It's appropriate that the first Kevin Smith video game is a retro throwback, because the stoner director's output has been increasingly insular in recent years. More power to him making things he wants to see, but the recent Jay and Silent Bob Reboot didn't endear us to the idea of a version of it we could play on Switch. Thankfully, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl is more enjoyable than its premise suggests.
For one thing, it's not just "NES style" - it is a NES game. Limited Run Games even offered a cartridge version of it. That lends an authenticity to the proceedings that makes the game inherently more interesting, knowing that what you're playing has been crafted within the limited specifications of the Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. Taking these into account, it's a genuinely impressive piece of programming – there's no sprite flicker, graphics are clean and colourful with multi-directional levels, it all runs at a decent speedy clip and it all feels well-made in a way that a lot of NES games sadly don't.
As you might expect from the title, it's a brawler; taking place after Kevin Smith's divisive sophomore effort Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl sees the titular hetero-life-mates endeavour to escape the Eden Prairie Mall following their successful sabotage of Jared Svenning's "Truth or Date" game show. This means fending off such View Askew-infused enemies as hockey players, Mooby mascots, mall security legend LaFours and even a horse-riding Patrick Swayze in a lovely, unexpected nod to the underrated Clerks cartoons series. Indeed, there's a love for Kevin Smith's work oozing out of this game's pores - thankfully, it's not papering over the cracks of a substandard effort.
Taking most of its cues from the likes of Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, it's pretty straightforward belt-scroller stuff, but that's no bad thing. Both Jay and Bob have an arsenal of kicks, punches and grabs that can be chained together nicely. Completing combos on enemies will grant you collectable stars, which can then be used to inflict heavy damage with your next combo - this keeps the focus nicely aggressive, and the twin characters' move-sets are sufficiently different to make them both interesting. You can switch between Jay and Bob at any time by hitting the 'R' button, which you'll want to do when your health gets low as the "resting" character will slowly recover while the other gets stuck into the enemies. It's a more compelling system than the traditional lives and continues, and ultimately feels more demanding as you'll need to juggle the two to make sure you don't tap out to the next bunny-suited assailant. There's also a collection of weapons to pick up to bludgeon your many and varied enemies with.
It's not all good news, sadly. The ceaseless and baffling notion of "gameplay variety" rears its ugly head three levels in, with an appalling auto-scrolling segment akin to the notorious Battletoads "Turbo Tunnel", seeing you race through a grocery store on an out-of-control shopping trolley dodging hazards that appear erratically and without precise enough controls to dodge them reliably. And it goes on. And on. And on. The only way we could make it through was with constant pausing, and that isn't even remotely fun. This segment is a big, greasy stain in the centre of what's otherwise a rather neat side-scrolling beat-'em-up, and it's such a shame that developers still pull this kind of stuff. Is it accurate to what NES games were sometimes like? Sure, but not any of the good ones. The ones people, you know, actually want to play. The sheer spite of the shopping cart section is a huge mood-killer, bringing down what was until that point a rollicking bit of pugilism. As soon as it's over, the game picks up again, with a well-designed battle against the Golgothan from the 1999 movie Dogma. When it remembers what it does well, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl is a good time.
That's all you're getting, though; a good time. This is a fitfully enjoyable game in the manner of an above-average but far from classic NES brawler. You don't have the character progression or exploration of River City Girls, nor the ambitiousness of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project. Like all these games it's more fun with a friend, but you'll still have to play that atrocious auto-scrolling level, so it's not an easy recommendation for a quick co-op blast. And to be perfectly honest, at its launch price, you might as well drop the extra couple of quid on the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle, if that sort of gameplay is what you're after. It's not a bad game by any means, but the impact of that wretched third level can't be stressed enough. It moves it from a breezy, fun thumbs-up to a grit of the teeth, a wince and a head tilt.
Jay and SIlent Bob: Mall Brawl is a strong achievement, a worthy NES throwback and a fun game for Kevin Smith fans and haters alike. Unfortunately it is hamstrung by a stage so bad that it brings down the entire experience and should, quite simply, be patched out entirely or made significantly shorter and easier. Still, persevere through it and you'll find it's sandwiched with joyful 8-bit face-kicking fun with two stoner icons. The whole world's against us dude, I swear to god.