by Juan Manuel Moreno, Nivel Oculto
English translation by Tom Woolford, Go Play That
While video games have grown as an element of our daily leisure some things have fallen by the wayside. One of these things, and perhaps the most significant, is difficulty. Its disappearance has been so gradual that, almost without noticing, we woke up one day thinking that we'd been on autopilot for the last ten games we bought. An innocent presumption allowed us to think that maybe over time we had become supermen for whom no challenge was too great. Then a certain Dark Soul arrived and brought us back to reality.
But we don't tear our hair out with this difficulty. After all, the difficulty of the 80s and 90s served to artificially lengthen a game, or at least this happened on many occasions. So we are looking for 'fair' difficulty -- that which doesn't come from an enemy around a corner who will kill you the first time no matter what you do, or a floor trap that humiliates you and causes you to restart the entire level. No, we're talking about a difficulty in the mechanics, difficulty that lays its cards on the table right from the start. An honest 'this is fucking hard' communicated in the first five minutes of the game. We are talking therefore about RETROBOOSTER.
If we take a look at Terry Welsh's Twitter, the first thing we see is that he looks like a nice guy. The cover photo is an inoffensive shot in which he's smiling next to what looks like a giant milkshake with the sea in the background. A guy that would happily help you with your shopping bags, or lend you whatever you needed to make a gin and tonic and have a good time. Don't be fooled, Terry Welsh is perverse, evil even, with a mind filled with hate, determined to pour all his fury in to a single videogame. RETROBOOSTER seems designed to screw up your life, but honestly, and to your face, without half-truths or tricks.
Do you remember a little NES title called Solar Jetman? If you still have all of your hair, it's very probable that you don't, but if by some chance you have played it, I'm sure that you won't have forgotten it. RETROBOOSTER is basically the idea behind Solar Jetman taken to the extreme. It maintains a difficulty that is present from the first minute, which has a base in the control system, which would be orgasmic for any physicist, but for mere mortals it can very easily lead us to destroy a keyboard or a controller. It isn't that the control system is badlyimplemented; on the contrary, the implementation is almost perfect. It is a simple system of front and rear propulsion, two fire buttons and a shield. The problem is inertia, damned inertia, a demented inertia that forces the player to sit tight in front of the screen and acquire almost nirvana-like levels of concentration to face the challenges that 'previously-seemed-like-a-nice-guy' Welsh sets.
Creeping little vehicles, meteorites, spherical ships, gravity cannons, gears, portals, force-fields and the exploded remains of all of the above are our enemies. Maybe it's better to say that they make our true challenge; that of controlling our own ship, that much harder. Everything is well implemented, in fair quantities, and at least on normal difficulty (which is obviously the one I chose) there isn't a single moment that can be considered impossible due to a disproportionate amount of enemies. In fact, I have the feeling that with a bigger effort in designing the puzzles, which there also are, the enemies would be unnecessary. There are also humans, imbecilic humans that have to be rescued with a lot of care, as they are incapable of moving out of the way of a ship descending with engines ignited. Humans that give rewards in the form of items or energy but in the majority of cases I killed out of a pure Darwinist pleasure.
The rest of RETROBOOSTER is attractive, with a use of physics that would be the envy of the majority of AAA titles, a soundtrack with echoes of slightly unbalanced 90s techno and fun that once past the initial challenge of controlling the ship, is instant. That is without forgetting the split-screen co-op mode that looks to be a pure marvel, but which I haven't had time to try. RETROBOOSTER is, definitively, a good game that doesn't use pixels as fists to defend its old-school proposal, but uses the mechanics of the era to remind us that time passes, hair falls out, and that maybe we have become too condescending with current challenges. Which is no small thing.