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New twists on old classics: the indie retro remix

Yuliya Geikhman April 20, 2012 - 11:39 am

Indie Darlings: Tetris. Space Invaders. Arkanoid. These games are classics, dating back to the very roots of video game culture. Despite all the different games that have been created since these classics first appeared, many retro games remain just as fun to play today. A number of indie developers have decided to help these games transition into the current generation by bringing the classics back… with some twists.

In 1984, a Russian man by the name of Alexey Pajitnov created a game that had players build walls, brick by colorful brick. It was a never-ending task: the wall got smaller as you kept going, and if you let it get too high, you lost. It seems like an unrewarding, Sisyphean task, and yet the game became a hit, selling over 70 million copies around the world as of 2009 (according to one Guardian article). The game, of course, was Tetris.

Then in 2010, indie developer and web tinkerer David Kraftsow decided to remake this classic. Only instead of rotating the falling blocks to fit into the rising wall, in First-Person Tetris, the player rotates the world – the falling blocks remain fixed as the screen turns around them. A Night Mode removes the charming old TV and game system that the game is housed on, while Existential Crisis mode zooms in on the piece in play. It may all sound easy but see how long you can keep going until you become too dizzy to hold down your lunch.

First-Person Tetris is just one of many remakes and re-imaginings of Tetris that have cropped up since the game first came out. The technology that existed in the 80s was very limited by today’s standards, and yet many of the earliest games remain the best known today. It’s no surprise that classic games hold a certain appeal for indie developers, dating from before triple A game companies grew to power. In a way, almost all games made at the start of video games were indie in spirit, made by people who liked making new things and saw the emerging technology of computers as an opportunity.

Some remakes take the concept and familiarity of the well-known games and amp them up using the improved capabilities of today’s technology. Radiangames’ Super Crossfire, for example, is Space Invaders on steroids. Just like in Space Invaders, Super Crossfire sends waves of enemies towards your lonely little ship. But unlike Space Invaders, the ship in Super Crossfire has the ability to warp between the top and the bottom of the screen. The game features a “massive upgrade system,” an upbeat techno soundtrack, and lots and lots of shiny explosions. It’s a new take on an old game and the seemingly small addition of warping from the bottom to the top gives the game a fresh perspective.

Then again, some indie studios eschew prettying up their classic remakes, opting instead to go retro all the way. Wizorb from Tribute Games doesn’t just keep the traditional Arkanoid feel, but it throws in RPG elements to boot. Wizorb combines the mechanics of Arkanoid with old-school RPG graphics and themes, creating a whole new, old-style experience. Fight enemies and boss monsters, purchase power-ups, and rescue princesses, armed with just your ball and paddle. Tribute knows that the draw of retro games is the… well, the retro aspect, and Wizorb mashes everything up into one nostalgic package.

Sometimes all it takes to spawn a remake is asking a question. For instance, what if Tetris used real physics? Then it would be Not Tetris, by Stabyourself. Not Tetris 2 and the original Not Tetris (now called Stack) look like regular Tetris but instead of rotating and landing in neat 90 degree angles and rows, the blocks react realistically to gravity. The Not Tetris 2 website describes it as being “like Tetris, but it’s not: It’s got all the upsides of Tetris and all the downsides of physics.”

Tough Guy Studios knows how to ask questions. Questions like “Why did the duck cross the road?” “How do the animals control time?” and “Why is this turkey being followed by three rats?’ The answers to these and lots more bizarre questions can be found in Time Ducks. Despite the strange and somewhat psychedelic nature of the trailer, Time Ducks is just a remake of Frogger, but with less frogs and more time manipulation. Instead of helping a frog across the street, you help a duck, a bear body-builder, the aforementioned turkey with rats, and possibly Justin Bieber. Also unlike in Frogger, Time Ducks gives you the power to control time. Rewind time to help get past a tricky spot, or fast-forward for a score boost. As Tough Guy Studios puts it, “Time Ducks is not for those who are chronologically challenged!”

But why remake just one game when you can put an entire lineup of retro classics into one game? Ms. Particle-Man, created by Pictobots, is “a modern take on retro-style video games.” The game use simplified graphics and a classic soundtrack to accompany gameplay that is reminiscent of old games. Ms. Particle-Man draws inspiration from a whole lot of classic games, including “Pong, Breakout, Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Pitfall!, and Super Mario Bros.” There is even a one-of-a-kind arcade cabinet built specifically for the game.

In a way, classic games can be compared to classic literature: classics like Tetris, Arkanoid, and Space Invaders have withstood the test of time, and are still enjoyed by many years after they were released. And just like with classic books, remakes and spin-offs will continue to be created as independent (and licensed) developers look to the past for inspiration. But it’s not like classic literature gets the same kinds of remakes, right? Many people call retro remakes “clones” and ask whether a remake of a classic even be considered a game or just a rip-off. You can decide that issue on your own. I’ll be over here reading through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies while I wait for the next good Tetris remake.

Indie Darlings is BeefJack’s fortnightly look at the world of indie games. More editions exist beyond this link.

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