I like to think that I’m good at beat’em ups. After all I’ve spent many hours glued to the TV playing Streets of Rage and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist on my Mega Drive. If I’m not good at them, I wasted all my formative years. 99vidas made me realize that perhaps I am not quite as good as I had imagined myself to be. That or the game is just hard, one of the two.
That isn’t to say that 99vidas isn’t a fun game. The game is based on the Brazilian podcast 99vidas, and I don’t know what I was expecting there. However it manages to throw in homages to old games of the beat’em up genre while still creating a distinct identity for itself. Fans of the genre will recognize the references. From backgrounds practically ripped from title screens of classic of the genres, to music so close to Streets of Rage’s 2 that I tried repeating the jump kick motion that worked so well in that game only to fail miserably and get stunned in this one.
Getting stunned is a real problem in this game. And it’s probably what kills it for me. Getting hit once can easily end up with the player getting hit six or seven times. Once I was pushed from one side of the screen to the other, and just as I was getting up an enemy to my left started pushing me to the right. It wouldn’t be the last time I was dragged across the screen. Whether I held my Vita and mashed buttons or stopped and went for a coffee the result was the same. It made me wonder if it was only my choice of characters that was the problem. The game has several, which range from wildly unbalanced to balanced, but why would anyone pick anyone other than the cat girl is beyond me. Maybe I’ve just been on the internet for too long but when I see girls with any kind of animal ears, I automatically associate it with a good time. And for the most part that choice of words describes the game well. “A good time” was had while playing it.
99vidas excels at a lot of areas. Punches and kicks had a suitably meaty sound effect, enemies and player characters were well animated. The story, for all it matters in a retro throwback, was just the right amount of stupid. That is, it’s perfect to skip past at the beginning. Also unique to this game is the special attack being based on the four elements. Each character has an element attached and the special attack looks suitably flashy. These moves destroy most non-boss mooks on screen. Many of these specials are screen nukes. They’re not as effective as say, a rocket to the face, but then few things are. Not even it seems, massive waves or destructive fires.
Most interesting to me is not the similarity to childhood games, in terms of aesthetics, sounds, and controls. Which were enough to trigger my sense of nostalgia. Not even the fury with being tossed around like a rag-doll. No, what really interested me is the little bilingual bonus. And given my role as the “One that speaks Portuguese”, I would be remiss if I didn’t notice these details. Bilingual speakers will get a kick out of the little signs and words spread around levels, it’ll be even better if they are familiar with the Brazilian culture and its self-deprecating humor. I played the game both in Portuguese and in English to make sure that I got the full gist of the story. Yes, the same one most would skip, and I got a few chuckles out of the experience. Let me be absolutely clear, understanding and speaking Portuguese is in no way or form necessary for a good time. There’s a few bonus jokes and references sprinkled here and there, but nothing that will make you go and enroll in a language class to get them. Let’s face it, the language is the last thing people care about when it comes to Brazil. But then I dealt with language all my life, it is not something that can be helped. I was curious about it and replaying it allowed me to realise that 99Vidas holds the qualities of a good beat’em up.
I played the game on the Vita between boat rides and while waiting for both the subway and the bus. And that’s, in my opinion, the way the game is best played. The game’s store page claims it has six stages, and the difficulty ramps up quite fast. It was by playing it in spurts that I had the most fun. The graphics, that is the animations of the characters and the backgrounds are so finely detailed and worked that playing it on a TV only enhances it. And that says nothing of the inspired moments where it sounds like Streets of Rage 2, moments where I literally pushed the volume of my TV up. But having the opportunity to quit it after a stage, a luxury I didn’t have back in the days of my Mega Drive, made all the difference.
I died a heck of a lot while playing the game. The game is called 99vidas, which literally translates to 99 lives. One would think the journey would be easier due to that, but no, it is not. To say that the cake is a lie would be to beat on a dead horse, but the game’s name is quite literally a lie. The achievement with the name on the other hand, is not. And yet, something strange happened with 99Vidas. Even as I compiled those technical faults: the stun-locking of the character, the difficulty, the fact sometimes I just straight up couldn’t see enemies because I had thrown them beyond what the camera allowed me to see. Even as I died, I just as quickly hit retry. I wanted to toss my Vita into oncoming traffic, I was holding it so tightly it left imprints on my hands. But I kept replaying it. It felt unfair, it felt infuriating it, but that only seemed to make me more determined to beat it.
It might sound like I had a bad time with the game, only worsened by the fact I played through it twice. But in fact, and I can’t believe I’m saying this; it gave me a great sense of personal achievement each time I beat it. Each and every time I completed a stage, I was so pumped I had to avoid beating my chest. It was an odd mix of frustration, death, frustration, more death, and at last success. I don’t know whether or not I would call it fun, but it was definitely rewarding.
There are technical issues, and in comparison with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and Streets of Rage, games which I’m sure it’ll be compared to, which is something I, myself, am guilty of, it comes out short. But you can’t play Scott Pilgrim anymore, and Streets of Rage only comes in packages nowadays. It feels somewhat cheap, to compare this game to classics of the genre. Maybe nothing will beat those games, maybe that’s just the bias I have to learn to accept. 99vidas does its job well; it’s a retro throwback, a Brazilian game, and an advertisement for the Podcast. But even if most people who play this have never heard of the Podcast, and even if some jokes may go overboard, I still think it a good game.
99Vidas was developed by QUByte Interactive
$13 on Steam, $10 on the rest
A review copy was provided by the developer.
awards 99vidas the Indie
Seal of Approval.