Super Mario Bros. clones are as prolific as ants in a sugar bowl. Nintendo has never officially released the iconic plumber’s games on the PC (save for third-party edutainment titles such as Mario Is Missing and Mario Teaches Typing) and as such, PC gamers have had to find more esoteric ways of getting their quintessential run-n-jump platforming fix. There is a plethora of cheap knock-offs, which are usually a developer’s first foray into game-making. These tend to be unsurprisingly abysmal, but occasionally we’ll stumble onto a title that gets the formula right: enter 8BitBoy.
The story is certainly something that resonates with many of us: you play the part of an unemployed gamer in his early 30’s, trying to adjust to the harsh realities of adult life. Whilst reminiscing about his childhood and the carefree days in which he’d spend hours just playing video games, nostalgia overwhelms him and he digs out the old game system that has since languished in obscurity. He discovers an odd-looking cartridge and, against his better judgement, boots it up. What happens next will astonish you…
…just kidding. He gets sucked into the game world. Bet you never saw that coming, huh?
You’d be forgiven for thinking the world in question is an unexplored region of the Mushroom Kingdom (a particular irony considering that the console our protagonist uses appears to be a Sega Master System); it’s filled with floating blocks, coins to grab and enemies to stomp. There are secrets galore and plenty of out-of-reach spots: for example, vines will occasionally pop out of blocks and enable our hero to explore some high altitude locales. It’s honestly nothing we’ve not seen before, but shucks, it’s tight to play and it’s full of love.
If you feel that games these days are entirely too easy and forgiving, you’ll appreciate the implementation of an “ultra” difficulty mode. This means that, unlike in standard difficulty, the game’s time limits are stricter and progress will only be saved if players manage to find special hidden coins in the levels. This makes mastering the stages an absolute must, though it can get frustrating having to repeat levels if you fail. However, this is balanced out by the coin system: if players manage to grab 100 of them, they’ll be treated to a random (and often severely-needed) power-up.
The power-ups consist of a shield (allowing one extra point of health) and various fruits which give our hero the ability to shoot projectiles. The more powerful fruits allow several projectiles to be fired in rapid succession, though these will bounce around and require a bit of trajectory-calculating to properly master. Still, getting them is almost mandatory, because it really saves you the risk of jumping on enemies directly or having them attack you before you can reach them.
Despite the title, the graphics are closer to the 16-bit style than 8-bit, with more vibrant colours and parallax backgrounds. However, this may be a subtle nod to fellow retro-esque platformer Mutant Mudds, which follows a similar style and bills itself as a “12-bit” game. Sound effects and music are also ripped straight from the early console era, with all the chip-tastic blips and bloops that get our dopamines flowing.
There’s no point in beating around the bush: this is a Mario clone of the most shameless variety. If you’ve played these clones before and are sick to death of them, then you’d best give 8BitBoy a miss. If, however, you’re up for old-fashioned platforming fun with a bit of a challenge, then you’ve got no reason to pass this one up. Grab it on Steam for a measly $3.99; Windows and Mac users will have a blast, but Linux users are left out in the cold with this one. Also, play it with a controller for maximum effect.