Several days ago I decided it would be fun to download another random indie game and share my thoughts about it as I did a few weeks ago with Coffee Crisis. The game I decided on after looking on the Nintendo eShop is titled Back In 1995 – a “retro indie game” which isn’t much of a novelty, but this sounded intriguing and might be worth a try.
Back In 1995 was developed by Throw The Warped Code Out and was published by Ratalaika Games, originally being released back in 2016(no pun intended) it found its way to the Nintendo eShop this May. The game was created as a very deliberate throwback to the survival horror genre games that were popular in the 90’s such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone In The Dark. It was created to be as authentic to these types of games as possible, as if this game truly was developed…back in 1995. The game includes many of the characteristics of survival horror games from that time such as blurry character models and environments, fixed camera angles, lackluster voice acting, and tank controls…yes, they included tank controls to aid in game’s retro authenticity. Tank controls, for those who are young( and fortunate) enough to never have had to use them simply mean that regardless of where you are on screen pressing UP will always move your character FORWARD. Anyone old enough to grow up playing the original Resident Evil games with its cumbersome tank controls surely remembers the frustration of your character drunkenly stumbling down hallways and around obstacles as it is very difficult to move in a straight line.
The storyline of the game(or lack thereof) begins with the game’s protagonist, Kent regaining consciousness and is convinced he needs to reach the top of a tower in order to find his daughter Alissa, or figure out what’s going on….or something? The story really isn’t fleshed out much more than that, with only a few notes and newspaper clipping that are scattered around the 3 (yes, ONLY 3) levels of the game. The main character has suffered some sort of trauma or has amnesia and tries to discover what is going on, typical of survival horror games of the PS1/Saturn/3DO era.
Back In 1995 does manage to recreate most of the atmosphere of the games it is trying to emulate, however that is about it. The fixed camera angles and fuzzy visuals you got from using an old cathode-ray tube (CRT) tv were limitations of the time that were utilized with the game to create a feeling of suspense, there was no sense of terror or even a single jump scare or anything like it during the game. I understand what the developers were going for with the aesthetic of the game and it does succeed in feeling like games of a previous era. Back In 1995 has most of the characteristics of Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but unfortunately none of the story or anything else that makes it very memorable. There are reasons why we STILL talk about making our way through a creepy mansion filled with zombies in Resident Evil or trying to piece together what happened to the foggy, eerie town of Silent Hill. Kent wanders around a hospital office, the rooftop of the hospital, and finally ending at somewhere I would describe as a rooftop luxury condo or some kind. The game is not challenging in the way of combat or puzzles, there is more than enough health and ammo and the couple puzzles are nothing more than a few switches or 3-digit combination locks. There is never really a sense of danger or urgency in the game, despite what is set up(or not). The enemies in the game are also forgettable as they never play much of a part in the story other than weird lumpy objects to maneuver around, remember the tank controls? The environments that take place in the game are all kind of same-y; a drab shade of beige or gray making it difficult at times to tell where an item may be lying around, causing you to wander aimlessly around the empty levels.
Any challenge within the game is completely from your limitations of movement and patience. The game unfortunately gets to be a bit of a chore. You are unable move faster than a slow walk; no running or the ability to quick turn. I found myself holding down the B button as I was laboriously moving around, forgetting that you are simply unable to run. There is also not much in the way of sound effect or music to the game, just about all of the game is simply you listening to the sound of your loud footsteps clomping down the hallway which detracted from my patience while playing the game.
The ending of the game was also a little bit underwhelming as I found myself saying “oh….ok…that’s it?” as it tried to wrap everything up at the last second with a not so surprising realization that Kent was involved in a bad accident and it had left his mind so damaged that it rendered him incoherent and sometimes even violent with his family who had left him to be watched over by the staff of a psych ward of a hospital. I mentioned how inconsequential the monsters in the game were and how they were simply mentioned at the end of the game as “being in his mind”.
Back In 1995 was created with the best intentions in mind of a genre of games they obviously were fans of, but were unable to capture the essence of what made the games of the era great. I would compare this game to a “cover version” of a popular song: it can sound(or look) like it, but more often that not it just doesn’t have the spirit of the original. Do I recommend Back In 1995? I can’t say the game is great, but if you played survival horror games on the PS1 back in 1995( last time, sorry!) it may be worth checking out.
Does anyone out there remember the old survival horror games of the 90’s tank controls and all? What are some indie games that you feel were negatively effected due to insisting on “retro authenticity”?
Keep on playing…