Jay Button: Embarking on Abobo’s Big Adventure

January 19, 2012

Video game nostalgia is an odd phenomenon. It makes us hang on to outdated technology, spend hours upon hours sewing scarves and hats adorned with the heroes of our youth and get into heated arguments about which entry in a series is better (rather than agree that they’re both pretty great). But rarely does it lead to anything productive.

I-Mockery is one of my favorite sites on the internet. It’s very difficult to place it under any genre of website you’re used to. They host games, comics and, most importantly, essays about anything you can think of. Nowhere else on the Internet will you find articles about the forgotten television show based on the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All the Way under one roof. After years of reading the site, I’m still constantly amazed that such an eclectic and huge collection of media is so finely tuned to my weird tastes.

A big part of what they do revolves around classic video games. You may have come across some of their more popular articles, like Sexual Moments in Game History (among other things). They’ve even made their own games before, but nothing like their latest title Abobo’s Big Adventure. Abobo has been in some form of development for a decade, and is finally playable. The game has been seen in many different stages, as I-Mockery’s Roger Barr has carted it around to different shows and conventions across the country. You can read a detailed account of its development at their site. And now it’s finally available in your browser.

Browser and Flash games are something I’m very familiar with. I’ve frequented Newgrounds and other hubs for independent online game development since I had my own AOL screen name, but Abobo’s Big Adventure is the most ambitious browser game I’ve ever played. There isn’t a single second of this game that doesn’t feel lovingly crafted and engineered to make us NES nerds smile ear to ear the entire time.

Every asset in Abobo is borrowed directly from a classic NES title, but the game experience on the whole feels much more than a patchwork nostalgic trip. Each piece comes together to form a cohesive gaming puzzle. As Double Dragon boss Abobo, the player embarks on an adventure across the Nintendo Entertainment System’s entire library. Seriously, no dark corner is left unexplored. Abobo doesn’t stick to the well known NES titles like Zelda and Metroid, but delves deep into the obscure. There’s even an early level based on Urban Champion. I had to make sure that was actually what they were referring to, because no one cares about that game. And the retro-reappropriation goes beyond just the visual. The scenery of each level is based off a level from an NES game, but it also mimics the original controls for each world perfectly. This is truly what makes the game so ambitious. Most games have trouble getting one control layout right, but Abobo does them all.

99% of the allusions come directly from NES games, but there are some nods to later eras in gaming like Mortal Kombat and even tropes from today’s gaming. When Abobo dies, he explodes into a shower of very detailed organs and blood (in stark contrast to the game’s 8-bit aesthetic), and every single bit of progress triggers an achievement. And of course, because of all the “borrowed” imagery in this game, they can’t charge for it. This decade-long labor of love has been put out there for you, the player, to enjoy for free. That being said, if you enjoy the game, be sure to toss the folks at I-Mockery a few bucks. They do good work.

As much as I loved this game, it got me thinking about something a bit disturbing. Where is game nostalgia going? Etsy is plagued with tea cozies and mousepads adorned with characters of games-gone-by, but where does it stop? Will people who are discovering games now wear dresses made to look like a 3DS or glaze a clay pot in the image of Kratos? All this DIY video game memorabilia seems to start in 1985 and stop somewhere around the PS1. Did the characters just get too difficult to render in post-it notes on the side of a cubicle, or did games really start to get that much less iconic by that point? And I can’t wait to see how game companies deal with all the BS we go through today when we want to play these same games in ten years. All that DLC content will be gone someday, and there will be a time soon when there’s not a single original model 360 left working when my SNES runs fine.

What did you think about Abobo’s Big Adventure? You have literally no excuse not to play it if you’re reading this blog. And tell us your thoughts on the future of video game nostalgia in the comments.