Google+

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 3DS Virtual Console: Not Very Good?

The Virtual Console on the 3DS is now in full force. It's exciting to be able to play some of these old games again, like Donkey Kong '94 and Zelda: Link's Awakening. However, here's the problem a lot of people are going to find rather quickly:

A lot of the games released for early portable systems kind of suck.

First of all, let it be known I'm not knocking Donkey Kong '94 or Zelda: Link's Awakening. I'm also not saying that all Game Boy games suck.

However, let's be objective about the major releases that are already on the Virtual Console. Super Mario Land is merely OK. Mario is too small and it's too easy to misjudge a jump onto an enemy. It also ends too quickly. Kirby's Dream Land, while fun, is only a half an hour long with little to no reason to keep playing through it.

In fact, if you take off the nostalgia blinders, you're left with very few good early portable games. Are there a few? Yes. We've mentioned all of them we could think of and came up with 20. That's it. Throw in the Game Boy Color and you have another 5-10 decent games. That's slightly over 25 games for the entire Virtual Console.

"But... what about the Game Gear?" Yeah, what about it? Name me 10 good games from the Game Gear.

(Jeopardy theme)

Now remove all games that say "Sonic" in the title and try again.

(Jeopardy theme ad infinitum)

That's the problem. If people are complaining about early Virtual Console releases not being as exciting as they would have hoped, get used to it. There just simply weren't a lot of good games for the Game Boy.

The Game Boy didn't live or die on its library. It survived because it was a portable video game system at a time when the only portable video game systems were LCD games. The battery life was great too. That was really it. Most of the games that came out for the Game Boy fell in to two categories: Lackluster ports of big-console games and odd experiments thrown onto the Game Boy because there was more room for innovation.

On the 3DS Virtual Console, both of those advantages have been obliterated. For example, what kind of portable gaming systems are out now? There's the DS, the 3DS, the PSP and the upcoming Vita, not to mention iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Almost all of them have reasonable battery life, and the ones that don't make up for it in other areas.

That means that the Game Boy now has to stand solely on the merits of its library, and with the library being what it is, that's not going to be very kind to our green-screened little friend.

Another big thing that made the Game Boy so great at the time is that our expectations were so low. We were so used to crappy handheld video game systems that we couldn't believe what we were able to do on the Game Boy. Whereas before, we had cheap Tiger LCD games (look it up, kids), now we were able to play real actual games. When I first made Mario do a spin-jump in Super Mario Land 2, it was amazing. I didn't think they could do that on a Game Boy game, and it felt like I had Super Mario World in my hands, albeit a monochromatic one.

However, at this point we're pretty spoiled now. With the Game Boy Advance and later with the DS, we've gotten some pretty deep experiences on portable systems. We're not seeing as many lazy ports, but instead a lot of full-featured experiences designed for the ground up for handhelds. What we're used to playing now on a handheld console doesn't even come close to comparing what we used to have to play.

I'm not knocking the Game Boy at all, mind you. I had a Game Boy for years and had some great moments with it. Link's Awakening was the first game I played with a real story in it, and I remember being shocked that video game could stir my emotions. I played the crap out of Pokemon Red. I played every RPG I could get my hands on and very nearly beat Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters. That final boss was a MONSTER.

And, to be fair, there were some pretty innovative titles for the Game Boy. Case in point:
  • Wario Land II. When Wario Land II came out, some of the earliest reviews were saying that it was too easy. Why? Because Wario couldn't die. You could only get knocked back and lose coins. It's not a shocking concept anymore, but at the time it was not appreciated, so it got some mediocre reviews for precisely that reason.
  • Pokemon. Would Pokemon have worked on any other system than the Game Boy? I think we can say "no," because Pokemon games haven't worked on any big-console systems and won't ever work on them. Community is a big part of Pokemon, and that's what Nintendo understood when they launched Pokemon on the most portable system they had.
But when we start talking about the strength of the 3DS Virtual Console, don't be surprised if it comes up wanting. When we take the nostalgia blinders off, it's plain to see that the Game Boy's library wasn't very top-notch to begin with. Playing the 3DS Virtual Console means accepting a very specific time in gaming's history, warts and all.