This is an ongoing list where I attempt to play through and rank every single in the known universe. Please see prior blogs for write-ups of other games or the google doc link below for the full list.
For the record, I have no exposure to the gaming podcast 99Vidas that this game is "based" on. Quite frankly, I don't think this "review" will help me either.
Like most kids who grew up during the time of the SNES or Genesis era, I am very familiar with side scrolling brawlers. From River City Ransom on the NES to Streets of rage and Final Fight, I feel I have played some great versions of the game trying to be created here. 99 Vidas is attempting to mimic those games of yore and mix in newer elements that hopefully make for a more rewarding experience. There are multiple playable characters that each have an "element" tied to their moves. These are mainly cosmetic as I don't think enemies have elemental affinity, but this does impact the animation you will see as you utilize screen clearing moves throughout the game. Each fighter you choose also has their own stats, and while they all start at roughly the same basic level, you can proceed to pay to level up their stats and mold them into the fighter you want them to be.
These are welcome additions to the tried and true formula of beat-em-ups. Now you can tell yourself that your goal is not just to get through a level as healthy as possible, but now you can work towards leveling up a character. At then end of every level you are given the option to spend some of your hard earned money (found in broken boxes throughout the level) to either increase your stats or buy extra lives. The higher the stat you are trying to increase, the more expensive it becomes. Thus you find yourself at the end of a level asking should I save my money to hopefully upgrade my combo at the end of the next level, or cash out my money to make sure I have enough lives to make it through the next level. Stats carry forward across playthroughs meaning, you could play through again and again to max a player out, but extra lives do not.
This is where my harshest criticism comes against the game. This game can't be beaten on your first time through. The game does not block you out, or have levels inaccessible, but if you are balancing leveling up your character and buying extra lives on a playthrough (aka the way everyone would initially play this game) You will find you do not have enough lives to finish the final level. Make no bones about it, this game is hard. Much like the brawlers of the past, this game mimics all the elements of those games. Cheap enemies, check.. Unfair boss battles, check.. Less and less health pickups, check.. and while all of those things are to be expected, much like the games of the past, this game wants you to burn through "quarters". On a single playthrough it doesn't matter what you spec in, you will not be able to survive the onslaught whether you are max speed or max power, or 50-50. The only way to beat this game is to knowingly go into the game with the expectation that you are going to play through it twice. On the first playthrough buy as many stat upgrades as you can, get as far as you can and then game-over. When you start another game, choose that semi-leveled up character and now play through the entire game again, but now only buy extra lives. That is how you get through the game, and it doesn't matter how good you are, you will need both to succeed and you can't get both on a single run.
Some people might be chiming in that those mechanics are how all the rogue-lites/likes are built now. Die and grow your character until you are ready to take on the final boss knowing all the secrets you know now. The problem with that thinking is that this game is not a rogue game. The levels don't changeup, there isn't an element of surprise, it is honestly just playing through an identical game twice in order to complete it. The game is just not interesting/fun/or funny enough to warrant wanting to play through twice (at least) in order to see credits.
The reason you will need all those extra lives, is simply because most of the boss fights are unfair, and despite learning their patterns, makes it fairly impossible to get through them without losing a few lives in the process. And in case you didn't enjoy the boss battles the first time, the final level is a super long boss rush where you get to enjoy them all over again, but this time with a lengthy stage in-between the encounters. Manage to make it through all of that, and you get to fight the final boss twice, first in his hard, but not impossible form, and then again in his impossible form.
I want to pause here, because, this final fight is by far one of the worst final boss fights I have ever participated in. Part of his final form is that he essentially, for lack of a better term, randomizes his attack. One of those attacks is a screen clearing special move that mimics what your characters can do. I should state, that this move is un-guardable, and can't miss. Each use of it will take you down to about 1/4 of your health, and there are no healing items on the level to use to recover. The beauty of this, is that he could and will use this ability multiple times during the final fight. Assuming you are good enough to ONLY be hit by this move and nothing else the boss throws at you, that means you will lose a life every two uses of this ability. During the final playthrough I completed, he used it over 10 times, which means it burned through 5 + lives. This is a battle AFTER a boss rush with no where to buy more lives, or take a breather. All told, I would assume you need at the very least 10 lives at the start of the level to even make it worth attempting, and that is taking a couple chances of not only doing really well during the level itself, and hoping the random final boss goes easy on you.
Defeating him after a rage inducing 2+ hour of re-playing the entire game, gets you... More unlockable characters (at beginning stats), so now you can play through a game AGAIN with someone slightly different. Uhhhh No thanks 99 Vidas, the required 2 playthroughs was more than enough of your game, that I am not about to subject myself to it again and again just to level up another character I won't use.
Perhaps this game is better if you know the podcast, perhaps there are jokes that land better (or at all). Hell maybe they talk about this game on their podcast and tell people secrets to beating the game, but from an outsider looking in this is a brawler that wants and desires someone to play through it dozens of times, but lacks any reason for you to want to do so. Unless you are driven by the desire to get all the trophys, I just don't see a reason why you would want to engage in the same 5-6 levels dozens of times. I can't recommend this game for solo or co-op play. While multiple people will "help" you level up characters faster, it also means you are trying to divide the money multiple ways and find yourself either carrying a weaker player, or having a very under-leveled (but even) group.
I like that the characters have slightly different move-sets, but their elemental affinities mean nothing, and frankly the difficulty in the final level and boss, is so demoralizing, that it was hard to push through to beat it knowing that we would have to start over just to stockpile lives.
Is this game the Greatest game of all time: Nope
Where does it rank: This one was hard to rank, but I am putting it 22nd out of 23 games. It is below "Ni No Kuni", and above "Harms Way." Honestly, this is hard to place. It is short enough that if I was forced to play it again (even with a fresh character) I could probably beat the game in 4 hours (2 hours a playthrough), but it would be a miserable 4 hours. Those 4 hours would include a lot of frustrated cursing, and anger sweats. I might have been bored with Ni No Kuni, but at the very least it didn't boil my blood during it.
Up Next: Adam's Venture: Origins (our first adventure game)
Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion). Here
Thanks for listening