Retro: VC Weekly #199

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

If you have a penchant for platformers or an appetite for adventure then hopefully you'll be satisfied by this latest slew of titles. Anyway enough from me and on with the games!

Available for download this week we have...

  • Dragon Crystal
  • Shinobi
  • Sonic Triple Trouble
  • Megaman 5

Price: GB �2.70, EU �3
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Released: 1992
System: Game Gear

It definitely seems somewhat out of place to have an RPG-like game on a portable system such as the Game Gear when you consider that it has absolutely no password or save system at all, it must have been the source of some frustration especially when you consider that Dragon Crystal is a very unforgiving title indeed. You're placed into a randomly generated environment full of enemies that can use items on you which have potentially unknown effects; you also need to keep your food stores topped up lest you let your health rapidly deplete to nothing.

Masochistic is an entirely accurate description of everything about this title as it really seems to be something that you'd only want to play if you're that rare kind of gamer that enjoys painful experiences, fortunately thanks to the 'Restore Point' feature of the VC this game actually becomes playable as if you plan on saving regularly then it affords you a bit of leeway to experiment with what's thrown at you as if you don't like what happens you can just reload only to find out that something different might happen on your next try. The main aim of each stage is to find the exit which is much easier said than done when you factor in the 'Fog of War' mechanics that's employed throughout � think of the Advance Wars map screens � which means that you never know quite what's ahead of you until you venture forward revealing more of the levels map.

A variety of items are available for you to use should you stumble upon them on your travels but you won't actually know exactly what they do until you pick them up which seems to encourage 'trial & error' gameplay as many items ranging from Staffs, Spells and more besides can have either a positive or negative effect on the player/enemies which doesn't become apparent until you've actually used them so you can end up either increasing your formidableness or inadvertently stacking the odds against you. Basic combat is present through a bare-bones system that sees you simply walk into your foes to attack much like many a classic dungeon-crawler, things tend to move one square at a time though so you can strategically place yourself around the other side of your enemies at least which may help you to deal more damage while shielding yourself somewhat.

Copy pasted environments are very much a staple of this title as the most intricate thing you're going to see here are cacti, statues and trees arranged in varying formations which make up the games mazes of which you'll be navigating a lot so it's perhaps a shame that there really isn't that much variety at all aside from a dragon that follows you in egg form eventually hatching plus the changing appearance of your hero as you change weapons etc. Audio seems fairly functional for the most-part as it really just helps things along rather than adding anything spectacular, it's the kind of 'background noise' that you don't mind so much as it's serving a purpose but beyond that there's nothing that really stands out here.

Offering something a bit different from convention Dragon Crystal is at least semi-original in its trait of going against the grain to create something that may compel you to play on even if you're not sure exactly why, it's perfectly possible to play this title without restore points if you really are a true masochist but I'd advise playing it with restore points enabled in addition to making use of 'Game Notes' to get the most out of this oddity. It's really not something that's instantly accessible but there is certainly a small market that this niche title will satisfy and if you're looking for a game with a slower pace coupled with an almost unforgivable difficulty then look no further but everyone else may just want to look or run the other way.

Verdict : A marvellous title for fans of masochistic mazes.

Price: GB �3.60, EU �4
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Released: 1991
System: Game Gear

Ninja games have been popular for a long time this is fact, Shinobi has been around since the eighties enjoying a decent amount of success over the years thanks to simple gameplay that has evolved slightly over the years while retaining most of the core elements. This iteration on the Game Gear may share the same name as the original but it's a different beast entirely with a story revolving around you playing as Joe Musashi � the Red Ninja � who is making it his business to bring the criminal ridden Neo City to justice but in order to do this you're going to need a little help from four fellow colour-coordinated ninjas who you'll need to rescue.

You can opt to take on each of the games stages in any order which is indeed a very 'Mega Man' style approach which is good as it's well suited to portable gaming, the similarities continue as you rescue each ninja then are able to use them to tackle the remaining stages. Naturally each of them has their own special powers which means that they will have stages that they'll be better suited at which is further evidence of the 'borrowed' structure of the game which I can only stress as being a positive aspect after all, it makes sense for this type of game to play similarly so at least the development team made a decent job of adapting it to work with the series own trademark traits.

There are various items to acquire within the stages some of which can only be reached with certain Ninjas so you'll want to think strategically as you make your choice as this will also come into play when you reach the end of each stage and have to face off against the fantastic boss battles which are beatable by any character but using a certain one as opposed to another may help you in exposing the weak points that much quicker.

A lot of work has gone into this portable outing which is made perfectly clear by the visuals which are delightfully detailed throughout each of the stages, everything seems to have its place making it easy to distinguish between the background or foreground plus the animation is very credible considering the original hardware. Audio has been utilised excellently with each piece of music complementing each stage perfectly even if it does seem somewhat muted against the solid sound effects which tend to dominate in moments of intense action.

With plenty of replay value to be had by playing stages with alternate characters, discovering different routes or new ways to get one over on the enemy Shinobi deserves a decent amount of praise for creating what is in many ways the perfect portable accompaniment to the classic home-console series. It may place a certain amount of emphasis upon the importance of interchangeable characters but this is just the title utilising its best assets effectively which is refreshing to see indeed making this a decent entry in the series based purely on its own merits which is well worth investing both time and money in.

Verdict : Shinobi strikes again in an unexpected way that truly stuns.

Price: GB �4.50, EU �5
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Released: 1994
System: Game Gear

Sonic has had enormous success in the past thanks to his MegaDrive outings but there were also a few portable adventures that came out around the same time but are rarely talked about, this is mainly because they just aren't up to the same standard as the home console versions but I suppose it's to be expected given the Game Gear was only an 8-bit system. This is the last of the portable games released on the system which some might say is something of a relief but in fairness at least this outing does feel a darn site more playable than previous efforts even if it's still quite a departure from what we're used to.

Physics seem actually quite credible even if the overall action is at a relatively slower pace possibly due to the hardware limitations, regardless you still get some reasonably well designed levels that instead have more of a slant on exploration than speed and being that this is the case having two characters to choose from works rather well as Sonic tends to take the more linear routes while Tails with his ability to fly for short periods of time can explore higher ground adding some much needed longevity to this short adventure. There are even flight-based bonus stages which you'll need to partake in if you wish to acquire all of the chaos emeralds for the best ending, while these stages are a fun diversion in their own right they are also entertaining as they include appearances by Nack the Weasel an almost forgotten character who adds some welcome comedy value to the proceedings.

There isn't a great deal of challenge present here as it's quite easy to reach the end of each act without too much trouble and while Sonic games in general might not be notoriously difficult there isn't much here that will impede the progress of veterans for very long bar maybe managing to grab all emeralds first time through. Frequently placed springs and things to bounce off seem to present further evidence towards the slower pace as they feel like an attempt to keep the momentum going whereas in other titles they are there only to further increase the high-speed that you're already travelling at.

Aesthetically everything looks as you might expect an 8-bit title too with a few nice touches that are noticeable at certain points but nothing that really stands out constantly, there is differentiation between the zones though it's fleeting as they still blur together as it always feels that there's not quite enough variation; character animation feels believable at least which only adds overall. Now the music is very nice indeed with even a few lesser classics such as the final act of Sunset Park which is almost up there with the greats so there is definitely an undeniable presence in the audio thanks to some creative composing along with those classic sound effects which 'make' a Sonic game special.

If you're a fan of Sonic then recommending this title comes relatively easy though you'll want to be cautious as it's still not really up there with the original classics and at the relatively steep price-tag it'll leave you feeling rather short-changed especially if you consider that you can play all of the Game Gear games on one of the various Sonic collections that are available on other Nintendo formats. Those who aren't that fussed either way would be best off leaving it in favour of waiting for superior Sega titles which are sure to come but it's still a perfectly playable platform game which will last you a few hours.

Verdict : Sonic stops short of classic status instead settling on sub-standard.

Points: 800
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Released: 1993
System: NES

Fundamentally each game in the Mega Man series is very much the same as the previous entry, this fifth entry is no exception which sees the Blue Bomber suit up yet again to defeat the evil Dr. Wily and his eight Robot Masters, you choose to take on the stages in any order but keeping in mind that you'll be facing the relevant master of the stage that you selected as a boss at the end. This is relevant because each of them possesses a certain power which you'll acquire upon defeating them that's required to defeat another of the masters effectively, of course you can defeat all of the bosses with your standard weaponry but it's in finding the best route where part of the appeal of these games lies.

Rush returns as your loyal robotic companion once again as you'll be needing to call upon him for assistance at certain sections of the game as he has many abilities this time around which will be of great use to you including 'Rush Coil' which allows you to jump higher plus the infinitely awesome 'Rush Jet' which allows you safe passage over some of the trickier sections such as spiked pits or deadly falls, these are limited powers however so you'll want to use them wisely. In an interesting twist there are also such things as 'Letter Plates' scattered through the games eight stages and providing you can locate them all to spell 'MEGAMANV' then you'll earn the help of another special helper, this is a rather excellent addition that adds another layer to the proceedings.

Naturally the controls are really responsive never letting up for a second as has become a tradition for most Mega Man games so you'll feel right at home here with easy access to your abilities along with your repertoire of staple moves which are simple to perform just as you'd expect. Admittedly the level of challenge isn't quite up there with the rest of the titles but that's not to say that it's any pushover either as there will still be moments when you'll likely need to repeat a certain problem section more than a handful of times, seasoned veterans won't have too many issues though the few hidden surprises along the way will likely delight all who play it.

Easily one of the best looking titles from the NES era, this entry carries on the tradition of delightfully detailed sprites alongside beautiful backdrops and ground detail that all come together in a creative fusion that's truly a visual treat to behold; couple this with the top-notch animation on all of the characters which adds up to something that's as much a joy to look at as it is to play. Audio is still of a typically high standard that many have come to expect featuring some of the best chip-tunes the series has ever seen that'll make you smile as you play blasting everything in sight which is satisfying in itself thanks to the largely unchanged substantial sound effects that have also become yet another staple.

While there are better games in the series the difference really isn't by that much, when you consider what the fifth instalment has to offer it's impossible not to recommend as it's a game of very high quality and yet another entry in the series that fans will love. If you're a newcomer Mega Man then I'd advise trying one of the earlier titles first but whichever way you look at it Mega Man 5 is a spectacular platform game with a lot to offer.

Verdict : The fantastic fifth game in the Mega Man series is still fun to play.

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
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