Crispy Gamer

Virtual Player: Phantasy Star III, River City Ransom, Double Dragon

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Just when you were getting irritated with Nintendo for limiting the Virtual Console releases to only two a week, we're now hit with a one game week. Weak! It's a redundant release, at that. At least we can take comfort in the fact that the recent games have all been pretty good, even if they're not all necessarily worth buying. Read on for more details.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Price: 800 Wii Points

Originally appeared on: Genesis


RECOMMENDATION: Buy It

Poor Phantasy Star III. Always the black sheep of the Phantasy Star family. The original PS was one of the few games worth playing on the Sega Master System (sorry, but it's true), and its sequel was one of the best games during the early days of the Genesis. Both games helped create a world (a universe, actually) that was an odd and intriguing mixture of fantasy and sci-fi. They also had fairly involved storylines filled with interesting characters.

Phantasy Star III, however, loses a lot of those elements. Despite a few cyborg characters, the sci-fi elements are toned down, and the story is relatively simplistic and dry. The trade-off for this is the game's "generation" aspect that lends itself to the subtitle. When the game begins, you're controlling Rhys, a prince who is about to be married to Maia, a woman with amnesia who washed up on the shore of Rhys' kingdom. During the wedding, Maia is kidnapped, forcing Rhys on an adventure to rescue her.

At the end of Rhys' quest, you can proceed to marry Maia or ditch her in favor of another woman that you meet along the way. Depending on which gal you choose, you'll produce a different son. The story then continues with your offspring's quest, eventually leading to another wedding/birth/quest. Because the entire game encompasses three generations of characters, there is precious little time for intricate character development. To make up for this, there are four different endings, one for each of the four possible characters you control during the third generation. This gives the game some replay value, which was pretty rare for an RPG back in the day.

Yes, PS3 is the weakest of the "real" Phantasy Star titles (that is, the non-Game Gear or Online entries in the series), but it's really not a bad game. If you skipped over it the first time around, this is a good chance to give it a try. Just go into it knowing that it's not a very deep game, and you'll probably end up enjoying it.

River City Ransom

Developer: Technos Japan

Publisher: Aksys Games

Price: 500 Wii Points

Originally appeared on: NES

RECOMMENDATION: Buy It

BARF! River City Ransom has gained quite a cult following in recent years, and now that it's hit the Virtual Console, you can discover why this classic beat-'em-up is so well-loved. The game is an Americanized version of one of the first titles in Technos' long-running Kunio-kun series (to which the equally loved NES game, Super Dodge Ball, also belongs). Sure, Kunio and Riki are now called Alex and Ryan, and the duo's Japanese school uniforms have been replaced with jeans and t-shirts, but the gameplay remains untouched.

In the proud tradition of beat-'em-ups, the plot of this game involves rescuing a girl (your girlfriend this time) who has been kidnapped. Before finding her kidnapper, you'll first have to kick and punch your way through a mess of street thugs and tougher boss characters. The 8- and 16-bit eras spawned countless games like this, but River City has a few things that help it stand out from the crowd.

There's the surprisingly deep power-up system of which you can take advantage by collecting the coins that are dropped by fallen foes. Instead of separate levels, River City is one large map throughout which you can freely travel. Occasionally, you'll come across a shopping district where you can purchase all sorts of different items that boost your stats in ten different categories. Books can also be bought that teach you new moves. The ability to enhance your skills to this degree adds a sort of RPG element to the game, and it's something that you didn't often see in action games of the day.

The other big plus in River City's favor is the game's sense of humor. The story doesn't take itself too seriously, and you'll love the various comments made by the bad guys when you're finished pummeling them (including the aforementioned faux vomit sound). Don't pass up this opportunity to grab one of the most popular (and fairly scarce) NES titles for a mere five bucks, and remember to play the two-player mode. Enemies go down twice as fast when you have a friend helping you out.

Double Dragon

Developer: Technos Japan

Publisher: Aksys Games

Price: 500 Wii Points

Originally Appeared On: NES

RECOMMENDATION: Fry It

If you've been paying attention to this week's column so far, you should be aware that Aksys Games has just brought River City Ransom on the Virtual Console. One week after River City's release, the NES version of Double Dragon has come to the service. This release makes even less sense than the recent rapid-fire release of the SNES and Genesis Turrican games. River City Ransom is essentially an improved version of DD, so what's the point in releasing one right after the other?

Double Dragon predates River City, and it was one of the titles that helped define the beat-'em-up genre. The story here is another girlfriend kidnapping plot, this time Billy Lee's gal, Marian, has been nabbed by a gang called the Black Warriors. As you work your way through each stage, be sure to grab the various weapons from enemy gang members to use against them. Fighting also earns you hearts that unlock more advanced moves as you progress. It's a nice enough upgrade system, but not nearly as deep as the one in River City.

The NES version of Double Dragon is hardly a bad game, and it still has a legion of devoted fans who fondly remember taking on foes like Abobo and Willy back in the day. The problem is, when the game is released so soon after River City Ransom, its deficiencies become all the more apparent. The combat system is fairly shallow by comparison, and the game lacks the arcade version's two-player simultaneous mode (you're forced to take turns with the second player).

If you're one of those Dragon devotees, you've probably snagged this game already. If you're looking to sample the best of the NES brawlers, then get River City. Hopefully the future will bring us the Sega Master System version of Double Dragon, which looks significantly better than the NES port and retains the co-op mode.