Do you miss the Nintendo Game Boy era of portable gaming? Does anyone? Crescent Moon Games is banking on an affirmative answer with its new platformer, the monochromatic 2-bit Cowboy ($1), which certainly does look a classic Game Boy game. Your taste for the game’s look will be determined by how much greenish, pixelated nostalgia appeals to your own eyes.
Players start the game by picking a cowboy or cowgirl and they’re off, thrown into a wacky Western world. You’re armed with a gun to dispatch your foes — many of whom require multiple shots to finish off. Your character can also jump, double jump, and jump off walls repeatedly to effectively scale anything. It’s a neat gameplay touch. Controls are taken care of with onscreen buttons: left, right, B for shooting, A for jumping, and another action button will pop up from time to time to enter doors or jump on a horse. Yes, you can ride a horse — or a bull — for a short amount of time until it simply disappears.
The controls in 2-bit Cowboy are fine. They’re responsive and uncomplicated. It’s what you’re doing with those controls that takes the fun out of the game. Because most enemies are going through their own patterns, unconcerned with what you’re doing, you’ll find yourself standing still and tapping B until they’re vanquished. The process is then repeated. Unless, of course, you don’t feel like shooting enemies. You can always just make a few jumps over to the exit to move onto the next level.
Level design is our biggest issue with 2-bit Cowboy. So much is unclear in this game. You can spend your time shooting things and picking up coins for rewards. But once you die, you’ll lose the coins gained in your most recent life. Pretty soon, you’ll wonder what the point of picking up the coins is in the first place, and you’ll realize there really isn’t a great reason to do so. Especially when you see how the levels are designed. Often, a few quick jumps will get you to the exit, if you don’t want to explore. After a few levels, there don’t seem to be any surprises in store, so why explore? To shoot at random scorpions? It quickly begins to feel pointless. There’s no time limit, no tough enemies, and no real danger. The best classic platform games weren’t like this at all — you had to work to complete a level.
The game does its best to add some depth. Players can pick up poster challenges placed throughout levels to earn rewards — thrilling challenges like “destroy all bottles” or “kill the bats.” A welcome old-school touch is found in the game’s little buildings, as you can stop into a doctor’s office, saloon, or casino. Like most of the game, we wish these extra elements gave us something more to do, like a fun mini-game. But no. You buy an item or spin a wheel and move along. Characters can also use accumulated coins to change their look — add a mask or a beard to your character, for instance. If you squint, you’ll be able to see the difference.
Misguided nostalgia is an issue in both life and art. People cling to strong feelings for things that, when revisited, don’t hold up. There are definitely legitimate reasons to love old games, but for us, the ugly Game Boy style isn’t one of them. If 2-bit Cowboy were a blast to play, this would be a minor trifle, but the game feels aimless. Yes, it’s cheap, but there are plenty of better options in the App Store — even for free.
iLounge Rating: C