As the video gaming industry continues to grow and new, creative ideas are put into production, new genres are bound to develop. Although I tend to only classify a video game by genre according to its gameplay, the definition is much more lenient.
1. a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry; the genre of symphonic music. (dictionary.com)
Now, approximately 3 generations from the N.E.S. era, many developers are looking back to the games of our past and breathing new life into them. The type of games that results from such an endeavor represents multiple eras of gaming in a single product. This is the essence of the relatively new genre Retro Evolved.
A Retro Evolved game isn't the same as a remake or a sequel with graphical or gameplay improvements. A Retro Evolved game is one that takes on the design decisions and conventions of a game that are reflective of a previous era regardless if such conventions have been evolved, upgraded, or abandoned. Additionally, the game must also incorporate design elements and conventions from the present that may layer together or contrast with the old conventions. The result is a game that feels like a refurbished, antique table. It's new and old at the same time.
There are several games already in this genre.
- Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved: The game that coined the name. The core gameplay and arcade style is reflective of the retro title Robotron, yet the combo system and subtle physics are modern. Take a look at these quotes from the IGN review...
It may be a simple 2D game, but this little mixture of Asteroids and Galaga is incredibly good looking (for what it is) and super fun to play for one minute or 60. And yes, it's a little reminiscent of Fantasvision, only it's like $5 instead of $49. Snap!
If you're looking for a throwback to the Space Invader days with the futuristic colors and sound of the powerful 360, this is your game. It's not the equivalent to buying a full $50 game. No, it's a small arcade game with no big features, FMV, or wild multiplayer levels.
It's old school. Just hit start and go. No intricate menus, no cutscenes, and nothing fancy, but it doesn't really need to be. Pure and simple.
Fast-paced action is both easy to get into and fun. Fantastic controls and, dare I say, more fun than Pac-Man.
- Pac-Man VS: This game is one of Miyamoto's special projects. It's a 4 player version of Pac-Man designed so recreate the retro gameplay of Pac-Man without the need for computer AI. Aside from the multiplayer functionality and the point system to determine the winner, very little was changed from the original Pac-Man game. This game also helped pave the way for the battle mode in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. More on that here.
- Pac-Man Championship Edition: This game took the Pac-Man formula and changed things up a bit so that a single stage is inexhaustible. The developers also added a combo system for chaining points and a way to extend playing time. It's still Pac-Man, but the arcade mechanics are pushed to the forefront.
- Space Invaders Extreme: Like Pac-Man CE, this game took a simple retro game and added powerups, combos, chains, and multipliers to spice things up.
- Super Stardust HD: Like Space Invaders Extreme, the developers of this game looked at the retro game Asteroids and added new powerups, abilities, and a combo system not to mention a new graphical style.
- MegaMan9: This belated game of a beloved series is part of an effort to take the gaming industry forward with quality downloadable games. At the same time, MM9 is taking a few dash-jumps back in terms of graphics and gameplay. This game, though recently made, is carefully designed to look like an N.E.S. game right down to the graphical flicker and slow down. Interestingly, the lead designer of MM9 expressed that he wanted to make this retro style game using all the knowledge and experience he gained since the retro days. If any of his decisions add modern mechanics/conventions to MM9's gameplay, then it can join the club.
- Street Fighter 4. This game is a 2D fighter with 3D models. Unlike Super Smash Brothers (a true next-gen fighter), the developers decided to remove the 3D hit boxes and replace them with 2D hitboxes like the ones used in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Many of the characters are the same, many of the moves and inputs are the same, and much of the core design is the same as its retro twin. What's new are some new abilities, the possibility for downloadable content, and online play along with a modern business model. Street Fighter 4 is such a technically simple game that it can be played on a variety of platforms. From the Xbox360, to the PC, to the arcade, and maybe even my DS somewhere down the line.
Finally, there's Bionic Commando Rearmed. This recreation of Bionic Commando for the N.E.S. is up for review here at Critical-Gaming. Choosing to retro-evolve a game is risky because the retro and modern conventions can harmonize or clash with each other. The balance between the old and new schools of design is critical.
Will Bionic Commando Rearmed crash and burn at the bottom of a downloadable canyon at the hands of a retrofitted critic? Or will it escape into the Bionic Arms of the great games of 2008 reminding us all there there's still something classy about the classics? Tune in tomorrow. Same Critical-Time. Same Critical-Place.