I started reviewing Genesis Virtual Console releases way back in 2007. I was so excited to be part of such a fantastic site, and I wanted to make my mark on it. “I’ll create my own regular feature!” I thought. The Wii offered new and old gamers alike a chance to experience the Genesis for the first time (or again, depending on your experience) and an idea was born. Since then, there has been a bit of inconsistency with the service as well as the Sega-16 feature. In fact, it’s been a whole long time since I’ve written one of these. Now, in this tenth installment, we look at six Genesis titles selling for $8 a pop. Five have been released since our last installment and one has slipped through the cracks. Are they worth your time?
Treasure made some fantastic games for the Genesis/Mega Drive, and Dynamite Headdy seems to sometimes get overlooked. A bright, tight, and brilliant platformer, Dynamite Headdy differentiates itself from its contemporaries with a hero that utilizes his head in a bunch of fun ways… Ok, I guess it’s not THAT original (Decap Attack and Kid Chameleon recall similar mechanics) but like everything Treasure develops, it’s all very polished and very fun. Treasure always seemed most capable, sometimes outdoing Sega themselves, of mastering the Genesis hardware, and Dynamite Headdy is no exception. The visuals are bright and colorful, showcasing the power of the console.
Pass or Purchase? No-brainer here. Dynamite Headdy is a gem. It’s one of the best platform games on the Genesis, heck, on any 16-bit console, and it’s practically required gaming for retro fans. While the lead character may not be as memorable as the numerous knock-off “bad attitude” characters of the era, there’s a certain charm in this game absent in others.
Revenge of Shinobi
While it’s odd that Shinobi III appeared on the Virtual Console long before Revenge of Shinobi did, I guess it’s better late than never. Revenge of Shinobi is one of the oldest Genesis/Mega Drive games available on the service, but it’s also one of the best. The visuals always strike me as somewhat dated and stiff, especially in comparison to its excellent sequel, but the gameplay is pure bliss. Not only does the game control well but Revenge of Shinobi features some of the best bosses in the history of the medium! You’re a ninja fighting Spider-man, Batman, and Godzilla? Yes please.
Pass or Purchase? The only reason not to purchase Revenge of Shinobi is if you already own it in one of various compilations. Assuming that you don’t, what are you waiting for? The game is a classic and it deserves your immediate attention. And if you want to be proper about it, go out and buy Shinobi III after!
So you’ve just been running around as a ninja, taking down giant dinosaurs, and you read that Shanghai II: Dragon’s Eye is available to download?! Sounds like it fits your tastes. Well not so fast… Shanghai II is a Mahjong title. Which isn’t to say it isn’t fun (Mahjong can be quite addictive), it’s just a VERY different type of game. For the uninitiated, Mahjong is a single-player game in which you must match stacks of tiles until there are none remaining. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds, as you’re not allowed to match tiles that are underneath other tiles or surrounded on the left and right by other tiles.
Pass or Purchase? Shanghai II just isn’t enough of a unique experience to justify an $8 purchase. Numerous iterations exist, including freeware for PC and Mac. Even if you’re bent on playing Mahjong on your TV, there are better options available.
Earthworm Jim 2
I’m a sucker for the first two Earthworm Jim games. They look great, have a unique feel, and the variety in platforming and action is excellent. On top of those qualities, I’ve always felt that the Genesis/Mega Drive housed the best versions of the series. It’s a great example of a company establishing a new IP and attempting to create a lucrative franchise from it. I know that doesn’t sound noble, but just think about it! Earthworm Jim had to be polished and fun in order for it to gain credibility as a budding franchise. Did the franchise ultimately succeed? Not really, but gamers benefited from the attempt by receiving two fantastic games.
Pass or Purchase? Earthworm Jim 2 is an excellent game. There’s plenty of variety in its gameplay so you’re getting a good amount of gaming for your buck. Games like Earthworm Jim 2 are why the Virtual Console service seemed like such a good idea. Here’s a second chance to own a brilliant game. Could you get the cart for $2? Sure. But that’s besides the point!
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
Shadow Dancer is an odd title. Growing up, I was privy to only two Shinobi titles on the Genesis/Mega Drive: Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III. Thanks to this site (and specifically Kurt Kalata) my mind was blown when I discovered Shadow Dancer. Of course, Shadow Dancer is a bit of a unique experience. Because it’s pretty much a direct port of an arcade game, it plays differently. Levels are shorter, the move-set is limited, and you rescue hostages… Honestly, I enjoyed the different take on the Shinobi experience. The game still feels like a Shinobi title is supposed to feel, and the game is a great way to waste an afternoon.
Pass or Purchase? Shadow Dancer: Secret of Shinobi should be a purchase for those who devoured Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III. For everyone else, there are a number of better, lengthier games available to purchase. In fact, the other two available games in the series are those very such titles. This game just isn’t substantial enough to warrant your valuable digital bucks. While it pains me to say it, I’d have to go with…
Sonic & Knuckles
No character defined the 16-bit era better than Sonic The Hedgehog. Mario had been around for some time, and Sonic came and stole much of his thunder. Not only was the character a refreshing change of pace (that pace being very fast) but the games he starred in were great fun. For that reason, each Virtual Console release of his games should be celebrated, shouldn’t they? Sonic & Knuckles introduced a new play style thanks to Knuckles, and the game, along with Sonic 3, featured the best visuals of the series. I won’t even get started with how well the levels were designed or how iconic some of the music was. There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one. Sonic & Knuckles is somewhat short. This was somewhat excusable on the Genesis/Mega Drive as the cart was featured lock-on technology, which allowed you to play as Knuckles in both Sonic 2 and 3, offering very new ways of playing our favorites. But this is the Virtual Console we’re talking about – no physical “lock-on” carts to speak of. So how does it fare?
Pass or Purchase? I’m happy to report that Sonic & Knuckles is a unique Virtual Console release in that it interacts with two other downloads: Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. Yep, lock-on tech in emulation. Fancy, right? Add this nice little feature to an already very good Sonic game and it becomes nearly impossible not to recommend. Is $8 overpriced? Sure. Is Sonic & Knuckles a rare game in which its re-release is to be celebrated? Not even close. In fact, this version of the game might be considered a re-re-re-re-re-release. Still, it’s a classic that should be experienced by all generations.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The Virtual Console started with so much promise. When certain games were released, like Super Fantasy Zone, Pulseman, and Alien Soldier, we rejoiced. The service is often criticized for its high prices for common carts, but for those who either missed the Genesis/Mega Drive or wish to relive it without busting out old hardware, it’s a great help.
Let’s not lie to ourselves though, the service has not only missed it’s potential, it’s dying. And not in a blaze of glory, mind you. The number of monthly Virtual Console releases has slowed to a trickle, and while the Genesis/Mega Drive may be the second most well represented console on the service (only outnumbered in games by the NES), there don’t seem to be any notable games on the horizon.
If anything, hopefully Nintendo learns from its mistakes with the Virtual Console. The Big N will be releasing the 3DS in a few months, which has promised its own version of digital retro games. While only Game Boy games have been announced thus far, it’s not a stretch to imagine Game Gear games showing up on the handheld. And maybe someday we’ll see Genesis games on the go again, but this time done right. (No offense to all of the Nomad owners out there) One can dream, right?