Virtual Console Wrap-Up for May 4th, 2009

I can say one thing about the Virtual Console lately: we can’t complain that they’re not trying to be unique. Last week, we got the Super Nintendo version of Nobunaga’s Ambition, which only one person had anything to say about; even I, the resident Koei freak, hadn’t played the SNES version (though I would have tepidly recommended the NES version for fans and hardcores). This week, things get even more obscure, with the Commodore 64 version of a game that’s seen enough versions – and names – to confuse anyone, even myself initially.

Tower Toppler (AKA: Nebulus and Castelian)
Developer: John M. Phillips
Publisher: US Gold (USA), Hewson (EU)
System: Commodore 64
Original Release Year: 1987
Price: 500 Wii Points ($5)

DJ Tatsujin: A very interesting choice for sure. I remember this title, originally slated as Nebulus (and brought to the U.S. on other systems under a third name, Castelian) was heavily favored in magazines because of its graphical implementation. To provide an example gamers from the time should relate to, imagine an entire game essentially based off the premise of the Dark Queen’s Tower stage in Battletoads – the sprites for the main character never scroll, but instead, the environment scrolls to simulate the character running around a 360-degree circular tower. The player is tasked with climbing towers built from the bottom of the ocean and activating a self-destruct mechanism at the top. Obviously, a lot of enemies and platform jumps impede progress as being hit makes the player fall down the tower (if the character falls into the ocean, it dies) and there is also a time limit to contend with. From my limited experience with the game, the title is more of a curiosity than a classic, providing a satisfying platforming experience that falls short of being amazing. The C64 version of the title is definitely among the best of the formats so I wouldn’t say 500 Wii Points is a rip-off for what you get. However, given the unfamiliarity many probably have with the title and the allure of many better titles to pick up on the NES format, I would say this purchase is reserved for those who were around to enjoy the title the first time around or those who can’t get enough platforming and already have the much better titles in the genre downloaded.

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Nathan Birch: Both my best friends in elementary school inexplicably having Commodore 64s instead of the NES is finally paying off in some way. I still stand by my mockery of them back in the day though.

Since the game has already been pretty well described up above, I’ll just say that the game isn’t actually very good. It was a impressive piece of tech on a system that was way past it’s prime by the late 80s, but the “your character stays in place while the background rotates” gimmick never really feels right. You can pass on this one.

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Christopher Bowen: I didn’t really know what this was until I started doing research for this game; of course, that’s when the light shone in this NES fan’s head, as I said “Holy crap, that’s Castelian!”

Unfortunately, I hated Castelian as a kid, and though the C64 version is far superior in every way to the clunky, choppy NES game, the core game just isn’t very good. DJ described the game very well above, so a history lesson isn’t necessary, but this game is more notable for getting a lot out of the Commodore hardware – and being inexplicably popular in Europe, much like the Dizzy games – than it is for it’s gameplay, mainly due to my personal perception that I’ve never experienced as many cheap deaths as I have playing any version of this game. The very first door, if you walk past it (something that’s very easy to do, as the controls are not very good), the floor disappears, and you die. Then you learn to go through the door, and come out another door; pretty simple at this point. Then you have to go under an unbeatable enemy, which isn’t a problem, and go through another door after using a platform raiser. Of course, when I did this the first time – and the second, third, fourth, etc. – an enemy came off screen, and was drawn closer to me by the rotating stage. It hit me as soon as I came in the door (naturally, it couldn’t be shot, and you can’t jump without moving forward, which is mapped to the same button), and since I was so low, I died. I eventually made it farther up the tower, but never could get anything done because I’d always take an unavoidable hit, and since each stage is on a timer, it was pointless to move on after awhile, as time would inevitably run out.

Tower Toppler is best for people that have nostalgic memories of this game on one of the many platforms it was on. However, since this was mainly popular in Europe, and they’ve had the VC version for awhile, I can’t recommend this to anyone, especially for money, even if it’s only $5. If you have to check out this game and see what the big deal is, then download Nebulous, an open source version of the game. It looks better, plays the same way, can run on any OS, and it’s free.

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The good thing about having Commodore 64 games on the Virtual Console is that we’re almost guaranteed not to have games that are available on multiple compilations, the way we do with a lot of the Genesis games; as an amateur historian, I am certainly happy with this. However, the bad part of this is that a lot of those games simply haven’t aged well, as PC games in the 80s, especially platformers, didn’t stand up to their peers back then, and look even worse now, as they were developed for a platform that wasn’t meant for twitch gameplay. I’ll say the same thing if we ever see Commander Keen on the Virtual Console; good for memories, bad in practise. Unfortunately, like the other C64 games we’ve seen, Tower Toppler is in that category.

On WiiWare, we have Penguiins & Friends – Hey! That’s My Fish!, an 800 Point ($8) game that seems to be set up like a board game. I don’t have much information about it, though $8 seems high.

Until next time, this is Chris Bowen, figuring that if Nintendo wants to give us Commodore 64 games, they are more than welcome to give us Elite.

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