As a lover of NES platforming adventures, it's no surprise that Way of the Red showed up on my radar as soon as it dropped. What is surprising is how well it does what so many retro-themed games fail at–be fun.
WotR is an open-world 2D platformer with a lot of exploration and combat. Skills are driven by plot point, meaning you won't just be snatching orbs from alien claws, a la Metroid. That's a good thing since the plot is one of the most original to crop up this year.
All this amounts to a grand achievement for Way of the Red's one-man development team Corey Hardman. The chiptune artist Ziguache, who did a great job making a chill soundtrack, deserves a shout-out for this one, too.
You begin as a battle-weary warrior of the birdman race. Tired and missing a lost love, you take flight over the unknown forest lands in an effort to escape the life you no longer find fulfilling.
It's there that you get shot down by a cruel human king who rules the regions below your homeland. You cut down many soldiers before they overtake you, but they do it all the same. Disarmed, wings clipped, you awaken among the enslaved members of your own kind, who've grown complacent from years of subjugation.
From there, you gain a clue about your lost love's whereabouts, and embark on a bloody quest for her and for freedom!
The story is told at a pleasing clip, and the various NPC's and dialogue are all pretty entertaining, building the world and your character's personality. There are some really great in-game cinematic techniques, like fade-to-red flashbacks, that all stay true to the 8-bit graphical style. It's like stepping back into the 4th grade, and popping in a cult cart like Data East's Werewolf, or Wrath of the Black Manta–and damn if it isn't satisfying!
The writing is pretty good, though the rare curse (which I couldn't care less about in day-to-day usage) made me remember I wasn't holding a real NES controller, and could've been cut for nostalgia's sake.
Imagine Metroid and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest had a bad-ass lovechild, one that came out of the womb with a katana and a thirst for blood–that's Way of the Red. You have multiple skills to unlock, such as gliding, sword-throwing, and various jump attacks, and there are plenty of rooms and obscured areas for you to duck into and scour for treasure and skills.
The gameplay seems to have been designed for controllers, though there is a keyboard/mouse option. I highly encourage a gamepad, as it gives a much more fluid and pleasing experience. And trust me, this game's controls and hit-box detection is on point; I usually hate when people say the following, but in this case it's true: if you're complaining about the controls, you're bad at this game. Sorry, not sorry.
You'll ultimately have one normal attack and two special attacks (which, combined with the jump, take up the four face buttons). You'll eventually be able to chain aerial combos by jumping, swinging, and soaring on your mighty wings. If you're using a gamepad with joysticks and a D-pad, you can forgo the stick in favor of the D-pad, and it feels amazing. Not enough retro-themed games offer this option, and it really changes the feel of the gameplay. For WotR, the more direct controls of the D-pad allow for more precise control, and drove me to bust out my Retro-Bit controller just to enhance the mood.
The only minor gripe I have with the controls, is that the down button is used for interacting with NPC's or objects. This isn't a problem, in and of itself; it actually works well, but there's no tutorial or control listing telling you about it. That led to a few minutes of button mashing when I started, which should be an easy fix for future patches.
graphics and sound
Damn, do I love these graphics. They strike the perfect balance between defined without being detailed, hearkening back to the 8-bit days when minimalism was done out of necessity, rather than taste. Your bloody enemies lurch in two, and die in a cubed spray of cherry-red blood. Your sword flashes blinding white, and the surrounding tiles reveal stark shadows and monotone spikes. The parallax scrolling design is top-notch, as well, and adds a strong feeling of depth that would make any Neo-Geo dev proud.
The music, as mentioned, is chill to the point of being highly listenable with or without the game. It fits WotR, and does an admirable job of enhancing the mood without overpowering the action. Sound effects are old-school digitized affairs as well, and complete the whole package.
It really comes down to this: Way of the Red is the most NES retro-inspired game I've played this year, and I've played a helluva lot of them. The design, intriguing story, and excellent controls far outweigh the minor criticisms I have, and I can't wait to see what Corey Hardman puts out next (hurry it up, man!)
So grab your gamepad, spread your wings, and bring the pain to those irritating humans!
|+ Great NES vibe||– Needs a quick tutorial on interacting with NPCs|
|+ Responsive Controls w/Gamepad||– Under advertised!|
|+ Interesting protagonist and plotline|
|+ Swell use of 2D open-world exploration|