Writer at Another Castle. Only original content on my Destructoid blog.
Games I like a lot:
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Jagged Alliance (series)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
Super Mario World
Mass Effect 1 & 2
Resident Evil 4
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour
Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium
River City Ransom
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
Super Mario Galaxy
Command & Conquer (series, not 4)
Gears of War 2
World of Goo
Streets of Rage 2
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader
The Revenge of Shinobi
Duke Nukem 3D (and yes, Forever)
Plants vs. Zombies
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Splinter Cell (series)
When I was growing up, many television programs, movies, books and certainly adults I met were in love with the 60ís I heard all about the fashion, the music and of course the change. I thought it truly must have been a special time until I began studying history a little more and after reading alternative perspectives, it really didnít seem all that special to me. For all the great things that happened, there were also a lot of terrible things that the same media neglected to mention. I mention the 60ís because when I think back to gaming as a kid, I mostly think about all the fun games I played and forget all the times I had to wait my turn, go to school, not get that game I really want along with the times I got banned for misbehaving. I also often forget having to restart entire games over again after losing all my lives.
This will probably be the most trivial criticism of 2010 but it is also the only one I have. So letís start by explaining a bit about what I mean. By retro I essentially mean anything from the 16-bit generation or earlier. In particular, the notion that old is good. This doesnít mean I dislike retro games or older games in general, it just means that Iím already sick of developers slapping retro stuff on the modern products. Iíve heard it said before that you know something has become too much when the t-shirts start appearing in Hot Topic. The Australian equivalent would be Jay Jays and there have been retro-themed t-shirts in there for a few years now. This is not to say I think all retro should be banned; I just want to scream, ďTake it easy!Ē before the whole thing gets any more out of hand.
This year saw the release of games like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Super Meat Boy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, 3D Dot Game Heroes and Mega Man 10 Along with re-releases of games like X-Men Arcade. All these games are looking back in some way to the legendary games of old. This obviously didnít start in 2010 but I just found myself noticing it a lot more.
Super Meat Boy would be a good place to start. This was released relatively late in the year to a lot of deserving praise, and all Destructoid users will know how much it was promoted here. I recently beat Super Meat Boy and I loved it. What I didnít love was that scene from Mega Man 2, that scene from Pokťmon, that scene from Street Fighter II, that scene from Ninja Gaiden and any other scenes I may have missed. However I really enjoyed the original story scenes from the game with the simple yet charming animation from surprisingly expressive characters. I never thought I could feel so strong a connection with a bleeding chunk of meat until I played Super Meat Boy.
What some could have easily missed from all this homage to the gaming gods of old was that Super Meat Boy is probably the most original platformer in years. As far as the design goes, it actually slays many of the old platforming gods and makes many lesser releases of the day look terrible. It is even more amazing that it did this while simplifying platforming to its essentials. Exactly what did any of the retro stuff add to this?
All the retro homages in Super Meat Boy came off like an annoying friend pointing out obvious popular culture references in a movie. Donkey Kong Country Returns went about it a bit differently. Unlike Super Meat Boy, DKCR is a sequel by a different company to a legendary platforming series. Knowing full well what they were doing (the appropriately named in this case) Retro Studios made sure it had the feel of the source material. DKCR certainly did have the feel of the old DKC games outside a few unnecessary motion controls that seem to be mandatory on Wii games. Like Super Meat Boy though, it would be quite easy to miss just how much of an improvement on the formula DKCR is. One thing I was worried about when I played it was that the new levels would stick to close to the originals. I didnít expect the design to be as fresh or as fun as it is. Old elements are expanded or improved (especially the mine cart levels) and the Boss fights in particular were quite original.
If anything hurts DKCR it is the area where it most stubbornly clings to the originals. That is the musical score which is not original at all and as a result the most disappointing aspect of the game. A few of the classics were welcome but was it necessary to fill up most of the levels with tunes from 1994? After going through the music gallery, I was surprised at just how many old songs were redone as ďSame Song Returns!Ē as if I was supposed to be happy about this. These are tunes that I could easily listen to while I played the original from the Virtual Console. Like Super Meat Boy, the main strengths of DKCR are the new things, not the old things.
One more example that gets to my confused message is VVVVVV. Like the last two, I would highly recommend this game to anyone. Unlike the first two it is designed to look, sound and play exactly like an old Commodore 64 game that Iím not certain the Commodore 64 could actually run. It is as retro as you can get without actually being retro. Despite how it looks, VVVVVV is very original. The level design is excellent, the game play is challenging but not frustrating and the soundtrack is simply awesome. It also captures what Nintendo nearly always manages: simple to play, difficult to master. Despite it being designed with a retro aesthetic, it felt very new to me and I canít say Iíve ever played anything like it.
So again, despite the retro aesthetic, what makes the game great is its originality. The brilliant score would still be brilliant if it wasnít done to sound like old chiptunes and the gameplay would still be fun if it were all done on a modern HD graphic engine. What makes it great is whatís new, not whatís old.
There were a number of other releases this year and also over the last few years that have had the mixture of old and new. What has clearly stood out for me is not the old but the new. The enhancements, refinements and improvements have been what grabbed me more than any homage to retro classics were. Most games and especially the above three would have been just as awesome without any of the retro stuff that has been included to varying levels. They certainly added to the games but they were far from what defines them. So Iím not saying donít do retro, just donít overdo it. And certainly donít treat it like something intrinsic to a games worth.
Just like to remind everyone here that I love old games.