What bothers me about “retro” games so often is that they miss the entire point of the exercise. The games that I played as a child were not in any way, shape, or form undiluted masterpieces; they were products of their time as surely as anything. Too often retro games wind up treating the entirety of these games as religious experiences, as if every single element was equally important in making games fun and you can’t have a truly fun game without a whole pile of obscuring and unpleasant tedious components.
In theory, you can do better. You can take the parts that did work, the genres and elements that don’t really make it in the triple-A marketplace these days, and get rid of the tedium and missteps. Cut out the spirit and pull that forward, but leave the bones where they lie. Separate the platform and the moment from the overall experience.
The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight is close to what I’d consider a prime example of how to do exactly that. It’s not entirely there, and some bits and pieces are unlikely to change before it moves from Early Access to an actual launch. But even those broken bits aren’t broken enough to make it an exercise in tedium.
The weird thing about a lot of Japanese video game genres is how the fans who want to make more of them want to make the same exact sorts of games you got in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, the visual novel/dating sim sort of game never really took root in America, it’s a uniquely Japanese genre. But instead of taking that framework and making something new out of it, it seems like the fans making new games in the genre are just… making games that are trying their hardest to be Japanese games, complete with cultural references and behaviors and the like.
I bring all of this up because I am relatively certain that the developers behind Sunrider Academy are not located in Japan. Not entirely certain, but there are little bits and pieces hither and yon that suggest the game was made by enthusiastic fans emulating Japanese games rather than people just making a game about what they saw/experienced/etc. That isn’t a negative verdict right off the bat, though, just a piece of the puzzle. As it turns out, the rest of the puzzle fits together decently.
The nice part about top-down scrolling shooters like this is that even a short demo gives you a pretty good picture of what you’re going to be getting. This is not a genre wherein there are big, hidden mysteries right around the corner. I am flying a plane vertically, there are things to be shot, they will try to shoot me down, and so forth. Dodge the stuff that hurts you and hurt the things that would otherwise kill you.
As a result, evaluating the game comes down chiefly to side elements and trying to pick out whether or not the game really delivers a novel enough experience to justify its price tag in the first place, something not helped by the fact that the game’s store page appears to have been handled by someone whose grasp of the English language is only slightly firmer than Kanye West’s grasp of social niceties. Once you get past all of that, though, the game certainly seems to do its level best to deliver on its stated goals. Whether you want those goals is another discussion.
Remember how I said two weeks ago that if you put out a demo for your game, it should include a tutorial? Apparently that advice was taken to heart by the makers of Croixleur Sigma in the worst possible way. Because they included one that is entirely non-interactive, thus invalidating the benefit of having a tutorial by preventing you from putting your hands on the controls and actually feeling how the game controls. Then again, considering the game was already going out of its way to make sure it didn’t actually recognize my gamepad mappings, perhaps that’s a… understandable thing?
Croixleur Sigma is one of the various Japanese indie games that’s popped up on Steam, and like so many of them it’s kind of a thin offering. By no means is it one of the worst games I’ve played here, but it manages to commit the worst of all sins. Not by failing to last 15 minutes (although it does that, too), but by making slashing my way through a whole pile of monsters feel boring.
Being first is not special. Or, more accurately, it is special to be the first to do something, but that alone does not somehow entitle you to a life free of critique or feedback. Being first just makes you, well, first. It’s entirely possible to be first and yet still be pretty damn awful. You can probably gather where I’m going with this.
Rag Doll Kung Fu is the first non-Valve game to be offered on Steam, way back in the day. That’s something. It is also… well, it’s a game with an okay premise that wound up stretching pretty thin within seconds, and then it just sort of keeps going. I know that I talk a lot about games that feel like Flash titles stretched out far beyond their breaking point, and this one definitely falls under the same header. It also manages to somehow fail at that, though, which is very much to its discredit.