• 8-Bit is Back, Baby! Part 1 of 2

    8-Bit is Back, Baby!

    You heard me. Itís back! Thought the days of blocky plumbers and pong were were gone? Too bad! Seems that the better our technology gets, the more nostalgic we get about its use. You can see the trend to retro in fashion, film and even food, but youíd think our games would be spared that trend. We now have the capabilities to create stunningly life-like visuals and game mechanics that mimic real-world physics near-perfectly, and what do we do with those skills? We make games like Fix-it Felix Jr.


    Donít get me wrong. I love old school games. My favourite video game ever is, and likely always will be, Pokemon Yellow. It was the perfect tie in from game to TV-Show, the character design was flawless and the gameplay was immersive and well thought out. Final Fantasy VII is largely regarded as the best title in the series, despite the characters looking like they were built with blocks by a 3 year old. There is a lot more to a video game than the Ďvideoí part.

    Even so, Iím not a huge fan of Fix-it-Felix. Itís repetitive and bland. Still, itís a quirky callback to the days of gaming yore and that makes it a great cross promotional tool - Wreck-it Ralph is all about the nostalgia factor. Itís the only truly 8-bit game on this list, and so itís first up for evaluation.

    The premise of the game is quite simple: you fix windows. Wreck-it Ralph climbs up to the top of the building, stomps a bit and a few windows shatter. The layout is grid style, meaning you can only move in the traditional NES D-pad directions (up, down, left, right), with an action button (hammer) to perform your repairs.

    As the game progresses, you get access to more windows (the grid gets a few more rows added on top of it until the whole screen is covered with windows) and a few obstacles like window sills and open window shutters. Each level will see more and more windows being broken and Ralph will get a bit faster too. You have to continually avoid Ralphís temper-tantrum-debris as you go about fixing the fallout of his initial outburst. Youíll also have to watch out for ducks - donít ask why ducks, they just are.

    Occasionally, the rocks that rain down will smash windows that youíve just repaired. Even less often, some kind samaritan will leave a pie on their sill for Felix (or Felix isnít as nice as we are led to believe and he just goes around stealing pies from peopleís window sills) and that will make him invulnerable for a few seconds.

    As a promotional tool, I see Fix-It! working really well - itís cute and ties into the story and overall theme of the movie itís promoting. As a stand-alone game, it works on different levels, appealing to casual game players and the golden-oldies fans who will associate it to their Game-and-Watch playing days.

    I donít see it sticking around in the top-charts for too long though. While the game is geared to true-to-era graphics and gameplay mechanics, the complete lack of a social element to game will make new players feel alienated - how many games in the App Store donít run through Game Center or have some sort of score sharing or challenge and invite sending capability?

    Overall, the game could be improved upon. The little, circle direction pad can sometimes be messy to work with, but you get used to it (itís hard to play an 8-bit game without tactile buttons). It wouldnít be hard to set up some sort of post-to-Facebook option for high scores, even though the level 10 cap is somewhat limiting to how high a score can go. Fix-it! relies on nostalgia and currency to get you to download the game, but it doesnít have any lasting elements to keep you playing. Still, itís free, so give it a go and gear up for some flashbacks.

    League of Evil

    The reason so many older games are still prized and hold up to modern comparisons is because they played to their strengths rather than overshadowing their flaws with brilliant graphics. Many games today can look quite fantastic with very little effort (relative to past game making ventures), and so can afford to cull the creative storylines, compelling dialogue and deeper character developments while still retaining saleability. Ye-olde-games didnít have that luxury: you either had great characters, story and gameplay or you didnít succeed. Most pixel arrangements will look quite similar when you get down to just 8 or 16 bits, so you need a lot more to identify yourself than looks alone.

    And thatís where League of Evil really shines. You donít get to know your protagonist, you donít really find out much about anything really, outside the fact that you must destroy the weapons-of-mass-destruction-making evil scientists and collect suitcases while you do it. The lack of story here is the story - youíre a soldier so you only know what you get told. I may be overthinking it, but I like to think that the game designers and story writers were vague on purpose.

    Gameplay is simple, a requirement of the genre. You have right and left movement buttons (still weird without actual buttons) that are spaced together enough to not require too much stretching of the thumbs but far enough that youíll rarely go back when you meant forward. You have an A and a B button, one jumps and the other attacks. Easy.

    Well Ö not really. You have the option to double jump, even in mid-air, so you can jump down a hole and then jump back out of it without touching a surface. Defying the laws of physics continues in that you can slide on the walls, hugging them and slowing your descent, and then being able to jump off of them too. Itís makes for a fast paced game that you can race through in early levels, but becomes increasingly challenging later on.

    You have to get to the end of the level where a League of Evil scientist awaits you. You use your attack button and slice him up, little blood pixels spray off and you beat the level. Along the way, you can pick up the briefcase thatís sometimes hidden in tricky-to-get-to locations. You'll also have to compete with your ghosts (a feature you can turn off if you like) - each time you die, your actions get recorded and playback when you replay the level, showing you where you stuffed up the first time round. Thereís also a star system, out of 3, that gauges the time you take to complete the level.

    While this is clearly not 8-bit, itís still a shout out to the old SNES and Gameboy Colour generation (of which I am a proud member). The graphics are a clear step forward from Fix-it!, but youíll find that the challenge in the game keeps you playing rather than the visuals. Each level is short enough that you wonít get bogged down in replaying them to try and get the briefcase or all 3 stars. Itís got enough levels to keep you entertained for quite a while too.

    Neither of these games feature a social element at all. You canít share your scores with your friends, send challenges or play against them in any way, which I see as a huge failing considering that social gaming is such a strength of the mobile platform. On their own, both have developed considerable traction, being a part of the top 100 free apps in the iTunes App Store at one point or other. Perhaps theyíve taken historical accuracy a little too far when they decided to ignore social gaming, but theyíve both done a great job at capturing a bygone era.

    Kelly Vieiraís message tone on her iPhone 5 is the Super Mario World coin collecting sound - itís a bit overused, but she likes it anyway. Maybe you should suggest a new tone for her to use by tweeting her @_kellycvieira.
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