Chances are, if you’re in your early thirties or older, you’ll have a lot in common with the developers behind 99Vidas. Seemingly, the product of a youth spent stuffing loose change into arcade machines by the fistful, it’s fair to say that if the idea of Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage 2 and Scott Pilgrim all being thrown into a blender appeals to you, then 99Vidas is pretty much going to make you happier than a pig in poop.
A love letter to the side-scrolling era of old
Bludgeoning you in the face from the off, is the fact that 99Vidas absolutely bleeds a love for the side scrolling brawler scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. With its bop-a-long chiptune soundtrack, flashing ‘GO’ prompts and 16-bit showcase of backgrounds and characters, few side-scrolling brawlers ape their classic inspirations quite as thoroughly as 99Vidas does. And those inspirations extend beyond its genre of choice too, as one secret level is set inside a Tron-style digital world, while another takes place inside sketch book as a disembodied hand clutching a pencil draws in new enemies for you to fight as you progress through the level.
Speaking of the characters you end up scrapping with, each have their own visual flourishes that help to set them apart from one another. Knockdown a punk for instance, and he’ll spend a moment on the floor straightening his hair, while cat-masked kickboxers on the other hand, will pray on their hands and knees to you before getting up and resuming their assault. The level of visual personality afforded to each of the baddies that you fight is deeply reminiscent of the charismatically extravagant denizens of Tribute Games underrated take on Scott Pilgrim vs The World; a fine stylistic muse if there ever was one.
Taking your inspirations a little too far
From score boosting loot that looks exactly like discarded Sega Genesis and NES consoles to constant, overtly on-the-nose quips about characters from other video games, it becomes clear that though 99Vidas is undoubtedly the product of loving inspiration, sometimes it does go a little too far in this regard. A subway stage for example, is almost frame for frame taken from Final Fight, while the familiar foreboding musical cadence as a boss fight begins feels almost shamelessly lifted from Sega’s Streets of Rage. Likewise, the constant pop culture quips can feel eye-rollingly dated, often falling listlessly far of their comedic mark.
Beyond the loving retina strokes of its retro veneer, 99Vidas unfortunately surprises little when it comes to the essential act of putting fists to faces, and this is largely due to how seemingly unwilling the developer is to abandon the aspects of those old arcade games that just haven’t aged as well as nostalgia would have us believe. Certainly, as fresh as 99Vidas appears to the eye then, the actual mechanics which lurk underneath are anything but.
Literally everything that you both enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about those side-scrollers of old is present in 99Vidas; smashing boxes to get apples and poultry to replenish your health, elevator sections where enemies fall from the sky, screen clearing special attacks, baseball bats and pipes to smash your enemies with and more besides. When it comes to the weapons, whereas the armaments that you found in the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage felt like legitimate difference makers, simply because they were so much more powerful than your standard attacks, in 99Vidas that isn’t the case as these weapons end up being both weaker and slower than the unarmed attacks that you start with.
The bosses are a varied lot too. From a cartwheeling member of the Village People who drinks liquid drugs and throws oil cans up in the air, through to an arcade owner who hulks up into a glitchy, 8-bit version of himself, the big bads at the end of each extend stage are as entertaining to fight against as they are to look at. The exception though, and this is quite a big, throw-your-pad-into-your-TV exception, is the final boss. An unfairly punishing colossus who takes up most of the screen, the almost impossible to dodge attacks coupled with the invariably low amount of lives that you’ll have by this point, makes 99Vidas final bad guy an encounter that is best forgotten quickly, lest your sanity and blood pressure suffer unnecessarily.
Luckily, to help you along the way are the shops that crop up in between each stage. Here, players can use the score that they have accumulated in the stages prior to purchase new devastating combos, more powerful special moves and even some extra lives. Though such an upgrade system isn’t necessarily new in side-scrolling efforts such as this, its presence is welcome all the same given the unfairly steep challenge that the game imposes upon the player in its final act.
As is traditionally the case with any side-scrolling brawler worth its salt, 99Vidas is best played with a fellow human or three in tow and the game supports this ably, both online and locally, with up to four different characters that players can choose from, each possessing their own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities to boot. All told, it can be quite a fun time indeed, and one which goes a little way to diluting the draconian challenge of the final boss somewhat.
Anybody who has a hankering for some classic, side-scrolling brawler action will find themselves ably accommodated by 99Vidas. The problem is that its slavish adherence to genre greats of old means that 99Vidas also encompasses everything that is typically wrong with the genre, too.
All the same, 99Vidas retro-infused audiovisual presentation clearly marks the game as a labour of love, and though obviously far from perfect, it remains an effort that can still elicit a considerable amount of fun when played with friends.