Retro: VC Weekly #165

Welcome to VC Weekly, N-Europe's guide to the wonderful world of Nintendo's download service. Written by Sam C Gittins.

With the addition of the 3DS Virtual Console you can now look forward to seeing portable titles added every Thursday on top of the usual Friday releases for Wii downloadable titles; and they will all continue to be covered here in VC Weekly from this day forth. Anyway enough from me and on with the games!

Available for download this week we have...

  • The Legend of Zelda : Link's Awakening
  • Super Adventure Island II
  • Super Mario Land
  • Alleyway
  • Tennis

Price: �5.40
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 1999
System: Gameboy Colour

Zelda is a series beloved to many, when the original NES game appeared it was unlike anything seen before and in many ways it's one of the first successful adventure games; as it continued becoming ever more successful gaining untold amounts of recognition with A Link to the Past on the SNES which is one of the most widely celebrated entries in the series and with good reason seeing as it was responsible for bringing about many elements still prominent in today's iterations. This is one of the more unique entries as Link's Awakening is a marked departure from many staple elements, eschewing them in favour of creating more of a 'real' story set within a surreal location that only serves to further fuel the adventuring element within.

Originally this was a classic upon its first release even in monochrome Link's first portable adventure was fantastic featuring stunning locations plus characters with well-written dialogue that's genius at times including such gems as Ulrira a shy old man who communicates with Link via telephone and children seen playing within the village who will inform you of various game mechanics but claim not to understand what it means or where they heard it. This breaking of the fourth wall is ingenious and only serves to add further charm to the experience. Indeed it should have come of little surprise that this title got the DX treatment when the GameBoy Colour released because out of all the titles to be released on the portable system this is clearly one that both deserved and benefited most from the subtle yet welcome improvements made to it.

For the uninitiated you play as Link who after becoming shipwrecked - as beautifully depicted in the intro - awakens in a place he discovers is named Koholint Island, he is told this by Marin who rescued him, taking Link back to the house where her and Tarin - her father - live; after setting off to the shore then reclaiming your sword you are approached by a mysterious owl who informs our hero that he must wake the Wind Fish who sleeps atop the island on top of Mt. Tamaranch and can only be awakened by the Eight instruments of the sirens. There is of course a catch which is that each instrument is guarded by Nightmare creatures who wish to rule the world for themselves and so this serves as your motivation for adventure because naturally you need to venture into eight different dungeons to reclaim these; this is where the game really comes into its own.

Playing much like the previous games you journey across a sprawling overworld as you talk to people, explore numerous locations and of course battle many evil minions including some classic enemies including Moblins, Stalfos, Tektites plus many new ones which include Anti-Kirby, Mask-Mimics and Takkuri. Interestingly this is the first game in the series to include an item trade-sequence plus the Rocs Feather which by allowing Link to jump made it possible to have short side-scrolling sections featuring Mario-like platform action along with Goombas to stomp and Thwomps to avoid; it's these interesting interchangeable elements which sets this title apart from the rest but always manages to work in its favour by keeping you playing because you really won't know what to expect next, of course all the important elements are still there plus the game is very challenging indeed with plenty of items to find along the way including heart pieces and secret shells... quite simply this game has it all in spades plus an actual spade too!

This was a technical achievement even in its monochrome days but in colour it's nothing short of a visual masterpiece as everything looks fantastic adding an entirely new dimension not to mention an extra dungeon which takes full advantage of the new pixel perfect palette. Hearing the familiar title screen music for the first time is a magical experience indeed and you'll be pleased to know that everything after that point lives up to the high expectations raised by the intro as the audio used here is nothing short of astonishing from the overworld theme to each dungeon, encounter, location... basically everything is treat for the ears that when accompanied by the feast for the eyes that the graphics provide; it all adds up to an experience like no other that makes you proud to be a gamer.

Ask anyone who's owned a GameBoy what their favourite game is, it's very likely to be Link's Awakening in either of its formats if not both... what you have here is the definitive version of what's arguably one of the best games of all time portable or otherwise for a mere five pounds and while it's certainly worth it of course you could just play the actual game if you still have it to hand. But to those of you who have yet to experience this classic and who own a 3DS I urge you to purchase this for I can guarantee that it will be money well spent; this is one of the best games I've ever had the pleasure of playing back in the day, replaying now it's still a joy to behold and I can see myself playing it again in the future, a timeless classic make no mistake.

Verdict : Link awakens a special piece of every gamers heart.

Points: 800
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer: Hudson Soft
Released: 1995
System: SNES

Appropriately this title starts off in similar fashion to Link's Awakening DX as our hero Master Higgins is caught up in a storm where he is separated from his wife Tina, he then wakes up with little memory on the mysterious Waku Waku island... it's a fleeting similarity admittedly plus it's subsequently shattered as the plot thickens when our hero discovers the island is ruled by a king who has recently appointed an amnesiac 'Queen' who is kidnapped and so he asks Master Higgins to rescue her which he agrees too seeing as she may be able to help him piece together what happened. And so begins another entry to Adventure Island which if you're unaware is a popular series of platform games in which you run across land, jump over pitfalls and throw projectiles at enemies through a variety of levels.

Or at least that's how it used to be but since the japanese only released Adventure Island IV which turned the genre of the series into an Action RPG which is aptly similar to Wonder Boy and actually makes the experience far more interesting for this entry. Your main goal is to reach Fuwa Fuwa Island - that's where the King's wife to be is being held - but to get in you'll have to collect five spells to break the barrier which means - you guessed it � travelling to five islands and defeating the guardian that resides within each one.

The islands play like simplified dungeons as while there are a few secrets to find and chests to unlock it's all pretty straightforward yet satisfying as you hack and slash your way through enemies using swords plus things like your famous axe, boomerang and fireballs from previous entries in the series which you unlock later on. While there is no overworld to speak of that connects the islands � just a map screen where you travel by boat � there are warps on each of them which will take you from one to the other � eventually forming a circle � so that you can back-track to certain islands when you have upgraded your equipment of which you can obtain a shovel that can dig through dirt not to mention the fact that you can obtain suits of armour too for added protection plus the obligatory extendible magic bar which you'd expect in this kind of game.

Visually the game looks acceptable and even nice in some areas but there's too much that's just not that inspiring throughout as some backgrounds seem barren which lets the game down somewhat but fortunately the music is mostly very catchy indeed which helps lighten the mood a lot, spurring you on in your adventure.

Definitely one of the best in the series despite its shortcomings I would recommend the title to anyone who hasn't played the series yet because it is in many ways definitive due to the radical changes which work to its advantage making it a better game. While some RPG purists may find it relatively simple it's enjoyable enough for fans of the action genre who are looking for something a bit more involved to be satisfied on both fronts here; it's worth the points providing you have the time.

Verdict : The most adventurous title in the series and the most rewarding.

Price: �3.60
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 1989
System: Gameboy

While many will be more than familiar with the Super Mario series on the home consoles the portly plumbers first portable outing seems to be not as widely recognised even though it's actually immensely popular. I can recall playing this fantastic title many years ago and can confirm that it's just as much fun now as it was back in the day even if by today's standards it feels significantly shorter; but that's exactly why it's perfect for Nintendo's download service which and it's fitting that a game that launched on the original GameBoy should launch on the 3DS Virtual Console as one of the first available titles.

If you're at all familiar with Mario then you'll feel right at home here as essentially the game controls in the same manner to the NES version as you use the control pad to move, 'A' to jump and hold onto 'B' to run or press it upon picking up the Fire-Flower to shoot fireballs that will bounce off the walls. Other items include the famous Mushroom which will bring you back to size if you're small plus Starman which will make you invincible and a short version of the Can-Can music play while in this state; that's basically it as this is Mario at its most pure, basic level which is no bad thing.

As ever your goal is to reach the end of the level - within a time limit - where you'll find not a flag pole but two doors, they both lead to the next level but the top one which is more trickier to access will let you have a try at the bonus stage where you can obtain extra lives which can be very useful indeed especially on your first play-through. You'll find yourself journeying across four worlds which contain three levels in each with the last being a boss battle which is typically fairly simple and over very quickly much like the game itself as it's quite easy to breeze through in less than an hour however there are a couple of vehicle-based levels featuring a Submarine and a Ship which play like a mini shoot-em-up and are definitely a particular highlight.

There may not be a huge amount of detail present here as let's not forget this is a first-generation GameBoy title so black and white is the order of the day here - though you can opt to play in original green-screen by pressing 'L, R plus Y' or even view the game with a GB border by holding 'Select' on boot-up � so while you shouldn't expect much don't discount what's already there as it still has a decent visual style which comes into its own later on. Audio however is on another level entirely featuring many track that essentially encapsulate the feeling that the series exudes and some of the 'world themed' track including Chinese and Egyptian levels are pure whimsical genius working so well that they ensure you'll be humming them for days � if not years � afterwards.

Launching with Nintendo's first portable console Super Mario Land is a landmark title and while it was no doubt ground-breaking in its day now things have moved on somewhat and this short title may not hold your attention for long but it's still provides an excellent experience that can give any iPhone title a run for its money. If you've yet to experience this title then you owe it to yourself if only to experience Mario's first portable adventure though its sequel Super Mario Land 2 : Six Golden Coins is by far superior and will inevitably release eventually so you may wish to save your money for that instead.

Verdict : Mario's shortest yet sweetest portable adventure.

Price: �2.70
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 1989
System: Gameboy

Everyone has surely heard of the classic brick-breaking game named Arkanoid which first appeared in the late eighties and if you have then this is basically Nintendo's take on the game named Alleyway; in this title you basically have a long 'baton ship' piloted by none other than Mario whose job it is to 'bat' the ball against a wall getting rid of all blocks to clear the stage. It was frightfully basic back in the day but now it shows its age more than ever, so much so that you may well question why it was chosen to launch with the 3DS Virtual Console and my only answer to that would be sadly to make a quick buck.

Basic gameplay aforementioned above never really changes aside from in the bonus stage where the ball simply passes through the blocks and there is no penalty just a point bonus if you do well and none if you don't before moving onto the next stage. Cameo's are featured periodically throughout as many levels are in the shape of Nintendo characters including Bowser, Goomba and of course Mario himself.

Aside from this though Alleyway offers virtually nothing over Arkanoid not to mention the countless remakes of this once classic game that have come in the decades since that have passed and have actually done a better job overall. Visuals are as basic as you like with little to no variation and there is no real music, just a few jingles and the sound of the ball as it bounces off each block and the surrounding walls.

I simply can't recommend this title unless you're feeling extremely nostalgic and good-willed because even at a couple of pounds this doesn't represent good value for money and I'd even go as far to say as this should have been a free title but even then you'd still consider if you actually wanted it or not. Sadly this is one title that the portable VC could have launched without and you'd do better to buy Super Mario Land instead because at least you're actually getting more game for your money, this is just a waste.

Verdict : An abysmal Arkanoid clone that's best avoided

Price: �2.70
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 1989
System: Gameboy

Tennis is a game that I'm sure many of us has played at some point but there's something undeniably different about sports titles when they're made by Nintendo and while it doesn't necessarily mean they're the best examples the style in which these games are often presented in definitely has a certain charm about it which is undeniable. This rings true in this version of the classic sport which is essentially a version of the much-loved NES title of the same name except with a bit more character.

Basic it may be but you can execute simple shots plus power serves with the 'A' button with lob shots being mapped to 'B' and the direction being controlled by the d-pad, these are the basics which form the majority of the game, the rest is all about how the match plays out. Playing against the CPU opponents provides a fair amount of challenge especially as you advance but sadly there isn't much else to it for there is no way to play the two player mode from the original so what you're left with is a somewhat simple sport simulation that's fun for a short while but not much good for anything beyond that.

Visuals are nice enough for a GameBoy title featuring some cute character designs that are a cut above the NES version but obviously lacking in colour, a nice addition is having Mario as the umpire which is typical Nintendo fan-service for these type of games. Audio is fitting as you might expect but it's nothing to write home about, if you've played this before then you might get a kick out of hearing certain sound effects again but it doesn't have much aside from this.

Quite simply if you feel that you must play a Tennis title right now then this is all that's on offer so you could purchase and probably regret it or you could wait because there have been many similar titles released on the GameBoy over the years that are sure to appear here eventually including the fantastic Mario Tennis on the GBC which would definitely be worth waiting for. This really isn't worth its price tag unless you're feeling very, very nostalgic.

Verdict : Serves up a simple experience that falls short of the line.

That's it for another installment of VC Weekly which will return again soon. So until then, enjoy the rest of the week and Game On!

Sam Gittins
[email protected]

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