Friday, September 5, 2014

DLC Quest / Live Freemium or Die (Going Loud Studios, 2013)

While it's not as common as with other mediums, sometimes games attempt to reach beyond mere entertainment to actually make a social statement. The Oddworld series took a stand against the rise of corporatism, the Deus Ex series spotlighted discrimination and fear of change, and American McGee's Alice series looked at mental illness and how it's viewed by society. Occasionally, the focus is turned inwardly and a game will challenge the video game industry itself. That is the case with DLC Quest and its expansion, Live Freemium or Die.

It's no secret that the gaming world has a love/hate relationship with downloadable content. Sometimes it's wonderful, as when a game you love gets additional levels and missions without having to wait for a sequel. Sometimes it's convenient, as when a busy gamer pays to skip hours of grinding to get right to the fun part. Sometimes it's silly, as with hats, lots and lots of hats. And sometimes it's just plain wrong, as when what should have been part of the game itself, something fundamental to the games mechanics or any sense of enjoyable balance is sold at an additional cost within the game you already payed for.

The important thing to know about DLC Quest, is that all of the purchases use in game currency, not real money. It's a game about DLC, not a game of DLC. Much like Evoland, DLC Quest starts with what is essentially a broken game. These crucial elements such as sound and the ability to jump are purchased at an in game shop using coins that are found throughout the world Super Mario style.

At it's core, DLC Quest is a fairly simple 2D platformer with retro inspired graphics. I mentioned in my Wake review how the retro graphics fad has quickly gone from original and charming to lazy and cliche, but in this case it actually serves a purpose. Around the overlap period of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, the 2D platformer was undeniably the most popular and successful genre out there. Whenever a new game was announced, it was assumed to be a platformer unless it specified otherwise. Many consider this to be a golden era, both for arcades and living rooms.

By harkening back to this simpler time, while juxtaposing the abrasive elements of modern era DLC, the entire concept that has snuck so subtly into our world is held up under an unforgiving light for the scrutiny of all. Would we have put up with it back then? Would we have embraced it? It's not the most subtle of commentaries, but it's certainly an entertaining one.

Now to get off the soapbox and talk about the game itself. First, the controls are tight and responsive. For this genre, poor controls are a deal breaker, and obviously somebody at Going Loud Studios took the time to get this aspect right. Hopping from one patch of floating grass covered dirt to the next is as much fun as ever. While power-ups are all purchased at one of the two shopkeepers in the game (Nickel and Dime), exploring new areas to collect enough coins, and then backtracking to previously unreachable locales after expanding your abilities lends the game a metroidvania flavor, which for me is always a welcome direction.

The expansion, as would be expected, expands on all of this. Live Freemium or Die gives the player a new map, new NPCs, and a whole new set of DLC upgrades to work towards. In a way, it's more of the same since the overall look and feel is so similar. In a way, it's a lot more of the same since this expansion content is larger than the original game. For me, since I purchased all of it together on a Steam sale, it was simply the 2nd act in a two act production. Both the original DLC Quest content and the Live Freemium or Die expansion are fairly short, so I'd recommend playing through them both consecutively.

The story of DLC Quest is lighthearted and entertaining as it plays off genre and industry cliches while poking fun at games both classic and contemporary. Not even other indie games are off limit as Live Freemium or Die makes some fairly obvious stabs at games such as Limbo and Plants vs Zombies. The worst skewering however is lobbed at Skyrim and its now infamous horse armor PR nightmare. The dialog is light yet well written throughout, and the NPCs, while none very deep, do achieve their own personalities to the point where it brings a smile whenever one returns unexpectedly due to a plot twist.

As I mentioned above, the graphics in DLC Quest are obviously retro inspired, but they tend to push beyond the limitations that a direct 16-bit style would allow by adding subtle effects such as drop shadows, particles, and even a slight blurring on the background layers to imply depth of field. It's a pleasant enough looking game with a simple art direction that serves its point well, but it won't win any awards.

DLC Quest is one of those games where I fell in love with the premise as soon as I heard about it, but I was skeptical as to how it would play as an actual game. It turns out the game plays great, and kept me entertained for the entire short time I was playing it. It's a pretty affordable game, so I'd recommend picking up a copy if you're a fan of vintage platforming mixed with witty satire. Oh, and there's hats, lots and lots of hats.

No comments:

Post a Comment