Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures [Review]
There are games that I have gotten angry with. You know the type – the ones where you squeeze your controller a little too tight, where you growl a little bit, or maybe even throw your controller at something in the room (I have pre-selected a soft target because I only have a second, tops, to decide where the controller is going to go when I rage out). It’s rare that I come across a game that makes me so angry that I start arguing with it, though. “I wasn’t standing that close!”, “That’s where I jumped to!”, “I hit the button! Why didn’t you move?” Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures brought me to that point, bringing out the angry nerd in me, and you’d think that would be a bad point against it. The game is flawlessly balanced, though, but designed by inhuman monsters who expect you to play at the peak of your skill. I loved playing the game, never once considered quitting out, but go in knowing that this game will make you feel just like the Angry Video Game Nerd himself, screaming and cursing at your television.
Now, despite saying how hard it is, there are difficulty levels to choose from. The idea of picking easy mode might make this game sound a little easier to digest, and it does. You get infinite lives, six beers (health portions), and the enemies take fewer hits (although I really only found this noticeable with bosses). Normal gives you thirty lives and three beers per life, and Old School Difficulty gives you fifteen lives, same amount of beers, and five continues. Having thirty or fifteen lives might sound like a lot, but in many of the stages there are so many hazards and dangerous enemies that you’ll just be whipping through your stockpile. Run out in a level and it’s back to the level select screen, which can be pretty soul-crushing after you’ve gotten past some of the game’s hard parts. Worse, Old School mode will eventually kick you out of the game entirely once you’ve used up your continues. By the end of the difficulty selection screen, I knew this game was not screwing around. This was going to be NES hard.
That being said, it’s not exactly unfair to you. The game is a platformer, and one with solid controls at that. You can jump to various different heights by holding down your jump button, and can shoot your weapon as fast as you can pull the trigger. You can also fire in all eight directions, Metal Blade style. I also found that the AVGN (Your character) moved pretty fast, allowing for a quicker reaction time in dangerous spots. It felt a little slippery at first, as the AVGN moves a little farther than I’m used to when I just tap a direction, but by the end of the first level I’d already taken it into account. There were a few times when this extra bit of movement distance screwed me later, but overall the added mobility helped save my life a lot more than it hurt me.
You will need it, because the dangers are many in this game. The enemies aren’t all that bad, to be honest. A lot of them wander around a platform or hop back and forth, holding to the same patterns as if they don’t care if they hit you or not. They mostly serve as obstacles to get in your way more than as actual dangers, and after a frustrating bout of platforming, it feels great to just blast the idiots. Their jobs are more like that of the birds in Ninja Gaiden, though, where they exist only to toss you off ledges or screw up your jumps. Unlike in Ninja Gaiden, enemies don’t knock you back when they hit you, so FreakZone Games at least gave us that kindness. Even so, you freeze in place for a split second when hit, often losing whatever command you were trying to give at that time. If you were trying to jump or walk when you got hit, you won’t do it. This guaranteed my death somewhere in the vicinity of 100% of the time when it happened.
Cliffs abound in the game, too. Apparently, everyone used to build their dream homes over the top of bottomless pits, but that’s been an issue since the Mushroom Kingdom. Couldn’t we get a government grant to put in some guard rails in these places? Anyway, the platforming is pretty devious, requiring you to use all sorts of devices to cross pits. Did you miss the disappearing/reappearing platforms from Mega Man 2 (or that sound they made)? No? Well, they’re back, although to be fair they’re nowhere near as viciously designed as the ones from Mega Man 9. There are also a few other machines to manipulate, such as the ones you have to shoot a button to keep moving, as well as the standard issue falling platforms. The game doesn’t indicate which ones will fall as the game progresses, so always be ready to move. Even better, there are some areas where you can only see the platforms when you get close, which makes for an exciting run when a hazard appears right in front of you.
I really thought those jumps were going to be the hardest part of the game, but then I came across some spikes. I kept my distance, remembering how dangerous spikes always were in NES games, but eventually I goofed up and fell on some. I only took damage, and felt my confidence rise. Spikes were nothing to be afraid of. Then I saw this block with a skull on it, an image that will be burned into my mind for the rest of my life. I just thought it was a platform indicating that a hard part was next, so I hopped on top of it without even thinking about it. I was killed instantly for making contact with that block, as would happen over a hundred more times over the course of the game.
Skull blocks are the game’s biggest danger, and they are EVERYWHERE. The developer’s really went wild with these things, setting up some hard obstacle courses for the player to navigate. You’ll often be making very careful jumps to get between two sets of them, taking short hops to avoid a low roof filled with them, running through sets of them that disappear/reappear, or charging through a hallway where they only become visible just before you trip over them (and if you stop in that particular hallway the floor falls out from under you. Thanks, FreakZone Games!). If you think for one second that you’ll take a hit from an enemy and use your second of blinking, post-hit invincibility time, you’ll find that the blocks still kill you anyway. The only way past them is through grit and skill; something you’d better develop quickly if you want to see the credits roll.
Now, no one’s going to force you to play the game through on easy mode, but let me just say that I recommend it. Thirty lives might sound like a lot when you first choose Normal Difficulty, but the game’s challenges are built around studying what is coming at you and reacting accordingly, and there’s really no better practice than dying constantly. The game is pretty good about letting you take a peek at what’s coming next, giving you some peace and quiet while you plan the strategy that will get you to the next checkpoint. You can never quite see the entire route, though, so you’ll often learn the hard way that there are worse hazards than you previously expected. Checkpoints are generous, but that doesn’t mean that what’s in between isn’t more than enough to kill you ten or twenty times while you get the hang of it. As such, the infinite lives of an Easy Mode playthrough will give players a handy tool to get the feel of the entire game before seeing if they can play it well enough to survive through a Normal playthrough. After that, we can talk about Hard. Let’s never speak of YOLO Mode, though. Ever. One life to beat the game? Not gonna happen. I’d kill everyone in my neighborhood out of frustration from just the tutorial level.
If you do start right off playing on normal, you may find yourself short on lives once you get to the bosses. They’re not actually all that hard, as they all have pretty obvious patterns if you DON’T PANIC. Again, the game wants you to take a look at things before you dive into it, so take a few minutes with each boss and watch what it does. Knowing where to stand and when to shoot will make the bosses go down pretty easy, as it does when a knowledgeable player goes through any of the Contras. Getting to that point required me to shut down the lousy hit-trading logic that has infused my gameplay style since games started getting easier. I had to get myself back to that mindstate from the NES days where taking a hit was a disaster to be avoided at all costs. Don’t just go against these guys with guns blazing and expect to win.
They’re all pretty cool to look at, though, pulling from past episodes of The Angry Video Game Nerd and many of the games he’s reviewed. The first boss I ran into was Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and Hyde filled the screen. For pixel art on a 50 inch TV, it looked really good. Other awesome bosses included Freddy’s hand from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason from Friday the 13th (Although the game kept calling him Bimmy, an in-joke from the Double Dragon 3 episode). For a game emulating the NES, the bosses all had great shadow details on their sprites that gave them some nice coloring and depth that you wouldn’t see on that old machine. It borders on giving it a SNES-like look at times, even though it leans heavily toward 8-bit graphics. Maybe not so much when you fight Custer from Custer’s Revenge, but overall, the bosses looked amazing.
The levels are all extremely varied, too. They draw from many of the games that the AVGN has played for review, such as Castlevania, Atari porn games, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Terminator. This stuff isn’t just cribbed from the games, but has been created with their aesthetics in mind. They’ve also been combined with the sense of humor of the devs, and nowhere is that clearer than the Beat ‘It and Eat It level based off of Atari porn. That white stuff on the floor isn’t ice, kids. Go ask your parents if you don’t know what it is. Other stages draw from other typical video game landscapes such as ice worlds, futuristic complexes, hell, and a super happy rainbow land. It’s all loaded with details and references to other video games, such as the moon from Majora’s Mask showing up in the Assholevania level. It’s fun just to look at the details and nods that have been crammed into each level, if you dare take your eyes off the skull blocks long enough to do so.
Looking around is encouraged, though, because there are some cool cameos and extras in the game if you poke around. There are hidden shitpickles (It’s a pickle that, well…you’re smart. You figured out how to work your computer enough to get here. You can figure it out) throughout the game that you can collect for…maybe something? Equally pointless, but a bit more fun, are the appearances by Stuttering Craig, Jim Sterling, and other video game-related people. They’re a little bit off the beaten path in most areas, but if you pay a little bit of attention to gaps in the scenery or places that look accessible but aren’t right in your path, you’ll find them. They are hidden well enough if you’re busy looking out for dangers, and you will be, so it may take a second playthrough to find some of them.
You might also need other characters to get to the secrets, too. You don’t just have to play as the AVGN, as you can unlock Kyle Justin, Mike Mattei, and the Bullshit Man (You see, his head is…you know what? I’m not gonna bother), and each has their own abilities. Kyle can shoot through walls with his guitar waves (which is super handy against the last boss), Mike can jump higher and spot hidden platforms and breakable walls, and Bullshit Man can double jump and throw poo. Video games are art, and don’t you ever forget it! Anyway, they all have various uses that will let you sneak into more areas of the game, so keep poking around for them. I only found Kyle on my first run, and being able to switch to him on the fly was pretty handy, so they’re worth getting. Their abilities are necessary to sneak into some of the more hidden areas of the game after you’ve beaten most of it.
The music really brings it all together, creating 8-bit goodness that rocks as hard as Journey to Silius. This game went in gunning for the best soundtracks in the NES library and succeeded. There are no lazy filler tracks in the game at all, and everything is meant to keep your pulse pounding along with the difficulty. You get a feeling for the games that many of them were drawing from, but these songs are all their own. Like Dale North’s work on Dragon Fantasy: Book II, these tracks are done with such care that they are entirely new, yet feel like a classic NES game soundtrack you’ve been listening to for years. The boss theme is especially awesome, mingling in some aspects of the AVGN theme song with a powerful track that emphasizes how tough the bosses are. The only shame was that there was no unique theme just for the last boss, although the remixed, tougher-sounding version of the regular boss music is still excellent.
As hard as Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures gets, it’s the kind of challenge that feels like its pushing you to your very limits. Many of the games that the AVGN reviews are bad because the mechanics don’t work or are poorly designed, but everything in here works flawlessly; only expecting the player to perform at their peak. If you are prepared to give everything you have to this game, you will be rewarded with amazing level and character art; vicious, heartless, and rewarding gameplay; and one of the best, most instantly memorable game soundtracks in years.
In short, you will never see this game in an episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd. Is that irony?