As anticipation for the 3DS continues to build ahead of its European release on 25th March, Nintendo has announced that early 90s games from platforms as disparate as the Sega Game Gear, NEC’s tiny wonder machine, the PC Engine, and the big N’s very own Game Boy will be available to download from the handheld’s Virtual Console.
Last week, Sega divulged the first five Game Gear titles it will be making available from its back catalogue: Sonic & Tails 2, Sonic Drift 2, GG Shinobi, Dragon Crystal and Columns. We haven’t yet learned what PC Engine titles are to be released, but in the meantime, here are ten classic, largely forgotten Game Gear and PC Engine games we’d like to see on the 3DS…GG AlesteOriginally available for: Game Gear
Sega’s chunky, battery-hungry Game Gear may have come a distant second to the hugely dominant Game Boy in the early 90s, but the former’s colour graphics made it the venue for a number of genuinely great shooters.
Compile’s GG Aleste (or Galvanic Gunner Aleste) was the very best, a Manga-infused space-based shooter that made the most of the Game Gear’s 8-bit hardware. Catchy music, masterfully wrought little sprites and seriously destructive weapons made this the pocket equivalent of Compile’s earlier and better-known Gunhed for the PC Engine.
Parasol StarsOriginally available for: PC Engine
This woefully under-appreciated entry in the Bubble Bobble series was a hugely playable, colourful game, and the PC Engine version was the first and very best iteration. Returning the game to Bubble Bobble’s co-op roots after the single-player only Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars feels very much like an amalgam of those two classics.
Taking control of dungaree-clad boys Bub and Bob, players manipulate magical umbrellas to slaughter thousands of wide-eyed enemies and collect the fruit and jewellery that appears in their wake.
More generous with it power-ups and extra lives than its predecessors, early stages of Parasol Stars give the impression of a game that is a little too forgiving and simplistic – later levels, however, became far larger and more intricate. As a two-player game, Parasol Stars is great fun, with both parties able to either cooperate (players can throw each other around, and soak one other with drops of water captured in their brollies) or compete for the hidden treasure lurking on every level.
Now extremely rare and difficult to get hold of, an appearance on the 3DS could give the game a much-deserved new lease of life.
Halley WarsOriginally available for: Game Gear
The late 80s/early 90s marked a key period in the development of the 2D shooter, and for this writer at least, it was the genre’s golden age. Building on the foundations of classics such as Gradius and R-Type, the period’s blasters offered baroque enemy spaceship designs and a stern challenge, before the genre became mired in the overwhelming Bullet Hell tactic that marked them out in the latter part of the decade.
Halley Wars was the Game Gear’s second best shooter, and while it lacks GG Aleste’s imaginative weapons (this one makes do with simple three way lasers, homing missiles and round blobs of plasma), it offered a great sense of progression, as the player traversed the Solar System into the heart of an invading alien fleet.
There was also a neat system that encouraged players to destroy every alien they saw – if an enemy craft slipped past the player, a percentage meter, which kept tally of how much damage the aliens were doing to Earth, would sneak up a few points. Let too many enemy ships past, and the game would end in the planet’s fiery demise.
Ganbare GolbyOriginally available for: Game Gear
One of the most anarchic and downright odd titles available for the Sega Game Gear, this quirky top-down action puzzler put the player in control of Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. With the poor and hungry lined up at the gates, Gorbachev has to run around a factory, activating conveyor belts to send food and other goods rolling out towards the starving populace, all the while avoiding armed soldiers in furry hats.
The novelty of its weirdness aside, Ganbare Golby was (and is) an engaging, fun little puzzler, and ideal for the handheld gamer on the move. Released in Europe as Factory Panic, with its Cold War references removed and its protagonist replaced by a generic brat in trainers, it’s the unsullied, Japanese version we’d like to see on the 3DS.GunhedOriginally available for: PC Engine
One of the less obscure titles on this list, and a game that will be immediately familiar to most old-school shooter fanatics, Compile’s Gunhed is such a classic that it deserves to appear on the 3DS. Indeed, a handheld console is perhaps the best place for it, since its satisfying shoot-em-up gameplay would be ideal for short sessions on trains and buses.
Inarguably Compile’s finest shooter, Gunhed genuinely felt like someone had dragged an arcade cabinet into the living room – fast gameplay, colourful graphics and superb ship designs (that were copied in numerous, lesser shooters later on) marked out what remains one of the genre’s best examples.
Already available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Gunhed would be at the very top of my picks for the 3DS’s online store.
Ax Battler: A Legend Of Golden AxeOriginally available for: Game Gear
Ax Battler is essentially what you’d get if you placed a cartridge of arcade/Sega Mega Drive beat-em-up Golden Axe and a copy of The Legend Of Zelda in that matter transporter out of The Fly.
Blatantly lifting the overworld map and side-scrolling combat from Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link and applying a bit of Golden Axe lore to it, Sega’s action adventure title is actually a lot of fun, in spite of its cheeky resemblance to Nintendo’s immortal franchise.
Taking control of beefcake barbarian Ax Battler, the player must retrieve the legendary Golden Axe from the evil Death Adder. Locations and characters from the original beat-em-up make appearances here, and stumbling across super-deformed versions of places like Turtle’s Back, and those Chicken Leg creatures (you know, the pink things with beaks) all add to Ax Battler’s retro charm.
The game’s more of an interesting oddity than an out-and-out classic, but as a side-story in the Golden Axe series, it’s an enjoyable mix of exploration and Rastan-like hack-and-slash gameplay.
Galaga 88Originally available for: PC Engine
Another game already released for the Wii’s Virtual Arcade (under its European title, Galaga 90), Galaga 88 is another example of a retro title ideally suited to brief, intense blasts of on-the-go gaming.
Taking the hypnotic, insectoid invasion gameplay of the 1981 original and polishing it to a mirror-like degree, Galaga 88 is one of the most insidiously addictive shooters yet made. This is at least due in part to its simplicity, but also thanks to the added level of variety and strategy this instalment introduced.
Two ships can be rescued from the aliens’ tractor beams, giving the player the option of transforming their Galaga starship into a bulky yet destructive laser-spitting behemoth.
Add to this Galaga 88’s difficulty versus reward system (warping to a harder level meant a bigger test of skill, but bigger bonuses) and diverting “Galactic Dancing” challenge stages, and you’ve got a sparse yet perfectly balanced shoot-em-up that has seldom been bettered.
Kato-chan & Ken-chanOriginally available for: PC Engine
The bizarre, lavatorial humour of this obscure Japanese 90s relic mean that the heavily sanitised, rebranded US version, J.J & Jeff, is more likely to get a 3DS revival, but it’s the original game that truly deserves to be played.
Based on a hit Japanese comedy series, Kato-chan & Ken-chan is a side-scrolling platform game in the time-honoured Super Mario tradition. You control a super-deformed, balloon-headed version of one of the original show’s middle-aged comedians, running and leaping your way through a cartoon landscape while collecting bonuses and killing enemies. As well as bouncing on enemies’ heads, players could also use a blast of deadly flatulence to cut a swathe through each level – a skill we’ve probably all suspected Mario could do, if only Nintendo would let him…
Ninja Gaiden Originally available for: Game Gear
Before Team Ninja rebooted the series and made it synonymous with ultra-fast violence and startling difficulty levels, Ninja Gaiden was best known as either a derivative arcade beat-em-up (called Shadow Warrior in the west) or a rather good side-scrolling platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
A quite different side-scroller also appeared on the Master System (and many critics have hailed this to be even better than the one on the NES), while the Game Gear received its own unique iteration in 1991.
With simpler, more linear levels than either the Master System or NES versions, Game Gear Ninja Gaiden played like Konami’s Green Beret in blue pyjamas. Boasting just four levels and a less-than-imposing challenge, Ninja Gaiden offered a fun yet brief run-and-slash experience.
As a largely forgotten entry in the Ninja Gaiden series (one that has a far lengthier lineage than some may realise), the Game Gear version of Ninja Gaiden is an engaging little oddity that, if packaged with the superb Master System version, could offer a great reintroduction to Ryu’s 8-bit adventures. Jackie ChanOriginally available for: PC Engine
A platform game based on one of eastern cinema’s biggest action stars probably sounds like a recipe for disaster, particularly in light of woeful licensed efforts like Shaq Fu.
Despite the fact that the cartoon sprite in Jackie Chan bears only a vague resemblance to the man himself, the game’s extremely well programmed, playing out like a Saturday morning animated version of Shinobi, with bright, colourful graphics and imaginative, mythologically-themed levels.
Jackie Chan has, of course, starred in numerous other videogames of varying quality. These include seminal 1984 beat-em-up outing Kung-Fu Master, originally based on the film Wheels On Meals, and the surprisingly good PS1 brawler, Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster, which was released in 2000 and then swiftly forgotten.
For true early-90s charm, though, we’d highly recommend Jackie Chan on the PC Engine. Fast, addictive and full of personality, it’s more than deserving of a 21st century revival, if only so a new generation can enjoy the thrill of seeing one of the world’s most famous kung fu legends kick a cartoon frog in the face…
Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.