VC Weekly 348

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

At least one of the titles here people should be more than familiar with, preferably two as I can recall playing at least two thrids of these titles back in the day with the other title being quite a landmark VC release for fans of a certain strategy title revolving around a certain elemental emblem. Anyway enough from me and on with the games!
Available for download this week we have...     

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising


Price: GB £8.99, EU €9.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Released: 1998
System: N64

For many gamers all it takes is just one glimpse of that iconic title screen or to hear the first few opening notes of the Piano accompanying the galloping of Horse hooves in order to be magically transported back to 1998 as if it was yesterday, of course it is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that I am referencing which most famously is one of gamings most recognised titles which changed the entire landscape of the industry entirely just as Nintendo created a memorable world in three dimensions for one of its most beloved series to exist within. Interestingly at one point early in development it could have turned out rather differently as according to an edition of Iwata Asks - well worth reading - Shigeru Miyamoto had considered having the entire game exist entirely within Ganon's Castle with all the other associated areas located within the various rooms as the development team were only just getting used to what the N64 could do; it certainly explains how the final version looks in the game but I think we're all glad that things turned out the way they did being that what we ended up with was way beyond anyone's realistic expectations of what was possible at the time.  

But of course since this title was last reviewed there has been an entire remake created on the 3DS which further pushed the boundaries still so going back to it this time was initially not such an easy prospect as I was instinctively reaching for the right stick in order to change the camera angle would you believe! Yet after a few moments of finding my feet once again in Kokiri Forest my memory took over as I headed towards the crawl space where once the "Boulder of Doom" once haunted me as a child somehow managing to reduce my health bar to danger levels was now merely a simple exercise in timing, the once thunderous rumbling becoming nothing more than an audible cue; the Kokori Sword and a Deku Shield were mine within moments as I then continued with the games extended tutorial which is the dungeon inside the Deku Tree where in the space of a relatively short amount of time you learn how to climb, judge distances, toggle first-person view, fire projectiles, activate switches, rebound attacks, light torches and of course how to open many treasure chests accompanied by a fanfare each time which lets you know that it's always something worth obtaining.


Upon reaching Hyrule Field for the first time it's then that you start to realise the scale of this grand adventure, as you set off on a quest to obtain the remaining two out of the three spiritual stones which is substantial in itself only then to learn that your quest is not even halfway through! Truly a joyous moment indeed, without spoiling too much for anyone who has yet to play this masterpiece, working your way through the initial three dungeons is merely your introduction to the game as it takes you in the different directions where you'll meet the various races within the kingdom of Hyrule including the forest-dwelling Kokiri people who raised you, a proud, powerful race known as the Goron's residing on Death Mountain and of course the majestic water-based Zora people of Zora's domain. Of course these only account for a few of the varied amount of characters you'll meet on your quest, as you have the mysterious Gerudo people, members of the Hyrule Royal Family who you'll never forget especially when you meet Princess Zelda for the first time which is a truly beautiful moment in the series history; of course there are plenty of NPC's who populate the various areas who really bring the world to life including Dampé the Grave-Keeper, the brilliantly implemented Kaepora Gaebora who you'll meet many times, Guru-Guru with his spectacular musical instrument plus many more.

Of course I can't mentioned musical instruments without detailing the titular Ocarina of Time itself which you receive at a certain point in the adventure where it becomes perhaps the most important item in your inventory as with you'll learn many of the sacred pieces of music from all across the lands which will aid you in your quest, opening many doors for may the way of the hero lead to the triforce; it's also a fully functional musical instrument in itself which you can spend a long time creating music with just the right stick and a single button if you so desire which is yet another example of a brilliant concept you'd only find in a Nintendo title. Dungeons make up the vast majority of the gameplay with each one being brilliantly designed around the myriad of items you'll end up acquiring, while more recent Zelda titles have been criticised for this it actually makes perfect sense here as all of the mechanics are perfectly tuned so each moment of gameplay is a joy; there are also plenty of side-quests available such as the usual heart pieces in order to gain more health, one hundred Skulltula's which are really well hidden, horse-back archery, mini-games and a fishing area which could just as easily be a whole game in itself.


Today the visuals may have been surpassed by the excellent 3D release which also manages to make the game portable, yet there is still something to be said for being able to play the game on the big screen in its original resolution, to the programmers credit this VC version does look very nice indeed whether you're playing on the game pad or the TV with the comfort of a Pro Controller which is my favourite way to play; the style which Ocarina of Time uses to me is timeless perhaps because I've grown up with it but I am certain that each subsequent game in the series owes it a debt of gratitude for laying down some spectacularly crafted groundwork at the very least, Majora's Mask in particular of which I still prefer the original release over the excellent but ever so slightly marred 3DS version which personally feels botched in places. All of the audio still remains spectacular to this very day with the legendary composition of Koji Kondo never feeling dated at all even nearly seventeen years on, the moment you step into Hyrule Field for the first time is made all the more memorable as you run across to the tune of such an uplifting track which then turns to terror as day turns to night and you find yourself fighting off hordes of skeletons until the break of dawn, not forgetting all of the Ocarina's songs of which every single one is memorable as is every area which is brought to life with some very powerful midi work; indeed my only complaint seems to be with the way in which the audio is handled for the N64 game VC releases on the Wii U because even with this edition which supports surround sound is never actually outputted through all speakers and is something which I hope will be addressed in the future because while not reason enough to not play this re-release it just highlights that it could be made that little bit better still.

If there is any gamer alive today that has not played one of the most important releases in the history of gaming, especially if you already own a Wii U but somehow missed this the first time around then I would urge you to right that wrong today as this is probably the best time to play this classic and I truly envy anyone who has yet to experience it. Of course it's well worth replaying as well though some might feel it's too soon if they have completed it on the 3DS but again it's always nice to have options and when it comes to this title there is definitely not such a thing as having it available on too many Nintendo consoles; a pure delight from start to finish there are few games which manage to reach the lofty heights of brilliance which The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has ascended to, even many modern offerings for all of their technical prowess still haven't managed to come close to some of the feelings evoked by this monumental piece of software, some have of course especially in recent times but still very few which certain says something about the legacy that one solitary game from 1998 has left behind.    

Verdict : Still one of the greatest games ever committed to cartridge, still perfectly playable today, tomorrow or ten years from now.


Price: GB £8.99, EU €9.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Released: 2008
System: DS
Fire Emblem is a series which has only risen in its popularity worldwide since Pal territories got their first taste of the games thanks to not one but two titles which were released on the GBA to great critical acclaim, the unique turn-based strategy RPG nature provides an experience quite unlike any other and is most certainly responsible for getting myself into strategy titles which I'd never had considered delving into before. The story centers around Marth - one of my favourite FE series characters - as he embarks on a quest to fight for the freedom of his home kingdom while rescuing his sister who has been kidnapped as well; over the course of the well-paced plot you'll be interacting with many characters who'll come to shape the events which transpire; without wanting to spoil anything it's certainly a spectacular tale which becomes all the more intruiging the further you delve into it.

There are two main difficulties Normal which has a prologue where you have to sacrifice a character or Hard which skips that, chooses your default sacrifice plus gives you five individual settings for how strong you want your enemies to be ranging from Hard, Brutal, Savage, Fiendish and of course Merciless. I actually decided to start on Merciless before rather swiftly putting it back down to Hard again which made the game much more enjoyable; indeed much of the joy from Fire Emblem comes from being able to plan the perfect strategy so that you can defeat your opponent hopefully without losing any of your units along the way because if a character dies on the battlefield then they are gone forever, this has long been a staple of the Fire Emblem series and it's for this reason alone that I wanted to experience most of the games on the Virtual Console where possible for the simple addition of Restore Points which I realise can be frowned upon but in all honesty it makes games like these more enjoyable for me personally because if I was playing from an original cartridge then I would just reset but here I can go back to the start of the last turn rather than starting the whole battle all over again which is an unnecessary annoyance which can hamper your progress and in turn your level of enjoyment too.


After beating a few chapters you have the option of choosing which units to place on the battlefield - this isn't much of a concern until you reach twenty of them though - plus other strategic options such as the ability to Reclass your characters though this is purely optional but can offer benefits for those who choose to go down that route. Personally I find the strategic management on the battlefield enjoyable but once you go too in-depth with changing classes in addition to swapping out more than a handful of characters in addition to ensuring they all have a decent amount of usable weapons which will break after a certain amount of turns until you acquire a certain item later on in the game which would seem to negate item durability concerns to a certain extent. Consisting of twenty-five chapters to conquer there is a decent amount to get through even though it's not large when compared to more recent titles in the series, if you're wanting to get through the entire adventure unscathed then it will take you a while; there have been a few helpful on-screen indications added such as the weapon triangle with Swords, Axes plus Lances showing their dominance over one weapon whilst being weak to another, it's really fun to plan out your battles and as you progress things do end up becoming rather brutal indeed but if you're a gamer who likes to contemplate their actions rather than just rushing in then you will surely enjoy it immensely.

Visually everything is more than sufficiently detailed which just goes to show how much effort was put into this as it still looks spectacular on the big screen but also more than well-suited to the gamepad as well, obviously my setup of choice is to have the Wii U emulate the DS perfectly with the map on the touch screen with all of the details on the top screen; that way when it comes to the cut-scenes you get to enjoy the excellent work of Masamune Shirow who really brings the characters to life in spectacular fashion for this iteration, all of the animation is amazing as well. The audio is very nicely put together as well with all the music on the battlefield and during the story sections paired up nicely, when on the map the music does loop after a while but because it's all broken up with battles you'll barely notice plus with it all being excellent along with some solid sound effects it's not really an issue, of course the immortal main theme is in there too and it's a superb rendition.


If you've ever considered getting into the Fire Emblem series then this would certainly be the ideal starting point seeing as it is essentially the first game in the series brought up to date in spectacular style, obviously the network features may be no more but what you get is an amazing main game experience for your money which is more than worth spending the time on but just consider that you'll only get out of it what you're prepared to put in. Veterans of the Fire Emblem series will have likely already downloaded and completed this gem - possibly several times over - so I don't even need to tell you how good it is, some might say that it pales in comparision to recent entries, personally I value the relative simplicity of it because it eases you into the genre without ever talking down to you as a player; having more games like this available in the world is a very good thing indeed.    

Verdict : A fantastic Fire Emblem title recommended for all who will take the time to embrace it fully.


Price: GB £6.29, EU €6.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Released: 2003
System: GBA
I can still remember buying the original Advance Wars when it launched not too long after the GBA came out, the screen on the system may have well been sub-optimal at best but that didn't stop me from fighting the eye-strain so I could battle alongside Andy, Sami and Max as my CO's to the bitter end! So obviously when I learned that a sequel was being rolled out a mere couple of years later I was understandably over the Blue Moon as that was me completely on board of Intelligent Systems war machine from that point. The enemy Sturm is back on the scene again in command of a new invasion force, so this time it will take the combined power of all armies in order to take him down once again!

You have a lot more choice from the very start of the campaign this time as where the original game had you fighting as one of the three Orange Star CO's until the end, this time you can opt to choose from one of the other coloured territories such as that of Blue Moon which will let you play as a new character Colin in addition to firm favourites Grit & Olaf as well which means you'll need to adopt different strategies making things more interesting. All of the missions are shared equally between the armies as you get eight per region with one of them being a secret mission only obtainable by capturing a certain city within another of the missions, obviously this is worth doing as it will allow you to gain more war funds so more crucially you can build more of the new powerful units at your disposal known as Neotanks which are much more capable than your medium range tanks making them very valuable in battle indeed.

Having access to many new CO's obviously beings about a whole host of benefits at a cost of being weaker in other areas, choosing Jess from Green Earth will give you stronger vehicles yet your infantry will be weaker; new terrain types feature as well including Missile silos which can launch one missile at a large group of enemies once you can get one of your troops within range of one plus the Super CO Powers are just sublime allowing you to save up your power bar for longer to unleash more devestation. Extra modes from the first game return including the ability to Design Maps, or you can choose to Buy Maps plus CO's to go with them while the War Room enables you to improve your rank over many special maps and there's the Advance Campaign should you be masochistic enough to attempt this once unlocked; anyone hoping to play the original multiplayer mode will obviously be let down as the link cable features don't work but this is really less of an issue with this title as it still feature the excellent Pass the System multiplayer which the gamepad was practically built for.


All of the games visuals have essentially been imported from the first game which is no bad thing either given that the style was perfectly nailed from the start, there are a few new touches throughout but it's almost identical bar a few new animations, plus it's perhaps grittier in places just for good measure. Again with the music all of your favourite tracks are still here complete with all of the original CO themes plus some newly introduced ones for the new characters as well which are every bit as good as the returning ones, the sound effects have never sounded so good thanks to the Wii U giving them that extra bit of clout as opposed to the original single speaker of the GBA which looking back was rather weak though perhaps more acceptable back in the day of its original release; either way here in this downloadable version War has never looked or sounded better!

Clearly not wanting to mess with a good thing, Intelligent Systems played it understandably safe with Advance Wars 2 and it clearly worked because by taking the base game they created then managing to rebalance things while adding in a whole load of sensitively incorporated additions, the developer managed to create something spectacular which more than deserves to be given a brand new lease of life on the Virtual Console only a mere twelve years on. While we may yearn for a brand new entry in the series I say this is as good a time as any to revisit all of the previous games as the DS installments will surely follow closely behind, also at risk of playing devil's advocate why would Nintendo be choosing to bring these games out again now if it didn't have some concrete plans for a sequel to be developed in the not to distant future? The battle to bring Advance Wars to the currently available Nintendo platforms may seem to be lost at this point but at least there is always a NeXt time.
Verdict : One of the greatest strategy games in existence.

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!

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