When it first started, Virtual Console was awesome. Every week saw the release of 2 or 3 of our favourite games from childhood, some good, some bad. They even started offering games we’ve never played before, in the form of import titles from Japan. Eventually, that release rate slowed to 1 or 2 games a week, then down to 1 a week. Lately, the release cycle has been pathetic, sometimes with no new games to play at all. But that’s a complaint we can dwell on another day.
You have probably already purchased your favourite games from the past – All the Super Mario games, Zelda, Metroid, etc. However, Virtual Console offers the rare opportunity to play some of the games you might have missed back in the day. These include obscure titles from smaller publishers that had a limited run, or import games that have never been available at retail until now.
I have the expensive habit of buying pretty much every VC game when it comes out (so you can bet I was thinkful when the Wii received SD backup support). Let’s go through the Virtual Console catalog, pointing out what we think are the better games that you may have missed in the past. Naturally, we’ll start with the NES and SNES.
The NES portion of Virtual Console has a lot of really good games, since Nintendo loaded it with their best first party titles from the very beginning. Of course, that is not really the point of this article, so we won’t be talking about those. I’m sure everyone reading this has already played, say, Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden, and Zelda. So there’s not much point talking about them here.
But as for the others? Most of them are arcade ports that are better served by dozens of other rereleases, or just don’t stand up to the test of time quite as well, and most of the import games, well, suck. There are a couple gems worth checking out though, if you passed them over the first time around a few decades ago.
1985 (NA: 1987)
P: Pony Canyon (NA: FCI)
Lunar Pool, despite its name, has little to do with the game of pool. It actually plays more like a mini golf game, and is actually pretty fun (as most golf games tend to be on the NES). The object is to knock the pool balls into the pockets in consequetive turns, on various oddly-shaped “pool tables”. It’s a very basic game, but a good time waster. I actually think it would make for a great handheld game on the DS or PSP.
Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa
1988 (Japan only)
If you’ve exhausted your NES platform game collection, maybe it’s time to turn to a game that has never been released outside Japan until now. Upa was one of the many answers to Super Mario Bros., and is actually worth looking at if you’re a fan of the genre looking for something new. It has everything you’d look for in a NES platformer: pretty good 8-bit graphics, early Konami style 8-bit music, decent (but not perfect) controls, and a cool gameplay mechanic that is similar to Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) where you use the enemies as weapons. It serves well as one of the few good NES VC games that you probably haven’t played yet.
Honorable Mentions: Life Force (if you weren’t into scrolling shooters at the time, you missed out on this classic. I know I did), Wario’s Woods (if you are looking for a good 8-bit puzzle game on VC, since Tetris is never gonna happen)
Almost every single game in the Virtual Console SNES library is a game that was immensely popular during its initial run. All the fan favourites are there, such as ActRaiser, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and even Secret of Mana. However, you may have missed out on a few gems that have been made available recently on Virtual Console.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
1991 (NA: 1992)
This game actually made it to our list of The 10 Best Virtual Console Games we made a couple years ago. I’m putting it here again, because it’s really good, and you almost certainly haven’t played it since people who were into Japanese whackiness were few and far between back then. A heavily localized/watered down (but still good) version of a Ganbare Goeman game, Mystical Ninja has everything you could hope for in an early 90′s SNES action/adventure. Awesome 16-bit graphics, great sound and music, and a really fun gameplay style that mixes brawling with platforming, that is tremendously fun to play with a friend. If you play this game for the first time, I guarantee it will take you back to the days where you discovered a new favourite series on your SNES.
D: Factor 5
Run n Gun
How about a German-developed Run n Gun game to round out this list a bit? So what do you do when you’ve already played Super Metroid, Contra III, and the SNES Star Wars games to death? You head straight to Virtual Console, and start playing Super Turrican. It has Metroid-style huge, non-linear levels (and you can roll up into a ball!), tons of shooting and cool weapons like Contra III, and is made by the same guys who did the Star Wars SNES games. To top it all off, it has some of the best sounding SNES music (and overall sound) ever created. Factor 5 went on to gain a following with their Rogue Squadron games (and later lost much of it thanks to Lair), but to me, the Turrican games stand as their best work. The fact that three Turrican games are available on Virtual Console leads me to believe that Factor 5′s unannounced Wii game will be related somehow. By the way, the other two games are good as well (but not as good as this one).
DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daiboken
(translates to) DoReMi Fantasy: Milon’s Big Heart-Pounding Adventure
It’s easy to see why this game never made it out of Japan. It’s the sequel to Milon’s Secret Castle, is quite possibly one of the worst NES games ever made. Don’t let that deter you though; sure you still play as Milon, and you still blow bubbles as your main attack. But that’s where the similarities end. Now instead of jumping around mazes, shooting random blocks hoping to “solve” the puzzle, you actually control Milon through a pretty decent platformer if you haven’t played enough of those on the SNES. Keep in mind that it’s not translated at all (despite there being a fansub ROM available), but a basic game like this is easy to work out. Don’t let that deter you if you’re looking for something new.
Honorable Mentions: Ogre Battle (a rare collector’s item that is probably worth less now that you can buy it for $8. Not a stupendously great game, but still cool to check out the roots of Final Fantasy Tactics), Cybernator (a pretty good Run n Gun game, if you’ve exhausted the Turrican and Contra series on VC, check it out).
All 15 N64 games available on Virtual Console are published by Nintendo. In other words, pretty much every game ever worth playing is already there. However, you probably missed:
Sin & Punishment
This critically acclaimed rail shooter from Treasure probably should have made its way to North American N64′s in the first place, considering how the game is pretty much 100% in English anyway. All they would have had to do was translate the menus, and it would be good to go. Unfortunately, it took 8 years to finally make it over here. Well it’s finally here, and the verdict? It’s a really good rail shooter, and definitely worth checking out if not for the simple fact that there were only about a dozen other good games ever made for this console. If you really enjoyed Panzer Dragoon, check this out.
And that about sums it up – 6 great games for all three classic Nintendo consoles that are available now on Virtual Console. It’s not a whole lot, which makes the recent slowing of new releases even more depressing than it already is. But if you think you’ve exhausted your choices by picking up all the Mario games and Hudson shooters, think again! There are a few gems worth checking out still.
Have you played any of these games for the first time on Virtual Console? Let us know what you think in the comments! And if you can think of some other great, obscure games that are currently available, let us know!
Next time, we’ll look at some hidden gems for the Sega Genesis (and maybe even the Master System, but I’m not promising anything).