Monthly Archives: January 2011

Okay, Cruel World, the retro/throwback 2D games trend is officially old now

As an old person that played early side-scrolling classics like Pitfall and Jungle Hunt on his neighbors’ Atari VCS (aka 2600) consoles, I have an affinity for the genre and have played many of the recent remakes/updates/etc. Initially, I was excited by the trend but as I recently played through about half of Donkey Kong Country Returns, I realized I’m more or less over it.

My post is focused on recent releases that look to some old game(s) for all of their inspiration. I’m not including games like Sonic Colors or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  Althose these games are among the latest 2D entries in long-running series, they’re not “retro” in their focus and, really, 2D games in these series never went away.

Also, I will be focusing on games for DS, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.  Now, let’s do this.

CATEGORY 1: GAMES THAT COULD HAVE COME OUT IN 1992

This category seems the most pointless of all.  These games are made to look, sound, and play like games originally released for NES, SNES, or Genesis hardware.

Mega Man 9 (2008, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

Capcom released SIX Mega Man games for the NES and FIVE for the Game Boy, all of which basically look the same (although the graphics did improve incrementally).  In perhaps the most cynical retro move Capcom decided, “Hey, let’s do it again,” even though Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8, and Mega Man & Bass had been released for later systems with improved graphics.  Mega Man 9 is a very solid game and probably more innovative than a couple of the original NES releases but in some ways it takes steps backwards, removing abilities like the slide.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man 10 (2010, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

In true Capcom fashion, they decided to do it all over AGAIN.

My credentials: in true me fashion, I downloaded and still haven’t played it.

Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Supposedly, this is a remake of the 1989 Game Boy release, Castlevania: The Adventure.  However, I have played that game and there are very few similarities between them outside of “story”.  Anyway, this is a very serviceable release but seems especially pointless, since there were already many classic 16-bit releases in the series, including Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines, Castlevania (X68000), Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania: Dracula X.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Again, a serviceable release, but doesn’t really improve or expand on the classic Contra releases.  The only noticeable change for me is that the graphics are almost a bit more cartoony, which takes things ever so slightly closer to Metal Slug territory.

My credentials: beat it (the only Contra game I know of with unlimited continues).

Yoshi’s Island DS (2006, Artoon/Nintendo: DS)

Way back before I was jaded regarding the whole retro 2D trend, I was really excited for this release.  Overall, it’s easily the best game in this portion of the article but it is sickeningly loyal to the original Yoshi’s Island.  This is a problem, as its shortcomings become more apparent.  The added feature of various baby characters available to ride on Yoshi’s back feels like inconvenient fan service.  The original Yoshi’s Island sticks out in part due to its visual innovation, so it’s ironic and shameful that this game just aped its predecessor.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra 4 (2007, WayForward/Konami: DS)

Supposedly, WayForward were inspired by New Super Mario Bros. but they seem to have forgotten that that game actually had modern visual and introduced many new elements.  Contra 4 tries really hard to include every Contra convention introduced in Contra, Super Contra, and Contra III.  It doesn’t add much outside of the strictly vertical grappling hook.  It’s fun, it’s tight, but what’s old is old.

My credentials: completed only on easy setting.

PART 2: REMAKES and MIGHT-AS-WELL-BE-REMAKES

Bionic Commando (2008, Grin/Capcom: Xbox 360, PS3)

For the most part, this is pretty much a remake of the 1988 NES original.  However, the boss encounters are new, the visuals are great, there is a humorously dark attitude, and there are challenge rooms all over.  I think it’s definitely preferable to make a game like this that is basically a remake with some new elements rather than to make a “new” game that really has nothing new to offer.

My credentials: beat it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010, Dimps/Sonic Team/SEGA: Wii, X360, PS3)

I was pretty disappointed with this one, not because I love the Genesis Sonic games (I don’t) but because I generally love the Dimps-developed Sonic games.  SEGA decided to make a game true to the spirit of the early 90s Sonic games but they went too far, and basically just remade Sonic and Sonic 2.  From what I’ve played of the game, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles featured more innovation than Sonic 4.

My credentials: played about half, got bored.

Mega Man Powered Up (2006, Capcom: PSP)

A remake of the very original Mega Man, this release adds 2 brand new levels and, consequently, 2 brand new robot masters.  The updated visuals are cute but probably a bit too blocky.  The game allows you to play through the whole game as robot masters that you’ve defeated.  That may not seem all that great on the surface, but it allows you to use a specific robot master weapon as much as you want without worrying about it being depleted.  Capcom probably should have included the levels from multiple Mega Man games, which probably would have raised the quality through the roof.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (2006, Capcom: PSP)

An updated remake of the original Mega Man X.

My credentials: I have not played it!

PART 3: NEW BUT NOT REALLY

New Super Mario Bros. (2006, Nintendo: DS)

As a true homer, I really, really looked forward to this game.  A new side-scrolling Mario game!  The first since Super Mario Land 2!  I’m very conflicted on this release and it’s probably impossible for me to be objective but I can see for a certainty that it was way too easy.  It took me a scant 4 hours to beat the game the first time and I never, ever saw a “Game Over” screen as the game is painfully generous with power-ups and one-ups in some strange effort to make Mario’s quest as easy as can be.  I needed just 4 more hours to find all the big coins and secret paths and all that and then I was done.  And PS – I’m not even that great of a gamer.

Beyond that, New Super Mario Bros. is well-constructed but pretty uninspired.  There are new power-ups and other gimmicks but everything is so backward-focused.  There is no real innovation.  The structure feels like the developers looked at SMB3 and SMWorld and decided to ape them but with a few twists.  That isn’t much of a stretch considering the game was created by the same team that developed the Super Mario Advance re-release series on Game Boy Advance.  The old Super Mario Bros. games were largely special because of their crazy, surprising innovations.  They looked in front, not behind!

My credentials: beat it.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo: Wii)

Well, it’s a lot longer than its predecessor.  Four players can play simultaneously, which is fun.  Too bad 2 of the players have to play as generic Toad characters.  Nintendo claimed they couldn’t use Peach because it would look strange when someone held her above their head with her dress on.  Ugh.  She regularly wears more practical clothing in the sports games, why not here?  Or why not use Wario and Waluigi?  Or, Jesus forbid, a new character.  Some of the power-ups are cool but the focus on the past continues with the reintroduction of the Koopalings.

My credentials: beat it.

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins (2006, Capcom: PSP)

Not much more forward-thinking than the New SMB games but it can be forgiven to some extent, as this game treats you like a man, not a kindergartener.  Additionally, some fundamental changes have been made, like a killed character continuing from the spot from which they perished, a warping system, an inventory (!), and non-linear gameplay.  A very worthy, well-thought-out update.

My credentials: got to the final boss door, didn’t have enough rings/keys/whatever to get in, quit, have fantasized for four years about coming back to it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Retro Studios/Nintendo: Wii)

Retro previously developed the great Metroid Prime trilogy so I expected a lot.  And boy! I was disappointed!  This is probably not a bad game but I did not have fun playing it.  It misses the point more so than the New SMB games, as it fails to capture what really stood out about the original DKC games.  You might ask why I hold the game to the old standards; it’s because the game seems to be committed to them.  For one thing, at least in the first half of the game, I did not encounter any water levels.  I only came across Rambi once.  Also, the graphics, while of a very high quality, are not groundbreaking.  The original trilogy was known for its groundbreaking visuals and audio.  Before even considering a new DKC game, the developers should have thought of a way to make the game really stand out.

Additionally, the villains are totally lame and forgettable.  Strange, I used to think the same about the Kremlings but now I see their relative worth.  I just don’t get it.  I would have thought that Retro Studios would want to do something more original, ambitious, and rewarding after the Metroid games.  Guess not!

My credentials: played through 4 worlds.

PART 4: CONCLUSION

Yes, I have played a lot of these games and I enjoyed or at least pretended to enjoy them as I did so.  But now I am older, wiser, and skeptical-er.  Almost all of the games in this article have been topped by recent 2D releases that were inspired by the classics but have decided to move into the future.  These games include LostWinds, Shadow Complex, and Braid.

Comics: IDW is a “Diamond Premier” publisher now

Actually, this news is several months old but I only became aware of it recently. If you don’t care about comics, stop reading immediately. Continuing: at this point, practically every comic that is purchased through a comic shop in the USA and Canada and also much of the British Isles is distributed by Diamond Comics. Diamond organizes their catalogue in a manner that each of the “Premier” publishers gets its own section and then everyone else is basically lumped into an “Everyone Else” section. Until recently, there were four Premier publishers (not counting Wizard, which just publishes a magazine about comics), those being Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image. There’s some criteria for being a premier publisher that I don’t remember exactly but it’s along the lines of a company maintaining something like 3-5% of the direct market (aka comic shops, as opposed to newsstands) over a certain amount of time.

In the last year, publisher IDW managed to break into this Premier group. I’m glad to see the Premier status extend to any new publisher as it reflects some semblance of diversity in the market. One problem facing American comics is that there are nerds that would rather buy the worst Marvel or DC book over the best Dark Horse book. When a company gets that Premier status, their profile becomes greater in the Diamond catalogue and the nerds might actually become more aware of what’s going on. However, I’m concerned that as more companies become Premier, it will be that much harder for each subsequent company to carve out that 3-5% of the market to become the next Premier. There are currently two companies that I think have the potential to move up into that realm: Dynamite and Boom! Studios. Good luck!

Side note: Archie Comics is one of the heaviest hitters in American comics but most of their sales happen on newsstands rather than in comics shops.

-kicknz

If you spell magic as “magick” or fairy as “faerie”, I hate you

-Kicknz

Golden Veins – New Single Club Release: “Radio Prohibidas”

Golden Veins – New Single: ” Radio Prohibidas”

Radio Prohibidas“, the fifth single, is a whispered warning over a jungle campfire, with tribal drums and ominous chanting serving to enhance the song’s foreboding air of menace. Backed with this, “Never Know”’s atmospheric verses mix with its strum und drang choruses to create a cathartic ode to realization and resignation, made all the more powerful through the accompanied vocal stylings of the amazing Skye Carrasco.

Also included with this single is a spooky remix by Blutiger Fluss, as well as amazing artwork by Brendan Wells.

As always, for more info on how to join the Golden Veins Singles Club, simply go here.

10 YEARS AGO: 2001

MUSIC

The Strokes – Is This It

Weezer – Weezer a.k.a. The Green Album

Gorillaz – Gorillaz

Ryan Adams – Gold

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

FILM

The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson)

Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff)

Mulholland Drive (dir. David Lynch)

Donnie Darko (dir. Richard Kelly)

Amelie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

COMICS

X-Men #114 marks the beginning of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s acclaimed run on the title.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Frank Miller’s sequel to his massively influential The Dark Knight Returns, begins its serialization.

X-Force #116 marks the beginning of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s acclaimed run on the title.

Marvel’s mature readers line Max Comics launches with Alias #1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos.

Starman by James Robinson, Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg concludes with #80.

TV

The Office premieres on BBC 2, July 9, 2001.

– Greg

20 YEARS AGO: 1991

MUSIC

Primal Scream – Screamadelica

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

Blur – Leisure

Nirvana – Nevermind

Pixies – Trompe Le Monde

FILM

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (dir. James Cameron)

Silence Of The Lambs (dir. Jonathan Demme)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (dir. Michael Pressman)

Barton Fink (dir. Joel Coen/Ethan Coen)

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (dir. Peter Hewitt)

COMICS

– “The Hard Goodbye”, Frank Miller’s first Sin City story, begins its serialization in Dark Horse Presents #51.

X-Force #1 by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza sells 4 million copies, making it one of biggest-selling comics of all time.

Bone by Jeff Smith begins.

X-Men #1 by Chris Claremont & Jim Lee sells 8.1 million copies, making it the biggest-selling single issue from an American publisher, a record it still holds.

Sandman #19 by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess becomes the first comic to win a World Fantasy Award; it remains the only comic to do so, as the rules for the award were changed soon after to disallow a comic from winning again.

TV

Twin Peaks airs its final episode on June 10, 1991.

– Greg

30 YEARS AGO: 1981

MUSIC

New Order – Movement

Depeche Mode – Speak & Spell

The Replacements – Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash

Echo & The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here

The Cure – Faith

FILM

Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)

Mad Max 2 a.k.a The Road Warrior (dir. George Miller)

The Evil Dead (dir. Sam Raimi)

Superman II (dir. Richard Lester/Richard Donner)

Escape From New York (dir. John Carpenter)

COMICS

– Frank Miller takes over writing & art duties on Daredevil #168, which also introduces the character Elektra.

– Los Bros. Hernandez self-publish Love & Rockets #1.

Uncanny X-Men #141/142 feature the fan-favorite “Days Of Future Past” story arc by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

Weirdo (edited by R. Crumb) debuts.

Nexus #1 by Mike Baron & Steve Rude is published by Capital Comics, an early salvo in the independent/creator-owned comics boom of the 1980s.