-free emulation, I can honestly say that I am very excited about the future of Genesis gaming. Can the Virtual Console lead to the publishing of unreleased or import games? I know I’m not the only one who missed out on Alien Soldier. The possibilities do seem endless, and only time will tell.

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