Monday, 18 February 2013

REVIEW - 8BitBoy (PC Indie)

The 2D platform game has seen a massive resurgence in the last 5 years or so, especially in the indie game scene, and in a market positively overflowing with excellent, often innovative, platform games, new titles need to stand out. If they are going to go old school and copy the best (Super Mario Bros) then they need to do a good job of replicating the sheer playability and addictiveness of those titles. Upon finding 8BitBoy online I was keen to play some old school, back-to-basics platforming. After all, with a title like 8BitBoy, how can it be anything other than awesome!

After starting the game you are treated to a, rather text heavy, introduction explaining the premise of the game. As we all know, a storyline to a retro 2D platformer is irrelevant, but if developers want to tell us a story then let's indulge them. 8BitBoy tells the tale of a 32 year old guy who is disappointed with his accomplishments (or lack thereof) so instead of getting his shit together, he descends to the basement to dig out his old consoles for some retro gaming. Sounds like a plan to me. Anyway, to cut a long story short, he inserts an unlabeled cartridge into the machine (looking suspiciously like a Sega Master System to my eyes) and is sucked into the game.

Before you begin you are asked to choose your difficulty, either Kiddy Mode, or Retro Mode. Of course, no self-respecting gamer is going to choose the former; it is like being asked if you are a massive wiener before you start a game – fuck off! Retro Mode is for true hardcore gamers apparently, though I found it to be fairly reasonable. This is no Super Meat Boy (in more ways than one).

The colourful and simplistic graphics that greet you as you begin stage 1 are pretty much what you would expect, this is a Mario clone after all. So we get bright colours, blue skies, green floors and yellow bricks. The visuals immediately bring to mind Sega's Alex Kidd, or perhaps Wonder Boy, and of course the fat Italian plumber. However, where those games had charm oozing from every pore, 8BitBoy looks quite soulless. The main character himself looks absolutely pathetic, with an embarrassing walk-cycle to match. The stages and enemies fare slightly better in the looks department, but it has a very childish and amateur look about it that doesn't really draw you into its world.

But it's the gameplay that counts, right? Unfortunately it becomes apparent as soon as you start moving that they have blown it. There is none of the perfect flea-like jumps of Mario here, instead the slow moving protagonist jumps as though he isn't even trying. It feels as though he is weighed down by something, and a sluggish main character, with no run button to hold down I might add, is a big no no in a game emulating Super Mario Bros. Though the appearance and layout of headbuttable blocks mimics Mario, the game looks  more similar to the most famous of clones, Great Giana Sisters. This was a popular game that saw the light of day in the 1980's on platforms such as the C64 and Amiga. It was such a blatant copy that Nintendo ruffled its legal feathers and the game was removed from sale. 8BitBoy closely resembles that game, right down to the chubby owl like enemies you must head stomp to kill.

Power ups come as a shield icon that allows you one extra hit, after that berries appear that give you a fireball shooting ability much the pipe loving Nintendo mascot. Stage 2 is, predictably, an underground stage, and from then on the levels alternate between above ground and below. After 9 stages you  face a boss before being allowed to proceed to the next world. Bosses are fairly straightforward affairs that resemble the Bowser sibling encounters in Super Mario Bros 3. The boss runs at you, you head stomp him, he gets slightly faster, after three hits it's sayonara scumbag and off to the next world.

Some levels introduce rising lava that requires you keep above it at all times, only moving to lower levels to access secrets and coins. There are quite a few secret areas, often found by moving into walls. If you are familiar with platform games then your gut instinct will probably lead you to the correct places. It certainly adds an element of exploration to proceedings. Plus these areas usually contain power ups, and as the game can be quite tough, these are needed. The difficulty level is about right, but you more often feel as though it was the crappy controls and sluggish character that led to your demise, rather than your own gaming prowess. This leads to frustration, and 8BitBoy doesn't have enough going for it to get away with pissing you off.

Indeed, the whole experience is so very generic and bland that you will find it extremely hard to get excited about this game. It fails to pay adequate service to the games it desperately wants to be, nor offer indie and retro gamers anything worth spending any time on. The game was initially a paid for product, but is now free to download, but even for free I can't recommend it, there are so many decent indie platformers out there, not to mention a back catalogue of hundreds of excellent titles from old systems, that it just isn't worthy of your attention.

When you can't even match, let alone improve on, a game that is nearly 30 years old it is pretty sad, though it also goes to show how talented and ahead of his time Mr. Miyamoto was when he brought the plumber brothers to our screens. 8BitBoy comes nowhere near achieving this and so will be left to drown in its own mediocrity.

The Good

  • Nice title screen
  • May offer some brief thrills for less discriminating platform fans
  • Intro spookily similar to my own life (experience may vary for others)
  • Free

The Bad

  • Incredibly bland gameplay
  • Poor in-game visuals
  • Character handles poorly
  • Bland Bland Bland

Developer : Awesome Blade Software
System Reviewed : PC
Also Available on : Mac
Price : Free