Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
I always get very nervous when developers say they’re paying tribute to the games of their youth. Being inspired by something to make something new is fine, but making a game specifically to emulate other games rarely amounts to much. Case in point is 8BitBoy, a game that wants to remind you of the Marios and Jazz Jackrabbits of your youth, and in doing so brings its own faults into sharp focus. It’s not even that bad on its own, but once the annoyances and inconsistencies start adding up, you’ll be wishing you were playing something from the 80s instead.
8BitBoy starts like any other classic platformer, with a depressive episode from the main character as they lament their wasted life and how they’re clearly not going to amount to anything. The solution to this is obviously video games, so they dig their old console out of the basement and plug in a creepypasta cartridge with no label that just happened to be laying around. Lo and behold, they are zapped into a video game just like the good old days, where they’ll have to run, jump, and huck fire at birds and bird-adjacent creatures to reach the end of the adventure and… validate their existence? I didn’t finish it so I don’t know if the hero finds meaning in their life or dies alone in front of their TV or becomes off-brand Captain N or something.
I need to insert something here because I have the store page open on my other monitor and I just noticed it promises “8-12 hours main story!”. I’ve seen some inflated estimates before (and I completely understand the desire) but I would be absolutely shocked if this game took the average person more than 2 hours to beat. I spent a little under an hour on it today and got halfway through the fourth world out of five. Also there is no “story” between the opening cutscene and whatever the ending is, because it’s just pure platforming through ten levels per world and then you touch your magic console inside the game to get warped to the next world, for some reason.
I do want to back up and state that the platforming itself isn’t all that bad, and is in fact pretty fun for the first world or two. Your hero is plenty swift with their normal move speed, they have a run button akin to good ol’ Mario, and their jumps are high and also adjustable by button press. Powerups come in the form of fruit, allowing you to shoot a red bouncing ball, two green bouncing balls, or two speedy fireballs as you stack pickups. There’s also a shield that takes a hit for you, more time which helps if you’re exploring a lot, and the occasional 1-up. Levels have plenty of secrets hidden off of invisible blocks and pass-through walls, including coins, extra powerups, and one special coin hidden in each level. From the start this will feel like a perfectly competent indie platformer, with no surprises but solid fundamentals.
The further you go, though, the more oddities will start cropping up as the challenges mount. Nothing in the game feels entirely consistent, and it’s most apparent with blocks you break from above. These blocks vanish when you fall on them, giving you a little boost back into the air, but if you don’t fall far enough first or land on them from too sharp an angle, they won’t break. Certain enemies pace back and forth on platforms, except when they don’t and decide to march right off into your face. There are conveyor belts that will launch you great distances, but only if you DON’T hold the run button on them. Once you’re making single-block leaps over death pits with birds buzzing by, details like this start to make a real difference.
Even beyond the wonky mechanics, there’s just not a lot of ambition here. Almost all your foes are rotund birds that pace or throw things, and the bosses of each world are all recolors of the same giant bird. You have lives but they’re essentially pointless, because levels don’t have checkpoints and you reload your state at the last level you entered when you lose all your lives, points and coins and powerups included. And coins don’t give you more lives, they give you a random powerup which can be something you already have. I appreciate wanting to make something that recaptures the magic of classic games, but it needs to be something that builds on it, instead of crudely imitating. Hopefully all these nostalgic developers will see that someday, but I’m not holding my breath.