By Josh Speer / January 2nd, 2019
As an old school gamer, I was instantly drawn to 99Vidas – Definitive Edition because of the art style. I knew less than nothing about it at the time, but I later found out it had previously released on PC, PS3, PS4 and even the Vita. Now it’s available on Switch with more content. For my purposes, I just wanted a simple, fun brawler to take me back to the nostalgic days of yore. The question is, did 99Vidas – Definitive Edition succeed in that goal?
The basic premise of 99Vidas is about as serious as any game from the NES or SNES beat-em-up days. A magical artifact called 99Vidas, which can supposedly grant immortality, has been taken by an evil “mastermind” and it’s up the the Guardians of said artifact to get it back. As Guardians, they are empowered with elemental attributes to fight evil – fire, water, lightning and earth. While the dialogue is technically sound, the grammar in the game is pretty awkward. Which wouldn’t be an issue if there weren’t so many sections where the villains got gabby. It didn’t ruin the experience, but it made it feel significantly cheesier throughout.
After watching the introductory sequence, you can select from a variety of modes to play. I went with Story, since that is usually the most pure mode in this genre. That was when things started to fall apart. You’re quickly presented with a tutorial to show you the ropes. I’m totally fine with that, except that this tutorial was pretty much useless. Reason being, though it does tell you to do specific sequences of punches and kick inputs to do combos and throws, it does not tell you which buttons control which inputs. So I was unsure if X, Y, A or B did a punch, kick or whatever. Further complicating the tutorial is that you’re not allowed to try out any of the moves during it. You’re merely a passive observer, and the tutorial goes on and on for a couple minutes. Once it’s over, you’re instantly thrust into action with no real idea what to do. I muddled through, but then I encountered another issue – the enemy AI.
My first attempt through 99Vidas I was trying Normal. That turned out to be a mistake, since the enemy AI is very, very aggressive. They will rush you, interrupting you with attack combos and throws to keep you off balance. Granted, you have lots of characters you can pick from, starting with the initial 4 Guardians and a couple others, and can unlock even more. The problem is that pretty much all the characters play the same, regardless of their stats. Sure, some are a bit faster or tankier, but they’re all practically as different as color swaps, despite the lovely pixel art. I had trouble getting through the first level with all 5 of my starting lives, so I decided to swallow my pride and give Izzy (or easy) mode a try.
Things definitely improved with Izzy mode. I had more breathing room from encroaching enemies and was able to enjoy the game more for the basic combat. Unfortunately, the word basic also applies to how the combat works. It’s very simple. You have a punch and a kick attack, a throw and a super meter. That’s pretty much it. You are able to chain moves together for simple 3-4 hit combos and in between stages you can buy upgrades to your combos, making them more potent and adding elemental attributes such as lightning strikes that stun foes. Though I appreciated the upgrades, especially since they are permanent regardless of the mode, they didn’t do enough to make the combat stand out. It’s very old school, and I really wanted a bit more nuance. For example, though super attacks are all good and well, I would have given my left arm for a block or dodge move. It got irritating when foes would interrupt my simple combos and force me into the corner. And though you can find weapons to use against enemies, they don’t last long and aren’t varied enough. It’s not reminiscent of classics like Final Fight where you have a shit ton of different weapons with different uses. Here it’s just a bat, knife and broken bottle, aside from healing items.
I wish I could say the boss fights make up for it, but sadly they’re pretty much more of the same. Unlike regular enemies, they have a variety of attack patterns, but most all of them boil down to the following – avoid boss until they get winded, attack while you can, rinse and repeat. It’s often not clear how to avoid them properly though, so I ended up spending a lot of lives just inching through these battles. On the plus side, the designs for all the bosses was pretty spectacularly crazy, and totally original. Which brings us to the next section, the aesthetics.
The one area I found the game excelled was with the design. Both the audio and visual components are great, exuding a lot of charm for the character designs. While they aren’t that different looking, they all have lots of personality. The color choice for the game was also pretty vibrant, and kept me from getting bored. By far my favorite sections were stages that played with the design, such as one that looks like a handrawn notebook and another with inverted colors. The music sounds like you would remember from beat-em-ups of yore, which is another mark in 99Vidas‘ favor. Unfortunately, looking and sounding good can only take you so far.
I should mention here that I only played 99Vidas – Definitive Edition on single player mode. Many of my issues with the combat and balance might be alleviated by playing with a friend or two. I should also say that there is a lot of content in the game for those who want to unlock everything. Just by beating Story mode once, I unlocked a new playable character, stage and mode. Even before that, there are options for local and online play, as well as modes like Remix, Arcade and Survival. If you’re an achievement hunter, there’s also plenty you can try to satisfy that itch. But unfortunately for myself, I just didn’t enjoy the game enough to bother. I don’t hate 99Vidas – Definitive Edition. I can respect what I think they were trying for here, but without several small fixes and improvements, it’s hard to recommend.
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