Making a game that is in itself a callout to awful games has to be like preparing fugu: you definitely want to retain the essence people are paying for, but leaving the wrong parts in is going to be lethal. You have to be crappy without being crappy, and if anyone can pull this off with zen-like grace, it might as well be… the Angry Video Game Nerd?
Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is a 2D platformer centered around the titular persona of James Rolfe. Since 2004, Rolfe has donned the shirt of the Nerd for a web series where he takes on many of history's worst examples of gaming. It's from these games and the universe created around the Nerd that the game draws its themes.
There are 9 levels, each based around a certain style (e.g. the future) or gaming trope (e.g. snow level). All, however, are packed to the pixelated gills with things that can and will kill you. As the Nerd, you venture with NES Zapper in hand to dominate each world - usually after taking a hefty amount of casualties. "Nintendo Hard" is a policy in this game, and elements such as timing and enemy control will be in high demand. The challenge can be adjusted between three difficulties, the first of which gives you unlimited lives; the other two set you at a lower health bar and 30 or 15 lives per level, and trust us when we say neither number is in excess.
Although you'll become quick friends with the death screen in AVGN Adventures, it still manages to feel engaging more often than frustrating. This is large part due to what developer FreakZone knew not to emulate from bad games. Controls are tight and responsive, even including a weapon lock button so the Nerd can shoot any direction without moving. Checkpoints also tend to be generous so levels can be taken one outlandish piece at a time, preventing a lot of do-overs unless, of course, you lose all your lives. The presentation is also an excellent new-retro package, with nice graphics and particularly fantastic chiptune music.
Fans of the Nerd videos won't be surprised, but others might be taken aback at AVGN Adventures's brand of humour. Expletives and excrement abound, none that we'll be sharing here, but we will say there's a level based on the old porn games of the Atari days. This isn't a game for the kiddies, of course, but they aren't likely to get many of the other references anyway.
Potty jokes aside, AVGN Adventures packs a significant number of homages to retro games and AVGN itself. Those familiar with the videos will easily spot the shoutouts to particularly hated games such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Silver Surfer on the NES, but inspiration is also drawn from better loved series including Castlevania and Mega Man. Additional AVGN characters such as the Glitch Gremlin and Mike also make appearances, either as special weapons or additional playable characters that can be used once located.
Even if it's your cup of dirty tea, some of the AVGN flavour can still fall a bit flat on occasion. The Nerd's commentary during levels can be amusing at times, especially when ribbing retro gaming sins, but can seem entirely skippable elsewhere. Same with the death screen text, which is essentially an immaturely composed Mad Lib on what the Nerd would rather do than keep playing his own game. It can be funny the first few times, but you'll be glossing over it soon enough. There are also additional characters you can find in levels who seem particularly obscure and forgettable, but they usually have powerups and lives near them, so yay!
The level designs for the most part are nicely done, often being devious yet interesting enough to pursue. After a while, though, it becomes easier to read between the re-skinned features and see just how similar many of the elements in levels are. There are one or two new twists in some stages, yes, but most contain the same kinds of spikes, rotating objects of injury and swarming enemies. One object in particular, skull-festooned blocks that will kill instantly upon touch, are flung about as generously as a monkey flings its poo. It can feel good to get past them, yes, but they begin to feel uninspired all too quickly; in a way, it feels like the designers were constrained by the crappy game elements they were drawing from. It can be forgivable, though, if you are really getting into the challenge, and especially when creativity sparks and you find yourself riding a flaming, laser-firing shark in hell.
The Wii U has received a port that operates just fine. Off-TV play is supported; otherwise the GamePad screen shows the current special weapon and allows a quick change between other playable characters. Did we also mention there are classic button-based cheats? Yeah. Go find those out yourself. This isn't GamePro, chumps.
If you make a living covering awful games, it's either going to be your dream or your nightmare to make a game so bad you can review it on your own show. When it comes to Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, it's clear that those involved have the respect for what makes a game enjoyable to put forth a good product while still celebrating the junk. It suffers from some rehashing, and not everyone will find the humour up their alley, but fans of AVGN who also don't mind a good platforming struggle shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up.