MMO Burnout: Retro-inspired games offer a sense of accomplishment with a side of nostalgia

Narita Boy, Monster Sanctuary, and Moonlighter


For someone who absolutely abhors the mere mention of paying a monthly sub for a game, I am totally sold on the Xbox Game Pass (and no, this is neither sponsored nor part of the meme currently floating around social media!). On some levels I am a bit disappointed with myself about it, but as long as I’m taking full advantage of it, it’s just too good a deal. I think of it similar to Netflix: I’ve got this subscription with so much possible content to play that I’ll never get bored. In a way it is a sub, but I have options. I’m not locked into feeling as if I have to play just one game. My current vice (for the last several years) has been those retro stylized games.

Now, since there are a ton of games to play, I usually play a few of them simultaneously. At least I’m doing that right now, largely because I’m in a bit of a rut in MMO-land. With Crowfall peaking its beak around the corner, I’m tempted to play more, but I really want to wait for the official release to go all-in again. So until then, I’ve been jamming on some indies that look like oldies but not really.

Narita Boy takes that ’80s cyber-futuristic punk theme to the max

If you thought Tron could have used a few more neon strobe effects, then Narita Boy is what you’re after. It is an absolutely visually stunning game. It was clearly a work of love. Sadly, the story is a bit much, and the amount of techno-babble you’re inundated with is beyond gratuitous – like listening to the ridiculous jargon in an episode of Star Trek coupled with the plot of a network crime procedural. Yes, I know, someone got murdered and someone in this room is the killer. Now let’s get on with it. Even the gameplay didn’t land that well with me. Your character is a bit slippery. It’s kind of like your feet are hydroplaning constantly. Stand still, dammit!

Still, I had a really good time with the game. The music complements the visuals to a tee. I might not have been over the moon with the gameplay itself but the sum of its parts is much greater than the whole. I like to explore levels completely and this game offered a some pretty cool hidden puzzles that I enjoyed too.

So if you’re more interested in really tight controls and intense battles, I don’t think this game has exactly what you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you love the overall ambiance of a masterfully crafted ’80s cyber future game world, then you should really check it out. I beat it. I liked it.

Monster Sanctuary is the Zune to your Pokemon iPod

Now I think that statement can land in a few different ways. Personally, I thought Zunes were actually really well-made and had some great features, but for a multitude of reasons they never caught on. That isn’t to say that Monster Sanctuary will never catch on, but it simply can’t compete with the 10,000 ton gorilla that is Pokemon. And it isn’t trying to really! It’s more of a love letter to fans of old-school RPGs who pine for a 16-bit Pokemon with more of a classic fantasy story than one of trying to be the best like no one ever was.

The aesthetics and animations are really top-notch here. Gameplay outside of combat is your typical side scrolling platformer. Nothing too tricky, but there are some jumps that’ll take you several attempts. Combat is similar to a Pokemon battle. The main difference is that you have three of your monsters available to fight during your turn rather than just one at a time. Otherwise it’s very comparable. Monsters are strong versus certain elements or types of damage and weak versus others.

Overall it’s very cool and a fun game to play. I suppose some people might wonder why play this when you could simply play an older Pokemon game, which is fair on some levels. However, I think Monster Sanctuary actually does stand on its own as a very solid game, and if you’re interested in some pet battles without all the overhead that comes with Pokemon, this is a good game to play. It’s also really accessible, so if you’ve got any little ones who are just getting interested in traditional RPG games with, as one of my family members said, “such super duper cute monsters,” then load it up.

Moonlighter offers up some unique mechanics with Zelda stylized combat

I’ve only started to play Moonlighter this past weekend, but so far I’m very impressed. It actually has an interesting mechanic based on being a merchant in a town near a magical dungeon. The story itself isn’t especially unique (although I’ve only just begun playing), but the gist is that you’re a merchant and your goal is to enter dungeons to acquire ever-increasingly rare loot to sell at your shop. However, the shop mechanic is what makes this game stand out. It reminds me of playing as Taloon from Dragon Quest 4. During the night, you enter the dungeon to acquire loot, which you sell at your store during the day.

In this way it plays similar to some MMOs. Who doesn’t love finding a rare item and scoring some serious gold for it? Unfortunately, here I’m just selling items to NPCs instead of real people, but whenever an item goes for big bucks, it feels like a win. The way the devs game-ified the act of selling loot isn’t something I’ve seen before. Basically, for brand-new items, you’ll have almost no way of knowing the sell price. So, you come up with a value, and as NPCs look at it, their give you one of four reactions. Based on this, you will know either that you’ve sold the item at less than you could’ve gotten for it or (if they get angry) that you’ve overpriced it. If I’ve understood correctly, there’s even some sort of mechanic where thieves will try to swipe things. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but maybe I can slice ‘n’ dice the offender?

As for the combat, it plays out in the same spirit as the SNES or NES versions of Zelda (no, not you The Adventure of Link). It’s basically a top-down view with action combat. It’s not particularly exciting, but there aren’t any issues with it either. Combat is smooth, and when I die I don’t feel like the game cheated me as much as I do that I failed. That’s a good thing.

So if you’re in the mood for a game with combat similar to Zelda but with an equal part of the gameplay involving selling loot and upgrading your shop, then this is the one for you.

Overall, these games are landing in just the sweet spot of gaming in my life right now. I’ve been eyeballing some of the more modern games in the Game Pass library, such as the latest Dragon Quest and even NeiR: Automata, but I just can’t help but play these retro-inspired games first. I used to always say that I was young at heart, but when I think about what I actually enjoy playing and when the games these were inspired by released, perhaps I’m actually old at heart.

Are you burned out on MMOs? It happens. But there are plenty of other titles out there with open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, and other MMO stalwarts. Massively OP’s MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems.
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