Today we’re going to heap some praise on James Rolfe, the creator of the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) who has been terrorising YouTube with his brilliant videos for a decade now. If you’re a gaming fan, you’ve likely come across him – the AVGN has been a huge hit! Rightly so, his videos merge nostalgia with modern insights on ‘80s era NES gaming. It’s a potent mix!
We’ve been massively impressed with the series as Rolfe is a gifted reviewer – he captures the joys, frustrations, and overall gloriousness of gaming. However, his focus on the NES era is particularly poignant and thrilling for those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. NES games are staggeringly difficult and put young minds to the test with inexplicably infuriating and cryptic gaming logic created by developers eager to exploit the technological limitations of the time.
We’re sure many beleaguered parents in the ‘80s thought buying the NES would be a waste of time for their children – expensive computer things which destroyed rotted their child’s brain cells. It hasn’t played out like this at all, with retro gaming now representing a hugely popular industry and, indeed, many modern games overtly replicate NES era gaming (check out Shovel Knight).
Indeed, Nintendo just re-released the NES in mini form with 30 classic games! It’s £50 ($60) and lets you plus in and play. It’s been a smash hit and sold out immediately – it makes for quite the unusual sight, your HD ultra-modern TV blasting 8 bit era graphics and sound effects onto your TV.
Rolfe tapped into this back in 2004 as the internet was coming into its own. Infuriated with Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, he posted a video online bemoaning its stupidity and this become something of a phenomenon. He rapidly developed the series over the coming years and found a creative resource in the form of YouTube (which launched in December 2005), which has been the real home of AVGN ever since.
The Angry Video Game Nerd character is self-explanatory. It’s a nerd infatuated with video games who has grown up and become alienated (or ostracised) from society due to his anti-social behaviour and anger management issues. This is, it’s implied, due to the nature of the games he’s played, which lead him to drink beer heavily.
The show features a lot of puerile humour and foul language which won’t be for everyone, but the real heart of it (and where it truly excels) is when Rolfe gets to the nitty gritty about some of the truly bizarre NES games and how developers struggled to get to grips with the technology.
Our favourite is the Action 52 disaster covered in detail in the video above. Developers in the ’80s struggled with the technology and how to create a good game alongside a technically accomplished one – the results were often insulting. Action 52 (consisting of 52 games) was $200 and remains a dilapidated mess.
Many of the 1,000 NES games were either badly made (including such horrors as game ending glitches), impossibly difficult, or featured weird puzzles which didn’t make sense and couldn’t be solved. Add in to this how many Japanese studios decided to save money by translating game text in-house, and you have often bizarre end screens which inform players lucky enough to get there: “Congraturation”.
This is what Rolfe unearths as he traipses through the NES’s vast catalogue. After a few episodes, you’ll become accustomed to the peculiar world of NES games and appreciate it for its times. It may seem horribly primitive now, but the AVGN highlights the charm of the era and how many talented developers did at least create happy (if also frustrating) memories.
Getting Your Fix
Rolfe runs the website Cinemassacre where he rants about movies (he has a real penchant for classic horror films and movie history) and the AVGN stream of videos can be found. If you’re new to Rolfe’s world, it’s best to start off with his videos on YouTube: AVGN. There’s a big old list of 138 of them right there.
There are two video games based on the series, too, where you can play as the AVGN. They’re on Steam of your games console if you want to give them a go. True to NES form, they’ve been designed to be insanely difficult. What ho.
Of course, you can also play NES games quite easily these days. If you have a Wii, Wii U, or 3DS, you can download them from Nintendo’s eShop. There’s also the NES mini, of course, which is bite-sized way to relive many of the classics. You can even hunt down an old NES if you want but, be warned, retro gaming is expensive. It’s also absolutely worth your time and effort – watch the AVGN to find out why.