In Which I Pick My Favourite Retro-Styled Games From 2015
Welcome to my retrospective for 2015 in which we talk a little about those games that invited you to think of gaming’s past through the lens of what’s happening right now. This list covers games that – somehow – evoked games of yesteryear, whether in their visuals or in their gameplay styles.
2015 was a pretty good year for this style of thing – I didn’t play all of the games that had retro-styled conceits, [like Freedom Planet or some of the bigger RPG releases] but the games I played that used those sorts of ideas were all [more-or-less] fun.
NB! The text links in this article will open in a new page and lead [mostly] to my reviews of these games.
Tengami is a beautiful book-styled adventure. It recalls some of the ideas first popularised in Paper Mario and for that, it deserves some amount of praise. It’s very rare to find a game that is truly visually striking in a different sort of way. Tengami was an incredible success in that particular department.
It did have other problems: at it’s heart, Tengami is a game in which you walk from left to right, very occasionally solving fairly simple puzzles. Some of the puzzles were more convoluted than they needed to be thanks to the User Interface. The other problem with these puzzles was that in a game that was predominantly about eliciting a subdued, blissful feeling, you needed to pay an awful lot of attention to your surroundings.
I can still recommend Tengami, but only if you get it at a discount.
4: Hand of Fate
I would have reviewed this game if the ending hadn’t completely been ridiculous. In fact, for a little while, it was a running Twitter joke for me.
I would boot up the game and try to beat the end level boss only to get stymied by his mechanics. [He’s a guy surrounded by four other guys. The four guys won’t die unless you kill him first and he has range and a whopper of an attack. You don’t.]
Hand of Fate feels like it could have been developed during the Rogue-like era of gaming and it could have worked quite well. The tiles that the game deals out [cards that you stuff into your deck] could quite easily have been ASCII floor tiles with descriptive text and “choose your own adventure” style boxes.
The combat could quite easily have been reduced to turn based swings with “more cards” for moves [like rolling to dodge and the like.]
It’s difficulty spike certainly suited that era of gaming. So, I most certainly have to give it a nod. But that end-boss…
My top three are very diffucult picks. It’s tough to decide which to put at the top, because they’re all so good.
3: Evoland 2
If Evoland 1 was the Experiment Shiro Games Attempted then Evoland 2 has to be the Game That Should Have Been.
Evoland 2 does so many things right [and a handful of terrible things wrong]: There’s a real game here. There’s also a great [if terrifically generic] story involving a collection of people and time travel. Sure, it cribs from Chrono Trigger, but it’s paying rather fond homage as opposed to just running with that story blindly. [Although, you’ll certainly notice parallels.]
There’s also a great number of mini-games that evoke older game types, from a [frustrating] Mortal Kombat fight to a fun Shmup, almost everything is represented here in some form or other, making this a fantastic celebration of retro gaming. At $20 for about 35 hours of gameplay, you’re absolutely going to get your money’s worth.
2: Shovel Knight
First, I’d like to note that this is something of a cheat. For various reasons. This was my second playthrough of the game. It also didn’t ship this year – instead, it was ported to the various Playstation consoles. So, yeah, this is a cheat, but my goodness, it’s a cheat-worth-including.
Shovel Knight [more-or-less] faithfully recreates a “cartridge-of-yesteryear” feel by nearly aping the NES. The colours are [just about] right. The sound is [just about] right, the sprite size is [just about] right. You get the picture. It does have some modern features – a fantastic system that allows you to choose your difficulty, [break all your respawn points in a level for extra cash. Start at the beginning of that level if you die.] a neat achievements system and a concession or two to modern button pressing.
It’s like stepping through a portal to 1988 or so and finding that your favourite game studio made an awesome, new game that combined lots of bits of the old [Duck Tales, Super Mario 3, Mega Man] all in one fantastic cartridge.
1: Banjo Kazooie
If Shovel Knight was a little cheat, then this is a HUGE cheat. But there’s no two ways about it. Banjo Kazooie took the cake and sprinted off with it and now it’s trying to tell me that the cake is a lie.
Taken on it’s own merits – as a game that came out in 1998, it certainly does incorporate many staples of older platformers before it – there’s lots of collectibles – a move set that slowly increases in complexity as you go – landscapes that are different for each level – memorable, short themes that you can hum. All of these things are part and parcel of older, more venerable franchises, and yet…Banjo does many a neat trick with all of the above.
The collectibles aren’t random – there’s a fixed number of all of them, making it easy to keep track of where you are in a level. Each major collectible [a Jiggy] has a little quest associatd with it – making for varied and interesting level designs. The music – wonderful as it is – changes based on where you are – dive underwater and the theme will become more subdued – like you’re hearing it under water. Each landscape is colourful and the textures never seem to be “a block of grass.” Rather – for the most part – these seem unique and different from one another. So, sure. It’s Super Mario 64, better put together. Or maybe it has a slightly open world akin to a Metroid game, but the landscapes are smaller, so it is trickier to lose your way.
Ultimately, Banjo Kazooie is fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
And with that, it’s goodbye to 2015. This year there will be new retro-style adventures to be had and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the past.