You have to win the game and Spelunky

Spelunky

In this game you are a speleologist, very Indiana Jones style, who is responsible for exploring a series of caves and caverns, looking for treasures, gems, items with supernatural powers without forgetting to avoid traps, kill enemies and save damsels in distress. The first version (2008) is free, and is available for Windows (with some unofficial ports for Mac).

The game has a remake in Steam with the same name, Spelunky, but with improved graphics and other details, although on its own page you can find and download the original version, along with its source code.

Curiosity: Spelunky has a clear influence of classics like La-Mulana, Rick Dangerous or what seems its clearest influence, Spelunker.

  • Style | Action, Adventure
  • Qualities | Graphics, Action

You have to win the game

Finally, we have You have to win the game, an original title for a careful remake of You have to win the game from Commodore 64 that the developer released on December 28, 2012. Finally, he adapted it for Windows/PC, and we can enjoy it in current computers, using the wonderful filters that the game has in its options and which I will talk about later.

In this game, you are a child who must go through all the screens of the game (each of them has its own name) and increase the counter (percentage seen on one side of the screen) to reach 100%, as that is the goal of the game. The main idea is to get the 4 orbs that exist to unlock the bricks that are originally invisible, and along the way get as much money as possible. The game has a considerable difficulty and it is made so that the duration of the same one is also high, although a priori it can seem like a short game.

One of the great aspects of the game is the filters section in its options. By default, it comes with a 4 color CGA filter (black, white, magenta and cyan), although you can deactivate and activate the 16 color palette. It also has another set of filters to get an interlaced image, emulate the curvature of an old TV monitor, as well as other interesting options. The game is also available to download and install for free under the title You have to win the game, in Steam.

Curiosity: The game comes with a DLC in which you are a cat, with a higher difficulty and the slogan “You are a cat and have 7 lives”.

  • Style | Platforms
  • Qualities | Retro ambiance, filters

Lyle in Cube Sector and Broken Cave Robot

Lyle in Cube Sector

Lyle in Cube Sector is a game in which we assume the role of the main character (Lyle), whose cat is stolen while he was sleeping. The objective of the game is to recover it by advancing through the different screens of “Cube Sector”. The game has graphic filters that emulate the old TV (interlaced mode) and a “chip tune” style music that will take you back to the style of games of the time.

The game doesn’t have a linear direction, and as you progress through the game you’ll be able to perform more actions, such as seeing the map or throwing cubes at enemies.

Curiosity: The website of the game has a very characteristic retro style, as well as some other games, comics and interesting links.

  • Style | Adventure
  • Qualities | Music, Graphics

Broken Cave Robot

The author of F(L)AIL also has another curious game, called Broken Cave Robot. It’s a small, broken robot that falls into a cave and has 5 minutes left to run out of battery. Then, restrict its functionalities to the minimum and start your adventure.

Your goal is to discover the cave, finding items to improve the capabilities of the robot and prevent the robot from being completely damaged. The game has a very curious feature, and that is that the map system of the robot game is damaged, so you can use it, but you have to draw the map manually, in a kind of rustic “paint” that integrates.

Curiosity: The game arose from a Ludum Dare, a competition to create video games in less than 48 hours.

  • Style | Puzzle
  • Qualities | Originality

F(L)AIL and Knytt

F(L)AIL

If you like puzzle games, you’ll love F(L)AIL (from FAIL). This is a game where you have to discover the mechanics of each level and solve the puzzles playing with items, gravity, jumps, inertia, etc. and reach the red zone where you ascend to the next level.

F(L)AIL is a very simple but terribly addictive game, which once started, encourages you to continue playing until you complete its 8 levels (which includes 10 phases each).

The game allows the multiplayer mode, so it gives a plus of competitiveness, where everyone can play simultaneously to try to win the level first. Time also influences the amount of points earned, so it is always a challenge to try to get a better score.

In Matt Thomson’s page, you can find several other free indie games of the author, some of them very curious.

Curiosity: The game has several unlockable elements as you progress through the levels. It’s also possible for a third player to use the mouse as an enemy and place bombs to make the game more complicated for the players.

  • Style | Puzzle
  • Qualities | Addictive

Knytt

Knytt is a game that surprises in practically every aspect. It’s a game with an ultra minimalists interface, that just after starting the game shows us a series of options (a tutorial of the game, several slots to save our game and game credits).

The interface of the game is very simple and small, and in it we are a small being similar to a monkey, who moves away from his village and is abducted by another being that leads a UFO. On the journey, you have a problem with some asteroids that damage your ship and force you to land. Knytt’s mission is to find several parts needed to repair the UFO that are scattered along the game screens.

What is most striking about this game is the good game play it has and the impressive atmosphere. As we advance the screens, we will see that the secondary characters (with most we can not interact) perform actions outside the game, some very curious. The mixture of background music and sound effects create a curious game atmosphere that makes it quite interesting.

Curiosity: If you like the game, there is also Knytt Stories, with a lot of levels and even a level editor to create your own. On the other hand, in Steam you have Knytt Underground, the latest version of the game, much improved in different aspects.

  • Style | Puzzle
  • Qualities | Environment, playability

Maldita Castilla and Super Mario War

Maldita Castilla

Perhaps the previous titles are not very well-known in Spain, but if there is one that has become popular since its release in 2012 is Maldita Castilla. This is a platform game in the style of the well-known Ghosts ‘n Goblins, but using medieval Spanish and European mythology.

In the game, you control Don Ramiro Quesada, who following the orders of King Alfonso VI, will try to free the lands of Tolomera del Rey from zombies, demons and many other creatures. The soundtrack is created by Gryzor87, who has composed a brutal soundtrack, in the style of the “chip tunes” (specifically, Yamaha YM2203), further emulating the classic spirit of these games.

In the developer’s page, known under the pseudonym Locomalito, you have at your disposal several free games ready to download and play, in addition to Yo yo Games has the version of Maldita Castilla for Raspberry Pi. On the other hand, in Steam you have available Maldita Castilla EX, the extended version of Maldita Castilla.

Curiosity: In its official website, you have some interesting documents with tips on how to draw sprites pixel art style, the manual of the game set at the time (very worked!) or even the sketch to make the cabin of an arcade machine.

  • Style | Platforms
  • Qualities | Look and feel, music and retro style

Super Mario War

There have been multiple clones or unofficial versions of Super Mario over time, but few can be as much fun as Super Mario War to play games with friends.

The game is based on a small screen, in the style of the classic Mario Bros original of 1983, but can play simultaneously 4 players and allow you to choose the type of game: classic mode, up to a number of deaths, count down, collect coins, cage mode, capture the flag and many others. You can also switch maps or even choose from a variety of characters, including Super Mario, Luigi, Toad, Yoshi, Bubble Bobble Dragons, Link, Pikachu, Kirby, Pacman, Chocobos and many more.

As if that weren’t enough, the game has a level editor (Leveleditor.exe) and a world editor (Worldeditor.exe), where you can configure the place where you play. The game is available for Windows, Mac, Linux or Wii, among other systems such as the consoles created with Raspberry Pi, where we can connect up to 4 USB controllers. It is even possible to create single player games where the rest of players is the CPU, although the difficulty is devilish.

Curiosity: In the Super Mario War section of Retro Pie you have abundant information about the operation of the game and all its characteristics.

  • Style | Battle against rivals
  • Qualities | Funny, multiplayer, all against all or by team.

Treasure Adventure Game

If Cave Story is a delight, Treasure Adventure Game (TAG) is not far behind. If you had to choose a game that matches the previous one, it would be this one without a doubt. Its author, Stephen Orlando, developed this free game for just over 2 years, focusing particularly on game play, history and design, and taking care of every detail.

In the game, the story is told of a boy who has an accident while accompanying his father and his archeologist friend in search of the secrets of a temple. As the years go by, you decide to go in search of the relics your father was looking for and you will discover the story behind it, along with what happened in that temple quite a few years ago.

The Treasure Adventure Game soundtrack is a real wonder and is one of the sections that deserves special mention. The high care in the details of the game, along with the atmosphere, graphics, plot, game play and its long duration, make it a must for anyone.

Last year I played TAG (free at GOG: https://www.gog.com/game/treasure_adventure_game …), a retro style game that I highly recommend. I found a great easter egg. https://twitter.com/i/status/817753219069837312

Remember that although you have Treasure Adventure Game on GOG.com, the game is in English and you’ll need to download the game’s translation from its official website, translating the game’s multiple dialogues and conversations.

Also, note that the author is developing Treasure Adventure World by crowdfunding, a remake in HD of this game.

Curiosity: If we download the GOG version, Treasure Adventure Game comes with Karma, an early version of what eventually became TAG. Although not finished, the first three levels are fully playable and serve as a curiosity to see how the game evolved during its final development.

  • Style| Metroidvania
  • Qualities | History, playability, music, level of detail…

Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari)

If you don’t know Cave Story, you should, because it’s a real masterpiece. It’s a free game that attracts attention for being developed by only one person: Daisuke Amaya (Studio Pixel), who was working on the game for 5 years uninterruptedly until it was published (2004). You only have to play for a couple of minutes to realize that the work behind it is immense and very well set. In addition, the game has a story that allows you to play in a non-linear way, as well as reach several endgames.

In the game, you are a robot who wakes up in a cave without remembering anything at all. When he comes out of it, he encounters some nice beings, similar to rabbits, called Mimigas who lately are being kidnapped. From then on, you will go deeper into the story and discover what has happened, as well as knowing more details about yourself, your history and your past.

The game play, the progressive difficulty curve as well as the evolution of the story make the game a real delight. Initially created for Windows/PC, but over time has been ported to multiple platforms such as: Mac, Linux, XBOX, PSP or NDS among others. You can even play if you have mounted a console with Raspberry Pi style Mini NES Classic!

Remember that although the game is in English, in the “Downloads” section of their website you can download an official patch to translate into Spanish all the dialogues of the game. On the other hand, and although they are not free, the author of Cave Story has in Steam an improved version called Cave Story+, in addition to another game with the name of Kero Blaster.

Curiosity: In the game folder, there are three executable files: Doukutsu.exe (the game itself), DoConfig.exe (game settings, to customize keys and other details) and OrgView.exe, a curious music player where you can listen to the entire soundtrack of the game.

Pixel Art Games You Should Try This Year. Part 3

HOTLINE MIAMI 1 & 2

It probably sounds familiar to all of you, but for those of you who don’t know it, Hotline Miami is a series that features two video games and that, thanks to grotesque and disturbing graphics (which also don’t cut a hair) and an effective zenith perspective, immerses the player in a brutal history of truly insane violence that even invites us to reflect on the player’s role in the violence he or she exerts.

The playable offer consists of going through each one of the levels of the game finishing with all the enemies of each zone, either using our fists or any of the many weapons (white and of fire) that we can find in the scene or to snatch to the enemies.

Both the player and the enemies die with a single blow which, added to the fact that we reappear almost immediately after each death (which will happen quite often), gives rise to a game play as hard as addictive in which, despite the frustration, it is always easy to get carried away to do it better and throw “one more game”.

HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER

Hyper light drifter is one of those little hidden treasures that come up from time to time and that, while they don’t revolutionize anything or invent the wheel, they have enough personality and charm to stay with you long after they’re finished.

What this pixel art game offers is an adventure of zenith perspective with clear influences of sagas like Zelda or Dark souls, in which we will have to go through beautiful environments full of details to find and finish with the four bosses hidden all over the map (which is completely open from the beginning).

A mission that will not be easy because to achieve it we will have to overcome tough battles full of enemies in which we will need to use our attacks both hand-to-hand and at a distance (in addition to our useful ability to “dash”) if we want to emerge victorious.

These clashes can be really tricky and if we hit buttons like crazy the only thing we’ll get is a quick death. Understanding the tempo of our attacks and evasions, knowing how to use weapons properly at a distance and looking at the patterns of enemies are essential skills to survive these tough battles.

However, what is truly characteristic of the title is its history, its stages, its music and, above all, the sensation of melancholy and loneliness that it evokes.

As I said before, Hyper light drifter drinks directly from the Souls saga and this can be noticed enormously by way the story is told us: through the stage and with dozens of details here and there that make the world another protagonist of the program.

In this case we travel through a desolate world in which it seems that everything important has already happened and in which we are always late. And it is that the history of this world is not our history, we are nothing more than a foreigner whose purpose is not entirely clear, which only accentuates the cryptic of history that, if that were not enough, completely dispense with texts and tell us everything through cartoons and illustrations.

A smart decision on the part of the developers, since it makes the hard journey of Hyper light drifter even more enchanting, mysterious and magnetic.

Pixel Art Games You Should Try This Year. Part 2

CRAWL

Crawl is a game focused on local multiplayer games (no online mode) in which up to four players will have to play one of the heroes trapped in a terrible cursed dungeon from which, unfortunately, only one can get out alive.

The approach is simple: the hero who wins the initial battle will have the opportunity to explore the dungeon, which is generated procedural and has several floors filled with all kinds of enemies (some with a really cool design), various traps and lethal mechanisms threatening in every corner and even shops where to buy weapons, upgrades, equipment and a variety of skills.

The funny thing is that players who have died at first will assume the role of a disembodied ghost whose mission will be to own the traps and monsters of the dungeon in order to end the hero’s life before he defeats the boss and manages to escape. If a ghost manages to kill the hero before this escape both players will exchange places and the adventure will continue until one of the four participants manages to go outside (or until the protagonist dies and the ghosts are defeated), which results in some fun games that, although they can be enjoyed alone playing against the CPU, reach their peak when we gather a group of friends on the same console. Pikes are guaranteed.

ENTER THE GUNGE ON

Enter the gunge on is a zenith view shooter that combines the infinite challenge of the rogue likes with the hell of the bullet hell projectiles in a mixture as challenging as it is addictive loaded with action, weapons, bullets and jokes with the word “weapon”.

What the game offers us is to use one of its six playable characters (two initially blocked) to go through a series of procedural generated levels in which we will have to fight chaotic shootings against crazy enemies and get dozens of weapons ranging from the apocalyptic to the directly absurd.

Among our arsenal we can find pistols, shotguns, death rays, lethal bananas and even a bullet-shaped weapon that shoots pistols that in turn shoot bullets.

EVERYTHING in Enter the gunge on is a constant joke about weapons, the enemies are bullets and grenades armed to the teeth and the bosses have names and designs to each more ingenious (careful with the “anaconda”) which, added to their intense and dynamic shootings, make the title a small jewel for lovers of pixel art, action, the “rogue likes” and a good dose of humor.

Pixel Art Games You Should Try This Year. Part 1

In the middle of 2018 and with all the torrent of new and impressive titles approaching, it’s easy to forget that video games are more than just a pretty face and that, surprising as it may seem to some, you can live beyond photo realistic textures, volumetric clouds and other technical tricks designed to push our consoles and computers to the limit of their capabilities.

And be careful, all this is very good, and I am the first one to enjoy like a wild dwarf like God of War 4 that, apart from being a game, enters through the eyes, but it is not bad to leave our comfort zone from time to time and give an opportunity to works that we don’t usually pay attention to and that, against all odds, may surprise us.

That’s why, and because I’m a great lover of this kind of titles, today I bring you a list with 5 pixel art video games that I think you should try before the end of the year.

Oh! And for those of you who don’t know, with Pixel Art we mean those games that base all their graphic section on…well… in the pixels, those little squares that were so dominated by the industry not so long ago and that, thanks to the technical advances we have today, they can give much more of themselves than it might seem at first glance.

NOT A HERO

Not a hero is an action-packed two-dimensional shooter in which our mission will be to ensure that the Bunny lord, a purple, anthropomorphic rabbit standing for election, manages to become mayor.

And how are we going to do that? By playing one of the nine members of the Bunny lord fan club and taking advantage of their unique weapons and skills to make way through each of the 21 levels of the game (one for each campaign day) which, of course, will be full of enemies who will make things very, very tricky for us.

The game has cover mechanics, special shots, even the possibility of executions on stunned enemies, all in two dimensions, which, added to its open violence, its hilarious black humor and its great graphic section (which makes very good use of color and has very horny details constantly) make Not a hero an accessible game, challenging and very, very fun.

Pixel Art: The end of an era?

Developers talk about the artistic form that shaped video games.

At first glance, the launch a few weeks ago of Kirby Mass Attack was a minor event. The umpteenth installment of a saga that has never been recognized in Europe for a console that gives its last pigtails passed without pain or glory for the sales lists.

However, its appearance was much more significant. With development focusing on the powerful 3DS, Mass Attack – with its charming and intricate sprites – may be the last 2D pixel art game Nintendo publishes.

The modest DS is probably the last platform on which the decision to base the visual aspect of a game on piles of pixels is due to a pragmatic and technical need. With a 3DS considerably more powerful than its predecessor, the only reason why a mainstream title uses pixel art instead of more modern graphic techniques will be purely aesthetic.

Matt Bozon, creative director of sprite specialists Way Forward Technologies, whose wonderful Aliens Infestation is probably also one of SEGA’s latest pixel art projects, suggests that although we may see such titles on 3DS, it won’t be a creative direction that many major companies choose.

“There was a decline in pixel art on the Game Boy Advance, and there have been even fewer games on Nintendo DS,” he told Euro gamer. “With the video game industry shifting to the Hollywood model of the summer blockbuster, the pixel is no longer attractive enough for the masses.

Nintendo didn’t want to give a definitive answer when we asked them about it, but Mass Attack director Mari Shirakawa wasn’t too optimistic.

“The screen resolution will continue to improve and, as you say, the need for pixel art will decrease,” she explains.

“I think pixel art has a unique artistic charm that you can’t find in polygamous art, and personally it’s one of my favorite graphic styles, so it would be sad to see pixel art being used less and less.

“But at the same time I don’t necessarily see this as a big loss, as the improved graphics will help increase the possibilities of the games.

Along with Way Forward, Toronto developer Capybara Games is another of the few Western studios still proud of pixel art. The Nintendo DS version of the sublime RPG puzzle Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes showed some of the most inspired and charismatic sprite work since the 16-bit golden age. Capybara also agrees that times are changing.

“In pre-PSP laptops, the screen resolution was so low that pixels were often the best choice in terms of clarity,” explains co-founder and art director Anthony Chan.

“As we move away from ‘small screen devices’, that limitation fades away. Most talented pixel artists go on to make high-definition 2D art, as you can see in Capy or in studios like Way Forward.

“So what,” you might ask. For the generation that started video games before the first PlayStation and Nintendo 64, the beginning of the 3D era, this really represents the end of an era. Iconic, familiar and wonderfully expressive despite its simplicity, pixel art is the video game. A player has the heart of ice if he is not thrilled to see a Mega Man sprite jumping through the air or the 16-bit Link lifting a piece of the Triforce over his head.

“It would be sad [if it disappears] because pixel art is intimately linked to games. It’s part of its fabric, part of its history,” Chan says.

“It would be like forgetting that there was hand-drawn animation, as the film industry seems to have done. You have to know where you’re coming from, see evolution, and appreciate the ability to ‘modernize’ techniques that aren’t modern anymore by themselves.

But Adam Saltsman, creator of the pixel art game for iOS Canabalt, argues that its appeal goes beyond nostalgia. Its purity, precision and clarity have numerous benefits when it comes to creating good game play. It argues that the rigid predictability of pixel by pixel animation is easier for the player to process, and responds better than more modern techniques.

“You can see it if you compare Street Fighter IV with Street Fighter III,” he explains.

“Although Street Fighter III is a faster and more aggressive game, and in some aspects less accessible, the fact that the animation is discreet and quantified makes it easier to learn to time and understand what is happening on the screen.

“Your brain thinks, ‘oh, when the animation freezes at this point if I press this button it’s the right timing’, while in Street Fighter IV it’s rather ‘when the leg moves off the ground and is halfway through completing this animation it’s when I press any button’. You don’t have a specific point on which to train.

“For games that are based on timing, to learn from the interactive game system, the fact is that there is a style or language for quantified movement that helps people learn and that is really useful.

Chan adds that, by asking the game to fill in certain blanks, the simplicity of pixel art also helps you get more into the game and use your imagination in ways that more literal visual styles are not able to do.

“On a conceptual level, the representative aspect of pixel art is as comforting as it is challenging,” he insists.

“Drawing a circle with two dots and a line is a representation of a face – it makes the player abstract and interact with the game visually and not just through mechanics.

Beyond that, he argues, is its precise and abstract nature helps to maintain the fourth wall, while the quest for perfect photo realism of 3D graphics can emphasize small but annoying imperfections that take the player out of the experience.

“Pixel art doesn’t have the distraction of 3D,” explains Chan.

“The more real you are with 3D, the more material faults you’ll see. This happens long before the disturbing valley, but it’s also accentuated by it. With 3D emulating the real world, the player can easily confuse the game with the real thing, causing problems with textures, animations and even technical components, such as collisions, to become more obvious.

But perhaps most importantly, pixel art makes the playing field fairer. You don’t need big budgets, huge equipment, expensive technology and a complex education to make a game with pixel art. All you need is passion, desire and a little artistic talent.

“There are few entry barriers, results are obtained quickly and it’s possible to achieve professional quality much easier than competing with a modern console game,” admits Bozon.

And it’s that efficiency that keeps the middle alive. Although mainstream developers are turning the page, indie developers have taken over, spurred on by the nostalgia for the games of their youth and the fact that it’s an accessible and cost-effective way to make attractive video games.

Digital distribution systems such as the App Store, Steam or Xbox Live Arcade have freed developers to make the games they want to play, not those dictated by Activation’s road map or Electronic Arts. Best of all, they’ve found a receptive audience.

Saltsman’s Canabalt, the charming puzzle for iOS The Last Rocket, the brutal VVVVVVV platforms, Way forward jewels for DSiWare like Shantae: Risky’s Revenge and Mighty Flip Champs, Super Meat Boy, Super brothers: Sword & Sworcery, Cave Story, Tiny Tower, Game Dev Story, the Bit series. Trip, the future Super T.I.M.E. Force of Capybara… the list of fantastic – not to mention commercially successful – pixel-based indie games never ends.

The few developers who still work with pixel art today done it because they want to, not because they have to. Unlike those who do it in 3D, they are not limited by the number of polygons, the size of textures or by trying to go technically further. Pixel art is a more advanced medium in its evolutionary line and, therefore, designers can only concentrate on doing something different, both from a visual and playable perspective.

Do you remember the special effects in cinema over the last 75 years,” asks Bozon.

“Latex puppets and miniature models were the only viable way until the CGs arrived. Well, today you can still entertain the masses with puppets, only now you do it by choice.

“Creative people can work without thinking about technology and impose limits on themselves to create something unique. So perhaps the golden age of pixels is past, but now we are free to use them purely as a form of expression.

One of the concerns is the size of the power market. Can it grow beyond the gray-haired players who are thrilled at the promise of a return to simpler times? Is the vision of a set of pixels something that drives back teenagers, a generation that has grown up with Halo and Call of Duty instead of Packman and Gradius? Saltsman doesn’t care too much.

“We used to wonder if putting a pixel game in front of a kid would make him complain because the game was ugly compared to Super Mario Galaxy or whatever,” he says.

“My nephew may be too old – he’s seven or eight years old – but when he comes home he loves to put in all those old, pix elated NES or Mega Drive games. Art isn’t the problem, it’s the exaggerated difficulty of those games. That’s what drives it back.

“My mom can play pixel art games, kids can play them – I don’t think there’s anything about that that’s a problem,” he continues.

For better or worse, in 2011 most triple A developers will try to mimic the visual style of Michael Bay, Spielberg or Pixar, producing games that look less and less like games. While it’s a bit sad that all that’s left is a few talented indies honoring the work of the media’s creative ancestors, it’s great to see Capy, Way Forward or Salt mans step forward to preserve – and innovate in – the only visual style that the video game industry can regard as their own.

“It’s embedded in pop culture, so I don’t think it can just go away,” concludes Bozon.

“As a creative exercise, try to imagine a future in which polygonal graphics are no longer the norm. Games that had good visual styles will linger in our memories, but games that tried to imitate reality may not age as well and look weird. Hopefully we can continue to use technology in new and artistic ways.