So I finally got my copy of Super Mario Galaxy on Friday, and over the weekend I've managed to get 45 Power Stars. It's every bit as good as I had hoped, and I would have played longer had I not been suffering from a nasty bug which gave me a splitting headache all weekend long. Still, I should probably pace myself anyway because true Mario platformers like this only come along about once every five years. Anyway, now to the real reason we're here - the fourth and final part of my Christmas Gaming Gift Guide. This time I'm looking at the five best games for the Wii's Virtual Console, and the 360's Xbox Live Arcade. I'm not including the PS3 as I have no experience in this area.
Top 5 Virtual Console Titles
Sin and Punishment - N64 - 1200 points
Sin and Punishment was never granted a PAL release back in the nineties as the lifespan of the N64 was already drawing to a close. Developed by master coders Treasure, it is regarded as one of the finest games for the console and with very good reason. It plays a bit like Star Fox crossed with a platformer, as your character runs along on foot instead of flying a star fighter, and you must double jump over pits and avoid being crushed by walls. Boasting some of the best graphics on the N64, Sin and Punishment is worth the extra 200 points.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - SNES - 800 points
Many gamers cite Ocarina of Time as the best game in the Zelda series but for me A Link to the Past takes that honour. The game was riveting right from the start with the extremely atmospheric opening in the rain as you set out to resue Princess Zelda. It also introduced the light/dark world concept which has been reused in some form or another in many games since. A true classic!
Paper Mario - N64 - 1000 points
I discovered the original Paper Mario rather late in the day - some two or three years after it was first released, but I've been a fan of the series ever since. Despite having two very good sequels, this first game remains my favourite and is a bargain at the price of 1000 points (which works out at around £6 if I'm not mistaken).
Super Mario World - SNES - 800 points
It might seem that I have a Nintendo/Mario bias here, but that's only because they really are some of the best games ever made, and the Sega games all suffer from being slower than they should be and have huge borders. Super Mario World is the pinaccle of the series in its 2D form, and crams in dozens of neat ideas into a tightly packed bundle of pure enjoyment. If you've never played it, go and get it!
Super Mario 64 - N64 - 1000 points
Super Mario 64 is so good it's taken ten long years for a game to equal it (I'm referring to Super Mario Galaxy of course). Who can forget the first time the arrived in the grounds of Peach's castle, explored worlds like Bob-omb Battlefield, Tick Tock Clock or Shifting Sand Land, and faced off againts Bowser in 3D for the first time? The game could be as challenging as the player wanted it to be too, as getting 70 stars was enough to finish the game, but completists could go for all 120 which is a much trikier proposition. A timeless classic.
Top 5 Xbox Live Arcade Titles
Switchball - 800 points
OK, so rolling a ball around a maze to get to the exit is hardly a new concept (see Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball, Marble Blast Ultra and Kororinpa for just a few examples) but as long as they are done well, as Switchball is, the concept is a sound one. You can change the properties of your ball to make it heavier, or to allow you to perform a speed boost and get up slopes or break through barriers. With great graphics as well, it's worth a shot.
Puzzle Quest - 800 points
Puzzle Quest has already established itself as one of the best and most addictive games available for both the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, and now it has been released on the Xbox 360. Reasons for picking up the 360 version include enhanced visuals, achievements, an online multiplayer mode and rankings. 800 points is a small price to pay for such a large and rewarding game.
Space Giraffe - 400 points
If there ever was a game that thoroughly deserved the irritating photosenstive seizure warning that you have to sit through, then this is it. Before long the screen will be awash with technicoloured explosions and your ears will be bombarded with bizzare beats and sounds. It may take you a little while to get the hang of things, but when you get in the zone it's a real rush and at 400 points a bit of a bargain too.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - 800 points
Before the game finally appeared on Xbox Live Arcade, I had heard great things about it for many years. Hunting down a copy for the PlayStation or Saturn could be a tricky and costly pursuit, so it's fantastic that it can finally be downloaded. You take the role of Alucard, Dracula's son, as he explores a vast castle in a quest to slay his father and send him back to his crypt for another 100 years.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved - 800 points
One of the earliest games available for Xbox Live Arcade is also still one of the best. To begin with you will probably struggle to break 100,000 points, but with practice you will get better and better until you might just break a million points. Later levels swarm with enemies and the screen will be as filled with explosions and debris as the air will be with swear words.
So that's it, the end of my Christmas Gaming Gift Guide. I hope it has helped at least one person out there decide what to get with their Christmas money, or perhaps what to get someone else as a present. I'll be back next week, probably with another review.