Every week Cyril Lachel comes down from his giant castle in the hills to provide the final word on all of the classic downloadable games and retro compilations. This is the Retro Round-Up, your official guide to the best (and worst) in classic gaming for the Nintendo Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Join us as we shed some light on what games are worth your five or ten dollars, and what games you should avoid at all costs. For more information about these games (and retro gaming in general) we invite you to check out Defunct Games
. This week we have a crazy show lined up for you, including two different Sonic the Hedgehog games on two different systems! And that's not all; we also have a Zelda clone and a terribly outdated football title. And if that wasn't enough, we also check in with GameTap to see what they've uploaded on their servers! It's a packed show, so why sit here and read this boring intro paragraph, let's get on with the show ...
NES Play Action Football (Virtual Console)
What Is It?
It seems like just last week I was talking about how we never see sports games on the Virtual Console, and then all of a sudden Nintendo decides to upload NES Play Action Football. If I was a paranoid man I would think that Nintendo did it on purpose just to spite me. Either way, NES Play Action Football is one of those games that was impressive at one time, but just doesn't cut it by today's standards. When it was released 17 years ago it offered a brand new take on the popular sport, as well as real teams and real players. The game also offered some cheesy voice acting that we were all impressed with at the time. But looking at it now it's hard to see why anybody would be impressed with this boring, ugly and monotonous game of football. Unlike Tecmo Bowl, NES Play Action Football is played in a weird faux-3D isometric view, which actually makes the game a lot more challenging to play. For an 8-bit game, NES Play Action Football features a lot of moving parts, which was definitely cool back in the early 1990s. Unfortunately it's not cool any more, and I'm puzzled as to why Nintendo chose this as one of the games to upload this week.
Does It Hold Up?
The reason you don't see a lot of old school sports games on the Virtual Console (or Xbox Live Arcade, for that matter) is because they just don't hold up very well. While there are definitely exceptions to the rule (namely Tecmo Bowl), a large majority of these classic sports games are absolutely abysmal. NES Play Action Football is no exception, the controls are inadequate for what for they are trying to do, the camera angle makes it hard to actually play the game, and there aren't enough single-player modes to keep you going for much more than a game or two. While I certainly enjoy how simple the gameplay is, this style of football has been done better by many, many games over the last twenty years. It's not the graphics that bring this game down; it's how badly everything works together. No, this game does not hold up very well.
Is It Worth the Money?
Here's the other problem I have with buying sports games, since they come out every year the price of the older versions tends to drop substantially. I wouldn't be surprised if you could go out and buy a copy of last year's Madden for the Xbox 360 for the same price as NES Play Action Football. The problem here is that this game is not much fun by today's standards. Unlike Tecmo Bowl, NES Play Action Football isn't regarded as one of the great sports games of all time. Chances are you don't have much nostalgia for this game, so playing it now really won't do you much good. Not only are there better sports games out there, but there are better sports games on the Virtual Console.
Neutopia II (Virtual Console)
What Is It?
A few weeks ago we spoke of a classic TurboGrafx-16 game that looked and played almost exactly like The Legend of Zelda. That game was Neutopia, a breath of fresh air for NEC's forgotten system. Neutopia was released two years after that original Zelda clone, but despite the extra development time this half-assed sequel is just not as interesting as it was the first time around. The look and feel of Neutopia II are identical to the first game; the same items and interface are used; the same obstacles are placed in your path. It's almost as if the creators had taken all the same graphics and puzzles, put them in a bag, tossed it around and ... voila: Shake and Bake arcade adventure. The problem I have with this sequel is that it doesn't try to be anything more than a continuation of the 1989 game, which was essentially just a Zelda clone to begin with. It's as if the development team didn't even try to do something new or original, and that problem plagues this game from beginning to end. Had they waited a year or two perhaps they could have aped another Zelda game, such as A Link to the Past. But then again, had they waited another year or two there wouldn't have been much of an audience for a TurboGrafx-16 game.
Does It Hold Up?
Neutopia II holds up in much the same way the original held up. The gameplay is still good, but there's nothing new or original here to make me want to recommend it. If you already own the original Neutopia then you have basically played this game, there's really nothing unique about this experience. The gameplay and graphics may be exactly the same as they were before, but it's hard not to be disappointed that the developers couldn't have improved something about the game before shipping it to store. At the end of the day this is just a pale imitation of an imitation.
Is It Worth the Money?
While I strongly suggest every Zelda fan picks up the original Neutopia, there's really no reason to subject yourself to this disappointing sequel. There are so many better adventure games waiting to be downloaded on the Virtual Console. Go pick up Landstalker, it's a Zelda-style adventure that isn't a huge Zelda rip-off. Go check out Legend of Oasis. Both of those games are much better than what you will get if you buy Neutopia II.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Virtual Console)
What Is It?
Forget the first two Sonic the Hedgehog outings, Sonic 3 is the only Sony game worth owning. That's not to say that the other games are bad, but once you've been introduced to the new power-ups, levels and bosses you'll never want to go back. On the surface Sonic 3 looks and plays exactly like the first two games in the series, you play the blue mascot as he runs through levels collecting rings, dodging enemies and looking for ways into the bonus levels. But what sets this third installment apart from all the others is the introduction of the power-ups. In the past Sonic was limited to picking up an invincibility shell and nothing more, but in this game you can find a whole bunch of exciting items that can really change the way you play the game. Some of the basic power-ups include an electricity shield (which is like the invincibility power-up from Sonic 1 and 2, but doesn't go away until you've been hit by an enemy), a flame shield (which surrounds out hero with a massive amount of fire), and a water shield (which allows you to breathe underwater without searching for air pockets). Not only are these power-ups effective against enemies, but many of them have some cool side effects you may not notice at first. For example, the electricity shield works as a magnet for the rings so that they'll come to you, and the water shield allows you to bounce real high. On top of these new power-ups you will find that the levels are more intricate, the bosses are cooler, and the bonus levels simply rock. And let's not forget that Sonic dons a snowboard and meets one of the most important villains for the first time, Knuckles. Sega managed to go in and actually put together a Sonic game that is both fast and deep, one of the knocks the first two games had to endure. This is a fantastic game, easily the best in the series.
Does It Hold Up?
Like Super Mario Bros. 3 and countless other high quality 2D platformers, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 still feels fresh due to its creative clever gameplay, fun levels and great graphics. Sure the game looks a little dated, but you would never know it from the feel of Sonic 3. A lot of people criticize the Sonic series for relying on the same gameplay from one game to the next, but Sonic 3 actually shook things up quite a bit by adding power-ups, cool two-player support and even some snowboarding. The game is nowhere near perfect, but it's about as close as this franchise will ever get.
Is It Worth the Money?
If you're going to spend $8 on any Sonic game, make sure it's this one. The problem that all of these Sonic games have is that you can find them all in a Sonic Collection disc that is dirt cheap (and works on the Wii). Beyond that, it's disappointing that Sega (or whoever is responsible for uploading the games to the Virtual Console) decided against adding the Sonic & Knuckles extras that make this even better. I'm a little concerned how Sega is going to handle Sonic & Knuckles, since it will change not only Sonic 3, but Sonic 2 as well. But I guess that's the kind of thing somebody else can worry about, I'm just happy that somebody finally put the best Sonic the Hedgehog title on the Virtual Console. Even if you're sick of the blue hedgehog, make no mistake about it, Sonic 3 is one of the best Virtual Console games currently available.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)
What Is It?
It's the sequel to Sega's first 16-bit mega hit. This is Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the game that introduced the world to Miles "Tails" Prower, the two-tailed fox that would forever annoy gamers. This sequel was released shortly after the first game blew up, so perhaps it's a bit much to expect some major innovation or gameplay tweak. When it comes down to it, the addition of the second player and the new levels is the only way to tell that this is not the original Sonic, which ultimately makes this game something of a disappointment looking back at it. But then again, this game is still more fun than most of the 2D platformers being released at the time, and the levels (while somewhat simple) have a real charm that has been completely lost from the Sonic series. Unfortunately the timing is just plain bad for Sonic 2 this week, what with the superior Sonic 3 hitting the Virtual Console just two days earlier. This Xbox Live Arcade version does offer slightly enhanced graphics, achievement points, and some online multiplayer action.
Does It Hold Up?
The Sonic series has never been known for its deep gameplay, so some gamers may get bored of this short (but sweet) adventure. The graphics are pretty good and the tunes are (for the most part) catchy, but it's the fact that the gameplay still feels tight and responsive makes this game a real treat. It's a shame that there's not more to do in this game, but if you like this type of fast moving platformer then you're going to love Sonic 2. While I prefer what Sega did with Sonic 3 (by adding crazy power-ups), Sonic 2 is no slouch.
Is It Worth the Money?
At $5 it's hard to complain about Sonic 2. On the other hand, it would be a better deal for you to go out and pick up one of the Sonic Collections (which you can probably find for around the same price as this one Xbox Live Arcade game). At least with a Sonic Collection you would be able to play Sonic 3, not to mention being able to play Knuckles in Sonic 2 and 3. If you don't want to go through the hassle of tracking down a copy of one of those collections then this Xbox Live Arcade port is a fair alternative, even if there was a better Sonic game released this week on another console.
Every week I plan on taking a look at the classic games being uploaded on the GameTap
service. Regardless of whether it's part of their free or premium service, GameTap
offers a wide variety of old school games that is worth checking out. Here are the most recent games uploaded to their server, keep in mind that all of these games are free to play starting today:
Super Baseball 2020 (Neo Geo)
I have always hated Super Baseball 2020. Don't get me wrong, I love the concept (robots with superhuman abilities play an over the top version of baseball), but the execution of this game is all wrong. The game's biggest weakness comes in the fielding. You might as well not even try to field the ball; because the players don't run fast enough and the camera can't keep up with the action (so catching the ball is near impossible). I'm all for the idea of Super Baseball 2020, but you have to try harder than this game does.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (Arcade)
Night Warriors is the exciting first installment in the Darkstalkers franchise, Capcom's most inspired 2D fighting series since Street Fighter. With its impressive line-up of characters (which feature a Frankenstein lookalike, a vampire hunter, a cat woman, little red riding hood, a mummy, etc.), Night Warriors proves to be one of the best fighting games currently on the GameTap service.
King of the Monsters (Neo Geo)
The concept behind King of the Monsters is simple; you play a Godzilla-style monster fighting other creatures while destroying a major city. The concept is good and it's a lot of fun to destroy skyscrapers, but the fighting engine is shallow and the novelty of the game gets old only minutes after you start playing.
Bust-A-Move (Neo Geo)
This Neo Geo port is a solid version of one of the longest running puzzle franchises of all time. Of all the games being uploaded this week, Bust-A-Move (or Puzzle Bobble if you prefer the original name) is the one that feels the oldest. The game has been on dozens of consoles in the 13 years since its release, and in that time they have refined the concept and added a lot of worthwhile single-player modes. Unfortunately this version is as barebones as you get, which is definitely disappointing. It's still a fun game, but it's easy to find a better version of this game.
Super Qix (Arcade)
Qix is one of Taito's best games, but this 1987 sequel doesn't add enough new to warrant is release. The good news is that the graphics have been improved and there are new enemies to contend with; unfortunately that's not enough to recommend this lazy sequel. If this is your first time playing a Qix game then by all means check it out, but for those who grew up loving the original game it's hard to recommend this version.
Last Resort (Neo Geo)
Last Resort is yet another fast action shoot-em-up on the Neo Geo. Taking its influence from R-Type, Last Resort is a relatively good looking horizontal shooter with some cool looking bosses. The only problem with this game is that it never comes off as being very original, while other games in the genre were able to stand out from the rest of the pack, Las Resort always feels like it's copying other games instead of trying to be original. It's a lot of fun, but definitely derivative of other shooters.
Breakers (Neo Geo)
Another 2D fighter on the Neo Geo? No way! Sarcasm aside, Breakers is a relatively fun fighting game with a few memorable characters and some good graphics. The problem is that all of the game's potential is left on the cutting room floor, there's just nothing in this game that sets it apart from all of the other Neo Geo fighters. What's even more frustrating is that the superior sequel, Breakers Revenge, is nowhere to be seen. Forget this fighter and just wait for Breakers Revenge.