Review: Trophy (NES, 2020)

I’m trying something new – a game review! Here’s Trophy, a new NES game by Gradual Games ; also responsible for the music driver that runs at the back of every other current NES homebrew game the last few years.

It’s on kickstarter right now for a few more days, so be sure to check it out!

Fair note: my screenshots look a bit empty. that’s because i need to shoot things before i can screenshot the scene, haha. So when you look at them, imagine the poor guy taking a well deserved rest. 😉

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Derek, programmer and the Gradual Games namesake, and Laurie, artist, are no newcomers to the modern NES scene. Earlier releases has been Nomolos: Storming the Catsle and Legend of Owlia, which reminded me of Willow. Both are formidable, medium length features.
This game is bigger, bolder and more well tuned overall. It makes no secret of being a love letter to the mega man franchise. You know the drill – good robot guy fights mad, toylike robots in all forms and shapes to save the day. True to the spirit of many nes games of old, there is a backstory, but you don’t need to sit it through to get to the goodies. It’s in the manual at your option. 
There are nine thematic stages; where of 8 are freely playable in any order. On each stage (i think), there is a powerup (a life meter expander or a weapon) hidden that you get to keep, even between game overs. A very nice touch here is that if you get beaten on a stage, you still get to keep any powerups you find. This means that if you find the going too tough, you can make it easier for yourself by finding more powerups and then go back to the stage where you had problems before, now better equipped.
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I want to applaud the care and effort that has been put into making the levels varied not only in theme, but also the gameplay! Each level seems to have something of a twist. Gravity changes (sometimes within a stage), and the concept of checkpoints is even thrown out the door on the train level; making it something of a gauntlet (but a fair one)! There are moving platforms, conveyor belts, deep snow, slick ice and deadly traps waiting for you. Some levels focus on climbing, some on platforming, and some on fighting. the priorities are subtle, but helps keep the experience fresh throughout despite the player character being very straightforward, with a simple control scheme that doesn’t change with the acquisition of powerups. 

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In true NES fashion, the location of mentioned powerups range from straightforward to sometimes cryptic. Exploring levels more keenly can sometimes lead to dead ends or even feel a bit suicidal. Trophy(Ellen)_012Take this screen for example: when you move up and down this ladder, you’ll see that it looks possible to go off-screen to the left. But if you jump to get there, a ”falling to your death” mechanism triggers because of the camera snapping. It’s not a big deal, but goes to show that just like most NES games, you must embrace the internal game logic to become fully successful – you need to game the game just a little bit. Likewise, be prepared to battle respawning enemies in true nostalgic fashion – something you can turn to your advantage if you wish, but i’ll leave it for you to find out how. 

UPDATE:
I’ve had news that some of the quirkier aspects that sometimes surface when you’re navigating the levels in a more exploratory, poking fashion are being ironed out in some places, and streamlined in others. So expect this aspect, to be smoother than i just described! Personally, i don’t mind it all that much, since you have an unlimited amount of continues, but some of you might! In that case, this is of course positive news.

I think that it’s also nice that all the powerups i’ve encountered seem to be increasing your chances only incrementally, whereas some powerups in games like castlevania (while fairly balanced in placement) basically set the difficulty mode all on their own and in of themselves. There seems to be no way to cheese your way through with powerups in this game, so it feels more gratifying when you beat that boss!

Speaking of bosses, they’re drawn on the background layer, which means they circumvent the sprite restrictions of the NES. They’re BIG. That’s always nice to see.
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These bosses above? Yeah, they’re the small ones… some are real screen fillers!

There are many nice little end polish features like how the camera snaps in some regions to a locked position to indicate something, blinking lights, waving sea grass, and so on. 
Lastly, the music is melodic, engaging, and rocking! The one that stuck in my head was the tivoli music, for some reason.
Gameplay: 7/10 – the game is very straightforward, and is good at what it does.
Variance: 8/10 – All levels have their own theme. There are enough enemy types and combinations to keep it varied throughout a session

 

Challenge: 6 / 10 – I think the challenge curve within a level can be a bit uneven, but given the nonlinear approach to how you progress it also doesn’t matter all that much. If you get stuck somewhere, you can always return later when you’re better prepared and more skilled. 

Would buy: Yes, and already did, despite getting a digital copy to review.
Would recommend: Absolutely!

In sum: It’s very early in 2020, but this might be one of the best games to launch for the NES this year!

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