A love letter to classic side-scrolling beat-’em-ups, 99 Vidas has a traditional arcade structure made with contemporary mechanics.
You wander through the city’s dark underbelly, brawling with thugs and lowlifes using your elemental powers. The story mode, which is not especially complicated, takes you through six stages and two bonus levels. These are well crafted and populated by a variety of interesting characters, each with unique special moves.
The retro 16-bit design evokes nostalgia for early brawlers, while details woven into the background pay tribute to some of the biggest games of the past thirty years. They blend together into an unusual mash-up that works in a way you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to.
The world you explore is completed by a wealth of subtle features, from shoes thrown over telephone lines to drunks staggering out of bars to vomit in the street. Everything has a genuine sense of character to it, crafted with a sense of humour.
Soccer hooligans slide tackle you in battle, the arcade manager transforms into an 8-bit beast after teasing you for your animal ears. You can pick up crowbars and broken bottles to use as weapons alongside your element-bending superpowers, smashing together massively contrasting kinds of fighting games.
This gives 99 Vidas a delightful and dark atmosphere. The references are integrated effectively enough that you connect with the game’s sense of humour but aren’t so obvious that they’ll distract you or disrupt your gameplay.
The fighting itself is simple enough. There are different buttons for punching, kicking, jumping, blocking and special moves. More powerful combo moves can be unlocked as you progress through the game. Special moves are centred around a different element depending on which character you play as, giving the game a magical twist. The animation is fluid without breaking the sense of nostalgia, making for some fairly pretty battles.
You have the choice to play as up to eleven different characters, each with unique abilities. Co-op mode also allows you to either battle against your friends or team up with them to create a multi-elemental team and approach the game from a whole new angle.
99 Vidas isn’t hugely complex, either in terms of function or plot, but the range of new moves you can unlock and the selection of characters gives it decent replayability value.
There are some elements of the game that are a little bit clunky. For instance, the tutorial is arguably longer than it needs to be for such simple controls. It could also be clearer how many coins you’ve collected to exchange for skill upgrades and extra lives.
But these minor issues are far from enough to ruin what is ultimately a fun game.
99 Vidas is neither the longest nor the most original game you’ll ever play, but it is a very good homage to classic side-scrolling beat-’em-ups and is certainly entertaining.