Of all mediums one would consider for making a comedy, videogames are not exactly the perfect choice. Comedy is all about timing, pacing, surprise – and games are intrinsically a viewer-controlled experience. This makes comedy hard. Games like Psychonauts and Duke Nukem 3D make up for the lack of defined timing by instead simply being audacious, and even though I consider Psychonauts one of my favourite games of all time, as a comedic effort it doesn’t even scrape the cinematic classics.
Enter DLC Quest, a game that is built as satire. Will this be a comedy that manages to use the gaming medium to its advantage? Uh… well… how do I put this…. don’t hold your breath. “LOL.”
DLC Quest (PC, Xbox Live Indie Games)
Developed and published by Going Loud Studios
The AAA industry has a problem with all these fanciful new online business models. DLC Quest, as the name implies, is a little light-hearted satire based around the idea that more egregious of publishers nickel-and-dime consumers by selling everything as DLC. As far as concepts go, it’s fairly cute – the result is a 2D platformer in which you have to outright “buy” basic abilities like jumping, and walking left.
As a “what-if” scenario, it’s not that far-fetched that the message is lost. Developers charge extraneous amounts for content on the disc, for cheats, and for content that hasn’t even been made yet. On the iOS market, things get even more terrifying, with microtransaction content essentially required to not get bored with a game. So DLC Quest comes at an apt moment, and for a while is almost the perfect stress ball. I can’t imagine how satisfying it must have been for Going Loud Studios to lampoon this kind of stuff; there’s definitely an afforded righteous indignation that DLC Quest takes full advantage of.
Unfortunately, the game is supposed to be a comedy. The cute trick of having to go to the “DLC store” to continue your progress through the game completely wears out its welcome within the first minute or so. Perhaps that’s a feature – perhaps the slog of progressing is completely intentional, a part of the ever-so-subtle satire. Fun, though, it is not. That’s the clincher, really. Just because you’re making a point, doesn’t excuse you from being a tedious chore. If Suda51 can’t get away with it, neither can you.
The gameplay is barely serviceable. Part of this is that the presentation is barely a cut above the worst Newgrounds has to offer – save for the backgrounds, which seem to be made of fuzzy felt and I quite enjoyed looking at. The pixel art, though, is pitiful. With modern classics like Cave Story+, Hotline Miami, Lone Survivor (and countless others) employing the retrograde pixel aesthetic to stunning results, the art in DLC Quest is laughable. Laughable! It is an ugly game, and that’s not because it’s made of pixels, it’s not because it’s made in a retro style: there’s just no look to the game. No definition of its own. I can list off the top of my head at least twenty better-looking pixel art indie games, many of them cheaper than DLC Quest, too. Hell, Machinarium was made in Flash, and that game is drop-dead gorgeous.
The lack of visual fidelity wouldn’t matter if the game had an aesthetic beyond “generic,” but it doesn’t. It doesn’t have any atmosphere, any character, it’s very much just pixels on a screen doing things. It’s not cute, it doesn’t provide caricature it’s just blocky unreasonably bright (with no distinct colour temparature or tone). Worst part is that there’s no immediate feedback with the world, and there’s nothing satisfying about the way the character moves – the animations, even with the “animation pack” DLC, are essentially non-existant. It’s all throwaway art, and frankly, I’m insulted they’re charging for it.
The lack of meaningful presentation is ultimately what makes the gameplay so lifelessly dull. It’s an at least playable 2D platformer, with double-jumps and spiked pits and leaping over floating islands. There’s nothing particularly challenging or satisfying about it, though. If these characters moved with more fluidity, there might at least be enjoyment to be grasped from it – but as it is, it really is just shapes jumping on other shapes. Hell, not even that! Thomas Was Alone was built from only squares and rectangles and that provided a more intermittently enjoyable jump-a-thon than this pathetic dreck.
So. It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t play good. It is a comedy game, though. It might be redeemed through the writing, right? …well, no. Oh dear me no.
I think the biggest problem with the comedy – at least, the parody/satire aspect – is that it doesn’t really have a singular point to make, ultimately. I understand that the game is called “DLC Quest,” and it does initially provide apt, cynical commentary on the nature of insane DLC practices. That is in there. But I get the feeling that at some point in development, they realized it doesn’t hold up an entire game, and so decided to add in other “insightful” observations. What begins as a cute satire of a the irrelevance and egregiousness of DLC eventually just becomes a “lolfunny” every-target’s-a-fair-target “comedy” game, lampooning everything from permanent online connections (how timely) to… silhouetted art styles, and RPG fetch quests. Um, “LMAO”?
The writing is painfully contrived. Again, I believe they did this on purpose, but it takes more wit to make a sarcastic non-joke funny than I feel the people who wrote this game possess. At the hands of a talented scribe, these witticisms could almost elicit an audible chuckle – a “LOL” if you will, perhaps even a “ROFL” or two. Instead, the only sound I was making the whole game were groans of contempt. Not a good sign for a comedy game.
At some point in the second campaign of the game included with the Steam edition (ironically, it is essentially DLC), a character shows up who calls himself a “comedian.” He spouts off references, from “what a terrible night to have a curse,” “the cake is a lie” – you know, all those cringe-worthy “memes” from gaming’s rich history of repeatable dialog. The player character, mind, does take issue with this (he is very angry at the “cake is a lie” reference). Mimicking, unfortunately, my own distaste with the entirety of that joke.
The sad part is the game itself had been using – and continues to use – mere references as “jokes,” even after mocking others for it. I understand that self-awareness and self-deprecation can be particularly effective tools, but again, I must stress, it must be in the right hands. I don’t trust these people actually know what a joke is. When “Groove” shows up in a mine, crafting; when the final boss says “you think the microtransactions are your ally? But you merely adopted them. I was born with it, molded by it!” after The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane… it’s just foolish. It’s okay, though! The “comedian”? His name is Lamp. Like, as in, lampshade hanging. Oh, good. The writers have spent some time on TV Tropes. They’re well-qualified, then. Let me lay down my 10/10 then.
…I’m almost wary not to critique the game much further on its humour. I’ve said this many, many times, our sense of humour is perhaps the most subjective we have (after music), and for many, a game they personally find funny is one whose flaws can be glossed over. I myself know this much – I’ve enjoyed quite a few critically panned games on the laurels of their writing, and despite the actual games being pure crap, I found myself taken with the titles for no other reason that I was entertained by it. It’s completely subjective – I enjoyed those games because I laughed, and perhaps DLC Quest will make you laugh. And, just as I overlooked the flaws in games like The Return of Matt Hazard and Duke Nukem Forever, coming out of them with an overall positive experience, the same may be said of you with DLC Quest.
I’m also wary, though, of the danger of forming an actual recommendation around such joke-based games. You know now what I think of DLC Quest’s humour – I feel it falls flat at almost every hurdle. For every audible giggle it drew from me there were three absolute groaners – it’s a mixed bag that is more shit than gold. But that’s completely dependent on me and my tastes. So I won’t take that too much into consideration when judging this game on its merits.
Instead, I will judge it thusly: as a game it is a failure, an unchallenging, tedious, boring joke of a title that outstays its welcome after a minute of its insulting hour-long runtime. You might find it funny, but I did not, which also makes it a “comedy” game that is never once comedic. The presentation is a sham – a random assortment of pixels with no thought to aesthetic charm or uniqueness. That they’re charging even $3 for this game is a funnier joke than anything the game can muster, and the entire thing completely lets down what could have been a unique platformer based around an acceptable satirical premise.
I posit to you a reality in which this game was an actually good game. If it was drawn well, if it was presented nicely, and if the platforming was as slick as its peers. It would, ultimately, assist the satire, wouldn’t it? If, instead of an in-game “item shop” method of DLC, it took you to some facsimile of Steam to spend virtual currency, and presented itself as a “real” game (instead of the corny, cheap thing it actually is). It would be more disappointing that you’d have to “buy” animations when promised fantastic animations from the outset, no? And it would be saddening that to progress in the game you’re enjoying you’d have to pay the pied piper. That would adequately present the message DLC Quest is aiming to deliver, and it would deftly mirror the actual experience gamers have when a game’s ending is cut off and sold to them, for example.
As it stands, DLC Quest almost provides a pro-DLC message: if I could buy DLC to make this game actually good, you’re damn right I’d pay for it. Oh well. Maybe next time, eh, fellas?