If you think that no great games have come out on the Wii recently, you are wrong. What an idiot you must be, to think a thing like that. True, most of the games that come in a thin plastic box that says “Wii” in the upper right hand corner are totally crap, but these next-gen titles are only half of what the little Wii has to offer.
The real value of owning a Wii is access to the virtual console, where Nintendo has opened vast archives of games from NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafix, Sega CD, N64 and as of this week, NeoGeo. These games are more than just a nostalgia trip — they are the best of the best from four generations of gaming. Everyone knows about the “Legend of Zelda,” “Super Mario World” and “Sonic 2,” but here are a few games that may have flown under your radar.
The single player of this 1993 TurboGrafix offering might suck, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Years before Goldeneye or Mario Kart, Bomberman offered a frenetic and intense four-player experience that could be as engrossing as Halo. It offers only two controls: “move” and “bomb,” the simple effectiveness of which knowingly mocks today’s swollen controllers.
You play as a little anime spaceman with long anime eyes that wanders around a grid placing bombs whose explosions extend only at right angles. The pace of the game pits any strategy you might have against flying black orbs and burning red snakes that will seem to materialize at every corner. Especially with four players on the screen, the action is so frantic that you’ll find yourself dying at your own hand as much as at anybody else’s.
Bomberman changes people: my suitemate is a rational man, even a calm man. But in front of Bomberman I have seen him driven to such extremes of rage, terror and murderous glee that I feared he would never return. The multiplayer experience of “Bomberman ’93” is possessed of an elegant mania that future iterations of the franchise were never able to quite replicate.
Before there was Sonic, a dude shaped like a star with big extending arms was meant to be the Sega flagbearer. “Ristar’s” platforming revolves around his arms, which our hero can use to swing on poles, yank himself up obstacles and slam enemies into his spiny body. It’s a brilliant, savagely designed platformer, but more importantly, it’s one of those games that was clearly conceived, designed and marketed all under the influence of very powerful drugs.
The presentation of Ristar is like a less refined “Sonic.” There’s all the same flashy, vibrant colors, but they are all arranged in a hallucinogenic nightmare. In the first level, giant stalks of asparagus swish in the wind next to what appear to be huge strawberries on long, spindly stalks. Ristar himself is kind of a fun little character, though undeniably weird. Clearly, 1995 audiences did not find a gold star pasted onto a black ball with huge hands to be as arresting as a blue, gen-x hedgehog.
The game itself is active and engaging. Ristar’s grabby arms add a new dimension to the standard platformer, and there are additional dynamic environments, inventive puzzles and challenging bosses. The gameplay actually feels significantly more sophisticated than “Sonic 1,” maybe a reason for its lack of mass appeal.
Toejam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron
This game isn’t great, but damn is it funky.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja
This franchise spawned some excellent but under-appreciated titles on the N64, but “Legend of the Mystical Ninja” on the SNES remains the best of them all. As a child, this game was my first impression of Japan, and I was terrified. Fishmongers will whack you without the slightest provocation! Sometimes, whole villages will fill with ghosts! You are told you can use ninjutsu, but you can never figure out how to do it!
I couldn’t get through “Legend of the Mystical Ninja,” because it is punishingly difficult. The platforming requires impeccable, precise timing, and the combat will make you smash everything in the room except the precious, precious Wiimote. And, like all games back then, you couldn’t just beat a checkpoint and be done with it. You die, and you go all the way back.
Failure doesn’t make the game feel unfair, it just makes you feel inadequate. It’s love/hate all the way with these dungeons, because as rough as they are, you will constantly be in awe at how meticulously and inventively they are designed. There is care and attention in every moment, and rather than fill you with rage towards the designers, the game fills you with the determination to live up to the standards they have set.