In 2019, when there are literally hundreds of retro inspired pixel platformers vying for our attention, for a game to stand out from the crowd they have to do something different or original. Venture Kid, a game that first released on iOS back in 2016 but made the leap to PC and Switch (the version we’re reviewing here) last month, doesn’t do anything even remotely different or original. Inspired by 8-bit platform shooters such as Mega Man, it’s a game you’ll feel like you’ve played a hundred times before without inspiring any nostalgia either.
In Venture Kid, you play as Andy. While out with his friend, collecting balls for some unexplained reason, monsters appear which Andy then decides to shoot at. That’s the plot. That’s the entirety of it. Sure, pixel platformers don’t necessarily need a narrative arc at all and, to be honest, this hardly impacts the rest of the game which begs the question “Why bother adding this at all?”.
As for game play, Venture Kid is broken down into 7 separate level biomes. These levels are broken down into a number of frames with an entry and exit that refresh once you more from one to another, respawning enemies and the like. You start off in a forest (where you were picking up balls) and each subsequent theme is unlocked once you’ve beaten the boss of each level. A city level complete with UFO’s, an Egypt level featuring mummies, an ice cavern with blow torch wielding folk and so on and so forth. As the thematic feel changes, so do the enemy types. Each biome has its own unique set of foes to overcome. The city level, for example, has little box enemies that look identical to pieces of the environment but pop out to shoot at you (also the only time they’re vulnerable) every few seconds. As well as new enemies, each level adds a new mechanical change to navigate. The ice level introduces ice blocks that can be smashed but some contain mines which will explode a few seconds after being touched. Each level also has an optional treasure to find which is always off the beaten track. Getting to these optional goodies offer a healthy dose of extra challenge as they’re always in hard to reach areas. There’s a lot crammed into Venture Kid’s 6 hour main mode in terms of variety.
It’s the level design that elevates Venture Kid out of total mediocrity. Tapping into that hard core platform running and gunning of the NES, it can get quite tense. Some jumps have only a few pixels difference between landing safely and falling to a spikey doom which is enough to make your feet twitch. Andy can only shoot directly forward with his standard weapon so when enemies which can shoot at you from multiple directions litter the screen, you’re having to jump dodge and get yourself into a position to take them down at the same time. While none of this is new to the genre, the developers demonstrate an ample knowledge of what made Mega Man so fun back in the day and use it to great effect here.
It’s the boss battles that let this aspect of the game down. Each biome has its own themed villain waiting for you at its end and unfortunately, they’re all far too easy to overcome. Despite them each having their own move set, designed around an enemy type you’ve already faced only tougher, they don’t really pose much of a threat once you’ve learnt their pattern – and that’s even if they’re still alive long enough to demonstrate it to you.
After you’ve defeated each boss in most of the game modes, you’re awarded with a new weapon or item type via a cringe worthy cutscene of an old bald bloke handing you something. These new objects can then be used in any subsequent (or previous if you go back) level. These items make the levels, and the boss battles, easier such as using the fire work weapon to blow up UFO’s which are impervious to your standard shooter. They also allow you to collect level items that you previously wouldn’t have been able to reach – like using a boomerang to pick up an item locked behind a wall. This is a big divergence from the Mega Man level and weapon marriage and works against the challenge of the game.
Venture Kid has a number of game modes, most of which are almost indistinguishable. Story and Adventure mode have you play through the biomes, the only difference being in Story mode you have to play them in order while Adventure mode allows you to play them in any order you want. There are other modes which add a little bit of spice. The survival mode is the most action packed, challenging the player to go through random frames taken from any and all of the levels.
Visually, Venture Kid really pops on the Switch screen in handheld mode. It’s not so pretty played on a 60 inch TV, the blocky design really taking a toll on the visual appeal on the expanded view. There’s some frankly beautiful pixel art in this game, especially in the Egypt level that’s a particular highlight.
As for the soundtrack, it’s easily the best aspect of Venture Kid. Written by Matt Creamer, it’s a toe tapping OST full of retro inspired chip tunes with a modern age flavour. Since I started playing this game, each and every track has become an ear worm and has had me humming it lightly to myself when I’m at work. It’s almost worth playing Venture Kid for this aspect along.
The intentions of Venture Kid are obvious – to pay tribute to the NES shooters of yore, Mega Man in particular. Via the level design and sound track, the game does this admirably. Unfortunately, at only 6 or so hours long, with bosses that are vanquished easily and with additional weapons divorced from the level design themselves, Venture Kid is a shade of the game it attempts to emulate, resigning it to an “also ran” in a genre that is seeing genuine innovation elsewhere.
Venture Kid is available now on Nintendo Switch (review version), PC and mobile devices.
Developer: Snikkabo AS
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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