Revenge of The Angry Video Game Nerd
“Rated ‘F’ for F***balls.” This is the very first thing the player sees when booting up Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, and it does not take very long to realize how accurate that statement really is. Fans of “The Angry Video Game Nerd” will find that Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is a faithful adaptation of the popular web series in which the titular Nerd plays games that are universally considered to be bad and then proceeds to rant about exactly how bad they are while providing plenty of creative, yet colorful language and imagery. To give you an idea of what the game entails, the premise of Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is that he and his friends are pulling an all-nighter with a bad video game, when the game becomes sentient and pulls his friends through the television and into the world of “Game Land.” The Nerd attempts to escape but ultimately gets pulled in as well … by his balls. Thus, the adventure begins.
Although there have been a few previous fan-made Angry Video Game Nerd games, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, which was first released in 2013 on PC and later ported to Wii U and Nintendo 3DS in 2015, is the first official game in the franchise. In this game, the player follows the exploits of The Nerd as he fulfills his duty to take out his anger on bad games in the most fitting manner: a video game. The game is designed as a self-deprecating, fourth wall-breaking, 8-bit, 2D action/platformer with gameplay that draws much inspiration from the early Mega Man games on the NES.
Fans of The Nerd will be happy to know that this game is chock-full of his over-the-top, crude humor. To developer FreakZone’s credit, virtually every single asset in Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is an inside-joke or reference to the source material. Without giving away any spoilers, just know that the game earns its “M” rating in just about every category of mature content — although the 8-bit presentation does take the edge off and, as a side-effect, effectively increases the giggle factor. Among all of the outrageous content found within Game Land itself, The Nerd also frequently chimes in with his angry rants about the game in his distinctive, dirty style. I will admit that it was initially pretty funny to see such offensive material in a game that harkens back to the NES era of gaming, but begins to wear thin after a while.
As another callback to the classic gaming era, Angry Video Game Nerd is also extremely difficult. The game ensures that the difficulty is intentional by featuring a death counter, which is displayed liberally after each death, completed level, and always on the GamePad screen when playing in TV mode. It even keeps a running tally of total deaths of all playthroughs. Most of the difficulty is derived from the precision and timing-based platforming mechanics, but is increased in the harder difficulty settings by limiting the player’s health and lives. To relieve some of the difficulty, checkpoints are frequently activated after most segments in each stage. Although the checkpoints are certainly helpful, they can be manipulated as a crutch, especially on the easiest difficulty setting where lives are unlimited, and would prove to be more satisfying and monumental if they were used more sparingly. Occasionally, I found myself jumping into pits on purpose in order to be taken back to a checkpoint, which refills your health, before powering through the next set of obstacles to the next checkpoint. All-in-all, the game does a good job finding a balance between the three distinct difficulty settings. Most players should be able to beat the game, albeit with plenty of hardship, on the easiest setting, while only the best players are likely to even finish a single stage on the “old-school” difficulty.
The game begins with a tutorial level, in which an annoying, familiar-looking fairy by the name of “Naggi” explains the game’s fundamentals to the player. By the end of the level, Naggi has helped the player in becoming competent with movement, enemies, obstacles, using special items and, of course, mastering the main weapon that happens to be modeled after the classic NES Zapper.
As I began the adventure, I immediately noticed that the controls for the character’s movement were slightly loose and heavy, which took some getting used to. The character’s momentum carries while walking on the ground but seems to defy physics by losing all momentum in the air if the player is not holding down a directional button. Although this disconnect may only be a small nuance to the game’s controls, ultimately it made landing precise jumps and stopping in safe positions more difficult than it should be.
Additionally, when standing still, a tap on the D-pad in the opposite direction will cause The Nerd to take a step in that direction, instead of simply facing the other way, which contradicts decades of learned 2D platformer logic. Unfortunately, the camera system, which quickly jerks ahead in the direction that the player is facing, exasperates the problem and can be disorienting — acting as another obstacle, rather than an aid as it was likely intended. However, the controls can eventually be wielded effectively, if not completely overcome, with practice. For a game that clearly prides itself on difficulty and precision-based platforming, as well as one in which each player life is more precious to The Nerd than beer, it can be frustrating when so many player deaths can be blamed on the game’s controls instead of the player’s ability.
As with the Mega Man games of yore, the player is allowed to select levels in whichever order they wish to play. With only a handful of stages, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures can be beaten within two or three hours by newbies, and much quicker by seasoned vets. Each stage has a theme that is loosely based on classic game franchises, such as Castlevania, Mario, and Zelda, which can be entertaining for old-school gamers to analyze and discover all of the parodies and homages. However, during my time with the game, I found that not all levels were created equal. The difficulty of the stages seems to fluctuate, regardless of the order played, and only a few of the stages had particularly noteworthy level design.
In Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, there are skull-shaped blocks peppered throughout the stages that instantly kill the Nerd when touched. This simple, yet clever element is used effectively to ensure that precise platforming is required in many areas with little room for error.
Regrettably, the enemies are not only shallow, unvaried, and relatively easy to defeat on any difficulty setting, but they are also rehashed and re-skinned with a new coat of paint to match the theme of each level and use the same patterns and attacks throughout the entire game. It is also worth mentioning that none of the enemies drop items, such as power-ups or health, which feels like a missed opportunity for making each confrontation more purposeful and exciting instead of sometimes feeling like a chore.
In a welcome effort to shake up the gameplay, some stages feature a segment with completely different mechanics such as flying or sledding downhill. These segments provide an enjoyable, fresh new experience for the player and I wish more of them were implemented. Also, each stage has a tough boss lurking at the end, awaiting battle with The Nerd. The boss fights are the crown jewel of the game, with varied gameplay elements and methods for their defeat. Each boss encounter is unique and fun, with some being downright screaming-at-the-TV hard, which provides an extra sense of accomplishment when they are finally defeated.
Along the way, The Nerd can find various items to help him during his adventure. Some items give him more beer (read: health), while others supply extra lives or wacky, limited-use weapons such as the “Glitch Gremlin” that can be summoned to freeze all of the enemies on-screen for a brief moment. The life-related items are a welcome sight whenever they are within grasp, but most players will probably find that the weapon-related items are usually not worth the trouble of securing.
The sound and visuals of Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures are equivalent to most other 8-bit renaissance games that have become increasingly popular lately. The art style does a good job of emulating simple, early 8-bit games, which is relevant to the basis of the game; however, it lacks the care and appeal of good retro pixel art that has been done so well in games such as Shovel Knight. Moreover, there is the rare, frustrating occasion where the basic visuals make it hard to discern objects in the foreground from the background, making it somewhat difficult to navigate. The sound effects are simple, yet sufficient, and the chip-tune soundtrack is mostly great although it occasionally dips in quality. The overall presentation is crisp and stays true to classic 8-bit gaming, with only the occasional “cheat” in graphics or music for quality’s sake.
To entice players to keep coming back for more, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures offers supplemental challenges that prove to be persuasive catalysts for replayability. Each level contains hidden “S***pickles” that the player can only discover by exploring stages off the beaten path. However, due to the lack of an achievement system that is otherwise available in the PC version, there is not much of a reason to seek them out other than self-fulfillment. As a bigger incentive for both exploration and replayability, there are three extra playable “cameo” characters that can be unlocked by completing more complex expeditions within the stages. Completionists, as well as the obsessive-compulsive types, will be elated to find the options menu keeps track of various random stats during the game’s lifetime.
Comprehensively, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures accomplishes what it sets out to do: entertain with The Nerd’s trademark crass humor in an old-school video game format. And it may be just what you are looking for if you are currently in the market for a 2D action/platformer. While enjoyable, the game plays it safe in terms of design and does not bring anything new to the genre, which results in losing its footing to similar, higher-caliber games that are already available on the eShop. Staying true to the game’s style and buffoonery, it frequently opts for “bad” design decisions, such as a power-up that is self-described as “s****y little pebbles which arc over enemies and don’t even do much harm anyway,” but they rarely fulfill the intended purpose of transcending into clever or fun game design. Ultimately, fans of The Nerd will revel in the content and references, enhancing the quality of the adventure, but other players could find the juvenile humor to be annoying or offensive, which may reveal the average game underneath.
Review copy provided by ScrewAttack