Photo realistic graphics and epic story lines rivaling blockbuster movies are now par for the course in video games released by the biggest studios churning out sequel after sequel. However, indie game developers have carved a niche of smaller titles revolving around engrossing yet affordable gaming experiences similar to those enjoyed before the era of Xbox and Playstation. Here are 10 affordable modern-retro titles where the pixels are still visible, but welcomed...
Steam: $3 / XBLA: $1 / Playstation Network: $4 / iOS: $3
If you've played Brick Breaker on your Blackberry or Breakout on the original Game Boy, you'll feel right at home with Wizorb. Everything about this game feels like it was pulled from the late 80's, from the blocky graphics to the crackling audio. Vast levels design revolve around action-puzzle gameplay and RPG style storyline where players try to restore a war-ravaged village while learning new spells such as fireballs or power balls to ward off enemies.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
XBLA: $10 / Playstation Network: $10
Movie tie-in games have a well earned reputation for being shallow money grabs. I'm happy to report Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does NOT fall into that trap. Ubisoft delivers a tribute to classics such as Battletoads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the form of a side scrolling beat 'em up. The visuals are faithfully ripped from the comic, and the soundtrack from chiptune masters, Anamanaguchi, neatly wraps up a package sure to entertain.
3D Dot Game Heroes
Playstation 3: $16.67
It's difficult to tell whether 3D Dot Game Heroes is a parody or a tribute. What I know for sure is the amount of love and respect the developers have for the original Legend of Zelda, evident throughout their title. Gameplay is engagingly over-the-top, offering simple fun that never takes itself too seriously. The controls only allow players to move vertically or horizontally, a clever limitation harkening to throwback NES control restrictions.
Steam: $10 / XBLA: $10 / GOG: $10
Fez takes 2D side scrolling to new heights by introducing new dimensions in gameplay. Players are faced with cube-like levels, and are allowed to swap dimensions with the press of a button to discover previously unseen sections to reach. Exploring these dimensions is key to advancing through the levels and the multi-dimensional concept proved so popular, a sequel is now in the works.
Steam: $10 / Mac App Store: $10 / Wii U: $10
Developed over 5 years by Daisuke Amaya in his free time, memories of classic NES games like Metroid were drawn as inspiration for this side scrolling shooter, complete with tight controls, an imaginative story, blocky sprites, and even the entertaining gibberish character voices reminiscent of the era. I particularly love Cave Story for its fair difficulty level, which always keeps things challenging, but doesn't frustrate with impossible tasks.
Steam: $10 / Bit.Trip Beat: Nintendo Wii: $6 / iOS: $1 / Android: $1
CommanderVideo is the main character starring in this multi-game series from Gaijin Games. All the games have an Atari 2600 era flavor, with over-simplified pixel-chunky character designs and sound effects. The two most popular from their library are Bit.Trip Beat which combines Pong with an element of rhythm, and Bit.Trip Runner, a fun endless runner game.
Desktop: $26.95 (free demo) / XBLA: $20 / iOS: $7 / Android: $7
This is the game which made retro styled games cool all over again. Just in case you've been stuck under an 8-bit Zelda stone for a few years: MineCraft is an open world, open ended game where players harvest materials and using them to build anything their heart desires. Swedish developer Mojang proves all a game needs is rewarding gameplay to keep players engaged, his creation now an iconic name, part of pop culture. Try out the demo version for free here.
Game Dev Story
iOS: $4 / Android: $2.50
Kairosoft has a line of retro-themed simulation games for iOS and Android, but Game Dev Story is by far my favorite of the bunch. Players assume the role of a head of a game studio who leads a team of programmers, artists, and musicians to create games for systems such as the "Super IES" and the "Playstatus". The game takes place mostly within menus where players manage their staff's skills, while deciding which games to developed based upon genre and sub-genre in the hopes of dominating this virtual gaming development world.
Most games use old-school graphics as a stylistic veneer or hopefully as a foundation for good gameplay. But Evoland uniquely uses it as a gameplay mechanic. Players traverse through the Evolands world, each presented in styles reminiscent of NES, SNES, Game Boy and Playstation grade graphics. Each style grants passage and progression through the world specific to the era's gameplay, a fun homage to games such as Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda.
I find it amazing my smartphone is now more powerful than a huge range of classic handheld and home consoles of yesteryear. 1-Bit Ninja looks just like those games I played on my (now seemingly huge) Game Boy, recreating the feel of Super Mario World, while taking advantage of processing power of current day hardware to expand on yesterday's gameplay. Dragging one finger around the screen allows players to see dimensions in greater detail, exposing hidden platforms otherwise hidden in plain sight, making 1-Bit Ninja an entertaining title of of discovery through touch.
(Images: all titles as linked above)