A lot of the all-time best games are influential far beyond the humble platforms that housed them. They are hallmarks that helped create and define their respective genres as well as many of the tropes we see throughout modern gaming. There are examples everywhere: Mario and platformers, Sim City and simulation games, Doom and FPS’s. Even when game designers try to innovate, they still sometimes find themselves borrowing from their predecessors. Often this probably isn’t a conscious choice to imitate, but an understanding of how things work best, i.e. there’s solid reasoning behind Mario moving left to right instead of diagonally. It’s also the reason why most veteran gamers can pick up a controller and figure out how a game works by just messing around for a couple of minutes. Keeping that in mind, I’m a pretty decent fan of anyone that can breathe new life into old formulas by tinkering with convention a bit. Here’s a few I’ve stumbled on lately that deserve some more attention.
In Ancient Greece, rather it seems like many parts of Modern Greece, the mob rules. Whoever controls the mob, controls the nation. Okhlos puts your mortal ass in command of an ever-changing gang of philosophers, citizens, slaves, and soldiers hell-bent on expressing their dissent in the most human way possible, excessive violence. As you riot your way through each level, you’re sure to suffer losses. No matter though as other mortals you meet along the way will be more than happy to swell your ranks. They are the people, and they are the weapon you will use to tear across the ancient world, leaving in your wake only rubble and broken gods. It’s a pixel art homage to a world filled with myths and legends, an absurdly fun take on the Pikmin formula, and the best time I’ve had with this type of game since Overlord 2. Okhlos absolutely delivers with its own stylish take on the genre; an experience rich in personality, set to a seriously addictive little soundtrack. Like Sitar and Harp meet Drum and Bass all in chiptune format. Take a listen to my personal favorite here.
Life Goes On
It’s Mario for the morbid. Life Goes On is a somewhat cute side scrolling puzzle platformer with a touch of the macabre. You are on a quest for the Holy Grails – yeah more than one; who knew? Under your control is an endless supply of knights that are willing to throw down their very lives in your service. Good thing too, since all of LGO’s puzzles involve you sending dozens of armor clad crusaders to their untimely demise. Come across a spike pit? Just throw a few guys to their death and then safely hop across their corpses to clear the hazard. Upon the literal backs of the fallen, you will make your way through each level of escalating difficulty. The puzzles themselves weren’t supremely difficult, if you can clear Portal then you’ll be fine, and most of them will be solved not by brilliant deduction but by deadly trial and error. There will, at some point, be a moment when you chuckle at how detached you’ve become from the reality of all the digital families you’ve destroyed, (those poor little virtual orphans leading loveless lives devoid of all hope,) but no matter, more grails to find!
As much I love The Legend of Zelda on N64, I’m of the opinion that Link worked best before he sold out and went 3D; trouncing around Hyrule in Link to the Past was the best time I ever had with that androgynous little elf bastard. It’s my appreciation for this type of top down dungeon clearing adventure that led me to pick up Crawl on Steam. Other than Link’s little foray into multiplayer with that 4 swords crap, his have nearly always been single player adventures. Crawl, however, was designed to be played with friends, and is best enjoyed with 4 players. One person controls the adventurer clearing rooms and grabbing loot, while the rest of the team get to control the traps, monsters, and eventually bosses, utilizing their unique abilities and powers to try to rip the trespassing warrior limb from limb. Whoever manages to land the killing blow on the hero then becomes him, and the cycle continues until someone garners enough exp to unlock the boss room. The boss fights themselves are highly enjoyable with players controlling different parts and weapons on the massive monsters. Player 2 might be an eyestalk firing death lasers while player 3 controls an overly aggressive mouth/vacuum thing that has to rely on Player 4 maneuvering the giant crab claw to force the hero, player 1, into his kill zone. All this while the intrepid adventurer is dodging back and forth trying to stab the boss’ soft bits with his current weapon. Give Crawl a shot some time, its chaotic multiplayer take on the classic Zelda formula manages to satisfy in all the right ways.
Streets of Fury EX
As an adolescent the Pit Fighter arcade machine captivated me. It was the first time many of us ever saw digitized live actors, not rotoscoped, in a video game. The sprites looked surreal and stood as a stark contrast next to the cartoony visuals of Street Fighter, the reigning arcade king at the time. Too bad it was one of those bastard 50 cent cabinets, otherwise I might have actually played it. Irregardlessly, the visual style makes a surprise reappearance in the hilarious side scrolling beat em up Streets of Fury EX. This game is an obvious homage to the titans of this genre: Streets of Rage, Final Fight, etc. These types of games has seen a popular resurgence on Steam over the last few years with many very entertaining entries, but it’s SoFEx’s unique visual style that really sets it apart; utilizing digitized live actors that obviously don’t take themselves too seriously. The characters are full of personality and many are outright ridiculous. Thankfully it’s not all style over substance. Underneath the comical veneer lies a solid combat system that is serviceable for the challenges presented. If you have fond memories of the beat em ups gems of the mid 90’s then you might want to give Street of Fury EX a bit of your time.
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
It’s a story as old as time itself. Monsters are popping up near a peaceful village and a call to arms is sounding throughout the kingdom. Heroes of all types are crowding into the town, eager to quest for riches and glory. Unfortunately you won’t be playing as one of these heroes. You’re the daughter of a deadbeat father who abandoned you to go adventuring and mysteriously vanished. He’s left you in charge of a failing item shop and up to your tits in debt to the Fairy Mafia. The only way to work off whats owed is to turn this store into a thriving hub of commerce. BUY LOW, SELL HIGH! AMORTIZATION! MAXIMIZING YOUR ROI! These are the skills you must master to get those fairy leg-breakers bastards off your back. It’s not all just a Merrill Lynch advisor’s wet dream though. Besides just working the shop, you can hire adventurers to babysit you on excursions into local trouble spots to collect sellable items directly and become master of the supply chain. As different townspeople come by the shop, you will build relationships, get to know their shopping habits, and of course make bitter enemies with your endless price gouging. The only thing I think this game is missing is the option to throw people out. If that damn penniless street urchin comes in here one more time trying to haggle down my bread prices….. Well lets just say she doesn’t have any family that’ll miss her.
But what do YOU think? Ever spend any time with these titles? Let me know of any others I should check out.