Game publisher Devolver Digital had an E3 press conference on Twitch last night after Bethesda. As usual, it was packed with weird, gory humor and send-ups of standard E3 hype culture, as well as game announcements. One of those jokes, the announcement of a launcher-slash-game collection called Devolver Bootleg, is a real game on Steam.
According to the tongue-in-cheek commercial, Devolver Bootleg is “a wide variety of off-brand versions of our most popular titles.” There are low-rent clones of popular Devolver games like Hotline Miami, Luftrausers, and Downwell, as well as some multiplayer games I didn’t get a chance to check out. The titles are cute—Hotline Milwaukee, Luftrousers 3, and Shootyboots—but the games themselves aren’t quite as catchy. Some feature interesting twists: in addition to wearing a single giant boot in Shootyboots, the top of the level slowly lowers until it kills you. Hotline Milwaukee features Hotline Miami’s vicious dogs with bats and guns. Ape Out Jr is a fun mix of Ape Out and Donkey Kong, with a high-hat soundtrack that cleverly references Ape Out’s jazzy beats.
There’s also a host of pretty funny achievements, including ones for opening and closing the menu. The game starts with a blue screen, familiar to any PC player. The game is on sale for one percent off, a knock on game sales that’s proven popular with Steam reviewers. “I’m not sure I’d buy it at full price but with the current sale it’s a steal. Pick it up while it’s still 1% off!,” wrote one reviewer. Another wrote, “I just paid real money for a shit post.”
Devolver Bootleg is indeed a shit post, in that now-standard Devolver style of weird and mildly disturbing. I’m a big fan of Devolver games, but not so much the way their aesthetic has evolved since their first bloody, slightly incoherent conference in 2017. As I joked to my colleagues last night while watching the publisher’s conference, I’m either too old or too religious to get what they’re going for. Devolver’s press conferences and marketing have embraced the aesthetic of late night Adult Swim shows, but as someone who still thinks the kind humor of Home Movies was the best thing Adult Swim ever did, stuff that’s weird for the sake of being weird doesn’t resonate much with me. I’m rampantly anti-nonsense, and a lot of Devolver Bootleg feels like nonsense to me. What I played of Luftrousers 3, for example, has the original dogfighting game’s color palette, but you can only move horizontally. It feels clumsy and a little frustrating, and while it obviously embraces both the essence of its inspiration and the disappointing nature of bootlegs, that’s about as far as the joke goes. The joke of Devolver Bootleg wasn’t quite enough to satisfy me, and the hour I spent with the collection felt mildly annoying as opposed to truly funny.
It’s fun that Devolver took a quick joke about the recent proliferation of game launchers and turned it into kind of a real thing, and people more fond of Devolver’s ethos might get a kick out of it. Devolver is honest about making a joke and letting players decide they want to pay for it, even writing on the game’s store page, “Pay money for it now.” The games are what they are: The store description for Gato Roboto send-up Catsylvania reads, “It’s a cat inside of a suit of armor. It’s a cat...In full plate armor. What else do you want?” Fair enough.