The FWD Download Vol. 1: Retro Remake Roundup

WiiWare LogoLike many gamers in their late 20s or early 30s, I am a sucker for nostalgia. So much so that I jump at the chance to purchase just about every remake, reiteration or re-imagining of franchises I played as a child growing up in the 1980s. Xbox LIVE Arcade is generally considered the home of such remakes, but recently they have made their way to WiiWare as well.

I decided to briefly review and compare three recent retrofits that are available on the Nintendo download platform; Adventure Island: The Beginning, Bubble Bobble Plus! and Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure!. All three of these franchises are generally fondly remembered by gamers of a certain age and none of these updates are flat-out bad enough to sour my childhood memories, but of course, some do fare better than others. Read More…

Adventure Island: The Beginning

I will be the first to admit that I was never a huge Adventure Island fan growing up. I was a huge fan of the original Wonder Boy game for the SEGA Master System and always viewed the Adventure Island games I played on Commodore 64 and NES as inferior “rip-offs”. I knew nothing of the two games’ sordid history at the time of course as I was about nine.

Since then, however, the Wonder Boy series branched out into action-RPG territory and the Adventure Island games continued to be for lack of a better term, run-n-gun platformers. The formula never changed much and the level design was almost non-existent, but running Master Higgins through those levels while tossing axes at snails and grabbing fruit suspended in mid air was still fun.

15 years after the last true sequel and more than five years after a Japan-only remake, Hudson Soft has attempted to revive the franchise with Adventure Island: The Beginning on WiiWare. This title is a 2.5D game similar to New Super Mario Bros. or Bionic Commando RearmedAdventure Island: The Beginning feels more like a remix than a true remake or a sequel. The level layouts are different than games past, but feel very familiar, that is to say flat, linear and short for the most part.

Adventure Island: The BeginningAll of the mechanics from the original Adventure Island make a return here. As you navigate Master Higgins through the stages you must manage his stamina by grabbing fruit along the way. Stamina depletes with time and loosing it will be accelerated by running into familiar enemies like snails, cobras and frogs or by colliding with obstacles like rocks, boulders and giant icicles.

Along the way you will encounter eggs. Breaking these will reveal a weapon upgrade or the ever-popular skateboard that allows you to speed through levels. Sometimes a guardian angel will appear and make Master Higgins invincible for a short period. Conversely, you will also encounter a grim-reaper like fellow that will accelerate your stamina loss.

A number of upgrades are available in Adventure Island: The Beginning that help to shake up and modernize the series a bit. You can trade melons that you find in levels for abilities like double jump or for weapon upgrades that make it easier to dispatch foes. Some melons are only attainable after unlocking abilities, so repeated playthroughs of levels are encouraged and in fact are required to unlock every ability and upgrade.

The controls feel in line with the original games and are tight and responsive. The default control option is to use the Wii Remote on its side; however you can also use a Classic Controller. There are several Wii-specific minigames included as well that make use of tilt and motion controls, but I haven’t really played them enough to comment on their quality.

If there is one spot I feel this title falls flat in, it is the graphical presentation. The 3D models used here simply lack the charm of the original 2D sprites and the colour schemes used are extremely bland compared to the bright and vibrant ones used in the older games. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it comes across as feeling cheap.

I’d recommend Adventure Island: The Beginning to fans of the series without question. There is enough familiar here to make you smile and enough new to keep you interested. For anyone interested in playing the series for the first time however, I would recommend the Turbo-Grafix 16 title New Adventure Island, which is available on the Virtual Console. That iteration will give you a far better idea of why the series is considered a classic and is frankly a better game.

Bubble Bobble Plus!

Few games from my childhood are as near and dear to my heart as Bubble Bobble. I spent countless hours and quarters playing it in the small arcade located in the department store my grandmother worked at and then later got the game for my NES. After the disastrous Bubble Bobble Revolution on Nintendo DS in 2006, I was very pleased to see that Bubble Bobble Plus! Got just about everything right in its attempt to breathe new life into the storied franchise that Bub and Bob built.

In my opinion, Bubble Bobble Plus! Is everything a retro remake should be. It faithfully recreates the original 100 level Standard mode and adds an Arrange mode that features all-new stages, new music and 4-player co-op.  It includes more difficult “Super” variations of both Standard and Arrange modes and two 50 stage Expert modes, though the Expert modes are only available as downloadable content.

This title also features a Ranking mode that allows you to upload your scores in standardized versions of all the Standard, Arrange and Expert modes to global and regional leaderboards.

Bubble Bobble Plus!The classic Bubble Bobble gameplay remains virtually unchanged in this latest iteration. You are tasked with navigating one-screen stages while attempting to trap enemies in bubbles you shoot from your adorable dinosaur-like creature’s mouth. After enemies are trapped, you must break the bubbles by jumping into them before they burst. As you progress, stages will become more complex and enemies more aggressive.

I did find some subtle differences in Bubble Bobble Plus! compared to the original title. The jumping mechanic feels a bit more floaty in the new version and it seems as though unused bubbles burst a little faster than before. This can make the bubble-hopping technique used to reach high areas of stages a bit tougher to pull off, but I had little difficulty adjusting and was soon playing at, or above the level I did as a child.

Again, my biggest issue with Bubble Bobble Plus! is the way it looks. While the 3D models used here for characters and enemies are less off-putting than most 2.5D games, they tend to look sloppy or blocky because the game is displayed in 480i and is stretched on widescreen displays. I had to set my TV to display it in a proper 4:3 aspect ratio and it was not handled by the game itself like Mega Man 9. Playing the game in the stretched mode noticeably affected my performance as well.

It’s easy to recommend Bubble Bobble Plus! to long time fans and newcomers alike. The base package contains quite a bit of content, adds 4-player action and at 600 Nintendo points, it’s only slightly more expensive than the NES version on the Virtual Console service.

Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure!

This title feels more like a sequel to than a remake of the 1987 platformer originally billed as the sequel to the incredibly popular Bubble Bobble. The premise is similar to the original; you are attempting to guide your character to the top of a stage using the power of rainbows to both attack enemies and create makeshift platforms.

Instead of trying to climb islands as they are sinking, this time you are being chased by the large, robotic inventions of Dr. Crescent as you attempt to reach the top of a tower located on Rainbow Island and visit Holly’s Comet to be granted one wish. The story mode in Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! contains seven levels, each measuring 1000 meters in height and featuring a sort of boss fight at the end. These stages can be replayed in Challenge or Time Attack modes after completion and the story can be resumed from the last level you reached should you reach the game over screen and choose to continue.

Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure!The gameplay is simple in appearance, but proves to be a formidable challenge. As you guide Bubby and/or Bobby up the tower solo or in 2-player co-op, you will encounter a number of unique foes and a constantly changing platform layout. Dispatching enemies using your rainbow power will usually lead to an item and a few gems being dropped. Items are generally power-ups like increased speed or rainbow range and gems will add time to a countdown timer. Your game is over when the timer reaches zero and you will be heavily penalized for running into enemies along the way.

Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! certainly feels more vertical than its predecessors, thanks in part to a playfield similar in size and shape to a vertical-scrolling SHMUP. This extreme vertical nature of the gameplay reminded me quite a bit of the Nintendo classic Ice Climber and the countdown timer was reminiscent of the Mr. Driller games. If I had to describe Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! in one sentence it would read: “ It plays like Ice Climber meets Mr. Driller”.

In contrast to Adventure Island: The Beginning and Bubble Bobble Plus!, I found this title to be an attractive one. The super-deformed look of the characters in the original game are replaced by more realistic ones and the colour palette is much more pastel in nature than the hard, bright one of the original. The HUD looks great and the whole package runs very smoothly as well.

Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! is likely to polarize long-time fans of the series. I held very little attachment to the series going in, so I found this iteration to be a fresh take on tower-climbing gameplay and have really enjoyed my time with it. However, there are enough wholesale changes to both the gameplay and aesthetic to effectively ruin one’s nostalgia and make the game feel like a pale imitation of a childhood favourite.

I enjoyed playing all three of these titles and I hope these (not-so) brief reviews of each will help people make more informed decisions when they are looking for a new WiiWare game to download. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I wish Nintendo would offer demos for WiiWare titles on the service. Frankly, I got lucky with these three and have been burned more than a few times by games that sound great on paper. Next time I’ll look at some of the downright bad games up for download.