There are a lot of retro and retro-inspired games out there today. A lot. Browsing Steam pro­vides you with a cor­nu­copia filled with titles that take inspi­ra­tion from retro game­play and aes­thet­ics. Some seem to want to bank on the famil­iar­i­ty that a cer­tain design approach pro­vides, and instill their work with the essences of games from past eras. Others may not have the time or skill set to work on games in cer­tain engi­nes that focus on more 3D-based expe­ri­ences.

The kind of game I am here to talk about today, though, is the kind that works with­in the speci­fic design struc­tures of old­er sys­tems, like the NES or the Sega Master System. These games embrace the lim­i­ta­tions in col­or palettes, sound chips, sprite and lev­el designs from old­er sys­tems. Maybe the cre­ators were long time play­ers of NES or C64 games them­selves and want to pay homage to their inspi­ra­tions, or they want to test out and hone their design skills by mak­ing the next great new “clas­sic” game. You can look at a game like Shovel Knight as a prime exam­ple of this trend in action and suc­ceed­ing at it.

These games provide an excel­lent tool for design­ers to lev­el up their skills while offer­ing games that cater to a nos­tal­gia dri­ven audi­ence, and open­ing the doors for younger play­ers to expe­ri­ence the style of game us old­er folks had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to play.

In the first of an ongo­ing series look­ing at the­se style of games, I’m going to get into an overview and impres­sions of Castle in the Darkness and Jet Runner. These are two games I would term NES-like, in that they work to con­form to the lim­i­ta­tions pro­vid­ed by the NES. From the palet­te choice to the con­trol scheme — besides mem­o­ry lim­it being a thing of the past — the­se titles work to emu­late the styles of old­er games that I think many read­ers will be famil­iar with.

It is of note that the­se are pro­vid­ed as impres­sions. I am over halfway through each title and feel that is well enough for an informed opin­ion, but would not con­sid­er the­se full-on reviews.


2015-05-11 12_18_39-Castle In The Darkness

Castle in the Darkness is a game devel­oped by Matt Kap, who also worked on Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. It’s pub­lished by Nicalis, who also pub­lished BoI: Rebirth. This one is an adven­ture plat­former much in the vein of Castlevania 2 (sans night­ly curse annoy­ances) if you mushed it with Ys III.

You get the open-ended world that Castlevania 2 offered, but with a bet­ter vari­ety of scenery and lev­el design, along with a series of pro­gres­sive­ly dif­fer­ent and powered-up weapons and armor. Magic comes into play, too, with dif­fer­ent spells unlock­ing secrets with­in the games dun­geons and bal­anc­ing out phys­i­cal weapon­ry.

The game’s sto­ry is a sparse but effi­cient one, even pro­vid­ing a cou­ple twists. After the ini­tial setup, the sto­ry is main­ly told through in-game sequences with­out dialog, but they do their job well enough, with char­ac­ters emot­ing in exag­ger­at­ed fash­ions to con­vey con­text. You are thrown into the action fair­ly abrupt­ly after start­ing, but with a rous­ing tune that leads you into that action.

The music and sound design is a point of high favor in my eyes (or ears, as it were). The music in Castle in the Darkness is filled with well-arranged chip tunes, and has rous­ing melodies and beats to make you feel prop­er­ly hero­ic as you go about your quest. The sound effects are well done, with hits, kills, jumps and spe­cial moves hav­ing a very sat­is­fy­ing feel when com­bined with the tight con­trol scheme.

2015-05-11_00003Being NES-inspired, Castle in the Darkness uses min­i­mal con­trols; D-pad, Select, Start, A and B are what you have. This leaves cer­tain things, like switch­ing out your equipped mag­ic or weapon, to be done at save points. It’s only a slight annoy­ance, as you can equip new­ly acquired items and skills as soon as you get them, and save points are not sparse enough to make it an an issue to switch up.

Where those save points do become an annoy­ance, though, is in their place­ment. In some areas far­ther in the game, a save point will be five or more screens away from a boss fight. While not always a prob­lem, there are enough times that your route from a save point to a boss will be lit­tered with enough ene­mies or haz­ards that will take down your health in a sig­nif­i­cant amount, if you are not pre­cise with every move­ment just to get as good a chance at the boss as you can. This can lead to some seri­ous rage-quit moments, but if you enjoy the under­ly­ing charm of the game, like I do, then you will always come back for a lit­tle more pun­ish­ment.

You are reward­ed in a slight way for dying, at least. Extras, like ear­ly ver­sions of the game, are unlocked when you reach cer­tain thresh­olds of death amounts. And Castle in the Darkness is not easy, so you will not have to farm deaths just to unlock the­se “achieve­ments.”

2015-05-11_00006Games like this tend to rely on nods and ref­er­ences to oth­er nos­tal­gic prop­er­ties, and Castle in the Darkness has this in spades. A bit too much, if I have to be frank. The odd joke or ref­er­ence here and there is fine, but this game takes it to an extreme. They are cute and offer a quick laugh, but the ref­er­ences come so often they out­weigh what lit­tle sto­ry there is there already. There are a cou­ple non-referential jokes in there that I won’t spoil for you, and it is obvi­ous Matt Kap is try­ing to keep a lighter tone to the sto­ry pre­sen­ta­tion. I just feel that this game relies way too much on “Hey, look at this! This is from a game we all know. *wink wink*” to get its humor across.

All in all, Castle in the Darkness is a fun adven­ture plat­former with tight con­trols, decent lev­el design, a mem­o­rable score, and enough secrets to give the com­ple­tion­ists plen­ty of game­play to real­ly dig into. It doesn’t do any­thing new. What it does do, though, it does well. It’s not going to con­vert peo­ple who shy away from retro-style games or plat­form­ers to the cause, but I think the audi­ence this game was made for will get a lot of fun from it.

Castle in the Darkness is cur­rent­ly avail­able on Steam for $5.99 USD or your local equiv­a­lent.




The next game we are look­ing at today is anoth­er plat­former, but this one is on the action side of the coin. Jet Gunner is a run-and-gun action plat­former devel­oped and pub­lished by Sinclair Strange. This is his only game on Steam, but Sinclair Strange has more fun titles under his belt over on Newgrounds. Put sim­ply, Jet Gunner is unabashed­ly Contra inspired with bits of Megaman–esqe lev­el design thrown in. And a jet­pack. Who doesn’t love jet­packs? The sto­ry is actu­al­ly a bit bet­ter than Contra’s, inso­much as you do actu­al­ly get one! It’s there just as a lev­er to start the action, and given the style of game it is try­ing to emu­late, a deep sto­ry is not real­ly need­ed for this expe­ri­ence.

In Jet Gunner, your goal is to essen­tial­ly get from the left to the right of the screen as alive as pos­si­ble. That would seem to deflate the fun fac­tor when described that way, but this is the modus operandi of this style of game. What makes the­se games enjoy­able are how sat­is­fy­ing the action is, and how immersed you can find your­self in stay­ing alive. Thankfully, like the afore­men­tioned Castle in the Darkness, the con­trols are tight enough that most fail­ings are your own fault.

2015-05-11 12_32_59-Jet GunnerJet Gunner
toss­es save points aside for an old­er style of 3-lives-with-unlimited-continues. The six stages are split into mul­ti­ple sec­tions, with deaths send­ing you back to the begin­ning of that sec­tion; con­tin­u­ing after spend­ing all your lives sends you back to the start of the lev­el itself. After you unlock the next lev­el, it is saved, thank­ful­ly, so you won’t have to start the game over again when you end your cur­rent play ses­sion.

2015-05-11 12_30_31-GreenshotBreaking down the Jet Gunner‘s title into its main ele­ments, jet­ting around and weapon­ry, I can say the title does very well. Flying around with the jet­pack is as sat­is­fy­ing as that con­cept should sound, and your fuel auto-magically regen­er­ates, so you don’t have to wor­ry about hav­ing to pick up items to refill your fuel. The weapons are var­ied and all of them are use­ful in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, but unfor­tu­nate­ly they are ran­dom­ly gen­er­at­ed, so it can be easy to get into a sit­u­a­tion where you have a gun that is hor­ri­ble for your cur­rent predica­ment. Jet Runner even has Gradius–style Options, orbs that will float with you that have guns of their own and will assist you, and there are upgrades specif­i­cal­ly for them.

This game does become the def­i­n­i­tion of “NES hard” after a cer­tain lev­el. If that idea turns you off, then this title may not be for you. For those already down­load­ing the game because every­thing sounds amaz­ing so far, know that you will get a decent amount of replaya­bil­i­ty if you are masochis­tic enough to go through the Hardcore mode that ups the dif­fi­cul­ty on mul­ti­ple fronts. It also fea­tures a series of chal­lenges to test your skills and give the completionist-types some­thing to work for.

2015-05-11 12_31_51-GreenshotThe only seri­ous issue I feel the need to bring up is the con­troller issue I have. Jet Gunner does offer con­troller sup­port — but not rebind­ing. The issue I had with my Xbox 360 gamepad is that I can­not use the D-pad con­trol scheme. The D-pad just will not work. When I select analog con­trol, every­thing is fine. This is not a deal break­er for me, as I can just use a key bind­ing pro­gram, but it is some­thing I hope to see fixed in the near future.

Jet Gunner isn’t going to change your life, and it’s not going to win any awards. Those not inter­est­ed in this gen­re of game are like­ly best to just pass this one by. But if any­thing about the words “well done Contra–like” piques your inter­est, then I sug­gest giv­ing this afford­able title a look.

Jet Gunner is cur­rent­ly avail­able on Steam for $3.99 USD or your local equiv­a­lent.

(Disclaimer: The copy of Castle in the Darkness men­tioned was pur­chased by the writer, the copy or Jet Gunner men­tioned was given as a gift.)

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/8bitheader-1024x288.pnghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/8bitheader-150x150.pngJosh BrayPCPC Impressions8bit,PC ImpressionsThere are a lot of retro and retro-inspired games out there today. A lot. Browsing Steam pro­vides you with a cor­nu­copia filled with titles that take inspi­ra­tion from retro game­play and aes­thet­ics. Some seem to want to bank on the famil­iar­i­ty that a cer­tain design approach pro­vides, and instill…
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a focus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­pher with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Leader of the crazy exper­i­ment called SuperNerdLand
Josh Bray

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