While perhaps not quite scaling the heights of previous years, the current Summer of Arcade season has thrown up a fine harvest so far - from the cute Metroid-with-Martians stylings of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, to Eric Chahi's ambitious attempt to breathe some life into the god game genre with From Dust. However, it's Supergiant Games' delightful isometric action RPG Bastion that has come closest to providing the class of 2011 with a Limbo or a Braid.
Though it offers fair few innovative touches, it's a title that's custom-made to tickle the nostalgia glands of the don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to demographic. Duly, according to the game's creative director Greg Kasavin, the project was born out of a frustration at a lack of titles out there for those who, like them, favour The Old Ways: classic level design, tight controls and the "sense of wonder" that the SNES games of his youth inspired.
"We really miss certain types of play experiences," he admits. "There's a whole era of gaming that people have a lot of love for, and I think those players are feeling pretty under-served these days. There are some really great FPS games out there, but if you miss classic-style RPGs, or action adventure games, or Metroidvania games, there isn't a lot of stuff to choose from.
"There was real mastery in game design in that era, before the advent of 3D gaming and the PlayStation. But when 3D gaming came around a lot of that institutional knowledge and mastery sort of went away. People had to re-learn to make games. In our case, we do take a lot of lessons from games of that era as we think there's so much great stuff there."
Take those vintage influences and then stir in some more modern trimmings - such as the gravelly, enigmatic in-game narration and the thoughtful Shrine system that lets players customise the game's difficulty - and, as Kasavin argues, "suddenly it's a fresh experience."
And it's that 21st-century frosting that Supergiant hopes will help bring in a younger audience too, who've likely never played Secret of Mana, A Link To The Past, Ultima or any of the other 16-bit touchstones that count among Bastion's myriad influences. That said, Kasavin adds that the game should also appeal to a younger crowd for exactly the same reasons that the aforementioned classics did: because they're well made and they have that elemental whiff of magic about them.
"Our game isn't meant to be directly referential to old games, like some kind of nostalgia trip. It's just meant to be a good game on its own merits that anyone can appreciate whether they've played stuff that's similar to it or not. We make no assumptions about player's experience level with the design, other than assuming they know how to read a little bit, and how to use a controller.
"Our goal is to make the kinds of games that spark people's imaginations like the ones they played as kids."
"Personally I feel there aren't enough quality titles out there that are suitable for younger players," he continues.
"When I was a kid, there was a lot of terrific stuff for young players to choose from and that stuff turned me into a life-long fan of video games. I sometimes wonder what the modern equivalent is. You have super-young children playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, y'know?
"Our goal is to make the kinds of games that spark people's imaginations like the ones they played as kids. Or, for younger gamers, we want to make games that spark their imaginations period, and fill them with a sense of wonder and discovery."
Mission accomplished, judging by the response from both customers (who sent the game to the top of the XBLA chart in its first week) and critics. Eurogamer's Tom spoke up for the game's "dazzling visuals, artful commentary and moving score" in his glowing 8/10 endorsement last month, though did have one concern: the enemy design.
He criticised the AI for "frequently just spamming you with increasing numbers, extra spawn points, area-of-effect attacks and storms of projectiles rather than fighting you in ways that invite experimentation and get you excited about going into combat."
It's a complaint that Kasavin was eager to answer.
"I can see how somebody would judge that to be the case," he replies. "I don't think that's been the consensus, but since the combat is such a big portion of the game people's views on it naturally differ.
"Our intention with the enemy design was to provide behaviours that players could learn. You learn to see a certain enemy, you know what it does, you know what its weaknesses are. Fighting those things in different combinations and sets of encounters is what creates the challenge.
"We didn't want to put the player in situations where the enemies are just utterly unpredictable, because that means players can't learn how to play the game well. That's an aspect where we do take inspiration from classic game design, where it's not about trying to create artificial intelligence that can handle the player in every type of situation, it's more about letting the player achieve a growing sense of mastery."
As for where Supergiant goes next, the path is every bit as difficult to predict as The Kid's journey through Bastion's self-generating post-Calamity gameworld. There are no scraps left over ready to be moulded into a sequel, and no concrete plans to tie up any of the loose ends left dangling by the game's memorable denouement.
"There is really nothing that we left on the cutting room floor that wasn't something we wanted to leave out. This is very much the game we wanted to make," explains Kasavin.
"Our intention with the game was to make a complete-feeling experience and not release it until that was the way it felt. I think, looking at the feedback, there's nothing that we wish we could go back and re-do.
"We held nothing back for DLC or a sequel," he added.
"We wanted a very strong conclusion to the whole game so that it really did leave players feeling satisfied at the end. There are certainly design decisions that not everybody is going to agree with, but I think even if we had more time we would have changed our mind on any of those things."
"Whatever we do next, creating a sense of wonder and a sense of surprise is going to be important to us."
Kasavin refused to rule out a return to the Bastion universe at some point in the future but emphasised that the studio's first priority with its next project is ensuring that it doesn't repeat itself.
"We would seek to create new experiences no matter what, whether it's in the Bastion universe or some other Bastion universe, if that makes sense. I don't think it would be sufficient for us to go, 'Oh well, people really like Bastion so here's more of the same' because what people like about Bastion is that it's not just more of the same. It's that the game surprised them.
"So with whatever we do next, creating a sense of wonder and a sense of surprise is going to be important to us. We're certainly not decided about the specific games we're going to do - we're more interested in the types of feelings they create, whether in this franchise or some other one."