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Virtual Player: Super Dodge Ball, Vectorman, Space Harrier and more

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Super Dodge Ball Wii Virtual Player

Super Dodge Ball

Developer: Technos

Publisher: Aksys

Price: 500 Wii Points ($5)

Original Release: NES, 1988

Virtual Console Release: Sept. 22, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Buy It

Remember when sports games were less like complex team management simulations and more like, you know, games? Let Technos help you remember with Super Dodge Ball, an exceedingly simple and endearing game that doesn't take itself too seriously.

The basic gameplay boils down to a game of catch between two opposing sides -- throw the ball with one button, or catch it with the same button when it comes flying at you. These dull proceedings are spiced up considerably by each character's unique, individualized power throws, which can make the ball boomerang towards the back of your opponent's head, split into three smaller balls, fall down from the stratosphere like a rock, become briefly invisible, and more. There's nothing quite like sprinting forward, jumping over the center line and sending a ball-flattening super-shot towards an unprepared opponent.

The simple gameplay is helped immensely by the super-cute, big-headed characters, which show exaggerated emotion as they get walloped and bounce around the screen in ridiculous arcs. The hardware shows its age with some rampant sprite flickering at points, but it doesn't really get in the way of the fun. Get a few friends and a few drinks together and make a night out of walloping each other.

Vectorman Wii Virtual Player

Vectorman

Developer: BlueSky Software

Publisher: Sega

Price: 800 Wii Points ($8)

Original Release: Genesis, 1995

Virtual Console Release: Sept. 22, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Buy It

Before everything in gaming was made of polygons, developers were looking for ways to create more lifelike characters out of 2-D sprites. BlueSky's solution was Vectorman, a character made up of floating green orbs that allowed for then-unprecedented lifelike animation.

Vectorman separates itself from the score of contemporary run-and-shoot games with an intense sense of style. The unique graphics still hold up today, with fluid animation and dynamic lighting effects that blow away most anything else from the 16-bit era. The level design is a treat too, both visually and through constantly branching paths that feature plenty of hidden items for completists to collect. Controls are spot-on, with a bouncy double jump and the most welcome ability to fire in eight cardinal directions. The game falters only slightly in occasional psuedo-3-D sections where Vectorman transforms into a variety of hard-to-control vehicles, but these short sections don't really get in the way of the main run-and-jump action.

While some players might be annoyed at the limited selection of enemies or the sometimes unforgiving bosses, no retro gamer should be without a copy in their collection.


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Super Turrican 2 Wii Virtual Player

Super Turrican 2

Developer: Factor 5

Publisher: Factor 5

Price: 800 Wii Points ($8)

Original Release: SNES, 1995

Virtual Console Release: Sept. 29, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Try It

They don't get much more generic than Super Turrican 2, a game about an armored space soldier who uses his gun to blast through hordes of generic alien enemies. All right, that's not quite fair. The game does distinguish itself a bit with a wide selection of interesting weaponry (including an incredibly fun flamethrower), some well-constructed levels and an announcer that actually speaks the name of each item you collect.

Still, the game is marred by control problems, most notably the frustrating inability to fire anywhere but straight ahead. Then there's the equally frustrating grappling hook, which never seems to attach exactly where you want it to. This problem is most annoying in the many sections featuring bottomless pits, where one false grapple can lead to instant death.

If you can get by these problems, there are worse ways to spend your time than Super Turrican 2. Still, with the prevalence of better-designed run-and-shoot games on the Virtual Console (see Vectorman, above), you should probably save your money.

Digital Champ Wii Virtual Player

Digital Champ: Battle Boxing

Developer: Naxat Soft

Publisher: Naxat Soft

Price: 800 Wii Points ($8)

Original Release: TG-16, 1989

Virtual Console Release: Oct. 20, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Fry It

I'd like to meet the person who willingly purchases this game over fellow Virtual Console release Punch-Out!! and punch him in the face. Digital Champ tries to make the sweet science more "realistic" with a first-person viewpoint and large, screen-filling opponents. A fine idea, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The characters simply have no character -- their static, misshapen faces look like they were drawn by an art school dropout, and they sway mechanically back and forth with all the grace of a hippo with a bad back. Compared to the wonderfully vibrant characters in Punch-Out!!, it's almost insulting.

As for your boxer, his movements only seem vaguely affected by your futile attempts to control him through button presses. You'll be desperately trying to dodge to one side, only to have the actual lunge come seconds after you needed it. Not that it really matters -- your opponents' completely random swaying and punching patterns make it impossible to plan an effective fighting strategy anyway. Your best bet is just to charge up a power punch and hope it will connect when you eventually let it fly. Compared to Punch-Out!!'s subtle, timing- and pattern-based gameplay, it just falls short in every way.

Even if Punch-Out!! never existed, though, it would still be impossible to recommend this uncontrollable, horrible-looking mess of a game. Stay far away.

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Gradius 2 Wii Virtual Player

Gradius II: Gofer No Yabou

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Price: 900 Wii Points ($9)

Original Release: TG-16, 1992 (Japan)

Virtual Console Release: Oct. 20, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Try It

While the original Gradius and Gradius III were both minor hits in America decades ago (and more recently on the Virtual Console), this is the first time the middle of the arcade trilogy has made it to a home console our shores. The middle child isn't a mere clone of its siblings, though, improving upon the graphics of the NES' Gradius while removing the horrible slowdown that plagued the SNES' Gradius III.

That said, the basic gameplay hasn't changed much from the other games in the series. You still pilot a white space fighter that gains important protective and weaponry upgrades as it goes. Soon enough your super-powered ship is carving through screens full of imaginative enemies and slowly floating shots. The key problem here, though, is that it takes a single false move to cause instant death, which forces you to replay difficult sections with an underpowered, unadorned ship that's supremely outmatched by the opposition. This is particularly frustrating during the insanely difficult boss battles, which require precision movements and impeccable timing even with power-ups. Even the Easy mode is likely to challenge all but the most experienced shoot-'em-up fans.

Those willing (and able) to work through the difficulty will enjoy this excellent addition to the seminal series. Those looking for a more relaxing good time should look elsewhere.

Space Harrier Wii Virtual Player

Space Harrier

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Price: 500 Wii Points ($5)

Original Release: Mega Drive, 1986

Virtual Console Release: Nov. 3, 2008

RECOMMENDATION:
Fry It

The arcade original Space Harrier was somewhat revolutionary for its psuedo-3-D, behind-the-back, forced-scrolling shoot-'em-up experience. But something funny happened on the way to the severely underpowered Sega Master System. While the underpowered hardware did the best it could in 1986, the conversion is far from "arcade-perfect." Blocky, pixilated masses of flickering sprites stutter and jump around the screen, creating a nauseating 3-D effect that seems designed to cause seizures. Tinny, garbled sound effects and a truly horrendous color scheme complete the overall hideous presentation. The messy graphics even affect the gameplay, with the imprecise depth perception problems making it near-impossible to aim your shots accurately.

It might have seemed amazing in 1986, but this version of Space Harrier has not aged well in the last 20-plus years.