For years, the console wars raged on the front of technical superiority, each platform one-upping the other in technical specs such as bits and polygons. But graphics can evolve only so far; faced with diminishing returns, software developers have hit an elastic barrier that has them shifting their focus from presentation to gameplay in a variety of new classics.
Though A-list publishers have capitalized on this trend — Konami's "Rebirth" line has seen new iterations in the Contra, Castlevania, and Gradius series, while Capcom's Mega Man 9 (soon to be followed by Mega Man 10) was considered one of the best platform games of the year — the "neo-retro" genre also represents an opportunity for independent developers who do not have the resources to produce a big-budget game.
One such title is VVVVVV, a Mac and PC game that features only a single action button, one that reverses the main character's gravity. Though this device has been seen in unique stages of other games, it is VVVVVV's distinguishing characteristic. With some wickedly challenging stages crafted around this mechanic, the game offers plenty of fun and replay value for only $15.
VVVVVV's infinite lives and frequent save points help alleviate frustration that could otherwise result from the inevitable and multiple deaths players will encounter. It's a refreshing change from modern, beautiful games that are a cakewalk.
Another new release promises a similar challenge, though the first may be in acquiring the rare product. Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril, like Mega Man 9, looks and plays like an old-school NES game — except instead of being a downloadable WiiWare game, Battle Kid is an NES game. A limited quantity of NES cartridges, compatible with authentic and clone Nintendo Entertainment System consoles, were released this week for $30. It's a tempting purchase, not only for the gameplay but for the experience of buying a new NES game in 2010, fifteen years after the last such release (and who knows how many until the next one?).
It's not unprecedented for a "dead" console to continue seeing new software: despite the Dreamcast console being officially cancelled by Sega in 2001, independent releases continued as recently as 2009 and are still available. But Battle Kid sets a new standard for pairing classic challenge with its original environment.