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
. Believe it or not, this is one of the most important weeks yet. This week Nintendo did the unthinkable and released two games that have never been released in their original state. Not only do we get the Japanese sequel to Super Mario Bros., but we also get Treasure's amazing shooter, Sin & Punishment. And if that wasn't enough GameTap really stepped up and delivered 17free classic games. That's right, 17 games! This is a packed show (even without the likes of the Xbox Live Arcade) so put down Halo 3 and check out this week's Retro Round Up ...
Sin & Punishment
What Is It?
When it comes to the top tier Nintendo 64 games chances are you've already played through Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Paper Mario and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but there's one triple-A title that you've probably never been able to add to your collection. That game is Sin & Punishment, a Japan-only 3D shooter from Treasure, the people that brought us such classics as Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga and Dynamite Headdy. Although it was set to come out in the states, Nintendo cancelled it at the last minute and disappointed fans of fast-paced action games. Sin & Punishment is like a cross between Sega's seminal shooter Panzer Dragoon and the Fabtek's arcade game Cabal. Tons of enemies pop up in the background and it's your job to shoot them down with your analog-controlled targeting system. What sets Sin & Punishment apart is the pure style of the game, especially when it comes to the multiple boss battles. The game is hectic from the start and never lets up; it's a non-stop joy ride through highly detailed levels. But the important part about this game is that it's something you could normally not buy in the United States. Sin & Punishment marks the first time an unreleased Nintendo 64 game has been featured on the console, and that alone is reason enough to buy this long overdue title. The game may look and feel a bit dated by today's standards, but it's one of those games you've probably never played before and by buying it you will be sending the message that you like the idea of getting unreleased games on the Virtual Console. Who knows, maybe if this is a success we'll finally see the Super NES sequel to StarFox Nintendo cancelled at the last minute.
Does It Still Hold Up?
There are people out there that for whatever reason can't get into the idea of playing an on-rails shooter, no matter how great it looks or how good the gameplay is. Those people missed out on Sega's amazing Panzer Dragoon Orta and will no doubt miss out on Sin & Punishment, one of the best Nintendo 64 games of all time. If you're one of those people that hate the idea of being on rails then chances are you're going to think the gameplay is terribly dated, but for everybody else this game holds up remarkably well.
Is It Worth the Money?
Coming it at a steep $12, Sin & Punishment is officially the most expensive game currently available on the Virtual Console. Since most gamers have never actually played this game before the $12 asking price may seem a bit over-the-top, but considering that this the Japanese version of the game is still going for more than $100 on eBay, I would say this Virtual Console port is quite a value. The good news is that Sin & Punishment is worth every penny, and it's a good way to let Nintendo know that you want more of these kinds of games on their download service. Don't be cheap; Sin & Punishment is one of the best games released this month on the Wii.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
What Is It?
Sin & Punishment is not the only game this week that has never been released in the United States. This is Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, the REAL sequel to Miyamoto's classic 8-bit platformer. While we Americans were given a Super Mario sequel that featured vegetables, Birdo and a guy named Wart, the Japanese were playing through a Mario game that looked and played almost exactly like the first game. Unfortunately we didn't get our hands on these "lost levels" until the 1993 release of Super Mario All-Stars, and at that point Nintendo had gone in and cleaned up the graphics to make them more presentable on the 16-bit system. So what is Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels? Imagine if Nintendo had decided to farm out this Mario sequel to another group of developers, and instead of keeping the fun, light-hearted nature of the original game they decided to make it dark and very, very difficult. There's no reason to imagine, because that's exactly what happened with the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. This is a dark and dreary Mario game full of the same enemies and level designs. But don't let the graphics fool you, this is also an extremely difficult game that will challenge even the most hardcore Mario fanboy. The problem is that there isn't much of a change between the first and second game, outside of a new power-up (which is actually more of a power-down) you'll be asked to do the same thing that you did in the first exciting adventure. Only this time around it's not nearly as much fun or exciting. Still, this is one of those games that Mario fans should have in their collection if for no other reason it gives you perspective on what Miyamoto brought to the table. You can still have a lot of fun with The Lost Levels, but expect this game to kick your ass.
Does It Still Hold Up?
The problem with this game is that it plays exactly like the first game, which is one of those titles we can play over and over again without getting bored. Usually that would be a good thing, but in this case it's hard to get over the fact that this looks and plays like a game we love, but is frustrating and uninteresting at the exact same time. The gameplay does hold up, but the game itself is a bit of a mess.
Is It Worth the Money?
Let's face facts here, no matter which Mario sequel you play (be it Super Mario Bros. 2 U.S. or this Lost Levels stuff) you're going to be disappointed that it's not on the same level as the other adventures. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is not a very good game, the levels are frustrating and there's not much new to talk about here. But it's worth having in your collection and deserves to be played through at least once. Oddly enough this 8-bit game is one dollar more than most of the other NES titles. I suspect that's due to the fact that this has never been released before, but whatever the reason is I say it's worth the cash. It's not very often that you get a brand new Mario game to play through, even if it's not one of his better adventures.
This Week in GameTap
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 http://www.gametap.com
1941: Counter Attack
Released six years after 1942, 1941 is the brilliant sequel to one of Capcom's greatest shooters of all time. In a lot of ways 1941 plays just like the prequel, only this time there are more power-ups, amazing graphics, and some of the best bosses Capcom ever put in a 2D shooter. Better yet, there aren't a lot of shooters for 1941 to compete with this week, so there's no reason not to check out this amazing shooter. It may not be as culturally significant as the original, but 1941 is one game everybody should play.
Baseball Stars 2
(Neo Geo) -
The good news is that Baseball Stars 2 is a significantly better baseball game than Super Baseball 2020 (a game I panned three weeks ago). Unfortunately the game is still not up to the standard you want from an arcade baseball game. Baseball Stars 2 suffers from a lot of the same problems as Super Baseball 2020, such as a frustratingly slow camera and a general lack of things to do. On the flip side, this is a game you can actually have a lot of fun with if you play it against somebody else. This isn't a very good game, but it's better than a lot of baseball games currently available on GameTap.
Sometimes it's hard to tell what will be popular and what won't. When we think back at all of the great brawlers Capcom developed in their lifetime most people single in on Final Fight. Yet Captain Commando, released two years after Final Fight, is definitely a better game. In this science fiction brawler you have the opportunity to take three people into combat against some of the creepiest looking characters Capcom has ever come up with. This three-player game also features better graphics, more moves, and some really interesting weapons to pick up along the way. Both this and Final Fight have a reputation for being repetitive action games where all you do is mash buttons, but it's hard to deny the charm of Captain Commando.
Defender is the arcade masterpiece from Eugene Jarvis, the man that brought us Robotron: 2084 and Crus'n USA. Released in 1980, Defender is fast action 2D shooter that lets you race back and forth killing enemies and picking up bonus items. In a lot of ways this game was a precursor for games like Gradius, R-Type and just about every other horizontal shooter. While the game definitely feels dated, this is yet another one of those games you should check out just so that you know the full history of video games.
Elevator Action is one of Taito's best loved games, an action game where you fight enemies on different floors of a large tower and use an elevator to go between levels. While the graphics don't look very good by today's standards, Elevator Action is both simple and fun. Best of all, this is the type of game you can pick up and play for only a few minutes or for hours at a time. It's no Halo 3, but Elevator Action still offers action and excitement around every corner.
(Neo Geo) -
SNK's original Fatal Fury is a disaster. While there are a lot of people who claim to love this Neo Geo title, I simply can't get past the terrible controls and unresponsive special moves. It's also annoying that you only get to play the game with three characters, none of which are very interesting. I'm sorry guys, but the original Fatal Fury is one of the most overrated 2D fighters of all time.
When people think back at the brawlers of the 1980s two games come to mind, Double Dragon and Final Fight. This is the story of Metro City, a gang-infested metropolis that features a Mayor who can really kick some butt. You play either Guy, Cody or the Mayor himself, Haggar. It's up to you three to beat up all of the city's gang members and save Haggar's daughter, even if that means that from time to time you're going to be strung up to a stick of dynamite and saved by a falling knife (don't ask). While the gameplay is a bit repetitive, Final Fight is still an exciting action game that you'll be into for the hour that it lasts. Still, if I had to choose between this and Captain Commando, I would go with the lesser known Captain if for no other reason than it is just a more fulfilling adventure.
Ghosts 'N Goblins
If you've been reading this section for any length of time then you should already know that I love Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series. While I tend to gravitate to the more recent entries (specifically Ghouls 'N Ghosts and Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts), I do still enjoy this old school version. Unfortunately going back and playing it now it's easy to see how limited the game is, you only have two weapons and the controls are not as responsive as you might like. It's fun to see where the series started, but this game just hasn't held up like I wanted it to.
King of Fighters '95
(Neo Geo) -
It would be easier to love the King of Fighters series if SNK hadn't insisted on ramming them down our throats once a year. This is the 1995 edition, or the second version of the game if you're paying attention. Like every other year, '95 features a nice selection of characters from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and other "popular" Neo Geo arcade games. The problem is that the controls aren't very responsive and none of the characters are all that interesting. SNK would eventually churn out some interesting King of Fighters games, but this early version just isn't one of them.
(Neo Geo) -
When people aren't raving about Samurai Shodown II most of them are talking up the merits of SNK's other weapon based fighting game, Last Blade. With an amazing art style and great controls, Last Blade is easily one of the best games on the Neo Geo ... and by default one of the best games on GameTap. While everybody talks about King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown, Last Blade tends to be left in the corner and ignored by most gamers. If you're one of those people who has yet to discover the greatness that is Last Blade, then make sure you head on over to GameTap and try it out for free ... you'll thank me later.
Neo Turf Masters
(Neo Geo) -
Neo Turf Masters is another one of those Neo Geo sports games that tries real hard but can't quite get it right. This is a golf game, a sport that is hard to translate to an arcade machine. While Neo Turf Masters manages to get the basics right, there's nothing here that sets this game apart from the rest of the crowd. If all you're looking for is a simplistic golf game from more than a decade ago then by all means check it out, but if you're a golfer who owns a more recent game, you might as well just stick with Tiger, Hot Shots or whatever other title you own.
Rainbow Island is the sequel to Bubble Bobble, one of Taito's best known games. The problem with Rainbow Island is that it doesn't have the same heart as the original game and proves to be nothing more than a repetitive mess of colors and boring level designs. The biggest problem with this game is that it doesn't feature Bub and Bob, the two endearing dinosaur-like creatures from the original Bubble Bobble. If you've never played Rainbow Island before then you might as well give it a try, but chances are you'll be looking for another game soon after you've finished up with the first couple levels.
Street Fighter II - Champion Edition
Champion Edition was the first "expansion" to Street Fighter II. This version rebalances the game and now allows you to fight as the four bosses (Vega, Balrog, Sagat and M. Bison). On top of this you are also able to play character vs. character, a mode unfortunately missing from the original Street Fighter II. Seeing as this is the only Street Fighter II game currently available for free you might as well check it out; after all, this is one of the greatest games ever made. But if you're a paying subscriber you should probably skip this version and head on over to the superior Street Fighter II Turbo or Super Street Fighter II Turbo, both of which have been available for paying subscribers for awhile now.
(Neo Geo) -
While I'm a huge fan of the 1998 sequel, there's just something about the original that I can't get into. I think the problem is that it's not very adventurous, in a lot of ways it feels like SNK decided to just copy MERCS and call it a day. The problem is that MERCS (Capcom's 1990 overhead shooter) is a better game in every possible way, which means that this is nothing more than a pale imitation. If you have the opportunity to play through Shock Troopers 2 then by all means do so, but I would skip this boring shooter and focus on one of the countless better games released this week.
The New Zealand Story
This is another one of those cute Taito platformers. This quirky 2D action game is similar to Liquid Kids, a game I gave a glowing recommendation to in last week's episode. Like Liquid Kids, The New Zealand Story is just very weird. But that won't keep you from having a good time checking it out. Unfortunately it probably won't keep your interest as long as some of Taito's other games, but it's still a lot more fun than doing nothing at all.
Twinkle Star Sprites
(Neo Geo) -
Every now and then some crazy bastard decides to fuse two genres together and create something of genius. Twinkle Star Sprites combines the competitive puzzle nature of Puyo Puyo and the twitchiness of an overhead shooter to create one of the most original and fun games. Yes, it's another sickeningly cute game for the Neo Geo, but it's an original idea and a fun (albeit sickeningly cute) game! The good news is that this is one of those rare Neo Geo games that is super expensive to buy, so playing it for free is a bargain as far as I'm concerned.