Back in 1994, at the Sundance Film Festival, filmmaker Kevin Smith unleashed Clerks upon the world – a quirky, black and white comedy stuffed to the brim with geeky references and killer zingers. While there were many iconic characters, none stood out more than Jay and Silent Bob, two drug-dealing stoner loiterers played by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. While modest in scope, Clerks was a big hit proportional to its budget and spawned a wonderful multimedia franchise known as the View-Askewniverse, an interconnected universe that told incredibly rich, exciting and funny stories across a diverse series of genres before the MCU was even a thought in Kevin Feige’s mind. Some of these films included the underrated Mallrats, the unique Chasing Amy and the incomparable Dogma. However, like most things, the View-Askewniverse fell out of the public consciousness for a bit but was promptly rebooted with Jay and Silent Bob at the forefront. Now, a few years after this cinematic resurgence, the universe is expanding to a surprisingly untapped area: video games.
In 2016, a game known as Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch was funded. A 2D hand-drawn beat-em-up, it captured the imaginations of fans. However, with the game still in development, the team decided to release a little treat to satiate backers, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. A retro-throwback that actually earns its name, it was released on the NES (yes, really), the PC and the Nintendo Switch. Now, a new and improved “Arcade Edition” has hit the Xbox One and PC. However, is this game truly worthy of its iconic hetero lifemates, or are you better off sticking to Streets of Rage 4 instead?
Beginning with the presentation, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl looks rather good. Its arcade visuals look like the part of an arcade game released in the mid-way point between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Meanwhile, the classic visuals nail the NES aesthetics, because, again, this is technically an NES game. The character designs are fun, and the overall style is evocative of River City Rampage.
However, the real star of the show here is the musical score. The chiptune music is catchy as all hell and reminded me of some of the best tracks by Jake Kaufman and the Follin Brothers. Some of the stuff here, particularly the boss fight themes, are absolute bops.
Moving on to the story, there really isn’t much of one. Set right after the events of Mall Rats, after infiltrating a game show Jay and Silent Bob must fight their way through the mall and the parking lot to make their way back to the Quick Stop. It’s not a bad setup, but there are very few cutscenes to speak of and even less dialogue. In some ways, it’s quieter than Silent Bob himself. To make up for this, the game does have some truly funny cameos, background locations I’m shocked missed the ESRB/PEGI, and a silly overall tone.
When it comes to the gameplay, this is where I am ultimately at a crossroads. As such, I am going to be incredibly upfront here. If you are not a fan of beat-em-ups of the 8-bit era, this game is not for you. Mall Brawl is far closer in line to Double Dragon, the original Battletoads and River City Ransom than it is Double Dragon Neon, last year’s Battletoads reboot and River City Girls. This is effectively a three-button beat-em-up with a punch, a kick and a jump. The only other button used is RB (in place of select) to switch between Jay and Silent Bob on the fly if playing single-player. There are combos, a dash (used by double-tapping the d-pad which does not always work, but not by using the control stick as that method never works) and weapons to aid them in their battle. However, I’m not gonna beat around the bush, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl is incredibly hard.
When playing in single-player (which I did due to the game only supporting local co-op, an impossibility for me during Covid), players will have to tag in and out Jay and Silent Bob. When one dies, they cannot be tagged in. If your other character dies before the first one has revived, it’s game over. Thankfully, you only have to start at the beginning of the stage, but this game is still very challenging, and not always for the right reasons. Firstly, like in a fighting game like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Jay or Bob’s health can only regenerate to about half at any given time. They only have 12 bars in total, and health pickups can be surprisingly scarce. Couple this with an incredibly aggressive AI, Jay and Bob’s tendency to get knocked down and sometimes stun-chained into several attacks, and the fact that one hit does one to two bits of damage and your bar can sink fast if you are not careful, and the difficulty ramps up even further. This would be fine if the game’s design wasn’t so frustrating at points. As mentioned, the controls are rough and vital moves like the dash are unexplained. In a way, it’s like playing an old NES game while missing the manual. Combine this with the fact that Jay and Bob’s punches and kicks have a low reach and it can be very difficult at points.
However, there are a couple of times in particular where the difficulty arguably becomes too much for its own good. The first, in level 3, occurs in a sequence that is a direct throwback to the Battletoads Turbo Tunnel. Thankfully, from what I’ve been able to find, this one has been modified slightly from the original release, missing one particularly brutal section, but this is still an incredibly challenging time. The second occurs in the final level, where you are forced to face a large boss rush every time you want to face the final boss. This is a tedious and lengthy affair that artificially extends the game substantially, as the final boss is a brutal challenge. After several attempts and three additional hours spent on just the boss rush alone, I decided to throw in the towel. I had had my fill of Jay and Silent Bob and wanted to play quite literally anything else.
It must be said, however, that the gameplay is not all bad here. The boss fights, for example, are mostly well-designed with one against a hockey player being incredibly clever. Pulling off combos, while limited, can be incredibly satisfying. Jay and Silent Bob, while mostly identical, do have special abilities of their own. It really is not all frustrating.
Ultimately, I ask that you read this review beyond the score. My difficulty in reviewing this is that many aspects of the game I found frustrating, while many others will probably find them delightful. As a retro-throwback, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl does its job extremely well. Heck, in some ways it does it too well. If you were the type who grew up on these games, I can say with all due respect that you will probably have a good time with this if you want to connect with your inner child. If you are a View-Askewniverse fan who wants to play for the fanservice, there is a ton here from the surface level (Mooby’s, Snooch to the Nooch, etc.) to some incredibly obscure references that stretch as deep into the depths of the universe (supposedly there are even references to the Clerks animated series, but I must admit that is a personal blindspot). However, for everyone else, I’d suggest waiting for Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. It’s probably more up your alley.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go play this on hard mode… Snoogans!
Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl has punched its way onto Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One through the Xbox Store