Does anyone remember videotapes? Well, before DVDs and Blu-rays were ever a thing, people watched or recorded stuff using videotapes on a VCR machine. I still have a ton of them, containing all sorts of random programmes, films and even classic sporting events. The long forgotten VHS cassettes, as they were also known, are the focus of the new chaotic couch co-op platformer from Macrales Studio, Epic Loon. But is it an exciting trip down memory lane though, or will the nostalgic feel wear off in no time at all?
First off, we meet Joe, a self-confessed cinephile who possesses a shed load of VHS cassettes featuring recorded films. One day, in 1994, the VCR starts playing up and glitching, so he heads on down to the local specialist shop and returns with a tape cleaner. What he doesn’t realise is that it is cursed and now there are aliens living inside his machine, causing immense irritation. To get rid, he finds the most dangerous movies he owns to play in the VCR as an attempt to eradicate them.
It’s fair to say Epic Loon’s nostalgic concept is a unique one, but also a strange one. A truly original story doesn’t happen too often these days, yet Epic Loon certainly thrives in providing one that complements and sets up the proceeding gameplay well. The narration for the intro is spot on too, really suiting the angry nerd character of Joe and how he is depicted visually. In essence though, Joe is the antagonist as players take on the roles of the dastardly aliens.
There are just the two game modes to choose from – Story and Battle – with both playable alongside up to three friends locally, or A.I. controlled aliens if gathering enough friends is an issue. The Story mode has you working through three Akts (Acts) of four different VHS tapes which are obvious parodies of some absolutely classic films. For example, Nosferacula is a Nosferatu rip-off with small things changed like referring to Jonathan Harker as John Harper and having Count Nosferacula as the villain. The other three stories are Jurassik Land (Jurassic Park), Grojira (Godzilla), and /\|IEN : The Hitchhiker (Alien).
Basically, the aim is to escape each of the many levels by reaching a portal that whisks you to the next scene of the film. To do this, you must master the art of catapulting your alien and sticking to various surfaces within the environments, before flinging the alien again and again until it gets to the exit. It’s as simple as that, with controls easy enough for anyone to grasp in a heartbeat – one button transforms into catapult form, while another launches it. The direction in which the alien’s antenna is facing is where it’ll be flung, with the angle constantly moving on a 180 pivot, ensuring that timing is everything.
Having such straightforward gameplay mechanics in Epic Loon puts a lot of pressure on the platforming aspect bringing the challenge and excitement in equal measure. Getting to the exit in each level is a task that’s made harder by a number of environmental objects and obscure level designs. In your path could be dead bodies, tassels, glasses and other cutlery – basically anything that fits in with the scene that’s being recreated. They aren’t carbon copies of scenes as such, but as an example, in Jurassik Land you’ll traverse the dashboard of a Jeep in order to find the portal out of there.
To ensure a challenge, items with a red outline are dotted around the place and these are deadly, forcing a respawn at the beginning of a level if touched. Then we have the surfaces that make the alien slide and some that are incredibly bouncy. It doesn’t take long until more of the elements – including fast-forwarding which speeds everything up – combine for a hell of a tough time and it’s at that point that Epic Loon causes frustration with death after death after death.
Having to respawn after death doesn’t sound too bad, but when you’ve spent ages navigating the first obstacle, and maybe the second, only to have to do it again is a pain. To make matters worse, the A.I. will take over any non-controlled aliens, so even on a solo run they can get in your way; knocking you off-course in mid-air or causing an object to move and mess up your route. Whilst skill is needed, luck is also a requirement and could be the difference between a level taking less than a minute to complete, or half a bloody hour. The small mercy comes with the fact that any alien of the four crossing the line counts as success, but I wouldn’t rely on the A.I. for much help as it’s rather dumb.
The Story section won’t take that long, even with the irritation of repetitive failure, and as a single player escapade I’m not sure it works as intended. The real fun comes from roping a few mates or family members in and suffering/laughing together, however it’s still lacking in tapes to play through and could do with more for replayability sake. In regards the films currently parodied, the longer you play, the more the novelty wears off and a lot of the scenes could be described as bland. This ensures the Hardcore or Speed-run options aren’t very appealing as you’ll be sick of the sight of certain levels.
Battle mode is ideal for a customised experience, allowing the opportunity for up to four players locally to compete across a set amount of levels to see who the best is. It’s either a free for all or you can play in teams of two. A rather sinister clown – you know the one – tallies up the scores and watches over proceedings. Being able to set up a quick battle between friends is great to fill in a bit of time and as a result, never feels like a drag. And having a bonus tape here helps to freshen things up also.
In terms of aesthetics, Epic Loon truly captures that retro vibe in its presentation of the levels as if you really are watching an old VHS cassette. Due to so much going on at once, it can be easy to lose track of which alien is yours, but otherwise the visuals work well. Audio wise and the soundtrack from French metal band Pryapisme complements the action wonderfully, providing an adrenaline pumping setting throughout the entire experience. The in-game commentary is enjoyable in short bursts too, with little nods to other films here and there.
Overall, Epic Loon is a good game for a few laughs with your mates and has a concept that’s unique enough to hook people in. Having controls that are super easy to grasp is great for enticing casual gamers to join you and the films that are spoofed cater for a wide audience. Unfortunately, despite making the modes playable as a solo experience, there really isn’t enough fun here to counteract the lonely frustrations and the sabotaging A.I. aliens it brings. I’m not all too convinced on the longevity either, with the majority of levels completed swiftly, there’s very little point in replaying them.
If you’ve got a handful of pals to entertain, Epic Loon fits the bill and the failure to succeed will only add to the occasion. It’s not a game to be played for long spells though and should you be riding solo, then, frankly, there’s not much point in buying it.