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Few online video creators can even come close to the influence and legacy of James Rolfe’s Angry Video Game Nerd. Spanning fifteen years, the series has inspired hundreds of would-be content creators to record themselves screaming at television screens. From the Nostalgia Critic to Pewdiepie, the entire video landscape of the internet owes a ton to the Nerd.
Many of the elements that make up the series can seem really off-putting at first. Who would watch someone get irrationally angry at a twenty-year-old game interspersed with a shit-ton of poop jokes? But there’s a certain charm to the humour because of Rolfe’s delivery. There’s a fine line between being entertaining and being annoying. You can try to force anger where none exists and just end up sounding weak (i.e. a Chris Bores) or you can be so angry all the time and just end up being exhausting (like the Nostalgia Critic). But James is loud without being obnoxious. He’s genuine in his reactions. And as a fellow reviewer pointed out, the overabundance of poop jokes really shouldn’t work — but they do! It really shows the strength of James’ comedic timing. Many episodes become almost an extended Aristocrats joke, and I love every moment of it.
If there’s one word to describe the show it would be endearing. Low-budget charm penetrates every special effect and strange plot the Nerd gets himself involved in. Unlike many other Mid-Review Sketch Shows the skits don’t detract from the meat of the review – they’re a colourful side distraction, a reprieve from the strangely educational tone the series can present. Unlike many of his imitators there’s a real sensibility of pacing here. You get the feeling that James Rolfe is a lot smarter than he lets on.
I grew up watching AVGN, Nostalgia Critic, and the rest of the online reviewer ‘scene’ that popped up in the mid-late 2000s. But when I go back, I find that a lot of them are really hard to watch; they seem outdated, birthed in a trend that has passed. But not the AVGN. I still laugh as hard as I did back in my early adolescence. AVGN is as timeless as Youtube gets.
If you were a middle-class, nerdy child who grew up anytime after 1985, then you may have spent loads of your parental guardian's money on electronic crap. Not only did you beg your mom for a Game Boy, you bought a Handy Boy to light up the screen and a Link Cable that you used, like, once. You begged for Mortal Kombat because it looked so cool in the magazine adverts, only to realize that the Game Boy port is unplayable. You bought a starter pack of Pokemon cards and never played the game with anyone. You traded them in for Yu-Gi-Oh cards and didn't play them either. You somehow got a Shrek fighting game; who even gave you that? Maybe you played the damn thing and convinced yourself you liked it because your parents weren't that middle class. Maybe you didn't even have a Game Boy, maybe you had a TMNT LCD game by Tiger that you got for Christmas because you were a TMNT fanatic (which you got rid of next year at a yard sale because you got into Alf or something). Or a "9999 in 1" LCD game from your grandparents that was just a couple variations of Tetris. Maybe you're reading this in 2022 and you've just realized how many Skylanders toys you made your parents buy. And looking back, you cringe at your younger self's obsession with frivolous crap.
That retroactive shame over wasted time, wasted money, wasted plastic, wasted youth, that is what the Angry Video Game Nerd is angry about.
It's odd that the only review on this page is for a specific, not particularly memorable episode. Oh well, here goes...
The first thing to note about the AVGN is that he does not give particularly detailed reviews of the games he is playing. Typically, an episode will have him expanding on the game's background (particularly if it is licensed from another medium, which is often the case), playing through the game, encountering flaws, and then comparing those flaws to animal genitalia or faeces. It's a simple and very juvenile form of comedy, and it shouldn't be funny. But it is of course, thanks primarily to James Rolfe's commitment to the character's authenticity. By contrast, explaining the games roots is often played straight: it's almost as the Nerd feels the need to get the preamble out of the way before getting down to the bit people want to see.
Some episodes have more of a plot to them, and these tend to be the ones which James puts more effort into. These plot-driven episodes vary, but the most common pattern is for the Nerd to develop a conflict with a real-life version of a character in the video game he is reviewing. Expect their tension to grow progressively worse until by the end of the episode they are engaging in a no-holds-barred brawl - and I really mean no-holds-barred. Again, the laughs are not overly sophisticated, but my inner child never gets tired of watching Bugs Bunny loosening his bowels right over the Nerd's face.
It should also be mentioned that the visual effects in this show are awesome considering its shoestring budget, and that it is made almost entirely by one person. Both special and good old practical effects are very well done, although it must be said that these do not necessarily improve the show itself. Rather, they come across as self-indulgent, as Rolfe satisfying his own cinematographic urges - somewhat like Terry Gilliam, he's a filmmaker at heart who stumbled by accident into a massively successful comedy. It also seems like he feels the need to keep making the show bigger, when honestly, it's doing fine as it is. It's a review show - just snarking at the game's eight-bit follies is enough to keep me happy.
Overall, this isn't a highbrow show, but crucially, it revels in being a very good lowbrow one. Sometimes I question why I'm finding it funny, but that doesn't stop me watching.
We all know The Angry Video Game Nerd for taking us back to the past to play the shitty games that suck ass, coupled with hilarious over-the-top theatrics. However, this episode is a departure from his usual style of comedy. Yep, there's no wanton violence against fictional characters to be found here. The cursing is also incredibly toned down from his typical game showcases. Most of all, the game isn't actually crud, just incredibly weird.
As usual, The Angry Video Game Nerd does a good job of background exposition concerning why Michael Jackson was so important in the 80's in which he grew up, setting up a fine context for the game showcase which was all the rage at the time. After that, he takes a backseat somewhat to let the game speak for itself. In place of What Do You Mean Its Not Awesome in-your-face slapstick are simpler gags at key moments such as his facial reactions to Jackson's crotch-grabbing move, his attempts to dance along with Jackson, repeatedly showing the kid rescue scenes to emphasize the creepy undertones that "I know what we're alllll thinking", and of course, "Mecha-Jackson! The King of Robopop!", succintly summing up the game's Crowning Moment Of Awesome. Though he points out the game's many flaws as well, this reviewer nonetheless became too enraptured by the madness of the game's premise to care.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is an atypical Nerd episode, but the subdued humour communicates the premise of one of the weirdest video games ever made very, very well. This is a truly memorable Nerd moment, even without the wanton violence and gratuitous swearing.
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