Saturday, January 11, 2014

The true challenge of AVGN Adventures

My brother gave me AVGN Adventures on Christmas, possibly in part as a joke, who knows. I know he has played it, however, or rather tried to play it, since he'd only beaten two levels the last time I talked to him about it; meanwhile, I beat the game a week or so ago, and intended to talk about it earlier, but other stuff got in the way. Anyway, the first thing one would tend to assume when thinking about an AVGN-based game would be, well, it's going to suck, because I'm expecting nothing but a mishmash of AVGN references with no quality gameplay.

And that couldn't be further from the truth. Which is fortunate, since you have to pay up actual cash to get it. I was surprised to find a genuinely well-crafted game, which is pretty much a throwback to the classic Megaman formula. You have eight stages to choose from, then go pew pew and destroy everything in your way while coping with all kinds of obstacles. And just like classic Megaman games, it's also hard as shit. (Just like in Megaman 10, you're given an Easy mode in case you really really suck at that kind of game, but if anything, with double the life bar and infinite lives, it's actually much too easy - though it's the only difficulty level that doesn't award an achievement for beating the game). Seriously, the difficulty is what most people tend to remember about this game - and once again, it's very appropriate, because as a game that tries to emulate old NES games, it would be somewhat of a disappointment if it wasn't also Nintendo Hard.

With that said, the level of challenge is still surprisingly fair (at least on Normal difficulty; more on that later). It's the kind of game that starts by absolutely kicking your ass, then as you learn the traps in the levels you become better and better, to the point where you can reach the boss while only losing a few lives. So unless you have a tendency to ragequit quickly, odds are you're perfectly able to beat the game, you just don't know it while in that phase where the game is the one that beats you instead.

On the topic of challenge, AVGN Adventures is famous for its constant barrage of instant-death mechanics. The game's signature is a block with a skull on it, which kills you if you so much as touch it. And they. Are. EVERYWHERE. While the life bar isn't exactly a decoration, most of your deaths will be instantaneous ones. So if you die so much, how can you still make a fair challenge? Simple. Give the player infinite continues, 30 lives per continue and very frequent checkpoints. And it's standard fare to have a few Game Overs per level while you try to learn how to get past them. Yes, even with 30 lives per continue. And I can't talk about the subject without bringing up the final boss, who's so hard that comparisons with Megaman 7 hold water. The really nasty thing is that his final form is pretty much spike ball hell, and it's just impossible to avoid everything, so you have to go through the first three phases without taking damage just so you can unload everything you have at the end without regard for your health.

Like with your average Megaman game, you can theoretically do the stages in any order. I say theoretically, because one minor pet peeve I have with this game is one that's also featured in the likes of Megaman 6 and X - you're just making things MUCH harder for yourself if you don't start with a specific stage, in this case Future Fuckballs 2010. It's one of the easiest stages in the game (although the boss is somewhat of a test of your button-mashing skills), but it's also the level that introduces you to unlockable characters. This is where you obtain Kyle Justin (in his skeleton form seen in episodes such as Ikari Warriors), and let me tell you this: even though the Nerd is the best character because of his versatility and the fact that he shoots in a straight line, Kyle is a lifesaver in many scenarios, so much so that you'd be a fool to go anywhere without the option to use him. (You can change characters at will using the bumpers, for the record, you don't have to choose at the start SMB2-style.) He has two things going for him: although his shots go in a wave-like pattern, which makes it possible to miss your mark, he can also shoot through walls, which no other character can do. This allows you to take out potential threats from complete safety, and you'll want to use that often. It's not just walls either, you can also shoot through enemy projectiles that way, so they can't even use them as defense. For that reason, it's unthinkable to beat the final boss without using Kyle for most of the fight.

His second perk is the fact that he runs a bit faster than everyone else, and despite the fact that it's not all that noticeable, it's near impossible to beat the game without exploiting it at least once. The Assholevania and Laughin' Jokin' Numbnuts stages feature segments with instant-death blocks that appear and disappear, and you have to perform mad dashes from one safe zone to the next, and if you don't have Kyle with you, they will be the cause of constant Game Overs. Remember that he doesn't jump quite as high as the Nerd though, so you might need to switch back often because of that.

The other two unlockable characters are far less useful, but you'll still want to grab Mike Matei (found in Dungeons and Dickholes, requires Kyle) as quickly as possible. His lightsaber, being a melee weapon, is absolute trash, though it finds its niche against enemies that float slowly towards you, since they can be a bit tough to shoot sometimes. He can also see secret passages, and is the only one who can open them. They usually lead to easter eggs, which can give you achievements and a few extra lives. But his main draw is the fact that he jumps much higher than the other characters, which makes him the ideal choice for pure platforming parts that don't require shooting (of which there are a few).

As for the final character, the Bullshit Man (found in Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em, requires Mike)... well, he's bullshit. His special thing is the double jump, but unfortunately it's bullshit, because even that double jump doesn't cover the length or height of what the Nerd can do, let alone Mike. It's only used when you have no vertical room at all to make the jumps, which is only used for easter egg hunts. His weapon is literal bullshit, which deals double damage, but has a slower rate of fire and arcs straight down, meaning the range is bullshit on nearly every occasion. That's bullshit.

The game also features no less than SIX difficulty levels. I've already mentioned Easy and Normal, so moving on, the next one is the aptly named Old School, which, on top of halving your number of lives, introduces limited continues (five), invisible checkpoints and no save files (though with only 75 lives total, this last one isn't a HUGE deal). Then, we have Hard as Balls, which shortens your health bar to two beers instead of three, gives you five lives, three continues and gives the enemies more health.

And if that's still not enough for you somehow, Fucking Impossible gives you one-hit kills, no continues, no extra lives scattered across the stages and no checkpoints. Once again, very aptly named, because no one has ever beaten it legitimately (or at least given proof). Oh, sure, some people do have the achievement, but those are people who do TASes, and Steam is rather lenient when it comes to its achievements (for example, using the console in Skyrim can unlock them for you, even if it's not legitimate). The farthest anyone's ever made it in Fucking Impossible difficulty (with proof) is Laughin' Jokin' Numbnuts (the final stage). Keep in mind, you get hit once and you go back to the beginning of the level, you lose five lives and you have to start all over. So making it so far is a hugely impressive feat. Oh, but the REAL kick in the balls is this: IT'S NOT EVEN THE HARDEST DIFFICULTY. That title would go to YOLO, which is self-explanatory. You get hit ONCE, it's game over and back to the start with you.

So as a game, it actually stacks up really well, but how does it do as a tribute of James Rolfe and his character? Well... that should be rather obvious, with references to AVGN and the games he's reviewed all over the place. I'm not even going to try and list them all, since there are so many of them. The selection of bosses is spot-on, with staples like Mr. Hyde, Satan, Custer, the "where did you learn to fly?" face, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger (renamed Bimmy and Jimmy to avoid copyright issues AND knock another gratuitous reference off the list)... yeah, this could've been the last thing ever released that was AVGN-related and it wouldn't have disappointed.

But here's where the REAL challenge of making this game came from, and the reason why its makers deserve our admiration: it's a game about someone who's reviewed hundreds of the worst games ever made. And as such, they were, in a way, making a game CELEBRATING these plastic-encased turds. The catch was to do so while still making a decent game, and it's a balance that can be thrown the wrong way all too easily. So when you stop and think about how they did things, it makes their success all the more spectacular. Here's an example to illustrate what I'm talking about: you know those projectiles that arc over their targets and constantly miss their mark, an old AVGN staple? Well, they were included in the game in two ways: as Kyle Justin's weapon, which, as I said before, had other benefits (not to mention you could always just use the Nerd if you wanted to shoot straight), and as a (fundamentally useless) power-up that doesn't prevent you from using your regular weapon. In the end, this annoyance ended up being referenced in a few ways, and yet NEVER took away from your ability to shoot straight at any given time.

The extreme, seemingly unfair difficulty, another staple of bad games from back then, was also thrown in, but once again, it was worked around by giving the player an unusually high amount of lives, as well as frequent checkpoints and unlimited continues. (Of course that's on Normal difficulty.) So the recipe that was used to make this game work as something else than a shitload of fuck was to not hesitate to throw in some of these recurring AVGN themes... as long as they could be worked around in some way. Stuff like bad music and crappy controls were just never considered - instead, both of these turn out to be strong points. The controls in particular deserve mention, as the physics are pretty much identical to those in Megaman games, aside from the jumping height. Overall, the cleverness that went into referencing AVGN deserves to be commended, and is definitely one of the game's strong points.

My verdict? Well, it's not the best, most epic game of all time, but it's not meant to be that. It's meant to be a fun little game that pays homage to a beloved internet celebrity, and it's a success on both points. If you like AVGN and you like Megaman, this game won't disappoint. Just get ready to die. A lot.


  1. Yeah, I had a lot of fun with this game when it first came out. The two parts that made me want to throw my monitor across the room were the final boss and the death-block maze in the darkness of the Halloween level. I can't even tell you how long those two segments took me. I did the entire game with the Nerd, because I wanted that to be my first run, and now I regret it.

    1. For a Nerd-only run, I'm surprised you didn't even mention the death block marathon in the LJN stage. Sure, it's physically doable, but not any more than that. Kyle Justin actually gives you some leeway.

  2. No OST mentions?
    That was one of my favorite parts of the game (I have 1/2 the OST on my iPod),and definitely a great thing about it.LJN was SIGNIFICANTLY more bearable with that awesome theme.

    1. "Stuff like bad music and crappy controls were just never considered - instead, both of these turn out to be strong points."