Thursday, 7 June 2018

Steam / GOG Downloads #5

Venture Kid (2018)
By: FDG Entertainment Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: Android, iOS

Almost three years ago now I had a look at a spiffing new retro-style platformer from those splendid folk at FDG. I can't quite believe it has been that long actually but happily the game has not disappeared into oblivion in that time as one might have feared and is now complete and available to buy! As mentioned all those long years ago, it's a platform-shooter inspired by some of the finest 80's examples of the type such as Mega Man. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is also therefore based, from a technical point of view, on the system on which many of these games appeared - the NES. That should already give you a good idea of what it's like, even if you haven't looked into it previously, and it also gives it a lot to live up to. The NES games were among the most beloved of the era after all!

The back-story will certainly sound familiar to fans of these games. It revolves around Dr. Teklov, a mad scientist intent on building a scary super weapon in his secret space fortress with which he presumably plans to blow some some stuff up. The only hero brave enough to step forward and shove Teklov's heinous weapon where the sun doesn't shine is the not-especially-heroic-sounding Andy who not only possesses the courage to put even a Hobbit of the Shire to shame but is also blessed with the ability to shoot destructive balls of power from his bare hands! Armed with his wits, his balls, and his youthful agility, he ventures forth across the nine stages that make up the epic journey from his house to the frosty reaches of space, determined to destroy all comers.

Each stage spans several distinct sections, most of which are filled with many evil enemies. These consist of terrifying creatures such as bugs, fish, birds, and beasts, as well as many of Teklov's cronies (or possibly just irritated locals), but whatever form they take, most are only found in their respective sections. They all respawn if you return to their patch too, so it's only worth deploying Andy's balls if any of the oafs are in the way. There is also no shortage of obstacles and hazards to overcome such as spikes (of several different types), bottomless pits, spitting fires, moving/disappearing platforms, squashers and all that usual stuff. As if all that wasn't enough, each stage also ends with a boss fight, and these can be the toughest parts of the game, at least until you've figured out the trick to beating the tricksy villains and their conniving ways.

It's a tricky game overall actually, as I guess you would expect from something inspired by the likes of Mega Man. Happily, it's not nearly as teeth-knashingly frustrating as Capcom's notorious series but it does have its moments. Unlike all those old NES games, you do get to save your position here which definitely helps if you get stuck on a stubborn boss but there isn't a great deal of help in-game. Most common of the collectibles are the many colourful twinkling orbs which are not too dissimilar in appearance to Andy's balls. These are dotted around and/or left behind by enemies upon defeat and are worth grabbing as they act as the game's currency. Hearts to top up Andy's energy reserves can also be snaffled from time to time as well little monkey dudes which are extra lives.

Less often you'll find an egg-timers which can be thrown, freezing any enemies in the immediate vicinity, but that's about yer lot as far as pick-ups are concerned. Except, that is, the extra weapons. These are gifted to you by an amiable beardy fellow one at a time after each boss is defeated and include a boomerang, rockets, ice bombs, fire bombs, a shield, and useful gadgets that let you do stuff like walk on spikes. Use of them all is, however, very limited, so they are best saved for special occasions only. It is also possible to spend your colourful orbs on stuff in the game's shop which can be visited at any time from the pause screen. Here you can purchase such wares as monkeys, weapon refills, heart refills, and even extra hearts, but everything is rather pricey so choose wisely!

Another thing in the game's favour is that, while you will most likely lose energy and lives fairly often, it's almost never unavoidable due to the simple, precise controls and nice stage design. Most enemies have simple patterns of movement but even so, some of them will get you time and again (like those bloody swoopy purple birds - grr!) and it's the same with the non-biological hazards (the flame jets have cost me many hearts) - it's easy enough to avoid them in theory, it's just a matter of timing. It doesn't always work that way, of course, but it's nearly always your fault as the player, and that makes Venture Kid much more enjoyable that it would've been if it had anywhere near Mega Man's level of cheapness and controller-smashing unfairness.

The stages also add to the game's appeal too. As you might gather from their names - Forest, City, Desert, Volcano, Jungle, Ice Mine, Factory, Castle, Fortress - they're pretty varied, with each offering something none of the others do. They use a mixture of scrolling and flick-screen and feature all sorts of external locations as well as some caverns and underground sections. There's even a mine cart section! Some stages also offer alternate paths to a limited degree, and there are numerous secret areas, some of which contain glorious hidden treasures. If you run out of lives and have to use a continue or save game, you'll have to start a stage from scratch but it really isn't a hardship as it's so much fun running and leaping through them. Plus, being a Steam game, there's a crapload of achievements to go for too, which offer replay value of their own.

As well as being similar to the NES games that inspired it from a design point of view, Venture Kid's audio/visuals will also be familiar to fans of Nintendo's old toaster. Obviously things are a bit crisper and more detailed (which is no bad thing) but the colours are bright and the stages are vivid. Each is appealing in its own way and home to sprites that are just as cute as you would expect. Likewise, the soundtrack is superb, consisting of numerous catchy chiptune compositions that suit the game well. By FDG's own admission, it's a game intended as a love letter to those the designers enjoyed in their childhood. If your childhood was similar, I don't doubt Venture Kid will have you smiling from ear to ear, but even if it wasn't you'll still have a fantastic platformer to play though. Thanks guys, for a lovely tribute and a tremendously enjoyable game in its own right.

RKS Score: 8/10


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