Back in the 90s growing up as a British teenage gamer with a Commodore Amiga at hand to play on, there were two gaming developers that for me defined the decade. There was Bullfrog with games such as Theme Park/Hospital, Syndicate and Populous to name a few. And then there were The Bitmap Brothers who stood out from the crowd at the time as they posed for pictures in the gaming magazines of the day in shades next to helicopters (not theirs).
They were the cool kids amidst all the geeky nerds other gaming studios had, the Bitmaps were the ones that developed games with a real passion and drive that pushed the limits of the hardware and even the people who played them thanks to the game’s punishing difficulty. They showed the world that games could be beautiful to look at and great to play at the same time. Titles like Xenon, Speedball, The Chaos Engine and GODS (yes the title is stylised in all caps) were sublime. I’m currently writing a book covering the best of British game developers/publishers, companies I grew up with and their games – you can check out the first three chapters (in the first draft) right here. One of the developers I cover in the book is The Bitmap Brothers and I signed off the first draft of their chapter saying how much I adored their games, especially GODS and how much I’d love to see a sequel or even a remaster. Well that was a few months back when I wrote that and at the time I didn’t know my wish would come true. Yes GODS, perhaps my favourite game from the Bitmaps (after The Chaos Engine of course) has had the remaster treatment and I’ve played it thanks to receiving a review copy. The good news is I get to play a remaster of one of my all time favourite games, the bad news is I have to re-write the ending of that chapter of my book. But the big question is, does GODS have a place in today’s gaming market?
First up, a very quick history lesson on the original. GODS was developed by The Bitmap Brothers and released in 1991 for pretty much every 16-bit machine at the time, though the Amiga original is still the best. Kicking off on the title screen with a brilliant tune by Nation 12 (A.K.A John Foxx) called Into The Wonderful. One thing their games always had was amazing music and GODS was no exception.
You play as the legendary Hercules on a quest to become a God by exploring and conquering the citadel of the gods, defeat the numerous enemies and four guardians to achieve immortality. GODS was an action/shooter/puzzle/platformer and was bloody hard too (all Bitmap games were tricky-dicky), this was our Dark Souls of the day. Controlling Hercules was pretty standard stuff. Walk left/right, die a lot, shoot bad guys, die a lot, find treasure that can be spent on upgrades, die a lot, play around with switches and levers to discover secrets, die a lot, make pixel perfect jumps, die a lot. Yup GODS was a tough cookie… but never unfairly so. It was a game where you had to play and replay levels over and over to not only to get the most out of them but also add a new bit of info to your memory for next time. Each time you played, you’d learn something new – remember an enemy spawn point to get the drop on them next time, learn a switch pulling pattern to discover a secret room with treasure, experiment with the upgrades to find out which one worked best for that particular level. GODS was a game that needed your upmost attention and I loved the hell out of it back in the day.
It’s now 2018 and GODS is back as GODS Remastered for the Xbox One and Steam. Developed by Robot Riot with cooperation from one of the original Bitmap Brothers, Mike Montgomery. GODS Remastered is just that, they’ve not messed around with the core gameplay and a few tweaks aside (that I’ll get to soon) this is the same as the original only with fancy HD graphics.
I did get a bit of a nerd-smirk when I loaded up the game and was greeted with a slightly updated version of the original title screen, 16-bit, scan-lines and all. I was instantly transported back to 1991.
But that old school looking title soon gives way to an all new HD one. GODS Remastered is a very faithful recreation of the original. The levels are the same, the enemy placement is the same, the puzzles are the same, the weapons the same… everything is the same. Well perhaps not “everything”, I was so looking forward to loading this up and being greeted by a updated/remix/remastered version of the classic Into The Wonderful intro music… but no. I believe there was a licensing issue with the song and so we get a new tune instead. Heaven to Hades is the new track and while I’m definitely disappointed about the lack of Into The Wonderful, this new music works and doesn’t sound out of place at all – still sounds very “Bitmap Brothers” if you know what I mean.
With this being such an accurate remaster, I don’t really need to dwell too much on the game itself. Chances are that if you are reading this, then you are already aware of what GODS is and most probably played it a lot too. This is the same as the original but with shiny new HD graphics. I’ll even give you a quick look at the very start of the game and segue nicely into one of the new features.
Anyone who played the original will have the image of the very start of the game embedded into their subconscious with how may times we had to play and replay the levels due in part to the difficulty and the fact we loved the game so much we payed and played it over and over. You all remember that very first gameplay image right? With our hero, Hercules standing and the bottom left of the screen the first weapon over to his right, with a ladder leading up, as a gem spun above his head in a seemingly impossible to reach area. And you all remember what happens when you walk over to that first weapon. Well that opening screen now looks like this…
Oh yeah, that brings back some memories eh? It’s very familiar and yet new at the same time. You instantly recognise it – probably still have nightmares over it. Well a feature of this remaster is that if you feel a little nostalgic and want a trip back to 1991, just give the right stick a click and…
Yup you can switch between the HD remastered graphics and the original ones anytime you like. Though I’m sure they are not the original Amiga graphics as they look more like one of the console ports, possibly the CD-32 version – which is a shame as the console versions are not as good. But you know what? I found myself switching between the graphic modes a lot as I played just so I could see the differences between the two and compare how accurate all the background details were… and they are pretty much 100% accurate with the HD version having more going on. The HD graphics themselves are very nice indeed and while all new, they still look like they belong in a Bitmap Brothers game. The colour palette is more vibrant and yet it still maintains that use of plenty of grey they were famed for with splashes of orange/bronze. Yup GODS Remastered is a very pretty game that has lost none of the original’s charm. Along with the “improved” graphics comes some very nice lighting effects, shadows and such. Though if I’m being 100% honest, I much prefer the original 16-bit visuals and after my incessant flicking between the two, I eventually just stuck with the original graphics.
Another new feature is the saving. I’m sure veteran GODS players will remember that the game only had four levels (four hard levels) and each level was split into three sections. Clear all the sections in that level, beat the end of level boss and you would be rewarded with a password that would start you back at the start of the level. This meant there were only 4 passwords for the whole game, no checkpoints here folks, you fail at the end of level boss and you’d have to play the entire level from the start. Well GODS Remastered has gotten around that by having a auto save feature that saves not only after each fully completed level, but also in between each section that makes up each level. So fail at the end of level boss here and instead of gong back to the very start of the level, just load up the start of the section. For me, this makes the game a little easier and may put off some hardcore GODS players.
The controls are still as clunky as ever, and I mean that in a nice way. There’s something about the way GODS plays that feels right even though it’s a bit stiff. I mean, when Hercules turns around, he doesn’t instantly flip left/right, there’s a little animation that lasts maybe a second or so – but that second is pretty important when you have enemies spawning on either side of you. There is a little help added to this remaster as when you press the left/right trigger buttons, Hercules turns and shoots at the same time. It’s a nice little addition that can really help you out of a tight spot when you get overwhelmed. Plus there is the fact we now use modern controllers these days too. The original Amiga version had the disadvantage of using a joystick with one button, so everything you had to do in the game came from that single button. Playing on the Xbox One with it’s multi-button controller means you now have a button for jumping, one for shooting, one for using switches and one for picking items up. The whole thing makes controlling Hercules easier.
So far it’s all sounding really good… except I have a major problem with GODS Remastered. It’s a problem I can’t overlook and needs addressing. That problem is this…
£16.74? I mean, aside from the rather stupid pricing instead of £16.99 – almost £17 for this? Look I fucking love GODS it really is one of my all time favourite games but this remaster is bare bones, you get the original game with nice graphics… that’s it. There are no extras, nothing to add gameplay value. It’s a 27 year old game with shiny new graphics.
Okay so there are some new features besides the ones I’ve already covered. Finish the game and unlock a speed run mode… but let me ask you this – what is a speed run mode? I mean, people speed run games all the time and they don’t need a specific mode to do so. You know what is needed? A stopwatch. So all this game offers as a “bonus” is a stopwatch, you know that thing you have on your phone anyway. Then there are leaderboards so you can compete for the best score, achievements have been added and that’s all you get for your £17. Do you want to see how minimal the game is?
That’s the options screen… all of it, every single option in the game. It’s a volume slider and that’s all you get too. GODS is not a complex game I know but is that all we get, something I can adjust via the volume control on my T.V.? No button mapping, no screen adjustments, nothing other than a music and sound effects slider.
The game offers nothing new that justifies the price except the HD graphics and for me, I don’t think that’s worth £17 especially as I prefer the original 16-bit ones anyway. You get four levels. Now I’m no GODS master but I did play it a lot back in the day. I sat down to play this remaster and got the boss of level three on my first attempt… there are only four levels. I completed the game on my second attempt and I’m currently at the top of the world rankings leaderboard… well the game hasn’t been released yet so that’s hardly worthwhile – but still. There’s an achievement to speed run the game in under an hour. That’s how short this game is, it can be finished in less than 60 minuets if you know what you are doing. In fact, it can be completed in a little over 36 minutes.
GODS Remastered needs more to it. Bearing in mind that the original game only had four levels and while this remaster does a cracking job of recreating the levels – there are still only four. For a game that costs a shade under £17, it’s a joke. What’s needed is more levels created just for this remaster, maybe a level editor so people can share and challenge other players, new weapons and upgrades, armour/clothing that could offer gameplay benefits, play as different heroes, more secret rooms to discover.
You know what would’ve been nice? Ports of all the other versions from the Amiga original to the SNES, Megadrive, DOS, CD 32, etc… all of them just so you could see the numerous different iterations of the game and find your personal favourite.
Something, the game needs something to warrant that price-tag. I mean, there is already an unofficial GODS remake called GODS Deluxe from a few years back with new graphical options, the original four levels, four all new levels and even a level editor so you can create your own… and it’s FREE. Maybe not 100% legal and all but still, it offers a lot more gameplay value than this remaster does with it’s high price which is my point.
Yes it’s a remaster not a remake, I get that but for the asking price, gamers expect more for their money these days. Maybe this would’ve flown ten years back or so, but not in today’s gaming climate. I got a review copy for free and for free – GODS Remastered is utterly brilliant. You want the best (subjectively) looking version of GODS to play right now, then GODS Remastered is it. But if I’d paid full price for this, I’d be really pissed off because there is nothing here. This is a £6-£8 game, maybe a £10 at the most, certainly not £17. I don’t think I paid £17 for the game back in 1991 so paying that much for the same game (with “nicer” graphics) almost three decades later in 2018 is ludicrous. The little to none additions are not helping either… a speed run mode?
Just as a quick comparison – one of my recent previous reviews was for Horizon Chase Turbo. Another indie game that is hugely inspired by 90s arcade racers. It has a slightly lower price of £15.99 and yet in terms of content, game modes, replayability, unlockables and gameplay value, Horizon Chase Turbo is heads and shoulders above GODS Remastered as it offers the player a lot more game for their money… less money too. I’m sorry, but you just can’t release a bare bones game like this an expect people to fork over close to £20 for it.
What Robot Riot have done here is commendable – I mean this remaster was not crowd-funded as is the norm these days. This was 100% self-funded and I have to applaud everyone over at Robot Riot for that. I don’t mean to piss on their cornflakes here. I really, really want GODS Remastered to do well, the core game is still solid and just as very playable today as it was back in 91. I just don’t think it’s worth the asking price and can’t recommend you buy it. Robot Riot either need to drop the price by at least half or add new features for free.
Again, take a look at the previously mentioned GODS Deluxe (Google it) as an example of how to do this right and add value to an older, much loved game game.
Overall, I do like GODS Remastered as its GODS, which is an all time classic game that still plays well today and think Robot Riot have done a cracking job recreating it, but it’s all just garnish with no real meat. It’s just a very bitter pill to swallow at £17.
If the original GODS is a fine, classic Rolex watch – then GODS Remastered is a cheap knock-off being sold to you by the “lucky-lucky” man on a beach in Benidorm, only he’s expecting you to pay over the odds for the knock-off.