A large portion of ’90s kids look back on Rugrats with great fondness. As one of the defining cartoons of both the decade and the network of Nickelodeon, Rugrats spawned its fair share of licensed video games, but last week’s announcement of a new one still came as a shock. That game, Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland, doesn’t just feature retro sensibilities – it’s an actual all-new retro game built in 2023. Though the first Rugrats video game didn’t release until the late ’90s, Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland gives you the full retro experience, paying homage to the era of gaming that Rugrats completely missed despite first airing in 1991.
However, while many games pay homage to the late ’80s and early ’90s aesthetic (read our preview of another game featuring a similar aesthetic coming out of PAX West 2023, Mina the Hollower, here), Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland takes it a step further. Not content with simply looking and playing like an NES game, developers The Mix Games and Wallride actually created the title for the NES, and with publishing handled by popular physical game company Limited Run Games, you will actually be able to buy a working NES cartridge version of the game when it releases. If you’re like me and don’t have a working NES, don’t fret: The game is available on all modern platforms as well.
My demo, which took place on an NES, spanned one stage of the game. In Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland, you can choose between the core baby group – Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil – each with distinct jumping stats. Stages can be played in single-player or two-player co-op, with players able to revive downed babies if they take too much damage. The story follows the babies after they see a commercial for a new Reptar video game, then imagine themselves inside a game. The six stages take place in the Pickles’ residence, but after an initial screen, the stage transforms into a more fantastical setting.
In my demo, I’m first greeted by an 8-bit version of the title card from the cartoon, complete with a chiptune version of the title card jingle. It’s a nice touch, particularly given the presentation style the developers went for. My stage begins in the backyard at Tommy’s house, and after spotting Tommy’s father, Stu, distracted by the grill, my character climbs up into a tree and the world around them transforms into a jungle setting.
I set out as Tommy, the most well-rounded jumper in the group. After dodging and jumping on top of various jungle animals, I crack open a bud, which blossoms into a bouncy flower to let me reach a higher platform. Other sequences require me to pick up blocks and stack them to reach higher up. Probably the most difficult portion of my demo required me to jump from vine to vine while birds flew back and forth, knocking me into the perilous pit below.
After a vertical climbing sequence, my playtime culminates in a boss battle against a gorilla, who climbs in the tree canopy out of reach. The beast drops projectiles and enemies from above. My path to victory is to jump on top of the enemies to stun them, then toss them back at the gorilla, all while avoiding the hazards falling from above. It’s not an overly difficult encounter, but I could see how the battle would trouble some players.
While I enjoy the 8-bit aesthetic, I was happy to learn that the version on modern platforms includes the ability to toggle to a widescreen HD version with the same visual style as the Nickelodeon cartoon. Since my hands-on demo was the NES version, I didn’t get to see it in action, but I can already tell that will be my preferred art style once I get my hands on the final version of the game.
Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland was a big surprise announcement, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with the game. Though the Rugrats franchise missed the train on the NES era of gaming, it’s fun to imagine what could have been through Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland. Expect to play it sometime in 2024 on modern platforms and NES.