As amazing as modern video games are, sometimes you get a retro itch that today’s online multiplayer and crazy graphics just can’t scratch. Whether it’s nostalgia driving you to play your childhood favorites, or you never got to experience them the first time around, the huge library of games gone by appeals to all.
While there are some monumental classics that everyone should experience, plenty more games go unnoticed. You can get these fantastic, forgotten games right now on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, powered by Virtual Console.
Catrap (1990) [Game Boy, $3]
This game is one of the earliest examples of a puzzle platformer, but don’t let the fact that it’s on Game Boy steer you away. In it, you control one of two cats, who are bound to get stuck numerous times during the game’s 100 levels (hence the name). Thankfully, you have the ability to reverse the flow of time at any point; preceding Prince of Persia and Braid by 13 and 18 years, respectively. It’s definitely a small game that’s big on fun.
The gameplay involves guiding your chosen cat around a screen filled with obstacles and monsters. A monster can be defeated simply by bumping into it, but you’ll need to defeat all of them to move on to the next stage. Holding A at any point will rewind time, and holding B will undo the reversal. Like any good puzzle game, it starts off stupidly simple, but quickly becomes devilishly tough. It’s a good thing you don’t have a time limit!
Catrap is a marvel. You’ve probably never heard of it (I hadn’t before getting a 2DS), yet it’s one of the finest offerings on Game Boy. It even includes a level editor for you to play around with, something that was rare at the time. Naturally, there’s a lot of trial and error here, but it all works out smoothly due to the ease of trying again. Unless you hate working through physical puzzles, you absolutely must give this title a try. The only negative about Catrap is the repetitive music, but you don’t lose anything by muting the volume. Its value is fantastic; compare it to how quickly $3 would go in a money-sucking freemium game.
Donkey Kong (1994) [Game Boy, $4]
The Game Boy version of Donkey Kong is a victim of poor naming (it’s commonly called Donkey Kong ’94 to make up for this). You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a portable port of the arcade classic, for it’s actually so much more. After playing through the four original levels, you find out that they’re just the beginning and that Nintendo packed nearly one hundred new stages to conquer into this cartridge. The gameplay is all-new, too: Mario can do backflips, handstands, and swing on ropes to get around.
It falls under a similar puzzle-platformer umbrella as Catrap, but with more emphasis on action and speed that the former. There’s a time limit to work against here, and while the difficulty isn’t extreme like other titles, new players won’t breeze right through the game. The strong level design, new movement mechanics, and sheer content in this game make it another highlight of the Game Boy library.
A neat tidbit about Donkey Kong is that it was the first game designed to be used with the Super Game Boy (SGB) peripheral. This underused tool let you play Game Boy titles on your Super Nintendo, taking advantage of color and a better controller. Not many titles ever took full advantage of it, but DK ’94 is an exception.
Donkey Kong looks amazing on the big screen. The colors alone are astounding; the depth is far more than something you’d normally see on Game Boy. If you’re interested, check out an in-depth look at DK ’94 on the SGB [language warning]. Criminally, this feature was left out of the Virtual Console release, but this is still a must-play game.
Wario Land 3 (2000) [Game Boy Color, $5]
The Wario Land series holds some of the finest platformers ever created, and 3 is arguably the pinnacle. The first and second Wario Land games are fantastic and worth buying, as well, but nothing can match up to number three. In this title, Wario is trapped inside a musical box, and must find treasures in its many strange lands if he wants to break free.
The game still holds up, certainly thanks to its Metroidvania-like level design. Each world contains four treasures: some don’t do anything, others grant you power-ups, and many open the way to new areas. At first, things will be somewhat linear, but finding all the treasures is optional and will take you to different areas than just what’s required. Since Wario is invincible, you don’t have to worry about dying. Rather, different enemies affect him in different ways; a chef might feed him a donut and make him heavier, allowing him to smash through thick blocks for a short time.
Crisp graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, replayability (each level contains eight music coins to collect if you want to earn 100%), and rock-solid level design make this another Nintendo masterpiece. If you haven’t played any of the Wario Land games, do yourself a favor and get all three on the eShop.
Game & Watch Gallery (1997) [Game Boy, $3]
This game is included for its historical value; it brings the classic handheld Game & Watch games to a modern system. If you aren’t familiar with these titles, they were a series of simple handhelds designed by Nintendo from 1980 to 1991. Each featured a single game with two difficulty levels, as well as an alarm clock. Mr. Game & Watch appears as a character in the wacky world of Super Smash Bros.; these titles were his debut.
There were four Game & Watch Gallery games released; only the first two are available on the 3DS eShop, and the original has more interesting games. To modern gamers, these titles will likely seem primitive, and in a way they certainly are. Sure, they’re monotonous, but for the time, Game & Watch games satisfied those looking to play on the go.
Each one has you performing repetitive tasks: this Gallery includes Fire, which requires rescuing people from a burning building, and Octopus, which involves stealing treasure from a giant octopus. The more you pick up the higher your payoff for each trip, but you’ll move slower in return. Points are awarded for doing well; you’ll earn a star for every 200 of them. Each time you screw up (touch the octopus, let a person hit the ground), you’ll rack up a Miss. Three will end the game and force you to start over.
Each of the four games includes the unchanged Classic mode, and an updated Modern mode featuring Mario and friends. This title won’t please everyone, but it’s definitely worth checking out the types of games that preceded Mario and Zelda.
Shantae (2002) [Game Boy Color, $5]
Another highly overlooked game, Shantae is a platformer that was rendered obscure due to the fact that it released a full year after the Game Boy Advance was on the market. As it came so late in the Game Boy Color’s lifetime, it boasts an awesome soundtrack and stunning graphics. It’s a true Metroidvania title, consisting of a seamless overworld that requires new abilities to progress.
A cool day/night cycle is included (rare on Game Boy Color), and Shantae has a variety of moves to ensure you stay alive. She can even transform into different animals! While not unforgiving, this game is difficult, so be sure you’re up for a little challenge. This game also holds the honor of being one of the GBC’s rarest titles, commanding prices of over $200 on eBay. Getting it for $5 is a steal!
This is a series that’s gotten some love recently. Developer WayForward, who is responsible for Contra 4, the Wii remake of A Boy and His Blob, and DuckTales Remastered, created a few sequels. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was the first; it was released for DSiWare in 2010. You can still get it on 3DS ($12), or on iOS ($3) and Steam ($10).
October 2014 saw the release of the third game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. It’s currently $20 on the 3DS eShop and will be coming to Wii U soon. After a successful Kickstarter, the fourth title, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, will be coming to all major platforms in the future.
With all of this activity, now’s a perfect time to get acquainted with the purple-haired hero!
Ready To Play?
These five games aren’t the only ones worth buying on the 3DS eShop, but they all stand out as quality titles. Being able to get them for so cheap in digital form is amazing; $20 for five awesome classic games can’t be beat. If your 3DS (or 2DS) hasn’t been getting enough love lately, now you have a reason to go back to the system.
What are your favorite eShop titles? What other games do you wish Nintendo would release on the service? Tell us about it in the comments!