I Wanna be the Guy

"I Wanna be the Guy" is schlocky, unpredictable, challenging and ironically self-aware — and that's why it works. 

I am the guy.

I said back in my “Getting Over It” review that I had beaten “I Wanna be the Guy;” this was more or less an out-and-out lie. Six years ago, when I played through it for the first time, I beat all of “I Wanna be the Guy” except The Guy himself, whose fight I skipped through an exploit. After playing through it again for this review, I’ve finally earned the title of “The Guy” and shown the lengths I’ll go to for this column.

Allow me to explain.

“I Wanna be the Guy” is one of the most infamous freeware games of all time, and rightly so. Its premise is simple: you are The Kid, and you want to be The Guy.

To become The Guy, you must defeat the current The Guy in battle. Fortunately, on most modes, The Kid has an infinite supply of lives. The rub lies in that The Kid dies in one hit, The Guy is a world away, and everything between you and him wants you dead. However, unlike other, deliberately-hard-but-fair games (see “Celeste,” “1001 Spikes” or “Radiant Silvergun” for some standout examples), “I Wanna be the Guy” is conniving and droll.

To name one iconic instance, the second screen of the game features trees that drop fruit on the player, but when the player walks above them, the remaining fruit fall up and hit them anyway. Combined with an offbeat sense of humor and a pick-and-mix pool of existing assets and characters, this becomes a spoofy appeal: no other game would recreate Dracula’s speech from “Symphony of the Night” and have his thrown wine glass pose a threat, or play an intense metal riff every time the player died just to taunt them that much more. It has numerous bugs, a dated art-style, and a serious lack of original assets, but these factors all add to its charm and feel like part of the joke — it even pokes fun at its own tendency to crash near the end.

“I Wanna be the Guy,” while a run-of-the-mill platformer and an ode to a simpler time, is also a denouncement of what most consider good sense in game development. It’s an unpolished, unstable, frustrating, amateurish, garish, game-y nightmare that goes in insanely creative directions, and I love it. On top of this, the world of tricks and traps showcased in it is meticulously put together and never truly repeats itself.

Like a less-intensive “Metroid” or “King’s Field IV,” “I Wanna be the Guy”’s many areas are rife with secrets and pathways to other locations as well as a smorgasbord of different ideas. The variety of possible routes and significant stable of easter eggs and bonus challenges to find add a ton of replayability, and I keep coming back every now and then just to see what I might have missed on my last attempted run.

While it’s spawned legions of fangames and imitators (some of them massive and worthwhile in their own right, such as “I Wanna be the Boshy,” “I Wanna Kill the Guy,” a few official side-games, and its own fan-made answer to “Super Mario Maker” — it basically informs an entire subgenre of masocore platformers), “I Wanna be the Guy” fills a particular niche; it uses exploration, challenge, unpredictability and a sarcastic tone to sustain an unforgettable hours-long journey available at no cost.

“I Wanna be the Guy” was an internet phenomenon because of its blatant shabbiness, hostility and parodic brand of nostalgia. I was able to play through most of it in one sitting, and I enjoyed every minute of it, even after multiple almost-playthroughs. “I Wanna be the Guy” is one of my favorite games and an under-appreciated gem that deserves to be a classic.

I recommend this game to anyone, patience or no, because in today’s market of bland, unambitious schlock, it’s a breath of fresh air. “I Wanna be the Guy” had the guts to be ironic and genuine at the same time, and by some roundabout miracle, it turned into the greatest joke game ever made. Try it or the recently-released fan remake out. You owe it to yourself.

Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.

If You Play

Platform: PC

Price: Free

Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 115 MB

ESRB Rating: N/A

Release Date: 10/5/2007

Genre (if applicable): Masocore platformer

Developer: Kayin

Challenge: High

Novelty: Moderate

Polish: Low