For those of you that are too young to remember the eighties, it was equal parts wretched and utterly amazing. The hair, the clothes, and the narrowly averted world-ending nuclear warfare were all problematic. On the other hand, we survived and it spawned pop culture gold. Video games started to crawl out of the arcade cabinet for the first time and a slew of cult classics was born. If you remember a time when Blockbuster was king and Netflix was science fiction then you might want to take a look at The Videokid.
Playing on the nostalgia of many middle-aged gamers is something of a cottage industry for games these days but it doesn’t guarantee a successful game. Developer Pixeltrip Studios found their idea green lit on Steam, back in 2016, and initially launched a retro-inspired runner on January 2017. It has finally arrived on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch and we took to the streets with the Switch edition. Pixeltrip has produced a modern runner that puts players back in an era when video cassettes were the only way to watch movies at home. As a thoroughly irresponsible teenager, it is your job to jump on your skateboard and make it through perfectly normal suburban neighborhood delivering tapes, causing mischief, and avoiding oncoming obstacles. If this sounds familiar to our older readers, then it comes straight out of the Paperboy playbook. As one of my favorite games of my childhood, this cheeky game pulled exactly the same stunt while pounding through an American paper round.
The Videokid is a modern take on a pretty retro concept. Taking very clear inspiration from Paperboy, Pixeltrip Studios has crafted a beautifully archaic take on the runner genre. The third person isometric perspective puts players into an on-rails scroller that funnels down a distinctly middle American suburb. The terraces, front yards, and clean streets of this neighborhood are built using a bright blocky aesthetic. It’s a definite nod to earlier pixel art generations and a time when games were simpler.
Getting to grips with The Videokid’s skateboard is equally uncomplicated. Winding down the road, players can switch between a series of three lanes by pushing Videokid left or right. Oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, pets and post boxes can be vaulted using a jump button and an unlimited supply of VHS tapes can be flung at unsuspecting mailboxes with a singular fire key. Anybody willing to skate down The Videokid’s sidewalks would be best placed to stick to using the directional arrows. The Nintendo Switch’s analog sticks can feel a might sensitive here for a game that only requires the most basic of inputs to get VHS tapes into the right mailbox. The outcome of this action is also pretty easy to follow. Depositing videos into each mailboxes scores this teenage mischief maker credit which can be used to purchase a number of cosmetic upgrades. General mischief also allows each player to ratchet up an additional score for each run, by pulling off slick tricks, irritating wildlife, and causing some mild destruction of property.
It might all sound pretty simplistic but, in all actuality, The Videokid is a relatively unforgiving runner. It might be built using bold blocks of color but there are no health bars here, no retries, and no save points. Unlike Runner 3, which provides players an option to use checkpoints, this a one-shot show. Crash or get mowed down by other road users and your flailing corpse will instantly bounce around the screen while the Game Over screen announces how far you failed to get. It almost reminds me of twenty minute loading times, spent watching the cassette decks whir after a disastrous outing.
As the Videokid wheels his way down these streets, it is up to payers to navigate the not so subtle nods to a time when mice were dangerous and cats were made of thunder. Everything from heroes in a half shell, to wandering Time Lords, massive transforming trucks, and even Fraggles litter the road. It’s a blast through my own childhood that zooms past at an appreciable rate. The dated references are numerous and fleeting. This means that, unlike other games that labor their point, The Videokid leaves little time to get bored of these memories. In addition, the game’s shop allows players a little more than a nod and a wink to old movies and TV. A range of kitsch costumes is available after accumulating in-game currency.
The audio work that supports these cartoon characters, sci-fi masters, and animatronic mascots adds an extra layer of finesse to the whole affair. Barrelling down the road to the echoes of “ I have the Power” is almost as satisfying as dispensing a VHS projectile to the face of an oncoming Chipmunk. DJ Savant soundtrack rounds off this excellent sound work some suitably fitting chiptune accompaniment for a game that keeps things bright and easy.
Being easy is possibly The Videokid’s main issue. Despite a randomized deployment of TV references and road users, which does keep things from being too predictable, the game relies on a willingness to repeat ad nauseam. This isn’t without charm but it does mean, like any runner, it isn’t going to provide a huge amount of depth for very long. However, this is hardly a new complaint for a runner style game and this short ride down memory lane is a perky mix of nostalgic challenges and retro style that utterly charmed me. The Videokid is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.