Published On: Sun, Mar 23rd, 2014 on 6:38 pm

Games: Retro Game Crunch – Out with the new, in with the old

Retro Game Crunch

I think there’s a part of all of us that likes to indulge in nostalgia occasionally. This is especially true of Rusty Moyher, Shaun Inman, and Matt Grimm, who in August 2012 got together for the 24th Ludum Dare game jam, an event where teams of game developers attempt to produce a game in just 72 hours.

The result of this collaboration, the first time the team had worked together on a project, was Super Clew Land, a charming platform game which looked like it belonged on the NES. But more so than this was the drive to make more projects together as a team, and so Retro Game Crunch was born.

The concept the three pitched to Kickstarter was to make six further games in the span of six months, allowing their backers to vote on a theme each month and to make and release the game within three days, taking the remainder of the month to polish the product based on feedback. Having created seven titles in this ambitious project, the team recently made available the whole collection under the title Retro Game Crunch.

The seven titles the collection comprises are Super Clew Land, End Of Line, GAIAttack!, Paradox Lost, Wub-Wub Wescue, Brains & Hearts, and Shūten.

Every one of these titles has a similar 8-bit pixel art aesthetic, looking like they could quite comfortably belong on a shelf of childhood favourites alongside the likes of Super Mario Bros, yet inside you’ll find quite a mixed bag of different titles to delve into.

Super Clew Land, the title which launched the project, is a platformer which sees you take the role of a cute blob creature who begins life eating worms to grow and eventually metamorphose into new forms with new abilities. As you transform, these new abilities allow you to further explore new areas of the game’s elaborate map. Your final transformation gives you wings allowing you to explore your world, where it becomes quickly apparent the growing and transforming section was mere preamble to a new challenge. A series of coloured gems are hidden across the world in hard to reach areas requiring skilled execution of your new powers in order to collect them all.

It’s a short title on the whole, but acquiring some of the gems are a definite challenge that will put your abilities to the test. The world oozes charm though, and overcoming sections you’ve found tough is an intensely satisfying experience. Super Clew Land is definitely one of the strongest titles in the package.

End Of Line is a puzzle game with a slightly morbid theme to it. You play a robot, incidentally not looking entirely dissimilar to Megaman, whose main objective is to kill itself. A number of traps and obstacles on each level will allow you to achieve this easily, but a number of other repair robots on each map will fix you up again if they can reach you when you die. They can also fix each other if you try to break them. By pressing switches, moving objects or exploiting specific routines in the repair robots you can take out each of the robots in such a manner as to stop them being repaired, allowing you to carry out your grim task. Some of the levels will require some thought to complete successfully, but the game on the whole doesn’t seem to have quite the same amount of depth to it as Super Clew Land.

GAIAttack! is a vertically scrolling brawler, feeling a little like Castle Crashers set in the world of Ice Climbers. You and up to three friends can play small cute rodent-like creatures and fight your way through levels which will continue to scroll upwards whilst being beset by more rodent-like sky pirates until you reach the top to fight a sky pirate boss atop his flying ship. The combat is fairly simplistic, mostly only being a punch and a limited-use special ability attacking enemies in a wave in front of you. The levels are interspersed with frequent checkpoints so you’ll never be set too far back if you fall in combat. Solo, the game feels a little bland, but would likely be more fun getting friends together for a 4-player local co-op game.

Paradox Lost is, in my personal opinion, probably the strongest title of the group. You play Abby, a woman who survives her plane going down and quickly finds herself in possession of a gun which shoots energy permitting time travel. The game plays out as a typical Metroidvania title, with an open world to explore but with areas off limits until you find the requisite power-up to allow you in. However, by reflecting your gun’s shots off crystal growths found around the map you can hit yourself with it and propel yourself through time. The game takes place in three different timelines, the past, present and future. The map layout in each time is broadly similar, but where in one timeline a passage may be impassable, travelling into the future or past could open up the route ahead. It’s a fiendishly clever twist on an old format, and definitely my favourite of the seven.

Wub-Wub Wescue is by contrast perhaps the weakest title. It’s a puzzle platformer where you take the role of a pug and attempt to navigate a trap-laden platform level to rescue your owner, held hostage by tribesmen. By finding a gramophone you can learn a song in a scene reminiscent of the painting ‘His Master’s Voice’. The song, usable only once per visit to the gramophone gives your pug one of a number of abilities allowing you to slow down time or disable certain traps. The gameplay however, feels very clunky. It’s all very slow moving and falling more than a short distance will send you back to the start. If you mis-time the use of one of your abilities, it’s a slow trek back to the gramophone to learn the song again so you can have another try.

Brains & Hearts is a fairly simple card game set inside the dream of Albert Einstein. Players take turns to play cards numbered 2-7 into a board of three spaces. If the cards make a run of three or more ascending numbers using the opponents cards, they can capture those cards and score points. Wormhole cards bridge the gap between 2 and 7 and also permit descending runs. Players can also opt to throw a dice instead of playing a card in order to manipulate the value of cards in play. It’s not complicated, and whilst an AI opponent is available, it only has one difficulty setting, so if you can beat it comfortably there will unlikely be any further challenge in the game. If you can find another player to play against though, it could be an entertaining diversion.

Shūten stands out from the others, being a vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up with a samurai-era aesthetic. Levels are what you’d expect, waves of enemies with a boss at the end of each. You start without a weapon other than your sword though, which is impractical in a shooter, and need to steal a weapon from an enemy in order to use anything else. Upgrades for these weapons are available in a shop, alongside other perks like extra lives, but prioritising one weapon above all others will work against you if you find yourself in a level without the enemy that carries your preferred weapon. Level progression is also nonlinear, with several new levels available to you at any given time with differing difficulty levels if you’re looking for more of a challenge. It’s a well-made and very compelling title.

It’s obvious that most people won’t like every single title in this collection, there are just too many diverse things, but I also think that works in it’s favour, too. There’s a lot to like about this bundle and there are definitely some innovative ideas that are worth checking out. If you’re looking for a blast from the past without needing to blow the dust out of those old cartridges, Retro Game Crunch should serve you well.

Retro Game Crunch is available on PC and Mac. For more information, please visit www.retrogamecrunch.com.

About the Author

Jon Biggin

- Founder and Co-ordinator of Bradford-based video gaming collective, Button Mash.

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