The VideoKid

Paperboy isn’t exactly a game I hold up as one of the all-timers. My first experience with it was actually the worst you can possibly imagine: the Nintendo 64 follow-up. That version is so obscure and forgotten most people I’ve met aren’t even aware that a 3D Paperboy exists. It does, and it’s awful. So honestly, The VideoKid had nowhere to go but up. So, as bad as The VideoKid is.. and it’s horrible.. it’s genuinely better and less broken than an actual, official Paperboy release. So it has that going for it. Which is like telling a diabetic “we have to amputate your left leg, but hey, this will bring you under 300lbs, so there’s that!”

Later, I got to play both a port of the arcade game via Midway Arcade Treasures on the GameCube, and the real McCoy arcade version, complete with handlebars. I thought both were shit. The isometric view. The unfair enemies. The fact that aiming and timing is so unforgiving. It’s one of those games that I think people like the gimmick more than the gameplay. I’ve also noticed that most people who file away fond memories of it primarily played the arcade version, which at least had a unique control method (because what child of the 80s ever had the rare opportunity to wrap their hands around bicycle handlebars? Only at arcades could they experience such a far-fetched fantasy), whereas people whose experience is limited to the NES or PC ports of it tend to agree with me that it was always kind of shit. Still, it’s a franchise that IS remembered, and that’s the key to stoking that sweet, sweet nostalgia fire. Eventually, someone will make the definitive Paperboy indie tribute.

This isn’t that game.

I won’t lie: The VideoKid started behind the eight ball with me. I’m not nostalgic for Paperboy, or anything really. The “anything really” especially hurts VideoKid, which relies fully on the player being one of those people who find references to things you’ve heard of to be comedy gold all by itself. And I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a game take that to such an absurd degree. Even though there’s only one randomly-generated level in VideoKid, there has to be over a hundred mostly 80s pop-culture references that hit one after another. This is the shotgun blast to the face method of reference-based humor.

Kirk & Spock examining a red-shirt before being beamed away. I too remember Star Trek. Ecto-1. I too remember Ghostbusters. Michael Jackson dressed all in white, spinning around. I too remember Smooth Criminal. Tony Montana pulling out a tommy gun and saying “say hello to my little friend!” I too remember Scarface. “He’s Heating UP and “He’s on Fire!” I too remember NBA Jam (which is from the 90s and makes no sense in a game that is a tribute to the 80s). The Mystery Machine being chased by a ghost. I too remember Scooby-Doo. Rambo. I too remember Rambo. Johnny-5 being chased by an Indian scientist. I too remember Short Circuit. The time-traveling DeLorean. I too remember Back to the Future.

Everything I said above? That all happened in a span of less than 30 seconds. Here’s the clip.

Big Bird. Fraggle Rock (or they might be Gummy Bears). Thundercats. He-Man riding Battle Cat. Clark Griswold’s Family Truckster complete with dog tied to bumper running behind. Reference, reference, reference. A conveyor belt of references. No context. No effort made past the character models. Just “hey, you know that thing you know about? I too know about that thing you know about, and I put it in my game so that you know that I know about that thing you know about.”

And for a lot of people, that’s all you need to make them happy. I don’t get it myself. The “pop” part of “pop-culture” stands for “popular.” For a thing to be part of pop-culture, it has to be seen by a lot of people and make enough of an impact that it becomes part of the public consciousness and thus will be remembered by the collective masses and cement its place in culture for generations yet to come. Pop(ular)-Culture. Get it?

So, when you see Optimus Prime show up in a random video game, it shouldn’t really mean anything to me or you, or anyone. Transformers is very well-known and has been a major part of pop-culture for three decades now. That’s why it had multiple cartoons, a line of toys, and then long after the height of its original popularity had passed, was able to be adapted into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise. Of course people have heard of Optimus Prime. If VideoKid wanted to impress me, it should have had cameos by Armed Force fighting Saw Boss or a sign welcoming you to Eerie, Indiana (pop: 16661). Something obscure, you know.

Maybe if The VideoKid had done something clever with these references, it’d mean something. Michael Jackson throws a golden coin to you, which lights you up. Or you ride next to the bike that’s transporting ET and suddenly you start to fly. Something more interactive that actually utilizes the references. But other than being able to do things like knock Care Bears/Fraggles/California Raisins/Alvin & the Chipmunks off a park bench or make a car fall on Homer Simpson (complete with D’OH sound that actually sounds nothing like Homer), the references really just sort of pass by and serve as distractions. Things to avoid running into. You don’t get to collect them as trophies or stickers or anything noteworthy. You just see them. Well, I’ve seen all these things before. Lots of times. So I don’t get the appeal in having them here. They don’t do anything.

I don’t know what it says about me, that a dog being dragged to its death is the one pop-culture reference that made me crack a smile, but this really is the only one that came close to making me laugh. What can I say? The song “Holiday Road” immediately popped into my head and I started to mentally ask myself whether Clark Griswold left the dog tied to the bumper intentionally or not. To this day, I think he did. He later took a theme park hostage at gunpoint and then had a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve, which inspired his mentally ill cousin-in-law to kidnap his boss and hold him to ransom for a bonus. He’s a psychopath. I half expected him to be in prison for a killing spree as a throwaway joke in the Vacation remake, but that would have been too clever.

So, for me at least, VideoKid had to stand on its own gameplay merits. And honestly, I don’t think the foundation is inherently flawed. VideoKid takes place entirely within three lanes of action, with left and right moving you instantly from one to the other. I think this is a solid idea that could, presumably, fix a lot of the issues I had with Paperboy. In the original, it’s never entirely clear which trajectory to take to avoid enemies. By limiting the action to three channels, a player should be able to instinctively learn patterns and have strategies for avoiding obstacles be self-evident. It’s a more streamlined gameplay mechanic that should make VideoKid less frustrating.

But sadly, the lack of polish takes things a few steps backwards, then cuts off those feet to assure no more forward momentum will be had. Collision detection is spotty and inconsistent. Sometimes I’d hop on a car and score points. Other times it would seem like I had timed it right but still die anyway. Sometimes I’d get the power lace shoes from Back to the Future II, which lets you jump high in the air, but those seemed to turn the collision detection into random chance, where I’d die if I landed on a car or a bench (and other times I’d score points like normal). And the horrible play control just compounds the issues. Sometimes, after landing a large trick (which is done by hoping from obstacle to obstacle) the player would land and then be unable to move at all, no matter how much I pushed left or right. Other times I’d be going along not pushing any buttons when my character would veer left or right into a car without me pressing anything. Maybe it was a really delayed response to a button press. I don’t know, but in this clip, I didn’t press left at all and I still moved left into a car and died. And yes, I was using the D-Pad, not the analog stick.

This is developer Pixel Trip Studio’s first game, and it shows. Often, first time developers are so anxious to get their game published that they under-test it. I think that’s the case here. The VideoKid is clearly not finished. I bought the Xbox One version, which doesn’t have menus, doesn’t have options, and doesn’t even have a way to quit the game without using the guide button and going through the Xbox dashboard to close it. Perhaps because of that, it doesn’t properly keep track of your stats. Sometimes it would say I had delivered six tapes (after hours of gameplay), game-overed once, and only earned $0.02. Other times it would go up, but never in a way that was accurate to my actual playing. And while the game has tons of unlockables, if I quit out of VideoKid and then went back to it, sometimes (but not all the time) all the stuff I had just unlocked (or some of the stuff) would become locked again. That is not what you call buggy, people. That is broken.

I’ve played way worse first-efforts by developers. I don’t even think The VideoKid would rank in the bottom five of those. But it’s certainly one of the most unfinished games to find its way to the marketplace in 2018. And it just does lots of other bad stuff. It eliminates the challenge of Paperboy by giving you an unlimited amount of video tapes to throw at mailboxes and does not penalize you for missing or causing property damage, thus eliminating all semblance of finesse or strategy. And when you make more than two deliveries in a row (which is, you know, the main object of the fucking game), it spams the (already cluttered) screen with a giant notification. When you’re dealing with a glitchy, overly-sensitive-controlling game that takes place from an isometric point of view, the last thing on your mind should be making it even harder for the player to see what they’re doing.

Down in front!

So yea, The VideoKid is really horrible. No, I didn’t beat it. I got 90% finished a few times but was killed by Biff Tannen throwing something at me. If you’re one of those types that thinks people shouldn’t share their opinions on a game they bought unless they finished it, I’d like to point out that the developer is on the record saying HE only beat it once himself.

So really, I only beat it one less time than the game’s own developer did. I don’t know if he meant once on Xbox One or once ever. Because The VideoKid is on multiple different platforms, and considering all the really damning bugs and glitches, it seems like he probably should have played it a lot more than he apparently did before releasing it. I try not to review the developer, but I’m frustrated because there’s potential here for something satisfying. And not satisfying because I too have watched cartoons and movies and remember popular characters from them. The VideoKid didn’t need to be this bad. And it looks a small cut above your typical voxel game and effort was put into it. I’m guessing Pixel Trip Studios has talent. But the indie game market really shouldn’t become Mario Maker, where all that’s required to upload a game is to beat it yourself one time. The VideoKid costs $4.99. That buys you a LOT of really good indie games these days. Maybe even more than one for that price. Fans of the game think I’m being too hard on it. So what if it’s a little buggy? Look, there’s Lion-O! I too remember Thundercats!

Hey, there he is. Oh thank God, he didn’t get Mandela Effected out of existence.

Well so do I, and I wasn’t even born until the original series had been off the air for a year. But a game reminding you that Thundercats is a thing and they too have heard of it shouldn’t be a proper substitute for polish or refinement. If someone buys something expecting it to work and it doesn’t, they’re not assholes just because the broken product has Inspector Gadget in it. We’ve had video games for over fifty years now. If we’ve reached the point where people’s standards are too high for expecting a game to properly keep track of your score or progress without shitting the bed, what incentive do developers have to get better? Why should the next generation of indies put in effort at all? Just blast players with context-free pop-culture references and phone it in, and nostalgia-drunk fanboys will defend you to their dying breath. The VideoKid is critically acclaimed and very popular on social media and it shouldn’t be, because it’s unfinished and genuinely terrible.

And I’m not pissed that it’s bad. I’m an indie game critic. If I can’t handle bad games I should just quit now. I’m pissed because people have decided that being broken doesn’t matter as long as the game speaks in 80s memes to you, and anyone who feels otherwise has a stick up their ass. This is not a path we want to go down as a community. Do we really want a future where most games, indie or otherwise, habitually release too early, full bugs, in dire need of play-testing that they never received, and.. uh.. shit. Hold on, I really need to think this argument through more.

The VideoKid was developed by Pixel Trip Studios
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 are ♪ driving down on a highway, and my wheels are spinning fast. I’ve been driving now for a long long time, and soon I will be there. KEEP ON ROLLING! KEEP ON ROLLING! There’s no turning back I’m going all the wayyyyyyyy aay aay aay! ♪ in the making of this review.

Now THAT’S how you use a reference.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

3 Responses to The VideoKid

  1. jbevan70 says:

    I really do hate games, really all media, that crams in a lot of references for the sake of appealing to nostalgia. It’s one of the hallmarks of lazy writing, a sign that the creators just wanted to focus more on pandering and not coming up with their own unique material.

  2. Pingback: Jack N’ Jill DX | Indie Gamer Chick

  3. Pingback: Cuphead (Second Chance with the Chick) | Indie Gamer Chick

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