Just buy a Wii U? Download these
Nintendo's Wii U has launched, and the company hopes to capture a whole new generation of fans. Wii owners know the console's WiiWare platform is host to some of the coolest little titles ever to hit a Nintendo machine, but if you're a Nintendo newbie, how do you know which downloads to sample first?
Well, obviously that's a somewhat rhetorical question as you're already reading an article in which we tell you exactly what you need to know. So let's get on with the business of recommending some games...
Alien Crush Returns
Two things that you stand a far better chance of encountering outside your living room are pinball machines and extra-terrestrials. So thank goodness for Alien Crush, which allowed shut-ins of the early 90s a chance to get their fix of multipliers, Action Ball showdowns and Giger-esque space creatures; and thank Battle Arena Toshinden developer Tamsoft, for updating the cult TG16 title with Wii-era physics and visual flair.
Alien Crush Returns marries the tactile physicality of three xenomorphic-looking pin-tables to a videogame-ready structure of alien-hunting, powerup-collecting and boss-battling. It's not as substantial as the likes of the XBLA/PC's Pinball FX 2; but then again, this is the only pinball game that doubles as an off-brand Alien adaptation, which must count for something?
Twitch-gaming may have had its birth in the unforgiving arcade shooters and console platformers of the bygone 80s and 90s, but the genre continues to scale new heights of amphetamine-paced insanity with series like the Bit.Trip sextet. Oh, quit your giggling: that's the proper term for a six-member musical ensemble, and Bit.Trip is as musical as it is retrogamer-friendly.
The games' Atari-inspired graphics mask a multi-colored, gorgeously chiptune-ful aesthetic that gets richer and more rewarding the closer you get to the series' frenetic, strobe-pumping heart. You haven't truly learned the meaning of the words just one more try until you've guided CommanderVideo through this six-phase epic of hyperspeed reflex-action.
Blaster Master Overdrive
As you'll see in the recommendations to come, the oh-so-contemporary WiiWare platform turned out to be the perfect outlet for no small number of retro reimaginings - playing host to titles whose post-2000 revival demanded a little more polish than a simple Virtual Console dust-off could provide. Blaster Master: Overdrive is one such, reskinning Sunsoft's 1988 platform-shooter for the new millennium with tweaked gameplay and all manner of natty cosmetic touch-ups.
Underneath it all, though, fans of the original will find much unchanged: you're still a plucky human commanding a superpowered tank with the same moniker as our esteemed EIC, leaping along side-scrolling segments broken up by top-down exploration and wishing the controls were a little more user-friendly. (Come on, like the NES original was such a triumph of ergonomic intuition).
While Japanese players were offered the option of a full-fledged Bomberman Blast complete with extensive story mode, English-speaking explosion-enthusiasts have to settle for this lower-priced release focusing entirely on the game's Battle Mode. What kind of a monster would slash the price of a Bomberman game by offering only the bit people actually want to play, right?
While contemporary titles struggle to fit two players onscreen without compromising too many pyrotechnics, Bomberman Blast can do eight-player local matches without breaking a sweat. Whether the Wii U's way of handling Gamecube controllers will half this number, we've yet to discover; but with the game still offering worldwide online PvP, even this compromise would hardly be a deal-breaker.
Bubble Bobble Plus!
Nowadays you may know Taito's bubble-spitting dinosaurs from the ubiquitous Puzzle Bobble, but let's not forget where Bub and Bob got their start: in the original platformer-with-a-twist, 1986's Bubble Bobble. It's hard to think of many mid-80s actioners that hold up this well today but the faithfully-recreated original is just Bubble Bobble Plus!'s opening salvo.
Besides 100 levels of authentic one- or two-player whale-slaying fun, Taito's in-house remake offers modern additions such as 100 new levels, a four-player Arrange mode starring new dragon-ladies Pab and Peb, and downloadable plus-difficult level packs offering further four-player challenge.
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
A retro treat that consciously harkens back to the series' cartridge-based glory days, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (lordy is that an unwieldy title) won't have you breaking out the graph-paper like the series' contemporary offerings; instead, retro-revival specialist M2 offers a SNES-flavored reimagining of the series' first Game Boy outing.
With such an old-skool pedigree (The Adventure was the third original title in the series), M2's game eschews the massive, retread-heavy gameplay of post-Symphony of the Night titles in favor of tight, scrolling gauntlets of zombies, Draculas and yes! Medusa Heads. If that gets your pulse racing in a good, non-homicidal way (those Flea Men, right?!), this bracingly straightforward jaunt is worth a look.
Do you like games where you can explore a vast environment from the perspective of a solitary humanoid character, gradually unlocking new paths and abilities through your intrepid attention to detail and enemy-fighting prowess? Given that you're reading about Nintendo games, we're going to guess probably. They don't call it the Alex Kidd-Vania genre, after all.
Cave Story is a contemporary tribute to formative titles like Castlevania and Metroid, built from pixels, love and sweat off the brow of indie developer Daisuke Pixel Amaya. The title borrows liberally from the structure of those games and their ilk, but Amaya shows himself a canny interpreter of modern gaming trends, with a well-constructed internal universe whose own story unfolds alongside your own.
Excitebike: World Rally
As you may've noticed by now, sometimes when classics this old come back for another round, 100% authenticity isn't actually the first thing we want out of them. A title like Excitebike may have thrilled audiences in 1985, but then so did Lionel Richie - so to appeal to the discerning ADD standards of today, many NES-era classics look better buffed up with some new-millennium sizzle.
Excitebike: World Rally is a prime example: based on the landmark racer that served as a US launch title for the original NES, the game's WiiWare update got a new 3D gloss courtesy of Monster Games (brains behind underloved semi-sequel Excite Truck). The result's a twitchy little time-trial racer that, while no challenger to today's full-fledged exemplars of the genre, bridges the 25-year gap since NES owners first discovered Excitebike.
LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias
The original LostWinds was a launch title for the WiiWare platform, and immediately started the service off on the right foot with its clever incorporation of the motion-controls that, back in 2008, we still thought might be a passing fad. Here was a platformer whose central point-'n'-blow mechanic set it apart from all the press-A-to-jump adventures that'd gone before, while honoring the formula with plus-sized Metroidvania-style level design.
For the quickly-approved follow-up, LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias, Frontier Developments set its sights higher, beefing up the relatively scant playtime with more abilities, a deeper story, and a season-changing game mechanic. The result was a self-contained adventure that's won acclaim on Wii and iOS alike though the tactile experience of guiding hero Toku with WiiMote-controlled gusts of wind still can't be beat.