Can a retro modern game be too retro for its own good? This is a question we asked ourselves while playing Interabang Entertainment’s Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl as a PS4 beat-’em-up restricted by the limitations of additionally being released on a cartridge for the original NES hardware.
We also questioned that if it made us feel so frustrated, were we even having fun? Yet, upon completing its final Chapter 9 in a hair pulling, straight playthrough – which takes at least an hour starting with Jay and Silent Bob running from the security guard, LaFours, following their game show sabotage mission in Mallrats, through to a fan-pleasing return to Kevin Smith’s film roots — it hit home that this is exactly what it felt like to beat stubbornly unforgiving 8-bit games in the 1980s.
Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl isn’t even that hard, it’s just messy in making you face the possibility of shock and damage. Timing is key due to blundering hitboxes, mixed awkwardly with Jay and Silent Bob’s stubby arm reach, and floaty jump attacks to try to avoid the cheapest of sly hits, with no last ditch desperation moves. Weapons-wise, hitting enemies with a baseball bat feels no different to nunchucks, unfortunately, or thwacking them with a bra, and none of the weapons slice with a shnickty shnickty shnoine.
It’s testament to the chiptune talent of Toni Leys that even when repeating a chapter for umpteen tries through unlimited continues, the catchy tunes don’t grate. Taking into account it doesn’t have supercharged 8-bit graphics like Shovel Knight, its authentic 8-bit approach is in awe both graphically and in gameplay towards Technōs’ NES brawler games — especially Double Dragon, right down to a chocolate covered pretzel headed version of Abobo. While Tomas Guinan captures the look of River City Ransom, Mall Brawl lacks the diverse gameplay and variety of that game’s upgradeable stats and purchasable move-set. Still, it’s unique as one of the few side-scrolling brawler games that we enjoyed more by switching between two main characters as a single player strategy of managing regenerating health, as opposed to sharing food court snacks with a friend in local co-op.
Unsurprisingly, there’s humour throughout, made evident by one Trophy tasking you to beat up the Easter Bunny to avenge Brodie. The route to a Platinum via 21 Trophy targets also seems like plain sailing, but once you realise that 0.0% of players have been able to ‘Clear hard mode in one run without a Game Over’, you’ll recognise that you mightn’t see the sailboat everyone keeps talking about. Perhaps if you wished that Double Dragon IV followed in the first two arcade games’ presentation style, then Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl’s 8-bit throwback approach is not for you. Regardless, for those of us who crave more in the same vein of Technōs NES bickety bam beat-’em-ups, then playing Mall Brawl may just be your retro Wolvie berserk style. What else are we gonna do? Snootchie Bootchies!
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