Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I’m going to make a confession here, one that’s probably a terrible thing to admit when you style yourself (as I ostensibly do) as a video game journalist: I hate hype. I don’t watch games trailers or previews. And I can’t stand E3.
I could rail about the ugliness of corporate monoliths and CEO buzzspeak all I like, but the real reason for my antipathy is much simpler: E3 isn’t about playing games, it’s about watching them, and if I liked watching stuff instead of playing it, I’d be a TV reviewer. (Note: I am also a TV reviewer. I contain multitudes.)
Give me a demo, not a demo reel, I say; gameplay footage, not a million-pre-rendered, uber-doctored cutscenes. As someone who’s been keeping an eye on the industry in some form of another since his first issue of Nintendo Power arrived when he was six, I can say with confidence that I’ve had enough sizzle to last a life-time—indeed, my sizzle bladder is glistening, over-ripe, and full. Give me some steak.
God bless the weirdos over at Devolver Digital, then. Not just for creating a blood-drenched E3 “press conference” video that is one of the most gleefully weird things I’ve watched in weeks (complete with vomit, Robocop references, and a whole lot of Cronenberg shit), but for actually having some damn games for me to play once the thing was finished. Specifically, eight games, in the form of the Devolver Bootleg collection, which brings together an octet of officially unofficial low-res rip-offs of indie classics like Downwell and Hotline Miami, plus more recent joys like Ape Out and Enter The Gungeon. It is gleefully stupid. It’s also not halfway bad.
Of the eight games in the collection, two, Absolver and Pikuniku Ball-Stars, are two-player only, leaving friendless loners like me out of luck. (I will say that Absolver seems like a fairly solid fighting game, while Pikuniku plays like a joke game you’d find tucked away somewhere in Sportsfriends.) The single-player experiences run the gamut, though, from Cat Game (a.k.a. Catsylvania), which combines the instant lethality of Ghosts ‘N Goblins with the stiff controls of an early Castlevania game—to decidedly frustrating effect—to the actually really excellent Ape Out Jr., a surprisingly successful attempt to turn the rhythmic ape-murder game into a classic puzzle-platformer.
In the middle, meanwhile, we’ve got Hotline Milwaukee and Enter The Dungeon, both of which offer up gloriously retro takes on their games’ signature looks, while also reminding players why the sort of precision aiming they demand is usually reserved for the mouse. Luftrousers 3 is simply a very polished, very bare-bones take on Vlambeer’s addictive delight. And the only outright disappointment is ShootyBoots. That’s less because the game is bad—it’s not—than because it breaks the cardinal rules of these sorts of demakes: It’s actually a bit more complicated to play than its source material, Downwell. (Also, Downwell is already functionally perfect, so any attempt to deviate from its base design is obvious folly.)
From its artistically janky launcher to its intentionally screwed-up game titles, Devolver Bootleg is mostly a joke—albeit a lovingly crafted one. But it’s a joke you can play, and that means a lot more to me than a million polygon-heavy trailers for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Someday, We Swear.