Everything Old is New Again

by Steve Bowler on August 26, 2009 · 5 comments

in design

Now more than ever, I find myself with even less time to actually play games, and so I’m looking for experiences that involve smaller bites of gameplay that don’t ask me to spend hours and hours at a time on the stick.

I normally shy away from XBLA type titles because previously, for me, the value just hasn’t been there to justify the purchase.  Aways back that changed when Capcom released the Bionic Commando: Rearmed title.  At the time I bought it because I was a Bionic Commando fanboy, but it really clicked with me because of the “smaller bites” type of gameplay my schedule dictates; I no longer have four hours a night to dedicate to gaming.  I’m lucky if I have an hour to call my own, and even then I feel like I’m neglecting my parental/professional duties.

So fast forward to this past week, when I read on my Twitter feed everyone talking about the games Trials HD and Shadow Complex.  I’m in serious need of some “new game” experiences, but I don’t have the time to dedicate to say Batman: Arkham like I would like to, so I grab the demos, and am so impressed that I wind up making the purchases.

I’m not going to review these titles or anything, but it’s important to look at their roots to see what holds the keys to their successes.  Despite being very disparate titles in gameplay, they have a few things that are in common:

  • Their gameplay is based off of “tried and true” old school game mechanics and game-isms.
  • They both exist in a 2D level design but are rendered in 3D/contemporary graphics.
  • They incorporate analog mechanics which replace the original digital/binary mechanics.

TrialsHD, the third in the Trials series (if you missed the $2 sale for Trials2 on Steam you really missed out), is a professional rendering of the now tired Flash Motorcycle/Bike Game that just about every free shockwave or flash game website has on it.  It takes those roots and runs with them, taking the on/off commands of a keyboard and replacing them all with analog triggers and joysticks.  Even playing TrialsHD on my 360 after playing Trials2 on my PC (without a controller) is a striking experience, and I’m finding I’m much much better at the game because of the analog input.  I no longer have to rapidly tap the gas to get the “inbetween” throttle position I desired.  They also added a ton of new mini-game types to it and a level editor that pack way more value than the free flash game which preceeded it could even hope to pretend to have.

Shadow Complex, as you may have heard by now, is basically a nice re-skin of Super Metroid, and thrown a new fiction/setting.  Sure, the Metroid comparison is a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s appropriate in that Shadow Complex borrows very heavily from its predecessor, and if you’re familiar with Metroid, you’ll be at home playing Shadow Complex.  Where the analog comes in is in its aiming mechanic, allowing you to select any individual angle you want (unlike in Super Metroid, where you’re stuck with one of 8 aiming positions, if memory serves).

It’s interesting to me, how new and exciting these old concepts become (Flash Bike Game/Super Metroid) when their old binary mechanics are replaced with some higher fidelity analog controls, and a heaping of more “relevant” 3D graphics.  I’m wondering if I would have enjoyed Bionic Commando: Rearmed even more if there was a bit less of a literal reskinning and a more liberal use of analog control?  I did enjoy Rearmed, but there might be something to the idea of taking that core gameplay and allowing it some breathing room with some analog control.

Knowing how this industry works, I would put money down on the fact that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this kind of idea: old 2D gameplay plus new analog mechanics and 3D aesthetics.  It would be hilarious but sad to see someone attempt to improve perfection by adding an analog component to Super Mario Bros (but still maintain the 2D gameplay), so maybe that one is off limits, but let’s have some fun with this concept.

  • Elevator Action with a jump button added and a prone position (not just crouch), to give the player more positions to dodge bullets from, and aiming on an analog stick so that they can shoot out of the elevators on angles instead of forcing the elevators to move up and down to dodge.
  • Sonic with run on an analog trigger, so that players must choose just how fast they need to run across different hazards/hills (instead of full speed all the time).
  • Shinobi with an analog aim component for throwing stars from any angle to any angle (down while jumping, up while running, etc.)

These were actually tougher to come up with than I thought.  Anyone else have any to add?  Throw your ideas out in the comments.