If you grew up in the 1980s or ‘90s, you probably have fond memories of sitting on the floor in front of the TV, controller in hand, making plumbers, hedgehogs and intergalactic bounty hunters fight their way across the screen. It was the age of Nintendo and Sega, not Xbox and PlayStation. It was the age of characters bursting with personality, not morose space marines with enormous guns. The pixelated graphics were simpler and, in some ways, more beautiful. When blocks and bright colors are all you have to work with, boring realism isn’t much of a concern.
That era of video games may be long gone, but it’s not forgotten. Independent game developers around the world are keeping that old-school retro gaming feeling alive with new titles. Just because the major game developers and console manufacturers have moved on doesn’t mean the entire industry has to.
Here, then, are five games that directly target that nostalgic sweet spot—while taking advantage of a few technological improvements that have come down the pike.
On of the most recent examples of indie gaming channeling feelings of the past is Owlboy, developed by D-Pad Studio and released this month for Microsoft Windows PCs. After almost 10 years in development, the game has been met with critical acclaim and success. Players control Otus, a youngster who’s part human and part owl. With the ability to fly, he can traverse sweeping 2D environments that are brought to life with beautiful pixel art.
The game was created with inspiration from Super Mario Bros. and other 8- and 16-bit classics, but the influences go much deeper than that. By picking up and carrying different companions, you can use them to perform various actions and attacks. This dynamic, in addition to the constant sense of flight, adds a unique twist to the traditional side-scrolling platformer formul, making Owlboy feel both fresh and familiar.
Find out more about Owlboy on its official website.
Whereas Owlboy is a modern game made in the image of its predecessors, Pier Solar is both. WaterMelon, the development team behind the game, created not only a classical game for modern computers that feels like an old-school adventure; it was also crafted for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive as well as the Dreamcast.
Nodding to turn-based Japanese roleplaying games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Pokémon, Pier Solar tells the story of a group of friends that sets out looking for a cure for one of the protagonist’s ailing parents. What begins as a relatively simple journey quickly turns into a sprawling adventure that lasts dozens of hours across hundreds of battles. It feels right at home on the Sega Genesis—it was made for that console decades after it first hit the market.
Find out more about Pier Solar on its official website.
SUPER RAD RAYGUN
If your memories of years long gone are more akin to the handheld variety, e.g. the Nintendo Gameboy, Super Rad Raygun might be more your style. This game, developed by TRU FUN Entertainment, utilizes an even more retro art style than any other game on this list, trading the upgraded art work of 2016 for a more traditional and simple representation.
Rather than pumping bright and colorful visuals onto the screen, Super Rad Raygun flourishes under the glow of the off-green monochromatic color style that’s synonymous with the original Gameboy. You control Rad as he runs, jumps and shoots his way across an epic quest to vanquish evil Communist forces. Fans of Mega Man will feel right at home.
Find out more about Super Rad Raygun on its official website.
And now for something completely different. Dusk is all about action, gore and having a bloody good time. Designed as an homage to the '90s era of first-person shooter games like Duke Nukem, DOOM and Wolfenstein, Dusk asks you to mow down hundreds of hostile enemies with an assortment of weapons.
Modern first-person shooters mix in elements of stealth and roleplaying, but Dusk boils the concept down to its core essence and indulges in the satisfaction of run-and-gun mayhem. It’s not for everyone, but for fans of what inspired it, Dusk feels more like a sunrise for a reawakened debut of a bygone era. You can even toggle the graphics mode—including blocky retro graphics from the 90s—to evoke just the right feeling.
You can find out more about Dusk on its Steam page. The game is scheduled to release next year in 2017.
Austin McKinley has a story that feels all too familiar to me. As a young child, around the age of eight, he was entranced with the world of video games and dreamed about creating his own one day. After building a world, designing the adventure and sketching out countless pages of ideas, he set aside his dream until it resurfaced years later.
Mystic Searches is the result of that ultimate vision—a combination of countless popular game franchise concepts, including The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and more. What’s more is that it would be designed to run on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. A film is being made about the process, with a cool-as-hell storyline: Austin and his team designing the most feature-filled and epic Nintendo game of all-time.
Find out more about Mystic Searches on the official website. There is no current release date scheduled, but a Kickstarter campaign is planned.