Despite my compulsive buying problem, I do have indecisive moments. I faced such a dilemma when considering Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, on sale for $3.99. Was it plausible to pay even a dollar for a game I might not be able to finish? The point of buying games is to conquer them. Otherwise they’re just occupying space, right?
Coming from me, that may be a sign of a long needed breakthrough.
I ended up buying the game.
Anyway, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is another super impossible retro throwback. We’ve seen this trend over the last several years with games such as Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. They’re the indie scene’s rallying cry against pussified modern gaming.
They aren’t wrong. There are too many AAA titles you can’t not win these days. In Grand Theft Auto V every story mission holds my hand like mommy helping me cross the street. The Clickers ignore Ellie in The Last of Us. Other games have puzzles or boss fights that rely on little more than button mashing quick time events to get by.
I mean damn, but we had it hard, right? Back in the 8 and 16-bit eras, games kicked our asses. They shoved us down, rubbed our faces in the mud, spit in our dirtied eyes, pointed and laughed at our failures. They were the Lucy to our Charlie, always moving the football. And how was our blood, sweat, and effort rewarded? We got back to the title screen after losing our lost continue! Now come back here, Millennial, and complain again about not tapping X fast enough!
Yeah, games were tough, but I wonder if these throwbacks miss the point. They seem impossible for the sake impossibility, exaggerating what hellish gauntlet platformers were like for us old timers. Looking back on games like Castlevania and Megaman, sure they had respawning Medusa heads and shitty jumps, but they didn’t direct pixellated loathing at the player. A little patience, a little timing and you could prevail.
Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is based on the popular YouTube review series created and starring James Rolfe. He portrays a game geek who embodies every negative emotion we harbored in the 80’s and 90’s. The Nerd swills Rolling Rocks while facing such tribulations as landing the plane in Top Gun, keeping goddamned E.T. out of pits, and blowing up over those impossible-to-figure-out-if-you-didn’t-have-Nintendo-Power objectives. He’ll cap off his observations with an exasperated “What were they thinking!?” followed by a dozen obscenities that circle back to preferring bestiality over playing this shitty game.
The plot: a bad Nintendo cartridge sucks the Nerd into its world, Captain N style. He finds himself in the obligatory tutorial level, accompanied by a fairy familiar to anyone who suffered through her in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. After “Naggi” overexplains moving, jumping and shooting mechanics, the Nerd can move to the level select screen—but not before getting the opportunity to turn his gun on the fairy in a most satisfying fashion.
There are nine levels, including the unlockable final stage, each one a trial from start to finish. They’re packed with references to Rolfe’s show, infamous retro pratfalls, or both. The journey includes struggling through “Beat it and Eat It,” a juxtaposition of those inane Atari 2600 porn games, “Thy Farts Consumed,” the always nightmarish fire stage, and “Dungeons and Dickholes,” a stab at every annoying fantasy platformer. Each screen throws more obstacles in your direction. It might be a ride on a fire shark or Quickman stage kill lasers. Mostly it’s a buffet of those classic Konami/Capcom traps like dropping spike fixtures, bottomless pits and disappearing platforms.
The most prominent obstacle is the death block. Death blocks inflict an instant kill upon contact regardless of how many beers the Nerd has left. This makes for clever navigational hazards. The problem is death blocks are everywhere, overused to the point of a hair-pulling meltdown.
The Nerd comes equipped with an NES Zapper that fires in eight directions. Along the way he can pick up powerups including a firepower upgrade to the gun and fan favorites like Super Mecha Death Christ and the Glitch Gremlin. In a nod to the useless default weapon from Friday the 13th, he can also utilize worthless arching rocks.
Hidden allies, staples of the show, can be found throughout the levels. They each have strengths and weaknesses similir to Super Mario Bros. 2. Mike Matei has a Luigi-like leap and the ability to find hidden passages Guitar Guy can fire through walls and move fast but isn’t as great at jumping. Bullshit Man double-jumps by shitting, fires high damage shit blasts from his fingertips but is shit when it comes to running. The Nerd is well-rounded enough that the game is playable without the others. However, the bonus characters are pretty useful for getting out of tight spots.
Make no mistake: this game is hard. In addition to the obstacles, the levels are designed poorly enough on purpose for that extra bout of pain, though never to where they mirror a sadist’s terrible ROM hack.
Despite appearances Angry Video Game Nerd Adventure is playable, even winnable after trial and error. To triumph is to have proficiency in timing, memorization, and most of all, patience. Dying is an opportunity to get better. Unless you have a superhero’s ADD you’ll likely perish several dozen times. With repetition and luck, you can make every jump and remember all the many, many death blocks.
No matter how easy or difficult one finds the eight levels, they are nothing compared to the finale, a glitchy rainbow helldeath nightmare straight from our worst childhood video game traumas. It’s a jab at what the Nerd considers the worst licensee in the 8-bit era.
Beyond hardship lies satisfaction. Because each level is such an endurance test, there’s a sense of euphoria in winning after many deaths and much cursing. If your friends are hardcore game geeks, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures gives you prime bragging rights. “I spent the past two hours avoiding fire pillars, navigating through death blocks, making impossible jumps and getting shit on by giant birds…and that was before I rode Santa Claus’s bleeding corpse down a mountainside.”
What makes Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures a unique exception to the other games like it is that the overall point, literally, is to piss you off, to have you hollering and cursing at your screen just like the Nerd. This is the first game I’ve played that’s built around celebrating anger. Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures tips its beer to getting mad as an art form, and in that regard, offers unique nostalgia beyond “clap when you see it” references.
Between Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, I’m convinced I’ve gained the fortitude to take on any old school platformer. I predict I’ll lose this newfound confidence the next time I try to cross a Dr. Wily stage, but for now I’m ready to kick ass. Now if I could apply that same enthusiasm to my media hoarding…
FINAL GRADE: B-