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Which Homebrew Games Are Good (Redux)

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When I first discovered Nintendoage several years ago, it was when I was first discovering homebrew and trying to learn just what was out there that was worth playing.

As VGS develops and we have exhaustive lists of what is available or in-development as well as individual threads to promote new works, let’s have a conversation here about your recommendations of which homebrew games are good.

What should a newcomer interested in getting their feet wet look for?

 

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My favorites are:

The Mad Wizard: This is my absolute favorite. It's a game that will take you a bit to memorize the map, but once you know where everything is you can get through it in one sitting. Platformer mechanics without the jumping. You have a hover mechanic that you get to slowly power up, as well as the attack power. Very rewarding feeling when you get through it. Cool boss fights.

Black Box Challenge: Super big RPG. There aren't many RPGs in the homebrew world, but Rob made this one super unique. You hunt down the various NES Black Box games and even have to play them in the game to unlock different abilities to further your quest. Combat is incredibly unique and becomes very fun after you figure out how it works. (Did I mention it's a super long game?!)

Candelabra Estoscerro: Before this game I had never played a dungeon crawler so when I started this game I was just attacking without any thought and getting my ass handed to me. After taking the time to understand combat and realize you actually need to protect people I got further and further. Suchhhh a fun game. Downloaded a program to help me draw the maps of each floor. Unique enemies, secrets and hidden walls abound. And a twist ending unlike anything I've ever seen in a NES game.

Micro Mages: If you have friends over this is the game to play, for sure. Incredibly tight controls, amazing music, fun boss fights, etc. Amazing what they were able to fit inside 40kb.

Legend of Owlia: Awesome Zelda-like. Wasn't super keen on the requirement to acquire a certain amount of gold to unlock each dungeon, but that small annoyance aside, the game is beautiful and it's a good story. Derek did a great job with this game.

Larry and the Long Look for a Luscious Lover: I'm definitely not above voting for my own game. Being able to play my favorite old PC game on my favorite system is a dream, and I still love the music that is in the game as much as I did when I first put it in all those years ago. Converting a point and click game to a d-pad controller was a fun experience and I think it works well.

Edited by KHAN Games
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Lizard : My personal favorite homebrew, A lot has been said about it, some find it frustrating and prohibitive, others find it warm and and inviting. I'm very much in the latter camp, I'm pretty much smiling as soon as I put this on. Not only great music, but unique with emphasis on atmosphere over catchy melodies, very artful. The type of game that really gets all of the senses going... Of course, people hate it for the same reasons.  

Twin Dragons : Maybe the most rewarding homebrew i've played. It didn't really appeal to me at first, I didn't think I would like it, but I took a chance and bought a cart based purely on the good faith it received from the community. It kept continuing to surprise me how much I liked the game, I wasn't expecting it nor was I prepared for it, it made me remember why I go looking for these experiences to begin with.  The game blooms as it progresses and just keeps getting better and better pushing you forward. The music here again is fantastic, very very slick sound design,   wonderful balance of mood vs. Action 

Nim & Nom  My favorite to play with friends other than Micro Mages ( I feel like that one is a given). A very challenging co op arcade (puzzle?) platformer based around a lunge mechanic that will have you flying all around the screen. Graphics are bright and cartoony which adds a lot to the charm of the game.  I end up playing this one a lot with my family or friends who aren't generally into video games, the co-op aspect just makes it plain fun. Serious drawback here is the music, I understand the developer is not a musician and struggled to write the music themselves in famitracker (which I applaud), but the repetition makes for a very unpleasant experience. Thankfully the developer included the option to turn the music off in the title screen menu, and the sound effects they created are actually very good, so it saves the experience for repeat plays.  

Star Versus: Competitive Asteroids meets Street Fighter II. Again, another fun game to play with friends, the controls are maybe a bit too complex, although it does add a ton of replay value to continue mastering play styles. The controls do create a somewhat stiffer barrier of entry for newcomers, which can be a turn off since they take some getting used to compared to Asteroids. The game really shines in 2 player mode, though it does offer a limited 1 player mode that does help in honing your chops. I'm a big nerd for Arcade space shooters (literally all my favorite games) and there aren't too many space shooting homebrews , so I have to give it to this one for hitting that spot for me. Incredible music on this one, with very clever sound design that never lets off of the gas pedal. Cool environmental stage effects that add some interesting gameplay variety as well as super tight controls .  

Project Blue: Only having played the demo, I already know this will jump right up to the top of my list once released. Go download the demo yourself and see for yourself. Chibi-Cyber punk with slick platforming controls and a  grimy and beautiful mood setting soundtrack. Extra points for it having some of the best 8bit graphics anywhere 

***this was a fun exercise in wasting time at work, thanks for reading/skipping over, lol 

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9 minutes ago, captmorgandrinker said:

Ultimate Frogger Champion is still my favorite.

I was  super happy to see that KHAN offered that rom as a download last week and was finally able to check it out myself. I came late to party. 

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Some of my particular favorites include:

Haunted Halloween ‘85 & ‘86: You never forget your first, and my first homebrews were instant classics of the beat ‘em up persuasion.

Super Russian Roulette: Great fun alone or drinking with others. This game uses the zapper but doesn’t need to be compatible with your TV to work properly. See how long you can last against a customizable smack-talking cowboy who may or may not give you a hilarious nickname.

Legends of Owlia: This one has been said already but my love for it has more to do with its similarities to the mechanics of Star Tropics and I’m probably going to dig this out when I get home from work today.

Cowlitz Gamers 2nd Adventure: Beautiful, simple, difficult. Navigate your way around enemies to open the door to get you to the next room, with abundant secrets scattered throughout. And absolutely worth the plane ticket to Portland to pick it up at PRGE.

O-to-X: It’s 2048 but beautiful and with amazing chiptune.

Fork Parker’s Crunch Out: A SNES homebrew where you play the tyrannical boss of a game development company who has to run from one slacking employee to the next to grind out your games on-schedule, whether that’s feeding the hungry, smacking the lazy, or reviving the dead all so they get back to work.

Tanglewood: A gorgeous Genesis platformer with fun puzzle elements and a beautiful soundtrack.

Edited by Scrobins
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Homebrews offer a lot and can be appealing for many reasons.  This makes the way in which you approach the topic interesting due to the amount of different mindsets people could have.  

One approach is which homebrews give the best unique experiences that were not available, either at all or very limited, from licensed games.  I find this interesting because it addresses why someone should consider playing homebrews that have not swayed away from playing licensed games only. 

Nebs ‘N Debs:  You crash land your ship and have a hungry octopus attached to your head.  You must collect parts to fix your ship to return to space.  While searching, the hungry octopus is draining your energy.  Feed the octopus diamonds along the way to keep the counter above zero.  The play style is a side scrolling platformer that has a unique action ability.  A horizontal dash that you use to break blocks and kill enemies.  You can extend your jump by dashing though an object or enemy to gain an additional dash.  The dash adds a different take on the platformer along with an urgency to find the collectible (diamonds) or reach the end of the level.  

NEScape!: You awake in a dark room and must solve the puzzles in the room to escape while the clock is ticking down.  The play style is a point n’ click escape the room game.  There are both visual and audio puzzles which build off one of another.  You will probably have to play several times to figure everything out in the time limit.  NEScape offers two unique things.  Only escape the room video game on the NES and optionally you can use the mouse instead of a controller.   

Spook ‘o Tron:  Twin stick shooter style game based on the arcade game Robotron.  It is not a straight port, but rather a game inspired by it.  You use two controllers turned vertically so you have two d-pads, one for moving and one for shooting.  I think this brings back something that the NES was known for or a draw for back in the day, play arcade games at home.  Robotron might have been something you were dying to have it home.  This offers it in its own style.  

I also want to add my own personal favorites - 

The Mad Wizard:  An epic “Metroid” style adventure.  You are a wizard and have to collect abilities to unlock different areas of the map in order to face off to the mega boss “Amondus”.  There is no jumping.  You have a hover ability that you extend the x and y axis of by unlocking upgrades along with other magic.  Music is great and a blast to play.  

The Incident:  A box pushing puzzler.  There are no enemies, like you would find in Lolo, just you and the puzzle.  Over 100 levels, killer music, and an interesting story.  Push / re-arrange the boxes into the targets in order to move on.  I think the game's setting, story, and music set it apart from a “Sokoban clone”.  The thing about The Incident, it is super hard to sell this game in a write up or a video.  You have to play it in order to see the appeal.  I passed it up several times, despite the amazing things people said about it.  One day, I caved and thought I would take the gamble on it.  I got hooked right away, and stayed up many night to beat it, I couldn’t get enough.  I have had friends over, put The Incident on, and they are hooked as well.  Happened several times.  My memory it not great, so I can go back to this game yearly and enjoy it.  It is my favorite tied with The Mad Wizard.     
 

Edited by Deadeye
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I have a hard time qualifying whether or not I think a homebrew is "good" because I've dabbled (and continue to) in making my own and would not want to dissuade anyone from enjoying someone else's labor of love. That being said, I've owned a few homebrews over the years, but the ones that remain in my collection are Battlekid 1 & 2, Legends of Owlia, and Lizard.

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I can not speak more highly of Hyper Fighting on the Virtual Boy and I consider myself lucky to own it.  Basically unlicensed Street Fighter 2 Hyper Edition and it has unlockables, various modes and changes you can do with it.  The 3D really works in a nice subtle way to get a neat little level of depth to the game, and strangely enough it plays quite well on the VB controller.

QWAK I guess would be another, the original creator years ago ported it to GBA and made 300 copies of it and I do have one of them.  I maybe in a fuzzy area calling it as such since it was a legit game on a few other formats but it's a really awesome little action puzzler.

uCity for the GB Color is a third, discovered this one maybe a year ago around whenever it popped up and followed it's short development(bug freeing releases) it had.  The game ultimately is a port of Micropolis aka Sim City Classic, requires the GBC to play the thing.  It's beautiful, lots of room to develop, has all the options of SCC had but also a few added perk like things like the SNES title had.  It also like SNES has hundreds of generated maps to scroll and choose from, plus it has like 3 or 4 save spots.  It's pretty addictive if you're into the old game.

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I've played quite a few, many are good but my favorites are:

Micro Mages, Lizard, Twin Dragons, Get Em Gary, Battle Kid Dangerous Trap

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Not mentioned yet, but still arguably my favorite: Armed for Battle

I'm a huge strategy fan (or at least, historically have been), and a fun to play RTS on the NES still blows my mind.  This game doesn't get nearly enough credit, especially being made by one dude, and I hope and pray it gets a sequel/spin-off/SOMETHING in the future.

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Speaking specifically about newcomers to NES homebrew, I think Twin Dragons is a great place to start. The issue I tend to find when introducing friends to NES homebrew / aftermarket games is that they've got to get over the stereotype of a janky romack dumped onto a recycled cartridge. Twin Dragons might be the most polished homebrew I can think of, with a great presentation and attention to detail. The gameplay is simple for anyone who has ever played Mega Man, the graphics and music are top-quality, and it's just really fun to play. I'd also recommend Micro Mages for similar reasons, particularly if you've got a few friends you can bring over for couch co-op.

Beyond those two it really depends on the genre. Alfonzo's Arctic Adventure is an excellent game for anyone who might be into puzzle platformers, and the humor works well. Quest Forge is a unique spin on old-school RPGs with added roguelike elements. The Incident is a great block-pusher with atmosphere. Black Box Challenge should speak to anyone who has ever collected retro games. The Haunted Halloween games are fun brawlers.

On the other hand, there are a few titles I love but probably wouldn't recommend to someone who hasn't picked up a NES in a while: Lizard is one of my favorite NES games ever, but it has some quirks that I've found turn some folks off. Same with the Candelabra games (Mad Wizard, Amondus, Estocerro), all of which have unusual control schemes that take time to get used to (but again, all of which I enjoy quite a lot). And I realize this might be an unpopular opinion, but the Battle Kid games are just too damn difficult for a lot of folks -- in fact, the "NES hard" trend is what kept me from getting interested in the homebrew scene for years. Just not my cup of tea.

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3 minutes ago, dvertov said:

Speaking specifically about newcomers to NES homebrew, I think Twin Dragons is a great place to start. The issue I tend to find when introducing friends to NES homebrew / aftermarket games is that they've got to get over the stereotype of a janky romack dumped onto a recycled cartridge. Twin Dragons might be the most polished homebrew I can think of, with a great presentation and attention to detail. The gameplay is simple for anyone who has ever played Mega Man, the graphics and music are top-quality, and it's just really fun to play. I'd also recommend Micro Mages for similar reasons, particularly if you've got a few friends you can bring over for couch co-op.

Beyond those two it really depends on the genre. Alfonzo's Arctic Adventure is an excellent game for anyone who might be into puzzle platformers, and the humor works well. Quest Forge is a unique spin on old-school RPGs with added roguelike elements. The Incident is a great block-pusher with atmosphere. Black Box Challenge should speak to anyone who has ever collected retro games. The Haunted Halloween games are fun brawlers.

On the other hand, there are a few titles I love but probably wouldn't recommend to someone who hasn't picked up a NES in a while: Lizard is one of my favorite NES games ever, but it has some quirks that I've found turn some folks off. Same with the Candelabra games (Mad Wizard, Amondus, Estocerro), all of which have unusual control schemes that take time to get used to (but again, all of which I enjoy quite a lot). And I realize this might be an unpopular opinion, but the Battle Kid games are just too damn difficult for a lot of folks -- in fact, the "NES hard" trend is what kept me from getting interested in the homebrew scene for years. Just not my cup of tea.

I didn't think Mad Wizard had a particularly unusual control scheme -- just that you have to realize it plays like a puzzle-adventure game rather than a platformer, so the controls are fairly slow and deliberate.

 

Battle Kid games are definitely classic "Nintendo-hard", though.  You definitely have to approach them from the old school mindset of not expecting to always be able to beat a game -- sometimes it is just about having fun playing it for awhile and getting as far as you can.

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30 minutes ago, arch_8ngel said:

I didn't think Mad Wizard had a particularly unusual control scheme -- just that you have to realize it plays like a puzzle-adventure game rather than a platformer, so the controls are fairly slow and deliberate.

Very slow and deliberate. I've found when people see it they expect a typical NES platformer, and the initial experience of understanding how restricted your movement is can be frustrating. Just my experience showing these games off to friends who aren't neck-deep in the retro gaming scene. (And again, I like that game.)

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1 hour ago, dvertov said:

Very slow and deliberate. I've found when people see it they expect a typical NES platformer, and the initial experience of understanding how restricted your movement is can be frustrating. Just my experience showing these games off to friends who aren't neck-deep in the retro gaming scene. (And again, I like that game.)

It honestly felt a lot like some side-scrolling PC adventure games of the late80's/early90's and less like "a Nintendo game", in that regard.

But that is a genre and control style I have a lot of patience for, so I appreciated it over something that encourages button mashing.

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15 minutes ago, arch_8ngel said:

It honestly felt a lot like some side-scrolling PC adventure games of the late80's/early90's and less like "a Nintendo game", in that regard.

But that is a genre and control style I have a lot of patience for, so I appreciated it over something that encourages button mashing.

That to me is what is most impressive about Rob’s games: each one of them challenges your expectations about how a game of a particular genre can be played, and in so doing breathes fresh air into an old console

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It's a challenging problem to think about as a developer.

Retro game collectors who are interested in the homebrew scene typically want new experiences on the system because they've played the older stuff to death over the years. The common person who hasn't lived with and grown with this system for the past 30 years probably wants to re-live experiences that they had in their youth and when looking at new games on the system probably don't care about new, unique stuff.

Which audience do we cater our games for? Do we press on to try to bring modern experiences to a classic system, or do we just make another Contra?

I certainly know my answer to this, but you will definitely have a hard time pleasing everyone at the same time with the same game.

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1 minute ago, KHAN Games said:

It's a challenging problem to think about as a developer.

Retro game collectors who are interested in the homebrew scene typically want new experiences on the system because they've played the older stuff to death over the years. The common person who hasn't lived with and grown with this system for the past 30 years probably wants to re-live experiences that they had in their youth and when looking at new games on the system probably don't care about new, unique stuff.

Which audience do we cater our games for? Do we press on to try to bring modern experiences to a classic system, or do we just make another Contra?

I certainly know my answer to this, but you will definitely have a hard time pleasing everyone at the same time with the same game.

It seems like a tricky proposition.

But I am definitely in the camp of loving new concepts brought to the old system -- seeing things that nobody either thought of (as a game mechanic) or could figure out (from a technical perspective) back-in-the-day.  Enjoying the "what might have been".

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I absolutely agree. A great virtue of NES homebrew is how it can take an older means of game development and apply it to activities that didn’t exist then or are at least more front-of-mind now, sometimes with inventive uses of game accessories, such as NEScape’s adaptation of Escape the Room and it’s SNES mouse compatibility, and Tailgate Party’s use of the Power Pad to play indoor cornholing.

And I think that both of those games exemplify games that probably wouldn’t exist if made by anyone other than passionate individuals. Would Nintendo have known of or cared enough about cornholing to make a game about it? 

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Im propably falling to the latter camp myself. I suppose I should be somewhat ashamed of myself to admit I have barely ever played many of the "classics" and a lot of games people hold in highest regards (castlevania) I simply don't even like.

When I started developing my own game, the basic idea was that I want to create a good old fashioned platformer, as such, my main inspiration is the best of them, Shatterhand. The goal is not necessarily to create something new and never before seen, but instead provide a solid gameplay of the familiar kind.

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1 hour ago, Mugi said:

Im propably falling to the latter camp myself. I suppose I should be somewhat ashamed of myself to admit I have barely ever played many of the "classics" and a lot of games people hold in highest regards (castlevania) I simply don't even like.

When I started developing my own game, the basic idea was that I want to create a good old fashioned platformer, as such, my main inspiration is the best of them, Shatterhand. The goal is not necessarily to create something new and never before seen, but instead provide a solid gameplay of the familiar kind.

There are definitely a lot of genres that, while well represented on the NES, have evolved and grown a lot in the years since. I find it really interesting when modern game design sensibilities are applied to new games developed for a classic system. For example, the NES has plenty of RPGs, but most are early Dragon Quest clones. It'd be really neat to see an RPG employ an ATB-style battle system or even a more modern feeling UI.

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1 hour ago, Mugi said:

Im propably falling to the latter camp myself. I suppose I should be somewhat ashamed of myself to admit I have barely ever played many of the "classics" and a lot of games people hold in highest regards (castlevania) I simply don't even like.

When I started developing my own game, the basic idea was that I want to create a good old fashioned platformer, as such, my main inspiration is the best of them, Shatterhand. The goal is not necessarily to create something new and never before seen, but instead provide a solid gameplay of the familiar kind.

Even with "standard-to-the-console" genres, there is a lot of fresh air that new homebrews bring to the table.

The toolchains (and hobbyist timelines) that exist nowadays really do a lot to free up creative energy into design nuances that would have been swept aside on the budgets and timelines of the 80's.

Now we get to see the real best-of-the-best, in terms of what you get when someone dedicates effectively unlimited "design budget" to a game on the console -- where because it is "a hobby", they can just keep going with it until they get the product where they want it to be. 

There is still plenty of technical constraint, and then some, of course -- but shifting the equation on deadlines/timelines really does lead to a different class of outcomes, IMO.

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I personally find the technical constraints to be one of the more fun aspects of nes development in general. It does wonders to creativity to go from 64000 colors to 4 colors 😛

Totally agreed though, that just because one makes a "traditional platformer" doesn't mean that it's gonna be a sprite hack of megaman, Homebrews have some really interesting variety already, I'm just here attempting to add to that.

That said, seeing all the "weird" stuff like games that are played using dpads of 2 separate controllers, mouse controlled games and whatnot on the NES is definitely a hook point and part of the charm in specifically homebrew over the official library.

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