The COVID-19 crisis has triggered record-breaking levels of activity across every gaming platform as Verizon records a 75% surge in video game usage during peak time. Because of its diverse nature, the gaming industry is seeing both incredible booms in revenue and tragic losses.
Indie developers, the primary source of modern retro-style games in today’s market are being hit particularly hard. This is because many indie studios are running on shoe-string budgets and are unable to sustain themselves without the support of a publisher.
This is especially true for studios who have not yet released a title and are therefore unable to benefit from the increased sales quarantines have prompted. Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding platforms have been integral to the success of these small studios.
Despite the pandemic and its implications for the industry, there are still many amazing retro game releases to get stuck into and more to look forward to in the near future.
Impact of COVID-19 on gaming culture
Steam broke its record for concurrent players in mid-March, surpassing 20 million concurrent users. Since then, it’s consistently broken the record each week through to April 4th, when it peaked at 24.5 million users. However, while online sales and gaming activity surge, console production and game development have slowed to a halt as quarantine prevents studios from operating.
Furthermore, in these uncertain times many indie studios are concerned for their financial security as publisher funding becomes increasingly rare. For many studios on the edge of stability, the coronavirus pandemic may prove catastrophic. The year’s largest industry events (such as E3) have all been canceled, creating upheaval for many indie studios hoping to secure publisher funding during their industry showcases.
Quarantine measures have been highly beneficial to established online services, however, and many gamers under stay at home orders are on the lookout for new sources of entertainment. As a result, services like those offered by geek subscription boxes are becoming increasingly popular. These subscriptions provide gamers with a change of pace by distributing a diverse variety of games on a monthly basis.
High profile upcoming Releases
For those retro gamers interested in the latest releases, a number of high-profile titles have hit the market in the past few months and more are soon to follow. Doom 64, originally released on the Nintendo 64 in 1997 was released on the PC in March. This is the first time the game has been available on a modern platform since its original release making it highly enticing for old-school Doom fans.
Exit the Gungeon, an arcade-style spin-off of Dodge Roll’s award-winning retro bullet hell Enter the Gungeon, was also released in March. In the spirit of its predecessor, Exit the Gungeon is a roguelike bullet hell but also deviates in a number of important ways. Rather than give the player a top-down perspective with an emphasis on accuracy, it is a platformer focused on attack combos. Formula Retro Racing, a faithful recreation of the arcade racers popular in the 90s is to be released this summer. The game features the nostalgic high-speed racing, retro soundtrack and low poly-count graphics that will feel instantly familiar to 90s arcade goers.
Streets of Rage 4 is the first installment in over 20 years to a series of Japanese beat-em-up games dating back to the 90s. Maintaining the classic gameplay of past games, Streets of Rage 4 builds upon them with new mechanics, hand-drawn visuals, and an incredible EDM-inspired soundtrack. Fans of the genre may remember the original Streets of Rage trilogy, the third of which was released all the way back in 1994. Streets of Rage 4 is scheduled for release this month and will bring the popular 90s franchise into the 21st century with style.
Exciting titles still in Development
Hellbound is a 90s-inspired retro shooter combining elements of many of the most widely loved shooters from the era, including DOOM, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. Developed by Saibot Studios, it puts an emphasis on speed and intense action as the player utilizes a wide array of powerful weapons to defeat demons. Fans of the genre will likely be excited to see a new arrival taking advantage of modern graphical effects while maintaining the visceral essence of the DOOM’s 90s art style.
Sea of Stars, a retro-inspired turn-based RPG utilizing SNES style graphics, is set for release in 2022. A follow-up to Sabotage’s critically acclaimed 2018 platformer, The Messenger, Sea of Stars takes place in the same universe but is set thousands of years earlier. The game reimagines the classic turn-based RPG genre, modernizing it for today’s gamers. They aim to achieve this by targeting the combat, exploration and environment interaction systems loved by retro gamers. Turn-based combat is made more engaging, allowing for player input during attack animations and multi-character combo attacks. They’ve also massively expanded upon the traditional movement and exploration mechanics available in older titles of the genre, allowing players to swim, climb, vault, and jump across the map.
Unfortunately, many indie studios are struggling as the pandemic takes its toll economically. Funding from publishers is drying up as recessions are predicted, and it may be years before we see the rate at which retro titles are released return to normal. For now, however, there is a myriad of retro games on the market for gamers to sink their teeth into and a large number nearing release.