December 30, 2016 2 Comments
I was born in 1989, years after the NES was released in the United States. My first consoles were the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. My late-teenage years were spent playing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I know my older fans find this hard to believe, but I really don’t get nostalgic for the games they are nostalgic for. I got an Atari compilation on Steam for Christmas and committed gaming blasphemy by saying Asteroids didn’t hold up well. It doesn’t. The same basic concept has been done better many times since the 70s, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise. You can only give the classics points for innovating, but you have to be nostalgia-drunk to the point of delusion to think these games are relevant to play today. And yet, those older gamers tell me with a straight-face “games were BETTER back in my day and I won’t play that modern crap!” Well I assume it’s a straight face. Sometimes it’s hard to see past their neck-beards.
Anyway, to those increasingly decrepit Reagan-era gamers, how about some modern crap that looks like your old, crusty crap?
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (that sounds like something an anime fan would say while having a stroke) looks, sounds, and feels like an NES game so convincingly that it’s creepy. With the exception of the menus.. this is the most nit-picky complaint I’ve ever made.. that are not remotely 8-bit and ruin the retro-illusion every time you pause the game, this is the closest I’ve ever seen to an NES indie game that isn’t a ROM hack. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It was developed by Minor Key Games, the guys behind the horribly named You Have to Win the Game and Super Win the Game. These guys clearly have honed nostalgia-mimicry to a science as much as they have set back naming games by decades. Gunmetal Arcadia Zero’s utterly forgettable word-salad name hides a remarkable exercise in memory-baiting.
In fact, the game looks so much like Zelda II that I had people ask me if it was a ROM hack of it. It’s not. Nor is the game really a whole lot like Zelda II. It’s more like a classic Castlevania game in terms of enemy designs (including the annoying Medusa-head monsters that fly in with a sine-curve pattern), secondary weapons, and even getting resources by smacking candles. It’s admirable in the same way that a psychotic fan getting plastic surgery to look like their favorite pop-idol is: you want to tell them how impressed you are even if you question their sanity. Yet, I can’t really complain about how brazenly Minor Key ripped-off those classic games because it does it so well that their IP owners should honestly just think of hiring him to revive those dead licenses. I’m dead serious.
For example, anyone who played those old-timey Castlevania games surely complained about the insane recoil that would happen every time you took damage, often leading to a cheap falling-death. That doesn’t happen here, and it makes the experience more enjoyable. That’s how an indie developer should pay tribute to their childhood classics: you fix what was broken about them. Trying to also include the faults of those titles is misguided. Pay tribute to the spirit of them, not the execution. In that sense, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a bad translation) is one of the best old-school tributes ever. It rights a LOT of wrongs. Better play-control than the average game back then had. Better level design. More sophisticated upgrades. Okay, they left in a lives system, but hey, you’ve got to include that minimal-indie-badness somewhere.
Actually, it screws up a lot of stuff. None of the character or enemy designs are particularly memorable. The boss designs are so bland that I can’t help but wonder if the developer nerfed them so nobody would have time to process how lame they are. They’re total pansies. The average boss fight was over before I could count to ten. I’m not even kidding. But really, the whole game is kind of easy. One of my best friends told me he found the game too hard. Now I feel like giving him a pity hug because I annihilated Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a talentless underground metal band) with minimal effort. I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly skilled platform player, so that disturbs me a bit. I can’t imagine someone who was weened on the original Castlevania struggling at all with this. I game-overed once and mistook that moment as the game getting teeth. It didn’t. Maybe I just choose the right set of weapons. The Castlevania-esq axe that you throw in an upward arc was useful for taking out enemies at long-range and rendered the second-to-last boss such a pushover that I wonder if anyone making the game play-tested it. It was a bit on the pitiful side.
Even with the opportunity to play through it a second time selecting the opposite of two different classes, I don’t think I would want to, nor would I really want DLC for this. The story is boring and poorly written. Yea, maybe that’s a trope of the NES era, but Shovel Knight aspired to invoke those memories and it made more than one battle-hardened gamer tear up during its memorable ending. Given that Super Win’s story left a lot to be desired, I think Minor Key might want to consider bringing in writers. There’s no shame in that. Know what you’re good at and work with that. Minor Key has reached that upper-echelon of neo-retro game development. Their games work as both tributes and as stand-alone titles. A whippersnapper like me from a totally different generation can still appreciate the skill and craftsmanship on display here. And if I like it, I can’t imagine how NES fans will take to it. Their heads might pop, something we’re all fine with. Well, the developer will be fine as long as they plunk down money on their game first. Corpses don’t buy games. Probably.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is really fun, and not even despite the flaws. I would totally believe this is a lost NES game by a major developer that slipped through the cracks of history. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it makes me wonder what my life would be like if I had grown up during that 80s Nintendo boom. Would I be one of those die-hards that needs to think about baseball every time Nintendo announces a barely-changed sequel to one of their franchises or else risk putting someone’s eye out? Probably not because, well, vagina. But seriously, my generation needs games like this to remind us that gaming’s past is always a peek into gaming’s future. That a game like Gunmetal Arcadia Zero could come out in 2016 and still manage to capture the imaginations of multiple generations of gamers is kind of remarkable, isn’t it? No, your generation’s games aren’t better than mine, and mine aren’t better than today’s. Instead, let’s all take a step back and say, you know what, as long as stuff like this comes out, gaming is alright. Always has been. Always will be.
See, I can be sentimental.
$5.99 noted this is actually a prequel to a game scheduled for release in a couple months that will have a totally different play style in the making of this review. Okie doki.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.