You don’t have to have lived through the ‘80s or the ‘90s to enjoy the familiar faces you’ll encounter in the star-filled suburbs of The VideoKid - after all, most people are going to know the Ghostbusters or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they see them - but there’s a palpable thrill to playing a Paperboy-style game where 99% of its population will hold pivotal roles in your childhood and teens. Come on, you’re even playing as Marty McFly (complete with his iconic red jacket) in all but name.
You’ll kickflip over Ecto-1. You’ll ride pass John Rambo as he fires off an LMG with wanton abandon. You’ll try and dodge lightcycles from Tron and see the T-800 travelling through time naked at an intersection. Clark Kent will rush past, ripping open his shirt to reveal that signature ‘S’ while Roger Rabbit almost runs you over with Bob Hoskins in tow. And it’s not just the big characters you know, but the smaller ones that have long been resigned to the cobwebbed corners of your mind.
Oh look, it’s Inspector Gadget. There’s Scrooge McDuck and the rest of his feathered family. Wait, is that the characters from the California Raisins singing on a bench? Did we just grind along a car containing Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman from Rain Man? We’re pretty sure we did. And that’s just the tip of the pop culture iceberg. Sure, it’s pretty obvious indie developer PixelTrip Studios doesn’t have any of the licences for these characters, but with that voxel art style providing just enough resemblance to make it work, you’re given the keys to a memory lane full of the things you used to love (or still do).
But there’s more to this little gem than simply cooing at Pac-Man or the General Lee car from The Dukes of Hazzard. Taking direct inspiration from the classic that was Paperboy, you’ll be skateboarding - endless runner-style - from your house to a final date in the park with Jessica, the love of your life. To get there safely, you’ll need to use your four-wheeled skills to dodge obstacles, leap out of harm’s way and pull off some sick tricks while you’re at it.
Those tricks are a little limited - although you can buy a few more from the in-game shop in between attempts - but once you’ve put the hours in and acquired the muscle memory needed to clear certain sections, you’ll be able to grind on benches, tap your board on the hoods of celebrity-filled cars and pull off a 360 backside for good measure. It’s far from the deep trick customisation of OlliOlli or the Tony Hawk series in its heydey, but if you’re chasing high-scores, every jump provides a potential trick source.
With three lanes to skate along (the sidewalk and both lanes of traffic on the road), you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Cars will move towards you on the left, while others will appear from behind on the right. There’s a real thrill to following a line of coins on the right, knowing you’ll need to dodge back to the left as soon as you grab the last coin or you’ll be knocked off your board and be forced back to the start. There’s a real variety to the obstacles, too, and not just in their pop culture relevance. Most cars can be bounced off safely, but some - such as Mystery Machine or the A-Team van - will knock you flying.
Of course, this being a Paperboy tribute, you’ll be able to throw projectiles to your left with a tap of ‘B’, although you won’t be lobbing copies of the local newspaper. Instead, you’ll be flinging VHS tapes into mailboxes, offering the chance to score points and earn cash. You’ll need to actually hit the mailbox itself (rather than just the house), adding in an extra layer of precision to consider when you’re not collecting coins and dodging famous traffic.
You can also spend those coins to buy new character skins, including versions of The Joker, Arnie and (for some reason) Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. While a checkpointing system would have been helpful in places, the game’s powerful ‘just one more go’ ethos works so well precisely because you have to start over every time. Each run is also randomised, so while you'll eventually encounter the same characters and side-walk features after a while, the obstacles you'll need to avoid along the way will always keep changing. It's a rewarding setup that enables you to learn how to pass certain characters while keeping you on your toes with the order in which they appear.
While its setup does make it look like one of those soulless endless runners that fill mobile app stores, The VideoKid overcomes that hollow association by offering up a nostalgic love letter to the characters that defined a decade. The random layout means you’ll never get the same run twice, but once you’ve played each section of its celebrity-filled suburbia a few times, you will start to notice plenty of bits being recycled as you head to your final destination. Still, with high-scores to chase and new character skins and tricks to unlock, this modern Paperboy has earned its pay packet.