Thanks to increasingly powerful technology, video games have never looked better. Indeed, the verisimilitude on display can be downright eerie at times. But there’s something to be said for the look and feel of “vintage” video games. Much like hand-drawn animation can have a certain je né sais quoi lacking in CGI animation, the seemingly sub-par artwork and animation found in 8-bit and 16-bit video games can have its own charm and cleverness.
While plenty of game developers are striving to make the hottest, best-looking games around, others are looking back to yesteryear for inspiration, and honestly, the games those latter developers are making look just as cool, inventive, and groundbreaking as any “modern” game. Case in point, Starr Mazer and Children of Morta.
Starr Mazer is a blend of two seemingly disparate genres, point-n-click adventure (à la Space Quest) and shoot ‘em up (à la R-Type and Gradius), or as the developers put it: “Starr Mazer blends two classic genres, the Point-and-Click Adventure and Classic-style Shoot ‘Em Up, into a retro-sexy sci-fi epic with modern design sensibilities, open-middled gameplay and RPG elements.”
That’s a pretty tall order, but looking at the trailer as well as the conceptual artwork and development materials, it seems pretty accurate. In the game, you play ace pilot Brick M. Stonewood, captain of the “Starr Wolf,” who wakes up 130 years in the future. The galaxy has become a much darker, more violent place, and Brick travels its most remote parts while trying to eke out a living as a mercenary. Naturally, he’s just the guy to be the next galactic hero.
I must say, I love everything I’ve seen about this game. It’s delightfully retro, but with a complexity in how you develop Brick as a character that’s much more reminiscent of modern games. But the animation and artwork, the soundtrack (which could potentially feature the likes of Arcade High, C-Jeff, and Makeup & Vanity Set)… it all just screams “nostalgia” in the most awesome ways possible. Again, from the developers:
The aesthetics are key to the era of media Starr Mazer strives to evoke. In that time, art was forged despite limitations and beauty crafted in 16×16 pixelated tiles. From this we have embraced a style that is not just nostalgia, but a representation of a period of time in gaming. Our artists have managed to imbue the essence of that generation into the game. The art in Starr Mazer isn’t something that could easily run on a 16-bit processor, but it looks like what you remember those games looking like the first time your cathode ray tube blasted the RF input out of the most advanced gaming technology of its time.
The developers are currently trying to raise $160,000 by February 21 via Kickstarter, and are nearly half-way to their goal. Supporters will get copies of the game when it’s released in April 2016, as well as access to beta testing, posters, soundtracks, and even an NPC of their own design (depending on how much they contribute).
Children of Morta
Children of Morta tells the story of the Bergson family, who have long been tasked with protecting the sacred Mount Morta. However, an ancient evil has infested the mountain, corrupting its land and creatures, and — natch! — it’s up to the Bergsons to venture into the mountain and vanquish the evil. The developers describe it as “a story-driven hack ‘n slash roguelike game,” which means lots of action as well as lots of exploring.
In the game, you play as the various members of the Bergson family, and each have their own talents and abilities. Some are skilled warriors, others are magicians. As is the case with Starr Mazer, the visuals of Children of Morta certainly conjure up older games, but the gameplay is far more advanced. For example: “Procedural narrative events blend within the main game story and provide you with options to explore this rich world as you wish. Different players playing Children of Morta will have different experiences while following the same main story.” I don’t think that would’ve been possible on the ol’ Sega Genesis.
But even on just a purely visual level, Children of Morta may look retro, but that doesn’t mean it’s not gorgeous. There’s a definite Miyazaki-esque look and feel to some of the designs and animations. And story-wise, the focus on the Bergsons as a family, and their established culture and traditions, provides a potentially interesting aspect to the game’s fantasy setting.
The Children of Morta developers are currently seeking to raise $65,000 by February 19, and are over 80% of the way to their goal. In addition to the game, sponsors can get exclusive in-game artifacts and bonuses, early access to the game, limited edition promo materials, and other goodies (depending on how much they contribute). The game has a planned release date sometime in October 2015.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.