A game as clunky and quirky as its name.

The thing about games targeting niche audiences is that I can usually identify the niche. That isn’t the case with AdventureQuest 8-Bit: Dungeons & Doomknights. Fans of NES-era RPGs seemed the likely candidate, but after playing AdventureQuest 8-Bit, I think it’s just more of an in-joke for AdventureQuest fans.

That’s not to say there aren’t jokes for the rest of us. The game is full of references to everything from Nintendo to the Evil Dead. I laughed when an early enemy told me “It’s safe to go alone,” and proceeded to steal my ax. I got a kick out of the level that suddenly turned the game into Pac-Man. Pleasant surprises like these happen throughout AdventureQuest 8-Bit’s entirety, but I mostly felt like I was missing the punchline.

It doesn’t help that the gameplay simply isn’t that great. Having never owned an NES, my knowledge of 8-bit action RPGs is admittedly limited; my sessions were restricted to the games my friends had and what I’ve tinkered with through Nintendo Switch Online. So, I’ll have to ask you…

Was combat always so clunky? Despite a growing arsenal of weapons and skills (including a pomeranian that can be unleashed for ranged damage), our hero, Artix, never feels in control of what he’s doing. He can swing his ax and miss an enemy right in front of him, but hit one who’s clearly standing well below him. Proximity detection is weird throughout, and I’m not sure if that’s part of the gag or just odd programming.

Was movement such a chore? Navigating the game’s mazes is awkward as Artix gets hung up on walls that don’t seem to be blocking him. There’s even a part where he keeps falling down a well for no apparent reason other than to perhaps riff on that Atari 2600 E.T. game (which I have played). The game gets frustrating when you start dying because seemingly invisible barriers prevent you from getting the positioning you need.

Were controls inconsistent? There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to when the jump button worked and when it didn’t. Sometimes the Y button would release that aforementioned dog, sometimes it would swing a weapon. I couldn’t tell if the game was altering functionality based on my immediate threats, if I had missed a tutorial somewhere, or if the system simply wasn’t working.

Was there a point? There really isn’t much of one in AdventureQuest 8-Bit: Dungeons & Doomknights. Artix returns from a previous adventure to find his village in ruins, so he sets out to rescue any survivors. I’m fine with a narrative that does little more than set up the action, but I feel this game’s comedic bent would’ve been better served by a sharper plot parody. Instead, it relies almost solely on reference jokes and its habit of turning RPG tropes on their head.

So, is that enough? Are you the audience for that? If not, the game’s saving grace could be map exploration. Working your way through the multiple levels is pretty fun, and those levels do a good job of teasing you with places to go without telling you how to get there. Killing the same enemies every time you return to a previous room certainly gets tedious, but I do know that’s part and parcel of the genre and era. And it’s rewarding to discover that a particularly difficult room is a lot easier when you can approach it from a different side. The game is also pretty friendly with save points, so repeated deaths are never rage-quit-frustrating.

The boss battles provide a nice shot of adrenaline, helping to keep things fresh. The graphics are good with that, too. Constantly shifting palettes creates a fun mood, and the color choices are often quite striking.

The game also includes numerous, fun options for changing the display to suit your throwback preferences.

AdventureQuest 8-Bit: Dungeons & Doomknights is $20, and I think that’s a bit high for what it offers. If you’re up for the gag and view the game’s clunkiness as part of the joke, there’s some fun to be had here. Otherwise, you’re better off playing any of the myriad games being parodied here when seeking your fox of nostalgia.