This week, Yahtzee reviews Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight.
Since it's important to me that my indie game double-bills have some kind of theme in case Zero Punctuation ever gets adapted into a stage musical, I guess this week, we're going for "games that are quite a bit like another game, but not as good". We'll get Ben Elton to write the song for it, to add some hilariously satirical parallel.
So let's start with Guacamelee! 2, a game that's quite a bit like Guacamelee! 1, but not as good. Guacamelee! is the non-unionized Mexican labor force of Metroidvania: inexpensive, hard-working, perfectly decent, probably getting deported anyway. I guess it's "Mexican" in the same sense that We Happy Few was "British"; they got someone who'd never been to Mexico but has watched an awful lot of television to write down everything Mexico-related they could think of, and made a game about that. So it's about lucha libre wrestlers, sombreros, cacti, piñatas, mustaches, um... chickens... and a seemingly endless supply of limited-run soap operas about people getting married. The protagonist of Guacamelee! 1 - who's named Juan, because of course he is - is living happily with his wife and family when a new threat appears - one that's markedly reminiscent of the previous one - and our hero must explore a Metroidvania world markedly reminiscent of the last game's one in order to bring things to a markedly reminiscent satisfactory conclusion.
I never did Guacamelee! 1, did I? I forget why; maybe a Call of Duty game came out that week, and I considered it more important that everyone notice all the subtextual racism in it. Well, that's a shame, because for the record, Guacamelee!'s quite good, a standout in the somewhat overpopulated Border Patrol child detention center that is the "indie Metroidvania" genre, because it manages the rare thing of becoming more challenging the more abilities you unlock, for an appropriate difficulty curve that starts with blandly hopping onto platforms like a stupid frog trying to escape from its own bum and ends with these insane "wall-run, wall-jump, uppercut, double jump, grapple" sequences where you have to make use of the propulsive power of your every last fart. And by integrating movement and fighting abilities, the platforming and the combat evolve in parallel, and both end up being damn impressive to watch, as long as you remember to put on your most skillful trousers.
And I guess my problem with Guacamelee! 2 is that it's just pointing at Guacamelee! 1 and going, "Yeah, basically that." I suppose it is four-player now, but that's about as relevant to me as it coming free with a pair of donkey-castrating scissors. Being more of Guacamelee! 1 is only as big a problem as you make it, but everything feels a little more half-hearted; even the final boss fight just sort of comes and goes like a needlessly loud advert in the middle of a YouTube video.
It doesn't help that Guacamelee! seems to think it has a sense of humor, in the same sense that the 7-Eleven seems to think that its coffee is fit for human consumption. It's mainly memes and excruciatingly chummy references to other games, and it's got that Disney Star Wars problem, where every dialogue has to end on a gag no matter how dramatic the context, lest anyone think for a nanosecond that we're too weighty and serious to be licensed for Happy Meal toys. So when the nun with a guitar tells us the tragic backstory of the main villain, at the end, she has to pick up her guitar again and say, "Anyway, here's 'Wonderwall'." Wait, that's not a gag; that's barely a sentence! "Oh, don't stress it, granddad! You're probably at that age where meme culture's starting to leave you behind." Piss off, viewer! I can't be old; I swear about video games on the Internet for a living! If I were a chicken, I'd still have half the eggshell on my face, making snarky videos about amniotic fluid.
But on that note, let's move on from the highly overpopulated genre of indie Metroidvanias to the severely underpopulated genre of paperwork-checking simulators, which contains only two games: Papers, Please, and now this one. Oh yes, and Tom Clancy's The Division, but that one only because it was so boring, it made me stop and do my tax return instead. The game is Not Tonight, which isn't the best title, 'cos in the time it took to go from buying the game to looking for it on my Steam list, I completely forgot what it was called; it's set in Britain, but, in contrast to We Happy Few, is pretty clearly made by British people, because it's less "tea and Monty Python quotes" and more "black comedy and pregnant teenagers with bad haircuts".
In an alternative post-Brexit 2018, an extreme isolationist party has taken power and pledged to enforce national purity, and as a second-generation immigrant, you now have to work as a bouncer to avoid being deported to Europe, and occasionally, you have to check visas at the border just to abandon whatever pretense remained that this wasn't a Papers, Please knockoff. I hesitate to say "Papers, Please knockoff" in case paperwork-checking is the hot new genre, and I'll feel as stupid as I do about when we used to call FPSes "Doom clones", but Not Tonight is deliberately doing its hair exactly like Papers, Please and illicitly trying to get off with Papers, Please's boyfriend; it starts off simple, with you just checking expiry dates on IDs, and as the government gets more paranoid, complexity increases until you're checking off two forms of ID, tickets, the contents of their pockets, and whether they possess an "innie" or an "outie" belly button.
Also, like with Papers, Please, there are multiple endings, and you have to decide if you're going to side with the government or the resistance, whom you can aid by pursuing secret extra objectives, but unlike Papers, Please, this isn't really a choice. In Papers, Please, I felt like supporting the government might be justified, as they are at least stable and it makes it less likely that the secret police will come 'round and split my nostrils open with a pair of donkey-castrating scissors, but in Not Tonight, the government openly hates you and informs you frequently that, given half a chance, it will punt you off the White Cliffs of Dover onto a little raft full of Mr. Bean DVDs, so why wouldn't you support the resistance?
See, Papers, Please was about the struggle of being a good person when survival's on the line and it's easier to keep your head down; you had to work your communist balls off just to get by day-to-day. Meanwhile, I paid every bill in Not Tonight the day I got it, and ended the game with 14 grand in the bank. In retrospect, I needn't even have bothered with all that drug-dealing on the side; I just figured, why not? There's no consequence, except I lost a few points in social credit. Oh, how embarrassing! How will I show my face at the Ellingsworths' garden party? "Yahtzee! Are you seriously going to complain about a game simultaneously knocking off Papers, Please and not being enough like Papers, Please?" Well, the ways it differ make it a worse game, is me point, like how you don't get paid by the punter; you have to meet a minimum quota of people let through to pass a mission, so if the game randomly rolls a bunch of guys you can't let through when there's only ten seconds left, then you're "European in the wind", my friend.
Well, let's not be too churlish; the pixel art is nice and the writing's solid, and the addition of a few character side-plots based around inventory puzzles adds a nice enough bit of extra depth. It's just that I feel like, in comparison to Papers, Please, it's doing less with more; it's less nuanced, less impactful, and the political commentary's going to be pretty fucking dated in a few years, after a few governments change amidst a rise in popular support for giant radioactive cockroach-people.
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