Venture Kid

I imagine many NES playing kids of the 80s drew or designed Mega Man characters and bosses. It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to do. Look around your room, find objects, and then turn them into _____ Man. Once you have eight of them, just take normal Mega Man villains, make them bigger so they can be bosses for the castle stages, then slightly redesign Wily’s skullship and BAM, you have a Mega Man sequel. So if Capcom comes to me and says “we need eight bosses for Mega Man 12” you can look forward to battling Keyboard Man, Couch Man, Ashtray Man, 5-Hour Energy Shot Man, Epilepsy Dog Man, Curtain Man, Door Man, and Hair-Tie Man. Well, we’ll make Curtain Man into Curtain Woman. Gotta remember equality.

So, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that so many indies pay tribute to the Blue Bomber. Of any iconic gaming franchise from that era, Mega Man probably lends itself most to adaption. That’s why any long-time indie watcher rolled their eyes as Mighty No. 9 was raking in a kagillion dollars in crowd funding. I know I did. Having played Vintage Hero, which actually held the #1 position on the IGC Leaderboard in the pre-multiplatform era of this blog, it occurred to me that you don’t exactly need four-million dollars to turn out a half-decent Mega Man homage. Frog The Door Games did Vintage Hero on a budget of Ramen Noodles and Basic Cable and the end result was roughly a four-million times better and more Mega Manish than the game so many rubes seeded. Even 20XX, which is based more on the Mega Man X series and did nothing for me (I never liked Mega Man X either) is infinitely more inspired than Mighty No. 9.

Honestly, if you’re more of a Mega Man X fan, you’d probably enjoy 20XX. It’s basically Mega Man X as done like a roguelike. For me, I tried multiple times to sit down and work myself into enjoying it. I just couldn’t get into it. I found everything about it to be boring. I think, above all, Mega Man style games need tight, creative level design or the formula gets dull quickly and the base concept of 20XX forbid such levels.

Do you know what other game is better? Venture Kid. Only this one has been slightly more controversial than I expected, with some people suspecting that they just took original Mega Man sprites and repainted them. If it’s true, “so what?” I say. Who cares? It’s supposed to be semi-satirical. It’s really not all that different than spoof films like Scary Movie casting actors that look like the stars of the flicks they’re lampooning, is it? It’s supposed to look like Mega Man, but not at all like Mega Man. Deliberately so. So, what’s the deal? It’s not like developer Snikkabo just changed a helmet or the shading of the armor. It’s an entirely new look. What difference does it make if they just took an outline of the original sprites or if they redesigned the whole thing but with the intent to still very, very closely invoke Mega Man without it being Mega Man? Because that happens a LOT in Indieland. I’ve had tons of people who I hold much respect for shit on Venture Kid, claiming that it’s “lazy” and a “rip-off.” Really? For fuck’s sake, less than a year ago I played Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, which reskinned every aspect of Castlevania from the heroes to the enemies and nobody said “reskinning! BOOOOOO!” It stinks of a double standard. If Curse of the Moon can have the exact same enemies behaving the exact same way as they did in the 80s, only they look different, how is that different from what Venture Kid does?

Oh, it’s because it’s your chance to puff your chests out and shit on someone in no position to retaliate. Got it. Just so we’re clear: original game with mechanics taken verbatim from classic game with absolute no effort at all to differentiate those characters from the original characters besides base-level sprite repainting ala exactly what Bloodstained Curse of the Moon is: okay as long as the producer is a legend. Same circumstances but small, inexperienced indie dev ala Venture Kid: lazy ripoff. I’ll try to remember that in the future. Even if it makes no sense. I mean in theory, it should be the other way around and NOT okay for the experienced, legendary producer to do that but a great starting point for an inexperienced dev to pop their game making cherry, but what do I know?

If you wish, just tell yourself that Mega Man had to go off on an adventure but his suit was at the cleaner. Also the Venture Kid in the game looks significantly more rotund than the Venture Kid in the cover art and promos.

So yea, you’ll see a lot of familiar ideas in Venture Kid. Bosses that drop weapons you can then use. Eight levels followed by a handful of finale levels (actually, only two, which even I felt that was a bit lite). Enemies like the little helmet dudes that bullets bounce off of unless they rise up to shoot at you, only this time they’re crates instead of helmets. That’s fine. That’s sorta what you should expect in a tribute, right? I mean, y’all liked Shovel Knight, right? The game that played like DuckTales and even had enemies that behaved like other Capcom NES games. Again, what’s the difference? Is it that Shovel Knight and Curse of the Moon improved upon the NES originals or at least tired to feel modern and different? Because Venture Kid does that too.

Right away, you’ll notice the movement feels like you’d expect a Mega Man but not Mega Man game to feel like. And then you have to jump, and you’ll notice that feels completely different. The gravity is much lighter, but it doesn’t exactly feel floaty, either. It works. It seems like it won’t, but it was intuitive and adaptive, even if my brain doesn’t realize it. A lot of people complained about “last pixel jumps”, including me, where you had to get right to the edge of a ledge (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it) in order to clear a gap. BUT, I never once missed one of those jumps or ran into a pit attempting them, even if I was gulping when I tried them. So, was it really last pixel? Or was it my brain telling me “Mega Man can’t make that jump!” Mega Man couldn’t, but Venture Kid could.

Hell, there’s even a Castlevania stage. Venture Kid was a Kid Icarus stage away from being the Captain N: The Game Master release NES kids have been waiting almost 30 years for.

So they made not-Mega Man jump like Super Mario 2 Luigi without the floatiness. Big deal, right? And if that’s the only change that made me sit-up and take notice, that probably wouldn’t have been enough for Venture Kid to stand out. But then I noticed enemies were able to kill each-other with their bullets. It doesn’t factor into the game much, but it’s there and it’s a small touch that stood out to me and everyone else who sampled the Kid. That’s really Venture Kid in a nutshell: small changes that make the entire experience feel fresh. And really, Mega Man’s formula should absolutely NOT feel fresh after eleven primary games (twelve if you count Bass) and more spinoffs than Law & Order. Even the levels change things up with switches, locked doors, and a hidden item in every stage that unlocks the real last boss fight. There’s a store in the pause menu you can use to buy health refills, extra lives and stuff to help assure the item refills don’t go to waste. It’s like seeing someone you’ve known for years get a haircut. Sometimes it feels like they’re an entirely new person, even though really nothing has changed.

I’m not going to complain about the length. Some are. Some are saying the levels are too short and the finale sequence has less areas than a typical Mega Man game. Fine, I’ll complain about that part. Two finale stages is too little. But honestly, I prefer tributes to classic franchises to be a bit shorter. It’s so much more preferable to padding the length, which usually results in spotlighting flaws you otherwise missed while ogling the experience. If Venture Kid made any mistakes in this regard, it’d probably be with the bosses. They’re fine. They feel appropriately on-brand. BUT, then you encounter one that you fight while riding a mine cart that’s so insanely inspired that you wonder if they had that sort of potential for all the others and simply didn’t tap it. Now granted, I let Shovel Knight get away with less than stellar bosses so I have to for Venture Kid too, but I do so feeling like a judge letting an arsonist off on a technicality because the warrant was worded wrong. And now that arsonists is thanking me while ominously flicking their zippo.

I think I might be onto something with the whole Captain N joke.

In fact, up until the last two stages of Venture Kid, I figured this review would have to focus on the little things to complain about. Like how the opening menu has no clarification as to what difference there is between CLASSIC mode and ADVENTURE mode. Get this: classic mode has you play the first eight levels in sequential order while adventure mode lets you select which order to play them. Just like.. uh.. classic.. Mega Man? So why isn’t classic the one that lets you select the order and adventure the one that makes you go from point A to point B like an adventure? I don’t get it. Beyond that, I’d probably complained about how the inspired twisty-turny aspects of certain stages like the Egyptian one don’t factor into enough levels.

And then I got to the Dr. Wily’s Castle style end-game levels, and yeah, I now have something to complain about. Because these levels are a maddening torture chamber of design choices so poorly conceived that I’m convinced the developers are still stuck in the Mirror Universe and their goatee-wearing doppelgängers are causing mayhem. These stages are littered with instakill spikeballs with unforgiving collision detection, along with instakill “skull-balls” that orbit around a central point. That’s bad enough, but then you get to a section where the spikeballs blink in and out of existence with no graphical warning of them. When you encounter these, you’re almost guaranteed to die because the first time they appear. It happens like it was deliberately timed to happen at that point. That’s not challenge, people. That’s kicking someone in the nuts and then telling them you’re playing a game where you have to avoid getting kicked in the nuts and they just lost. You have to know a challenge is happening or else it’s just GOTCHA!

It really puckered my butthole when it happened because everything before this was so well-crafted. This moment was beneath the Venture Kid that I just played through. So was an auto-scrolling section leading to the true final boss that relied less on level design and more on the spikeballs. I think Venture Kid succumbed to relatively inexperienced developers not knowing how to make a game feel climatic. Another problem is they couldn’t decide if they wanted Venture Kid to feature linear levels or Mega Man style stage selecting. Including both sounds like a perfectly fine compromise, but when you think about it, having the option to do both still requires levels 1 – 8 to have little-to-no difficulty scaling. There’s a very small amount of sections that are made easier by using items acquired in other stages, but really you can beat the whole game with just the starting peashooter and it wouldn’t change all that much. Consequently, the final two levels feel like they’re the 9th and 10th levels of a game that scaled properly to get there, only without the scaling. You don’t do swimming lessons by teaching someone how to kick their feet for eight weeks, then strap a barbell to their feet and throw them into the deep end for week nine. I mean, I do that, but sane people don’t.

In fact, a lot of people on my timeline said those stages ruined the game for them. I’m not going there, because they didn’t for me. They were disappointing, but I still could beat them, and did. I just had to trial-and-error my way through them in a way that felt like it belonged to another, lesser game. It was unfortunate because you never want to finish any good game on a sour note, and Venture Kid ends with a degree of sourness normally restricted to laboratory conditions at the Warhead candy factory. But don’t let that distract from the fact that Venture Kid is a very good game. It’s sad to me that so many people are dismissing it as a clone of Mega Man or even a rip-off of someone else’s Mega Man tribute. This is the same community that gave four-million-dollars for a Mega Man tribute sitting on a 52% rating at metacritic. Nobody should be calling any indie a Mega Man tribute when you already gave more money to that steaming turd than you have to most charities.

The final levels do go a bit overboard on the instakill shit. Remember aspiring indie developer reading this: it DOES matter that people put the controller down, game beaten, in as good a mood as you put them in when you game was at its peak enjoyment. Otherwise they might be less likely to spread the word of it.

I hate to keep coming back to this, but the sheer amount of double standards on display from the blowback to Venture Kid is kind of shocking to me. I liked Venture Kid. There’s not a lot to it, but what is here is just plain fun from start to.. uh.. close enough to finish. It’s why I consider myself so lucky that I couldn’t give two shits about nostalgia. It keeps me from being weird about games and over-thinking whether they work or not. If I’d never played Mega Man, I know in my heart of hearts I’d liked Venture Kid every bit as much. That it set out to pay tribute to an iconic franchise is nothing more than trivia as far as I’m concerned. That being the case I probably shouldn’t have spent so much of the review talking about Mega Man. Hey, you have your double standards. I have mine!

Venture Kid was developed by Snikkabo
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$7.50 (normally $10, but $7.50 if you own any other Switch games published by FDG Entertainment) thanked all their fans and the entire indie community for sticking with me through my first six-hundred indie game reviews in the making of this review!

Venture Kid is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard!

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