Tag Archives: artoon

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.

-AM- How Nintendo Has Cheapened the Mario/Donkey Kong/Yoshi/Wario series by outsourcing

Today I learned that a Certain Someone bought a copy of Wario: Master of Disguise for DS. This game is absolutely awful and I now feel the need to inform people, especially those that might be getting into the Mario series, about the watered down, 2nd-rate Mario-related platformer/action titles that Nintendo started releasing about 5 years ago.

History: From 1981-1993, all games in the Super Mario and Donkey Kong series were produced in-house by Nintendo’s own studios. In 1994, Nintendo began publishing Donkey Kong games developed by Rare. These games were of a high quality and very commercially successful, as their development time and investment warranted. In 2003, Nintendo started farming out Mario-related games to outside developers in what can only be called a cheap, money-grubbing move. Most of these games have rather low budgets. Even the games that turn out well could be called unnecessary as they explore old themes. Here they are, the outsourced Mario/Donkey Kong/Yoshi/Wario games . . .

WARIO WORLD
2003, GameCube, developed by Treasure

Treasure has made some awesome games and some mediocre. This falls into the latter. It completely ignores the great play mechanics and ideas established in the Wario Land games and instead becomes a BEAT EM UP. Some things are awesome, like the music and the bonus levels but most of it is just okay. Like many of the games on this list, if feels like Wario was just thrown into some unrelated game.
Grade: C+

MARIO VS. DONKEY KONG
2004, Game Boy Advance, developed by Nintendo Software Technology Corporation (aka Nintendo of America)

This game was technically not farmed out but the Nintendo STC, based in the US, has no connection to the Japan-based studios and this game shows it in spades. It’s actually NOT a bad game but COMPLETELY fails to capture either the Mario or Donkey Kong feel. It’s an attempt to continue the gameplay ideas of the 1994 Game Boy Donkey Kong but I’d much rather see the original studio oversee such a project. Still, a decent game on its own terms.
Grade: B

YOSHI TOPSY TURVY
2004, Game Boy Advance, developed by Artoon

The critics ravaged this game but it’s nowhere near as bad as they say. Still, it’s nothing awesome. It uses an experimental technology with a motion sensor in the cartridge. When you tilt the GBA one way it tilts everything in the game. Yoshi and Mario-related characters and settings are mostly half-assed and could have easily been replaced by something else.
Grade: B-

DK KING OF SWING
2005, Game Boy Advance, developed by Paon

Oh, neat, an interesting new idea. In this game Donkey Kong doesn’t run around and jump – instead, he swings from pegs. Not a bad concept and not a bad game but definitely a short one. Some of the levels are challenging but overall it feels like half a game. Maybe they can do something cool with a sequel?
Grade: B-

MARIO VS DONKEY KONG 2: MARCH OF THE MINIS

2006, DS, developed by Nintendo Software Technology Corporation
Apparently someone at Nintendo STC sat down and said, “That last Mario vs DK game was decent but how can we improve on it? We can’t? We’re not talented enough? Okay, let’s rip off Lemmings.” That’s what this game is, a Lemmings rip-off. Nintendo STC has plenty of experience developing games from other companies’ licenses (Bionic Commando, Crystalis, Ridge Racer), they may as well have just licensed Lemmings instead of force the concept on a Donkey Kong game.
Grade: D

YOSHI’S ISLAND DS
2006, DS, developed by Artoon

When I first heard about this game, originally called Yoshi’s Island 2 I almost shit my pants. Then I found out Artoon was developing and not Nintendo Entertainment Analysis Division (Miyamoto’s studio) and I almost became constipated. BUT in the end, the end product was really beyond my wildest dreams – and almost totally unnecessary. On a system that can produce Nintendo 64-level graphics we are presented with a game that slavishly recreates the look of the original Yoshi’s Island for Super NES. The gameplay is 90% the same. Not much new. STILL, I have to give credit in a couple of key areas: 1) they really nailed the Mario/Yoshi feel 2) the game plays very well, is long, and is challenging.
Grade: B+ (points off for lack of originality)

WARIO: MASTER OF DISGUISE
2007, DS, developed by Suzak

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. Until this game came out I was a blind Super Mario loyalist and would play any side-scroller starring him or his crew. This game ended all that. What a piece of shit this is. It basically attempts to use the current Castlevania style of exploration and item-retrieval and does it very boringly. There are no elements from the Wario games here at all – no enemies, settings, powers, etc. It forces you to use the stylus in contrived ways to horrible effect. Worst of all, it’s just plain fucking boring. Feels like they just put Wario in an unrelated game that was originally intended to star SpongeBob SquarePants or Hannah Montana.
Grade: F

DONKEY KONG JUNGLE CLIMBER
2007, DS, developed by Paon

The sequel to King of Swing. And it SUCKS. It’s just plain BORING. Big spaces without enemies or anything in particular to do. Aimless wandering. Argh. Cemented my new lack of faith in Mario-related titles.
Grade: D

At the moment, Nintendo doesn’t have any more games of this sort scheduled for release so maybe they’re selling poorly. Wario Land Shake has been announced for Wii but the developer has been named. Will it appear on this list?!

kicknz