We’re back with the latest crop of Genesis titles for Nintendo’s Virtual Console. There’s been a steady stream of releases over the last few months, and the Wii’s download service has amassed quite the Sega library. This month offers perhaps the best overall selection of games we’ve seen so far, and anyone looking for some excellent Genesis gaming is going to need more than a few Wii points cards to get all the goodness up for download.
Ecco The Tides of Time
Ecco the Dolphin seems to have exploded as a franchise lately, what with the original two Genesis games appearing in compilations and on retro services all over the place. Not that this is a bad thing, but I’d like to (foolishly?) hope that this is all a pretext to a sequel to Defender of the Future on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Sigh… I guess that’s a pipe dream. At least the famous mammal is keeping in the public eye. Tides of Time should be instantly accessible to those who have played the first game, and it basically expands the rock-solid gameplay that was introduced. Some neat ideas is giving Ecco the ability to morph into different animals, like a shark and even a bird! Time travel is center to the story (something we saw again in the Dreamcast sequel), and so is patience… LOTS of patience. Tides of Time is just as difficult as its predecessor, and those who are looking for a simple romp in the ocean need to look elsewhere. The numerous boss fights and massive levels are plenty of incentive for dolphin fans who are looking for more swim time.
Pass or Purchase? While I don’t consider the original Ecco to be a game worth buying for the hundredth time, Tides of Time gets the nod due to the sheer size and scope of it. There’s a lot of bang for your Wii bucks here, and until Dreamcast games are offered on the VC, this is the one you want.
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
I have to say that I’m envious of PSP fans (still have to get one of those!). I yearn, yes yearn to play Ultimate Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, being the huge fan of the series that I am. I loved Super on the SNES – slowdown, flicker, and all – and I even rock the NES port of the first game every so often. None of these, however, please me as much as Ghouls ‘N Ghosts does on the Genesis. This has to be one of my all-time favorite carts, and seeing it on the VC makes me smile. Take your double jump, Super, what we’ve got here is some awesome multi-directional firing! Arthur’s tight, precise control makes for some mean platforming action, and the sweet bosses and great level design are going to make even the steadiest of hands tremble with excitement. You want an excellent example of how to port an arcade monster to new hardware to bring in buyers? Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is your huckleberry. Few other early Genesis games made the hardware sing like it did, and it still has some kick after all these years.
Pass or Purchase? There’s no two ways about this. Buy it. Play it. Enjoy it. There are a ton of platformers on the VC but this is one of the best. The quest is long, the enemies smart and challenging, and the difficulty is high but not abusive. Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is one of those games that will make you sweat but leave you with a profound sense of accomplishment when you one-credit it.
Far and away, this is my choice as cream of the crop this month. Landstalker is an amazing, challenging, and involving adventure that any gamer who dares to call him/herself an action/RPG fan needs to play. The graphics are incredible, and the whole quest is long enough to keep you busy for weeks. If there’s anything negative about, it would have to be the requisite complaint about how an isometric view can make precision jumping difficult at times. This was typical of all games using this angle at the time, so to hold it specifically against Landstalker would be unfair. It’s not something that really affects the game, and no one should consider it a real issue when considering a purchase.
Pass or Purchase? Definitely a purchase! If you like games in the vein of Legend of Zelda, then this one’s right up your alley. Nigel and Friday are a great team, and you’ll have a blast exploring the multi-level dungeons and incredible mazes that make Landstalker such a classic. Hey, it’s not like you can pass it over because you’re waiting for the PSP remake, right? Why not give a true Genesis classic a chance. Your Wii will thank you for it.
Those of you whose only familiarity with Shining Force comes from the two Playstation 2 titles need to forget what you know and download this Genesis classic pronto. This is how the series is supposed to be done, with over a dozen characters battling evil in turn-based strategic combat. As the first of its kind on the Genesis (and one of the first on consoles, period), Shining Force introduced Sega gamers to such memorable characters as Hans the archer, Domingo the squid-like beast, and Hanzou the ninja as they battled the evil Dark Sol (a character found in several of the Shining games). Simple to learn and offering tens of hours of play, Shining Force is a game that anyone who appreciates recent titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness will be able to enjoy.
Pass or Purchase? Without any doubt, this is a definite purchase. You’re getting one of the premier strategy/RPG titles of the 16-bit era here, and there’s enough gameplay to keep you busy for quite some time. If you’re going to buy both Shining titles, be sure to play this one before Shining in the Darkness, as it’s first in the chronology between the two.
Shining in the Darkness
This is the one that started it all. As the first game in the Shining series, Shining in the Darkness awed Genesis owners with its beautiful visuals, lovable characters, claustrophobic dungeons, and incredible magic effects. Players take on the role of a young knight out to rescue the king’s daughter from a dangerous labyrinth, and along the way several revelations about his origin and the true evil behind the massive dungeon come to light. This is a bona fide RPG with all the trappings you’d expect (turn-based combat, tons of enemies, lots of equipment to find and buy), and you can expect to invest upwards of forty hours or so in your race to the top of the labyrinth. A cool thing about Shining in the Darkness is that its villain is a mainstay in the series, popping up as recently as the Shining Soul dualogy. An entire universe arose from this first title, and the charm and characters that it spawned remained a staple of Sega gaming until only a few years ago, when the company decided to “reboot” the franchise and all but wiped out the continuity.
Pass or Purchase? If you’re looking for a solid RPG to invest time in, and you’re really a fan of traditional, turn-based adventures, look no further. Shining in the Darkness will win you over with all of the wonderful qualities with which it garnered a legion of fans over the years, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. A great game for the price.
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Hmm, how should I fill this space, since it’s a no-brainer that any action fan worth a damn will have already purchased Shinobi III? I guess I could mention that this is the best Shinobi game ever made, and that the insane visuals compliment the rock-solid gameplay in a way that allows Joe Musashi’s third outing to stomp the hell out of every ninja game this side of the Ninja Gaiden reboot on Xbox and PS3. Yeah, I suppose I could talk about that, along with how awesome the bosses are and how the blistering action is almost enough to make you go out and buy the original cart version, just so you can get physical proof that such majesty was actually put to silicon at one time. But then, you already know all this, right?
Pass or Purchase? Geez, do I even have to tell you? You’ve got a Wii with an Internet connection? Then this had BETTER be on it, because otherwise I’m going to have to come over to your house and remind you just why they call that thing a “classic” controller. Nintendo was smart; it named it with Shinobi III in mind. Do your console justice and get this one now.
Sonic The Hedgehog 3
No one ever doubted that we’d see Sonic The Hedgehog 3 on the VC. With both of the previous installments already available, it’s only logical that Sega would steadily release each game in the series until all are for sale (except Sonic CD, of course). This is the biggest of them all offered so far, and part three features the introduction of the beloved Knuckles. There’s also some incredible visuals here, and the tried-and-true Sonic gameplay still shines. I do demand that we see a release of Sonic & Knuckles soon so that we can get the full adventure via the famous lock-on feature. Will it happen? Who knows? All I can tell you is that if you’re a Sonic fan and have both parts one and two, then there’s no reason to let this gem slip by.
Pass or Purchase? An awesome Sonic game with massive levels and great presentation? Sign me up! Though some will argue that the second entry was better, few would contest the viability of part three to anyone who likes the characters or Genesis platformers. A great purchase for some lazy, afternoon game time.
Streets of Rage 3
Finally, the third game in the famous trilogy joins its siblings on the Virtual Console. Unfortunately, it’s the butchered American version (you think the MD original would make it through Nintendo’s QC?), which means you’re going to be missing out on some minor graphical and gameplay differences. With a few notable exceptions (like Ash being replaced by a gang of punks and some serious plot revisions), you’re more or less getting the same game though. Streets of Rage 3 is a solid play, though some would argue that it lacks the polish of its predecessors (no Yuzo soundtrack, for instance). You still get to control Axel, Blaze, and their pals as they rip the city apart in order to stop Mr. X and his crime syndicate. You and a friend can both fight alongside each other, and the game is long enough to maintain you glued to your seat for about an hour.
Pass or Purchase? If you’ve got both parts one and two, why not just finish off the trilogy? It’s not as good as Streets of Rage 2, but it’s well worth the asking price. 16-bit beat-’em-ups rarely met the level of quality this series did, and you won’t be wasting points here. Grab a friend and have a blast.
Ugh. I’ve never liked Super Thunderblade (don’t even get me started on our review score of it) and there is no way I’d waste 800 Wii points on the ROM. Choppy, ugly scaling and stiff control all but killed the great arcade experience, and there are really no redeeming features to this butcher job. Sega had a chance here to give us a great home version of a coin-op favorite (like they did with Space Harrier) but instead opted for a quick cash run on the name. There’s an attempt to spice things up by offering boss battles, but these look better than they play, since they all basically fight exactly the same way. One would really expect some sort of reward after having tolerated each of the bland levels, but this is the sorry reward you get for having battled the control long enough to actually make it to the end of each stage.
Pass or Purchase? This is a big pass. Maybe someday we’ll see an arcade-perfect port of Super Thunderblade for some home console, but none have done the game any justice so far. If you really must have every single Genesis game on the VC, then you’ve already made your decision, but if you value your money at all, you’ll avoid this one completely.
Tom really hit it on the head last month when he said that many were waiting for Landstalker, and thankfully we didn’t have to wait long. This is one excellent selection, and with the exception of Super Thunderblade, I can wholeheartedly recommend a purchase for each one. Let’s hope Sega keeps the quality coming, and with the recent announcement of Turbo CD-ROM titles coming to the VC, can Sega CD games be too far behind? Let’s hope Sega takes such a possibility to heart. See you next time!