Games we hope never get released on the Virtual Console
Posted by Kelvin Green
Only the churlish will argue with the assertion that the Wii's Virtual Console has been a great feature. Veteran gamers have been able to revisit their gaming pasts, while those newer to the scene can discover whole new worlds of electronic entertainment that they might otherwise have missed out on. On the Virtual Console Archive forums, I've seen delighted youngsters expressing their excitement at playing the mighty Streets of Rage 2, and even as a crusty old veteran, I've been surprised now and then, most notably by the excellent releases available for the PC Engine/Turbografx, which I never got to play the first time around.
But there is a dark side to this new age of gaming discovery. As we've seen with titles such as Urban Champion and NES Soccer, not every old game is a winner, and some are likely to endanger your very sanity with their sheer ineptitude. So here is the official Virtual Console Archive guide to games we hope to never see on the Virtual Console service. Get yourself a stiff drink and read on.
Rise of the Robots - Megadrive/Genesis & SNES
The latter half of the 16-bit era saw the rise of the beat-em-up, prompted by the runaway success of then-new franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Clones and competitors popped up every month; some were as good as the big names (like Sega's excellent Eternal Champions, which I do hope comes to VC one day), most were okay, and some, like Rise of the Robots, should have been shot into the sun before they were seen by human eyes. This atrocity was ported to pretty much every system of the day, so unfortunately its chances of appearing on VC are considerably increased. The game boasted cutting edge 3D rendered graphics, and, um, well that's about it really.
The gameplay was awful; game balance was non-existent, as some characters were far and away better than the rest, and the controls were embarrassingly limited with a small number of special moves simply activated with single button presses. Players were greeted with a choice of exactly one character and a fixed and unvaried sequence of opponents, and in versus combat, one player was forced yet again to play using the generic protagonist from the single-player game. And the soundtrack, widely advertised as being written and performed by Queen's Brian May, er, wasn't. Rise of the Robots was a horrible mess from start to finish, clearly rushed out to make money from the beat-em-up craze.
Heroes of the Lance - NES
Dungeons & Dragons has enough of a PR problem without stuff like this. Baldur's Gate is a fantastic game that also remains true to its D&D roots. Heroes of the Lance is a filthy monolith of suckitude that has only superficial links to its source material. If you were generous, you might give the designers credit for trying something different by taking a fantasy roleplaying game and turning it into a somnambulistic side-view beat-em-up of sorts. But I'm not generous. It's an absurd creative decision that strips out all the atmosphere of both the original pen and paper game and the novel, but even then, it might have been acceptable if the gameplay had not been so hideously broken. The game is full of absurdly tough enemies that respawn each time you enter a screen, which will happen all the time, because the game is a maze and all the screens look the same, and the enemies are made even more difficult to overcome by unresponsive and illogical controls that seem designed to kill off your characters almost as fast as they kill off your enthusiasm. Awful, awful game, but luckily, the Dungeons & Dragons licence means that this is probably more trouble than it's worth to bring to VC.
Rapjam Volume One - Megadrive/Genesis
Back in the 8/16-bit era, rap was the coolest thing ever. Not all that Jay-Z nonsense about how much money you've got, but proper political stuff from the likes of Public Enemy and Run DMC. Greedy games producers saw an opportunity for some cross-promotion, and you'd often see a hip-hop flavour to games. The resulting games were usually badly-programmed wrecks with some superficial nods to the concept, which did no one any good.
Back in the 8/16-bit era, basketball was the coolest thing ever. Greedy games producers saw an opportunity for some cross-promotion, and you'd often see a basketball flavour to games. The resulting games were usually badly-programmed wrecks with some superficial nods to the concept, which did no one any good.
Rapjam is the unholy bastard offspring of both of these misguided attempts at "getting down with the kids" and is as awful as one might expect. To recreate the horror, take the basic engine of the mighty NBA Jam, strip the finely tuned gameplay out, but as something of a compensation, swap the players for popular hip-hop artists of the time. Sell for $40-50 and hope that you make your money back before anyone notices the steaming pile of crap you just released.
Superman 64 - Nintendo 64
Notorious for being the worst thing ever to appear on the N64, this game was based on the excellent Bruce Timm cartoon series, but instead of being a top-notch superhero extravaganza, it was, um, well what was it? Well, it's a bit like Pilotwings, except on a more powerful system, and much, much less good. You're the greatest hero of them all. You can do anything. So what's the game about? Fighting villains and saving lives? Battling against epic odds to prevent the very destruction of humanity? Or flying through rings, in the fog, to get points? If you went with "rings" then you're right, which must mean you've played this pile of filth, for which I'm so very very sorry. The little gold Nintendo "seal of quality" badge has never been more meaningless.
Dragon's Lair - NES
The original Dragon's Lair was hugely ground-breaking and influential. Sadly, the ground was probably best left unbroken, as the game's influence led to trash like Night Trap and pretty much everything on the Philips CD-i. I'm not even sure you could call Dragon's Lair a "game", as "playing" it consisted of watching a few minutes of a Don Bluth cartoon, then pressing a button in order to key up the next animation. It was immensely popular, but my gosh it was rubbish.
Obviously a then-high-end arcade machine based on laserdisc technology was never going to scale down well to the NES, and if the producers had tried such a conversion, then no one would be surprised if it were awful. What is surprising is that turning the game into a side-scrolling platform puzzler more in keeping with the humble grey box's technical capabilities would also be awful. The controls could be described as sluggish, although that would be doing a disservice to slugs, and the game itself is almost impossibly hard, with instant death situations around every corner, including enemies which seem to be able to kill the lead character just by looking at him. Which would be fine if you could avoid said enemies, except you can't because the controls and timing are so broken, and so on, until you start trying to hop to the Sun, because that would be less futile an activity than playing this terrible non-game. The producers of this game did what few of their peers have managed over the years, and that is to scale down a coin-op for home consoles, and yet retain the original gameplay; sadly, the original gameplay was dire.
In all fairness, over the years, the systems that make up the Virtual Console service didn't see all that many truly horrible games, and the astute will pick up even from my very short list that the worst dross tended to come from third-party publishers and licensed properties. But there are other nasties out there too, and the success of the Virtual Console might lead to unscrupulous publishers trying to make a quick bit of cash off the unwary by sending their misbeggotten horrors out into the world once more. So be vigilant, and use the comments facility on this site and the Virtual Console forums to let us know what we should be particularly afraid of...