In case you were concerned that the latest Devolver Digital gag wasn’t completely self-aware, the moment you start up Devolver Bootleg an achievement pops, simply titled “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”.
Fortunately, much like its increasingly absurd E3 press conference gags, Devolver isn’t laughing at you but instead inviting you to laugh with it. The joke isn’t on the players, it’s on the industry at large and with Devolver Bootleg, absurdity gets an 8-bit knock off.
For less than the price of a cup of (good) coffee, Devolver is inviting you to enjoy a collection of parody/bootleg versions of its popular IPs. It’s cheap, it’s funny and most importantly, it’s not meant to be taken even remotely seriously.
Devolver Bootleg Review
The basic concept of Devolver Bootleg reads more like another of Devolver’s self-aware jokes than an actual product. A “grey market” launcher designed to specifically rip off Devolver’s own games, Devolver Bootleg delivers on this exact joke and gives players an 8 in 1 launcher for five bucks.
Launching the game drops you into a faux-DOS blue screen launcher:
RAM…OK // BIOS…OK // WORDS…MEANINGLESS.
Once inside the “Devolvor” launcher, you’ll be able to choose from a list of six single player games and two two-player titles. True to gag, the list of games are all riffs on popular Devolver titles including Hotline Miami, Downwell, Enter The Gungeoun and Castlevania?
No Really, Is This A Joke?
As you’d expect from the bootleg premise, each of the games plays as shoddy, low-rent versions of their authentic counterpart. Everything in Devolver Bootleg is wrapped up in a neat 8-bit aesthetic and controlled with just two buttons. Given that the games being replicated here earned reputations for tight controls, polished mechanics and art direction, you can imagine how poorly this could go.
In most cases, the Devolver Bootleg collection offers up a drastically simplified version of each game’s core schtick. For some of the entries this works out to be a surprisingly compelling bit of trickery which manages to still capture the essence of the original game while adhering closely to the bootleg gag.
Enter The Gun Dungeon, for example, strips away the colourful veneer and tight controls of the original but is still a blast. The twin-stick shooting is a little worse for wear here, as your ability to change direction while shooting is gone, but once you’ve adapted to the dumbed-down version it’s hard to not go back for another round.
Also, it cribs its dungeon design from the original The Legend of Zelda, so what’s not to love?
Retro Grade A
The Hotline Miami knock-off Hotline Milwaki is perhaps the only title in the bunch which could be its own game. This is largely thanks to the clever simplicity of the original and how little the bootleg changes it.
This is essentially the base game just derezzed slightly; the wall physics are a lot looser and it doesn’t control as tightly but the dogs can shoot guns now so maybe it really is superior anyway.
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one, is the appropriately named Cat Game. Ostensibly a strange mash-up of Gato Roboto and Castlevania, Cat Game is a wonderfully clunky outlier from the rest of the pack. If that sounds contradictory to you then you’d be right; Cat Game controls like molasses and has some awful hit-box issues but I’ll be damned if it isn’t utterly charming.
There are some other gems in the collection too; Ape Out gets the second biggest make-under of the bunch in Ape Out Jr. As the name suggests this de-make turns Ape Out into a retro Donkey Kong style platformer which is not without charm. While Luftrousers does next to nothing to change up the original game and in doing so proves to be some good, clean fun.
The rest of the collection smacks slightly of a gag which has gone on a little too long but isn’t quite yet actually annoying. Shootyboots can’t do as much with the visual element of the joke as its counterpart Downwell was already 8-bit. Instead, the most it manages to be is an incredibly vexing play on the original game’s movement mechanics which is just…not fun.
Meanwhile, the two additional multiplayer games in the pack are good for a laugh but not much else. The Street Fighter style Absolver riff is a serviceable enough fighting game with a standard selection of fighters and combos. While the bonkers PikuBiku Ball Stars is the goofiest thing in the collection, far more of a joke than a game.
Still, even in the lesser games of the collection, Devolver Bootleg smacks of self-aware charm. The whole experience hums along with a genuine banger of a soundtrack too which elevates it at all times. These 8-bit sounds feel like the kind of music you’d find in a YouTube video titled “Low-Fi Beats For Late Night Gaming” and they are fantastic.
It’s not an experience which will change your life, Hell, you probably won’t even think about Devolver Bootleg after next week. But the continued march of self-parody and good humour Devolver is on remains amusing and for just a few bucks there is a lot of dumb fun to be had here.
Devolver Bootleg was reviewed using a code provided by Devolver Digital.
Game Title: Devolver Bootleg
Game Description: A grey market, bootleg collection of parody Devolver Digital titles.