As one of those people who bought a 3DS in the pre-Super Mario 3D Land days when the system offered little more than promise and disappointing third party software, I can proudly call myself a 3DS Ambassador. At first all that seemed to mean was that I overpaid for what seemed to be a doomed system. These days, it means I got onboard early for a handheld loaded up with great software and now 20 free games. When Nintendo cut down the 3DS price, us early adopters were promised 20 free games by the end of the year. The first round of 10 NES titles came quickly and were nice, but the long promised GBA titles seemed like they might never arrive.
Then as 2011 came to a close and just in time for Christmas Nintendo finally dropped the 10 free GBA titles for me and my Ambassador brethren. I’m pleased to say the package is even more impressive than the NES titles. We’re talking about hours a free fun that easily justified the hefty price tag I dropped long ago.
So what do you get if you’re one of the chosen 3DSers? Why, ten fan-damn-classic games from the 16-bit handheld classic Gameboy Advance of course. The best title is actually one that Wii owners have been desperate to get on the Virtual Console for years: Yoshi’s Island (or Super Mario Advance 3 as it was known on the GBA re-release). Simply put, the game is an underrated classic, one of the deepest and most beautiful games ever made for the Super Nintendo. The graphics look like a Saturday morning TV classic while the gameplay offers a subtle variation on the standard Mario controls with a Yoshi eating focus and Mario himself nothing more than a baby on the dino’s back. It’s a Mario prequel of sorts and one of the more underrated games Nintendo ever created. Frankly, this one game would have made this second Ambassador round a success. But that wasn’t the only game included. Not by a long shot folks.
Next up are two amazing racing games F-Zero: Maximum Velocity and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. They’re basically sequels/remakes to the SNES precursors, using the same game engines for variations on the Super Nintendo originals that are just as good. It’s a little odd that Nintendo decided to offer a free Mario Kart game when they just released a 3DS sequel they’re hoping to be a big holiday seller. Gameplay hasn’t changed much in the series, so the old GBA title might offer you all the portable Kart race kicks you need, even if it lacks all of the amazing online play of the new edition. F-Zero remains just as fun today as it was in the early 90s and god-willing this release is a sign that a new entry in the franchise is on the way for either the 3DS or the upcoming Wii U. It’s been a whole console generation since we got to fly at absurd speeds in hover cars and goddamn it, I’m ready to do it again.
Another sign of a possible Nintendo franchise revival comes with the inclusion of not one, but two Wario games. The addictive sidescroller Warioland 4 offers cartoony platforming adventure for everyone’s favorite anti-Mario. But even better is the first WarioWare, Inc. that came out on the GBA many moons ago. The collection of surreal and unpredictable mini-games seemed almost indescribably odd back on first release, but has quickly become a cult-franchise with new entries released on every subsequent system. Both games are far more fun than you’ll even remember and might be the sign of a Wario revival, which I’m certainly not against. Mario’s only non-infant appearance in the lineup comes in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong. It’s possibly the best game of the Ambassador package and a sequel to the incredible 1994 Gameboy Donkey Kong that came out on the 3DS Virtual Console not long ago. The series is a handheld staple that later got a sequel on the DS as well, but frankly the GBA title is the best and while it won’t necessarily seem like the most exciting game in the download pack, don’t be surprised if it’s the one that you go back to the most.
Nintendo also included games from other top franchise characters with The Legend Of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, and Kirby And The Amazing Mirror. I’m a little overkilled on 3DS Zelda titles after the Ocarina Of Time reboot, two NES Ambassador games, a virtual console edition of Link’s Awakening and the free release of Four Swords. Minish Cap is obviously good (all Zelda games are), but I’m a little burned out on Link’s never-ending story and wish they had included Super Mario Brothers 3 instead, as was rumored. Metroid Fusion has the special distinction of being both the most recent adventure in the Metroid timeline and the closest thing to a Super Metroid sequel that Nintendo ever made. Since that’s possibly the finest game from the SNES era, Fusion is just as palm-sweatingly awesome as you’d hope. Kirby And The Amazing Mirror was actually a game I missed back in my ol’ GBA days, but having played it now, I regret it. The character animation is more detailed and expressive than any of the early entries in the franchise and the inclusion of multiple super-powered Kirbys is a nice spin on the formula. It’s not necessarily the best game in the lineup, but it is a sweet little surprised.
The final title that Nintendo choose to include in this bountiful collection of gaming goodness is Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. The turn-based strategy series is considered a classic in some circles, but really does nothing for me. However, since I love the other 9 titles in the GBA Ambassador lineup like a long-lost sibling, I can’t really complain. Overall, this is an amazing collection of free content from Nintendo that trumps the NES Ambassador line up in terms of variance and quality. I’m easily going to lose hours of productivity in the next months to playing these games. Sure, they don’t offer some of the niceties of a purchased Virtual Console title like the ability to create save points, but that hardly kills the experience. As far as I’m concerned, Nintendo has more than made up for their 3DS price drop snafu. The 20 free games they’ve given to early adopters are all addictive titles and more than worth the extra money. If you qualify for the giveaway and don’t download these games, you may as well just smash your system because it’s going to waste. This was quite a Christmas present for early 3DS adopters and combined with the fantastic lineup of holiday releases that Nintendo unleashed (including the addictive-as-crack puzzle game Pushmo that recently launched on the eShop and is a required purchase for any 3DS owner), this system has turned into an incredible piece of hardware. The worrying early days of the 3DS are over. This sucker is officially kicking ass and 2012 only promises to be a bigger year for the system. Bring it on Nintendo. I’m ready for as much eye-popping goodness as you’re willing to give me.