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Housemarque – Indie Developer spotlight

Are arcade-style games dead?

Take a classic such as Robotron; Would a similar game have any place in the marketplace today? Well, I like to think they do still have a place. We have reviewed quite a few of what I would call ‘arcade-style games‘ like The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon.

Independent Finnish developers Housemarque have been making such arcade-style games since the early 1990’s and recently I read their blog, with sadness in my heart, when they declared that Arcade is Dead.

For those of you not familiar with the work of Housemarque, I invite you to check out their products. In the early 90’s they released a fantastic shooter called Stardust on the Amiga, which was soon followed up by a graphically enhanced version of the same game for the more advanced Amiga 1200. If you have never played Stardust, then you must look into using an Amiga emulator. Alternatively, you can grab a copy of Super Stardust HD on the PS3, Super Stardust Portable on the PSP, Super Stardust Delta (if you are one of the few people that own a PS Vita,) or even Super Stardust VR on the PS4.

It may seem like Housemarque are a bit of a one-trick pony, and yes they did release the same game quite a few times, but when you have a good thing going, you might as well revive it and produce a game for more recent consoles, so that people will remember you. I can happily say that the PS Vita version of the game is pretty damn good; It takes full advantage of the hardware, is super pretty and has a level of challenge that keeps you coming back for more.

Housemarque took a break from classic arcade-style shooters late in the 90’s, to the beginning of the 2000’s. They tried their hand at making two snowboarding games, with Supreme Snowboarding for Windows and Transworld Snowboarding for the Xbox. Transworld Snowboarding received an above average set of reviews and was put forward for “Best Extreme Sports Game” for IGN’s Best of E3 2002, but did not win.

I think that Housemarque love to experiment and throw the odd curveball in the industry. In mid-2011 they produced a Metroidvania style platformer called Outland. Outland was something different and borrowed a little bit from a game I have mentioned before, Ikaruga, where you can change between dark and light. There are a few gameplay videos out there of Outland and I must say from what I have seen, it certainly has that Housemarque flavour. Just take a look at its super bright contrasting colours, with a slight touch of bullet hell and more particles than you can shake a really big stick at, and that continues through to their more recent titles.

Take Resogun for example; it looks like a very simple twin-stick shooter and in some ways, you would be right. But it is when you start to learn the game that it begins to open up to you. Housemarque tend to put little extras into their games to make you want to play better, get a bigger multiplier or try something a little different. It’s a development company doing what they do best… and that’s creating awesome arcade-style games. So if they produce such beautiful games what is making them say that arcade is dead? Well, it’s simple…

… Sales.

There is no use in making these games if they don’t sell. It seems that today’s gamers do not enjoy the old-school arcade feel. At least one of the two last games to come out of the studio, Nex Machina, has in their words “lacklustre sales” and in doing so it has made the company question what they do.

Is Nex Machina a bad game? Well, I can’t tell what I think of it just yet. Metacritic has the PS4 version sitting around 88% and from the video reviews that I have seen, it does not look like that many reviewers have a bad thing to say about it. It’s just not what today’s market is looking for… And that makes me quite sad.

It’s nearly the end of the month and I have earmarked some funds to grab a copy of Nex Machina. My opinion might be slightly biased, as I have loved Housemarque products since the original Stardust, so I will be asking Timlah to put forward his 2 pence worth for a more independent view. In the meantime I wish Housemarque the best of luck in their new venture, I will look forward to seeing what they do next. Let us know what you think of old-school styled arcade games. Do you think that it is sad that a company like Housemarque are being forced to change tack, or do you think this sort of thing is exactly what the developer needs? Get in touch with us using the comments section or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.

Love and old school arcade games
– Chris

One response

  1. Pingback: Behind the Grind | GeekOut South-West

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