99 Vidas – named after the podcast that formed Qubyte Interactive via Kickstarter – brings back the memory of classic, side scrolling arcade games on PlayStation Vita.
Storywise, this is archetypal stuff: a bunch of friends sworn to protect the titular artefact must steal it back from a villainous kingpin. The good guys have super powers and martial arts skills, while the baddie has a legion of street thugs armed with switchblades and baseball bats.
Gameplay is standard run-and-punch stuff. Enemies of varying tiers and abilities must be dispatched to move through the stages, which end in a relatively challenging boss battle. Each one of the starting heroes – representing different elemental forces – has a visually distinct set of abilities that can be upgraded in between levels. Unfortunately, these moves are mostly cosmetic and there really isn’t much difference between the main characters other than their look. Alongside basic attacks, there’s a special power that kills everything on screen and takes a good chunk out of a boss health bar, but this drains a special meter that can also be used to trigger a useful escape move.
Weapons and health pickups (who doesn't love floor chicken?) are scattered throughout the levels and overall the game isn’t too taxing (especially on “izzy” mode). Most of the fun comes from the retro appeal and the sheer enthusiasm the devs have for embracing the roots of the genre.
The biggest stylistic influence here is SEGA’s Streets of Rage, from the aesthetic of the levels to the funky soundtrack, which at times sounds beat for beat like Yuzo Koshiro’s compositions from the Mega Drive classic. That’s not to say 99Vidas is entirely beholden to its genre peers: there's a unique charm to the characters and levels that feel distinctly native to the developer's Brazilian home. Bits of dialogue and the setting of the stages themselves express a cultural signature not often seen in games – mainstream or otherwise.
The combat animations of the heroes look and feel great to use and the enemies are playfully drawn. Highlights include the footballers that fall to your fists like taking a dive on the pitch and the punks that comb their hair before getting up and coming for you. Then there’s the boss battles: tongue-in-cheek dust-ups with crazy old ladies, killer robots, and a videogame store owner that turns into an 8-bit sprite.
The unlockable combo upgrades add another welcome bit of visual flair to the proceedings. It's satisfying to graduate from bare fists to lightning arcs and blizzard uppercuts.