In the wake of Yooka – Laylee’s tepid critical response, including a review from Jim Sterling which made me read it over twice to make sure the game was actually as god – awful as he opined, I will celebrate the continued failure of crowdfunded games — in the grand tradition of Mighty № 9 and some other games we don’t talk about — with yet another indie game that has failed to failed to grow up from the heritage which made it.
Now, you all know I don’t like doing this. Trashing somebody’s pet project, especially one made in good spirits, is something that’s cruel on a bad day and bureaucratic on a good one. I know somebody’s feelings are going to be hurt when I say I didn’t like a thing they did. Bringing up something like Momodora is like insulting a sacred cow that the developer spent their whole life worshiping. They will feel sad. And that’s terrible.
I do it for a few reasons. One, accepting bad work because of the inexperience of the artist encourages other new artists to make bad work, poisoning our culture. Two, it doesn’t matter to me how sad an individual feels, because there are dozens more who read these reviews and learn something from it and therefore become better artists. Three, I am one of the very, very few people in the publishing world with the good taste and charisma to recognise the flaws of games, a trait shared only by… well, Jim, funny enough, but also his totally – not – gay former partner Yahtzee. There are more, but I have yet to meet them.
Being one of this select group of aristocrats, my opinion carries a little more weight around these parts than the opinions of some random commentator on Itch saying how much they loved a game without giving any reasons why or going into any depth of opinion. Just as baseless criticism is damaging to an artist, so is baseless compliments, for there are very, very few people who are honest enough with an artist to tell them how they can improve, and not just be Yes Men for an artist to affirm their faulty opinions of themselves. We are the devil’s advocates, and we are essential to a healthy culture, and a climate which improves products for the good of all consumers. With that said, here’s Momodora, which the artist describes as “very roughly put together and really unpolished”. Boy, do I believe it.
Diplomatically inspired by…
The very first thing you see when you look at this game, you think to yourself, “wow, Temmie Chang drew the title screen? Why’d she spend her time on that Undertale trash?” If you’re not me, you will instead think, “wow, this game looks lawsuit – levels like Cave Story.” Not that I have a problem with another game being inspired by — or ripping off if you’re less diplomatic — another one. To take the legacy of your forefathers and to expand upon it is one of the great things art is for, and is one of the reasons Gun Godz turned out alright. A free culture is using that culture to create your own work; even if the artist directly used Cave Story assets, I wouldn’t have a problem. But I do have a problem with playing a product that I don’t enjoy. That’s a waste of my time, and that’s no good.
Cute aside: the README file says: “Copyright 2009 — 2016 (do not distribute or sell this game without authorization!)”, which could have been replaced with a notice telling me to go fuck myself. For all that the artist took from their inspirations, for all that they claim it was a love letter to the culture created by Cave Story and Mega Man, they have absolutely no interest in giving back to that culture. This is what the copyright monopoly does. It lets you take and take and take, but it never, ever, lets you give back. How is this fair? How is it fair that one may distribute ideas like this game, and yet the public cannot spread those ideas? Why is it that so many products fight for our attention, yet when they have it, they restrict what we can do with the product? It’s selfish, plain and simple. I will never support this draconian system; it’s a monopoly that does not deserve to be followed.
The graphics, like the soundtrack, is functional and consistent but shows a lack of innovation. Hmm, giant eyeball enemies. How shall I file them away, with the hundred other ones games churn out? The environments show a lack of place, being metal and stone with no identity of its own. Compare and contrast Fallout: New Vegas, which has one of the most unique worlds that gaming has ever built, save for the other Fallout games. There is no story for why we are in these environments, being built, simply, because it is a video game, and this is what video games look like. It’s immature is what it is. I thought we have advanced past the era where you could simply plop someone into a decent – looking world and tell them to have fun. Haven’t we matured, since then? Don’t we expect better from our games, to give us some reason to play and not just play for the sake of it?
There’s no sense of world being built here. You get a leaf as your main weapon, which implies we’d be in a naturalist setting, but then we get energy weapons and machine guns. Along the way we pick up flowers from caves with a lot of flowers, which are just set dressing as far as I know. Whatever creativity exists here is misplaced, and though it’s all drawn in a similar style, the world itself shows no consistency. The worst example I’ve seen is the Colt Single – Action Army. Not only is the reference to real – world firearms a big misstep in a game that is based firmly in fantasy, but it also implies a world where Colt exists and there are people who use these guns. I wouldn’t ind so much, but all the weapons we get are kind of bad.
Riddle me this: am I the only person who thinks that making the starting weapon the most powerful weapon in the game is bad game design? For all the game wants to be Cave Story, it sure didn’t pay attention when playing it. Yes, Cave Story’s weapons had varying degrees of power and use, but they were all usable in some form, even if the starting weapon was the most reliable (and also turns into the best weapon, if one looks up the walkthrough). With this game, you get your typical machine – gun, missile – launcher, single – pistol mix, but all of them are so weak that it’s not even worth the bother. All I used was the shield and first gun to get my way through, because even if the Single Action Army was advertised as the most powerful handgun ever devised, it sure doesn’t feel like it.
That’s another thing with this game: none of the weapons have any oomph to them, and most of the enemies have such high health that you’re just swinging your leaf at them for six seconds waiting for them to die. When you do this three times a minute, it gets really boring, really fast. There’s no satisfaction in knocking out an enemy, because the weapons do such piddling damage that it’s a chore to get through, and giving all the enemies artificially higher health is making artificially higher challenge. For every game that comes up with new and exciting ways to fight bad guys, there are ten that decide the best course of action is to simply increase their health with no new mechanics added. A game is an opportunity to try new ideas, not to stick with the tired old formulas that just aren’t engaging.
The shield is a pretty neat thing, even if its implementation is poor. There is no reason to never have the shield up, so making us manually activate it is a chore. If you switch to the boomerang after activating your shield, you’ll have to switch back five seconds later, taking up your mental power and ability to multitask, causing you to lose concentration on the game and tie up your fingers, before you fall into a spike that removes 80% of your maximum health, because the developer decided to also take the worst parts of Mega Man and Cave Story. Why not let the shield auto – recharge? Why do you taunt us with worthless busywork? Instead of spikes, why not give us something that tests our abilities should we fall into them? Why put in a boomerang if we never get to use it because we’re too busy mashing the shield key? This game has the potential to be fun. It isn’t.
Full disclosure, I quit playing this game right before I went to Hell, because there is an unspoken rule in indie games that the final level has to either be Hell, a giant temple, or a space station. I don’t care what OpenCritic has to say about playing games to completion; this game was annoying in the first half – hour, and continued to be annoying for the second, during which I could have quit at any time and be sound in the knowledge this game is indeed one big annoyance. It shows a lack of imagination and a lack of execution, and overall was not very pleasant to play.
It’s a product that took so much from the games it likes without realising what made them great. In a gambit to make a love – letter, it didn’t do anything to earn its love. It sure looks like a video game. But does it play like one? Yes. But not a good one. Whatever limited amounts of creativity it displays might be expanded in the sequels, for even the artist thinks the sequels are better. Are they? Who knows?