Retro Round-Up is a weekly article (which I never get around to posting on time, sorry,) where I take a look at the world of retro games. This week, I’ll take a look at Nintendo’s line-up for their “8-bit Summer” campaign on the 3DS e-shop, and pick out which games have stood the test of time and which games should have been left behind in the 90’s.
You’d think the summer months would have more major handheld releases: with everyone going out on vacations or road trips, you’d think that video game companies would want to cash in on everyone who’s looking for something to do during a long car ride or plane trip. Yet this summer is strangely devoid of quality handheld titles (Pokemon Conquest being the only notable exception,) with both the 3DS and the Vita experiencing a sudden drought of quality games that probably won’t be remedied until the Fall rush starts.
But hey, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to take your handheld with you on your vacation this summer. While actual “new” releases may be few and far between for the next few weeks, Nintendo is re-releasing some old 8-bit “classics” on the e-shop that should keep 3DS owners busy until New Super Mario Bros. 2 hits at the end of the summer. The lack of new games is lamentable, but you might as well use this lull to catch up on some old games that you might have missed.
Of course, “classic” is a subjective term, and not all of the games that are part of Nintendo’s 8-bit Summer are worth going back to. Being the massive nerd that I am, I’ve played all of the games on Nintendo’s line-up at one point or another, so here’s your highly opinionated guide to this summer’s retro releases on 3DS:
The Legend of Zelda
I’ve made my love for Zelda clear on this blog many, many times (seriously, go play Skyward Sword right now if you haven’t tried it yet,) so obviously I’m going to recommend that everyone download and play the original Legend of Zelda. Link’s first adventure may not be as pretty or polished as his later quests, but there’s still a lot to appreciate here; the game still has all of the qualities that would later become hallmarks of the series, like massive dungeons, a ton of gear to collect, and some challenging boss fights. Newer gamers might be turned off by LoZ’s lack of direction (unlike the extreme hand-holding found in modern Zelda’s, this game rarely tells you where you’re supposed to go next,) and the occasional obtuse puzzle, but there’s rarely an archaic element in this game that can’t be overcome with a little perseverance and experimentation. Like pretty much every other game in the series, the original Legend of Zelda was and continues to be a must-play for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.
Sword of Hope 2
Sword of Hope 2 doesn’t quite have the same brand recognition that the other games in this feature have, but provided you approach it with the right mindset, it can still be a lot of fun. The game is a first person RPG/dungeon crawler, and fans of modern games like Etrian Odyssey and Class of Heroes might enjoy this 8-bit take on the genre. With that said, some parts of the game have not aged well: the graphics are simple, even by original Game Boy standards, and the menus are kind of clunky. Patience is a prerequisite for Sword of Hope 2, but if you’re hard-up for a new dungeon crawler to keep you satiated until Etrian Odyssey 4 comes out, the game is still worth a shot.
Kirby’s Pinball Land
Gaming companies have been shoe-horning their most popular characters into pinball games ever since the early 90’s, and most of the time, the results were pretty mixed: Genesis/Mega Drive “classic” Sonic Spinball is one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played, but Sega did manage to crank out some quality pinball games later on for the GBA with Sonic Pinball Party and the ridiculously named but incredibly fun Pinball of the Dead. Nintendo themselves a pretty hit-or-miss record with the genre as well: for every great pinball game (like Revenge of the Gator or Pokemon Pinball,) that they created, they’ve churned out an equal number of mediocre franchise cash-ins, like Metroid Prime Pinball or Mario Pinball Land.
Thankfully, Kirby’s Pinball Land has more in common with the former than the latter, and until Sega adds their previously mentioned GBA pinball titles to the 3DS Virtual Console, Kirby’s Pinball Land is probably the best pinball game you’ll get on the 3DS. Pinball and Kirby are a surprisingly natural combination, and fans of Kirby’s platforming adventures will find a lot to like here: the game has all the charming characters and memorable music you’d expect from one of the pink puffball’s “real” adventures, and pinball fans will likewise enjoy the game’s simple but well designed tables and believable sense of physics.
Tumblepop is the Game Boy port of an obscure yet very, very beloved arcade game, and though the Game Boy version is substantially different than the original arcade game, it’s still a great game in its own right.
The original Tumblepop was an action-platformer in which players could use vacuum cleaners to suck up and spit out enemies like projectiles (take that, Blinx!) The Game Boy port adds in some light RPG elements, such as an overworld that allows you to tackle the levels in any order and the ability to purchase power-ups for your character via a new in-game shop. Tumblepop is definitely one of the original Game Boy’s lost gems, and everyone with a 3DS should definitely give it a shot.
Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
After being neglected by Nintendo for over 20 years, Pitt is suddenly a hot commodity in the wake of the success of Kid Icarus: Uprising, so it’s pretty safe to assume that a lot of 3DS owners are planning on buying Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters when it hits Virtual Console… and they should, because Of Myths and Monsters is a very good game.
This direct sequel to the original NES game is very much improved over its home console predecessor. The game manages to capture all the great aspects of the original Kid Icarus, like the challenging platforming and the copious amounts of hidden secrets and upgrades for Pitt, but also adds in some much needed improvements, like the ability to save your progress and the ability to go back and explore previously visited areas. Like Tumblepop, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was kind of overlooked when it was originally released, but has since gone on to become a sort of cult classic, and like Tumblepop, I can definitely recommend that everyone pick this game up when it hits the Virtual Console on July 15th.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
The other two Super Mario Land games have been on the 3DS Virtual Console for awhile, so it makes sense that Nintendo would conclude their 8-Bit Summer promotion with the final game in the trilogy.
Despite being called “Mario Land 3,” Wario’s first starring adventure has little in common with traditional Mario platformers: instead of rescuing a princess or saving the land from disaster, Wario’s goal is decidedly more Objectivist in nature: he simply wants to make himself rich, and the game’s main goal is to collect as much treasure and coins as you can get (the amount you collect determines what ending you’ll end up with.) Wario’s gameplay is just as big of a change as well: instead of the precision platforming that you’d expect from a Mario game, Wario Land instead focuses on exploration and using Wario’s various powered-up hats to solve puzzles.
The original Wario Land isn’t quite as good as most of its sequels — the team behind the game obviously wanted to use Wario to make a different breed of platformer, but the experimental formula they toyed with here wouldn’t be perfected until Wario Land 3 — but it’s still definitely worth playing. The levels are well designed, the music is catchy, and the game’s gigantic sprites are filled with personality and charm… even if it’s not the best in the series, it’s still definitely enough to keep you happy until Nintendo releases Wario Land 3 or *crosses fingers* VB Wario Land on the Virtual Console.
Sonic Labyrinth and Sonic Blast
Sorry Sonic fans, but these two Game Gear re-releases are probably the only two games in this article that I can’t recommend. Sonic never really translated well to the Game Gear’s small, blurry screen, and Labyrinth and Blast (also known as G Sonic,) are no different.
Labyrinth is a plodding isometric action game that takes away Sonic’s key element – speed. For some reason, Sonic walks about as fast as a paraplegic, and the only way you can move forward with any sort of velocity is by repeatedly doing Spin Dashes. The game’s levels are set up like a sort of Marble Madness/pinball hybrid, and players have to collect 3 keys before a timer at the top of the screen runs out. The concept has some potential, but the game’s boring level design and annoying controls make the game feel more like busy work than fun.
While Labyrinth isn’t worth buying because it’s boring, Sonic Blast isn’t worth buying because it’s undeniably terrible. While it was released alongside the mediocre isometric platformer Sonic 3D Blast for Genesis and Saturn in 1996, Sonic Blast on the Game Gear was a more traditional 2D platformer. Unfortunately, adhering to tradition doesn’t do it any favors, because the game is pretty much terrible in every way possible: it’s ugly as hell, the boss battles are terrible, and the like other Game Gear Sonic’s, the camera is zoomed in so close that you never really have a comfortable view of what obstacles lie ahead of you.
Sonic fans should avoid these two downloads and instead invest their money in either the 3DS version of Sonic Generations or one of the Sonic Rush games for the original DS. Sonic Labyrinth and Sonic Blast were both panned when they were originally released on the Game Gear, and they’ve only gotten worse with age.