Xbox Live Thumbs Up: Retro-Modern

Realize that old games are awesome.  A new breed of remakes keep the fast pace, immediate action, and simple controls.  The stuff to improve is the meta-game outside the gameplay.  Replace game-over-means-blank-slate and build strong progression.  Our XBLA games this week find ways to keep things simple yet make sure the action doesn’t stop.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed

Old-school controls get serious.  No jump button in a platformer?  It works.  Bionic Commando is a classic because the grapple arm has always been so fun.  Swinging on the arm involves frenetic adaptation and has a lot more variety than jumping.  Great boss battles, cheesy-fun dialog, good secrets, upgrades galore.  It’s hard to imagine a more pitch-perfect remake.  

Braid

What if they made a whole game out of Prince of Persia’s rewind mechanic?  Like Portal, Braid is an extended tutorial, a series of realizations and discoveries.  Feels like a artist speaks through the game, quirks and all.  Walks the line on almost-too-hard puzzles.  A whimsical and melancholy story with a perfect ending.

Castle Crashers

Good local multiplayer is hard to find.  A paragon of the Newgrounds style… old-school arcade mechanics (Final Fight/Streets of Rage here), violent but sharp humor, pristine vector graphics, and occasionally (gleefully) broken gameplay.  One highlight is the CPR-style buddy revives, which adds some timing and skill to keeping friends in the game.  Also loved the massive air combos!  

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke’s always been a great entry in the Doom generation, with lots of weapons, interactive environments, and sarcastic humor.  A shame they never made another one.   Play the XBLA version to try the “rewind” system, which provides a beautiful antidote to the quicksave/quickload syndrome.  Rather than ever having to save mid-game, all gameplay is recorded.  When Duke dies, a timeline of the entire play-through aappears and the player can pick exactly where to come back to life.  Duke is a hard game, where just a few bad hits can kill you, but in this version that’s totally fine because of rewind.  Joe is my barometer for game save systems and he wants this system in every game forever.

Mega Man 9

A pure sequel to NES-style Mega Man that reminds us how many ways there are to die.  A different kind of retro remake than Bionic Commando, MM9 packs each level with a sharp and cruelly creative assortment of traps.  The new bosses are original (hard considering the vast history) and the new weapons deliver a tangible sense of power.  There are many details that wink to the flaws in the original games, such as the way the music is clipped by the sound effects or how the final levels reshuffle and reuse all the previous stages.

Rocket Bowl

Minigolf+Bowling seems so obvious that the entire game has a retro feel, like a lost lost idea from PC gaming’s annals.  The pin physics feel realistic, tight, and challenging yet the courses encourage players to roll around and have fun.  High scores unlock new courses and hunting tricky and secret stars earns new bowling balls, so both playstyles have rewards!  Cute music provides a light 1950s feel… we couldn’t stop mimicking the girl singer’s “Rock-et-Bowwwwwwl”.