We’ve now made it to the end of the Retro Game Crunch collection with this final game Shuten, which is a samurai themed vertical scrolling shoot em up. You have to protect the village from a horde of encroaching demonic forces and all you have is your trusty samurai sword and the ability to steal an attack power from regular foes. Fortunately the demonic forces never seem to advance after they kill you. Which they do. A lot.
One of things I have come to realise while playing through this collection is how much I dislike having a single hitpoint. Dying the first time an enemy touches me is not fun, it is just punishing. It takes me back to the last checkpoint and then I am in a worse position than before because I don’t even have my stolen attack power. I don’t think I have really enjoyed any game in this collection where the hero only had a single hitpoint.
You can fix the hitpoint problem in Shuten, you earn gold and buy upgrades in the village, but those upgrades cost you a lot, the first permanent health upgrade costs 1200, with a temporary version that only costs 120. On the early levels I would be lucky to break even on that 120 gold item, and even the weapon upgrades start at 400 with, of course, all costs rapidly escalating as you increase upgrade tiers meaning that even as enemies drop more cash you end up behind the gold curve.
I blatantly cheated and hacked my way around the burdensome gold requirements and after doing that I could enjoy the game for what it was but my spirit was broken. Once you have to cheat your way around a basic problem it feels pretty pointless to keep going as after all I could cheat my way around any future challenge either.
Overall this collection contained more hits than misses for me, but it was interesting to see a small team tackle a number of genres in a pretty limited time scale. I will have to keep an eye on what they put out in the future.
I just did not get Brains and Hearts, unlike say Wub-Wub Wescue where I understood the rules, the goal and the basic systems of the game with little time or effort needed to explain, even in my third game of Brains and Hearts I was still making apparently fundamentally bad moves. I found the rules to somehow sound simple and yet very confusing in practice.
As you can see in the video I would make my play with my cards and then be confused as to why I then was unable to capture. When you couple that with Brains and Hearts’ lack of story or any form of advancement and there just wasn’t any desire to keep playing very long.
Where Paradox Lost was my favourite game in the bundle so far, Wub-Wub Wescue is easily my least favourite. It is a puzzle platformer with a slow moving, unresponsive character that is completely unforgiving of mistakes. It may involve a cute little pug that had to sing, run and jump to save its master but that concept alone does not save it from these problems.
As you can see I found it incredibly frustrating, even given that each level was pretty short when done correctly, I spent too much lot of time dying and being annoyed at the fiddly controls or dying from fall damage because I jumped off of a platform I had to walk off.
I am definitely never going to bother coming back to this game.
It might be telling that my immediate assumption when looking at the sprites is “Probably some kind of platformer” but to be fair, the era of gaming evoked by the art used in these games was dominated by platformers.
I am very comfortable with describing Paradox Lost as a metroidvania title. It has all the hallmarks, multiple weapons to swap between, upgrades that let you get through obstacles that were previously impassable, a map so you can work out where you have been and where you are going. Of course the map is made somewhat less useful due to the constant time-travelling between eras, effectively these are transitions between map layers, but it is pretty difficult to keep a layout in your head when you have multiple paths on top of each other.
This is easily my favourite game from the collection, the controls are responsive, it gives me hit points and a fairly straightforward mechanism for increasing my health and a kind of vague mystery story, who set up these time crystals? Why is the first boss so amazingly incompetent?
I was pretty surprised that there wasn’t really a need to rescue your ancestors before finishing the game, there isn’t even a mention of it in the victory screen, my victory probably stranded most of them in the present or future, but I guess that is a problem for another time.
The core idea of GAIA-ttack seems pretty familiar; a running fight as you climb to the top of a structure, in this case a giant pit. Then you fight a boss and move on to the next level. Rinse and repeat. It is a pretty old concept in games and while not common nowadays you do see the occasional call back, for example the final level of Trine.
GAIA-ttack executes this concept competently, the controls are pretty responsive, the enemies are colour coded for the players convenience, red gives health, yellow gives magic and purple are just there to beat up, but ultimately I don’t find it very satisfying. It is very clearly hand crafted, but as the game ramps up it feels like enemies are placed specifically to frustrate me. Combine that with a clearly set formula for the end of each level, a fight with a pirate captain on an airship, and my enthusiasm flags. Sure the pirate captain learns a new trick each time but you will need more than that to get me to push past the difficulty wall and GAIA-ttack just doesn’t deliver on that.
On the other hand it is designed as a 4-player local co-op game, I could see that experience being fun and not especially long. Unfortunately I do not have 4 friends handy and the keyboard controls suggested by the launcher seems to require that you have 3 talented contortionists as friends.
Next up in the Retro Game Crunch list is End of Line, which in retrospect would make a lot more sense as the seventh game in the list, but maybe that was considered a little too on the nose for the people make the collection. When I first saw the title card for End of Line I just assumed it would be some kind of Megaman-esque platformer. The robot and factory aesthetic, the glowing dash to me which implied a charged attack all lead to that assumption. This is what I get for not researching anything and just going in blind.
End of Line is instead a puzzle game where the goal is for your robot to die, like the other games in this bundle there isn’t much of a story developed, we have no idea of the motivation of this robot, but we do know that there are a number of other robots in each area that keep all the other robots functioning so before you can complete the level you have to commit some kind of robot murder first.
The little interludes with the factory controls are interesting, especially the suggestion that the robot is being controlled, and there are way more levels than I am likely to get through. So far it is my favourite of this collection.
I have to admit while in general I think that games have gotten better over time, less frustrating, better looking, in general just better designed, occasionally I do like to play games that use that Retro design. It turns out I have a collection of seven in my library I suspect from one of the humble game making bundles. I think it will be fun to dip into them and give them a try. My understanding is that these are all from a single Ludum dare.
Super Clew Land is what I think of when someone mentions a metroidvania game. It is a 2D platformer where you gain powers over the course of the game that unlock new areas and allow you to return to older areas to gather secrets. The way you gain power is by eating grubs, fish and butterflies and then somehow digesting the bits in the right ways. It was an interesting collection method, though not one I really enjoyed too much. It basically meant I had to stop and focus on the bottom right hand corner whenever I collected something and when I forgot or otherwise had to focus on the whole staying alive thing I would generally end up wasting most or all of the pick up. Of course if you die you are reset to the last save point and lose the pick up anyway, extra frustrating.
I can’t say I was sorry when I got the last power and then the whole map opened up, but then I realised that in that latter part you need to collect gems, and a number of those gems are in areas that reminded me very heavily of some of the really challenging/frustrating VVVVV, not something I was really in the mood for even if I ended up giving it a go.