Why April Is A Massive Month For the Virtual Console

If you count yourself as a hardcore gamer then you will have read our recent news piece about April’s Japanese Virtual Console games with marked interest. Sure, there’s the usual amount of filler in there, like Famicom Detective Club Part II and Bokosuka Wars (neither of which are likely to make the leap over to the US/Euro VC service), but there’s a trio of games that should cause your pulse to race uncontrollably – Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, MUSHA Aleste and Metal Slug.

Dracula X is widely regarded as one of the finest entries in Konami’s long-running vampire franchise and until the release of the PSP-based Castlevania: The Dracula X Chornicles remained unreleased outside of Japan. As a result, copies of the game change hands for triple-figure sums of cash on sites like eBay and the title has gained near-legendary status with retro collectors as a result.

Thankfully the hype is unquestionably justified in this case; Dracula X is one of the best 2D action platform titles of its generation, combining stunning graphics with excellent music and typically brilliant gameplay. The branching level system also helps maintain the challenge and some superb anime-style cut scenes round off the package nicely. The fact that your correspondent purchased a PC Engine Duo RX system from Japan for this title alone should give you a fair indication of its quality.

The burning question is will it see a Western release? Well, thanks to the fact that Dracula X now has an ESRB rating in the US and a PEGI rating in Europe (due to its inclusion on the aforementioned PSP collection) it’s almost certain to be released on the Virtual Console here. Konami and are all too aware of how much of a classic this title is and they really would be mad not to make it available to Wii owners.

The second title we’re getting rather excited about actually had a Western release back in the day; MUSHA Aleste is an early Megadrive/Genesis vertically scrolling shooter yet it remains one of the best. Graphically it’s hard to believe this game was programmed in 1990; few 16-bit shooters look as good as this (or contain as much fast-paced action). Like Dracula X this game fetches a pretty penny these days so a Virtual Console release will be very welcome indeed – although there really is no substitute for the beautifully illustrated Japanese packaging.

Finally we have SNK’s Metal Slug, the first game in one of the company’s most enduring and successful franchises. Some would argue that it’s also the finest installment, too; later titles not only ramped up the complexity of the game but also turned the humour to maximum. The original is still funny in places but manages to retain a bit more dignity in the process.

Whatever your opinion it’s clear that this represents one of the finest moments 2D gaming has yet experienced. Visually it is nothing short of spectacular and the gameplay is so solid that it’s remained practically unchanged in the recent sequels. Again, this is a game that would cost you an arm and a leg to purchase in its original AES format (although the MVS version is considerably cheaper).

So, after months of rather underwhelming releases on the Virtual Console, things are most definitely looking up. We obviously can’t say for sure when these titles are expected to hit the West, but they are certainly worth waiting for and should hopefully restore some confidence in Nintendo’s retro portal.