A heartening retro tribute, albeit a frustrating one
Some may say the indie explosion of pixel-art games may’ve diluted their novelty, with 8-bit relics and 16-bit replicas a dime a dozen even in this 3D-dominated industry. The thing is, it’s not just the preservation of gaming’s aesthetical genesis that continues to endure. These titles are timeless vectors for realizing the lifelong dreams of starry-eyed gamers, personalizing the formative worlds of their youth into veritable tributes now resting in your hands. Such is the case for Trophy: a pixelated tribute to the NES Mega Man library of old, born from the mind of a pre-teen Derek Andrews. While this isn’t the first time his childhood creation’s been sent out into the world (it originally released on Xbox One back in 2021 alongside a special NES cartridge), years of tinkering with 8-bit coding have finally found this platforming shooter a home on Nintendo hardware. Ain’t that a dream come true?
The fact that Trophy failed to make any sort of splash prior may speak to its quality, but what we have here isn’t so much bad as it is “ordinary”. Yes, the game certainly wears its Mega Man-tattooed heart on its sleeve, with colorful graphics, rockin’ chiptune score, hidden power-ups, googly-eyed enemy robots, and even the spontaneous sprite flickering reminiscent of Capcom’s Blue Bomber. There’s even extensive lore supplied by its prolonged opening, which sets the stage for aliens, mad scientists, and robotic fusion producing our titular hero in Trophy. Yet, a facsimile is a facsimile all the same, and we’re left with a game that’s a little too comfortable with paying tribute rather than finding its own niche.
Trophy is best described as Mega Man without the hook of Mega Man. Granted, this isn’t entirely true – you can pick any of the eight stages out of order, but you won’t be siphoning any boss abilities or deducing enemy weaknesses. Even so, anyone with Mega Man 2 muscle memory – particularly if they’re playing with the NES Online controller – will instantly find themselves at home. Trophy’s squat little body is constantly jumping and gunning: making heart-pounding jumps and sniping at robot baddies from ladders.
Unfortunately, all of this is presented through what amounts to average level design. Much of it’s certainly functional, but it’s missing the nuts and bolts of what made the classic Mega Man games work. While each level has a specific motif, they rarely play to their respective theme. For instance, a circus stage is certainly an inspired idea, but it’s largely a sea of purple platforms, occasionally peppered with merry-go-round props. The train level’s one continuous screen is interesting, but it never exploits the idea further, remaining content with a dull collection of floating boxes and sporadic train-top treks.
This isn’t to say Trophy never challenges. The space and water levels appropriately test our hero with floaty jumps, forcing him to delicately navigate around touch-of-death spikes, but these moments are rarely memorable. Unfortunately, what does stick to memory are routine bouts of frustration. Scenarios like the above screenshot aren’t especially uncommon, wherein enemies are precariously placed just to fudge jumps and yield no reliable methods to shake them off. To its credit, Trophy does a decent job of otherwise telegraphing its hazards, but as much as the game prizes advertised difficulty, conquering the toughest trials can sometimes boil down to luck.
The bosses are the epitome of this imbalance: while some display discernible movement patterns, others are simply hell, and not always for the right reasons. Look no further than the snowplow machine: there’s no distinct read on its constant snowball volleys, and its back-and-forth shuffle leaves little breathing room to deduce a manner of attack. Even the final boss is a clunker, choosing to inflict protracted bouts of waiting as it floats up, up and away – invulnerable to all methods of attack as it cheaply fires from the air. Whatever the case, all suffer the same flaw in dragging out too long (a problem compounded by the absence of a health bar), right down to a drawn-out explosion animation.
As Trophy was designed for NES hardware, it’s easier to forgive its more antiquated design decisions in a password save system or lack of features. Even the absence of a hi-score means Trophy’s left stripped down to the bare essentials. It’s certainly fun, yes, but in its attempts at mimicry, Trophy achieves little of the depth or flexibility so prized by its endlessly-replayable forebears in Mega Man or Castlevania. Consequently, it cultivates little motivation to seek its hidden upgrades or master its levels, leaving us with a simple one-and-done trip down memory lane.
Make no mistake, Trophy is pure action, passionately running on the fumes of yesteryear. It plays like it should, is tough as nails, and ticks all the right boxes in bright colors and tinny beeps. Alas, its imbalanced emphasis on simplicity ensures it never reaches the heights of its idols, but while an afternoon of Mega Man 2 remains untouched, the pixelated heart beating in Trophy’s core is palpable. We’ll be watching for Mr. Andrews’ future endeavors, but in the meantime, you could certainly do worse than his 8-bit love letter.