Tag Archives: contra rebirth

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.

Wii Ware has suddenly become a hotbed of retro sequels

When Wii Ware was announced 2 or 3 years ago it was suggested that the service might offer brand new sequels to longtime franchises.  As of 2 weeks ago, over a year into the program, there were only 2 such games that interested me.  But a slew of releases over the last week, plus a couple of games coming very soon, seems to indicate that this potential is being fulfilled.  The best part of all this is that these games are cheap, BUT with a few unpleasant pricing surprises concerning add-ons.

MEGA MAN 9 (Capcom)
-$10
-downloadable content: endless attack stage $3, play as Proto Man $2, hard mode $1, super hard mode $1, extra time attack stage $1
-grand total if you want everything: $18

Capcom kind of got the whole retro sequels ball rolling for WiiWare with their ridiculous fanservice game, Mega Man 9, released last year.  It looks and plays just like the 6 NES Mega Man games, which I guess could be good or bad.  If you’re familiar with the old Mega Man games then there’s not much more to say about it.  The price point may have been slightly high considering the technical aspects and all those dumb extra downloads should have been included in the main release at no extra charge.  This is the only game in this article that I have downloaded as of 6/2/9.  I’ve only played it occasionally in short spurts without trying to beat the game so far.

SPACE INVADERS GET EVEN (Taito/Square Enix)
-$5
-downloadable content: level 2 $5, level 3 $5, level 4 $5
-grand total for everything: $20

So this one is a mixed package.  Unlike the other games in this article, the gameplay is actually innovative for its series while being true to its theme and roots.  This time around, you get to play as the Invaders and destroy those places we all hate, like Paris.  The graphics aren’t nostalgic; instead featuring full 3D.  That $5 price point seems very nice but that’s only for the first level.  The three additional levels have to be downloaded separately for $5 apiece, which is pretty stupid.  I may just get the first level and destroy whatever I can.

BUBBLE BOBBLE PLUS (Taito/Square Enix)
-$6
-downloadable content: 50 level super mode $2, another 50 level super mode $2
-grand total if you want everything: $10

PLUS contains an upgraded remake of the original Bubble Bobble as well as a new 100 level arrange mode that allows for 4-PLAYER Bubble Bobble action.  For all of that, $6 is quite reasonable.  The expansions seem pretty reasonable, as well, offering another 100 total levels for only $4 more.

RAINBOW ISLANDS TOWERING ADVENTURE (Taito/Square Enix)
-$6
-downloadable content: to be determined

This game doesn’t hit the US until mid-June but it’s been released everywhere else already.  Unlike Bubble Bobble Plus, it messes with the Rainbow Islands formula a bit more, adding new playing mechanics and speed challenge levels.  The character designs are pretty different from previous games in the series, as well.  And the price is nice.

FINAL FANTASY IV: THE AFTER YEARS (Square Enix)
-$8
-downloadable content: a bunch of chapters
-grand total for everything: $37!

This one troubles me a bit.  It’s a sequel to FFIV and was even written by the dude that scripted the original.  However, this episodic content release method, plus the pricing, is just stupid.  Downloading all of the chapters will run you $37 and these chapters not just add-ons; the game is incomplete without them.  Considering we’re dealing with SNES-level graphics, this is definitely a ripoff.  I should expect as much from Square, which charged a whopping $40 for their DS Chrono Trigger port (with minimal upgrades and the same old SNES graphics).  I visted a message board for this game and all the fanboys were DEFENDING the price, even saying that spreading it out made it okay.  wtf?  Give me my fucking game now – not in pieces – and don’t rip me off.  Maybe in 15 years there will be WiiWare emulators.

ADVENTURE ISLAND: THE BEGINNING (Hudson Soft/Konami)
-$8

This one snuck up on me and was a real surprise.  Unlike the other series in this post, Adventure Island has been mostly dormant (except for a Japan-only upgrade of the original installment) for 15 years.  And then BAM, a WiiWare sequel.  What I like about this game is that it seems to focus more on exploration than the earlier games.  Some of the environments look pretty nice and the price point is pretty decent.

CONTRA REBIRTH (Konami)
-$10

Oh, kewl, a new Contra game.  It just came out in Japan a couple of weeks ago and there’s no US date announced yet.  The graphics are 2D but more advanced than SNES and with, dare I say it, a slightly more cartoonish look?  The DS release Contra 4 was a little too slavish in recreating the early 90s Contra vibe so hopefully this one can change things up a bit.

KONKLUZION: The Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands have good prices but they seem more like remakes than sequels compared to the other games listed.  The Final Fantasy and Space Invaders games seem awesome until you stumble across the sneaky download pricing model.  So, even though they’re not super innovative, I’d say the Mega Man, Contra, and Adventure Island games appear to occupy the preferred middle ground.