VC Weekly 286
Posted 13 Apr 2014 at 23:20 by Sam C Gittins
Welcome to VC Weekly, N-Europe’s guide to the wonderful world of Nintendo’s download service. Written by Sam C Gittins
For anyone who remembers the GameBoy Advance fondly - it was released only a decade ago - this is sure to be a spectacular selection as we get our first three GBA titles on the Wii U VC. Anyway enough from me and on with the games!
Available for download this week we have...
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Price: GB £6.29, EU €6.99
Developer: Intelligent Systems
System: GameBoy Advance
The original Advance Wars holds a very special place in the hearts of many gamers as it represents not only the first portable entry in the series but it's only at this point which we got the strategy series in Europe as it all originated on the Japanese NES in the form of Famicom Wars; but we are certainly grateful for this landmark example as it represents a genre which before didn't seem to be all that prominent in the portable market. Indeed I can honestly say that this was the very first example of strategy which I had actually bothered to delve into, if it wasn't for Advance Wars then I still wouldn't have touched the genre probably to this very day, you might think that you've seen war games before but never has it been done quite like this... read on if you wish to get 'recruited' for this fantastic turn-based title.
Upon loading up the game you are greeted by the alluring, ever-helpful gaze of Nell who is your instructor who gives you the role of an advisor in the Orange Star army, before you know it you'll be on the battlefield commanding troops but it's ok as everything is explained each step of the way, in fact I've never seen such a detailed training mode in a game before as you get to tackle fourteen missions which might take you a while in itself but it's important to at least run through these once as there is a lot of ground to cover but rest assured that once you've beaten them all you'll be more than ready for war! Most of each battle is viewed from a top-down map perspective where everything exists on a grid, you move your troops around with the d-pad while you issue orders after movement using a mini-menu which allows you to attack enemies, capture cities, join two units, supply with fuel/weapons or just simply wait; you will learn all of this when you play for yourself though plus much more besides so don't worry too much about the details as it's all rather fun in practice.
Entering a battle will see the perspective change to a detailed scene of the battlefield which shows the animation of either side blasting each other to smitherines, there is a fair bit of destruction protrayed within these moments but to the credit of Intelligent Systems never a drop of blood is spilled which just goes to show that you don't need any gore for a war game, just bucketloads of charm in the animations which this game has plenty of. Once you get into the main missions themselves in the Campaign this is where the game comes into its own, you'll be assigned various 'CO's' who will aid you in battle with their special power which activates once the meter fills up, Andy for example repairs damaged units in addition to making them stronger for that turn only; you'll want to do everything you can to make the most when it's your turn as well making sure that you move every unit - if required - to their ultimate strategic position on the map, you'll be taking into account how far each unit can travel, their attack range, even how much fuel they consume as it can all have an effect on the battle.
Of course there are many different units within Advance Wars as you have your heavy/light infantry who are good for tackling small units, capturing cities or just going where your tanks/heavy tanks cannot but in turn these vehicles are good at well... 'tanking' if you like as they are your main source of 'crowd control' at least early on, then you also have APC's for moving troops, attack helicopters, anti-air units, submarines, warships plus a lot more units besides all of which you will want to master if you're to have some hope of either defeating the enemy troops or capturing their HQ to win the battle and hopefully score a good grade. You'll get promoted too as you gradually rise through the ranks collecting all kinds of accolades, even when you finish the campaign there is still the 'War Room' which has many more maps for you to conquer, plus you can still play multiplayer wherby you pass the controller around depending on who's turn it is and you can even design your own maps which thanks to Miiverse now in effect gives you a way to 'share' them being that you can take a screenshot of your finished masterpiece which others can copy, how about that? A genuine improvement to an already near-perfect game; factor in the added save-states which are aver useful if you mess up a turn and you have a pretty comprehensive home-console version of a portable classic... which originated from a home consoles concept, it's funny how some things come full circle.
Being that this is one of the first GameBoy Advance games to be given the big screen treatment some might worry about how it all looks, I can assure you that everything looks simply spectacular, I'd even go as far to say that I prefer viewing all the action on a larger screen as for the first time it means that I don't find myself squinting at an incredibly small screen - definitely one of those games I'd struggle to play on a GameBoy Micro - indeed there is quite a bit of detail that comes across very nicely to the point that I've been noticing many small touches that I hadn't picked up on before; namely how painstakingly detailed those battle scenes really are or just how many different tiny animations that are contained within. Aurally there is much to appreciate here too from the superb 'marching' tone set by the into right through the menu's featuring plenty of consistent motivational guitar riffs, those glorious intro notes which play upon starting a mission and just the general accompanying music for each different 'CO' when combined with the heavy-hitting sound effects which still come across just as effectively through a large set of speakers as it ever did through headphones. Oh and it's a good fit for off-tv play too obviously, if you prefer to stay 'truer' to the games handheld roots.
However you try and spin it there is simply no denying that Advance Wars is a genuine classic title which has already gone down in the Nintendo history books but is certainly not gone or forgotten, this VC version gives the series a new leases of life plus potentially the hope for a new modern-day sequel; though quite honestly even I wonder how they could improve upon the last outing - Advance Wars: Dark Conflict on the DS - as even three sequels on this is a series which has improved over time but never completely compromised its roots. Newer iterations may have changed dramatically in tone but the original still has that vital charm which originally made the series such a surprise hit in the first place, so if you've experienced the more recent outings but have yet to learn about the origins of the skills which 'newer' entries possess then please go forward and wage the original - virtual - war that started it all or just relive it as a returning veteran, the sound of the falling shells never leaves you.
Verdict : Virtual war has never been so compelling.
Price: GB £6.29, EU €6.99
System: GameBoy Advance
While it certainly wasn't the strangest thing to encounter a Mario based RPG in the twenty-first century after we had witnessed both Super Mario RPG on the SNES followed a few years later by the original Paper Mario on the N64, the release of Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga certainly heralded a new era not just for fans of Nintendo RPG's but also for the games developer AlphaDream who before this title had an almost unproven track record yet a 'risk' was taken on them which ended up paying dividends through the rewards that were surely reaped by all from this glorious title. Who would have thought that in the space of only a decade that we would have three further successful sequels in what has become a unique portable series? But it all starts here with the very first of the 'Stache Bros' adventures, interestingly available to play for the first time digitally on a Nintendo home console, though it is most certainly received with gratitude lest we all be accused of being good for nothing fink rats!
So it all starts when the 'ambassador' from the Bean Bean Kingdom who turn out to be the evil Cackletta along with Fawful in disquise end up stealing Princess Peaches voice, replacing it with explosions so it's up to Mario & Luigi to save her so that Bowser can kidnap her again, with me so far? Yes you get to team up with Bowser again... at least for a bit anyway, soon after you reach the Bean Bean Kingdom you'll end up losing him a couple of time but it's ok as you get taught quite a bit about the game mechanics in the process so your old nemesis is at least good for something. Most of this takes place in Stardust Fields but you'll soon find yourself travelling to such locales as Hoo-Hoo Village/Mountain, Chucklehuck Woods, Woohoo Hooniversity and a handful of other zany locations each one slightly madder than the last; you'll even encounter different races such as the Beanish, Hoohooligans plus of course the Yoshi's in addition to meeting a whole host of intruiging characters with my favourites being Mallet & Sledge who are the 'Hammerhead Bros' who upon making you a pair of trusty hammers which you'll use for most of the game don't hesitate in informing you that 'now you're playin' with power!' yes it's all about the refences of which there are many.
Controls in this game are really interesting as you control both brothers at once with whoever is in front being the one directly controlled by d-pad movement while the other brother follows along, their jump controls are entirely independent using the 'A' button for Mario with the 'B' button for Luigi - assuming the portly plumber is out in front - this makes for some interesting platforming moments across the overworld especially when you consider the 'High' and 'Spin' jumps which are assigned to either character with you using the 'Start' button to requently switch between the two while the L/R buttons are used to cycle the jumps or equip your hammer. This subtle intricacy carries over to the battle system as although it's all strictly turn-based you can stop yourself from getting hit by jumping at just the right time; simple jump/hammer attacks can be used by the brothers on their own but the real fun comes when you use a 'Bros' action as you can really deal a lot of damage in one go if you get the timing of your button presses right, it's a simple system with a lot of hidden depth plus it's probably one of the only ones where you can actually go through the majority of the game by not taking any damage at all if you know what you're doing... just keep a handful of Mushrooms on standby just in case though.
Visually the game is rather striking, indeed it's somewhat ironic that the once dark colour palette that I remember from over a decade ago is actually quite vibrant on the big screen, so I suppose you could say that launching GBA games with Mario & Luigi was certainly a fantastic move as it means that players can enjoy the game in all its detail for perhaps the first time and the attention which has been paid here is extended not just to the overall appearance but rather each animation as well which are painstakingly perfect. The soundtrack is rather decent too featuring many quality pieces of music which always suit the on-screen action in addition to being perfectly 'hummable' while you're away from the game too, not to mention the sound effects which are nicely sampled featuring some pretty comical digitised speech too which is of good quality but it's just hilarious to here both Mario & Luigi babble to each other in seemingly random Italian phrases.
Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga is certainly an original that's Well worth playing just for it's storyline along with it's spectacular sense of humour alone which very few games have these days, don't just play it for that reason though as the whole package is very well crafted indeed just like one of the hammers crafted by the Hammerhead Bros this title lands a critical hit every time with fans of Mario, RPG's or just great games alike. Now you have the option of playing this adventure either on the big screen or the one that's somewhere inbetween, with or without screen smoothing - which looks lovely - and with additional save states for those trickier moments not to mention the blessing which is the Miiverse community where fans can rejoice this title's sublime existence many times over... we've literally never had it so good, at least on the VC front!
Verdict : One of the most original and well-crafted RPG's I've ever had the pleasure of playing.
Price: GB £6.29, EU €6.99
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
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 as 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 section 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 then I really don't know what you're waiting for, especially considering that you can now play on the big screen with SNES style controls at your fingertips. So please I urge you to enjoy what could easily be considered as Samus Aran's finest hour in recent years, who knows when we might again witness the brilliance of another painstakingly crafted 2D Metroid title, at least this is another chance to spend some quality time with the finest intergalactic bounty hunter ever to grace our screens be they large or small; Ms Samus Aran we salute you.
Verdict : The most masterful Metroid title since the 16-bit era.
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!