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Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland Honors the TV Show & the 8-Bit Era

Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland Honors the TV Show & the 8-Bit Era - Preview

by Evan Norris , posted on 25 March 2024 / 2,007 Views

Limited Run Games came to play at PAX East 2024. With multiple convention exclusives, a Saturday panel, and a booth featuring four signature games, the company had a lot to show off. But perhaps the most interesting of all the LRG products was Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland, an upcoming action-platformer co-developed by The MIX Games and Wallride. Built for NES hardware and coming to modern platforms this spring, it feels very much like a lost 8-bit game from the early 1990s.

This past weekend, at PAX East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, I was lucky enough to chat with Tomas Guinan, lead developer at The MIX Games, about what went into the creation of Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland. I was also fortunate to demo one of the game's six levels.

While a lot of modern indie games borrow the aesthetic and musical style of old-school NES titles, The MIX Games and Wallride went the extra mile and actually built an NES game from scratch. "I'm sort of that elder millennial generation, so I grew up playing the 8-bit, 16-bit platforms," said Guinan. "Especially if you look back at your DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, you had that era of quality 2D platformers based on licensed properties. And that's what we're trying to evoke: to take a nostalgic property, like Rugrats, and then make a nostalgic experience with it."

If the studio's goal was to make a nostalgic adventure, then consider it "mission accomplished". Not only do the 8-bit graphics and chiptune sounds instantly transport you to the tail end of the NES generation, but the optional HD hand-drawn assets (which you can toggle on and off at any time) evoke nostalgia for the early seasons of the Rugrats cartoon. "We got an animation studio, Angry Metal, to work on it; they did a phenomenal job," said Guinan. "We worked really closely with Paramount on character designs and making sure that everything was exactly as their character designs are. So down to the details of like how many dots of hair are on the sides of Tommy's head and sticking out of the top, those kind of things."

Just as the visuals and sound harken back to the late 80s and early 90s, so too does the gameplay. Anyone familiar with NES-era action-platformers will pick this up immediately. The MIX Games originally pitched the game to Paramount as a cross between Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. 2, and that's a perfectly apt description. In the desert level from the PAX East demo, I was immediately reminded of the second Super Mario Bros. title, as the toddlers dug downward into the sand, and picked up & threw objects at enemies. Not only that, but there are four playable characters, each with unique abilities. Phil, for example, is especially good at lifting up objects and digging. Lil has a floaty jump, similar to Princess Peach. And Chuckie, everyone's favorite nervous ginger, has a flutter jump in the style of Luigi.

No matter which character you control in the moment, the game handles surprisingly well, considering the limitation of 8-bit physics and collision detection. It feels like a game built for NES but with an eye out for a modern audience used to modern mechanics — because that's precisely what it is. Said Guinan, "we wanted to put a lot of attention into the feel of the game and try to make it just feel really intuitive. When you're playing a game and you don't have to think about the controls, that's a good sign."

That said, if you want to crank up the challenge, and play the game "Nintendo hard", as Guinan put it, you have that option. On the highest difficulty, you can't swap between toddlers, and if you die you must start the level from the very beginning. On the standard difficulty, meanwhile, each of the four toddlers acts as a "life". Then there's Newborn Mode, where you have unlimited respawns. With several difficulty settings and support for two-player local co-op, there are a lot of different ways to experience the game.

As for me, I experienced the normal difficulty in the arid desert level, essentially a make-believe version of the kids' sandbox. With reliable controls and the ability to swap characters on the fly, I enjoyed myself. I was particularly impressed by the non-linear layout of the level, and the distinct lack of signposting. Adventures in Gameland appears to be an old-school platformer where you need to do a little exploring and a little digging (literally) to find your way forward. My demo ended with a dramatic, multi-screen battle against the boss, "Big Boy" Pickles, the imaginary younger brother of Angelica Pickles from the TV show — a nice nod to Rugrats fans.

Guinan promised several more interesting levels and bosses at launch, including an attic stage with a Castlevania flair and a climactic fight with the giant sippy cup, Mr. Tippy. "I do love the Mr. Tippy boss fight a lot," he noted. "I think on the 8-bit version in particular, we kind of pushed the system to its limits in a pretty cool technical way for that one. It's visually impressive for an 8-bit video game boss."

Overall, based on my limited time with Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland, I expect the final product to be a solid, entertaining affair — a good-but-not-great game that channels the spirit of the better licensed action-platformers from the NES years. I also expect it to be a total nostalgia bomb, and a loving, fitting tribute to one of Nickelodeon's most beloved cartoons.

Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland doesn't have a firm release date, but it should arrive by the end of spring, according to Guinan. It will launch on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and, coolest of all, NES. You can pre-order physical versions at the Limited Run Games store now.

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Machina (on 25 March 2024)

I like the sound of that life system where each toddler is a life and you cycle through them.

And it's really cool when these retro-inspired games also release on retro consoles like NES and Mega Drive (I've seen a few of those).

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hellobion2 (on 25 March 2024)

Love seeing more of these retro games.

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