Games of 2016: Old school

A

ll games plunder from the past, seeking inspiration both from the designers' favorite memories and from more recent innovations. But there are some games that are overt tributes to that which has gone before.

Some are little more than derivations, while others seek to connect players with beloved experiences from the past in new and unexpected ways. Like ...

Yooka-Laylee

... which is based on developer Playtonic's desire to resurrect the spirit of 17-year-old 3D adventure Banjo-Kazooie. The game's successful Kickstarter campaign was almost entirely about Rare's classic platformer, and the Playtonic team's connection with that venerable game.

And although, yes, it's a 3D platformer with cute characters making use of different abilities, the developers say they are determined to make "something fresh" with more complex character design and a greater integration of collectibles with gameplay.

Yooka-Laylee is the cumulation of 15 years’ worth of ideas and pent-up passion for 3D platforming," says Studio Head Gavin Price. "We’ve wanted to make this game for a long, long time and only now have circumstances aligned so that we could build a team and environment capable of bringing this decade-old daydream to life.

"Many of us have been making games together for more than 20 years, so creating this game has so far, for the most part, felt less like work and more like a ton of fun among good friends." Yooka-Laylee is coming out on all new console platforms, including Wii U.

While Banjo was very much associated with Nintendo in the 1990s ...

Mighty No. 9

... is a spiritual successor to the Mega Man platform games, which first appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Also backed by Kickstarter, Mighty No. 9 is produced by Keiji Inafune who worked on the original Mega Man as an artist and as a producer on some of its sequels.

Inafune has said in interviews that he wants to find a balance between maintaining classic game mechanics while ensuring there is enough modern gameplay so the game feels like it has evolved with the times.

"If you look at some of the older games from the 1980s, the original 8-bit and 16-bit games, they moved a bit slower," Inafune said in 2014. "With modern games, everything is sped up quite a bit, whether it's frequent save points or the actual game speed itself. So we wanted to focus on making the actual core gameplay loops a lot faster."

Mighty No. 9 is out on Feb. 12 for Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Windows PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Also heavily influenced by the golden age of Nintendo is ...

Hyper Light Drifter

... an action role-playing game that combines elements of The Legend of Zelda with top-down clicky combat as seen in Diablo. It has a detailed 16-bit pixelated look and a vast world of variety to explore.

Created by Alex Preston, its lead programmer is Beau Blyth (best known for Samurai Gun) with a soundtrack provided by Rich Vreeland (a.k.a. Disasterpiece).

Back in 2013, Preston launched a Kickstarter for Hyper Light Drifter, seeking $27,000. The campaign ended up with more than $600,000. This expanded the scope of the project significantly, causing a delay from its original 2014 release date. The project has also been affected by Preston's health. He lives with a heart condition.

"To repay this kindness, and fulfill our own expectations, we feel a burning need to communicate through the game and prove ourselves in multiple aspects," he says. "That our success on Kickstarter can translate into a good game. And that small teams can make big experiences, that personal stories — both in and out of the game — and strong artistic vision are things worthy of the attention of a larger audience; that sheer force-of-will can prevail in difficult situations."

Another game that has been affected by health issues is ...

Crashlands

... although it might better be said that the existence of the game is a result of health issues. Long story short, developer Sam Coster was making mediocre endless runners for mobile when he found out he had a serious form of cancer. He decided that he wanted to make a game that really defined who he was, so he and his brothers got to work.

Crashlands, due to be released on Jan, 21 for PC, is a zany game of exploration and Pokemon-style creature combat-capturing. It's also big on crafting, but developer Butterscotch Shenanigans is keen to point out that there is no inventory management.

"With the infinite inventory system you'll never spend time managing your stuff, so you can actually play the game instead of its bag slot UI," says Coster.

Below

... is a Capybara game that's been a long time coming. It's a top-down exploration rogue-like that procedurally generates the game's environments and populates its dark caves with enemies, traps, plants, resources and other objects.

It’s an Xbox One and PC game set in a mysterious world which offers extremes of scale against its tiny protagonist.

“With Below we’re simply handing the player a controller and saying ‘explore’," says Capybara's Nathan Vella. "We trust the player to go where they want, and to try to discover whatever they can. As they explore, they will most certainly die, but death isn’t purely a fail state. It’s a chance to build progress off [their] last life, explore a different path and benefit from their accomplishments."

While games like those listed above honor the spirit of exploration and discovery ...

Strafe

... takes its cue entirely from those 1990s first-person shooters that once bestrode the world. The game burst upon us, shotgun style, early last year with an absolutely stupendous trailer. But although there were lots of laughs in that Kickstarter commercial, the game is a serious shooter that wants to be a modern version of Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D.

"The gameplay is fast enough to melt flesh and gory enough to satisfy any growing appetite for bloodlust," says developer Thom Glunt. "It's mechanically deep too. It doesn't lock you in a room and teleport enemies in. It generates a seamless level with no load times at any point."

Also teleporting in from the 1990s is ...

Bombshell

... an isometric action game from 3D Realms, the developer best remembered for its Duke Nukem games. Originally called "Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction," 3D Realms and publisher Interceptor rebooted the game as Bombshell after a settlement with Gearbox Software over rights to the name.

Its main protagonist is Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison, a combat operative who fights her way through various terrestrial and galactic levels of alien enemies. Harrison has access to two modes of firing, as well as plenty of upgrade options, throwable bombs, grisly kills and sliding-punching moves.

"Bombshell is our take on a female protagonist that you can take seriously as a character," says Game Director Frederik Schreiber. "The focus on her story, her abilities, strengths, weaknesses and humorous personality is what makes her unique."

You know you've reached peak nostalgia when a game comes out honoring one of the '90s weaker games.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn

... stars basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal in a beat-'em-up in which O'Neal fights to defeat Black Star Ninja and his assassins. It's a remake of 1994's poorly received fighting game Shaq Fu.

Players will have the ability to customize O'Neal's fighting style through upgradeable combos and skills, as well as special move power-ups picked up within the various stages. The game's soundtrack, composed by musician and composer Steve Molitz, will feature remixes of songs from O'Neal's rap career.

This is a game that raised $450,000 in its Indiegogo campaign. O'Neal also took to the stage at last month's Game Awards to show off a new trailer for the game, which will launch on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360.

Terraria: Otherworld

... is from Re-Logic which launched exploration and construction game Terraria back in 2011. It looked like something from the SNES era, and yet played like a two-dimensional Minecraft. It went on to enjoy enormous success.

Last year the company announced plans for a new title in the game's universe: Terraria: Otherworld. It isn't so much a sequel as an offshoot of the original release. It's set in an alternate dimension within the Terraria universe and features tower-defense style gameplay.

"We view this as an opportunity to explore the sandbox genre in a fresh way," says Re-Logic's Ted Murphy. "Bringing together other popular elements from the worlds of RPGs and strategic tower defense along with a strong storyline to give players a reason behind things within the world, Terraria: Otherworld is a sandbox with a purpose."

Next up: Pretty games that look a treat, including Abzu, Unravel, Cuphead and Firewatch