You have to win the gameMinor Key Games
Game vlogs, 4Loko flavors and pixelated retro looking platformers - some things just seem to be endless. The fact that the term "indie game" itself is even starting to become synonumous with 8-bit style games is getting a bit annoying to be honest, I mean technically even Skyrim is an indepedent production since Bethesda releases their own games. Ok, I will probably catch some flack for that one and there are many factors to consider when labeling something indie or AAA, but my point is that it doesn't have to look, feel or be retro to be considered indie. Developers should put their effort in conveying their visions, stories, ideas or feelings through interesting, scary, fun or crazy gameplay. Not just make yet another crappy platformer where you can jump and collect coins and, well yeah, in many cases that's it, but at least it looks cute and has alot of retro looking pixelart right? No, I'm sorry but I just can't survive on nothing but pixels and air.
Games like this aren't necessarily wrong though, if made properly and put in the right context retro style games that aren't really retro can be very fun to play. A textbook example of this is the subject for this review - American indie developer J. Kyle Pittman's You have to win the game (YHTWTG). Pittman have a background in game development and used to work for Gearbox on stuff like Borderlands and Borderlands 2. In the credits section of YHTWTG however, he explains how he used to play games on an old Commodore PC10 when he was a kid and how he felt that leaving the industry made it possible for him to make games he really wanted to make instead - games that encapsulate what games and gaming should really be about. These feelings are very obvious and well communicated through the game itself and the whole thing is nothing but a very well executed declaration of love for gaming, before it became a huge industry.
You have to win the game is a classic Metroidvania, it's a 2D-platformer where you start out with very limited abilities, you can move around and you can jump. The game doesn't have levels like in Super Mario or Mega Man, instead it's more of an open world like in Metroid and the player is free to roam and explore it. The thing is you have to explore it the right way, you'll run into obstacles pretty fast and to get past them and gain access to new areas of the world you'll have to find certain objects or powerups. These objects will give you new abilities such as the wonderful double jump skill that everyone takes for granted today, other objects will activate invisible ghost blocks that bridges gaps you couldn't jump earlier on, not even with the double jump...
Note however that these items will only make certain room transitions possible, you still need lots of patience and skill to use your new powers. I guess you could compare it to real life since finding a hammer and a saw alone wouldn't give you the skill and know-how needed for building a house.
The art style, level design and sounds of YHTWTG are that of computer games from the 80's and early 90's. You play it screen by screen and must figure out which way to take and when to take it. I'm old enough to love it all, even the sounds. My girlfriend who's quite a bit younger had another opinion. For me the bleeping jump sound was a real joy, she asked me to put on headphones after just a few minutes and for reference, she doesn't even look up from her phone when I play Call of Duty and empty a 200 rnd machine gun cartridge of noisy 7.62 mm bullets into a chopper until it blows up, with the surround system maxed out. As for the graphics, I haven't played around with any of the PC10 installments from Commodore that Pittman mentions but it sure reminds me of the games played on computers made by Sinclair and Amstrad back in the day. Pittman even incorporated the feel of an old monitor, complete with light reflections in the corner and warped graphics towards the edges of the screen - and he did it well.
To be honest, I was going to write about some other things aswell, but I've talked so much about this now so I'm just gonna finish this up, post it and then have another go at the game. I've finished it two times with "different endings" but I'm still only at 98,44% in the treasure department and I haven't played the DLC yet. So yeah, game on, and since the game is actually free and available both as a stand alone build from Pittmans webpage Pirate Hearts AND as a free-to-play game on Steam, you really have no excuses for not doing the same thing. Failure is a Nth chance!