When we heard that WayForward was developing a Regular Show video game, we were optimistic. Not only does the studio generally pump out better-than-expected licensed games, but last year it produced Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!, which ended up being a loving tribute to the show. So if WayForward could understand and create a game that faithfully pulled ideas and characters from one highly-popular Cartoon Network television show, it could do the same for another, right? In comes Regular Show: Mordecai & Rigby in 8-Bit Land.
The story is said to be penned by show creator J.G. Quintel, which is odd because there’s barely a story to speak of. To sum it up, Mordecai and Rigby decide to partake in their usual amount of slacking in lieu of mowing the lawn, and end up being sucked into a mysterious video game console – alas, they’ve entered 8-Bit Land! As we’re sure you’ve already noticed, the visual presentation of 8-Bit Land is actually more reflective of 16-bit, instead it’s the gameplay that's reminiscent of the NES and Master System days. Doing things a bit differently, though, the game features not one, but three completely different styles of play to get acquainted with.
First up is standard platforming – but there’s a twist. At the press of a button players can switch between Mordecai and Rigby, who each have a different ability. Where Mordecai can double jump to reach the loftier platforms, Rigby can run on all fours allowing him to access tight pathways and openings. There’s a little float when jumping – more noticeable with Mordecai – but overall the controls are fittingly solid. The biggest problem is the unforgivable hit detection when landing on the head of an enemy. If you don’t plop straight down on their center, it’s back to the last checkpoint or beginning of the level for you. Despite this issue, we enjoyed the first world enough for what it was – super simple platforming – and figured it would only get better from there.
We were wrong.
The second world finds Mordecai transforming into a spaceship to get his horizontal shooter on. Playing like Gradius – though there’s no auto-scrolling and you can roam at will – players will blast down enemy ships and avoid incoming projectiles on their way to the end of the level. Controlling the ship is obtuse, with a weird slip 'n lag motion when moving in any direction. This makes it hard to traverse the narrow sections and line up shots with the extremely tiny enemy ships. Practice will expectedly make things slightly more manageable, but we never arrived at the point where it felt right – or was even much fun to play. By the middle of this world, as the difficulty ramps up, it becomes apparent just how poorly designed the concept is.
Lastly, the third world introduces you to Smash TV-style gameplay. When approaching the grey wallpaper-like zones, pressing either shoulder button will have Rigby cling to the wall, presenting a “top-down” view. Movement is kept to eight directions, and if you want to shoot you’ll have to hold the Y-button once facing the desired direction, causing you to strafe simultaneously. It works alright, but shooting diagonally on the fly is clumsy and aggravating, regardless of whether you’re using the D-pad or Circle Pad. The level design in these zones is also at its worst, further degraded by enemies that perpetually walk into walls – it can be an utter mess. There are fun moments, though they’re almost always fleeting.
It’s when this eclectic collection of retro styles are incorporated into a single level that 8-Bit Land starts to show signs of true potential. Thus is the makeup of the fourth – and final – world. When each zone is segued by standard platforming, things work fine, but when switching needs to happen in mid-air with lightning-fast reflexes it becomes a clumsy mess of undeserved deaths. Overall, we found this world to be less grating than the two before it, which is mostly attributed to not participating in one style of play for too long.
So that’s four worlds, each made up of four levels and capped off by a boss battle. From the Destroyer of Worlds to The Hammer, these are pattern-based showdowns that rotate from dodge to attack until the enemy is defeated. There are a couple of small shake-ups – hitting The Hammer with furniture and switching between all learned methods of play to defeat the final boss – but by-and-large it’s pretty rudimentary. The presence of these immediately-recognizable bosses is the only real fan service found in the package, as well. Outside of the singing-and-dancing cassette tape from the episode “This is my Jam” and maybe the presence of geese, the selections feel like missed opportunities when you consider the wealth of memorable characters from the show’s history. Benson does makes his brief appearance in the opening sequence, however Pops, Skips, Muscle Man, and High Five Ghost are nowhere to be found – which is nearly a crime.
At least the energetic soundtrack, seemingly by the always-reliable composer Jake “Virt” Kaufman, is radical enough to often have you fist-pumping through the worst of times. These tracks, along with some retro-tastic sound effects, were our absolute favourite part of 8-bit Land. Even though the visuals don’t offer much variation, the sprite work along with the lively character animations are suitable for the source material and gameplay, complimenting the audio well enough for an aesthetically pleasing package for fans of both the show and of old-school video games in general. Be warned though, there is no voice acting throughout the entire game.
The gameplay, at its best, rarely ventures beyond mediocre territory. Generally uninteresting level design, repetitive environments, slippery controls and spotty hit detection ensure that there is always something working against your enjoyment. Oh, and did we mention that unless you’ve obtained one of the power-ups – which allow you to shoot projectiles – you’ll lose a life over a single enemy collision? Trust us, it can be as frustrating as it gets. The good moments, and there are some, are hardly worthwhile enough to endure the bad. We think maybe we’d prefer to set up the chairs next time, instead.
Regular Show: Mordecai & Rigby in 8-Bit Land is almost a decent enough game, but serious gameplay flaws keep it from reaching its potential. The idea of incorporating three different styles of play into a single level is borderline genius, and 8-Bit Land comes close to delivering a unique experience, but ultimately the pieces just aren’t glued together well enough. Then when you consider it takes about two hours to reach 100% completion, it's obvious the value in no way matches its retail status. Even if you’re a massive fan of the show and plan on buying the game regardless of our opinion, you’d be best off waiting for a discount before being sucked into this bite-sized disappointment. It's not quite as bad as seeing Pops in his birthday suit, but we have a feeling some of you will prefer it stricken from your memory, anyway.