retr0ial: My Stance on Indie Games

Welcome to a brand-new segment on the blog which I’d like to call retr0ials. In these posts, I’ll talk about various topics currently going around the video game industry, and give out my personal thoughts on them. And for my first retr0ial, I felt that it would be necessary to talk about what has possibly become one of the biggest gaming trends in recent years: Indie Games.

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(NOTE: I did not make, nor did I draw this picture. The credit goes to Mike Gaboury.)

Twelve years after the release of Cave Story in 2004, the indie game market has slowly but surely become saturated. Many games have come and left their mark, from Shovel Knight to Five Nights at Freddy’s and most recently the critically acclaimed Undertale. All of these games have received massive followings and have been praised for their own respective reasons. Of course, when something becomes widely popular, people will eventually (or quickly, depending on how fast it becomes popular) get sick and tired of it, as evident by videos such as these:

(NOTE: No antagonism, resentment, or hostility is meant towards the creators of these videos. Everyone has their own reasons for disliking something, and that is perfectly acceptable.)

As for what I think…it’s honestly a mixed bag for me. A while back, I said that I “usually love what indie games have to offer”. However, that has changed somewhat. As time progressed, I had begun to notice something: most, if not almost all indie games tend to rely on nostalgic throwbacks. Of course, this is not a bad thing at all: sometimes, it’s nice to see something that harkens back to something that you really enjoyed when you were younger. Games such as the Bit Trip series and Super Meat Boy are great examples of this. But as the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing”. As of now, the market is being bombarded with games that aim to be “throwbacks” or “tributes” or utilize “8-bit” visuals, with the most common term to be found being “retro”. This is where my personal problem comes in: the misuse of the term “retro”. Now, the term “retro” can be applied to anything that can be considered old-school, not just 8-bit games (yeah, I know that the blog’s name is retr0pia, but we focus on more than just 8-bit games). Unfortunately, because of the oversaturation of these types of games, it’s been associated with nearly every single game that has pixelated graphics.

The “relying solely on nostalgia” issue also ties into another problem: spiritual successors. Now, I am not saying that all spiritual successors are bad. In fact, I’m actually looking forward quite a bit to Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained, because the people behind those games actually seem passionate and devoted to delivering a game that not only the fans of their previous work can enjoy, but a game that newcomers can enjoy, too. However, when you have games such as Armikrog and Mighty No. 9 (yes, I know that game isn’t out yet, but let’s face it, with all the delays and drama, there’s simply no way it can pull through), there’s the feeling that the developer puts making the game resemble its spiritual predecessor as much as possible first and making the game itself actually worthwhile second. It’s this kind of thinking that makes people believe that indie games have done more harm to the industry than good.

Of course, there are indie games that I do enjoy. As I have said previously, I liked Bit Trip and Super Meat Boy, and although I haven’t played them, I have heard a lot of good things about the Shantae games. What I personally think should happen is that indie developers should focus less on pandering to retro gamers, and instead focus more on original ideas. If they can execute them properly, that is. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

What are your thoughts on indie games? Be sure to post them below in the comment section, and make sure to leave feedback!

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REVIEW: Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (1993, Genesis)

It’s safe to say that by this point, we’ve established that licensed games tend to vary in quality.

When they’re good, they’re REALLY good.

And when they’re bad…well…see for yourselves.

And today, we’re going to take a look at a licensed game. A Tiny Toons licensed game, for that matter: Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure.

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So what category does this game fall into? The masterpieces, or the disasterpieces? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – If there is one thing I can compliment this game on, it’s definitely the graphics. While not particularly great, they do capture the essence of the show pretty well. Each world has a bright, but charming look to them, and despite being somewhat generic, they are pretty neat for what they are. The character sprites on the other hand are pretty nice as well, having cartoonish designs and animations. While it’s definitely not one of the best looking Genesis games, the graphics are still a pleasure to look at.

THE SOUND – Another thing that I love about this game is the music. Done by composers Shinji Tasaka, Hideto Inoue, and Tsuyoshi Sekito, the music has a very upbeat, lively tone to it, matching the game’s visuals rather perfectly. In regards to the sound effects, though…yeah, they’re really nothing special. It also doesn’t help that some of them can get quite annoying at times, but it’s a flaw that can be easily overlooked if you focus on the music.

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Pictured: A good game desperately trying to break out.

THE GAMEPLAY – Aaand here’s where the positives come to a grinding halt! Where the heck do I even START? Well, I’ll start off by saying that the way Buster controls is just very…strange. It often varies between loose, clunky, and stiff, which in turn makes platforming a bit of a hassle at times. This is also not helped by the level design. Oh my jeebs, the level design. Not only does it feel extremely derivative from other platformers at the time (I’ll give you a hint here: the most obvious one has a character who’s name starts with an S and ends with a C), but it just feels clumsily put together as a whole! There’s barely any sense of cohesion, and when you add that in with absurd difficulty spikes, the unacceptably long length (Sonic 1 has 19 levels. This game has 33. It’s unacceptable for a 90’s platformer, at least.), and bad hit detection, you’re just left with something that lacks any enjoyability or identity.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Even if it has decent graphics and great music, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure is NOT a good game, suffering from bad level design and even worse gameplay. And the sad thing is, despite all the flaws I mentioned, there IS a good game lurking deep within! I just know it! I mean, the people behind this game, Konami, made TMNT: Turtles in Time and Rocket Knight Adventures, and those games are amazing! So what the F-last three letters of muck happened here? What’s even worse is how people actually PRAISE this game! Seriously, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people going on about how “great” this game is. Honestly people, can you take off your nostalgia goggles for at least ONCE!? Granted, it’s not the WORST licensed platformer out there… but a mediocre game is still a mediocre game nonetheless.

5/10

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What’s Next?

Some of you who follow my blog may notice that uploads have slowed down somewhat. This is because I’ve decided that instead of posting a review each day, I will instead post one each Saturday. But for those of you who insist on knowing what I’ll be tackling in the coming months, here’s the low-down (also, please note that all of these dates could possibly be moved around, delayed, or changed altogether):

JANUARY:

Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (1/30/16)

FEBUARY:

Mega Man (2/6/16)

ToeJam & Earl (2/13/16)

Superfrog (2/20/16)

Puggsy (2/27/16)

MARCH (DISNEY THEMED MONTH):

DuckTales (3/5/16)

The Lion King (3/7/16)

Aladdin (3/12/16)

QuackShot (3/19/16)

Mickey Mania (3/26/16)

APRIL:

Turrican (4/2/16)

Killer Instinct (4/9/16)

Plok (4/16/16)

Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool (4/23/16)

Oscar (4/30/16)

MAY:

The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock (5/7/16)

Dynamite Headdy (5/14/16)

Wally Bear and the NO! Gang (5/21/16)

Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind (5/28/16)

Until then, see you next time! Also, be sure to post comments and leave feedback!

REVIEW: Diddy Kong Racing (1997, N64)

Okay, I know that I was supposed to post a review of Plok today, but I really wasn’t satisfied with the way it was written. Because of that, I’ve unfortunately decided to put it on the back burner for the time being. But trust me when I say that I WILL get around to reviewing it…eventually.

But with that out of the way, it’s time we’ve gone onto the topic of today’s review: the Nintendo 64 racing title, Diddy Kong Racing!

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Released in 1997 and developed by the legendary RareWare, who are most known for Donkey Kong Country, Perfect Dark, and Banjo-Kazooie, the game’s story revolves around the titular simian and his group of furry friends as they challenge the evil Wizpig to a racing tournament throughout an island in exchange for its freedom. Will this game have me going ape over it? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – If there’s something that I can always applaud Rare on, it’s that their games can always be expected to look fantastic. In this game, this is certainly still the case. The graphics are very nicely done, with all of the tracks having very colorful appearances and striking but appealing visuals. But if there is one thing that I dislike about the graphics, it’s the fact that they can be a bit too cutesy at times. I know, I can’t believe that I’m calling a Nintendo game “too cutesy”, but that’s not to say it hinders the game’s visuals completely. For what they are, they’re good enough.

THE SOUND – Another well-known trait of Rare shines through here: their signature catchy as all heck music. The music is just FANTASTIC, all each theme fitting each location perfectly, as well as being very nice to listen to as well. It also helps that the composer, David Wise, has a long history of excellent music. The sound effects on the other hand… eh, they’re okay. Each one fits the characters’ respective actions well, but most of them are just stock Hanna-Barbera sound effects. That, and the character’s voices can get pretty irritating at times, ESPECIALLY Conker, Pipsy, and Drumstick. But with all things considered, the sound is still good.

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I’m a monkey driving up to an elephant version of the Genie from Aladdin in a hovercraft…alrighty then!

THE GAMEPLAY – Now this is where things get interesting…on paper, Diddy Kong Racing aims to be your typical, everyday kart racing game…but with a twist. You see, in this game you aren’t racing in JUST karts, you’ll also be racing in planes and boats as well! Because of this, some tracks are designed specifically for some of these vehicles, which is a major pro on the game’s part, because it can spice up the gameplay quite a bit. The racetracks are also very well-designed, with alternate paths and secrets to be found galore. However, there’s one itty bitty problem that prevents the gameplay from being great: overcomplexity. Now before you get into the comment section and chew me out, just listen. In the game’s main mode, Adventure Mode, you have to collect a certain number of balloons in order to get to the all of the racetracks in each area. Once you’ve gotten through said area, you can go to the other area, BUT you also have to beat the area you just went through AGAIN by collecting all of the coins in each racetrack of said area, and once you’re done with THAT, you get a piece of an amulet that you need in order to face Wizpig. The problem with collecting the coins is that some of them can be very difficult to get, and with some racetracks being rather hard at times, it just makes it very frustrating. The gameplay itself has a lot of positives to it, but that one fatal flaw that I just went over kind of just spoils it.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Although it suffers from overcomplexity and a childish tone, Diddy Kong Racing is still a fun time nonetheless. If you’re a big Rare or Nintendo fan, than you’ll most likely enjoy it. As for everyone else…eh, I guess it’s a matter of taste.

7/10

Also, be sure to post comments and leave feedback!

REVIEW: The Flintstones (1993, Genesis)

Today, I’m taking a look at yet another licensed game, and considering the horrors that I endured yesterday, my expectations are rather low. What game AM I reviewing, you may ask? It’s none other than The Flintstones.

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Based off of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon and developed by Taito, most known for the 1978 arcade classic Space Invaders, this 1993 Sega Genesis title aimed to cash in on whatever popularity the show still had…and considering the massive lack of fanfare it gets compared to other licensed games such as DuckTales or Turtles in Time, it’s safe to say that it didn’t work out. But regardless, will this game have me going “YABBA-DABBA DOO!” over it? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – The graphics are..alright, for the most part. The character sprites look enough like the show, and the backgrounds are fairly well done and brightly detailed. But there’s just one problem – it’s GENERIC. I’m dead serious, this fits the “Unexceptional Platformer Level Themes” bill in every way possible! Grass level? Check. Water level? Check. Desert level? Checkity-check-check. Okay, truth be told nobody expects anything grand for a game based off of The Flintstones, but come on, at LEAST give us something interesting to look at!

THE SOUND – Well…it’s not as bad as yesterday’s game, but that’s not to say it’s good. The music just sounds like very little effort was put into it, with a rather sloppily composed 16-bit variation of “Meet The Flintstones” serving as the title theme. The rest of the music doesn’t fare any better either, varying from bland at best to downright annoying at worst. Once again, it isn’t “ear-piercingly” bad like yesterday’s game, but there’s something about the sound that just screams laziness.

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Ah yes, who could forget the episode where Fred got mauled by what would happen if Spyro the Dragon puked out Rambi from Donkey Kong Country?

THE GAMEPLAY –  Well, before I get into ripping the gameplay apart, I might as well look at the positives..or the small handful that there are, at least. Fred controls pretty decently, responding to button inputs fairly well and making platforming a cakewalk. But then there’s the level design…where do I begin? Not only does it feel lazily put together with a somewhat hazy structure and an overall lack of coherency, but sometimes it just gets downright BORING! I should also probably mention that the game likes to throw gimmicks at you in the hopes that it’ll spice up the gameplay. A lot. But none of them really work or are even fun for that matter, and just end up making you go “What the heck just happened?”. The hit detection is also pretty bad, with enemies sometimes taking off one of your hearts even if you clearly hit them with your club! Although it isn’t horrible, there’s still a massive amount of adjustments that need to be made here!

THE BOTTOM LINE – With poor level design, annoying music, and complete and utter unoriginality, The Flintstones is a rightfully forgotten below-average platformer that doesn’t do the modern stone age family justice. Do yourself a favor and just skip this one out – there are dozens of far more creative, well-thought out, greatly designed and overall superior platformers out there. And if you REALLY want to scratch that Flintstones itch so badly…just stick with the cartoon.

4/10

Ugh, next time can I review something that’s actually good?

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THANK YOU.

Also, be sure to post comments and leave feedback!

REVIEW: The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends (1992, NES)

What can I say about Rocky & Bullwinkle? Whether you’re young or old, or whether you’re big or small, the good-hearted squirrel and his naive moose buddy will always find a way to make you laugh. Today, we’re taking a look at an NES game based off the series released in 1992; The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends!

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Can this game translate the witty charm of the cartoon into a video game format successfully? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – …the whole thing literally looks like it was done in freaking MS Paint. Okay, I know that the NES wasn’t a graphical powerhouse, but look at the Mega Man games! Those games look WAAAAY better, and the first one came out five years before this game, so there is NO excuse. Heck, I might even say that this is probably the WORST looking NES game! EVEN ACTION 52 LOOKS MORE APPEALING THAN THIS!

THE SOUND – Okay, take a listen to this for a moment:

Does that seriously sound like something you’d want to listen to? THROUGHOUT AN ENTIRE STAGE, NO LESS? It sounds like a broken down ice cream truck! Again, look at the Mega Man games; they have MUCH better music, and again, THE FIRST ONE WAS RELEASED IN NINETEEN EIGHTY FRICKIN’ SEVEN! Ugh, let’s move on to the gameplay before my ears start bleeding, please!

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Okay, am I looking at an NES game or a five year old’s Kid Pix drawing?

THE GAMEPLAY – If they didn’t bother putting in any effort into the graphics and the music, what makes you think that the game itself will fare any better? The gameplay is just ATROCIOUS, with terrible and clunky controls and downright confusing level design. But that’s not the worst part – the worst part is trying to kill enemies! You see, the enemies in this game (mostly Boris and Natasha) like to throw bombs at you: and a LOT of them, for that matter. So of course, you can throw bombs as well! But there’s one problem: THE CONTROLS. Because they’re so utterly awkward and delayed, you’re mostly wasting your time trying to actually THROW them than fighting! And yes, to the three people out there who like this game, I know that Bullwinkle can use his antlers and charge at the enemies, but even THAT’s not very useful because it just makes him even more difficult to control! And yes, I also know that you can switch to Rocky and use his flying ability to fly over a stage, but there’s no challenge whatsoever in that! The gameplay always knows what can go wrong, and what makes you say “NOPE”.

THE BOTTOM LINE – The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends is not only a horrible game, but it’s also got to be one of the WORST NES games I’ve ever played, with unresponsive and awful controls, hideous graphics, slapdash level design, and some of the WORST music on the NES. I highly suggest that you just stick with the cartoon; I can guarantee you that it’s MUCH more pleasant and charming than this…thing.

1/10

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REVIEW: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994, Game Boy)

Like Batman without Robin, or cereal without milk…actually, scratch that. Cereal with milk is just plain disgusting. Umm…oh yeah, or macaroni without cheese, what would the gaming industry be without Mario?

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Ever since his debut in 1981’s Donkey Kong, the pudgy plumber and his friends have went on to star in dozens upon dozens of video games, and have not only put Nintendo on the map, but have also forever revolutionized gaming as a whole.

But we’re not here to talk about Mario himself – that’s for another day. Who we ARE here to talk about is his greedy arch-rival, Wario!

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With his first appearance being the main antagonist in 1992’s Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Wario himself became the hero in several games of his own, including the Wario Ware series, and the less-heard of and talked about Wario Land series, although the latter has not recieved any new installments since 2008. Today, we’re going to take a look at the first installment in the Wario Land series – Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land!

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Released in 1994, Wario’s first major adventure revolved around him traveling to an island to get the riches necessary to build a castle of his own after Mario defeated him in Six Golden Coins, with the only things standing in his way being the dastardly pirate Captain Syrup and her crew, the Brown Sugar Pirates. Now, with all of that said, is there something about the Wario Land series that Nintendo is simply not aware of, or have Mario and the gang stayed more popular for a reason? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – It shouldn’t come to the suprise of anyone when I say that the Game Boy wasn’t exactly the most..visually advanced (pun entirely intended) system out there during it’s time. However, with that in mind, the folks at Nintendo R&D1 actually did a pretty good job with the resources they were given! The graphics, although lacking in color, look very detailed and appealing, with some of the character sprites having some rather creative appearances. However, if there is something that I have to say is wrong with the graphics, it’s that because it’s on the Game Boy,they’re simply not as good as they can be. Now, I am NOT dissing the Game Boy at all: in fact, I actually have a good amount of respect for it. It’s just that I felt that because the graphical capabilities were so simple compared to the Game Gear, some of the games on it like Donkey Kong Land or the original Super Mario Land don’t feel like they’ve aged very well in some areas. But getting back on track, for what they are, the game’s graphics are very nicely executed.

THE SOUND – If there is one thing that I love about the Game Boy, it’s the fact that the games on it have always had a reputation of great music. This continues that reputation, and does it proudly. The soundtrack is simply pleasing to the ears in all regards, with a more bristly, rough but still catchy tone to it then what you would normally expect from a Mario game, which of course is not a bad thing at all. For a good example, take a listen to a theme that tends to play throughout the game.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say in this section, so I’ll just make this short: the music does a great job of feeling like a Mario game, but still giving out the message that this is a Wario game.

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Wario, making his way through Rice Beach.

THE GAMEPLAY – One time, I saw a person say that what they liked most about this game is the fact that it felt like a Mario game, but still managed to be it’s own thing at the same time. And that, I agree with wholeheartedly. The gameplay does a splendid job of taking your average Mario platformer adventure, and successfully mixes it with not only puzzle elements, but even some Metriod-ish elements as well! The level design is also very good, having a fair amount of difficulty and enemy placement. One way that Wario differs from Mario is his Charge Attack, which proves to be very useful and quite powerful, and can clear out blocks faster than you can say “the Donkey Kong Country games aren’t even that great”. But if there is a problem that I have with the gameplay, it’s that Wario can feel a bit..clunky at times. However, at the end of the day that’s just a slight problem.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 takes the Mario formula and flips it on it’s head, the end result being a well-designed and fun to play game. It’s really a shame that these games never exactly caught on, because there really is a genuine profit to be made off of these. If you’re a big Mario fan or just love platformers in general, give this one a shot. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

8/10

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(Seriously though, what will it take for a new game in this series?)