By Scott Ramage / May 23rd, 2019
|Developer||FDG Entertainment GmbH & Co. KG, Snikkabo AS|
|Release Date||May 2nd, 2019|
|Genre||Platformer, Action, Adventure|
|Platform||Apple, Steam, Switch|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
Hello, sir or madam. Do you enjoy jumping? Do you enjoy shooting? How about both at the same time? FDG Entertainment and Snikkabo deliver both in Venture Kid, a retro platformer built from the ground up like an NES game, design limitations and all. For the game’s sake, let’s hope that they can be like Paul Engemann and push it to the limit. What, I can’t make references as old as the NES?
As with many games of this type during the NES’ heyday, it’s light on story. Evil scientist Dr. Teklov is building some sort of secret weapon in his space fortress. He ends up injuring Andy’s sister while they’re minding their own business and Andy, with the help of his friends, sets out to put a stop to his probably evil ways. I’ll admit that I don’t know the name of his sister or the man who gives him weapons. From what I can tell, they weren’t said in the game or in the promotional material. For convenience, I’ll just call them Roll and Dr. Light.
I can hardly be blamed for using the names of Mega Man characters for Venture Kid, considering how heavily the latter is inspired by the former. The gameplay is, for all intents and purposes, Mega Man. Aside from jumping and shooting through stages and defeating bosses at the end, Andy earns weapons and abilities with each level he clears. One ability is a shield reminiscent of the kind Proto Man has. Scattered around every stage are not screws but orbs, used to buy items and power-ups from a shop. None of this means much if the mechanics aren’t balanced and the controls aren’t responsive, but fortunately both are true here. Seconds after starting I felt right at home maneuvering Andy, and the difficulty flirts with the idea of “NES hard” without going overboard.
That’s not to say Venture Kid is a Mega Man ripoff and nothing more. There’s clear inspiration from other platformers as well, both new and old. Castlevania seems to be one, to the point an entire stage is a reference to it. Also, it makes an effort to differentiate itself by taking those traditional elements and mixing them together or putting new twists on them. Andy doesn’t have an energy bar, but a small amount of hearts. When hit, Andy has no knock-back animation. Weapons tend to be more conventional, like boomerangs and bottle rockets. Some allow for reflecting enemy shots or freezing baddies to use as makeshift platforms. Abilities don’t involve a robot dog, but rather things like double jumps and walking on spikes. The inspiration is clear, but it’s complemented by the developers’ own ideas.
Level design is another key difference. Rather than being entirely linear, several stages have branching paths and hidden side areas. These may lead to weapon refills, extra orbs, or secret items which have no apparent use until the end of the game. There are also occasional one-use items like hourglasses to freeze time or bombs to blow apart weak walls. Elements keep getting added as the game goes on which force the player to use special abilities and manage Andy’s jumps, keeping the experience from bogging down as things progress. The one drawback is visual, as there usually isn’t much to the environments beyond what’s in the foreground. It’s functional, if not a bit plain.
I’ve mentioned difficulty a few times now, but that depends on a few things. The game can be played on easy, medium or hard. This primarily affects Andy’s health (five, four or three hearts) and the health of bosses (doubled on hard). These bosses, which aren’t particularly hard for the most part, seem to use certain attacks less often on easy as well. The platforming, however, is the same either way. Venture Kid has several jumps where I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but just cleared them. Veterans of the platforming genre will get a mild challenge, but the true final stage ramps things up dramatically. The in-game shop, where orbs can be used to buy weapon refills, health, lives, and even the equivalent of a Legend of Zelda bottle fairy also tone things down. That said, I made it to the last stage on normal with no continues before realizing the shop existed.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Venture Kid has solid sound design and music, considering who’s involved. Matt Creamer (Retro City Rampage, Odd Realm) composed a chiptune soundtrack which is as upbeat and energetic as this game needs it to be, and then some. There’s a recurring melody from the title screen which winds its way through most of the soundtrack, popping up here and there before pulling back into each stage’s theme. Aside from the songs suiting both the on-screen action and the environments they play over, it’s a clever way to tie Andy into the world around him. As for the sound effects, they’re largely similar to those of the titles Venture Kid is inspired by. They do the job, and that’s perfectly fine.
Venture Kid’s play time will depend on what all the player wants to do. There’s a separate “true” ending for getting all the secret items, which unlocks an extra level and Teklov fight. It also depends on the mode of play. Classic mode takes Andy through each stage in order, while Adventure lets the player choose any of the eight initial levels. Survival is a different beast entirely. Here Andy fights through several unique mini-stages, trying to reach the end on a single life. He can still buy things like hearts and weapon refills, but not extra lives. It’s not for the faint of heart, but to unlock all of the in-game achievements it’s necessary.
It only took me about an hour and a half to finish Classic mode on normal, then another half-hour to get the other secret items and finish the final stage. That doesn’t sound like much, but there’s enough to do in Venture Kid that I played through it a couple times and went through Survival mode too. Also, there’s next to no downtime in this game; it’s almost constant action, and it just feels good to clear a room of spike pits or avoid flame jets and the like. It’s a pleasant retro-styled experience, one worth the $10 price tag if you’re planning to do all there is to do. Whether a veteran of the genre or just getting into it, there’s room for both to enjoy this.
Review copy provided by publisher.
AppleFDG EntertainmentSnikkaboSteamSwitchVenture Kid