This post is going to be primarily about the above game, Super Mutant Alien Assault, but will also reflect on other retro titles with similar design choices. The spin on personality fits me, and might fit many of you too, but your mileage may vary.
If school has taught me one thing, it’s how to pull together an idea and give it some merit rather quickly. In a recent class I gave a written and visual presentation as to why I think it would be beneficial for my “company” to give Anook.com funding to develop a mobile app, citing the ridiculous profit margins the gaming and social network industries have obtained. This company is fictional, of course, but something an executive might have to propose one day. I managed to pull the writing portion off last week at the drop of a hat, and got my visual presentation in earlier this evening. It’s interesting how I can look at an assignment, and besides instantly wanting to avoid putting in the effort to complete the task, I find that I will formulate an idea quickly and then the pieces just fall together. Granted, this doesn’t have to be super technical or specific, and that’s my field of expertise.
Similarly, I think that the reason gaming is so difficult for one to pin down reasons why they enjoy it, or more specifically what kinds of games they enjoy comes down to a gaming personality. Many members of the blogosphere have posted test results or formulated their own opinions on the subject, myself included. However, I think there is a more philosophical way of looking at it, which I shall propose now.
The reason why games with a retro feel to them are successful isn’t necessarily because of the lower cost of entry — though stylized or pixellated graphic engines tend to be less costly to implement. I believe it comes down to a mechanical feel, something that you can’t really describe on paper. When playing a game like Super Mutant Alien Assault, or SMAA for short, you’re brain is recalling muscle memories from the past. It’s not only that retro visual appeal that is teasing your nostalgia sensors, no, your muscles are recoiling in joy because they remember exactly what they need to do. Finding that special mechanical feel is something that not all games can accomplish, and isn’t necessarily limited to retro styled games — look no further than Diablo for your prime example of a fluidity that is captivating.
Games were special when you initially started playing them. Each new experience was delicious, and you couldn’t get enough. This is part of the problem with today’s society, in that we get that head rush from having the extra money to blow on some desired possession. We want that new game and our dopamine sensors will love us for it — and look it’s on sale! — so of course we give in for that rush. Shortly thereafter, the rush is gone and we want it again. The cycle is on-going.
What’s next? Well, this is leading into a separate point that I don’t really want to get into, but the paragraph above is why I think gamers don’t really know what they want. Clamoring for certain features or mechanics and then once they have them they complain that it’s too similar to something else or not exactly what they wanted. Then they move onto a new game or new mechanic, chasing that purchase high, but also yearning for that muscle memory of old.
I probably sound like I’m on drugs at this point, but if you’re still with me, let’s finish this thought out.
I purchased the game, SMAA because it was described as being “The Citizen Kane of Super Crate Box Clones,” and that’s direct from their Steam page. If you don’t know what Super Crate Box is, it’s an arcade styled retro game that is reminiscent of the original Mario Bros (Not Super Mario Bros) and made by Vlambeer, who are currently developing Nuclear Throne. It’s free on Steam, so you can download it for yourself. I had that original Mario Bros on my NES, and man I spent hours trying to get further and further in that game. It had no save points, it was truly “get as far as you can with the lives you have and good luck.” Technology wasn’t there for randomization though, and that’s what you get when you jump to Super Crate Box.
SMAA takes things a step further, giving the retro graphics a slight tune up (probably 16-bit) and keeps the action fast paced. Weapons are randomized just like in SCB, however there are additional features such as explosives, sidearms, and power ups. Enemies are unlocked as you progress and added in randomly, along with the levels being random. Some levels also have secondary goals besides killing everything, like carrying fuel to a location and dropping it off. Nothing too crazy, but it makes for a completely different experience each time. Having unlockables adds to the fun. Honestly, it’s that Mario game on steroids, and that’s fantastic for my gaming psyche.
Here’s some gameplay. You’ll notice I seem confused at times because it was literally the second run I made, and I was fumbling with the controls. Still, it’s a fantastic game and great for rogue-like and arcade fans alike.
Did I mention I love the soundtrack?
As I mentioned previously, I am still doing my daily runs and uploading them to YouTube. You’ll only see them on posts when I manage to write one, so you’ll have to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss anything!
Horrible start with Random Horror. Managed to keep it going but no health drops didn’t help anything. Got sniped.