Yahtzee reviews Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Castle Crashers, and the retro games in general.
Nostalgia is like stuffing your cheeks with cocaine-infused marbles in that it makes you say stupid things. Of course Fantasy World Dizzy isn't the best game ever, don't be so bloody idiotic. It had, like, five colours, and the main character was a blob on some kind of permanent caffeine buzz. The flaws of our childhood amusements disappear behind an insidious rose tint, because we associate them with a happier, innocent time before our first damning locker room stiffy. The current popularity of retro and casual gaming that form the foundation stones of the Xbox Live Arcade and equivalents indicate that there exists a substantial niche for games that capitalize on mudded memories of past times, two of which I'd like to ransack for you today.
First up, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, a 3D remake of an old NES game that I've never played, because mine was a Commodore 64 household. But apparently it was about Inspector Gadget battling Hitler, so presumably, Nintendo was somehow getting their ideas from the things I drew on the backs of my school exercise books. The 3D aspect, however, is completely cosmetic, with the gameplay stubbornly riding economy class on the 2D plane. And even though I’ve never played the NES original, I can tell that Rearmed is an utterly faithful remake, because it’s console-stompingly frustrating!
Which brings me to the first counterpoint of nostalgia, that the majority of obsolete retro gaming tropes died out for a good fucking reason. The lives system seems like a good place to start. Lives are a holdover from the days of arcade gaming, when each one symbolized another shiny coin to be begged and whined for from your unfeeling mum. They were made obsolete when it was realized that it made for better home entertainment if any player could finish a game rather than just the obsessive psychotic ones.
Rearmed is determined to keep it retro though, so if you get deadified one too many times in a mission you have it start it all over again, in what amounts to little more than arbitrarily slamming a button marked, "Lengthen Gameplay; Raise Blood Pressure". And when you're hurling yourself through space with no ability to maneuver in the air, with patented insta-death spike and water traps lurking just offscreen like giggling trolls under bridges, deadification is inevitable.
Strangely for a 2D platformer, you can't jump, at least not from the start. So if you find yourself with a waist-high obstacle to deal with, you have to use your grappling hook to swing over it. Which strikes me as a needlessly roundabout solution. I guess if you go to all the trouble of chopping your arm off and jamming a winch on the end, then you'd want to make the most of it, but you'll no doubt experience some regrets when you're trying to hug your children or finger your wife. And call me set in my ways, but surely it would be more intuitive to make pressing the button to shoot the grappling hook also detach it rather than retract and leave you dangling helplessly on the ceiling like a bionic piñata?
In short, the grappling and swinging controls handle like they were installed by someone reading the assembly instructions upside down. But the question this all raises is whether a remake should just blithely parrot the gameplay mechanics of the original or take the opportunity to improve upon them with our enlightened future space technology. Well, the second one, obviously, you thick berk. There's nothing inherently sacred about game designs from the olden days; they're just old. And wrinkly. And fat. And no one but the utterly depraved wants to sleep with them.
Our second game is Castle Crashers, which isn't trying to openly ape any previous game but does nonetheless, namely Golden Axe and everything from the same medieval fantasy, sword-swinging, bikini-wearing subgenre of 16-bit side-scrolling beat 'em ups. But this time coming to us by way of the works of Jhonen Vasquez.
In the classic tradition, you and one or more friends pick a character each and rampage down linear corridors, stopping every now and again to twat multiple attackers across the bonce every time they try stand up, until a big, flashing, pointing hand signals that your table is ready at the next monster party. So far, so standard. The appeal lies in exaggerated, cartoony graphics, truly imaginative set pieces and a wonderfully dark sense of humour, which will probably be enough to get most people through all the muck I'm about to rake up.
While the little, big-headed characters are fun to look at, in big fights with lots of similarly-sized chaps, it's easy to lose sight of the one you're controlling. And this becomes doubly unfair in big boss fights, when the big boss's main strategy is to conceal your character's location behind their mountainous flab. At least in Golden Axe, you could play as the Amazon lady and navigate by her unfeasible boobies. This is like watching midget identical twins wrestling and trying to remember which one you put money on.
Also, while Bionic Commando is a 2D game presented in full 3D for absolutely no bloody reason, Castle Crashers is trying to pull the old fast one of fake 3D gameplay in 2D graphics. You have to be on pretty much the same vertical plane as an enemy to hit them, and the game will often leave you furiously dicing empty air while baddies stand two pixels into the distance laughing and flicking peanuts at your face.
So to summarize in three quick points: a hilarious little romp, enjoy it with a chum or two, would have played better in 3D.
To paraphrase my first statement, nostalgia is a mouthful of balls. Children will like anything, the stupid, diminutive cunts, and you weren't any different. Games - or, should I say, the potential for games - has only gotten better as technology advances in indirect proportion to the worsening of your memory. When the gaming kids of today become the hairy, whinging twentysomethings of the future, they'll be declaring that Halo 3 was miles better than a game of interstellar bum pirates on the astral thought planes of the universal overmind, and they'll be just as wrong then as you are now. I played both Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Mario Sunshine before I played Ocarina of Time and Mario 64, and I thought the first two were better in every buggering way. Drink down that burnsauce, fat boy. Also, I think Hitler was right!
- Most definitely does not think Hitler was right: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw (phew)
- So it was called Rearmed because he's got a bionic arm, holy shit I just got that
- No-one but the utterly depraved seems to want to sleep with me either
Bionic Commando: Rearmed