Retro Gaming goes Punk with Abobo's Big Adventure
Video games, we love them, we live them. A huge market of the video game industry's audience are the same people who grew up with NES consoles in their homes, wondered if Nike would ever make sneakers that looked like Sonic's and believed that an afternoon in an arcade with a pocket full of quarters is the closest thing to paradise. For those of us (yes, we too -unsurprisingly, come from the same generation) who have lived in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, there is a certain sense of nostalgia when we chance upon references to the games we grew up with.
Abobo's Big Adventure takes players on a kick ass road trip that not only brings on a trip back to memory lane, but also smashes its way through the pavement. For lack of a better introduction, ABA sports a multi-style gameplay that pokes fun while paying homage to many iconic games that many of us now consider as classics. The variety in the approach of gameplay also helps a lot in reinforcing the concept of crossing over various game world, but before things get even more confusing, let us get back to the basics.
Almost all games have a plot, no matter how shallow, no matter how bizarre, plots exist. And the same rule applies to Abobo's Big Adventure. Abobo, for those of you who are not familiar with the character, is a sub-boss in the two-player side-scrolling brawler: Double Dragon. The story opens with Abobo's son being abducted, and now, dad must take on the mantle of a lead character and go off on a quest to rescue his boy.
While this may seem like a typical story that leads to a brawling smash-fest of a game (which is not really a bad idea), there is so much more to this big adventure than that. You see, Abobo lives in the world of video games, and apparently, every single iconic 8-bit world we have seen is connected to each other. This means that Abobo must not only fight his way through hordes of Double Dragon based characters, but he must also face off against Koopa-Troopas, Hard Hat guys, Donkey Kong, vampire bats and whole slew of other video game nasties.
We have no doubts that the developers behind this game have a great love for all things gaming and like the rest of us, grew up heavily influenced by the games that were around during the 8 and 16 bit era. Every single pixel, every single sprite is rendered so well that you would swear that they were ripped right out of the raw files from the original cartridges. And the sound effects are even more so. The only thing that betrays the whole experience is the fact that you have to play with a keyboard and a mouse. If there was a way to play this on an old Atari 2600 joystick or the original Nintendo Famicom controllers, the experience would most certainly be complete.
Most of you may think that 8 and 16 bit graphics are primitive -in many ways, you are absolutely right. But primitive does not necessarily mean bad looking. The fact of the matter is, Pacman, Mario, Sonic, Arthur, and so many other characters were all originally rendered in low end pixel style graphics, and that was great enough to have gotten them up to become iconic characters. The game gives justice to that concept. Sure, the graphics are pretty much re-used from existing material, but at the same time, that is what makes this game so good: the worlds look familiar. Anyone who grew up lending games to friends and blowing into the bottoms of cartridges would not be able to stop themselves from smiling when they see the familiar faces of goombas and other characters milling about in Abobo's all too familiar surroundings.
The sound effects are actually a mixture of effects from various games, and while this may seem like a bad combination of off-key notes, the opposite is achieved. Thanks to the tasteful selection of effects by the game developers, the music and sounds are cohesive, helping provide a degree of consistency to the game world.
Gameplay and Nostalgia
The gameplay of Abobo's Big Adventure combines several different types of game modes for every stage of the game. You start out with a straightforward side scrolling beat-em-up (based on Double Dragon) and later progresses to other stages inspired by different games (such as a top down hack and slash from The Legend of Zelda, to the more distinct jump and shoot platforming of Megaman). The selections for the gameplay styles are not simply diverse, they are also indicative and distinctive of the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System. To say that the selections are perfect would be no exaggeration. And in order, they are:
Double Dragon - as we mentioned, this game is a side scrolling beat them up that allows you to move around from foreground to background as you punch and kick enemies. Since this is Abobo's game of origin, it makes no surprise that he starts here.
Mario Bros. water stage - this one came out in the second SMB game and was a very innovative approach to creating an underwater stage. There is plenty of great challenges here and the way that the stage is laid out will make you remember how tough those games of old used to be.
Urban Champ - the classic 2D fighter managed to beat out Karateka and Yie-Ar-Kung-Fu as the iconic fighting game reference, but we have to hand it to urban champ, it is certainly an interesting game to play. There are plenty of in-jokes to the lack of logic to the game itself and ABA's references to the smaller details (like waiting for the cop car) is a serious treat for gamers.
Legend of Zelda - places you in control of Abobo in an overhead view hack and slash dungeon crawler game. Zelda references aside, the amound of challenge that has been put into the many rooms is impressive and is a great reminder even for veteran players to not underestimate this game.
Balloon Fight - despite the old age of the game, Balloon Fight combines physics with random mayhem and brings out that ever-so-deeply-hidden competitive nature that is within us all. By this time, the game would have taught you to play safe and focus on keeping your heath up, but the enemies are just so teasingly fun to go after.
Pro-Wrestling - shows us that even a massive sport such as wrestling is well depicted within the limiting confines of an 8 bit world. Of course, the controls are a whole lot simpler than the newer iterations of the game genre, but this one will still have you pounding away at keys for your dear life.
Megaman - platforming and shooting combine to provide players with the weirdest homage to Megaman yet. Abobo dons the blue bomber's armor and sets out on his own to shoot his way to his son with powerful energy blasts.
Contra - is considered to be one of the best cooperative games to have ever been released, and it certainly has set the standards that we follow today. The 2D side scrolling action shooter is depicted loyally in this flash game -which is certain to make every fan squeal in delight.
Punch Out - last in the set but certainly not last in memories. Punch Out has set the idea of making fighting games a behind-the-character camera-view experience. While there are now a whole load of systems that will control sways, fakes and the way you throw a punch, it is hard to deny the fact that this is the game that set the pattern for it all.
Now this is not to say that Abobo's Big Adventure is limited to just a few games that is pays homage to. There are plenty of other title such as Castlevania, Kid Icarus, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Ghosts and Goblins, Adventure Island and so much more that show up in the game. They appear in a wide variety of ways, from lead characters making quick cameos to the baddies roaming around Abobo's world.
Aside from the visuals, the characters and the play systems, the gameplay also borrows one more concept from the old era of gaming: delivering a solid challenge. Far too many gamers of the older generation will remember titles such as Battletoads that had them reeling in defiant frustration as they held on to their controllers despite their barest instincts telling them to throw the controllers at the screen in exasperation (and we have to say, several gamers actually did). Old games had a sense of difficulty that is rarely seen these days -perhaps the arrival of a save and reload feature affects this, because back then, once you run out of lives, you had to start from stage one all over again.
But difficulty is a bittersweet thing, despite the way it raises up the challenges (and alienates the more casual players), it also brings tearful and heartfelt joys to hardcore players. There is something to be said about finishing a particularly difficult stage back in the day and the same still applies with Abobo's Big Adventure: you deserve to pat yourself o the back for getting past the harder stages (which is most of them). Is the ending worth it? Without giving away spoilers, the most we can say is most definitely yes. But that is something subjective to the player. The more important point here is that the effort and the success is a whole lot more satisfying anything else.
When we first saw Abobo's Big Adventure, we did not think much about it. There were too many raised eyebrows at the choice for a lead character, and the concept seemed a little too campy. But in the end, it proved to be highly addictive game with an unapologetic approach to humor. With its hundreds of video game references (and we still keep finding plenty that we did not notice before), NES-like gameplay and controls, true-to-feel graphics and sounds, and most importantly, the no-holds-barred approach to humor and comic-violence, Abobo's Big Adventure is certainly one for the books. We give this game an Urband Champion's.
Reviewed by Alfred Lee