More often than not, indie titles focus on revolutionising or paying tribute to the wondrous moments and genres of video gaming past. Following this established tradition, New Jersey studio Frog The Door Games – captained by solo developer Matthew Biglan – have finally released their love letter to NES-era platforming and adventure titles. Vintage Hero follows the endeavors of Floyd, a janitor from the local county jail, and his mentor Mac as they defend the Earth from an evil General and his army of invading aliens.
There’s no way to beat around the bush here: Vintage Hero’s gameplay and design are greatly influenced by the early Mega Man titles and are, in most places, virtually identical. You guide Floyd through different stages rife with enemies, projectiles and traps, frantically jumping and shooting your way through in order to stay alive. The controls are neat and responsive, making that daunting leap to the next ledge far easier to manage. As well as your trusty basic firearm, additional weapons and tools can be obtained after defeating each level’s boss, and can be used to great effect against other minions that you will subsequently face.
When starting the game, players may choose to tackle the four initially available levels in any order they see fit, and like in Mega Man, a couple of rooms are less frustrating down the line after receiving the right weapon for the job. Moments of true exasperation are few and incidentally coincide with the boss encounters. However, once their patterns are locked down, victory is sure to follow.
Between stages, the player can have Floyd converse one-on-one with fellow members of his team. The game’s story and plot twists are nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before, but it is nice to see the overarching tale expanded upon through optional conversations. One other unique feature of Vintage Hero is that defeating your foes grants you experience points, which can then be used to upgrade your HP, weapon power and defence among others. These can also be found in the form of items throughout each level, and add an extra dimension to the core gameplay not found within the aforementioned Mega Man series.
Vintage Hero’s soundtrack is phenomenal: incredibly catchy chip tune pieces and 8-bit beeps that greatly aid in taking the player back into the past. For the most part, the graphics are equally as superb, and are only let down by character portraits and story sequences that seem to have been crudely drawn on MS Paint. It’s a minor niggle, but is highly noticeable against the otherwise exceptional presentation on offer here.
For the greatest of thrill seekers, Vintage Hero offers three difficulty settings. Easy mode awards the player with an infinite amount of extra lives, which is handy for less experienced gamers but slightly detracts from the overall appeal of the game. Normal and Hard mode are where the real challenges lie. While the game may not be as difficult as its main influence, there is still a great variety of enemies and environmental obstacles to keep you on your toes. With only 6 stages and 7 well-crafted boss encounters, Vintage Hero is over quickly, but at a price of 80MSP (roughly £0.70) you can hardly complain, and is more than enough of a gratifying experience to warrant another play through.
Frog The Door Games have done remarkably well in releasing one of the best titles to be found within Xbox Live’s Indie marketplace. For such a tiny investment, fans of old school platformers would be foolish not to snatch up Matthew Biglan’s labour of love, as Vintage Hero is a fantastic ride with enough unique additions that it occasionally surpasses the series it shamelessly emulates. Capcom would do well to take notes.