“Cynical 7 Demo” Review
Verdict: 3/5 stars. It’s got a lot of heart and humour and joy and desperation and a lot of other emotions I wonder if I’ve ever felt in the past. But they’re all here in this game, so please enjoy it.
Oh, Christ, peering into this game is like peering into myself. Not in the smarmy, sarcastic, Statesian veneer that is slathered across this entire title which, though damn funny, is decidedly low – brow while too often confusing “sarcasm” and “reference” for “comedy”. Neither in the way that the main character is an awkward, skeezy, loser, uppity, aimless Millennial son – of – a – bitch, because I am none of those things, so sod off. It’s in the way this game is so obviously made by rank amateurs, from its construction to its marketing to the very foundation of its being, that I begin to understand that I, too, would like to make games with this same sort of irreverent, cynical, though still hopeful tone, and to do it with the same amount of scrubby detail and quick – and – dirty programming that shows a team that really cares about the work they create.
This isn’t an amazing game, as little “game” as it has, and it’s obvious that it is still a beta release, which I am hoping the developers will continue to work on even though they are going to fail their Kickstarter goal with a 99% certainty (if this dubiously – sourced French blog is anything to go by). It’s got heart, but not because the æsthetics make you feel for the starving artists who imbued this poor, unknown little video game with so much scenery porn, so many overdesigned characters, and so many fancy particle effects and other unnecessary bullshit. This game looked like it was pulled out of 2005 Newgrounds and is one bad colour palette away from having my eyeballs shut down and my brain refusing to process stimuli, and the style is charming in the same way a dog with wheels for legs is charming.
But at the same time, it is amazing to bear witness to, for having understood the creation of this thing is a small miracle in itself. Every act of games development takes so much untold devotion, so many months of constant struggle and education trying to make the thing work in the way precise way you demand it to, and so many little compromises that one must relent to in order to make a title such as this technically possible. It is so unassuming, and yet I emphasise with it so much because I have been in the same position as it. I have made games as a hobby, and games that I wished would graduate from hobbyism. And I emphasise with it because of how unknown it is, how unknown it is likely to be, and how even something as simple – looking and sporadic as this title took so much toil and trouble just to produce the rudimentary demo you see today. It’s unreal, and looking back on my playthrough of this game, it feels less and less real as time has gone by since.
Drunk out of Love
The story goes you’re a super badass hipster who saves old ladies and doesn’t afraid of anything, who murks a robber in an introduction to the innovating gameplay mechanic of going to the right – coloured squares and hitting them with either a heavy or light attack, ending with you dropping a literal ass on them in a scene which made me roll my eyes and cringe at the same time — so the game is already inspiring new, awful feelings in me. Then you wake up and realise you’re just a regular hipster with no money, career, financial acumen, living out of an apartment he can barely afford and letting his dreams die because he’s too much of a spineless idiot to take charge of his own life. Whoa, hey, I thought role – playing games were supposed to have us play different roles from reality.
There is a significant portion of the plot dedicated around pizza, to the point where it’s the crux for pretty much everything else that happens. You call the pizza guy, you talk to this girl while getting pizza, you hang around the pizza place waiting for pizza, you fight a pizza customer who messes up your pizza, you get another pizza, you lose THAT pizza, get a thousand bucks from Hulk Hogan (as one does), the girl notices your money, I mean the pizza on your shirt, and you have take – out that surprisingly isn’t pizza. I want my money back. I demand this video game have a minimum of 85% pizza – related scenes before I even consider donating to their Internet Welfare campaign.
Of course there’s more that happens in this game, including how you get shitfaced drunk at a party that your friend made you go to, face a literal representation of all your life’s failures, fight some asshole who says you never called Saul and so are banned from the party, break up with your moderately attractive redhead friend, and see how Hulk Hogan works for the mob and ends up breaking your legs in one of the most blatant cliffhangers I’ve ever seen, even if it is an effective cliffhanger and makes me pissed – off how the developers made the Kickstarter an “all – or – nothing” goal so there’s even less chance of me seeing if Mr. Cynical ends up in a wheelchair for the rest of the game. Although they’ll probably Deus Ex Machina that shit if (or WHEN) the full game comes out, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.
You got… jokes?
I downloaded Cynical 7 (demo) before I had the abhorrent displeasure, I mean the absolute privilege, to experience Heartbound (demo), so I wasn’t expecting this title to end up as an action – RPG, especially given how the box art is vague as to what the hell this game is. I expected it to be one of those experimental art games where things sort of happen and you’re just along for the ride. And to be honest, it is sort of like that, though the difference between this game and the other RPGs I so often lambast is that, first and foremost, there’s an actual plot to this title, with a beginning, middle, and end that doesn’t make stuff up as it sees fit. The characters have actual, original personalities that don’t follow archetypes such as “tough fish girl” or “quirky pet sidekick”, and though there isn’t much story for us to peer into their deepest desires, it’s easy to understand who they are and what their place in the world is in just a few sentences. Yes, things just sort of happen, but it’s interesting to see how they happen and what will happen which is the draw of this game — a draw that only exists because the characters are built to be characters instead of plot devices for a hackneyed story.
I did say this game was low – brow, though mostly in the sense the humour has a little bit of everything going on. You have your satire, your burlesque, your farce, your bathos, your parody, your absurdism, your reference, your dry wit, your wet wit, your sarcastic pointing out of the obvious, and even the dead meme or two. All of this is told through an air of modern desperation, where you’re not trying to be deliberately funny in imitation of the Clown Arts, but instead in the Mime Disciplines where the humour is in letting your mere existence be funny, and having the audience know it without ever being in on the joke. One time the game takes its piss out of itself by having a laugh track at a particularly corny joke, and that was the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. You see, the amateur comedian knows to never laugh at his own jokes. The professional knows when to laugh with the audience, and enjoy the experience of having told the joke at all.
Considering how adding in the most minor of features into a video game requires a six – week schedule and a research grant bigger than the economy of The Gambia, it’s impressive to see how much set dressing you’re able to interact with, though with the dual disappointment that you can’t inspect absolutely everything, even in small spaces like bathrooms where you would expect to at least make an Undertale reference like “Despite everything, it’s still you” followed by a joke about how you really wish you were somebody else, or how you still ugly AF. In most RPGs, I skip talking to or looking at anybody I don’t need to, because the majority of it is irrelevant to my investment in the game. I’d need something to make it worth my while to inspect everything, like some interesting conversation or some good jokes. It’s fortunate this game delivers on the jokes and made me care about it substantially more than just an obligation to grind through for the sake of spitting out some words on my Froge Bloge.
So many critics praise the detail of graphics, the detail of the world, or the detail of the set dressings without understanding what those details are in service of. And the vast majority of the time, they are in service of absolutely nothing. They exist simply to exist — to be a part of a trend that will die within the year, to exist as eye candy for the bored majority who doesn’t care about art as art, and to satisfy the eternal demand to create traditionally “good” art without defining what “good” means to them. I therefore appreciate a game as simple and honest in its construction as Cynical 7, because when I look at it, I understand it is not the production of a soulless corporation. It could have never been such a product. I look at it and I see within it the efforts of a small team of developers taking it as a piece of art that serves as an extension of the makers, profits be damned. It is rare to find a title as honest as this. And though its honesty comes with rough edges, I would rather they be rough than to never exist at all.
It is as I said: not amazing to play, not amazing to look at, and not amazing to experience. Do you have to play this title, as much as one can say they “have” to experience anything in the arts? No, and I wouldn’t even consider it one of the top three games I’ve played this month. But who cares about the arbitrary pissing contest I’ve constructed out of this magazine? It’s a good game, I appreciate it for being good, and most of all I appreciate it for existing amongst the other comedy – action – RPGs and showing those clowns what it takes to really be one!
Although it’s interesting to note there are almost no RPG elements present in this demo, and so it’s really more of a… walking simulator…
Zero stars. Not enough pizza.