VC Weekly 300

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

So three hundred then... who would have thought that seven years on I would still be writing reviews of retro games exclusively on Nintendo platforms? It's certainly quite a stretch but I decided that I'd hopefully be doing this for the duration since very early on from VCW #8 after taking up the digital mantle passed onto to me from VC Weekly's creator Jordan Khoviteri-Zadeh whom I'm still honoured to have succeeded from.

This is something that I have always enjoyed doing from the very start right up to this milestone article, through each week's releases be they mediocre or monumental; it's still a privilege to write these reviews on a voluntary basis, naturally there have been times when the same game comes along for its third VC incarnation but then there have been those amazing weeks such as when we finally got a European release of Earthbound! Which was a year ago - half price deal on it until 24/07/14 - so it all balances out.

I couldn't have made it this far without support though so I would like to say a thank you to all N-Europe staff members as it has been a pleasure to work alongside you all, in particular my thanks to Ashley and Shorty who have helped me on many occasions. You may have noticed that the graphics have a rather spectacular new look thanks to our former graphics wizard Justin Marimon who has very kindly worked his magic once more, so I hope you all like it because it's here to stay. Speaking of which so am I, at least for the forseeable future hopefully... so here's to another few - hundred - articles! Thanks to everyone for reading and of course all of our forum members as we have a fantastic community here on N-Europe. Anyway enough from me and on with the games!
Available for download this week we have...     

Pokémon Trading Card Game
Pop'n Twinbee

Price: GB £4.49, EU €4.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Hudson
Released: 2000
System: Game Boy Color

Just before the last turn of the century a craze swept the nation in the form of Pokémon trading cards, I can recall many a school day where deals would be made over these coloured pieces of reinforced paper, sometimes they were marked with a star or had a holographic background but they were always a talking point. Around the same time it seems that Nintendo must have been gauging the cards popularity - manufactured by Wizards of the Coast - so they decided to allow Hudson to make a Game Boy title based on the Pokémon Trading Card Game; this was a master-stroke because it reinforced keeping the cards in view of their target audience but perhaps more importantly it actually taught many people - including myself - the rules of how the game actually works, plus it actually happens to be a very good title in its own right and now it's thankfully available for a whole new generation to play - in addition to those of us who remember playing it originally - with this well-timed virtual release.

The rather simple story starts from when you name your character as it seems that you like collecting Pokémon trading cards, you hear about the legendary cards so you set off to acquire them with your first port of call being Professor Mason's laboratory - sound familiar? - because he is the leading authority on Pokémon TCG; he gives you a choice of starter deck from either Bulbasaur, Squirtle or Charmander (plus friends) which will set you on your way. Following this you get to play a practice duel with 'Sam' who is one of the professor's assistants - in my case it was Sam Vs Sam - who you can duel many times if you to get the hang of the game. The lab also contains lots of NPC's who will give you plenty of information while in the side room you will find a whole mainframe dedicated to deck-making machines where you can either have the units build you a deck automatically providing you have the right cards or you can make one up entirely of your own providing it is exactly sixty cards and that it has the right balance, everything else is up to you but I would recomend initially just going with the pre-made decks at least for a few battles but it's all rather simple to pick up once things get going.

You'll learn everything for yourself if you decide to get the game but here are a few basics to get you started, the card types include Fire, Water, Grass, Lightning, Psychic, Fighting plus Colourless, this is important to take into consideration due to the usual strengths and weaknesses from the standard Pokémon games which apply here, Pokémon are either Basic, Stage 1 or Stage 2 - for example Bulbasaur, Ivysaur, Venusaur - depending on evolution which can only occur one turn on from initial card placement; you'll always have an active card in play while you can have several other 'Mon on your bench but make sure you don't run out of these or you'll automatically lose, aside from that you play for prizes and when one players prizes run out then the game is over... I'll stop there as it's a lot to take in initially.

To get the legendary Pokémon cards you need to defeat the Grand Masters but first you need the master medals so beat the eight card club masters to get these, refreshingly you can take on the clubs in any order you like though upon reaching your first club you'll bump into Ronald who is your rival for the game, he will challenge you at certain points which quite often will be after you've just taken on one of the club members so be prepared and use the 'Suspend Save' feature wisely. Indeed personally I would advise using this excellent VC feature regularly because there is actually quite an unfair element of luck involved in this title so by all means experiment with it because I have found that sometimes you can be in the middle of a battle which isn't going too well but if you happened to save at a time just before the cards change then sometimes your opponent will choose a card which might prove to be less overpowered so it's worth considering. A lot of the coin tosses seem to be pre-determined though so this will only help you so much, but apart from that the only advice I can offer you is to battle everyone you see as you'll get plenty of booster packs this way in addition to checking your mail on the PC as the Prof will often e-mail you always ending with a rather sinister ';)' wink but it's worth it for the cards; gotta collect 'em all! This is afterall the other main draw of the game, you'll need to trade, give way and just battle your hardest if you want to complete your collection, minus the original 'extra' cards now not obtainable due to system differences but they don't really count so it's fine.

I'm quite a big fan of the visuals as they exude eight-bit excellence right from the RPG styled overworld - even if you just reach places by a nicely detailed interactive map - which has its moments of brilliance within the unique card clubs, best of all though is the level of detail on the cards themselves and the booster packs as Hudson seem to have captured every single detail about what made the original physical cards so special and have replicated them perfectly on a pixel by pixel basis in order to allow the user to collect/create digital decks to be proud of. The entire soundtrack is nothing short of spectacular either, which the general background music is nice enough when you're wandering about the areas it's the in-game battle music which is where the game is at its most spectacular; largely the usual themes are quite relaxed for the practice battles which allow you to comfortably plod along at your own pace but when you get into a real battle that's when you get these amazing up-tempo masterpieces which match the feel of your significant opponent every time in addition to spurring you on, I often found myself placing cards, dealing out damage etc in tune with the beat, couple this with the select sound effects and it's all pure magic.

How could it be possible not to recommend this fantastic title? If you like Pokémon then this is a no-brainer, fans of the card game will love it even if they might find the cards a bit antiquated judging by some of the new physical cards, even people who just enjoy collecting things will surely embrace it being that you have at least two hundred and twenty cards to collect; plus it's just a wonderfully enjoyable title which ticks all the boxes as it does everything right all of the time with the exception of the luck element which may frustrate some. I've played this before back in the day but even I've found myself dipping in and out of it as it's just a joy to play regardless of if you're good at the game or not plus it has the added bonus of teaching you the basics if you ever feel like graduating to the physical cards or even if you don't want to collect real cards but like the idea of the game. In short I'd have to say that this is for just about anyone with a passing interest in any of the aforementioned elements, at under five pounds you really can't go wrong with what is and will always remain a top-class title, I only hope that the Japanese only sequel might now become localised or even for a brand new 3DS game to be created, AR Pokémon cards anyone? Just think of the possibilites... the wallet-crippling possibilities.

Verdict : Portable Pokémon Perfection.


Price: GB £5.49, EU €7.99
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Released: 1993
System: SNES
For those of you who are regular readers, you'll surely know that if there's one genre I'm particularly fond of, it's the good old shmup - shoot-em-up - as these represent gaming in its purest form; they typically come in a variety of guises typically involving a hoizontally or vertically scrolling screen plus they are often set in space but the title in question couldn't be any less architypal. Indeed it is only fitting to refer to Pop'n Twinbee as being a 'Cute 'em up' as everything about the game follows a very whimsical style; the story goes that the two ships Twinbee & Winbee are flying around the skies of Donburi Island, they then receive a distress signal from a girl named Madoka who it transpires is actually the granddaughter of a once reknown scientist named Dr. Mardock who has gone 'insane in the membrane' thanks to a knock on the head, so now he's focused on conquering the world with his Acorn army and it seems only you can stop him. In short it's as good an excuse as any to shoot stuff.

So taking the pilot seat in your bee-shaped anthropomorphic spacecraft you'll get to shoot through seven stages ranging from peaceful forest backdrops, an underwater section, bright pink skies plus much more besides; not to mention the many varied enemies you'll face off against including walking pineapples, mechanical flowers, enemy crabs to name but a few in addition to some rather spectacular boss battles at the end of each stage with my personal favourite being the two-part battle against an Octopus which has a rather surprising arsenal at its disposal. Controls are really robust featuring decent directionl control along with your usual shooting buttons, one for bombs which you drop on ground-based enemies plus an almighty explosion of tiny ships which can clear the screen in seconds; because your ship has arms you can even deflect certain bullets away with a punch which can be rather handy, while if you're playing in the excellent two-player co-op mode then you can also opt to throw the other ship or even share energy between the two but whichever way you play it's always really entertaining; also worthy of note is the 'couple' mode which makes the enemies attack just the first player mainly while leaving the second - presumably less experienced - player alone, making it easier for them to just enjoy the game but at the same time still feeling like they are doing something, it's rather brilliant and completely unique to this game alone and while it's not something that I've found need for personally I can see how it could prove popular with certain players.


There are various power-ups to play with which can only be obtained by shooting bells which drop from smiley-faced clouds, the longer you can keep them in the air the more varied your reward will be depending on the bells colour, you can get things such as spread fire, rotating pod ships - which you can change the behaviour of at the start of each game to Normal, Surround or Engulf - plus a good few other surprises which I'll leave you to discover. Did I mention how deceptively difficult it can be too? You have a health meter which allows you to take around five hits or so but after that you lose all your powers if you die plus you have to start the whole stage all over again, now this isn't so bad on the default difficulty which I would recommend if you just want to see what the game has to offer, but with each notch after that things really do become a lot trickier as the enemies seem to become smarter but if you're a real fan of shmups then you might be looking for an even greater challenge; if that's the case then simply enter the 'Konami code' on the options to gain access to the eighth level of difficulty for an experience quite unlike any other, even at this time of writing I haven't managed to conquer this title quite to that extent but with restore points at my fingertips I intend to give it a proper go.


As aforementioned there is certainly a very cute aesthetic applied to the airborne adventure so you can expect swathes of colour lavishly splashed through each stage coupled with some adorable animations with some quirky Japanese anime type scenes thrown in between each stage for good measure, it all looks spectacular and surely originally used a great proportion of the SNES hardware to its advantage in order to create these wonderfully whimsical worlds. Of course the soundtrack is suitably stellar too as each track fits in perfectly with the stage it was created for, there is a good pace maintained for the entirity of the game while managing to keep your spirits raised rather high despite possibly having to attempt the same part a few times over; all of the sound effects are in keeping with the theme too with little bits of digitised voices coming into play whenever your craft is hit 'ow!' or when you have collected a new power such as 'speed up!' for the speed boost, the weapons are your typical 'pew pew!' laser sounds too.

Naturally any self-proclaimed fan of shmups needs to own this as it is an undisputed classic, this is essentially the non-serious side of the Konami coin to which we would find the mighty Gradius on the other so if you're looking for a light-hearted alternative that might not be the hardest shooter you've ever played but that still isn't afraid to pull a few punches then Pop'n Twinbee is almost certainly for you. Even if you're not that experienced in the main genre that this stems from then perhaps this could be seen as an ideal starting point to get you blasting away? Whichever way you look at it I would have to say that this should be a mandatory purchase for anyone who likes their games to be fun above all else; a lot of modern gaming has become far to serious these days anyway so this could be viewed as the perfect antidote for anyone who has become sick of soulless sequels to titles which lost any meaning long ago, here's a chance to just break away and play something for the joy of it.       

Verdict : Pop'n Twinbee's a positive non-serious title with boundless charm and playability.

That's it for this special installment of VC Weekly which will return again soon and I will endeavour to improve upon from this point moving forward. So until then, enjoy the rest of the week and Game On!

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