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Specials
 Written by David Taylor  on January 25, 2007

Special: Indiana Jones would have problems tracking down these relics.


In the almost thirty-five years of console gaming (counting the Magnavox Odyssey as the start), there have been thousands of games released to the American public. To say that players out there, old and new, have some old favorites would be an understatement. Veterans like myself all have fond memories of playing our favorite NES title back in the late 80s (I love you Bubble Bobble!). Likewise, with each new system released, new titles appeared that in turn captured the delight of gamers around the world. However, due to the age of some of the older machines like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, many of these games are becoming unavailable. This is largely because the hardware is very gradually wearing out. At some point in the future, it will be more of novelty to find a working used Genesis. The unfortunate result of this is that many classic games, and more specifically cult games, that were released on these systems will die with them. This problem is compounded by the fact that many developers seem unwilling to re-release these games onto other platforms. Thus, veteran games are being robbed of their old favorites while new players will never get a chance to live these classics themselves

Thankfully, Nintendo answered the prayers of many gamers with the invention of the Virtual Console. As many know, the ?iTunes of video games,? allows players to download classic games and store them on the Wii's memory. Surely Nintendo meant this service to be not simply a fun diversion, but also a sort of interactive museum. However, museums are not places for only ?famous? artifacts. What would the Louvre be if it only held the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo? It would hardly be a museum at all. In following this idea, it would make sense that Nintendo should include not just the greatest hits of days of yore (Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, etc.), but also the cult games and underappreciated titles that due to industry politics, the mainstream gaming population was never able to fully appreciate. We see a little bit of this already with the Virtual Console. After all, many of the Turbo Grafx-16 games like the upcoming Bonk III weren't exactly runaway bestsellers. With this in mind, here are a few neglected titles that at some point will become unavailable and are therefore worth preserving on Nintendo's innovative system.

Panzer Dragoon Saga
Unlike some home systems that deserved our scorn (we're looking at you Jaguar), the Sega Saturn actually had a great deal of potential and several high quality games that proved it. Unfortunately, even though it faired well in Japan, the system and its software were quickly overshadowed here in the U.S. by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. By 1998 the system was dead in the water.

Due to Sega's slippage in the market here, several quality titles remained unreleased or released in limited quantities. In the case of the latter, the most prominent example was Panzer Dragoon Saga in 1998. Sega only shipped a few thousand copies of the title as sort of a ?thank you? to loyal Saturn owners. This was a fitting swan song for the Saturn since this third installment in the Panzer Dragoon series turned out to be one of, if not the best, Sega Saturn game ever. Since that time Panzer Dragoon Saga has become an eBay darling. Due to its limited run, NTSC English versions of the game often sell for over $200. However, to say that this high price is merely due to its rarity would be a mistake. This is truly one of the greatest games ever made.

Whereas the Panzer Dragoon series before and since were on-the-rail shooters, Panzer Dragoon Saga was actually and deep RPG with combat that was not simply a bunch of androgynous men alternately swinging swords at each other (sorry Final Fantasy). Indeed the game's combat actually took place in real time in mid-air as the main character Edge (no relation to the U2 guitarist) rode on the back of a dragon. The game's battles placed heavy emphasis on movement and positioning, which was rare at the time. This is the first in the series to allow totally free reign of movement while on the dragon instead of being locked to a path. An epic story coupled with some of the best graphics on the Sega Saturn makes this game a classic of the highest order. Reviews at the time of its release, and to this day, give it almost unanimous praise.

Many gamers have heard of Panzer Dragoon Saga, but unfortunately have never received a chance to play it. This is largely due to the aforementioned cost of the game combined with the amount of money needed to buy a used Sega Saturn. That's almost a $300 investment! Moreover, Sega seems strangely unwilling to re-release it on other system, even though the same has been done with other installments of the series. It's time for Sega to get their act together and put this on the Virtual Console so a whole new group of fans can enjoy the experience. The only foreseeable complication might be memory. After all, Panzer Dragoon Saga came on four discs. One possible solution would be the ability to download the game in episodes. Given Nintendo's technical know-how, I am sure that they can find a way.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Unbeknownst to many gamers, the first CD console system on the market in North America was not the Sega CD, but instead the Turbo CD add-on for the Turbo Grafx-16. History repeats itself, and following suit the fate of the Turbo Grafx-16 closely parallels that of the Sega Saturn. The Turbo Grafx-16, and especially the CD component, simply did not catch on here in the United States the way it did in Japan. This led to a number of the CD titles not being released here. Most tragically of all was that there was never a stateside release of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, the first ever CD-based game of the horror series, and a title that has never appeared on any other system (Dracula X for the SNES was a lackluster remake, kind of like Vanilla Sky).

Those who have played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night have actually played a bit Rondo of Blood. The opening scene in Symphony of the Night in which the player defeats Dracula as Richter Belmont is a flashback from Rondo of Blood. In actuality, Rondo of Blood is the first part in a two-part story that concludes with Symphony of the Night. Both games share similar enemies and characters. For instance Maria Renard is a playable character here, although she is much younger than in Symphony of the Night.

Rondo of Blood is also notable because it is the last of the traditional Castlevania games before the series moved to the popular action RPG formula. Rondo of Blood is straight up platforming Castlevania action where it's just you and your whip facing the hordes of evil. In addition to being the first CD-based Castlevania, Rondo of Blood also marked many other firsts in the series. It is the first Castlevania game to feature the popular item crash ability. Also it began the use of musical references in the series' titles (rondo means a principal musical theme repeated?hmm?resurrected vampire anyone?). The game featured colorful graphics that created a perfect atmosphere. In one level for instance the player must play through a burning village. The real star here though is the CD-quality music with remixes of some of the series most popular tunes.

One of the great things about the Turbo CD is that it had no regional lockouts, meaning that even though Rondo of Blood was only released in Japan, it can still be played on U.S. machines. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done for the game goes for high prices on EBay and Turbo CD add-ons and Turbo Duos (the all in one cartridge and CD system) are not what one would call extremely available. As a result, this is yet again a game that many have heard about, but only a select few have played. You can't tell me that Castlevania fans would not want to play this? Castlevania: Rondo of Blood begs for a release on the Virtual Console, just like its SNES predecessor Super Castlevania IV. All that would be needed is for Konami to get a starving university language student to translate the game from Japanese to English.

Star Fox 2
Star Fox 2 differs from the other two games on this list in that it is not a game on a dying system, but rather it was never released at all. It received a tremendous amount of press in the mid-nineties when it was first announced. It was meant to be a sequel to the innovative and at the time, graphically revolutionary Star Fox for the Super Nintendo. This second installment was to use the Super FX2 chip (used in Yoshi's Island and Stunt Race FX) to further push the power of the Super Nintendo's capabilities. Alas, despite the buzz surrounding the game, Nintendo unexpectedly cancelled Star Fox 2 in 1995. Fans have debated the reason for this cancellation for some time. Some argue that Nintendo did not feel that the game would sell well enough to recoup its high production costs. Popular consensus however is that Nintendo wanted to focus their energies on the upcoming Nintendo 64 and felt that putting that much effort into a Super Nintendo title was a lost cause.

No matter the reason, Star Fox 2 for all intents was dead in the water. It seemed that fans would never get to the direct sequel to the popular Star Fox. However, with the rise of the popularity of the Internet and video game emulation, several playable ROMs of the game were leaked to the public. It turns out that Star Fox 2 was much further along than most imagined. As a matter of fact, according to its programmers, and considering the quality of the beta ROM, it was more or less complete.

So how is the game? First of all, it is quite impressive the amount of power that Nintendo pumped out of the SNES. The Super FX2 really shows its magic here, as the graphics are very high quality, bordering on those of early Saturn and Playstation titles. In terms of gameplay it is similar to the original Star Fox, but the programmers made a vast number of changes to the way the game is played. Star Fox 2 is nowhere near as linear as the original. The main objective here is to protect the planet Corneria from incoming missiles and other attacks from space. The player can see these hostile forces on the overworld map. The player's job is to intercept these battleships and missiles in order to prevent them from hitting Corneria. Where the strategy comes in is the fact these hostiles move in real-time. Even if you are trying to destroy a missile in one part of the game, another one might potentially hit the planet. If Corneria takes too much damage then it is game over and evil rules the galaxy. Fans of the recent Nintendo DS release Star Fox Command might recognize this style of gameplay, for the DS title adopted some of it in its single player game.

Several of Star Fox 2's concepts were carried over to the Nintendo 64 installment, Star Fox 64. Most notably is the appearance of the Star Fox team's rival, Star Wolf. The Star Wolf team will actually chase the player around the overworld map in the game, making them much more pro-active foes. Other additions include the ability to choose from six playable characters. This includes the familiar Star Fox team, as well as two new additions. This was a feature that was not included again until Star Fox Command.

The game also features a great deal of in-door areas. These range from the interiors of battle cruisers to space stations. The player navigates these by turning the Arwing ship into a walker akin to those in The Return of the Jedi. This is sort of a predecessor to the tanks featured in Star Fox 64.

One foreseeable difficulty in porting this game to the Virtual Console is the fact that many of the ROMS seem to have a few incomplete textures and glitches. It is unclear if this is simply due to the emulation itself or the game being incomplete. Going on the assumption it is not finished, and a more complete version doesn't exist somewhere, it is fair to wonder if Nintendo would be willing to go back and finish the game for a Virtual Console release. If the demand is high enough, it is a possibility. Historically fans have been very influential in getting companies to re-release products. Although a different industry, Warner Bros. decision to release the Richard Donner cut of Superman II was heavily influenced by the desire of fans. Perhaps the same thing could happen with Star Fox 2? Only time can tell. As is stands now, this lost episode of Star Fox will forever be without a legitimate console release. A game like this should not be available purely through a lackluster emulator. Nintendo, it's in your hands my capable friend.

X Never Ever Marks the Spot
These are hardly the only titles that should have Virtual Console release, but simply some of the more famous. Perhaps hoping for re-releases is nothing but a futile dream for some of these games. Perhaps these titles will never make it to the Virtual Console and be lost to time. However, stranger things have happened and as long as the possibility remains, it is a noble effort worth pursuing. The Virtual Console should be more than just a service for the most popular games, but also a means of preserving titles that were a bit overlooked in their heyday, but deserve a chance to shine again without putting a huge burden on the player (both financially and time wise). It is ultimately up to the respective companies to decide. Until then, some videos of the games mentioned in this article are available on YouTube for those who are curious to see what they may be missing.



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