I’d like to think that I’ve long established at this point, officially two months into this project, just how often I feel retro aesthetics are abused these days. While the Nintendo Entertainment System has enriched my life in ways that I can barely describe, I have no real want or need for another 8-bit platformer. There are plenty of great ones already available… and they were made over two decades ago.
Now demakes, on the other hand, are mostly immune to this, the focus being more on recreating an experience under restriction than capitalizing on someone’s memories. Seeing the idea evolve into its own niche genre has been fascinating, especially when you consider that it’s the natural progression of pirate carts we’d see pop up in China and Taiwan, leading to weird stuff like Tekken 2, Mortal Kombat 5 or even Windows XP ending up on NES cartridges. Even being woefully aware that artistic integrity wasn’t the leading development factor, some of those games are amazing achievements in their own right, squeezing all that they can into 256KB of space.
Once hobbyists got the itch, we started to see some really innovative stuff, like God of War reimagined as a Tiger handheld and Halo as an Atari 2600 game. D-Pad Hero still manages to be a deviation even within that homebrew subcategory by nature of the fact its emulating an experience that’s kinda sorta entirely based around a modern peripheral. This is why it feels almost disrespectful to simply call it a demake, since it had to redesign the gameplay so radically. And it works… shockingly well, I’d say. Even in the realm of chiptune rendition, you still get the same tactile feedback of hitting and missing notes, at the same time surprised by how quickly you find yourself getting overwhelmed. For having such a basic setup, the game is often quite difficult. It should say something when I can play Sweet Child of Mine on a guitar but can’t quite get a feel for it on a two-button controller.
I just did a back-handed humble brag there, didn’t I? Look, I’m just saying, I’m still available for parties. I can do “Nightrain” too. I’ll even wear the Slash hat.
All of that aside, it’s hard to complain about the difficulty or the very limited (four) song selection of a free homebrew game. It’s much more notable as a lesson in design anyway. It’s certainly fun to try, no doubt, but I’m more interested in seeing just how much more we’ll find ourselves able to do with so little, just how much deeper this particular rabbit hole goes.