Retro Revival - A Celebration of DLC Gaming
By James O'Neill - 05 Apr, 2011
Introduction: Alex Kidd's an earwigger
Recently our massive Alex Kidd ears pricked up and tuned into the news that Kouichi Yotsui was working with the feelplus team to create a title with gameplay which looked pant-wettingly similar to the classic Strider. Moon Diver landed on PAL PSN on Wednesday 30th March, a mere week after PSN gamers were treated to Hard Corps: Uprising, and we dribbled with excitement. Therefore, we decided it was high time we celebrated the magnificent presence of retro games on current systems, so we focussed on titles with links to the late '80s and early '90s CVG/ Mean Machines era, to bring you this celebration of notable download games. Imagine a jet-black background, the Mode 7 Bowser has been sent hurtling into the distance and fireworks explode behind us. Down-lock-'n-load!
Pure retro: When you can't get enough of pixels
Retro games are released in many forms, but the purest of all is when they are perfect pixel-for-pixel emulations of the original game, with every sprite, set-piece and chiptune in sync with how you played it twenty years ago. There are a plethora of pure retro games on XBLA and PSN, and the Wii is well known for its Virtual Console service, some games are shared between systems and each has their own exclusives. A number of pure retro releases, like Final Fight: Double Impact and X-Men Arcade, enhance the original game by allowing for online co-op and while these games are not the focus of this feature, when you can play Golden Axe, Gunstar Heroes and Shinobi at the drop of a hat it is worth a mention.
Retro remakes: Leonardo's had a facelift
For convenience the term 'Retro Remake' is used as an umbrella definition to describe new retro releases, or a forgotten game making a comeback. Whilst it is not a sinister umbrella, like the dastardly corporation concocting Bio-Organic Weapons, we choose to specifically refer to retro remakes more literally here, as a fresh lick of paint applied to remake the original game. Therefore, a remake is a game in which the core original gameplay and level design has been kept relatively intact, with a few tweaks for modern requirements. TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, Earthworm Jim HD and Prince of Persia Classic on XBLA/ PSN are good examples, as there are not massive gameplay differences to their originals. Similarly, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, despite a name that would trouble a ventriloquist's dummy, is basically SSFII Turbo but even more drop-dead gorgeous. Bionic Commando Rearmed was critically acclaimed in 2008 and is a notable retro remake, but note that it expands upon the gameplay of the NES version.
Retro sequels: Someone at the back is shouting "I want Alien Soldier II"
Retro sequels come in two forms: direct sequels as part of the numbered canon of a series and continuations in the name of a classic franchise. Standout titles of the former are Sonic 4, as well as Mega Man 9 and 10. These are developed as brand new versions of retro gems but their gameplay, and in the case of Mega Man 9 and 10 their pixels, relate directly to the original. Each of these titles have captured the nostalgic feel of their predecessors and regardless of whether you spit feathers that Mega Man 10 has an easy mode or you shout at the screen that Sonic's new momentum and homing attack change its dynamics, they are worthy games in their series. There are also continuations of classic franchises, with suped-up 3D graphics to "Wow" modern gamers, which still capture the beating heart of their retro forbearers. SEGA are particularly adept at this, OutRun Online Arcade and After Burner Climax on PSN/ XBLA are spectacular blue-sky beauties, although sadly OutRun Online is no longer available due to licensing reasons. It feels as though retro gamers have been dreaming of an HD update of Strider for years...
Moon Diver and Hard Corps: Uprising
It is the continuation of classic retro lineage that brings us to Moon Diver and Hard Corps: Uprising. Both games have their distinct identities, but remain faithful to each respective series. Uprising may not have Contra in its title, but it is a Contra game deep into its core and it skilfully weaves gameplay elements from throughout the series from the first game, to its Mega Drive namesake, as well as Contra: Shattered Soldier and the wonderful Contra III: The Alien Wars. Moon Diver is a massively welcome continuation of Yotsui's penchant for agile ninja sword slashers, which began when he co-created the sublime Strider. Gamers have not only been waiting eleven years for a follow-up to Strider 2 (note that Kouichi Yotsui was not with Capcom for Strider 2's development), but it has been a lengthy fifteen years since Osman/ Cannon Dancer and there has been little to fill the acrobatic gameplay void. What is interesting about both titles is that they each have a heavy focus upon levelling up your character, which may have led to stronger characters powering through the game, but has actually resulted in incredibly challenging stages. Both games also put an emphasis on manic 4 player co-op, although the versatile double jump and mid-air dash moves in each form the basis of an intricate, responsive move-set so with practice you develop single-player techniques to conquer each level. With both Moon Diver and Hard Corps: Uprising arriving on PSN within the space of a week, fans of chaotic retro arcade action have received a combo of treats (note Uprising has been available since February on XBLA and Moon Diver is only a timed exclusive for PSN. Xbox gamers will receive it eventually on XBLA).
Wiimember, don't forget WiiWare
Special mention in this feature must go to Konami's ReBirth titles, which epitomise how a company should respectfully continue and update its classic franchises. Our good friends at Nintendo Life have provided in-depth reviews of each, so head over there to read about Castlevania The Adventure ReBirth, Contra ReBirth and Gradius ReBirth. It is clear that Konami understand how to be respectful of its past, the ReBirth games are so solid that it would be welcome for them to appear on XBLA and PSN, too.
Reception in the gaming press: Decide for yourself
Not every downloadable retro game is received with open arms, some have been viewed in reviews as being unworthy continuations of their predecessors. Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 received a Metacritic aggregate score of 66, which is understandable as its overly lengthy stages, lack of set-pieces and unwillingness to shower the player with power-ups was out of tune with the excellent MERCS. Backbone Entertainment are undoubtedly a skilled retro code-shop and made up for this with 1942: Joint Strike, with a frantically brilliant opening that sees the final boss chase the player vertically-down the screen. Rocket Knight was not met with universal praise, but with charming visuals, varied controls, memorable bosses and later levels displaying imaginative design, a Sparkster fan may argue that it deserved higher scores. The jury is still out on Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot, but it is important to consider that the way in which retro download releases are received is partially determined by how much nostalgia the gamer has for the franchise. If you are a fan of the series you may appreciate the intricacies and subtleties of a game which could heighten your enjoyment, others may miss this. A truly bad game is a bad game regardless of its predecessors, but with retro downloads it is advisable to try it for yourself, especially if it is cheap or if there is a free demo available.
Conclusion: The unexpected hits you between the eyes
With so many great retro download games available on PSN, XBLA and WiiWare, the future is bright for further treats. Every retro gamer has their own personal list of games that they would like to receive a shiny HD remake, or a sequel that respects their favourite title's heritage, so we suspect that many more retro download surprises are on their way. You never know what the future holds, although in some respects you can give a publisher a gentle push in the right direction, for example by signing the petition for a brand new fourth version of Streets of Rage (note that this feature does not discuss retro fan remakes on PC, but just yesterday the final v5.0 version of Streets of Rage Remake was completed for grateful fans). Sadly the potentially great title Bonk: Brink of Extinction has been cancelled on WiiWare, possibly linked to Hudson Entertainment's US office closing in February 2011. Ultimately, the larger picture of new downloadable retro games is incredibly positive and many more will head our way. The most popular franchises seem to receive priority, so whether or not you will receive Axelay II, a new ESWAT, or another sequel to Chase HQ is in the hands of the developers. You never know.
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Jaz's Sheep - 03 Jun 2011, 14:13 GMT