Given the sheer number of “retro-inspired” titles that are dropping on a seemingly almost daily basis on current-generation platforms, it takes something a little bit special to stand out from the crowd. A couple of well-known characters standing front and center is a start. A series of locations and callbacks to several movies in which those characters have featured is a further bonus. Fortunately enough, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl – Arcade Edition has both those things going for it. However, with gameplay as frustrating and cheap as some of the more imperfect retro titles from which the product takes its inspiration, those plus points largely count for naught.
Initially, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl – Arcade Edition seems like a charming affair with its heart in the right place. The game plays out in a bordered window to try to further pull at your retro-infused heartstrings, with the rest of the visual stylings landing roughly in the same ballpark as the NES versions of side-scrollers such as Double Dragon and River City Ransom. Fans will find smiles easy to come by here. They’ll duke it out with a plethora of enemies plucked right out of Kevin Smith’s movies, with the likes of Cocknocker, Golgothan, Mooby the Golden Calf, and legendary mall security guard LaFours all proving to be formidable opponents. They’ll battle across familiar View Askewniverse locations, with everything culminating in a final punch-for-punch showdown against Dante and Randall from Clerks. It’s all in a day’s work when you’re fighting to reclaim your right to lean on the wall outside the Qwik Stop. Snoogans.
Players tackle the nine levels alone as the eponymous Jay or equally eponymous Silent Bob, while the inactive character hangs out off-screen. Hitting RB allows you to switch between the characters at will, giving the guy who was tagged out a chance to regain a little energy over time. If one of the pair gets knocked out, they’re automatically switched and can’t be brought back in for a while. If both are knocked out, the jig is up, and the game is over.
When it works, the tag system is great. The problem is that there are many times during gameplay where your character essentially becomes “stuck,” and you can’t tag out even when you’re the one on the offensive. That issue persists at other times, too. If you throw a punch, then try to turn to hit the guy who is about to smash you in the back of the head with a weapon, you’ll often find that nothing happens. Jay (or Bob) remains facing the way they already were, oblivious to the beer bottle or skateboard hurtling toward the back of their dome.
When you add that issue to the fact that the very act of punching and kicking is somewhat hit-and-miss anyway, the fun disappears with relative quickness. Two enemies standing in the exact same spot will often respond differently to attacks as your punches will miss one of them and hit the other. Next time out, your punches will hit them both without a problem. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but the upshot is that when your attacks inexplicably miss, the unfettered enemy is free to throw a punch that puts a hitch in your giddy-up and leads to a further shower of blows reigning down on you. Even worse is when it leads to an unbelievably cheap win for your foe and a return to the start of the level.
With no blocking to speak of, the only method of defending yourself against incoming blows is to dodge out of the way or strike first. A dash move is available with a double-tap of the d-pad, but it doesn’t always work. Doing something as apparently unthinkable as using the analog stick to play causes the “always” not to be required in that sentence since dashing is off the menu if you’re using the more modern input method.
These issues are enough to make Mall Brawl feel like a chore to get through. A frankly awful shopping cart chase with extremely questionable hit detection about a third of the way through the game will be the breaking point for some. The fact that weapons you collect disappear as soon as the opponent you’re fighting has fallen will be the cartoon brick wall others won’t want to run through. But the thing that will put most off is the purposefully infuriating enemy design that persists throughout. Whenever you get close to feeling as if you’re having fun, opponents appear which seem to have been designed not to provide a challenge, but solely to ruin your enjoyment. A difficult game would be absolutely fine, but too often, Mall Brawl’s technical issues take what would be an enjoyable challenge and push it over into the territory of being unfairly punishing. An overly-long “boss rush” final level that is utterly, utterly excruciating will be enough to break all but even the most hardened or dedicated side-scrolling enthusiast.
There’s slightly more fun on the cards when playing in co-op mode with a friend, as some of the game’s downsides can be easily counteracted with brute force by duos. If you’re a super-fan of Kevin Smith’s work, you can bump the score by a couple of points. However, as just another game floating in a sea of alternative investments, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl – Arcade Edition can easily be avoided.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 3 equates to “Bad.” Due to significant issues, this media feels like a chore to take in.
Disclosure: Critic bought his own copy of the game for the Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl – Arcade Edition review. The game was reviewed on an Xbox Series X.