Long time denizens of the internet will likely have interacted with one or more flash RPG’s from Artix Entertainment at some point. With the original passion project of AdventureQuest in 2002 it soon became one of the more successful, long standing indie developers. It has also become quite notorious for starting many projects, whilst actually finishing few.
It was thus rather surprising that a proposed AdventureQuest 8-Bit game for the NES during an April Fools event in 2019 actually materialized into a physical game by 2022. Through publisher Nami Tentou the game now finds its way to both the Switch and Steam. Let’s find out if this NES homebrew translates well to modern hardware!
Spoofing it up
The adventure sees us take on the role of Artix, a paladin who cannot use light magic, but does know how to chop stuff up with his giant battle axe. Which will be your primary tool through this ‘zeldavania’ on a quest to rid the land of the undead the Doomknight has unleashed. It’s a top down adventure, with an overworld, dungeons and everything. At times you will also switch to side scrolling sections to add some mild platforming to the mix.
I’m not very familiar with the lore of the world of Lore myself. Luckily the game can be enjoyed as a standalone adventure, though it features many familiar faces for fans of the AQ games. Fair warning for those new to their creative endeavors; Artix’s games are very tongue in cheek and littered with referential humor. This game is no exception, so be ready to face a lot of ‘bad’ NES grammar/spelling and mentions of dangerous alone times in other castles during cursed nights and such tropes.
It did get a chuckle out of me for the way it subvert expectations at times. Surprisingly it occasionally does this through its gameplay as well. For example: fairly early you get a dog companion who can fit through small holes and attack enemies. At some points you get to take control of the pooch. I thought I had to avoid enemies as there was no attack option, but… it had been plowing through enemies as a special attack the whole time. Why wouldn’t that work the same when you’re in control? It turns out that this small sidekick is hilariously OP.
Free on cart jank DLC
This kind of randomness made it quite fun and interesting to see what else they came up with. The gameplay itself is fairly basic and even for NES standards a little crude. Especially hit detection can cause some frustrations. Navigating narrow spaces was a bit of a pain, I was constantly getting caught on the terrain. Which is quite the pickle when avoiding projectiles! What doesn’t help is that your attacks can only go left or right, although the axe does have some damage potential in its overhead swing.
The game is devoid of scrolling. This works fine for the overhead sections, but on the side scrolling parts this can feel pretty cramped due to the big sprites and total inability to duck. Especially during some boss fights I found myself accidently exiting the screen, before doing a proper smiting, resetting the fight. Speaking of resetting, changes on the map like pulling a lever reset the screen as well, which can be very jarring when all the blocks you had just smashed through magically reform.
These small frustrations aren’t a huge concern, though. The game luckily respects the players time. A death means a return to a save point, which are plentiful, and no progress is lost at all. It’ll rarely take more than a minute to get back to where you had died. Of course you can also use this feature to handily ‘warp’ back to a start of a dungeon for example.
Battle on with unpaladinian tools
As expected, you’ll need to go all over the place to get some items to open up new pathways. With each new power you can open up handy shortcuts so that traversing the whole world becomes quite fast, despite there not being a fast travel option. The fact that the world wraps around also helps in this regard.
The items you find are pretty uninspired, but functional. You’ll get many axe upgrades that will allow you to smash a particular type of terrain. You also obtain some skills that require a skull to use, this game’s form of MP. So you can throw limited projectiles or lay down some holy water… I mean wasabi!
Some items activate automatically, which can feel a bit janky when it comes to the “bat form”. Based on where you are on the screen, the game decides whether you should be a human or a bunch of bats. Problem being that bats don’t fall, so if you’re not expecting that when you jump around, it’s an easy way to get some wings clipped by stray arrows.
A step up from the NES?
I kept fumbling with the controls in general, as depending on what type of screen you are on, the function of the B button changes. On top down screens it activates your secondary item. Weirdly, when side scrolling it’s used to jump and the special attacks are up + B. Having A and B switched on my controller didn’t help matters. Unfortunately there is no option to change keybindings, which should almost be considered a crime with the default layout of the keyboard, even navigating the menu is awkward!
The added main menu has some other oddities, like a language setting that has plenty of different languages… for the main menu, not the actual game. It does contain goodies from the physical release though! Like a map, the full manual and a copy of Pretendo Empower. Just showing more of that Artix humor and I dig it!
This version also comes with extra games that were original backer rewards. There are 3 ROM hacks of the main game. These are really fun to explore. Two of them change all dialogue in the game and especially the one where you play as that MVP uber doggo is quite hilarious. There are also two smaller games included, ChronoKnight and NecroNancy. The latter of which, a puzzle platformer, I enjoyed quite a bit. Finally there’s the soundtrack to listen to, which is okay. There’s a good quantity of tracks and they fit the game well. They do loop too quickly for my liking, making them monotonous fairly quickly.
The other side of the presentation, the graphics, are great. First of all, there is no sprite flicker at all, which is always great to see in new NES releases! Sprites are big, pretty detailed and there’s great variety in both environments as well as enemies. Well, in their looks at least. Most enemies have pretty basic movement patterns with some randomness in them and most bosses can be rushed down. Not all though! Some can be tricky, which has more to do with getting stuck on stuff than the boss itself. There is a secret, optional boss that is a true bastard however. But all in all the game is on the easy side and more intended to just have fun with and reminisce back to older NES games.
This release does offer a few graphical ‘enhancements’, like a higher resolution, a CRT filter, a few color palettes and different aspect ratios to fit to your liking. But it is good to remember that it remains an NES game and I’m fairly sure it’s actually running the ROM. Either that, or they really mimicked the slowdown of an NES well on the two screens I’ve noticed it. It runs smoothly otherwise.
It’s an amazing NES game, that is for sure and if you think you may enjoy the humor I would definitely recommend you check it out. Battle on through the 5 or so hours of the main game at least! However, I feel less confident in recommending this version over the NES ROM. The game will be available on both Steam and Switch from the 25th of January. During the first week there’s a 25% discount to bring the cost down to $/€14,99. This makes its price very close to the digital ROM release. The added extra games do offer a fun activity once done with the main course. Not being able to remap the controls is something that even the most basic emulator can do. I think this is a big omission in my book. Hopefully this will be patched in later.
- Fun and punny adventure
- Pretty big world with nice variety
- Lots of content with the added games
- Additional customization options are lacking at launch
- Collision and hit detection can be annoying
- Style of humor is not for everyone