Of all the genres on Steam, possibly one of the most oversaturated is the broad genre of “retro”. As time goes on it’s become easier and easier to make a “Retraux” game, as TVTropes puts it, and these days it’s not a difficult genre to develop in at all. All you really need is a GameMaker Studio licence and a guy who’s vaguely good at FamiTracker, someone who’s good at low-res pixel art, a few retro sound effects from Freesound and you’re golden. The result is that there are a LOT of games under the “retro” tag on Steam, and not many that are good. This isn’t to say that the style is incapable of producing good games – indeed, it’s produced some very good games indeed from developers willing to put the effort into making them good, including games such as Shovel Knight, Papers Please, the well-received Retro Game Crunch and Gato Roboto (which VGAlmanac’s own Edd reviewed earlier this year). But, alas, not every game can be a modern classic in both ways like these games are.
Such is the strange case of today’s game, Cecconoid. Released a few days ago by the indie team “Triple Eh? Limited”, Cecconoid is actually split into 2 games: Cecconoid itself, a linear twinstick action game with a simplistic black-and-white art style in which you pilot a ship through several linear and very difficult levels, like a sort of twinstick version of Cybernoid (in fact the “Cecco” part of its name seems to reference Cybernoid’s programmer, and some of the weapons appear to be more-than-subtly borrowed from Cybernoid), and Eugatron, in which you pilot the same ship in a relatively basic Robotron 2084 clone.
Had I known when I first played this game that that was what it was, I might have had a few alarm bells ringing in my head. The thing about clones is, if you’re making one then you have to justify why you should play your game and not just root out a copy of the original – and the best (and perhaps only) way to properly do that is for your game to have something that sets it apart from the original – and you can’t get around that just by putting a VGA filter on the screen which you can’t turn off, like this game does. The main thing that seems to separate Cecconoid from Cybernoid is that it’s a twinstick shooter and its aforementioned Gato Roboto-esque black and white art style. Only thing is there’s a LOT of twinstick shooters out there too, so that gives it an additional layer that it needs to prove, i.e. that you should play this and not another twinstick shooter. The question is whether Cecconoid actually has that factor.
One thing that this game definitely has in common with Cecconoid is its difficulty, albeit for very much the wrong reasons. The gameplay is much the same as Cybernoid’s, the difference being there’s no gravity so you can move around in all 4 directions relatively unhindered, and of course the twin stick shooting. The shooting itself doesn’t feel too bad, but it also highlights a problem with the art style. Namely, that the positively miniscule starting bullets can very easily get lost among other particle effects as you shoot enemies. There are other weapons that can be unlocked as you go along but this is quite jarring, especially considering the gun doesn’t actually make any noise when you fire it as well. This, alongside the fact that you die in one hit and your ship moves quite slowly makes it perhaps a bit more artificially difficult than it should be. The combat itself is nothing to write home about either – it’s your pretty standard twinstick shooter combat, albeit encumbered by the aforementioned issues, as well as the fact that the weapons are all fixed at 45-degree angles if you’re using a controller, which in itself is kind of annoying.
Also, you ever notice how in games like this, things tend to flash or give some kind of indicator that they’re being damaged if you’re damaging them? Not so in Cecconoid. While you CAN destroy things, the sounds and visual effects don’t actually give you any clues that what you’re shooting is actually being damaged. So during my first 20 minutes I ended up shooting several things once, and not seeing any visible flash or anything, assuming they were indestructible and moving on. It was only after shooting the said thing about 6 times that I realised it was destructible at all. Some things don’t even make a noise at all when you shoot them, like the spikes, and also don’t make a noise when you do destroy them either. Also some of the things take an unusual number of hits – your basic item-barrels take no less than eight hits with a single shot weapon to destroy, and a rather large bomb, typically a onehit destruction in other game, required 15 hits with a double shot weapon.
As far as tributes to classic games go, you can probably do better than Cecconoid. Artificial difficulty masks a half-baked pair of games which don’t really do enough to break away from their inspiration. They’re far from bad games, but neither are Cybernoid, Robotron 2048 or, say, Geometry Wars, all of which Cecconoid tries to pay tribute to, by which we mean, “do the same thing as but not as well”. So ultimately, you’re probably better off playing one of those than this one.