Thursday, July 05, 2018

Super Daryl Deluxe (2018)

I put a lot of time into this game, and I feel like it hasn't gotten the exposure that it probably deserves, so here we go. This is Super Daryl Deluxe. It has limited Metroidvania elements, but mainly, it's an example of that relatively obscure genre of which I have nonetheless always been a fan, the Side-scrolling Action RPG--Zelda II, Wanderers from Ys, Popful Mail, et al.

You first see this game, and you may be inclined to think it's a joke. The developers certainly didn't help themselves out by making their protagonist a Napoleon-Dynamite-looking doof with a wispy mustache and orange bell bottoms. However, allow me to assure you: it definitely is not a joke. It's obvious that a lot of time and effort and passion went in to this--and the developers had a unique artistic vision if I've ever seen one. It's LONG, too--the Steam page for some bizarre reason lowballs it at "more than 15 hours of story," which is technically true, but I took over forty, and I wouldn't say I did an excessive amount of aimless dicking around. There's a whole lotta game here. Maybe too much, but we'll get back to that.

The gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect in a game like this, running around, doing quests for people, exploring dungeons-of-sorts, getting better, etc. The game does have decent progression, such that you always feel like you're improving and you have something to strive for. Combat is also good: you get various abilities that you can assign to different buttons for a lot of variety, although truth be told, you'll probably end up hammering just a few different abilities/types of ability for most of the game.

But ah, the story. The game itself may not be a joke, but it IS relentlessly jokey. It's pretty shaggy, but the basic thing is that sometime in the past, two honors students from this high school wrote a self-help book that somehow ushered in a utopian age that later--for reasons that remain unclear for most of the game--collapsed catastrophically. And now, you, Daryl, are a new student there, and you have to wander around and do quests for people and go into all these weird simulations and dimensional portals to different historical eras and books and science-y things and hobnob with famous people and like that. Is this the first game to feature both Andy Warhol AND Georgia O'Keefe? Maybe. It IS all related, more or less, although it remains very shambolic throughout.

As noted above--and as should be obvious from the screenshots throughout--this is a game that refuses to take itself seriously. This has its strengths, but I would say that it's generally wordier than it needs to be (and with a surprising number of typos). Still, the bigger problem--if problem it be--is that I didn't find most of its overt jokes to be particularly funny. It's all pretty juvenile and obvious, ie:

So, like, what do you think is going to happen when you give this rabbit to Lenny from Of Mice and Men? Ha. Ha. It doesn't actually come off as being as mean-spirited as it might; given the overall tone, it's kind of impossible to really feel these things deeply. Still. Not my favorite sort of thing. However, individual jokes notwithstanding, the game overall does, cumulatively, create a kind of appealingly nutzoid tone.

Still, I do feel that there are possibly issues here. That "fun fact" may be amusing, but I think we could just as easily apply it to the writers themselves. I think there is dramatic potential here that's basically wasted. 'Cause here's the thing: towards the end, the game does try to be serious, sort of, in a few places, but it is undermined in this regard by, well, the entire rest of the game. For instance:

See, that could be a pathos-laden moment right there, but it's just difficult to tell whether the game expects you to take it at face value, or whether it's just supposed to be "haha, look how fucked up this all is." The game hasn't built an infrastructure for seriousness. The business with Kent and Eli also seems to offer dramatic potential that's never quite realized.

The other problem with the game is that it's ultimately just too damn long, and the pacing really falls down in the end. You keep thinking you're almost done and then HERE'S A WHOLE BUNCH OF EXTRA QUESTS (I was pretty thorough, and I think I did them all, which amounted to 150+). I was ready for it to be over before it was, and this is especially the case because the game falls afoul of a common balancing problem in games like this, which is that it's basically drained of all challenge towards the end, as you get more powerful faster than the enemies ramp up. Furthermore, I reached the level cap well before the end of the game, and at that point, quests start to feel kind of meaningless. It's not the end of the world, but it could've done with some more tweaking.

Oh, and DON'T THINK I DIDN'T NOTICE the hard-on for libertarianism that the authors have. You'd be hard-pressed to call it a game with a political philosophy, but it gets quite a few mentions, though the only thing that might be called an actual statement is this bit, taking a swipe at libraries, of all things:

Pft. Whatever. They're obviously just kids, but in spite of their game's flaws, it's still quite interesting and worth checking out for fans of the genre.


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