Well, the summer keeps on trucking and as a result, Nintendo keeps cranking out vintage releases on the eShop for us Nintendo files as part of their 8-Bit Summer.
This time out we’ll be looking exclusively at original Gameboy titles that Nintendo has slipped out over the last two weeks. There are two bonifide Gameboy classics now available that gave a pair of Nintendo mascots games worthy of their names. First up is the first ever Wario-based adventure Warioland: Super Mario Land 3. The evil Mario was invented for Nintendo’s first handheld and his first solo outing (after serving duties as a Bowser stand-in in Mario Land 2) is strong enough that it’s easy to see why the company kept him around. Next up was the Kid Icarus sequel Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters that actually topped the NES original and was the last outing for Pitt until his recent 3DS resurrection. And then finally because I’m a generous guy, I’ve also written up a bonus mini-review on a forgotten Gameboy oddity that also recently received the Virtual Console treatment. If you were a Gameboy owner back in the day who loved these titles or just a current gamer discovering them for the first time, you’ve got some fantastic summer gaming options available. The Gameboy may not have had much horsepower (or colour for that matter), but that sucker sure had some great software for the first generation of handheld gamers and it’s a real joy to see these forgotten classics return.
Warioland: Super Mario Land 3
For the first two Super Mario Lands on the Gameboy, Nintendo played to their strengths with some classic Mario titles. Granted, they were oddball variations on the theme with no presence of Bowser, the introduction of Princess Daisy, Mario’s sudden ability to pilot submarines and planes, and of course Mario’s trusty flying hat. Ok, so they weren’t exactly normal Mario games, but they at least followed the basic formula of the series despite some odd new additions. Well, that was nothing compared to what they did with Super Mario Land 3. Despite, Mario’s name being in the title, the plucky Italian plumber with a big vertical leap and a fuzzy mustache never made an appearance. Instead, the new villain introduced in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins took center stage, that growling Mario doppelganger Wario. With that a new franchise Warioland was born and the Gameboy got yet another fantastic platformer.
Warioland keeps the basic running n’ jumping action of a Mario game, while changing things up fairly dramatically to suit the new antihero. Wario may still jump on bad guys and shrink down when hit (getting a delightful little Mohawk when he does), but he’s got a whole new bag of trick ups his sleeve as well. The hulking mass can also charge through enemies and blocks as well as pick up magic hats, like his jet pack har or his undeniably awesome fire-breathing-dragon headwear (I gotta get me one of them). The plot is predictably ridiculous with a group of pirates stealing a statue of Mario’s beloved princess that inexplicably prompts Wario to set out on a quest for revenge against Captain Syrup and The Brown Sugar Pirates (I swear to god that’s their actual name) in the hope off also being able to steal some gold that he can use to buy a castle to replace the one Mario sadly destroyed in the last game. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, but who the hell plays old school platformers for the plot?
This is a peculiar little title in Nintendo history, it’s the last entry in the Mario Land series (Nintendo’s main man wouldn’t get an original adventure on a handheld again until New Super Mario Bros.) and the first entry in what would become the Warioland series. Even as a kid I felt like Mario Land was just slapped on the box to boost sales and playing this thing again did nothing to change my mind. This is a Wario game through and through and right from the beginning it’s a damn entertaining franchise. Of course it borrows elements from the Mario games, countless sidescrollers of the era did that. But right from the get-go, Wario established his own tough-guy beat em’ up dynamic that distinguished him from his heroic cousin. He’s a little slower, his powers are different, the boss fights are more elaborate, the graphic are stronger (possibly the best in the history of the original Gameboy) and the challenge level was a big step up from the at time painfully easy Mario Land games. There’s a learning curve involved since it’s surprisingly different from Mario Land 2, but once you get the hang of things, it’s just as easy to get addicted and have your eyeballs glued to the screen until you’ve completed all eight worlds. In it’s own warped way, this is a perfect companion piece to the Mario Lands, which always tried to gently alter the standard Mario formula and made massive technical improvements each time out. I’d hesitate to call it the best of the series because the predecessors are sentimental favorites, but collectively this platforming trilogy is easily the finest franchise from the ol’ Gameboy days and should be stored on any self-respecting Nintendo fan’s 3DS drive.
Score (for folks who like judgments, but not reading): 4.5/5
Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters
A few months ago Kid Icarus Uprising finally marked the return of one of Nintendo’s original mascots in a fantastic 3DS game. It may have seemed a bit strange to relaunch a character like that on a handheld system rather than a console, but in a way it was oddly appropriate. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. The last outing for Pitt’s old school gaming adventures was actually on the Gameboy in 1991 with Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters. With Nintendo honoring their past with a slew of summer eShop releases, that forgotten game has finally returned and it’s quite a bit of fun, folks. Like most early Gameboy titles, this is essentially a remake of an original NES game with a simplified aesthetic and gameplay. If you were a 90s kid wandering into a store playing Russian roulette with Gameboy titles and basing your purchase on a familiar franchise, that meant one of two things. Either you’d be disappointed by a stripped down game that sucked the life out an 8-bit favorite or you’d be pleasantly surprised with a title that captured the essence of the original while fixing some of the seams and lowering the obscene difficulty as part of the Gameboy-ification. I’m pleased to announce that Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters falls into the later category.
This Gameboy sequel actually fixes many of the problems with the admittedly enjoyable (if at times painfully difficult) NES forbearer. The simplified aesthetic means there are far fewer enemies to contend with, you can actually beat them, and you might even finish the game without having a brain aneurism. It’s still a challenging game, but at least you can fall through a completed game screen without dying and that’s a massive plus. You’ll once again play as the plucky little cheruby Pitt, negotiating your way through monster filled landscapes of Greek mythology with your trusty bow at your side. There are essentially only four areas to the game, each a labyrinth of platforming broken into four levels and filled with enemies. The most frustrating part of the game is simply navigating through the massive levels that all look quite similar, but the good news is that since this sucker is on the virtual console you can save your spot at any time and not worry about getting lost or back-tracking. Boy-oh-boy is that ever a useful function on old school games.
The original Kid Irarus may have hits fans who love the “no fuckups allowed” brand of difficulty. However, in many ways this seemingly simplified Gameboy sequel is actually the superior game. It’s much easier to play while still being challenging. The levels have just enough variance to avoid head-smacking repetition, the midi music is surprisingly catchy, and the bosses are so well designed (I’ll skip details to keep the surprises) that you may die just admiring what was accomplished with the limited Gameboy hardware. Kid Icarus is still one of Nintendo’s B-franchises, so don’t expect something as smooth, deep, or exciting as say a Mario or Metroid title. However, if you enjoyed the recent Kid Icarus reboot and wanted to sample where it all began, this is a perfect starting point. Sure, the original NES Kid Icarus is already available in the eShop in a fancy-pants 3D version, but as pretty as that game is, it’s also one of those unforgiving 8-bit experiences that caused many controllers to be thrown against the wall back in the day. Start with this first, which is still a challenge, but at least more enjoyably so. Once you’ve beaten it, then and only then will you be permitted to pull your hair out with the original. Trust me folks, it’s good advice.
Score (for folks who like judgments, but not reading): 4/5
An 8-Bit Bonus Mini Review: Tumble Pop
One of the nice things about Nintendo focusing their 3DS Virtual Console efforts on classic Gameboy titles is that it’s allowed the company to resurrect forgotten oddities only briefly available on the system like the fantastic Lock N’ Chase (a cops and robbers variation on Pac-Man that you should really download right now). One highly enjoyable obscure title that the big N has been so kind to pull out of the archives this summer is Tumble Pop. I’m not sure what the title means, but you play an 8-Bit ghostbuster jumping through various stacked platform sucking up ghosts, fire spirits, clowns and various other cute n’ spooky things into your vacuum backpack. The goal is to suck up all the monsters in a stage and every time you suck up a monster you can spit out a star that will a) kill other monsters and b) turn into a special item once it hits the wall giving you abilities like faster speed, a more powerful vacuum, invincibility, etc. That’s essentially it, but like any 8-bit game simplicity is key. The concept works and can be a hell of a lot of fun, with a surprisingly large number of levels accessible through a top-down Super Mario World style menu and a few items n’ bonus stages tossed in for good measure. This isn’t a classic or anything, the game is just too simple for that. Yet, it is smoothly designed and endlessly replayable. Provided that you don’t mind absent minded platforming, I definitely recommend you pick this up if you tire of the marquee titles during this long and wonderful 8-bit summer.
Score (for folks who like judgments, but not reading): 3.5/5