Angry Video Game Nerd 1 & 2 Deluxe (Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Angry Video Game Nerd fan. It’s nothing personal or anything. It’s one of those YouTube shows that caters to people born before me who also realized that some games suck (“wait, I thought it was just me who hated Back to the Future on the NES!”) who also never grew out of singing the Diarrhea Song (“When you’re sliding into first and you feel a sudden burst..”). Which is not to say I’ve never found AVGN funny. Just mostly unfunny. He cusses a lot and makes poop jokes. Which, yea, I do that too, but at least I try to be clever about it. He just strings them together like a third grader filling in every blank in his Mad Libs book with the word “shit.” The majority of AVGN bits and jokes seem to have never evolved past the idea that fecal matter is the single most hilarious thing ever. It’s funny because it’s poop, and poop is funny all by itself. It’s not for me. I’m more of a fan of crotch shots and casual murder, as long as effort is put into both. And murder by crotch shot? It’s why I can’t play as Cassie Cage in Mortal Kombat XI unless I’m prepared to spend the next hour getting stains out of the couch.

Oh, and diarrhea. The Angry Video Game Nerd has a HUGE fascination with diarrhea. Also known as that thing that kills millions of people every year, especially children. You know, as Indie Gamer Chick, I only pretend to be a psychopath. If you think diarrhea is funny, you might actually be one. Seriously, who snickers at the idea of shitting yourself to death? I can’t believe I, of all people, am saying this, but hey James Rolfe and crew: grow the fuck up. How about a good faith effort towards removing that gag from your show, and maybe kick a few bucks to Doctors Without Borders? I’ll do it too, just to show there’s no hard feelings. I just don’t find that particular running gag to be funny. It’s the drizzling shits. Hopefully it’ll be gone by time #3 comes out.

Really, the Nerd’s best bits are the ones that have a set-up and pay off, like actually landing the plane in Top Gun using the Power Glove. If the show could pull off gags like that more often, I’d of actually become a fan. Instead of being someone who, once every 18 months, remembers the show exists at 3AM when I get sick of binge-watching VFX Artists React. At least James Rolfe seems like he’s a nice guy. As opposed to your average YouTube star, almost all of whom come across like complete fucking tools. Like, you know, basically everyone else who appears on the Cinemassacre channel. I’m sure they’re nice too, but if I had to fill a roster of the All-Youtube-Douchebag Olympics, I’d probably just use them and Channel Awesome’s staff and call it a day.

Apparently, most people didn’t get the Captain N joke here. Meanwhile, I was born exactly 60 days before the first episode of Captain N aired on NBC and *I* got the joke. I’m not sure what is more sad: that the intended audience didn’t get it or that I’ve watched enough Captain N in the last couple years to understand it. BTW, Captain N debuted September 9, 1989, which means it debuted in North America exactly ten years to the day that the Sega Dreamcast did. How’s that for useless trivia?

I figure I should have prefaced this review with that fact that I’m not a big AVGN fan. That’s actually really important to note, because I really, really liked the revamped Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe. I know I’m late to the party here, but the thing is, the original builds of these games were not exactly compatible with my photosensitive epilepsy. Then, developer FreakZone Games met me, and we’ve been good friends ever since. Oh right, disclosure: I’m friends with FreakZone Games, or Sam as I know him. He even hid my mascot in his latest game, which I keep calling Spitball Sparky. That is, in fact, NOT the name of his new game. It’s “Spectacular Sparky.” Spitball Sparky is a Game & Watch knock-off of Breakout. Anyway, Sam’s my buddy. BUT, he’s the kind of guy who would never want to be friends with someone who would spare his feelings when reviewing his work. That’s probably why he’s so good at what he does. Good thing, because I have a lot of mean things to say about these games. They’re great, but hardly perfect.

This is Spectacular Sparky, one of two major 2021 indie releases hid Sweetie in them as nods to me. She’s in Axiom Verge 2 too. I don’t really have a joke to go with that. It’s nice that my work meant something to devs that are so talented. Plus, let’s face it: Sweetie is cool! I owe her.. like.. 70% of my success. 75%. Somewhere in that ballpark.

For a while, it seemed unlikely that the AVGN games would ever get a re-release due to tricky rights issues, but once that changed, FreakZone added options to make the games playable for people like me. The original was so flashy that my Twitter followers were blowing up my inbox warning me away from the game. I’m fond of Neo Retro games and AVGN was on my radar as a potential IGC review. Here we are, nearly a decade later, and I’m finally playing it. Incredibly, it still looks amazing. I’ve seen games that had six-figure Kickstarter campaigns that don’t look, sound, or play anywhere near as nice as these do, yet Sam put this whole thing together for under the price of a budget car. Seriously, Sam could have bought a Mitsubishi Mirage or made this game. They cost roughly the same. Wow.

Seriously, I can’t stress enough how gosh-darn beautiful these games are. The second one especially left me gobsmacked several times. THIS is how you do neo-retro: dress the game in pixel art, but go completely bonkers with the tools that actual retro developers would have sold their first-born to have access to.

The original build of AVGN Adventure was notable for its extreme difficulty and lack of options. The most common complaint was centered around “Death Blocks” that resulted in your instant kill if you touched them, sort of like Legos on bare feet. In the revamped AVGN Adventure, there’s now a whopping SIX difficulty settings, and while you can play the original build if you’re sick in the head, there’s now modes that scale back the Death Blocks. I made a good faith effort to beat the game on Normal mode (which is #2 of the six difficulty settings) and couldn’t make progress. But, on “Easy”, the game still has teeth and pretty sizable difficulty but becomes.. gasp.. FUN! Actually, really fun. INSANELY fun even! One of the best games I’ve played as IGC. It’s almost like when you leave an absurdly talented developer to their own devices, they end up making a great game. Who’d of thunk?

Lazy movie quotes and tons of swearing without even the faintest hint of cleverness. Yep, this really is an Angry Video Game Nerd game.

You don’t have to be a Nerd fan to appreciate how good AVGN 1 is. You don’t need to get the references from the show. You don’t need to get the references to classic games. In fact, this feels less like an AVGN release and more like an M-Rated Captain N: The Game Master game. Which, according to many of my readers, was their dream game as children. I’m not just being nice here: the opening cinematic and the stage-select screen are based on the opening credits from that “classic” 1990 animated series and you play as a protagonist who uses an NES Zapper for a weapon and plays through recognizable-but-completely-wrong video game zones.

Only rarely over the course of both games, at least on Easy mode (and “easy” is relative, as I died over 300 times between the two games) did the game become so difficult that it was demoralizing. The stages based on sci-fi stuff in AVGN II had the action grind to a halt. The shit thing is, they probably also use the most imaginative portals in a game since.. well.. since Portal! But, you’re forced to heel-toe your way through them, and it’s just not that fun. That part and one section of the Virtual Boy area were the closest I came to quitting AVGN at any point. Once the action got going again, I immediately remembered why I was so smitten with these games.

There’s a Castlevania stage, a Mario stage, a Mega Man stage, with winking nods to dozens of famous games along the way. There’s even an entire stage dedicated to Atari’s pornography games, and when I say “dedicated to” I mean THE ACTUAL SPRITES FROM BEAT ‘EM AND EAT ‘EM ARE IN THIS GAME! Do I think Sam took that stage too far? Yes. I don’t think there’s anything funny about Custer’s Revenge, a game that’s about rape, but that’s the final boss of the stage. I had to do the parent thing and say “I’m not mad at you so much as I’m disappointed in you” and hope it cut him to the bone as much as it did when I was a kid and my parents said it to me. I mean, my parents still say it to me. Pretty much every day, and for different reasons. For me, it’s just white noise at this point, so hopefully Sam has been otherwise decent.

Yea yea. Whatever. I grew up in the Bay Area. We call this shit “Tuesday.”

Functionally, the games are platform-shooters that feel closer to Mega Man if the Blue Bomber got over his crippling arthritis and was able to lift his arm up. You run, you jump, you shoot, and you precision-platform your way around enemies and traps. This was probably the smart way to go, though I’m a little surprised that FreakZone didn’t change the weapon to suit each stage’s theme. A whip for the Castlevania stage. A different kind of whip for the Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em stage. I’ll wait for that image to be cleansed from your soul. Are you good? Okay, moving on..

Enemies explode like meat piñatas, their organs often left rolling around the ground in a way that seems tailored to leave me sitting in a puddle of my own joy goop.

The action is really well done. The enemies are NEVER too spongy, and thus the two games (especially the first one) cut blistering paces. There’s also various limited-use weapons scattered around, which are probably the biggest flaw in the game. AVGN 1 & 2 are still punishers when you get down to it. You have unlimited lives and the finale screen of each title ends with a total death counter. So, why would you lose the temporary weapons between each death? That’s not fun! A couple of them, like the Glitch Gremlin or Super Mega Death Christ, I never once successfully used outside of the tutorial level. Oh, I would have, but I always died from spikes, pits, or death blocks before I got to a section where they were useful. Or, because you can only carry one item at a time, I might have accidentally replaced Jesus with a beer keg, like many in the south do today. If you kept items after dying, or if the weapon/area items were kept separately, it’d been so much more fun. AVGN 1 & 2 handle items the way someone who gives you something and then takes it back. What’s that called again? Oh right.. an asshole.

On the plus side, I finally played a decent indie game with Jesus in it. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences (see my reviews of Fist of Jesus and Save Jesus).

The disastrous use of secondary weapons are probably the biggest flaw, but they’re hardly alone. You also lose multi-shot upgrades if you take a single hit. It’s such a tease. There’s some minor control issues unique to both games. The learning curve for the relatively loose jumping will have you falling to your death several times early in AVGN 1. By time you start the sequel, you should be at peace with the handling, but it’s always going to be a bit off-feeling. In the sequel, an item caused me the most trouble. ASSimilation (seriously, that’s the name) has permanent upgrades. One of them is a Nintendo Power Pad that you use as a cape. But, I found the cape absolutely fucked me when I attempted to wall-jump (an ability exclusive to the sequel), and there’s no way to disable it. Once you acquire an upgrade, it’s on, period. Even worse, I never found a single instance where the cape was useful. It’s the leaky silicon breast implant of game upgrades: fun to look at, but dangerous to your health.

The second game also includes worlds themed around other Cinemassacre productions like Monster Madness and Board James. If you’re not a diehard fan of those things, you’ll wonder why a game about a video game critic has you dodging Hungry Hungry Hippos and fighting Mr. Bucket. Having said that, the Monster Madness stages were truly stunning to both play and just admire. AVGN 2 might be the best looking neo-retro indie ever.

The weird thing is, Sam assured me that I’d like AVGN 2 even more. He was wrong. The second game builds off the first with the same look, mechanics, and physics, but adds a Mario 3-like map, unlockable special moves, and feels closer to a direct-homage to classic “bad games” than the first one did. While it’s a fine game (seriously, these are both great efforts), I felt the first AVGN had bolder level design, better action, and some of the best pacing I’ve experienced in any punisher. Seriously, I’d tell any aspiring developer that if they intend to include checkpoints in their game, play AVGN 1 on easy mode. The checkpoints are perfectly spaced, something the sequel fell well short of. Even the set-pieces in the first game are more memorable. Seriously, how can you top riding a flaming Jaws? Maybe if it had chainsaws for teeth or something. Actually, dibs on that idea.

The second game features regular encounters with “Fred Fucks”, which is based on a gag credit from the NES Castlevania. Yes, they stretched a joke that lasted about a second in one Nerd review into a mini-boss you have to fight like six times in a game. Seriously though, how else do you make a game based on someone who plays bad games?

It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in my ten years of doing game reviews. Here you have a pair of games from the same series. They now even have the same engine with the same play mechanics, same controls, same type of action, same characters, and same overall theme. The sequel adds special moves that weren’t part of the first game, but otherwise, these two games should feel very similar. But, that’s all superficial. Scratch below the surface and I found Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures to be a much more white-knuckle, tense, twitchy action-platformer. ASSimilation instead feels more like it’s built around themes and high-concept satire. That stuff is there in the original, but it always takes a backseat to the gameplay. So, yea, the first game is better. By quite a margin, too.

I think a big reason why Sam and me hit it off as friends so much is that we have very similar taste in games. When it comes to 2D run-jump-spray titles, we like tight action and big, grandiose set pieces. AVGN has some truly spectacular set pieces, and even the lesser ones are still memorable.

Don’t mistake that for saying one game is weak. This has to be one of the greatest gaming two-packs ever made. Both games feel like proper loving tributes to gaming’s past, and for fans of the Nerd’s show, you’ll have lots of Memberberries. Hell, even being a non-fan myself, I still remember the bit in his Ninja Turtles review where he tried to make a jump, only to discover you’re supposed to just walk-across a gap. That’s here, and I checked: yes, if you jump, you fall through. That’s the good stuff, there. Sure, the language is 4th grade playground levels of juvenile (perfectly aware of the hypocrisy, you’re welcome) and the gags don’t land nearly as much as the game wishes they did (though there’s one laugh-out-loud moment with a boss in Nerd 2 that had me wiping tears), but as video games? These are outstanding efforts! The first game NEVER gets boring. The second game does cross the line a few times with moments that are so unfair that they become tedious and sloggy. But, those moments only stand out because they’re so rare. In a just world, these games would be remembered as all-time top indie titles.

After finishing both games (a 100% completion is not required), you open up a bonus world with three new levels and a boss fight. Instead of being a tacked-on throwaway extra, these are actually some of the strongest levels in the entire set. Even better: all three levels are distinct. The first one is like a highlight reel of the best nail-biting platform sections. The second level (pictured above) is a concept stage where you must avoid a speeding truck, and the third stage is a maze-like tower that utilizes wrapping-around the screen. If that’s how the Nerd’s 2D adventures end, it’s a hell of a swan song.

They’re not considered among the all-time elite indies, and that’s tragic. Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures (and the sequel to a much smaller degree) is proof that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. It’s a game crucified by its 2013 reputation. The AVGN Adventures included in the two-in-one-pack you can buy now is so radically improved that it might as well be a whole new experience. One that has been toned back enough that you can actually appreciate the sublime level design, excellent enemy balance, spectacular boss fights, and that PERFECT pacing. I can’t stress enough how I’m going to be pointing out this game to newbie developers for generations to come as an example of how to space your checkpoints absolutely dead-on balls perfect. When a game has reached that level where I’m going to be citing it as the ideal standard of what new devs should aspire to, that’s rare. So, for those of you who hated this in 2013 based solely on the difficulty, give it another shot. If you just hate the Angry Video Game Nerd, nothing I can say will matter. That’s another reason I’m guessing this hasn’t taken the world by storm. When you base a game on a YouTube personality who has one very specific formula that they haven’t evolved in over a decade, and a polarizing figure at that, it’s basically impossible to market a game on the game’s merits. It’s not like the trailer will say “the games are still fun to experience, unlike new episodes of the Angry Video Game Nerd!”

Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe was developed by FreakZone Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$11.99 (normally $14.99) had her nerd immersion broke ever since Rolfe got that midlife crisis/wannabe badass tattoo in the making of this review.

The Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Fast Times at the Too Many Games Expo

Who needs E3? I mean, really. It’s become so overblown and ridiculous that the whole thing seems like a Mike Judge or Christopher Guest directed parody film to me anymore. (Actually, a mockumentary styled video game movie is an awesome idea.  My brain is awash with ideas! Cathy, get our people on the horn! )

This past weekend, I attended an event that’s more my speed, an anti E3 if you will, the Too Many Games Expo which was held in a quiet suburb of Philadelphia. To me, an event like this does it right: it’s big, but not so big where you’ll get overwhelmed; it has a little something for everyone and yet isn’t so vanilla that you won’t stumble across cool artifacts of gaming ephemera tucked away in some random corner of the hall.

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Is this “playing with power” too?

Shortly after arriving early Saturday afternoon, my son, Kyle, and I did a quick tour of the hall. Right then, we both realized that we didn’t bring anywhere near enough cash with us because there were just so many cool things to buy. We stopped for a moment to grab a quick bite to eat and as I was scarfing down a hot dog, I was lucky enough to catch James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd) and his cohort, Mike Matei, making a sly entrance through a side door to the hall. James was gracious to stop for a moment, shake my hand and take a picture. He said he knew of our little home away from home on the interwebs here because Mike was a fan. Pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself.

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Sorry James, but I treasure my photo with Steve Wiebe a bit more. Steve, if you’re out there, call me!!!

Over the next few hours Kyle and I got to see/hear a set by awesome chiptune artist, Danimal Cannon, watch an N64 Goldeneye tournament, scope out some cool cosplayers, play some classic coin-op games (I posted the high scores on Dig Dug, Joust and Crazy Climber but fucking Commando still handed me my ass; not too shabby for an old man, though) and attend the Angry Video Game Nerd panel.

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Moby?? Where have you been, man?

The AVGN panel is where my experience at Too Many Games went off the rails a bit, unfortunately, because the audience was on the boorish side. It’s been some time since I’ve attended one of these panels and the ones I’ve attended in the past were a bit more upscale, I suppose, dealing with mostly journalism, game narrative and/or writing related topics. I’ve been a huge fan of James’ work since he started out as the Nerd, but I guess I didn’t realize that his true fan base isn’t 42-year-old geek dads like myself because, quite honestly, I don’t think of myself in those terms. I own all six volumes of Nerd DVD’s and love them to death. Does this mean I have to give them up now?

The questions from the capacity crowd came at a rapid clip. James, Mike and AVGN Theme composer, Kyle Justin, did their level best to answer them with humor and conviction, and mad props to them for that, but my thoughts meandered to Alex from A Clockwork Orange and his famous quip to one of his unruly droogs: “You’re being a bastard with no manners. Without a dook of an idea about how to comport yourself public-wise, O my brother.” And after about the tenth ridiculous, recycled and poorly-worded question stammered out a fanboy’s mouth, I decided to beat a hasty retreat. I exited stage left while thanking the gods on high that I had the foresight to choose seats that were close to the doors.

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“I could have sworn somebody just asked us that question…”

As we were exiting, my son, Kyle, who is 20 and certainly more in line with the Nerd’s core demographic, remarked in total “tractor beam” mode, “I had a million dollar idea while we were sitting in there:  we should open a grooming, style and manners booth at the various video game and anime cons. Like a Martha Stewart thing…but for dudes.”

Sunday was the day I reserved for talking with the indie developers and checking out their games. But first, I managed to re-connect with an old acquaintance, author Jeff Ryan. Jeff had a booth at the Expo and was selling his excellent book on the history of Nintendo, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Check it out if you dig all that is the Big N; I highly recommend it. Jeff’s next book will be about the true origins and history of Mickey Mouse. He obviously has a thing for taking on the sacred cows of our popular culture…but I look forward to reading it all the same!

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“Now, this is where the magic happens…’

There were a good many more indie game booths than I expected at the Too Many Games Expo. I suppose this is a testament to the allure of the indie game scene these days. These four were the most interesting and/or promising that I had the pleasure of demoing that day. It should be noted that all of these games are some time away from a true launch and, hopefully, they’ll all see the light of day on some platform or other in the not-too-distant future. So, without further ado:

1. The Great Gaias by Horizon’s End. This is a very cool looking classic RPG that harkens back to the best games of the 16 and 32-bit eras of gaming. Check out some kickass gameplay footage right here:

 

2. Default Dan by Default Dan Studios. Default Dan is a platformer with  some very interesting gameplay twists, as it chucks all the conventions of traditional platforming experiences right out the window. Have a look:

 

3. Bit Blaster by Null Foundry. The best way I can describe this game is to call it “Warlords in Space” with real-time physics and a slick, design your own ship mechanic.  Very cool.

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Bit Blaster has everything a growing gamer needs.

4. The Island of Eternal Struggle by Wimbus Studios.  Another old-school RPG homage but this one has a wry sense of humor and some interesting, turn-based combat wrinkles that set it apart from the crowd.  Take a peek:

 

All in all, I can’t recommend these kinds of smaller conventions and expos highly enough, as you get to see the real people of the video game industry, slugging it out in the trenches. E3 is like an effete Officer’s Club soiree compared to events like Too Many Games which are akin to the gore swathed beaches of fucking Normandy. Can you guess where you are going to learn more and figure out what this industry is really all about?

If I need to answer that question for you…well, my friend, I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think you’ll ever truly know.

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