Tag - Virtual Console

Sunsoft returns with Ufouria

Ufouria

The Wii Virtual Console has been dead lately, and well, Sunsoft has been pretty much dead forever. Seeing these two things revived thanks to this week’s release of Ufouria makes me pretty happy.

Ufouria is a late gen NES title that was due for release in the states but never made it outside of Japan and Europe. It was far along enough that magazines like Nintendo Power had write ups and advertisements for the game. Me personally, I always wanted to try it because I loved Sunsoft games. After nearly 20 years, the Virtual Console and Sunsoft have made that dream a reality. Yes, I know I could have just downloaded a ROM of it, but whatever. I’m legit.

Ufouria: The Saga revolves around four cute Pokemon-like characters (get it? You-Four-Of-Ya) in a quest to return home. The game is very much a Metroidvania title, so exploring, learning the map, and back tracking is the name of the game here. While one character, the Frosty the Snow Man looking Bop Louie, is selectable at first it doesn’t take long to track down the other selectable characters. Of course, each character has their own unique skills (the lizard is the only one that doesn’t fall on his face on ice, the frog can swim, ect) so there is plenty of swapping going on between the four during the game. Eventually though, I found myself almost using Bop Louie and the frog almost exclusively, only going back to the lizard and ghost when I had to.

I found it interesting that for a game done in the early 90s, that Sunsoft had the sense to add arrows that pop up early on in the game to help keep players on track so that they don’t get lost or frustrated. Only after acquiring some key items and the map opens up do the arrows go away. It’s a rather forward thinking move on their part, and it’s something that hasn’t really become a standard in games until somewhat recently.

However as bold a design choice as that is, I’m baffled the game never teaches you how to attack. For the first 20 minutes I thought my character was worthless since I couldn’t harm any bad guys. I knew something was wrong and actually consulted the digital manual included with the game where I found my answer. Holding in “down” while jumping is the only way to stomp enemies. It’s a strange move in an era where we were conditioned by Super Mario that jumping on heads is the way to go. Why throw the curve ball in there? I suppose it adds some skill to how the player attacks, but as good as the game is about explaining what items do what, I’m surprised they missed such a crucial step. Still, fans of Ducktales would feel right at home after they figure out what to do.

That said, the game features a well designed and interconnected map with plenty of incentive to keep playing as the game almost constantly rewards the player with new items and gizmos. While the game does have a certain old school bite in the difficulty department, Game Overs aren’t the end of the world and are more forgiving then they might seem. Once revived the player always starts from the same point on the map, but all of the items acquired are still accounted for and since the map is so tight it isn’t too bad getting back to where you were. The game becomes even more forgiving thanks to the Virtual Console’s save function. If the player so chooses they can write down Mega Man style passwords, but the save function does the job just fine.

As a late gen NES title the game sports some nice, bold, and well animated graphics. However, the awesome Sunsoft soundtrack is nearly ruined by the fact that this is the PAL version converted for the Virtual Console and not the Famicom one, so the audio is sped up more than it should be. Though I never played the original game, I felt the soundtrack was off and doing a bit of research (ie looking on GAF and seeing people talking about it) confirmed my suspicions. It isn’t a deal breaker, just a slight bummer.

For 600 Wii Points some people might find the game to be too short (took me about two and a half hours, a half hour worth trying to figure out the final boss), but for someone that doesn’t want to pay the absurd asking price for the PAL version on eBay, that figure is rather fair.

Super Mario Brothers 3 Twenty Years Later

I can’t believe I was 8 years old when Super Mario Brothers 3 was first released on the NES. I had been lucky enough that SMB3 was released around my birthday, and being that my birthday and Christmas was the only time I would get new video games, I knew that this was my one moment to own the game. The fact that this is one of the very few birthday presents that I can recall opening up first thing that morning says something about the game. I remember peeling back the wrapping paper and exposing that bright yellow box. When all the paper was off I looked at that cover of Mario flying in that raccoon suite for a few minutes and the very idea of actually holding onto Mario 3 with my own hands finally struck me. I now possessed Mario 3, and I knew it was good before I even played it.

The build up to Mario 3 was rather incredible. Thinking about it, up to that point Mario 3 had to be one of, if not these most hyped game up to that point. There really wasn’t such a thing as a hyped game in those days. Sure there was licensed stuff that people couldn’t wait to play like Batman and Ninja Turtles, but nothing video gaming could claim as its own that the public was fully aware of. These days its common to find big marketing muscles behind stuff like the latest Halo, Call of Duty, or hell, even New Super Mario Brothers, but at those times it was unprecedented. Heck, Super Mario Brothers 3 essentially had a movie built around it in the form of The Wizard which hit theaters two months before Super Mario 3’s release. Talk about genius marketing. Then there was this commercial, which proved that in 1990, Mario Mania was at one of is heights. I would have said it’s peak, but looking at the sales of games like New Super Mario Brothers Wii, DS, and Mario Kart, the guy has never been stronger.

It’s hard not to see Nintendo employing similar marketing techniques in that video that they still do to this day. That commercial pimps the entire Mario catalog up to that point, meaning back in those days Nintendo really believed in the “long tale.” Mario releases didn’t just come out to be a top seller for a month, they came out to sell for the entirety of the consoles life cycle. If you owned a NES, chances are you owned at least 2 out of the 3 of those games. You came to the party to play Mario, not to play Nintendo or video games.

Looking back it is also interesting to see what Mario 3’s competition was. Sega’s Genesis had already been out for a year with its arguably superior graphics and sound, along with NEC’s TurboGrafix-16, which was hoping its Mario killer, Bonk’s Adventure, would help woo over some of the Nintendo faithful. Mirroring today’s market, Nintendo’s ancient technology managed to fight off two superior machines. Mario 3 came at the perfect time to remind everyone that their faithful NES still had plenty of life left in it.

The ground breaking thing about Mario 3 at the time was the scope. I can remember looking at a map of the first World and thinking that was the entire game. Most games in those days probably would be that long, but Mario 3 felt like it never ended with 7 more of those amazingly huge maps. The game was riddled with secrets and short cuts, hidden modes and tiny details that other companies just weren’t thinking about at the time. If Mario was running down a slope, players could actually have him slide his way down the hill. Nintendo apparently had fun with the concept of stages and built the entire game to look like it was an actual stage show. It’s filled with so many great design touches that people are still finding things out about it today. In a time where most sequels played it safe (Mega Man) while others reinvented the wheel (Zelda), Mario was one of the first ones that took lessons from the original game it was built upon and just refined the hell out of it while making it feel wholly unique. At its core, Mario 3 is Mario 1, but the level design and over all package was so much more.

Did Mario 3 live up to the hype? Absolutely. It’s still just as fun to play today as it was then. People are still buying the game on a regular basis through the Virtual Console (and previously through the GBA release and Mario All Stars on SNES). The game was a phenomenon upom it’s release, and to day it’s still considered to be the pinnacle of classic platformers.

This picture sums up Contra Rebirth

contra_rebirth

As a long time Contra fan, it’s kind of hard to not be slightly let down by Konami’s recently released Contra Rebirth for Wii. Sure, nearly everything is in place that makes a Contra game what it is; lightening fast gun fights, cool boss set pieces, and a (somewhat) hard difficulty with lots of one hit deaths. The biggest issue with Rebirth is that it simply lacks soul. It looks and feels like Contra, but it does little to attempt to further the concepts, nor does it ever find an identity of its own. It just kind of exists, there for fans of the series to try out and think to themselves “Oh yeah, I remember this stuff.”

The game features a very brief five stages, that’s short even by Contra standards. On top of that, the game does a bit of hand holding by offering check points throughout stages and infinite continues as well. I would like to think I’m rather good at Contra games, and I was able to blow through the game in less than 2 hours. I checked my Wii total times, and I played for 40 minutes on Monday, and about an hour today (and I had to sort of relearn Stage 2 and 3 since I already forgot). At 10 dollars, the price is a little steep, especially since players can find longer, better, more challenging and cheaper Contra games through Nintendo’s service by means of Super C and Contra 3.

Then again, the length and price wouldn’t matter if the actual product was rock solid. Unfortunately, after seeing what WayForward did with the series with 2007’s Contra 4 on the DS, a game in which the developers were in love with their source material and at the same time made it their own, it makes it harder to swallow Rebirth’s simple retreading of the formula. All the set pieces you know and love are all here, meaning you’ll be shooting giant hearts, scaling walls while being attacked by large monsters, riding on missles, blowing up the defense towers, and the like. We’ve done all of these set pieces before, and better. The wall scaling part I mentioned is straight out of Contra 3, but it lacks the context, the variety of the fight, and bad ass music from its SNES brother.

Speaking of the music, again, it is made up of nothing but themes from previous games in the series (though I didn’t recognize Stage 3’s music), and for whatever reason the composer decided on a Sega Genesis style synth sound that was popular back in later 80s Arcade games. Not only do they reuse music from Contra 3, but it doesn’t even sound as good as it did then. Jake “Virt” Kaufman’s Contra 4 soundtrack this is not.

Even the graphics are boring to look at, making the game feel like it should have been a free Flash download off the internet. Yes, the game does push some sprites around in ways the SNES couldn’t dream of (Stage 3 in particular) but the overall look and feel doesn’t impress. While I hate to compare it again, it is nothing compared to what Contra 3 looked like, let alone what WayForward did on the DS. Some of the animation is well done, but aside from that, the game looks about as basic as they come these days. It also doesn’t help that it seems to have a thin layer of Vaseline smeared across it, dulling the pixel work in the process.

Also, what is up with the continual goofiness of the storyline in these games lately? Of course the story in the Contra series was never too serious, and by the time Hard Corps rolled around it sort of had a tongue in cheek humor about itself, but between this and Neo Contra I’m just baffled. While there is never as anything as embarrassing/hilarious as Animal Contra from Neo Contra, the quick cut scenes in between stages here are mind blowingly bad. The image above is of classic Contra character Lance Bean. That seriously happens in the game, and there isn’t much context around that image other than the fact that they threw it in there for shits and giggles. Yeah, I laughed at it, so I guess it worked?

At 1000 Wii Points, it is sort of tough to recommend this game to anyone. For people new to the series, they’re best bet is to hit up the Virtual Console versions (or seek out Contra 4), and for people like me who have played nearly every game in the series, there just isn’t anything here that we haven’t already done before.

Contra used to be the action game back in the day. Before big meat head shooters like Gears of War, we had Contra, and it rocked. It is kind of sad to see Contra has become the butt of its own joke these days. Hopefully Konami will wake up one day and give this series a much deserved next gen make over (see Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) in order to make this series relevant again to people that didn’t grow up during the 2D days.