8-Bit Adventures 2 Review – A Retro Love Letter

    Title: 8-Bit Adventures 2
    Developer: Critical Games
    Release Date: January 31, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Critical Games
    Genre: Retro RPG

The past is a consistent and reliable source of inspiration for today’s games. The classics of the bygone generations earned their reputation for a reason, so why not learn from what worked in those games to ensure your own game will be a hit? But, of course, there are plenty of occasions where developers lose sight of what truly made those games resonate so much with players, or sometimes they take all the wrong elements instead. Critical Games’ newest release, 8- Bit Adventures 2, hopes to bypass those pitfalls and deliver a charming homage to RPG classics of the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit eras.

First, to get it out of the way, you don’t need to have played the first game to get any enjoyment out of 8-Bit Adventures 2. Speaking as someone who hadn’t played the original, I never found myself getting lost in the plot. In the first hour, you get a brief rundown of the events of the first game, and the game does a good job sprinkling in other details, explanations, and allusions to the previous adventure without it being confusing. Since the central protagonist of this game is a relatively fresh face, it makes the learning process feel very organic, and it never feels like you’re being lumped with lore homework.

The story follows Charlie as he sets out to save the world along with the protagonists of the previous game, plus a few other new faces. The basic summary is pretty much just that, and it could be said that 8-Bit Adventures 2 is a simplistic game in terms of narrative. But within that simplicity, hidden charms and a passionate cast of characters are wonderfully realized, despite the 8-Bit graphics. They very much steer close to tropes of the genre, but in a way that makes it clear that the developers are big fans of those tropes, and they wanted to create something that lovingly and respectfully paid tribute to those ideas.

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Tribute really is the keyword since this isn’t a parody of the past but a faithful send-up of those sensibilities. It has a sense of humor about itself and isn’t afraid to point out weird RPG tropes, but it’s much more focused on telling a satisfying story than a funny one. It takes some steps into some interesting and engaging directions, but it always keeps itself from getting too convoluted.

It’s lighthearted in tone, and the pacing is nice and breezy; story moments never drag on too long, and the plot develops in entertaining ways very quickly. The game doesn’t get too complex, but it throws fun moments at you every now and then. Pacing can make or break an RPG, and it’s safe to say that Critical Games have struck an outstanding balance here.

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And that comes into play from a gameplay standpoint, too; the pacing is never an issue. You’re always moving on to a new local, and dungeons never really outstay their welcome. It keeps the pace exciting, as you always wonder what set piece the game will throw at you next. Exploration isn’t entirely linear within the dungeons or the overworld either; as is traditional, moving off the beaten path can lead you to hidden chests, secrets, and sidequests. Options are limited on the overworld for the first few hours of the game, but it helps to ease the player in, and since the pacing is so snappy, it never gets tiresome.

If one complaint could be leveled at the dungeons and their brevity, they don’t experiment enough with puzzles or gimmicks. There are a few, but most of the time, they’re just used to hide secrets and aren’t always tied to progression. Perhaps these puzzles would have spoiled the pacing, but I would have liked to have seen them experiment more with challenging the player outside of battle.

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Speaking of battle, though, the combat in 8-Bit Adventures 2 is essentially your traditional turn-based system, one we’re all very familiar with. Battles are fun, though, and every party member feels very distinct. They each have a multitude of uses in a fight, and you can switch them out without fear of losing a turn. You have ample opportunity to experiment with your options.

And while the level of difficulty is never frustrating, the fights are still challenging. For a casual player, there’s no single way to steamroll all the fights in the game, but you’re never left feeling helpless. Instead, you must focus, stay on your toes, and avoid being careless. Critical Games understand that the game needs to be challenging enough to be engaging but not too hard to the point of anger.

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Alongside this well-balanced difficulty, the quality of life features put on display that the devs knew not to eschew modern game design for the sake of nostalgia altogether. There are no random battles. Not in the dungeons or the overworld. If you want to grind enemies within a dungeon, the save points will allow you to respawn all the enemies.

Grinding isn’t necessarily needed unless you want to ensure you’re powerful enough. If you lose in a fight, you can retry without a second of your time being wasted. You can save anywhere, but the game still places save points before important encounters to remind you to save to avoid frustration. Those save points also give you tips for the bosses so that you can be extra prepared for the fight ahead. It honestly feels like they thought of everything.

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When it comes to visuals, 8-Bit Adventures 2 is a delight. The style is colorful and vibrant, and the sprite work is fantastic, especially the enemies in the battle scenes. The animations are simple too, but awe-inspiring and stylish. The main characters’ designs are firmly attached to the tropes that inspired them, but for the loving tribute that this game is, it works well and feels very appropriate.

Each dungeon feels very distinct; some are pretty stylistically different and go to surprising places with the setting. This level of quality remains when it comes to the music, with some genuinely fantastic, retro-inspired sounds. In addition, the battle theme and boss themes are, on their own, very memorable.

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All of this makes 8-Bit Adventures 2 shine as a quality game regardless if it doesn’t present any groundbreaking systems in the genre. This game is a love letter to retro adventures that we’re intimately familiar with by now. Rather than push it to be something that seeks to change the experience, it celebrates it. If you’re looking for something that seeks to innovate, you’re likely to find something better elsewhere. But if you want an entertaining, lighthearted, and endearing experience, this is the game for you.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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