Juanito Arcade Mayhem is one of the most tongue-in-cheek and in your face love letters to 80’s video gaming I’ve ever come across; with more pop culture references than an episode of Gilmore Girls; treading a line so close to copyright infringement that I’m both amazed and impressed that they got away with it! This colourful arcade shooter creation from Argentinian Developer Game Ever tells the story of a lazy video gamer and his bi-polar, manipulative alien best friend – Gluk. After a mutant alien race known as the Clonocells begin infecting Juanito’s video game cabinet, he has no choice but to lock, load and jump into the action, because as we and all those that have stepped in front of a gamer’s TV at some point in history are all keenly aware, nobody screws with a high score…
If you’ve ever played Super Pang (Or Buster Bros depending on your region), you’ll recognise the gameplay immediately, but if you’re not too familiar with that, a more commonly recognised comparison would be Space Invaders, albeit much more loosely. This arcade shooter has you taking control of our pint sized hero at the bottom of the screen as Clonocells of varying colour and size begin dropping and bouncing around you with murderous intent. You only have the ability to move left and right, utilising a slide for sudden quick movements. You’re also only able to shoot directly upwards. Unlike other arcade one directional shooters like Space Invaders, this left me feeling slightly uncomfortable to start with; the Clonocells direction of movement meant that they don’t only attack you from above, but also from the sides, meaning that I had to position myself underneath them mid-jump before firing in order to dispatch them without injury. But what begins as feeling unnatural soon becomes second nature as you zip left and right across the screen with satisfying accuracy. The aim of each level is to eliminate the Clonocell threat completely and free the video game from infection.
The game utilises a 3 star scoring system, rewarding you with the most stars for fast, high scoring combo fueled mayhem, but punishing you for slow methodical combat that you’re more likely to survive the round by adhering to. The trick is to find a middle ground that keeps you alive whilst stacking up the combo kills. We found that for the most part there was an intended strategy for the round that would help you reach those big scores, but other levels left the strategy open for your own interpretation. You’ll be required to accumulate a certain number of stars in order to unlock each world. However when I played through the game, I found myself with exactly the right amount of stars to unlock the final world without having to backtrack, but how representative this is of the typical experience I can’t be sure. I like to think I’m awesome. (I’m not).
Despite the premise and game mechanics being simple, the real brilliance of this game comes through the continuous expansion on these core principles to develop fresh ideas within the worlds’ limitations. The game comes with 8 Worlds and 80+ levels, and I’m unashamed to admit that I played through every single one of them in preparation for this review. I was hooked after 5 minutes.
“The game comes loaded with 8 Worlds and 80+ levels, and I’m unashamed to admit that I played through every single one of them in preparation for this review. I was hooked after 5 minutes.”
Each World plays on a theme of a classic video game that either you (or perhaps more likely your parents) will remember. Expect to see plenty of (copyright conscious versions of) your favourites here; Tetris (Blockits), Donkey Kong (Monkey Gong), Pac-Man (Pill-Man) and Arkanoid (Arkadroid) among others – I won’t ruin all the surprises. However, the worlds aren’t just aesthetically themed with colourful and creative backdrops; they also affect the rules of the game; introducing new challenges through retro inspired gimmicks. The Tetris World has you manically dashing left and right as you frantically try to dodge or destroy continuous streams of colourful Terominos. The Pac-Man world has you fleeing from your enemies until you’re able to knock back 500mg of ‘sit the fuck down’ in the form of a giant pill and turn the tables. In the Arkanoid themed world you must break down a defensive blockade of bricks before you can gain access to your gloopy spherical nemeses.
Each one of these themes in each of these worlds develops and mutates through ‘glitches’. These glitches result in some additional rules and difficulty being added to the world as the Clonocell’s attempt to take you out by infecting the game’s circuitry. This combined with the introduction of bigger, badder and more difficult Clonocells with a variety of different attacks and movements means that this game becomes incredibly bloody hard by the final stages. Think of each Clonocell enemy as a juggling ball. Once you’ve mastered one juggling ball, they introduce you to another juggling ball of a different shape and weight, and then another. This progresses until you’re having to manage 10 or so balls at once at the same speed and accuracy, remembering the best tactic for managing each one of them as efficiently as possible. I was playing Juanito on Normal Mode, and still suffered some extreme frustration which I must admit resulted in me shouting at inanimate objects for quite some time before I got to dance the victory dance.
I’m so sorry, faithful desk lamp. For everything.
There’s also an easy mode for those looking for a more casual experience or a hard mode for those that hate themselves and life. Fortunately whatever your play style, the game offers you help in the form of power ups like extra lives, shields, flamethrowers, trip lasers, freeze attacks, bombs and machine guns that are unlocked as you progress. Once each is unlocked, you can look out for them dropping from your defeated foes.
This is where one of the game’s most noticeable problems pops up for me. Item drops are entirely random; so much so that you can have one run on a level in which you play masterfully, but still fail due to an unreasonable stinginess in item drops. You can then try the level again, play like an absolute flid and still make it through because you’ve been showered with yummy life giving treats. Often I found this was the case, and it was through relentless repetition that I squeezed my way through the most difficult levels as opposed to be being forced to improve my game. This then lessened the sense of accomplishment I felt I’d gained in comparison to other levels where I really felt I deserved the win. It’s not the end of the world, but it was certainly noticeable.
You’ll notice that I’m getting trigger happy with the screenshots in this review, and that’s because I fucking love how this game looks. I find that in indie titles the symbiosis between visuals and sound is often an afterthought, and they suffer unnecessarily because of that. In Juanito these two elements have been designed from the ground up to compliment each other perfectly. Rather than imitate the art style of the games of which it’s parodying, Juanito has chosen to inject our nostalgic memories with its own high production value modern cartoon art style, and rather than give us old school chip tunes and note for note rehashes of classics, Game Ever have masterfully created some seriously high quality modern takes on the retro soundtracks we remember so fondly.
“Game Ever have masterfully created some seriously high quality modern takes on the retro soundtracks we remember so fondly”
For those that find themselves unsatisfied with the campaign, the game also offers an endless survival mode and a local co-operative mode in which one of you takes the role of alien chum Gluk, providing even more value for money in this very moderately priced title.
Game Ever have succeeded admirably in identifying what makes a parody title great. The game’s brimming with nostalgia and buckets of humour, but most importantly Juanito retains its own unique identity. Equipped with fantastic graphics, a KILLER soundtrack and a set of core mechanics that continue to develop at a pace demanding enough for any modern gamer, this is how “pick up and play“ titles should be done.
Juanito is available on Steam for £6.99.