I have put some thought into this, and I have come to a realization:
I am mad that Kevin Smith is happy.
I am, and have always been, a comedy nerd. Back in the dark ages of VHS tape rentals, I would always convince my dad that it was in his best interest to rent the likes of Airplane, Young Frankenstein, and Nation Lampoon’s Any Goddamned Thing. And this worked out well, as my father generally enjoyed comedies as well. After all, he was the man that introduced me to Woody Allen, and I watched the likes of Annie Hall, Love and Death, and Crimes and Misdemeanors well before I understood about 110% of the sex jokes contained therein. But, while I loved all these comedies, I had one complaint: all of this humor was aimed at my dad’s generation. Chevy Chase had never played a Nintendo, and Leslie Nielsen clearly would never have an opinion on Voltron. I could watch a thousand “80’s comedies”, but when would I ever see a comedy that had the voice of an actual 80’s kid?
Enter Kevin Smith and Clerks.
To be absolutely clear, Kevin Smith is, by all definitions, not a contemporary of my generation. He was born nearly fifteen years before this author, and his experiences are firmly those of Generation X. That said? Goddamn did his early film oeuvre capture the feeling of being a teenager in the 90’s. Perhaps something about his directing and writing was universal, or maybe my generation just happened to live at the edge of such things as “malls” and “the Catholic Church” existing, but, whatever the cause, Kevin Smith’s films spoke to me. They were vulgar, often sexist/homophobic, and generally vaguely immature, but there was a truth buried in there that I felt like only my generation would understand. I was not old enough to date someone that had sucked 37 dicks (I mean, as far as I knew), but I was old enough to hang out at the mall, hate on magic eye posters, or have substantial opinions about working at a menial job. And if you want the kind of low-key youthful rebellion that would inevitably be inspired by Kevin Smith’s films, consider the fact that my friends and I watched Dogma around midnight on gigantic screens in the sanctuary of a church. Had the damnedest time finding the remote for that DVD player…
And, since we are moderately on the subject, let’s talk about Dogma. Clerks was Kevin Smith’s amazing debut, and it all but defined the mood and attitude of a generation of people that were not even supposed to be here today. Mallrats was a farcical look at the world outside the horrible fate of retail (but still firmly entrenched in that world), and, while still a comedy, Chasing Amy tried its hand at being a little more serious than other Kevin Smith fare (and, I feel it is worth publicly stating: wow, watching that movie in 2021 is a different experience than in 1997). But Dogma? Literally holy crap, Dogma was an experience. It was star-studded! It was hilarious! It was taking huge, obvious swings at “The Church”, Christianity, and religion in general! And these were topics that were generally considered taboo in polite society! Sunday school never made references to crucifixions producing shit monsters, and they certainly never acknowledged how clergy would inevitably try to pimp themselves out with bobbleheads if given the chance. This was revolutionary stuff for my teenage friends and I, and it confirmed something I had always suspected: Kevin Smith was going to be the voice of my generation for our generation. This writer/director is going places, and he is going to go places we never would have ever expected.
And then Kevin Smith’s next movie featured a character named Cocknocker.
Let’s take a step back and address Woody Allen. First of all, to be perfectly clear, fuck Woody Allen. This paragraph is likely going to sound like Woody Allen is being lauded, but, to be clear, fuck that guy. However, one can complement the arc of his works from his first movies back in the sixties (and works going back to fifties) to today. He started with generally farcical parodies, gradually moved into what would define the romantic comedy, and then made his way to something more akin to “serious pieces” that happened to have a few jokes sprinkled in. From there, there was a clear period of vaguely defensive “I liked your old, funny movies” bouts of navel-gazing, and then he finally seemed to settle on something more comedic again, albeit usually with a sort of mature (re: old man) edge to the proceedings. And, say what you will about your enjoyment of any of those movies, but it is certainly a way to see a man progress and grow and change with his own media. Woody Allen did not win an award and simply make that same prestigious movie over and over again, he, like all of us, changed, and his output reflected that. And, sure, he did eventually go back to that romantic comedy well an awful lot, but he tried to do something different, and really did produce some films that could have only come from a man that had the life experiences of someone that had been writing comedy for arguably his entire life. Woody Allen has done odious, reprehensible things in his existence, but you can also see how the art changed with the man, and thus, also with a generation.
As I write this, Kevin Smith is currently promoting his latest production: He-Man: Masters of the Universe: Revelation. What’s more, he is promoting it by saying, “Your old toys are exactly where you left ‘em, Kids – and we took really good care of them!” The potential voice of our generation is still speaking for our generation, and he is advocating for nearly forty years of arrested development. Play with your old toys again, children of the three-hour Saturday Morning Advertising Block. Do not think critically of your current situation at all! Enjoy Mer-Man!
And, in much the same manner, here is today’s game, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. To be clear, Kevin Smith is not directly responsible for JaSB:MB. He definitely approved the project, it is all based on characters he created, and he does technically headline/star in the game, but he did not sit down to program this View Askewniverse-based adventure. That was primarily left to Tomas Guinan and Spoony Bard Productions. But does Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl feel like something that was produced by Kevin Smith? For better or worse, yes, very much so. JaSB:MB is filled to the brim with references to Smith’s most popular works (like Mall Rats, Dogma, and Clerks), as well as significant nods to less fashionable productions like Clerks: The Animated Series and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Or maybe they were his more popular productions with his fans? I cannot say for certain, as I have personally been quoting Plug and Leonardo Leonardo for years. And they both appear in Level 6! Wow! If you are a fan of “those Jay and Silent Bob shows”, you are going to love this trip through the mall.
But if you are not here to see Patrick Swayzee (and his horse, Road House, from that movie he was in), there is not much here for you. This is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by the likes of River City Ransom… but without the leveling/advancement system that made that title so memorable. Or this is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by Double Dragon… but without the precise punch/kick system and platforming that made Double Dragon and its sequel NES mainstays. This is a hodgepodge of concepts and characters from other NES beat ‘em ups (Abobo appears as a pretzel!), but ultimately something that never even pretends it is better than its original sources. There is a Turbo Tunnel! Like in Battletoads! But it is shorter and includes far less risks than the game it is referencing (come on, man, you couldn’t figure out how to implement pits into this system?). Same for the faux Mega Man fight against Cocknocker, as that simulates a robot master battle with sound effects and graphics, but not any mega-gameplay that makes that situation fun. About the only thing that really stands out as innovative in JaSB:MB is the battle against Golgothan the Excremental that requires your chosen hero wield a nearby plunger to actually do some damage. This adds an extra, previously unseen bit of strategy to the proceedings, and it would be a fascinating mechanic if the damned boss could not “camp” the one item you need to defeat it. So actually grabbing that weapon-of-choice can be a shitshow if the enemy AI decides to be crap? Wonderful. And that seems to be the game in a nutshell: there are good bones here, but the flesh wrapped around it is powered by about 5% good ideas, and 95% nostalgia.
But what the hell would you expect?
Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl never claimed it was going to be the next Taro-esque commentary on the state of gaming. It was never supposed to be an evolution for the beat ‘em up genre, or the apparently-a-genre-for-the-last-decade 8-bit retro craze. This whole exercise was never going to be anything of the sort. This is a game that was released for Kevin Smith fans, and initially distributed on an actual, playable Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge because Kevin Smith fans are inevitably fans of the NES. This is a game wholly entrenched in its own nostalgia for media that is now old enough to drink, and a writer/director that could be a literal grandpa any day now. This is a “by fans, for fans” affair, and asking it to question its medium or source material is folly. You want to ask greater questions of the universe, you buy a different game. You buy a Jay and Silent Bob game because you want to participate in goofy antics with Jay and Silent Bob.
And you do not watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie for deep thoughts. You watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie because you want to laugh. And you will laugh, because farts are funny.
Kevin Smith could have, at one point in his career, pivoted to becoming a “serious” creator. He could have become a serious man in a serious world that has very serious things to say about serious topics. He could have followed the same arc as so many comedians before him, and focused on his deeper thoughts. He did not. He decided to use his filmmaker clout to write comic books where Green Lantern eats out Black Canary, and Batman pisses himself (uh, to be clear, these were two unrelated events). He said his piece on religion, and then went on to create whatever the hell Tusk is supposed to be about. And the thing about all of that? He seems happy about it! He is uncritically producing a movie about a commercial from forty years ago, and he is having a blast doing it! I can barely get through this paragraph without throwing shade at Mattel, but Kevin Smith is right there, happily telling his audience that all their toys are back and better than ever.
And you know what? Good for him! Kevin Smith seems happy. And, unlike other writer/directors, we are not constantly hearing about how he is a horrible person. Maybe we need more people producing a lifetime of “light” entertainment, and significantly less “serious” directors that are currently wanted for various sex crimes. When the biggest scandal to come out of a guy is “those jorts”, we are in a good place. Kevin Smith may not have become the auteur I wanted him to be, but he seems like a good person. And if he produces a funny movie every once in a while, hey, all the better.
The world could use more Kevin Smiths. And the gaming world can have a few Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawls, too.
FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl
- System: Technically, this is a NES game. There’s a cartridge and everything! But the expanded-palette “arcade mode” is also available for the modern usual suspects, like Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4.
- Number of players: Well, it is Jay and Silent Bob, so two players are available. Does the game get more difficult with more buddies? Or are the enemy mobs the same? I don’t know!
- Favorite Boss: Abobo-as-a-pretzel is super annoying, but he reaches an entire other level when he is joined by some weird little pretzel baby creature. We’re in a crowded elevator, kid, I don’t need you jump kicking me over and over again while I’m trying to punch your dad!
- A moment for the departed: Clerks: The Animated Series (which is referenced frequently across this game) is easily the funniest single six episodes of any cartoon ever produced. It was also, technically, the first DVD I ever purchased, and the first disc that ever went into my Playstation 2. Sorry, Dead or Alive 2, but I was a little more interested in finding the answer to the immortal question of “why are we walking like this?” Also, mark this one down as another animated series that made reference to South of the Border.
I’m going to start keeping track of this.
- Let the past be past: Back to the actual game, I could have done without the NES standard of starting every stage from the start after a continue. The fact that Jay and Silent Bob refill health as time passes is helpful, but if you get unexpectedly wrecked by a boss, it is a gigantic pain to have to repeat everything on your way back to another potential loss. And the final stage being a boss rush? Nobody wanted to play that in the first place…
- An end: If you are curious about the secret identity of the final boss, go ahead and consider that mystery story trope about how the culprit is always the named character that is otherwise mysteriously absent. And, without revealing the shocking conclusion, I can disclose that, yeah, Jay and Silent Bob do make it back home to Quik Stop.
- For the sequel: Theoretically, this game is the “Curse of the Moon” to an eventual, other beat ‘em up titled Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. It looks good! It looks like more of the same, actually, but with modern art and conventions. And that’s enough! Trading 8-bit graphics for “goofy” animation should be fun. And we need more fun.
- Did you know? Dante was supposed to die in the first Clerks movie, but that “alternate ending” was scrapped before the premiere. This is why, in the Devil May Cry franchise, there is often a “Dante must die” mode. Some people just won’t let it go.
- Would I play again: Probably, but purely as a novelty. This game may have issues, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, so I could see playing it again with another Kevin Smith fan. Hey, I might not watch Dogma every other day, but I do watch it again every decade or so…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Muse Dash for the Nintendo Switch! Time to run to the music! Or from the music? Something like that! Please look forward to it!
This is like some kind of generational trauma, isn’t it?