I’m reviewing far too many neo-retro games. 8BitBoy lured me with a siren song of colorful, convincing retro graphics and a modest $0.99 price tag (when it was on sale. Price is now $3.99). An opening narration eases you into the charming, Neverending Storylike setting of a man who discovers that one of his beloved Sega Master System cartridges from his long-lost childhood has a label with a missing title. He plugs it in, and suddenly he’s in the game. I loved the idea. So it’s a real shame that the storyline never pops up again, at least until you beat the final boss. Only it does the Bubble Bobble thing where you have to get all the correct items to unlock the true ending. I didn’t bother trying, but for those who purchase 8BitBoy, you’ll be happy to know that it put a lot of stock in replay value. That is, assuming you can look past some of the worst play control seen in a good indie platformer that I’ve experienced.

Sigh. No, I can't ship the dev off to the Turkish prison. They have no room left for people who make ice stages. Because that would be like 99% of all platform games. Nobody likes ice stages. Stop making them.

Sigh. No, I can’t ship the dev off to the Turkish prison. They have no room left for people who make ice stages. Because that would be like 99% of all platform games. Nobody likes ice stages. Stop making them.

8BitBoy handles awfully, at least with an Xbox One controller. Part of that is on me and my clearly-demonically possessed left thumb. No matter how many times I rest it on the d-pad and tell it “you will use THIS! The stick is no good!” the damn thing has a life of its own. Serves me right for smoking nutmeg that one time. But, actually, stick or d-pad, movement is ultra slippery. The best example of how movement needed a lot of tuning up are the Super Mario like vines. Sometimes you’ll hit a block and a vine will come out. The act of climbing this vine should not be a chore, but simply going up it in a straight line is agony. I kept wiggling to the left and right. I’m told this is much easier with a keyboard. Um, yea? So what? Who wants to play a 2D hop-‘n’-bop platformer with a keyboard? I don’t. I haven’t spoken with the developer so I can only speculate what happened, but I’m guessing he designed the game to be played with a keyboard and the controller support was only added afterwards. When you turn on the controller, the cursor for selecting stuff from the menu is also mapped to the controller, even though it still handles like it’s mapped to the mouse.

There’s a lot of other weird control issues. The game does the Super Mario “hit the block to reveal the item or get coins” thing. Only in 8BitBoy, you have to be perfectly lined up with the block or just bonk off it to no effect. There’s really no benefit to making a player be perfectly lined up. It’s just busy work. Like Three Dead Zed, 8BitBoy feels like the all the movement physics are transplanted from a different game. There is no one-sized-fits-all style of movement physics. Two of my favorite-controlling platformers are Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight. Both couldn’t be more different. Take Super Meat Boy’s controls and put them in Shovel Knight and the game would be a disaster. Put Shovel Knight’s into Super Meat Boy and the game would be unbeatable. As a developer of a 2D platformer, you need to make sure the play control is perfect for your game, based on nothing else but how your game should handle. Don’t say “I like how (Game) controls. I’m going to make mine handle that way!” Because what you’ve designed might not lend itself well to that. And for God’s sake, don’t stop testing with complete strangers until the moment you go gold. Once you’ve released, you’re sort of locked in. Ask the Three Dead Zed guys.

I’m really frustrated with 8BitBoy’s loose controls because everything else about it is sublime. I almost never talk about the graphics of a game, but what’s here is practically an 8-bit siren call. 8BitBoy is colorful, inviting, and beautiful. Well, opening level rainstorm not withstanding. Seriously, why would you start your game with a rainstorm? Rainstorms are depressing. Christ, is there some kind of unwritten rule that indies must be at least THIS bleak? I shudder to think of what an indie reboot of Mappy would be like. “Act One: Mappy’s mother just died of cancer. Mappy laid down in bed and began to cut himself. Going too deep, Mappy nicked an artery. Our adventure begins with Mappy slipping into unconsciousness..”

Gene Kelly is the only person who made rain seem less than bleak. For everyone else, rain is like liquid sadness. What was the tummy symbol on the unhappy Care Bear? RAIN!

Gene Kelly is the only person who made rain seem less than bleak. For everyone else, rain is like liquid sadness. What was the tummy symbol on the unhappy Care Bear? RAIN!

And that level design? Sorry to quote Inspector Gadget, but I’m feeling it here: wowzers. Perfect use of old school tropes here. Excellent moving platforms. Well placed spikes. TONS of hidden pathways and rooms. No matter how bad the controls were, I wanted to experience these stages. When I found a warp zone early on and skipped to the midway point of the second world, I was kind of bummed out. But, the fact that the level design is so inspired only serves to frustrate me with the controls more. How could a developer get one aspect of the game so fucking right and completely and utter airball an equally important component? You know, a common theme in indie gaming is final stages that go out with a whimper instead of a bang. Where you can tell the developer rushed the finale out just so they could see the game released and hear what people have to say about it. 8BitBoy doesn’t have that. The last levels are some of the best in the entire game. Normally that would have me looking to give the closest person a tearful hug of relief. Here, that made me just shake my head and wonder, what if they had got it right?

8BitBoy by all rights should be a top 25 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Does it do anything new? No. Instead, it feels like an all-star version of an old school tribute. Every conventional 2D mechanic is here and damn near perfect. Even though I spent my entire run cussing the controls, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any fun. 8BitBoy is a lot of fun. It’s yet another one of those “dream game come to life” titles. But this dream game is a bit of a nightmare. The controls are completely unacceptable. I do absolutely recommend 8BitBoy, both to love-sick nostalgic types and cynical nostalgia-hating cynics such as myself. But I also recommend it as an example of a game that does everything right except the thing it needed to do most. Giving a game like this to a fan of platformers (such as myself) is like handing someone a Porsche without a gas pedal that has to be started like Fred Flintstone’s car. Hey, it’s still a Porsche, right! Just be ready to pick glass and rusty nails out of your feet.

8bitboy logo8BitBoy was developed by Awesome Blade
Points of Sale: Steam, Desura

igc_approved1$0.99 (normally priced $3.99) didn’t note above that there’s a nasty glitch where sometimes you have a reserve item, go to activate it, and the item is lost with nothing happening. They really ought to fix this in the making of this review.

8BitBoy is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Chester (Second Chance with the Chick)

Despite being a bit on the underwhelming side, the 2011 Indie Game Summer Uprising had a few gems floating among the sewage.  Cute Things Dying Violently provided some good laughs, while Take Arms provided me with being called a “camping ho-bag.”  Which brought a smile to my face, if nothing else.  And then there was Chester, a polarizing game that I loved, but others loathed for reasons that baffle me.  Even my brother from a different mother Alan told me he thought Chester was lame.  Dude.  We had something between us, you and I.  But our views on Chester have driven us apart.  Now he’ll return to his life of Goolin and Fish & Chips, while I’ll return to my life of hanging out with Brian, watching Top Gear and Doctor Who.  Wait, which one of us is British again?

Chester, which I reviewed way back in September, impressed the hell out of me with its quirky hand-drawn graphics coupled with running and shooting platforming.  It had what so many games on the service doesn’t: personality.  Well, that and it actually played well.  But here’s the weird thing: the version I played back in September was more or less an unfinished beta build.  The Chester that is currently on the marketplace is a much more complex game.  And it’s even more fucking awesome than before.

In the old build of Chester, you could change the backgrounds of each stage to reflect different art styles.  Now, the styles actually change the gameplay, affecting the strength or speed of the enemies, or your weapons, or the amount of rare items enemies drop.  There are eight different backgrounds, and scrolling through them is a breeze: just use the bumpers.  Likewise, the character of Chester takes ten different forms, all with unique abilities and attributes.  Combine this with the elemental system that turns battles with enemies into a game of rock-paper-scissors and what once was a fairly simple (if stylish) game is now a pretty complex one.

Chester is so loaded with so many unlockables and extra content that it’s actually a bit overwhelming.  Every stage has various trinkets to find, hidden rooms, and enemies that drop delicious brains (thus making the  XBLIG minimum zombie quota in a roundabout kind of way).  You have catalogs to fill up, shit to buy from stores, and multiple difficult levels to try.  If you’re gaming on a limited budget, Chester could very well be the game you’ve been waiting for.  Hell, I bitched about the game’s lack of boss the first time around and now there is one.  It kinda sucks, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, and I appreciate the effort.

If I had to make a complaint about Chester, and I do, it’s that the controls are still a bit on the stiff side.  Then again, each character handles a little differently, and stuff like gravity affects each one in different ways.  Maybe I made a booboo by playing through most of the game with the default character.  The game can also feel like too much of a collectathon at times.  If you’re the type prone to OCD, Chester might be the worst thing to happen to you.  There’s so much shit to collect and stuff to buy in stores that I don’t think I could ever spend the days it will take to get it all.  Don’t worry, you’re not going to be missing out on levels or anything.  But still, I kind of want a chance to see everything a game, especially an indie game, has to offer without having to invest enough time to drive cross-country and back.  I want my games to feel like a diversion, not a second job.

Still, Chester is amazing.  It offers so much value for so little money.  That is, if you buy on Xbox.  On IndieVania or Dasura, it will cost you a whopping $9.99, compared to a meager 80 Mega Super Pesos on Xbox.  Quite a jump there, fellas, one that doesn’t make a whole ton of sense to me.  It would be as silly as asking for $20 for a Blu-ray, but $50 for a 3D Blu-ray.  Okay, bad example.  Or maybe good example seeing how those things would have trouble selling if they came bundled with a holographic Angelina Jolie giving out force-feedback handjobs.

Chester was developed by Brilliant Blue-G

80 Microsoft Points have Chester’s nuts roasting on an open fire in the making of this review.


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