Yeah, I know, it seems like a cheap shot but I put down my $4.94 for Devolver’s postmodernist charade and dammit I’m gonna get my two cents (retained via the 1% off deal) in. Beneath the unending veils of irony and tongues in cheeks, I’m generally a fan of demakes. That goes for formal homebrew exercises like Halo for Atari 2600(!) or just downloadable retro would-be’s like Smaze (the reinvention of Haze into something worth playing). So despite the high chance that Devolver Bootleg would sprint way past the line of cynicism towards what’s commonly called a scam, I was curious to see how Devolver could double down on the retro flourishes their productions regularly traffic in.
Unfortunately, the bulk of what we have boils down to time better spent browsing itch.io, as Devolver Bootleg treats general clunkiness as the defining factor of demakes (may a choir of “It’s supposed to be bad!” rain down upon me) instead of imbuing the form with creative use of its constraints. You will no doubt smirk once or twice at the visual gags on display, but will moreso be taken aback by how lumbering the bulk of the gameplay is. None of the micro demakes here truly transcend their source material and would barely pass muster as a GBA port.
Nonetheless, there is a narrow spectrum of quality present amongst the eight titles, with Ape Out Jr. coming out ahead overall. As implied by the title, Ape Out Jr. grafts the people tossing bonanza of Ape Out onto the design of Donkey Kong Jr. It’s a decently rewarding mashup, even with the inability to reset levels making it easy to break the game in a segment like “Round 3”, where you can jump down to the end of the level before killing every enemy and have no means to either finish the job or reset the level through dying. There is also the persistent fetishization of clunky mechanics present, though in this instance, it’s perfectly in line with the gameplay of Donkey Kong Jr. and unfolds at a methodical enough pace to make the mechanics fairly workable. As its own dollar purchase, Ape Out Jr. is a decent curiosity that ever so slightly changes things just enough throughout to justify its half-hour length.
Super Absolver Mini: Turbo Fighting Championship only offers you one fighting stage for your troubles, but benefits from local multiplayer, allowing the stilted mechanics to be fodder for some cheap laughs albeit still not very rewarding to play. Meanwhile, Pikuniku Ball-Stars is a strangely faithful recreation of grade school browser game classic Super Slime Soccer that can be beaten in ten seconds! The Super Mario Bros 2–indebted visual design, however, is a highlight here, along with the shift towards more fluid animation (albeit still paired with very binary control) adding a dose of chaos that would have enhanced the amusement of the other titles in here tenfold.
Luftrousers 3 largely plays things too straight, mirroring the presentation of Luftrausers while merely limiting movement capabilities to reduce the game to a Defender knock off. For what it’s worth it’s an adequate Defender knockoff, but it provides no humor or re-contextualization of the Luftrausers IP, instead flaunting its extraneous nature as its distinct purpose. The same risk-averse tendencies exemplify Enter the GunDungeon, which is mostly just Enter the Gungeon scrubbed of any roguelite tendencies and bogged down by inflexible aiming that does not sustain the enemy count. Its aims are Smash TV but it only embodies dystopian business practices instead of mining them for satire. The joke is that it is bad and that you have paid for it.
Shootyboots is not a bad interpretation of Downwell, giving you a weightier character (a sentient gunboot) at the cost of conventional enjoyability, but forcing you to approach the time-intensive challenge of Downwell with a minimized margin of forgiveness. If you’re the sort of masochist who gets a kick out of CLOP and other Bennet Foddy introductions, I can half-heartedly recommend it but would otherwise call attention to the fact that Downwell is half the price of this extended in-joke. Catsylvania is a cursory tribute to… Ghosts n’ Goblins set against a Castlevania background that offers promises of mecha cats battling frogs but drags your hopes down to earth by having the stiffest controls of the bunch. Doinksoft are responsible for Gato Robato and Devolver Bootleg alike, but I can definitively say that Gato Robato is the superior cat mecha experience you could have in 2019.
Of course, no title caught my eye like Hotline Milwaukee, which of course benefits from being Hotline Miami as well as suggesting the prospect of being the closest game to a Rich Evans simulator yet! It damages most of the inherent qualities of Hotline Miami, removing the ability to use the mouse to aim, allowing you to mash the attack button incessantly in lieu of resting on moment-to-moment timing, and minimizing location variety in favor of the same brick-tiled residential building over-and-over again. On the other hand, enemies include dogs with guns and the canned soundtrack perhaps better internalizes the source material’s thesis that your feats of murder are not to be admired. I surely didn’t feel very badass during the playthrough, and such claims of subversion are what Devolver Throwback was surely designed to stoke at the cost of playability.
So it’s bad, of course it’s bad, of course the prospect of demaking titles that are already liberated through a limited budget and unlimited creative freedom would only be treated as a six dollar joke. It’s common knowledge that hundreds of comparable titles can be played in your browser for free distinguished only by the absence of a company’s reputation as industry toppling jesters. The game may as well be a Kickstarter reward for funding Devolver’s next press conference and/or audition tape for the 3 AM spot on Adult Swim programming. The joke however only reads as self-parodic, if not outright contemptuous for its paying audience. It’s the intersection of Devolver’s social media presence with paid product, and I can promise that time spent freely browsing the Devolver social media page will offer more enjoyment and that purchase of any other Devolver release (including Doinksoft’s own Gato Robato) makes for a more rewarding way to support the company. Devolver has already proved that they’re different from any AAA studio kept afloat by xeroxed and overpriced products released for their own sake, with unwavering investment into forward-thinking studios. Paid stunts like this only prove that they want attention just like any other brand.
Devolver Bootleg is mere collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of irony.
Enjoys paying less than 20 dollars for a game, especially when it is one people have forgotten about. Wants to be a character in the next Jet Set Radio and hopes you enjoy the site. Has a pet rabbit he nurtures and takes photos of. Still pushing for a Stuntman Ignition remaster 11 years later. Still hasn’t played Fortnite.