Feature: Hands-On With 16-bit RPG Pier Solar
Posted by Damien McFerran
We check out the Mega Drive epic which could be making its way to Wii U soon
WaterMelon's 16-bit RPG Pier Solar is proof that old gaming hardware can enjoy a fresh existence years or even decades after its original production lifespan. What began as a homebrew project in 2004 has turned into a indie gaming success story; Pier Solar has had multiple print runs, and we recently got our hands on the coveted "WaterMelon's Reprint Edition", largely due to the excitement of learning that the developer is bringing the game to HD consoles via a Kickstarter campaign, which, if successful, could also herald a Wii U release.
For those of you that weren't aware, Pier Solar is effectively a brand new RPG for the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) console. It follows the exploits of botanist Hoston, who sets out on a quest to find a cure for his father's terminal sickness. He's joined on this noble venture by his best friends Alina and Edessot, and must traverse dungeons, battle monsters in turn-based combat and chat with legions of non-player characters. In short, it's exactly the kind of game you'd have snapped up almost without hesitation back in the 16-bit era, and can sit proudly alongside the likes of Secret of Mana and Phantasy Star IV.
Of course, creating a modern game for an old system means you have the benefit of technological advancement. Pier Solar is the biggest 16-bit RPG ever made, boasting 64MEG of memory - around five times the capacity of your average Mega Drive cartridge. This cavernous storage has allowed WaterMelon to craft one of the most visually stunning Mega Drive games yet seen; locations are highly detailed, sprites are bursting with character and the various anime-style cut-scenes really enliven the experience. Thankfully, the developer has ensured that the polished visuals are more than matched by deep and involving gameplay; the turn-based combat sticks to the template laid down during the 16-bit era, so don't expect anything radical here. Even so, the system works effectively, and again reinforces the feeling that you're playing an RPG that was made during the golden era of the '90s, rather than in the present day. That's a massive compliment to the talent of WaterMelon's small but dedicated team.
As great as the game is, there's a legitimate danger that you'll get waylaid by the incredible quality of the game's packaging. While many other small-scale developers might choose to release their games as cheaply as possible, WaterMelon has spared no expense in bringing Pier Solar to market. Although previous print runs were sold in cardboard cases, this most recent edition comes in an authentic plastic clam-shell box, just like original Mega Drive games from back in the day. As well as a gorgeous inlay and full-colour manual (something that wasn't even common back in the '90s), you get a glossy poster and a set of stickers. The entire package is encased inside a transparent plastic presentation case, which is embossed with the WaterMelon logo and is sure to protect your investment for years to come. In short, it's the kind of package that makes us genuinely sad that physical distribution is slowly but surely being replaced by digital downloads; sometimes, the external trappings of a game - like the manual, cover artwork and even cartridge label design - play a large part of its appeal.
It's wonderful that a game like Pier Solar can find an audience in today's market, and the HD Kickstarter campaign - which, at the time of writing, still has two weeks to go and is a mere $19K short of its $139K total - will ensure that WaterMelon's amazing achievement is enjoyed by an entirely new generation of players. We're incredibly excited that the developer is considering a Wii U release as well, because this is one game that should hold serious appeal for Nintendo players raised on the classic 16-bit RPGs of yesteryear.