A Return to Form

Since the inception of video games in the early 70s, giant steps forward have been made in terms of technology. From higher resolution graphics and advanced physics engines to massive multiplayer capabilities developers are always trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Some developers, however, decide to take a step back and create a new gameplay experience using tried and true methods that have been around for decades.

This is easier said than done, however, and it’s a lot more than just copying old ideas. Without enough innovation, developers risk being labeled as lazy unoriginal creators. When yacht club games first launched their Kickstarter back in early 2013, Shovel Knight’s art style alone was enough to excite fans. Hoping to raise 75,000 over the course of a month Yacht Club instead amassed over 300,000. This is a common trend in the modern day of indie gaming. Through crowdsourcing, many devs end up with a far larger budget for their game than expected, and this can pose challenges of its own. If a developer’s expectations for their game differ too much from gamers’, then the audience can feel betrayed. This requirement for innovation seems only amplified by having to adapt a 75,000 dollar idea to 300,000 dollar expectations.

Using mechanics from successful retro games allows for big innovative ideas to be applied to a formula that’s established as fun and successful, even if it hasn’t been revisited in a while. Although Super Mario Bros. 2 seemed to have perfected the side-scrolling/overworld map formula decades ago, Shovel Knight’s usage of similar mechanics feels fresh and without compromise. Developers have the opportunity to create games today that deliver the type of anticipation that hasn’t been felt since someone’s childhood. The nostalgia that this generates means a game can not only target the gamers that remember similar retro games from their childhood but the younger audience of today as well. Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami is a whole different story. Using the visual style and sound design of retro classics, but a mature, intense, unrelenting gameplay style, unlike anything that came before it. 

This is a great example of an uncommon type of game. A game that is unique and original, but created from an outdated starting point. The design of older games lent themselves well to the intuitive controls and the game’s visual style. Dennaton Games knew however that the top down twin-stick shooting mechanics could be turned up to 11, creating a high-octane shooter with a punishing, yet never unfair difficulty level. While the developer could have focused solely on mechanics and created a 3D top-down shooter with extremely impressive graphics, they instead took a look at what mechanics from the past could establish a unique experience. The result was a game that feels both new and inspires a strong sense of nostalgia.


Mitch is an avid player of role playing games, first person shooters, and retro classics. Running NES to PC and everything in between Mitch loves looking into what makes games great, and how that has and will change from the past to the future. Console, handheld, puzzle, or adventure, it’s all about the game.