Rugrats: Adventures In Gameland Is A Nostalgic Treat

A baby's gotta do what a baby's gotta do.

On the surface, Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland might look like a game for children, and in most ways it is, but it also feels laser-targeted at people like me. Folks who grew up on the earliest episodes of the Nickelodeon animated series, who saw the first film in cinemas and still know all the words to Angelica’s take on One Way or Another, and who found enjoyment in games like Rugrats: Search for Reptar or Rugrats: Castle Capers.

Despite being a brand-new game, the most immediately distinct thing about Adventures in Gameland is that it’s a very retro 2D platformer that specifically emulates the look and feel of late 80s/early 90s side-scrollers to really squeeze all the juice out of that nostalgia bottle. In part because it offers the toggle-able “modern” and “retro” visual styles that a lot of remasters of similar games employ, if you’d told me it was a reissue of a 30-plus-year-old game I’d have happily believed you.

After having recently played two levels of the game in an early demo, I can happily report that it works, too. Playing Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland feels like commandeering the NES at my aunt’s place for hours during family get-togethers or curling up under a sleeping bag at a friend’s place with my Game Boy Colour (and attachable light, naturally) blaring away into the night while also coming off as a fresh experience.

Across both of these levels, I got a taste of some of the game’s core ideas, like being able to swap between the four playable babies – Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil – at any time in single or co-op play, collecting hidden Reptar Coins and finding secrets in the environment, using ground pounds and throws to defeat enemies or move blocks and even engaging in a boss battle against the one and only Baby Big Boy. There are a heap of instantly-recognisable references to the early show, in fact, which I was consistently surprised that I even remember after this long, when I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

The two levels also introduced the idea of each of the four babies having differing stats and some unique abilities. Amusingly, the four seem to be based almost entirely on the four playable characters from 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2, with Tommy a bit of an all-rounder, Chuckie a good jumper at the cost of being weaker, Phil lacking leg power but stronger with a better ground pound and Lil a bit more balanced while being able to float through the air for a short time.

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Being able to switch between them at any point is neat though, and each has their own health bar and life count so you can keep them in reserve should you suffer a defeat, plus two-player co-op play means you can take advantage of different skills at the same time.

The beautiful thing about this retro-facing design combined with the game’s approach to co-op is that it creates a wonderful way for old-school gamers and Rugrats fans and younger players to both get something out of the experience. There’s enough here to have engaged me as an adult who grew up on the show and games like this, but it’d also be really easy for me to share it with someone much younger while they reap the benefit of having the co-op assist.

Of course one of the stand-out features is the ability to switch between NES-style 8-bit visuals and a more modern, HD look that closely mimics the animated series. At first I was disappointed that being able to switch between them on the fly seemingly isn’t an option, but I noticed in quite a few spots that the environmental details aren’t always 1-to-1 and so I can see how that might be jarring with no menu transition. I did appreciate the added details like an optional CRT filter or the way that the screen borders in the (also optional) 4:3 modes shake when you’re doing a ground pound move.

In addition to looking the part and being packed with great references to the classic cartoon, Adventures in Gameland also has some top-notch tunes across the levels I played. The remixed version of the main theme, complete with chiptune motifs, is an absolute bop.

I have high hopes that I’ll really enjoy all of what Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland has to offer, though I’m admittedly right in the niche of the audience it seems to be gunning for. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds over further levels but for now I’m absolutely ready for more time with the gang.

Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland is launching soon, and the folks at Limited Run Games are doing something extra special by not only offering gorgeous physical editions but also a genuinely playable NES version of the game on an actual cartridge. Wild times. You can find all of that right here.