Not long after GBStudio was first released in 2019, I started making Game Boy games using this software. Years later and there’s quite a large library of Game Boy games on the Game Buoy Games itch.io page. But nothin’ for any other handheld or console. ‘Til now.
I recently stumbled upon retro-indie dev Elvie’s new Hollow Knight related NES puzzle game and noticed in the description that it was made with something called Retro Puzzle Maker. A very neat, and free, game making tool used to put together puzzle games for the Nintendo Entertainment System which includes the option to export the game as a playable ROM. Which can then also be flashed on to a cartridge and played on the original NES console.
There’s both downloadable and browser based versions available, making this game creation software incredibly accessible. I’ve read that folks have managed to make games using a phone or tablet which adds an extra level of convenience. This is the kind of thing that could be great when included in school computing classes! I’ve put together a couple of games so far, which I’ll link at the bottom of this article. One of the games even maxes out at the currently available sixty four possible levels. They all only took a few hours to make each, with the game that hits the level limit using only the default available sprites and music to show how anyone can use Retro Puzzle Maker to create their own NES game. This, I’m sure, was the childhood dream of someone currently reading this.
Go get that dream, homie! Reach for the stars, I believe in you. And to prove it, I’ll take you on a quick look at what to expect when you start your foray into NES development.
Retro Puzzle Maker
Here’s what you’ll see straight off the bat once you’ve first opened your project; you can choose a name for your game as well as that of the author. It’s here you can also pick what kind of graphics style you’d like to go with from the three available options. There’s also the ability to add custom sprite-work, this is something we’ll look at a little later. For now, a list of options will also appear to the right of the screen which is where we can start to piece this new NES game together.
The title and intro screens contain enough information to get going including game instructions, but adding your own flair is simple. There are choices between different colour palette’s, extra text (as well as erasing the text already there) and adding sprites to the screen if you so desire. Switching between drawing and typing modes is as easy as clicking on the highlighted box. You’d also be wanting to use the 8px tile option to add some of the smaller characters in the included pallet with the 16px option for text and adding other sprites.
Oh, and don’t forget to save at this point too. A prompt will appear asking if you want to save as you change between menu selections. But it’s always good to be safe and save after any major changes.
If you’ve selected to include the default eight levels to help you get to grips, this is the screen you’ll be seein’ next. Here you can give these levels a go and play around with editing them to help you get used to putting your own screens together. Adding your own blocks, paths, holes, crates etc. is as simple as clicking it in the tile selection screen then picking where you’d like to place it on the level with another click.
Here we have the blank canvas, the clean slate, the…hairless guinea pig. This is the point where you can let your imagination go wild and start thinking up level puzzles. There’s options for changing the players start position, you can change which tile is used for the level border and even change the game style between the available options: box pushing puzzle, collect all the keys before reaching the end and just your regular ‘get to the end’ style gameplay.
As an example, I put together this level above where the player needs to push the boxes to reach the coins (diamonds). These must be collected before completing the stage.The boxes also form land when pushed over the holes, making reaching the coins a lot more doable.
Now we get to the real meat of the engine; customisation. With options for changing the graphical tiles and colour palette along with the ability upload and import new NES music tracks, this is where your creativity can really shine. There’s a FAQ section at the bottom of this page with links to software that can be used to make these custom assets too, which is a great addition.
If you click the image above this text you’ll find yourself at a page where you can download and play the first game I quickly clunked together. Or just click this link here instead.
A few days later I also cobbled together another game in a rush for a weekly art theme stream by the ever entertaining Sezza.
You can click that above cartridge picture too if you want to have a suss, or jump onto this link right here.
A Retro Puzzle Maker Discord channel recently started which would be a great place to check out if you want to see what talented NES developers have been making with the fledgling software. If you’re a fan of Hollow Knight or Metroid Dread be sure to check out Elvie’s other Game Boy fan games as well as the Wink NES puzzle game where there’s currently a bit of friendly speedrun rivalry goin’ on in the comment section.
I hope that this this has sparked your interest in starting a new homebrew/retro game dev hobby, or if you’re already someone who’s been makin’ games for a while and want to have a shot at making their own NES puzzler. Or, indeed, if you just have a passing interest and just wanted to read about it and check it out. I hope this write-up helped in some way and many thanks for givin’ it a peruse.
Please share with us anything you happen to create via our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. We’ll keep on top with any new developments with the tool itself as well. As I was writing this article, there’s been an update adding the option for a level number display in your games so things are ever evolving. Also included in the version 1.3 update are pushable ice blocks, both keys and locked blocks (with the keys opening them, similar to the crates and holes) as well as the much appreciated ability to import and export projects. That last feature would make it easier for multiple people to work on a single game if a team wanted to have a go.
‘Til NESxt time, peace out.