Nostalgia is a fickle thing these days. It might be difficult to imagine, but there was a time once when pixel-art games aping the 8- and 16-bit eras were unusual and interesting. How great would it be to play a new, completely original NES game if you grew up playing the little grey box, right? Naturally, as often happens in the games industry, this concept was run straight into the ground and now pixel art is something to be feared as a harbinger of samey me-too gameplay. Games like Tower 57 are having none of this, though – they’re taking nostalgia back and doing right by it once more.
Tower 57 was created with an eye to the old Amiga shooters of the past, drawing inspiration in particular from The Chaos Engine (known as Soldier of Fortune in the U.S.) This is clear in the game’s presentation – environments, characters an enemies alike are vibrant and full of personality. Tower 57 would have been right at home on the 16-bit systems of old.
Gameplay-wise it owes just as much to those old shooters. You’ll select a character…and then select two more, because the first one’s probably not going to survive the whole game. One of those characters will probably be someone who is definitely not Abraham Lincoln despite being dressed like him. That’s the kind of game this is. You’re sent into the titular Tower to investigate some nastiness and it doesn’t take long before you find it – there’s dead bodies and mutants all over the place. If you don’t want to join the corpses, you’ll have to shoot your way through. Keep shooting until you’re out of ammo, health or enemies. Repeat until the game’s over. The 16-bit era generally wasn’t very demanding, but the satisfaction associated mass mutant slaughter is present and accounted for.
There’s a fair few quirks beyond just running around and blasting away. Your character’s just as susceptible to mutilation as the enemies, meaning it’s entirely possible that you’ll need to crawl around on your intestines until you can find a cloning machine and get patched up. It’s…well, it’s less gross than it sounds, but still pretty gross. There’s a wide variety of weapons and upgrades to check out as well. It’s all nice and snappy, and the interesting world design (and your characters’ reaction to it) means that progression is a treat.
As mentioned, Tower 57’s presentation is surprisingly decent in an era where many will recoil at the very mention of pixel art. This could see a port to the Super Nintendo and fit fairly comfortably on that system, gore aside. Sound’s great too, particularly the music, and the gunning-enemies-down sounds are as shooty as you’d want them to be.
My one complaint with Tower 57 is fairly serious and might have dropped this to a “Nay” if the game wasn’t otherwise pretty solid: despite being sold as a co-op game, I was unable to get Tower 57’s online play to work. I’m no stranger to the sort of finagling necessary when it comes to getting these systems to behave, but no amount of tweaking or percussive maintenance would produce a valid connection with the friend I was trying to play with. Worse games than this one that didn’t have crowdfunding money behind them have managed to pull this off with fewer hitches. One hopes the issue is addressed in a future patch, as the state of this feature as it stands is a massive disappointment.
With that in mind, though, if you’re going to be playing solo or with a local pal, Tower 57 is an instant recommendation. It hearkens back to the glory days of the 1990s in a way that feels legitimate and respectful; in an age where many indie developers see nostalgia and smell money, that’s saying something. Grab your Bugles and rent a copy of Viva Amiga for post-game viewing, then give Tower 57 a shot.