Retro Game Crunch

A game by Retro Game Crunch for PC and Mac, originally released in 2014.
Retro Game Crunch is a collection of seven retro-styled games inspired by the classics of the 8-bit era, and each offers a different gameplay experience and a different theme. The collection came into being as a result of a game jam. The developers created Super Clew Land over the course of 72 hours as part of the 24th Ludum Dare game jam in 2012, which was themed on evolution. From there, they decided to use Kickstarter to fund a development project where they would make additional games under limited time constraints.

The developers’ goal was to create six games in just six months, something that has been attempted to a greater or lesser degree by developers like Arkedo and Radiangames, but the twist here is that they gave the Kickstarter community an active role in the development process. Before starting each game, Kickstarter backers had the chance to vote on a theme, at which point the development team created a prototype within 72 hours. From there, Kickstarter backers were allowed to play the prototype and offer feedback while the developers polished the game into a final product.

At the end of the campaign, the developers released all seven titles as a single bundle. The bundle has a no-frills presentation, offering only a simple interface that allows players to cycle through each of the games and view their controls.

The final polished version of Super Clew Land made its way into the bundle as Super Clew Land Complete to separate it from its game jam progenitor. The game is an exploration-based metroidvania title, focusing on a little green creature named Clew who begins the game with a very limited moveset. He can only move to the left and right, and walking over a worm causes him to eat it.

Upon ingesting your first critter, a minigame begins, taking place within Clew’s stomach. Blue, green, and orange pellets slowly drop down, and players must direct them to the matching colored slots along the left, right, and top of the stomach. The minigame starts out very simply, with the player having a few seconds to direct the pellet to the proper location, or flush it out of the stomach by pressing DOWN. Waiting too long will cause the pellet to purge automatically. In later challenges, players must stack multiple pellets on top of one another in the proper order, and placing an incorrect color causes the entire stack to disappear.

Once you have successfully matched all of the colors in the stomach, Clew undergoes a transformation, molting from his former skin – which, as a nice touch, remains in the environment for the duration of the game – and grows feet. Clew’s new appendages allow him to jump up to 4x, opening up a large portion of the environment to exploration as he climbs out of his subterranean home to discover the world above. He still has no offensive abilities, so the player must be careful to steer him away from enemies and other dangers, as a single hit will kill him and return him to the most recent save point.

But even as you emerge from beneath the earth, you see areas that are off limits based on your current abilities. You see a flying creature move across the screen and into a spike-lined cave, and you soon encounter deadly pools of water. Accessing these new areas requires additional evolutions, accomplished by eating other non-enemy creatures spread around the environment.

While the evolution mechanic may invite comparisons to Enix’s E.V.O.: Search for Eden, the evolutions here are far less complex. Instead of evolving specific areas of the body to alter your stats, or evolving along a certain path to gain new abilities, Clew’s evolution is entirely linear. Once you have eaten enough worms to evolve and grow feet, the worms disappear. From there, you will find only frogs to consume, at which point you will grow fins that allow you to swim freely underwater.

Each evolution allows you to move into previously inaccessible areas, and a map shows which areas you have explored. Eventually, you gain the ability to break through certain blocks and even fly, opening much of the world to you. Flying is a bit of a challenge, as you must flap your wings near the apex of each vertical lunge, rather than tapping the button like crazy as in Joust. In addition, flying introduces an endurance meter, which may be sustained during flight by eating bananas floating in the air, and it also recharges slowly as long as you are standing on the ground.

Throughout your journey, you are tasked with finding eight gems, allowing you to open up the path to the game’s final (and only) boss. Many of these gems are simply locked behind barriers that require evolution to reach. However, there are several that require the player to complete complex challenges, including one inspired by the Veni Vidi Vici challenge from VVVVVV, albeit somewhat less difficult. While you are free to take your time and explore as much of the world as your evolved form will allow, these added challenges are time-based and required in order to complete the game.

The game’s boss fight is challenging, particularly given the fact that this is the only time where Clew has the ability to cause damage to another creature. The player must make expert use of his skills to defeat the monster, including his jumping, flying, and drilling abilities, while avoiding a variety of attacks.

The theme of End of Line is “immortal, learn to die”. The game is an action puzzler starring a blue robot that is automatically repaired whenever it is destroyed. However, destroying yourself is the only way to continue from one level to the next, so the challenge centers on finding ways to terminate the automated repair bots in each level and then smashing yourself to bits.

While your penultimate goal is the destruction of the repair bots, often you must first use them to your advantage. For instance, you may destroy various pieces of machinery in the environment, drawing one of the repair bots out. Once a bot completes its repairs, it will make its way to the nearest landing pad, potentially activating a switch for you when it touches down.

There are also robots that do not perform repairs, but simply patrol the environment, and these too can be used to your advantage to shove boxes or activate switches. You may also destroy these robots while they are standing on a switch in order to keep it held down, but doing so will also summon the nearest repair bot to come in for a rescue. Also, when your own bot is destroyed, it is repaired on a special platform, allowing you to kill yourself and let the robots transport you to a new location.

Per puzzle conventions, you can push boxes to activate switches, and layers of complexity are added as you move from one level to the next. Your bot can move freely in any direction, and he can perform a dash maneuver to move quickly in short bursts or to kill a robot. Switches are used to activate spikes and conveyor belts, which sometimes allows you to move objects remotely.

In later levels, robots are introduced that are able to create ice platforms over the water, and you can use these platforms to your advantage as well, walking along them to reach solid platforms, or standing on them until they melt in order to destroy yourself. Eventually, you acquire an ice suit of your own that gives you the ability to run across the water and kill ice-based bots.

A fire suit is available as well, which lets you walk through otherwise deadly flame spouts, kill fire-based enemies, and melt metal blocks. Fire bots are immune to the ice suit, just as ice bots are (oddly) immune to fire. Eventually, you’ll find yourself completing complex puzzles that involve pushing prisms around to redirect deadly lasers (and using boxes to block them), while still making use of the fire and ice elements.

Since death is a requirement for progress, the game bucks the trend of resetting the puzzle upon your death. However, if you do find yourself truly stuck, there is a button that allows you to return the puzzle to its original configuration and start again.

In addition to simply progressing from one level to the next, the game contains a secondary goal… Spread throughout the levels are black machines, and if you manage to destroy them all, you can access a new final level and an alternate ending. A counter shows how many of the 32 total machines you have destroyed when you move from one environment to the next.

The theme of GAIA-ttack is “you are the level”. Here, you play as a critter whose world is being exploited for resources by a group of meanies led by an eye patch-wearing sky pirate. Each of the four environments stars a creature that is themed to that area, with magic powers that make use of the nature of their environments. For instance, the green forest creature can summon thorny vines up from the ground to destroy enemies, whereas the blue ice creature summons ice that freezes enemies. This concept is shelved for multiplayer, where up to 4 players can hop into a single game in offline co-op, each controlling a different creature with its respective environmental powers.

The game is an odd mix of beat ‘em up and vertical ascent platforming. Stages auto-scroll upward with an environment-themed danger rising up from below that will kill you – or your enemies – instantly when touched. In certain areas, the screen is static and the player must destroy oil pumps and kill all of the enemies dropping in from the top of the screen, at which point the screen will resume its upward scroll. While scrolling, the player must make continuous platform jumps to move upward while simultaneously fighting enemies.

In addition to their magic powers, each of the furry protagonists has a short range punch that can be used to take down enemies on either side of them, as well as and upward swipe that allows them to attack enemies above. While in the air, players can press DOWN and ATTACK to perform a dive bomb maneuver, while pressing UP and ATTACK strikes upward, and also propels the character upward slightly, allowing players to extend their height above the standard 2x variable jump. You may also jump on an enemy’s head to stun it momentarily, although this is rarely required outside of some of the boss encounters.

Each level ends with a fight against the pirate aboard his airship. While the boss and location are the same each time, the pirate gains new abilities each time you fight him, making him increasingly difficult to defeat. In addition, after sustaining a certain amount of damage, the pirate will summon other enemies to support him, with more powerful creatures being summoned in later levels. In your first encounter, you can basically just swipe the pirate in the face over and over until he drops. Later, however, you’ll need to stun him or attack him from above as he will start blocking your attacks and becoming more aggressive, eventually gaining the ability to shoot at you.

Enemies come in several varieties, but most of them have simple behavior patterns, per beat ‘em up standards, and you can repeatedly punch enemies to string together a multi-hit combo. You can also knock enemies back into each other or into barrels for additional damage. Early on, enemies drop into the environment by parachute, and you can punch them out of the sky while they’re descending. Starting with the second level, enemies begin entering from the sides of the screen, flying in with hang gliders that move in a wave formation, making them tougher to hit.

In the beginning, you’ll be facing off against smaller popcorn enemies that drop with a couple of swipes, and a few larger ones that take more hits to bring down. These enemies drop down onto platforms and then run off the edges or run back and forth, waiting for you to slap them in the face until they die. Later, you’ll face enemies that can jump up to higher platforms and cross gaps, allowing them to chase you around the screen, and eventually you’ll encounter enemies that can fire muskets and shoot cannonballs at you from a distance.

Musket fire can actually harm other enemies as well, occasionally letting you lure a baddie into destroying his friends for you, and cannonballs can be knocked back at the enemy, potentially taking him down, along with any other creatures in its path. New enemy types are introduced in each of the four levels, requiring players to pay attention and use their understanding of enemy behaviors to fight them, and avoid their attacks while completing platforming challenges.

Enemies come in one of three colors: purple, yellow, and red. There are also barrels spread around the environment in each of these three colors. Destroying a purple enemy or barrel simply adds to your point total, whereas yellow ones drop magic orbs that bounce around the environment, and red ones drop hearts that float slowly upward. In any case, you have a limited time to collect these pickups before they disappear. Grabbing a heart restores one unit of health to your 3-heart meter. Grabbing a magic orb allows you to cast your ground effect magic spell, and you can stock up to three of these as well. Magic spells have a moderate range and will even extend upward and downward to nearby connecting platforms.

Every so often you will encounter a lantern, and lighting it acts as a checkpoint. If you die, you return to the most recent checkpoint, but your score is reset to zero. Players are free to continue from where they left off during the same gameplay session (there are no save points), and their total scores and completion times are recorded at the end of the game and posted to online leaderboards (in single player only). New environmental challenges are added from level to level as well, including 1-way and falling platforms, some of which make it more difficult to reach these checkpoint lanterns.

The theme of Paradox Lost is “can’t stop time traveling”. While the game doesn’t actually feature uncontrolled time travel, it does require that players move through three different time periods (past, present, and future) in order to progress. This is the most ambitious title in the collection and also the least straightforward, as it features a sprawling open world with metroidvania-style progression, with the added complexities involved in navigating the world by moving into different time periods.

Things start out simply enough as you begin the game in an open area with just the ability to move left and right, duck, and initiate a 2x variable jump. You don’t have a weapon, so you must avoid any enemies you encounter, and your options for moving forward are limited. Soon, you encounter your first save point, themed as a sundial, and face off against a boss.

When you enter the boss room, a person called “Gunbearer” threatens you and then opens fire. Since you have no offensive abilities, all you can do is run and jump to dodge these projectiles. However, the room is lined with crystals that deflect the enemy’s fire back at him, allowing you to lure the boss into damaging himself. Eventually, this results in death for the Gunbearer and a free gun for you, allowing you to destroy enemies and blocks, and therefore move into new territory.

Enemies are very much inspired by those found in Metroid, with bulbous creatures that crawl around the outside edges of floating platforms, narrow creatures that hang from the ceiling and drop down as you pass, and pools of goo that spawn an infinite supply of flying enemies that rise up to your position on the Y axis and then dart straight toward you. Per Metroid standards, players can use these infinitely spawning enemies to farm for health restoratives. Killed enemies will occasionally drop hearts, allowing you to increase your health from a paltry 30 HP to a maximum of 99.

Soon, you acquire a “slide soul” that gives you the ability to slide along the ground and move through narrow passages – and attack enemies along the way – allowing you to reach some new areas. This also gives you the ability to reach your first prisoner, who is stranded at the end of a long narrow tunnel. These prisoners (28 in total) are spread throughout the environment and must be sent back to their own time in order to heal the world, but you can’t do so until you acquire an upgrade for your Temporal Gun.

The charge upgrade allows you to shoot prisoners and send them back in time, and this effect also works on you. By charging your weapon and standing in front of a crystal, you can ricochet your shot and hit your own body, transporting yourself through time. From here, things get confusing quickly…

Until this point, your navigation of the world was done spatially, and gaining a new ability – like shooting boxes or sliding on the ground – allowed you to walk back to a previous location and use that ability to access a new area. A Metroidvania-style map shows your progress, marking off rooms you have explored and dividing the world into color-coded areas. Soon after acquiring the time travel ability, however, you perform numerous time jumps in succession, warping through time periods, making small spatial movements, and then warping again. You make minor progress through disconnected points in a number of time periods, making it difficult to figure out where you need to go next in order to make progress.

Eventually, you gain additional powerups that allow you to control which direction in time you’re transported, giving you a bit more command over your fate and allowing you to explore more freely. However, things are still complicated by the fact that you aren’t able to warp to a new time period if there is a solid object where you will be standing, so players must do a bit of trial and error experimentation to find their proper position in relation to the crystal… and this is used in a few time/space puzzles where you must shoot a crystal and then dash away quickly to get to a new location before the ricochet hits you.

More straightforward are the powerups that give you new ways in which to tackle the environment. For instance, you gain the ability to freeze enemies and use them as platforms Super Metroid-style. You also gain a wing-assisted double jump, the ability to slide through certain (usually hidden) boxes, and the ability to make an invincible copy of yourself that repeats your actions from a few moments ago, allowing you to attack enemies remotely or double-down on your firepower.

The game’s nonlinearity means that you don’t need to acquire all of the powerups in order to beat the game. In fact, unless you really spend some dedicated time seeking them out, you won’t even encounter most of the time prisoners along the game’s “main” path. To that end, merely reaching and defeating the final boss can be done rather quickly, whereas fully exploring the large environment across its three time periods is a significantly more daunting task. Completing the game reveals your playtime and completion percentage.

The theme of Wub-Wub Wescue is “music influences the level”. In this puzzle platformer, you control a pug who must rescue his master from headhunters through a series of single-screen challenges. This is a much more technical experience than the other action games in the collection, as the pug moves slowly and has a 1.5x nonvariable jump with no way to alter his trajectory in the air. The player is required to make precision jumps to avoid enemies and obstacles, and falling from even a moderate height spells death for the pooch.

The dog has no offensive abilities, save for a bark that can spook bats away from their perches. However, spread throughout each single-screen environment are color-coded phonographs, and collecting a record from one of these devices allows the dog to impact enemies of the corresponding color.

When the dog collects a record, he turns his back to the screen and wags his tail as he listens to the tune, and the record is added to his inventory. From there, he can sing (bark?) the song from any point in the level, as long as he is standing on solid ground. The record icon slowly disappears for the duration of the song’s effect, and it is then removed from your inventory.

Most early levels require the player to collect a single record in order to complete a challenge and reach the end… at which point the headhunters drag your master off into the next level, per Donkey Kong standards. Later levels require players require the player to return to phonographs to collect another record, and some levels have multiple phonographs of different colors, requiring players to grab a new record while the effect of the old one is still in play.

New enemies and phonographs are added in each chapter. Snakes are too tall to jump over normally, but a green record allows you to put them to sleep and walk safely past them. Blue records give you some control over bats that otherwise swoop down to kill you when you walk near them… unless you bark to scare them away. Using the blue record causes all of the bats in the environment to land on the ground, and touching one will cause the bat to fly you up or down to a new location that you could not otherwise reach. A brown record causes monkeys to throw you across the screen, often slamming you into a wall – but leaving you unharmed – or sometimes tossing you into the hands of another monkey who throws you again.

There is also a yellow record that is introduced in the first chapter, and it lets you slow down time. This effect is often used to allow you to pass between volleys of arrows or make jumps between disappearing platforms, but sometimes its use is entirely optional. For instance, many of the later levels feature caves with boulders that drop down or bounce around the environment. The yellow record makes it easier to avoid the rocks, but using it isn’t strictly necessary if the player moves quickly and remains aware of the boulders’ behaviors.

The player navigates the environment by jumping onto floating platforms and climbing ladders. Occasionally, the player must use a record, move up onto a platform to unroll a rope ladder, go and collect another record, and then use the ladder as a shortcut to progress further into the level. Throughout the game, the headhunters beat their drums and you can use the timing of the beats to determine when platforms are going to disappear and reappear. Platforms – and their corresponding outlines – pulse along with the drumbeats to help you keep time. Balloons are added in the final chapter, allowing the pug to make some pretty daring leaps, auto-engaging the balloon just before he hits the ground.

The theme of Brains & Hearts is “Einstein’s dreams”. This is a card game for one or two players, taking place within Albert Einstein’s dream. One player controls a robot (brains), and the other takes on the role of Einstein himself (heart). The robot always goes first because he has no heart.

This is one of only two games in the collection with overt tutorialization (the other being Shūten), as the rules of the game require some explanation, and experimentation on the part of the player is required to fully understand what is going on.

The goal is to get a straight, using the cards that you have played, as well as those played by your opponent. You can get three in a row yourself, but often you’ll have one or two cards, and then continue the straight into your opponent’s played cards, and then sometimes back to your own. All cards in the straight are then removed from play and added to the player’s score – indicated by tug of war-style line in the center of the screen – and the goal is to capture all of your opponent’s cards.

Only three cards are visible at a time, although they may be stacked as well, and the player has the option to lock a card for one turn to keep his opponent from stealing it (and also prevents the player from using it in a straight on that turn). Cards are numbed 2 through 7, with a “W” card acting as the ace, taking the part of either a 1 or an 8 depending on where it is used in the straight. The order of the cards makes a difference as well, as the player can create a straight by lining up ascending or descending cards in adjacent slots, or across to the opponent’s played cards, but cannot skip over cards.

If you don’t have a good hand, you can roll a die which gives you a chance to change one of your cards. Sometimes, you get nothing and lose your turn, but sometimes you get the ability to add or subtract a card’s value by 1. Also, in the single player game, the player cannot see the cards in their opponent’s hand, but due to the nature of offline co-op, 2P matches allow both players to view each other’s cards before they are played.

The theme of Shūten is “the end”. The game is a shmup set in Feudal Japan and features a fellow named Owari whose village has been destroyed by warring gods, and so he grabs his sword and sets out on a mission of revenge. The game supports 1P or 2P co-op in a battle against ninjas, oni, and various magical creatures, as well as giant boss monsters.

Unlike traditional shmups, you start the game without any kind of projectile weapon. Instead, you have a sword that allows you to slash enemies when they get nearby, as well as deflect projectiles back at them. However, by charging your weapon, you can leap into the air and attack a nearby enemy, stealing its power.

A short tutorial explains the basics, and then you set out into the world to wreak vengeance on everything you see with a variety of stolen weapons, including the dirk that allows you to fire straight forward, arrows that hone in on enemies, throwing stars that allow you to attack enemies in front and behind, wide boomerangs that move slowly but can collect treasure, bombs with a large blast radius, and a somewhat unwieldy spiked ball and chain. Projectiles fire continuously as long as you hold the button, but players who don’t mind doing a bit of button mashing can achieve faster firing rates on their own.

Defeating enemies reveals coins and gold bars which disappear after a few seconds if uncollected. These are sometimes dropped by individual enemies, but often you must defeat an entire wave to receive a reward. Collecting money allows you to purchase armor and upgrades between levels in the shop.

Weapon upgrades grant larger and/or more plentiful projectiles that cause more damage. Armor allows players to sustain an additional hit in each level, which is important since the player only starts with three lives, and getting killed in a level returns the player to the most recent checkpoint with just his sword, leaving him to acquire another weapon.

Armor comes in two varieties… a one-time use armor that disappears when you take a hit, and permanent armor, which still disappears after a single hit, but you start each new level – and each respawn – with this armor intact. More costly armor upgrades allow you to sustain additional hits without losing your projectile of choice, and you can purchase 1UPs as well, giving you more chances to respawn in each level when you do get killed.

The store slowly fills with new wares as you make progress, eventually allowing you to purchase upgrades for all weapon types, increasing in price with upgrade. You will eventually gain the ability to purchase skill upgrades as well, represented by a flag that you carry into battle. These include increased movement speed, a stronger slash, a faster firing rate, and the ability to summon crows for support.

A world map allows players to select levels in any order they like, with new levels being revealed after others have been completed. Each level shows its difficulty, ranging from one to three stars, as well as the kinds of projectiles that may be found in the level, including a “?” for projectile types that you have yet to encounter. Players are free to replay previous levels as much as they like to farm for gold and buy better upgrades. You retain all collected gold when you are killed, and you start each level with your maximum armor and lives, so there is no risk for repeated play.

Enemies move in traditional shmup formations, with more money dropped by defeating tougher enemies or full waves, and gold bar stacks being dropped upon defeating bosses. The power-stealing mechanic allows the player to swap weapons as much or as little as he likes within the level, opting for wide spray shuriken when the screen is filled with enemies, or the strong but narrow dirk when taking on powerful foes and bosses. However, some sections are designed with only certain enemy types – notably boss encounters – only allowing specific weapons to be acquired within that area. Since projectile power is determined by purchased upgrades, players must remain aware of when it is beneficial to switch to another weapon type versus holding onto what they have.

Retro Game Crunch was developed by Shaun Inman, Rusty Moyher, and Matt Grimm under the label of Retro Game Crunch. The team worked together on Super Clew Land for the 24th Ludum Dare game jam in 2012, and then initiated a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a project that would allow them to create six additional games under some of the limited constraints provided by game jams.

Shaun Inman is the developer behind The Last Rocket, Flip’s Escape, and Horror Vacui 2 on iOS. Rusty Moher previously worked on the multiplayer iOS game Bloop, as well as Box Cat and Shaaark!. Matt Grimm worked with Shaun as the composer and sound designer on Flip’s Escape, and he is also the world record holder for Burger Time on the NES.