(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 27--If you can't tell by my last couple of columns, retro-inspired games are a hot trend right now. As a child of the 1980s, I'm certainly not complaining. The long summer looks to be bereft of any major console titles, so why not stay indoors and relive your childhood?
Here's a couple of stellar games that certainly will keep me busy in the coming months.
"Shovel Knight" available for download on the Wii U, 3DS and PC for $14.99. Rated "E" for Everyone.
Whenever I play a modern indie game designed to cash in on the glorious history of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), I get a little nervous.
I loved the '80s as much as anyone, and the pixilated look of classic Nintendo games immediately plucks at the nostalgia strings in my heart. But I have a confession to make.
I really suck at Nintendo games. I've always considered myself slightly above average when it comes to video game reflexes, but Nintendo games were just too damn hard. Before I got pulled back into the video game world through the Sega Genesis, I almost had given up on the hobby entirely.
The recently released "Shovel Knight" looks a lot like a classic Nintendo game. It plays like one, too. But unlike frustrating classics such as "Castlevania" and "Metroid," this side-scrolling platformer eschews the cheap deaths commonly associated with ancient games.
It's still not easy, but the checkpoints and unlimited lives makes for an accessible game that innovates far beyond its ancestors. The kind of game even I can do well at -- with enough effort.
Story-wise, "Shovel Knight" is as basic as any Nintendo title, without the typos and grammatical errors that riddled '80s games. Players assume the role of Shovel Knight, and just as his name suggests, the silent protagonist wields a sharpened shovel as a weapon. As the game opens, Shovel Knight and his traveling companion, Shield Knight, fall under a dark curse, putting them both to sleep. When Shovel Knight awakens, his buddy is nowhere to be found.
That's actually a bit more plot than I expected for a game so devoted to nostalgia, and the story is told through beautiful still-screen cinemas that use the exact same color palette as the NES. After clearing the opening level, players are greeted by a "Super Mario Bros."-style mini-map that includes a town and several levels that can be played in any order you wish. If that sounds like a cross between "Mega Man" and "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link," that's exactly the point. This is a game dedicated to referencing other games.
"Shovel Knight" goes far beyond emulation, though, stretching the platformer genre with timely innovations like disposable checkpoints that let you trade security for money. Each level has about a half-dozen checkpoints, and more confident gamers can smash them to smithereens for extra money. If you die, though, you have to restart at the checkpoint before that. If you destroyed all of the checkpoints in a level, then you have to start from the very beginning.
I used every checkpoint I could find, and I still was getting my ass handed to me. "Shovel Knight" is an intentionally difficult game, and I likely would have given up if it weren't for the unlimited lives. The developers want you to keep playing, which is why you can take on the bosses and every other enemy as many times as you like.
There's a lot of retro-inspired games like "Shovel Knight," but nothing that has this level of production value and control. Younger gamers likely will scoff at the unfamiliarity, but they aren't the target audience.
If you've ever loved a Nintendo game, you're probably old enough to blow $15 on an excellent retro experience. Buying back your childhood is impossible, but this is the next best thing.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
"Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition" available for download on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, and OS X platforms for $14.99. Rated "E" for Everyone.
Though I played "Guacamelee!" when it was first released over a year ago, I never had the chance to review it. Too many months had passed since the release, and it just didn't seem like news anymore.
"Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition" is pretty much the same game, with the addition of all the downloadable content that came after. And while that doesn't necessarily make it a better game, I finally have a chance to laud one of the great hidden gems of 2013.
Best described as a side-scrolling beat-em-up with an engaging combat system and "Metroid"-style navigation, "Guacamelee!" is a blissful union of retro style and modern sensibilities. That's not so unusual these days, but the tongue-in-cheek plot that moves "Guacamelee!" forward certainly is.
Players take control of Juan Aguacate, a humble Mexican farmer in love with El Presidente's daughter. When an evil charro skeleton attacks his village and kidnaps El Presidente's daughter, Juan is killed while trying to stop him. He winds up in the land of the dead and meets a mysterious luchador (Mexican pro wrestler) who gives him a magical mask. Turns out that mask transforms Juan into a powerful luchador, bringing him back to the world of the living.
Of course, the only way to save El Presidente's daughter is by punching everything in sight.
The plot is fairly minimal after the opening sequence, though the flavor of the world is maintained through catchy music and a lovely pastel color scheme. The entire screen looks like a pinata ready to burst, and that represents the entire tone of the game -- light, funny, and hard as hell.
Much like the developers of "Shovel Knight," the minds behind "Guacamelee!" expect you to die. A lot. They keep the carrot of victory just out of reach through generous checkpoints and unlimited lives, enforcing that "One more time" mentality.
That kind of repetition only works with good games, which is why it's so effective here. The combat is similar to other classic beat-em-ups like "Double Dragon" and "Final Fight," but with far more moves to learn. Since Juan is a pro wrestler, there seems to be an unlimited number of suplexes and powerslams to choose from. It kind of reminds me of the Jack Black film "Nacho Libre," only much funnier.
"Guacamelee!" takes on a whole new dimension when you play with another person, and that option wasn't available to me when I played the PC version last year. My wife and I have been having an absolute blast playing it on the Xbox One, and I'll often throw baddies across the entire screen just so she can pummel them while they're still airborne.
"Guacamelee!" is a free download for Xbox Live Gold members through the month of July, which means there's still time to download it before the deal ends. Everyone else will have to pay the full $15, but I assure you, it's not wasted money.
Unless you really hate luchadors.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
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