US: 17 Feb 2013
Arlo’s Adventure was a tough game to review. It reminded me of the times my dad took me to shop for games. I judged the game by the cover, took it home, and then played the crap out of it. I remember the games that were surprisingly good, the games that were terrible (or frustrating), but the games that were just okay all blend together in my memory. If Arlo’s Adventure were released in the late 80’s, it would have blended in with the others. This appears to be the goal of Cinopt Studios, a development team that consists of just two people.
Just to be clear, Arlo’s Adventure is not a tie in game for Justified. It is about a man who lost his magic and needs to traverse the forest, caves, and mountains to get it back. Arlo isn’t the strongest character. He doesn’t have much at stake besides getting his powers back. The idea of protecting his land is too impersonal. On the way to self-rediscovery, Arlo fights off giant spiders, zombies, ninjas, and level bosses. I did like the playfulness of combining elements of old world European tales with modern and absurd elements.
The story is framed through cut scenes, which were my favorite part of the game. Styled as pages ripped from children’s books, these cut scenes are better than anything that any 8-bit machine could have produced. They are also interesting, and a part of me would have rather played a gamified version of the cut scenes than the game.
Arlo’s Adventure is playful, but almost too much of a throwback to lesser times. Where would this game fit in if it was placed in the Nintendo catalog? It would be a game that I promptly traded. Not bad enough to keep and show people how bad it is, but not good enough for replay either (back when I used to replay games). It reminded me of how much time I wasted playing so-so video games by myself instead of trying to socialize with the neighborhood kids. This might be what the creators were trying to achieve. If it was, they were successful.
Once the nostalgia wears off from playing ports of titles like Sonic, GTA III, or Max Payne, I usually put the game down and wonder why I bought them in the first place. It is hard to go back to not having sex after you’ve had sex. It is even harder to go back to playing 8-bit side scrollers after playing the games we have today. At least add some modern elements, like hit counters for bosses.
Overall, this is a fun game that provides a few hours of entertainment. The main question is: With all of the distractions available today, what features make this title stand out? I keep going back to the idea of game catalogs, because there isn’t anything new to offer, experience wise. If you want to defeat zombies and spiders and ninjas in the same game (and don’t care about graphics), then this could be for you. However, I think the game’s best feature is that it is a throwback to the times when I would play games just for the sake of playing them. Looking at sales numbers, it is apparent that this experience no longer exists for console games. It is either everyone plays or nobody plays the same games, resulting in a homogenous gaming experience.
It is fun to play games without caring about stats. Arlo’s Adventure is short enough and varied enough to be enjoyable. The save points are also close enough together that this game can be played on the bus or on bathroom breaks (I hear the tapping in the stalls). This doesn’t have to be a game for children of the 1980s, but they will probably have the most appreciation for what Cinopt Studios has accomplished.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.