Sawbuck Gamer

Handheld Video Game

Same As It Ever Was

Handheld Video Game invites you to escape its own repetition.

By Derrick Sanskrit • September 4, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

Plenty of voices on the internet seem upset about the New Super Mario Bros. series. The concern is that “retro” game design comes across as lazy and unimaginative. That familiarity breeds contempt. That once you’ve played one throwback run-and-jump platformer, you’ve played them all. The two-man team at Sets And Settings must have heard these concerns, because they saw fit to make those same statements in Handheld Video Game.

Presented as a basic Game Boy platformer, Handheld Video Game has you dodging death blades and performing 2D acrobatics. That’s a familiar premise, and the little pixel-block of a hero seems to be aware of this as he breaks the fourth wall by openly asking about the limitations of his 8-bit surroundings—particularly when the same environments are used again and again for an infinite loop of banal punishment. As such, Handheld Video Game is a game that takes the form of an open letter about games, and an interesting and easily accessible letter at that.

There is, of course, an end screen to the game, which itself is open to interpretation and debate. This raises the question: With platforming, kart racing, fighting, sports, and party games under his tool belt, why hasn’t the portly plumber lent his name to a game about philosophy or debate? Those Koopa Kids would be so cute dressed as judges in robes and wigs.

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105 Responses to “Same As It Ever Was”

  1. Effigy_Power says:

    Also why is Mario still fat after decades of jumping and running, eating nothing but plant matter and weight-lifting turtle shells?
    Is it the glands?

    • Merve says:

      The only time Mario does any physical activity is when you’re playing the games. Most of the time, he’s just lounging in Peach’s castle, eating Pringles and watching Happy Days reruns.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

         Yes, but is it the first season or one of the later ones?  That determines whether such activity deserves our respect or scorn.

        • Merve says:

          Draw your own conclusions:

          Mario: Where’s-a the remote-a, peach?
          Peach: It’s on the table in front of the couch, where you’re sitting!
          Mario: [tries to reach for it, but then sighs and gives up] It’s-a too far away. Looks-a like I’ll have to watch-a the Fonz-a jump over a shark-a on his-a waterskis.
          Peach: [suggestively] Why don’t you spend some time with me instead?
          Mario: I’m-a tired. Do you-a know how exhausting it is to-a rescue you?
          Peach: Fine. Be that way. I’m going to go frolic alone outside the borders of the Mushroom Kingdom, where Bowser can easily capture me.
          Mario: Suit-a yourself. I’ll-a come-a find you when I’ve-a finished this can of-a Pringles.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      We never see Mario do any plumbing, either. We only have his word for it that he’s actually qualified. Probably can’t even run a marathon in less than 4 hours either.

    • sirslud says:

      While it is true that the guy does some serious cardio, consider that he seems to eat mushroom, after star, after leaf, after .. hell, he might even be eating the coins for all I know.

    • Asinus says:

      It might just be how those overalls fit. I’ll admit to not being the thinnest person in the world, but we all have clothes that bunch up or bulge out weirdly to make us look heavier than we are. Most of us, though, pull out that shirt or those pants, glance at them, and toss them on the closet floor (dooming them to re-enter the laundry cycle instead of just taking them to Goodwill). Mario, though, dons them, day after day after day. 

  2. ItsTheShadsy says:

    This reminds me of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. There’s a bit at the end of the game where you have to fight through a series of identical warehouse rooms while the character complains about how unimaginative and repetitive the setting is. It was pretty funny, but it was an absolute chore to play because it was, naturally, boring and repetitive. Same deal with this. I liked the character poking at how unoriginal and weird the environments are, but the game itself isn’t particularly fun to play.

    I wonder what the difference is between Eat Lead and Handheld Video Game. It’s very hard to make a game that offers commentary about genre tedium without itself being tedious. Unlike something like The Cabin in the Woods, which can embrace the corniness of horror movie tropes in order to dismantle them, it’s harder for games to criticize the stupider aspects of the genre. Part of the curse of interactivity is that you have to platy through the intentional monotony, glitches, etc., and that’s can be a pain to slog through even if the set dressing is funny.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, @Effigy_Power:disqus lead a discussion last week about how game designers tend to lean on the retro switch as a crutch, instead of embracing its potential as a means of expression on its own, and this game seems to expand the discussion into the mechanics. To what degree is it excusable to wallow in the dullest cliches of the medium in order to satirize the same? Where is the line drawn between clever deconstruction and lazy self-reference? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty about videogames that are imperfect or unripened, and those elements tend to be perfect fodder for experimentation. But to make a game that is frankly kinda boring, and attempt to get away with it because it knows it’s boring? I don’t think I get down with that.

      (I don’t want to come down too hard on this game specifically because it was probably just some dood’s homework assignment or whatever, but still. The points remain valid)

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        At least the only way to win this game isn’t not to play. I’d say that the “secret” ending, however, isn’t nearly hard enough or interesting enough to find/use to justify playing. The whole thing is scarcely a minute long, either.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         For me, if you’re going to use genre trappings to criticize a genre, you better bring the funny.  The Adult Swim Game Lee Lee’s Quest is a pretty shitty platformer, but it can be pretty funny (though it does keep hammering on the same joke) if you’re in the right mood.

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        I guess it remains to be seen whether the recent explosion of browser-based indie games is really a good thing, but I’d say that, for every ten middling Hand Held Game Video Games, there’s always one terrific Little Wheel.

  3. BarbleBapkins says:

    Much like Professor Moriarty on Star Trek: TNG, this poor little fellow thinks he has escaped the artificial construct that is his existence, his life being nothing more than part of a game designed for the entertainment of others, into the larger world he has seen beyond the edges of his confines.

    Sadly, like Moriarty, his escape is nothing more than an illusion, and just as he turns off the “game” he was trapped in, so too do I close the tab on his new reality, revealing it for the facade that is was.

    Perhaps our lives too are merely in a tab open on some super-intelligent being’s browser.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I don’t know whether to be disturbed or comforted by the theory that we only exist because God needed something to alt-tab to in case his mom walked in on his cosmic porn session.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Soylent Green the Game Is Soylent Green the Game!

  4. People aren’t upset with New Super Mario Bros. because retro games are lazy and unimaginative.  People are upset with New Super Mario Bros. because it, specifically, is lazy and unimaginative.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      And because there are so many good retro platformers out there (literally a dime a dozen, at times) that it’s inexcusable for the big franchises to fail. 

    • Bad Horse says:

      It’s so clearly a B-squad effort compared to the Galaxy series, which for my money never runs out of wonders. Surely if Miyamoto were on new SMB they would come up with something better than tilt controls.

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    Small gripe about this game:  Please stop mapping the jump button to the up arrow!  It is always so finger-crampingly irritating to use it and the the right/left arrow at the same time.  Why not use the space bar instead?

    This opinion brought to you by a guy who has not spent his free time programming a browser game for our enjoyment.

    • bunnyvision says:

      ;cause the spacebar is so clacky

      jump as “z” i can dig tho

    • Asinus says:

      I wonder how hard it is to make keys remappable. Seriously, I have no idea. One option, I suppose, is JoyToKey that lets you map keys (mouse buttons and axes [that looks wrong every time I write it], too) to gamepads and joysticks. I use it primarily for navigating windows on the TV or in bed, but it works well for these games. 

      • sirslud says:

        Most of the work involved in offering control remapping is designing and implementing the user interface (and creating any additional art assets required.) It’s just not the kind of feature that is a priority for the kind of often-free games that show up on Sawbuck Gamer. (And as you point out, for simple cases or simple games, it’s easier just to let the user go with something like JoyToKey.)

  6. chifan305 says:

  7. LoadRanPimp420 says:

    considering how few games gamelogical actually covers, was this really worth any coverage at all? its a blatant BLATANT Super Meat Boy rip-off. Blatant. its “self awareness” and “statement” doesn’t give it a pass either

  8. Teaflax says:

    A. Too bad that the music didn’t match the visuals – at ALL.

    B. Why does no one ever note that Mario’s full name must be Mario Mario?