If you’re old like me, then you remember growing up with games like Super Mario Bros. (1985) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). When we look back at those games it is usually with fondness because for many of us that’s where gaming started. In that spirit of thinking I just had to try out the recently released (May 6th, 2014) 8BitBoy, the first and very impressive game by AwesomeBlade.
In the spirit of retrogaming, the one-man development team created a game with the goal of emulating the experience we used to get when we played classic games like “Giana Sisters, Wonderboy in Monsterland, Psycho Fox, Rick Dangerous, Megaman, Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog.” I must say that while 8BitBoy may not be my favourite game of all time, it definitely took me back to the glory days of my NES and Sega Genesis. Whether you want to re-create that feeling or get it for the first time, this is definitely a good game to go to.
As the name suggests, the graphics are all in 8-bit. But that’s not a bad thing. We aren’t talking about 1985 graphics with all the pixilation and non-dynamic movement. 8BitBoy is a beautiful game that runs at a clean 60 fps. The visual elements are smooth with a vibrant array of colours. Yes it’s all flat with movement in only 2-dimensions. But the levels have beautiful backgrounds, a number of different types of enemies, and multiple settings both above and below ground. There are 5 different worlds each with a stylistic theme such as desert or snow.
The HUD is nice and easy to understand, resting at the top of the screen. Everything updates in real time including your control scheme, instantly switching from keyboard to controller and back which is indicated by the appearance of a symbol in the bottom left corner. Movement is very clean and interactive. I liked the trail left by fireballs when you throw them.
Without a doubt the most impressive visual in game element is the map. It’s very nice to look at without all the clutter of paths and squares you get in Super Mario Bros.
The opening cut scene is done in a completely different art style from the rest of the game. It’s still 8-bit, but it’s very dark like something out of a noir drama. It makes use of just a few screenshots with text appearing over it, but it’s done in a way that sets a seemingly depressing tone, which the story in many ways is. But it doesn’t agree with the rest of the game. Without seeing the opening, the game looks very happy with bright colours and a rosy cheeked, constantly smiling boy. The cutscene is misleading, because the main character is portrayed as a tall, skinny middle aged man, while the in-game character looks like a short, happy, fat child. But all in all I found the graphics to be very well done and visually appealing.
The gameplay was the only part of 8BitBoy that I took issue with, but to be fair it made sense. If you take the time to recall those old games on NES or Sega Genesis you will probably say that they were very hard. And that’s true. But if you think about them some more, you’ll realize that they weren’t hard for the right reasons. The truth is they were just not made well.
When I judge the difficulty of a game, I always ask why it’s difficult. There are good reasons a game can be difficult and there are bad reasons. Good reasons include challenging developments such as difficult enemies, troublesome puzzles, or timing issues when playing platformers with moving platforms. When you’re stuck on a game for these reasons it means the developer did his/her job and made a challenging, but fair gaming experience. But when you can’t seem to finish a game because of issues like shaky controls causing you to slide off platforms that are too small to begin with or continue/respawn schemes that leave you in a situation where you don’t have enough life/power to move forward, then it’s an example of bad development.
Honestly when I look back at games like Super Mario Bros. and why I thought they were so hard it comes down to bad development. At the time, the genre was inherently flawed and 8BitBoy has done an excellent job of recreating that experience.
As far as core gameplay is concerned, the game is very simple, traditional, and well made. You can only get hit once without power-ups and you die. There are only 5 things you can do. Walk, run, jump, shoot, and shoot up. You can only move in a 2 dimensional space including diagonals and hold down the run button for speed. I believe this affects your jump distance as well, but I noticed a number of inconsistencies.
Shooting seemed odd to me because you can shoot toward whichever direction you are standing, but you can’t direct it. The only thing you can do is hold down while you shoot to shoot upwards. But I found it very troublesome that you didn’t have consistency between shots. When you shoot up, a slew of different results can happen for the same starting trajectory. While in some situations this is helpful, it also makes the game unpredictable at times because you never know what your results are going to be in key situations.
As far as core gameplay is concerned, the game is very simple, traditional, and well made.
There are only 8 types of collectibles: extra lives, shield, red power, green power, black power, more time, coins, and speciality coins. Shield is good for one extra hit, but unlike in most games, you don’t get any invulnerability time after getting hit so you can actually get double tapped while carrying a shield and die. Red power gives you the ability to shoot red fireballs which fire one at a time and green power gives you the ability to shoot green fireballs, which shoot two at a time. Black power lets you shoot more advanced fire balls, but they aren’t really better than green power in my opinion.
Power-ups are found by head punching blocks just like in Mario. There are also many coin blocks that work the same way. Power-ups appear based on what you already have. If you have nothing then it will always be a shield first. If you have a shield then it will always be a red power and then a green power. If you already have a green power then you will get coins every time. It really irritated me that when you had green power and got hit you lost all your power. Not just dropped back down to red. You revert back to shield and have to collect 2 more power-ups to get back to green power. Speciality coins are collectable just for the sake of collecting and high score in easy mode, but in retro mode finding them is the only way to save your progress.
I took real issue with the fact that you can’t quick shoot in rapid succession like you can in most games. This is a problem because sometimes you are being approached by an enemy that takes two hits, but you can’t get the second one out quickly enough if it’s close.
When playing on easy mode, the respawn system works by saving your progress at the start of every level. There are no in-level continues. Every time you die, you restart the level until you get a game over, which you will. When you do get a game over, you continue at the level you are currently on with exactly what you had when you first reached the level. So if you entered with 4 lives and green power you will respawn with 4 lives and green power every time you load from a game over.
The problem is that you will only have your power-ups for that first life. Very normal practice in games. But since the respawn system gives you that back, it often makes more sense to game over and try again with the full power-up than trying to do it with nothing which is what you’ll have with each life.
You can die in a number of ways. Of course getting hit by enemies or their projectile attacks for starters. Falling into water, quicksand, or any other such equivalent. And you automatically die if the level clock (upper left corner) hits 0. This is all fine except for the fact that enemies have much too large of a spatial window in this game. When you play these sorts of games whether it be 2D or 3D, there are always moments of uncertainty where you land very near, but visually don’t seem to touch an enemy. In these situations sometimes you die and sometimes you don’t based on how big the enemy hitbox is.
In this game the enemies have a much larger hitbox than they should. Especially bosses. The bosses are giant round birds that you have to kill by jumping of their heads, as is expected. The problem is that often when you jump on their head you take damage instead of scoring a hit because you land on the boss’ head, but not dead centre so it counts as getting hit by its back. This is totally not fair when the bosses are shaped the way they are. There are often other similar occurrences with spatial contact like when hitting coin/power-up blocks. Often they won’t activate when you’re hitting them because your jump is at a slight angle even if you are visually hitting the block.
8BitBoy supports both keyboard and XBOX 360 gamepad play. But sadly the buttons aren’t mapable which sucks because I actually don’t like the way the buttons are mapped for the gamepad. I will say that I prefer gamepad play, but the keyboard definitely seems more stable at times. I often find myself switching between the two in certain types of situations. But thankfully switching between them is instant and requires no change in settings or even pausing for it to take effect once you’ve initially enabled gamepad use.
The reason I often find myself switching between the 2 control systems is that 8BitBoy shows a number of flaws in the control and platforming aspects that were and in many ways still are often apparent in the genre. I did at times notice a slight lag in movement, but that wasn’t really an issue because it was rare and quite possibly my system. But I will say that it seemed to happen considerably more during full screen play so I made it a point to use windowed play to prevent such issues. The game does have a number of moments where bad platforming development comes into play.
The enemies and puzzles are not too hard to deal with, but on multiple occasions you will get stuck at the same place and die over and over again because of issues such as platforms being too small or located in just the wrong place. This is especially apparent in world 3 because of its snow/ice theme. You will often slide off of platforms into water or spikes simply because the jump/landing scheme isn’t consistent and stable, thus making the ice even more troublesome.
Just like with shooting, jumping often does not work consistently in controlled conditions. This is very apparent when dealing with springs. Sometimes they will work over and over and then when you go for the actual jump you won’t get the normal lift. Often jumps will be shorter than they normally are. Now it’s easy to blame the user in these scenarios, but that’s not really acceptable when tested at the exact same ledge 50 times in a row. The game clearly has design flaws and inconsistent controls.
When I think about the gameplay in 8BitBoy, the most appropriate word I can come up with is authentic. It is a game that sought out to recreate the classic 2D platforming experience and it did. The only problem is that it also recreated the flaws. When playing it I feel the exact same feelings of disappointment with the gameplay at certain points that I felt when playing Super Mario Bros. on my NES. The only difference is that now I’ve played so many games in the genre as well as others that now I can identify the programming flaws instead of just feeling like I suck at the game. So I guess the best way to judge the gameplay is to say that it’s perfect for what it sought out to be, but what it wanted to be was flawed to begin with.
*Please note that audio is misaligned in the video.
I was really impressed by the sound in 8BitBoy. It’s high quality and varied. The sound effects were clear, but not overpowering. I was happy with the fact that they are very responsive. Taken from that classic style, the basic sounds are what you would expect. Coin collecting, shooting “fireballs”, jumping on enemies, and so on.
You really do feel like you’re playing a classic title.
The music in this game is excellent. It’s dramatic, strong, and different from level to level. There’s special music for boss fights and the opening plot sequence. I’m not gonna say that any of the tracks are going to stick with you for the rest of your life like the Mario theme, but you definitely appreciate the high level of effort that AwesomeBlade put into producing the sound for this game.
As this is done in the classic style, 8BitBoy is not intensely plot heavy. You don’t really get any writing or story development from level to level or even world to world. You simply move from one place to the next with no explanation of where you’re going or why you seem to be getting attacked by a number of different types of creatures, most of which are based on animals as well as the occasional mushroom. The bosses don’t ever say anything before or after you bring them down. They just attack you and you kill them to survive.
But just because there isn’t dialogue or intricate plot development doesn’t mean there isn’t a story. The game opens with a mildly lengthy read about the main character that will hit you right in the feels if you’re not already where you want to be in life and you’re not still a kid. Making references to Tron (1982) and other classic examples of retro goodness, 8BitBoy is the story of an unhappy man who’s life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
In an intense moment of depression, the main character decides to pull out his old cartridge based gaming console in hopes of escaping his grief. For unexplained reasons, he finds a magical cartridge that pulls him into the world of the game and from there we are given no more plot development until the end of the game. When you beat the last level, the game will pull the “find all the collectables to get the true ending thing,” but even that is very well written.
Now obviously this isn’t a game you play for masterful storytelling and award winning dialogue. But if you want a story, no matter how short, that carries emotion, and realistic character development then AwesomeBlade did an awesome job. And besides, it’s no worse than “princess gets kidnapped and Italian plumber rescues her for a kiss on the cheek.” If anything that’s the unrealistic story. I was very happy with the writing in 8BitBoy even if it was a bit short.
8BitBoy has tons of replay value similar to most retro titles. You can complete the game on easy mode, where you are given ample time to finish levels, without taking the time to find any secret areas or collect anything. But the game doesn’t have to stop there. First off there are more than 250 hidden locations that you can go back in and find a large number of collectible coins hidden throughout the levels. With a total of 56 levels there’s lots of exploring to do. But once that’s done there is also a hard “retro” mode where you can only save by finding the special hidden coins.
Even after all the in game challenges, collectibles, and both modes, there are still recorded stats for high score and completion time, giving you even more reasons to play again. AwesomeBlade promises more than 16 hours of main story play. While that is including replay value, the game will still take you quite a bit of time, deaths included, to complete. For only $6.99 you’ll definitely get in more than 7 hours of play. Probably with your first playthrough even if it’s on easy mode. Assuming of course you don’t rage quit. Which honestly might not happen till after 7 hours of play anyway, depending on which ledge you get stuck on. In the true spirit of retrogaming, you will have plenty of reasons to play this title over and over again if you can actually complete it the first time through.
8BitBoy is an excellent re-creation of the games that started it all. Its ability to emulate my childhood experiences in a new title is unrivaled by any other indie title I’ve ever tried. AwesomeBlade should be proud of his accomplishment in producing such a game. But that does not mean that it’s perfect, because it’s far from it. It has beautiful graphics, amazing sound, a plot that’s easy to invest in, and lots of replay value. But sadly the gameplay is lacking in the same ways that the old titles did.
While this is definitely a title worth buying in order to revisit your gaming roots, it’s not something I would ever want to play in its current state if I hadn’t grown up playing such games. It’s close to where it needs to be, but the gameplay physics need a tune up. So with that thinking I would classify it as a nostalgia buy, but not a must buy.
- Beautiful Graphics
- Great Sound Quality and Varied Tracks
- Authentic Retrogaming Experience
- Physics Issues
- Inconsistent Power-Up Performance
- May Cause Rage Quit
PC System Requirements
OS: Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
Processor: Dual Core AMD or Intel / AMD E-350 APU
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel HD 4000 / Radeon HD 6310
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 100 MB available space
Additional Notes: Xbox 360 controller or Keyboard
Mac System Requirements
OS: 10.8.1 or above
Processor: Core 2 Duo / i3 or better
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: Geforce 9400M / Intel HD 3000 or better
Hard Drive: 100 MB available space
Additional Notes: Xbox 360 controller or Keyboard