My favorite game released for the Wii Virtual Console in March was Beyond Oasis. Beyond Oasis was released for the Sega Genesis in December of 1994, developed by Ancient, whose only other game published is the fantastic sequel, Legend of Oasis for the Sega Saturn in 1996 (most members wound up moving over to Monolith Soft, the company behind Xenosaga). I owned the game when first released 13 years ago, and while the locations and characters didn't find a permanent place in my memories, the overall gameplay mechanics are well remembered.
The game has a simple story. Ali, the price of Oasis, prefers to go spelunking and explore, instead of sitting by his father the King's side at the castle. One day, he finds the Golden Armlet that speaks to him, and tells him he has been chosen to go on a journey to stop the evil Silver Armlet. The Armlets were the weapons used by two ancient wizards, one good (Golden), and one bad (Silver). Ali must use the Golden Armlets powers to control the elements (water, fire, shadow, plant, earth) to stop the evil Silver Armlet from being all evil and junk. Ali is given no explanation as to why he is the "chosen one" and simply accepts the task ahead. Tom Sawyer would love this guy....
The conversation went something like:
Armband Wizard Gold dude: ALI! You found the armband and now you are the Chosen One!
Ali: I am?
Armband Wizard Gold dude: YES! YOU ARE THE CHOSEN ONE!
Ali: Ok. That's cool. What should I do now?
AWGD: You.... you don't want an explanation on why you are the Chose One? No questions? You're OK with this?
Ali: Yeah, whatever, mind if I show this gold arm thingie to my dad and some old dude in a stone house?
AWGD: I guess.... no explanation at all? You just wanna go and..... and we're off, alright then....
The gameplay is pretty simple as well. The A button attacks, B jumps, Y summons an element or uses it's power, R for items, and Y for switching to sub weapons. Tapping A makes Ali jab, and holding it for a second gives a strong slash. Repeatedly smashing on the A button (you could hammer on the button and it will actually make a difference) makes Ali do a long combo move of kicks and stabs. Younger gamers will find the controls tough. The game is in 3/4 perspective (ie: Zelda:LttP) and the Prince can be sluggish when walking, and his attacks do not always hit the mark.
The game was clearly inspired by the Zelda games and their ilk, specifically 1992's Link to the Past. It is a mix between LttP and Prince of Persia. They did not try to hide these homages. This is an action/adventure game, but with a bigger emphasis on action than Zelda. The puzzles are never difficult or head scratching like Zelda, and every screen has a few enemies to take care of. Speaking of puzzles, many are based on the elements you collect along the way. Pressing X sends a burst of magic out, and shooting this burst at an element causes the spirit to come out and fight at your side and aide you in puzzles. Shooting water brings out the water spirit, fire the flame spirit, plants the earth spirit, etc. Every second the spirit is summoned drains your magic meter, which can be replenished with items (and restore health) found in chests and dropped by enemies on random. Enemies also drop large hearts that permanently increase your health meter and strength, but I found no specific reason why and when these hearts are dropped. It appears to be completely random.
The game is beautiful, even by today's 2d standards. The colors are bright and clear, and the enemies well drawn. All the sprites look great. The prince is well animated and most enemies are as well. The game looks great up on the big HD screen. Only bad side of the graphics are that because this is a 3/4 perspective, there are times when you accidentally jump off a cliff and need to retrace your steps, and lining up your attacks can be confusing on some planes.
The game is also a good mix of easy and hard. Overall, the action is easy going and enemies rarely get the best of you if you know what you are doing. When lots of sprites are on screen at once, you need to have some sort of strategy, and it can get tough. However, there are times when you simply don't expect a barrage of bombers and giants (DAMN BOMBERS BLOW THEMSELVES UP CONSTANTLY!) or a boss suddenly hits you 4 times in a row, and you don't get the chance to heal in time.
Beyond Oasis is a very fun game, but it never quite reaches the level of greatness that Zelda:LttP or PoP achieve. The adventure last a good length and never gets too repetitive. There is always a new element to use or a different location to explore. Nintendo fans should put their Sega-hate behind them and download this title. $8 is more than worth the price of admission. Do not expect to be wowed by this humble title, but do expect an extremely well executed Zelda clone from the 16-bit era. The sequel (Legend of Oasis) takes the game to the next level, and makes me want to find a used Saturn to replay that one as well. If more Virtual Console titles of this caliber keep coming out this fast, I may never play new games again. I would be happy just to replay the "oldies."
4 Stars (out of 5)