The most original frauds ever made.
One of the more bizarre, or interesting, developments from Devolver Digital’s satire filled E3 press conference this year was the announcement that they’d now be exclusively ripping off their own games in the grey market game launcher, Devolver Bootleg. This 8-in-1 pack, available immediately after the announcement, is filled with janky off-brand versions of a selection of Devolver’s best games. The marketing guy who announced it burst into a fountain of blood as an alien-like creature tore out of his stomach straight after – so that might not be a good sign.
It turns out that this wasn’t just a joke. You can actually buy the game at the special promotional price of 1% off. It being a real thing means we can review it and see how serious this memery really is. Here are my thoughts on each one of Devolver’s bootleg versions of their own games.
Enter the Gun Dungeon
They really nailed the name with this one, sounding just enough like its counterpart to deceive you into to thinking it might be. That being said, it’s actually not that bad, albeit a much lighter version of the original game. It loses the fast-paced, frantic combat of Enter the Gungeon but still retains the roguelike hook the bullet hell is praised for.
It’s here that Devolver really demonstrates the strength of the games it publishes. Stripped of its polished graphics, crisp sound and smooth controls, Enter the Gun Dungeon is still highly playable and evokes that one more run mentality that got me hooked on the original.
To be honest, it kind of made me want to go back and play Enter the Gungeon. Maybe that was the intended purpose all along? Devolver has come full circle, so enveloped in layers of irony that in pretending to hate marketing they’ve actually become brilliant at it. Either way, this game holds up as a pretty fun experience for a knock-off, and at a bargain price too.
By far my favourite in this series of bootleg games, Hotline Milwaukee feels like a bizarre spin-off more than a rip-off. For fans craving something more from the surreal series, this might just hit the spot. The core gameplay of Hotline Miami is so simple it translates to a bootleg with ease, which demonstrates how the game impressed even in its Cocaine Cowboys early days of conception.
It embodies Hotline’s style perfectly, as bootlegs tend to have that surreal, just out of joint with reality feel to them that the original embraces. Surprisingly, the rip-off soundtrack is almost as good as the original and I couldn’t help but bop along with it throughout the carnage.
Yeah, it’s kind of janky and you can punch people through walls and stuff, but as a knock-off, it remains pretty true to the originals. It’s a hell of a lot shorter of course, like all the games in this collection. But, it still entertains in the way Hotline did, even ending with a very emotive achievement simply called ‘Hotline Miami 3, when?’ Make of that what you will.
Ape Out Jr.
At first glance, Ape Out Jr looks worlds apart from the stylised visuals of the game it’s based on. Demade into more of a pixelated Donkey Kong type affair hasn’t done it any favours in the presentation department. But still, some of the core gameplay from Ape Out remains, although the flow of combat is much slower paced.
Again, this goes to show the strength of the games Devolver publishes, often being able to communicate their core concept with even the simplest graphical representation to work with. The clunky controls do make the gameplay quite frustrating, however. It certainly evokes more of a retro vibe in that sense.
Like most of the games in this pack it’s brutally challenging, making for some pretty… hairy moments. Hey, if Devolver can make jokes then so can we. Also, the soundtrack remains pretty cool, even in its new 8-bit format.
Another gem in the pack is Shootyboots, a bootleg take on procedurally generated platformer Downwell. This rip-off is a very close recreation of the original, capturing the core concept well (get it), with little loss in the gameplay department. Obviously, you’re in a shoe and not an amorphous child, but much else of Downwell is retained.
The game is still procedurally generated, making each run slightly different. There are a couple of different picks ups you can gather throughout your journey as well, though nothing on the scale of the original. It seems to lean more heavily on the roguelike elements of the game but maybe they just became more noticeable with many of the other features stripped back.
On the whole, it’s fun and feels rewarding to play. There’s a decent chunk of knock-off gameplay here that could easily keep you entertained for an hour or so. Although slightly slower and less shooty than its original counterpart it’s still every bit as enjoyable.
Super Absolver Mini: Turbo Fighting Championship
Unless you somehow didn’t notice, this is a joke aimed at Capcom’s Street Fighter series and their absurdly named, never-ending sequels. It’s based on Absolver, a game quite far away from what is represented in this bootleg version. To be honest, it’s pretty crap, which is not a reflection on the original.
This really isn’t Absolver. It’s more like a Tiger handheld version of International Karate. Requiring two players, you pick from four very similar-looking characters and battle it out in two-button combat. It isn’t even as good as some of the more early examples of games in the genre but it does have some features you’d expect.
There’s a small range of combos and a super meter you can build up to unleash an ultimate attack. It all feels pretty underwhelming, however, and fails to capture the complex combat system Absolver presented. Let’s just say this bootleg isn’t quite a Rainbow Edition.
A knock-off based on Gato Roboto, Catsylvania, or Cat Game as it’s called in the launcher, is an alternate take on the original Metroidvania. This version takes our feline friend to more of a medieval setting, donning a knight’s armour instead of a cozy mech.
The most noticeable change in the bootleg is the speed of the game. It’s immensely slower than its counterpart, losing almost all of its shooting elements. Catsylvania plays more like Altered Beast, with slow movement and terrible hitboxes.
The difficulty level, in part thanks to the clunky controls, is unnecessarily high. Even the first level is a challenge to get through, especially with the decreased action serving as a good reason not to. It’s a smart concept and a funny pun on many levels but as a game, it isn’t very good. Like Devolver state on the Steam page, “It’s a cat inside of a suit of armor. It’s a cat… In full plate armor. What else do you want?”
PikuBiku Ball Stars
This is by far the most bootleg-y of them all in the most hilarious of ways. PikuBiku Ball Stars is utterly terrible and has very little to do with the game it supposedly rips off. It’s presented as a horrendous basketball-like game. Although, bizarrely, there are two Sonic the Hedgehog-style boosters on either side of the court, for some reason.
The game is for two players only and, essentially, the goal is to score more baskets than your opponent. The controls are unresponsive and the accuracy of the kicks, or nudges, you give the ball seem completely random. You’re literally just pressing buttons and hoping for the best.
It’s more of a character clone than it is a direct bootleg of the game. That seems kind of odd, though, as Pikuniku is nowhere near ubiquitous enough to warrant plagiarising the character. Maybe that’s the joke but still, this game sucks.
Way back in 2014 Devolver published LUFTRAUSERS, an awesome shoot-em-up by indie studio Vlambeer. Apparently though, according to the blurb on the Steam page, they made a version of the game that had a typo, which they accidentally left on a thumbdrive in a coffee shop somewhere Berlin. All this talk of lost thumbdrives belonging to game developers is bringing back some bad memories; let’s move on.
Luftrousers doesn’t have quite the same punch as the original but there’s definitely some fun to be had with it. The most noticeable change in the bootleg is the lack of multi-directional shooting which certainly takes one dimension away from the game.
It does get a bit repetitive after a while but blasting up the enemies whilst frantically trying not to overheat does grip you in the moment. Once you add some more interesting weapons into the mix, things get even more entertaining. Hands down, its greatest achievement was reminding me how good Luftrausers was originally.
As you can see, it’s an interesting selection of games, each with their own novel take on the games they’re based on. It’s clear from this simplified representation of Devolver’s titles that they pay keen attention to gameplay hooks and what makes a game stand out. For many of the titles, that core concept is so strong that the playability remains, even in these knock-off versions.
This is an exceptionally hard game to review and score. You almost have to compare it to the originals, as they’re direct, stated ripoffs. It’s obvious though that this was a piece of satire in video game form aimed at, seemingly, themselves. In that sense, it achieves what it set out to as a game and should serve as a welcome piece of obscure entertainment to fans of Devolver’s games.
[Reviewed on PC]
Jon loves the experimental nature of indie games, and has written about them for the likes of Eurogamer, PCGamer and GameReactor. As editor of The Indie Game Website, Jon is responsible for the overall content direction of the website, and enjoys moving things around in our Google Calendar.