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LONG BLOG

Backports of retro games

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One point of contention I've seen for some is that "retro" means "fake old". C64 and NES wouldn't be retro hardware but classic hardware, since they're authentic old hardware. But since "isometric perspective" has become to mean any birds-eye view game, maybe this topic isn't worth fighting over now.

There have been several well-received retro games for PC and consoles in the past decade, and some have been ported to the original systems their style originated on. To make a point with a high-profile title, Shovel Knight (Yacht Club Games, ) doesn't run on NES but despite breaking several limitations actually developing for NES would've meant, I imagine it wouldn't need a massive redesign to be ported to NES, if there was just enough ROM space to go around.

I decided to look into a few "recent" titles that were successfully ported to 8-bit hardware without significantly altering the game by the way of demaking a game.

These games all run on real 8-bit machines (or emulators, if you prefer).

Quartet/Assembloids

This has been ported to several platforms; you can read my take on the MSX version in an earlier blog.

To summarize, the game was originally a Flash game. The player is given a random quarter of a face, and they need to quickly decide to which of the four in-progress faces to place it in. Once a face has all four pieces, it vanishes and the player is awarded points. You may not put the face piece over an existing one, and if you build a full consistent face (all pieces are of one face model), you get a bonus.

MSX version on bitsofbas's channel (the coder of the MSX version, AFAIK).

Super Hexagon

Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon is so very simple, so very fast, so very addicting mobile game. The player controls a triangle circling a hexagon and the goal is to avoid getting hit by the walls speeding towards the hexagon. The game's speed and the constantly rotating and pulsating hexagon add to the difficulty.

Micro Hexagon by Paul Koller, with music by Mikkel Halstrup (a rearrangement of a piece from the original game), is a somewhat cut-down version of Super Hexagon: the game feels slower (that is, easier), there's only one difficulty level and it goes full-on insane with the stroboscopic effects. Really, if you have any trouble with flashing lights, don't play this game. Yet, the game has the unadulterated feel of the original... minus the crushing difficulty.

The C64 version has even more flashing than the original game, which is why I'm not linking a video here.

VVVVVV

The second of Terry Cavanagh's appearances on this list, this is a game that looks like it should be a C64 game and sounds like it, too. However, I believe I read somewhere that the OST uses more sound channels than C64 has, so it's not quite authentic in that sense.

VVVVVV (2010) is a platformer where you instead of jumping you reverse the gravity on yourself. Collect trinkets, find the rest of your crew, and make your way away from the anomaly. Hard game in the good way, although if you try to get the trinket behind Veni, Vidi, Vici you may feel differently.

In the case of VVVVVV+ (unctiover, Laxity?) on C64, the soundtrack is an original instead of an adaptation of the original soundtrack. This... is a big minus.

VVVVVV+ longplay on Sparky's channel.

L'Abbaye des Morts

Back in 2010, Locomalito (Maldita Castilla (aka Cursed Castilla), Super Hydorah) released a Windows game by the name of l'Abbaye des Morts. It is styled like a ZX Spectrum game, with flip-screen 2D platforming action. It's not a massive game, the game's website says 30 minutes after figuring out how the game is played.

Since then, this game has been released on multiple eight-bit platforms such as ZX Spectrum, C64, MSX and NES.

In short, the game is about collecting crosses and then facing the end boss. Without going into spoilers, I don't know if I've ever seen a similar ending before.

Walkthrough of the ZX Spectrum version on RZX Archive's channel.

Canabalt

This is a seminal mobile title from 2009. It's an endless runner that brought that genre to the public focus. It uses only one button, which makes it less complex than many other runners.

It's port to C64 is called C64anabalt.

C64anabalt on Polaventris's channel, with their narration over the gameplay.

Lumberjack

I believe this is originally a mobile game, Timberman. The Steam version of the latter by Digital Melody and Forever Entertainment is from 2015, and the C64 version by Megastyle and Protovision is from 2016.

The gameplay is simple: the player chooses on which side of the tree to chop off a piece of, which will make the tree fall down that amount. The danger is in the branches that come down as you cut off slices off the tree below them, and once you get hit by one, it's game over.

The music is what you should expect, of course. 

Lumberjack gameplay on ObscuraPrima's channel.

Super Crate Box

Super Bread Box (2012) by Paul Koller is actually a Vlambeer-approved C64 release, available on itch.io.

On Steam, Super Crate Box is a free title.

The game is a single-screen shooter where an endless horde of enemies descends upon the level, and the player has to survive and keep shooting the enemies. If an enemy reaches the bottom of the screen, it'll come back red and angry like the enemies in Bubble Bobble that escape their bubbles.

The twist is that the player's score is the number of crates the player collected, and every crate will change the weapon the player has. The time survived or the number of enemies defeated doesn't matter at all.

Gameplay on Polaventris's channel.

Luftrauserz

Vlambeer is very well represented here... I was never a big fan of the original Luftrausers, and I think this C64 version is too zoomed in. PAL version only, but it's still an impressive port. This, too, is available on itch.io.

Luftrauserz C64 gameplay on Checkpoint-tv.fi

Wrap-up

Looking at the list of games above, I can see some shared threads. One, Terry Cavanagh (Super Hexagon, VVVVVV). Two, Vlambeer (Luftrauzers, Super Crate Box). Three, cellphone games (Lumberjack, Canabalt). Four, Paul Koller, who made several of these ports.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that mobile games may more often lend themselves well to being ported to classic hardware. I wouldn't consider mice a standard controller for those systems. The said standard controllers were one-button joysticks with eight directions and the keyboard. (Yes, I'm ignoring specialties like lightguns and paddle controllers.)

Some of these games were still downgrades in some way. Not in the way the demade Portal became a 2D platformer, or Doom and Wolfenstein 3D on C64 that require a SuperCPU expansion and a few megabytes extra RAM. The recent port of Puzzle Bobble on C64 gets an honorable mention but not an entry on the list, because the source material is already old. Then there's Pacman Championship Edition on NES in the Namco Museum Archive vol 1. (2020), since I hear the game can be run on real hardware or emulators.

So, which games do you think I missed?

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About Flegmaone of us since 5:42 AM on 01.08.2021