Retro: VC Weekly #187

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

Apologies in the huge delay from the release of these titles to their appearance on site but reviewing ten VC games in one go; ten of the finest GBA games in existence no less is no small undertaking but finally here they are in all their glory. Anyway enough from me and on with the Ambassador games!

Available for download this week we have...

  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
  • F-Zero Maximum Velocity
  • Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
  • Mario VS Donkey Kong
  • Mario Kart Super Circuit
  • Metroid Fusion
  • The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
  • Wario Land 4
  • Warioware Inc : Mega Microgame$
  • Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Released: 2005
System: GameBoy Advance

There are certain genres of games that divide players, it would seem that Turn-Based Strategy is one such example perhaps because of the initially steep learning curve but when Intelligent Systems decide to create something it's quite interesting to see just how many people who would normally avoid such titles end up becoming a fan as the result of testing the water. Indeed it is testament to Fire Emblem's design that it's fairly accessible yet it offers a great deal of depth for those who are willing to take the time to explore everything it has to offer which coincidentally is quite a lot and with Fire Emblem : The Sacred Stones this is no exception, in fact it's more like the rule.

Naturally there is no real continuity with regards to the storyline as each entry is different, in this one you follow the story of Eirika and Ephraim who are the respective princess and prince to the throne of Renais who embark on a quest to retrieve the five sacred stones which have been foretold to bring peace to the land. On the course of your adventure you'll come across other characters each of which have a specialised skill to offer, so you'll likely be glad of their assistance when they join you as there are plenty of dangers ahead that must be overcome.

Comparable to both its predecessor and Advance Wars in terms of the way that it plays, this entry feels like more of the same but with a few changes but in this case that's certainly not a bad thing because while the games are similar in one respect they are sufficiently different in other areas for example Advance Wars is more about intense construction and management whereas Fire Emblem puts more emphasis upon the characters, managing to develop the plot beautifully in tandem with your progress which is somewhat rewarding. Perhaps the trump card is in how much you will get attached to the characters, this is done purposefully because if you lose one of them on the battlefield they will be gone for good which is reflected in the story which leaves you the player with the heart-breaking choice of either restarting the mission probably losing about an hours progress or simply carrying on; it's a brilliant mechanic which works well because it means that you need to be cautious if you're to make it through with no deaths.

Some rather nice details are present as the game is presented mostly in a top-down perspective which is very reminiscent of many SNES titles both in style and level of detail, it has aged quite favourably even when you compare it to more recent strategy titles on the DS with the sprite based visuals looking lovely along with some rather stunning presentation. As you might expect the audio is truly top-notch and is something that sounds good on a portable system plus even more absorbing through a pair of headphones, it's very atmospheric nearly managing to equal the music of its predecessor; rest assured though it's very nearly there and still very much well suited to every in-game moment.

If you're a strategy fan then you already know what to do but if you've still yet to dip a toe into the waters of the genre then don't be afraid to with this fine example but also don't be surprised if after experiencing what it has to offer that you'll want to dive right in. This is to it's predecessor what Advance Wars 2 is to the original; a more than worthy follow up with its only fault being that it isn't quite as original as the title that came before it but when we're talking about gaming of such high calibre it's hardly even a concern.

Verdict : A strategy title that's full-featured yet fantastically fun to play.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nd Cube
Released: 2001
System: GameBoy Advance

Famous for being one of the most technically impressive pseudo-3D racers of its time when it was released on the SNES the original F-Zero is quite unlike any other game within the genre, indeed you could even say that it created the anti-gravity racing sub-genre which is quite an accomplishment. Almost a decade on the series got something of a rebirth in the form of F-Zero Maximum Velocity a game which takes the structure of the original title as a base and then expands on it to create the first portable version of the futuristic racer which is not only an impressive thing behold but it's also an experience that manages to hold a candle to legendary SNES title.

Its premise is simple you must race against other ships in a bid for first place while making sure not to end up as scrap metal by the track-side as you either take or deal blows to your opponents on the fly, there is a repair lane near the start which you'll most certainly be taking advantage of during each new lap plus the boost which you get at the same time but beware because if you find yourself at the back of the pack you'll get eliminated when those ahead of you cross the line. This continues until it's the last lap with only a handful of racers left all battling it out for first place, competition remains ever fierce as you race on hoping not to be the last over the finish line having to use up another ship to try again; this is the nature of F-Zero at its best.

Control mechanics have been overhauled as while you still use 'A' to accelerate it's going round the corners where you'll need to be rapidly tapping it while holding the relevant shoulder button; a process which takes a little bit of getting used to but after a few tracks you'll be cornering like a pro in no time which is just as well because with twenty plus tracks spread throughout the various cups and with multiple difficulties to tackle this is one racing game which will take you a while to complete. There's a decent selection of ships to choose from too each of which have their own attributes to take into account plus more to unlock as you progress your way through the game, it's something of a shame that the multiplayer can't be accessed on this version for obvious reasons but it's just as well that there's plenty to do here even in single player.

Hugely reminiscent of the Mode 7 graphics which were present in the original, this version takes those iconic visuals and adds an extra layer of slickness on top which seems to add a great deal of depth to the proceedings; it may be in the same league as F-Zero X in this department but it still shows what exactly is possible on the GBA and it looks decent even by today's standards. Music is again very similar to the original with some very nice chip-tune compositions which feature a healthy amount of synthesised electric guitar accompanied beautifully by a barrage of artistically placed bleeps which really manage to keep the spirit of the series alive despite perhaps not being quite on the same level of brilliance as say the classic track 'Big-Blue' but there are some solid efforts here.

Quite simply there isn't another racing game out there quite like F-Zero as the series is unique and while this may not be the best title overall it's still an ideal starting point for anyone who is wanting to get started or just as a means for veterans to get a quick 'fix' of their favourite futuristic racer. A solid addition to the library of Ambassador titles as it's a great pick up and play experience which provides hand-held, high-octane thrills which you quite simply cannot find anywhere else.

Verdict : F-Zero's first foray onto a hand-held proves to be fantastically fun.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Flagship
Released: 2004
System: GameBoy Advance

Kirby is undeniably one of Nintendo's most popular characters perhaps due to his versatility as over the years he has starred in many games including many spin-offs but some of his personal bests tend to be the more original platform games so it should come as no surprise that this title which sits somewhere in between does reasonably well. Developed by Flagship who were also behind the Four Swords Zelda multiplayer game it would seem that the same magic is being worked here but in a much different way because the actual game still plays like a more traditional platform adventure but with a few alterations to the structure making things a little more interesting.

Travelling to the Mirror World via the titular 'Amazing Mirror' in order to banish the evil which resides there Kirby finds that his reflection has been but into four separate coloured Kirby's as a result of Meta Knight's failed attempt at saving the land. So now it falls upon you to work together with your coloured copies in an attempt to defeat the mysterious evil and put things right; this serves as an interesting plot device which then has you travelling to various levels via mirror portals, some of the places will seem familiar as they are based on areas from past titles along with some new and rather random levels which are all linked together as one big 'mirror maze' which can be a puzzle in itself to figure out.

Of course the core gameplay comes from Kirby's unique ability to absorb enemies by sucking them up from which point he can choose to steal their powers which can result in many marvellous transformations including classics like Sword Kirby where he essentially mimics Link which is useful for destroying things to a punching power that's well suited to breaking blocks. The real challenge clearly comes from the labyrinthine structure as the actual enemies are relatively easy to take out for the duration of the game as are the bosses which merely seem like token efforts; the other main twist comes from the three other A.I controlled Kirby's who will help you out providing they are nearby which they invariably aren't, this is where you can use your 'cell phone' to call them back to you providing you have enough battery power which is replenished via relevant power-ups... it's quite clear that when this game was originally conceived it had multiplayer in mind but seeing as that isn't an option here you'll just have to take the other coloured blobs for what they are be that a help or hindrance.

Clearly directly inspired by Nightmare in Dreamland the visuals used are of similar quality with many solid, vibrant colours which has become something of a series staple alongside some nicely animated sprites. Similarly the sound is very much similar to the SNES games which most Kirby titles have emulated ever since and while there's nothing wrong with that it never really feels fresh at all just comfortably familiar, the same can be said of the individual effects but it's to be expected of most games featuring our favourite ball of pink fudge.

A classic example of just how adaptable Kirby can be as Amazing Mirror manages to provide a perfectly playable platforming experience even as a standalone single player offering. If you're a fan of the genre then this is certainly worth playing for the fun of it but it's certainly not Kirby's finest hour; for a freebie though this is hardly a concern.

Verdict : While not amazing this is an above average Kirby outing.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo Software Technology
Released: 2004
System: GameBoy Advance

Anyone who's familiar with the fantastic GameBoy version of Donkey Kong � available on the eShop � should at least know partly what to expect from Mario VS Donkey Kong as the underlying formula is at least familiar albeit with a brand new spin put on it. Fed up with kidnapping Princesses the infernal ape Donkey Kong has moved on to collecting Mini Mario's but rather than buying them from a shop he decides to steal all of the toys from the factory leaving none for anyone else; of course Mario won't stand for this and so he gives chase as he follows DK up to the top of the toy factory collecting all of the mini versions of himself that the big ape seemed to drop during his getaway.

Your goal in each level is to collect packages then reach the exit, firstly there will be one package to obtain plus a key which must be carried to a locked door leading onto the second part which contains a further two packages to collect along with the Mini-Mario for that level; only the key plus the toy are essential for completion but if you're wanting to unlock Hard Mode then you'll be going after the extra items too in the quickest time possible. Each main level seems very well designed with a lot of thought put into how Mario interacts with the environment as it all becomes one big playground utilising everything from the double jump to throwing enemies or even blitzing all in your path with the classic Hammer power-up, when it comes to the boss stages though winning against DK may seem remarkably simple but if you want to rake in the points then you'll need to complete each boss battle without getting hit as this is how you are rewarded.

Every six levels you'll be tasked with leading the Mini-Mario's you've collected from the factory to the toy box in a Lemmings style puzzle, this is where the the more original element of play comes into its own helping to separate it from other Donkey Kong titles; ultimately it's almost a shame that there aren't more of these stages as they really brighten up the already shining experience but being that this is the technically the first title in this partially new series it's entirely forgiveable. Also thanks to this culmination of elements both old and new this is one title which you might feel familiar with at times but are constantly assured that it's all new content making for a truly compulsive playing experience which even fans who have played the first GameBoy version of DK repeatedly will revel in this glorious title.

While it doesn't remain faithful in the graphics department as the original games were all entirely sprite based which added to their charm it's still impressive if a little jarring 3D rendered sprites for the characters in the game including Mario himself which might not sit well with purists but overall it's certainly not a deal-breaker. Audibly this is a well-rounded effort taking into account the brilliant music compositions which are top-tier as you might expect but unfortunately Mario in particular seems overly vocal in this entry which there's nothing wrong with but it's arguable that the frequent voice samples aren't needed as often but again it's not a huge concern.

This is a really brilliant partial-reinvention of an old formula which there might not have been anything wrong with to begin with but it's hard to deny that what has been added here definitely has a positive effect on the classic Donkey Kong franchise helping to bring it to a larger audience as today there are many sequels that have stemmed from this modern-day classic. It almost goes without saying that if you've loved any of the original DK games then you will almost certainly love this modern take on an all-time great and if it's sitting on your 3DS unplayed then why not give it a try because I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Verdict : A masterful Mario title with more than a healthy dose of Donkey Kong.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Released: 2001
System: GameBoy Advance

For its original time of release this was quite possibly regarded as one of the finest entries in the series taking direct inspiration from the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES thanks to the Mode 7 style visuals plus some smart cues taken from the hugely influential Mario Kart 64 but by today's standards since we've been spoiled by several further iterations in the series it seems that it's not nearly as favourably looked back upon, this has puzzled me somewhat as personally I have always enjoyed the title. It also used to boast the largest amount of content containing no less than forty tracks, (half original and half SNES originals) eight characters plus both GP and Time Trial modes; not bad for a game originally released as one of the first GBA titles.

But perhaps now it's merely seen as quantity over quality as while the gameplay certainly still holds up today it does admittedly seem somewhat dated in the way which the game controls, as a result of this anyone going from playing one of the more recent entries to this may experience a bit of trouble initially though this is something that can be easily overcome. Before you know it you'll be blasting through the various difficulties that are on offer from 50cc to 100cc and of course 150cc which we all know is the choice of veterans as the modes before merely serve as an introduction; personally I'll always remember Super Circuit for having some of the most original tracks including the joyful Ribbon Road plus Sky Garden which required a certain amount of skill to hop across the short-cut in the clouds and how could forget the simple joy of seeing the castle in the background of Peach Circuit, perhaps not on the same level as driving up to it in MK64 but nonetheless a subtle moment of brilliance.

Power ups include the shells that you've come to expect in single/triple varieties not to mention bananas, mushrooms, starman and of course the lightning bolt' the selection is reasonable but obviously has since been bettered by more recent entries. Single player is reasonably satisfying once you get to grips with everything though the computer controlled characters have a tendency to feel rather cheap at times which is a shame, doubly so due to the lack of any multiplayer mode but even despite this you're still sure to have a blast racing along all the tracks and then going back to better your times once all the cups have been collected so there is at least some replay value.

Visually the game is of a decent standard seeing as this was one of the first GBA games released, indeed it was once considered to be a landmark title owing to the Mode 7 style graphics which really suit this outing well as do the rather lovable animations which help add life to the proceedings. The accompanying music is rather decent overall from the fantastic main theme to each piece of music which perfectly suits the track it was made for, even the music on the SNES tracks still sounds decent by today's standards along with some excellent voice samples for each character which you'll learn to love and loathe depending on race standings.

Still representing an important step for the series Mario Kart Super Circuit is undeniably one of the best titles for its time and though it may be dated now it's still perfectly playable if only in single player. Recently we've been somewhat spoiled by the utterly brilliant Mario Kart 7 so playing any other game in the series will undoubtedly feel like a step back but it's undeniable that however dated it may be the most important element is still present; which is 'fun' and there's still a decent amount to be had here.

Verdict : Mini sized Mario Kart that still manages to maintain the feeling of fun.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 2003
System: GameBoy Advance

The legendary Super Metroid will always be remembered as the 'fan favourite' that players enjoyed the most and quite rightly so because it is in many ways the game that put Metroid on the map so it's almost ironic that the iconic Samus Aran was almost 'forgotten' about it took a good console generation for her to return; thankfully the GameBoy Advance was released which graced us with 'Metroid 4' or as it's more commonly known 'Metroid Fusion' but little did we know just how brilliant it would be, it would seem that the return of this well-loved series was most definitely worth the wait.

Set after Super Metroid we see Samus return to planet SR388 � home world of the Metroid � alongside a research team but it isn't long before disaster strikes as she is infected by the 'X-parasite' which causes her to fall unconscious during the return flight home; her ship crashes and she wakes up in critical condition at the Galactic Federation who manage to create a vaccine from Metroid DNA which saves Samus but it transpires that her power suit is damaged beyond repair. This is where you acquire the Fusion Suit which while being rather weak � not to mention a rather striking blue colour � allows Samus to absorb X-parasites which proves useful as she sets off to the 'Biologic Space Labs Research Station' to investigate an explosion which has occurred there and the place is overrun by the troublesome creatures so it's just as well to have a defence mechanism against them.

Docking your stop-gap ship � which is a rather striking purple � at the station this is where you take control under the guidance of the ships computer � based on Adam Malkovitch � as you explore your surrounding area while blasting any 'X' as you go, doing this will release the parasite from the creature it infected allowing you to absorb it as either energy or ammunition which proves a rather useful mechanic throughout your mission and is used to particularly great effect upon defeating bosses which will grant you a significant upgrade ranging from anything like the simple Screw Attack to the deadly Diffusion Missiles which pack more than a punch. It's well noted that while Fusion is undeniably more of a linear affair than Super Metroid it's actually here from where it draws strength because you always know roughly where to go which spurs you on and while it may feel like having a computer giving you intel somewhat breaks that feeling of isolation it's kept in check by the tension which is created by the SA-X which is an X-parasite copy of Samus in her original Chozo designed, fully powered-up battle armour which stalks you throughout the game making for some incredibly tense moments especially being that you're too underpowered to take on the creation until near the end of the game.

In the visual department Fusion truly excels featuring graphics eerily reminiscent of the great Super Metroid except even more detailed thanks to the GBA hardware which allows for some impressive effects indeed including an excellent representation of space just outside the ship along with some subtle lighting which really helps bring the six sprawling areas to life the most spectacular being a replica of of SR388 which has to be seen to be believed. Naturally the audio complements the action perfectly featuring accompanying pieces both old and new along with a diverse range of moods conveyed brilliantly managing to masterfully build then disperse feelings of tension as required which only adds to the already deeply engaging experience.

A simply amazing title which goes some way to proving that length isn't everything in a game because while Metroid Fusion is significantly shorter than previous entries it most certainly captures every single positive aspect within the series, presenting itself in such a spectacular way which will utterly absorb you from start to finish. To put it another way this is one of the finest Metroid titles to date so quite honestly if you haven't played it yet or even if you have it downloaded on your 3DS but have yet to take the plunge then I really don't know what you're waiting for... do your duty as an ambassador, enjoy what could easily be considered as Samus Aran's finest hour in recent years.

Verdict : The most masterful Metroid title since the 16-bit era.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Capcom
Released: 2004
System: GameBoy Advance

While it's undeniable that A Link to the Past is responsible for setting the template for almost every Zelda title since then Minish Cap should surely be remembered for its most excellent execution of this template but much more than this it is perhaps the most memorable portable game in the series and one that deserves almost every bit the amount of recognition as the landmark SNES title has garnered. The games story revolves around the evil wind sorcerer Vaati who shatters the Picori blade thus breaking an age-old seal which means that evil will once again roam across Hyrule; then Princess Zelda gets turned into stone and it falls upon you as Link to restore the blade in order to lift the curse, this must be done by the 'Minish' also known as Picori who are small people that can only be seen by kind-hearted children... it just so happens that Link fits the bill.

It's a bit of an odd story that's certainly not one of the best but it does pick-up somewhat when you are partnered up with 'Ezlo' a loud-mouthed, bird-shaped hat who decides to accompany you on your quest; thankfully everything else about the game picks up pretty quickly at this point too, failing to let-up for even a moment until the very end. This is the beauty of Minish Cap as it's so perfectly paced throughout because instead of feeling familiar at the start you are introduced to the games most interesting element which is your ability to shrink to a small speck of your former self; this is done by accessing portals which are scattered around Hyrule as this is the only way you'll get to interact with the Minish people, it soon becomes apparent at just how fantastic a mechanic it is too as you're soon exploring many seemingly 'normal' objects such as Tree-stumps which actually turn out to be full-blown areas in their own right and things like a simple rainfall can become comparable to dodging boulders on Death Mountain trail.

One of the best things about this adventure though is its lack of reliance on 'classic' Zelda staples including Bomb's and the Hero's Bow in favour of newer items including the Mole Mitts which allow link to tunnel through certain landscapes plus the Gust Jar which creates a vacuum allowing you to draw objects towards you along with other uses. Indeed it speaks volumes that those two items in particular were most recently recycled in Skyward Sword � albeit in a more powered-up form � because I believe that many items from Minish Cap have long been hailed as some of the best original items used in the series for a long time and they certainly prove their worth many times over as you'll be using these items plus more within the many impeccably designed dungeons which easily feel more challenging than those found in later portable outings not to mention some truly brilliant boss battles; perhaps most impressive though is the land of Hyrule itself which has been re-imagined spectacularly managing to feel rather restrictive at the start but then being blown wide open with each new item you acquire, this is easily one of the best overworlds ever conceived in the series.

There are some justifiably jaw-dropping visuals featured throughout from the beautifully crafted Picori Festival at the start to the haunting Dark Hyrule Castle and everything in-between; just as A Link to the Past is considered to have the best visuals for its time of release on a home console Minish Cap holds this title proudly aloft for the hand-held category not looking to be beaten any time soon unless proven wrong by the yet to be fully announced original retail Zelda title on the 3DS. Naturally the audio is simply sublime featuring a diverse score that is sure to immerse you more than ever before; each piece serves only to amplify the air of adventure that's an ever-present accompaniment throughout your journey and is a reminder of just how enchanting the series can be.

Make no mistake as this is one of the finest entries in the long-running series which is now in the year of its twenty-fifth anniversary and has never been stronger, while Minish Cap could have perhaps been longer it still sets a shining example of how to truly do a portable Zelda title the justice it deserves. If you've yet to play this most excellent entry in the series then I would strongly suggest that you do so and if you're an ambassador then what better time to experience this classic which surely proves that the best things come in small packages.

Verdict : A mini Zelda title that manages to be both mesmerising and memorable.

Price: GB �Free, EU �Free
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer:


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