By Scott Ramage / July 6th, 2020
|Release Date||May 29th, 2020|
|Platform||Steam, PS4, XB1, Switch|
|Age Rating||M for Mature|
Welcome to the would-be Bowfinger of video games! Perhaps I should explain. Much like how Bowfinger is a comedy film about making a movie, Indiecalypse is a humor-driven video game about making a video game. Pulling off a meta take on a medium, any medium, takes a lot of finesse and clever writing, and I was quite curious to see if JanduSoft could pull it off.
Indiecalypse mostly follows Jack Jackson, who wants to be the greatest game developer of all time. Through several misadventures he ends up getting kicked out of programming school, but finds an ad for a game jam with a $10,000 prize. He then partners up with a composer and an artist to try and make the ultimate game, and various struggles ensue. If Jack sounds remotely likable at this point, I’m sorry for misleading you. He also moderates a forum called 4Chin, goes by the username DarkPenetrator69 and has a massive superiority complex. There, now you have a more complete picture of this guy.
Before I dive into how Indiecalypse plays, I have to explain its structure. The first part of the game is a side-scrolling adventure in which the player walks around an environment and interacts with people or objects. The second part is a mini-game of some sort which relates to a task the character must perform. It reminds me of games like the Bishi Bashi Special series or Incredible Crisis, but with an extra mode of play connecting each mini-game. There are 25 of said mini-games and the abrupt stop-start nature of switching between these different modes of play is jarring, and a bit frustrating at times. At least the music that plays for each game is appropriate to what’s being parodied, even if the songs themselves aren’t particularly memorable.
Speaking of frustrating, I can’t explain how Indiecalypse controls like I would any other game because, thanks to the mini-games, the controls constantly change. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, except the explanations for each mini-game consist of nothing but a few screenshots with hands pointing to various things on screen. At no point is there any explanation for which buttons do what, so every game starts with mashing every button on the controller to see if they do anything. Outside of the mini-games, I would frequently load in to find my character moving to one side of the screen. At first I thought this was Joy-Con drift, but no, it just happens sometimes.
The mini-games in Indiecalypse tend to parody other popular games, sort of. I say “sort of” because it looks like someone ran out of ideas and filled in the blanks with other stuff. Sure, there are parodies of things like Papers, Please, Hotline Miami and Duck Hunt, but at one point there’s a mini-game which is just Simon. There will be a Cooking Mama parody, then a few mini-games later a Breaking Bad cooking game pops up because they already used Cooking Mama. The Enter the Gungeon and The Binding of Isaac parodies are so similar it’s hard to justify both existing. Other mini-games are things like tossing wadded up dollars into a cup, or a dress up game with only four options for three different areas. Eventually the mini-games devolved to the point all I was doing was moving left or right, or in one case pressing down now and then. Overall, most of these mini-games would be better off uploaded as individual flash games to Newgrounds than as part of a full-fledged release.
After a while, I came to dread the moments in Indiecalypse when a mini-game appeared because of how ill-conceived and poorly executed some of them are. One is styled like an old school FPS (which I’m fairly certain the map was copy-pasted, considering I found a secret at the same place it was in the original), but at a couple points I walked directly through the walls. The Duck Hunt parody blocks almost a third of the screen with trash bags, which the targets love to fly behind. The rhythm game parodies don’t line the inputs up with the rhythm of the music. There’s a Mortal Kombat parody which lasts less than thirty seconds and just involves dodging a few high or low attacks. One generic platformer saw me falling through platforms and dying, or bouncing off platforms that already disappeared. Considering how short or simplistic all the mini-games are in a game featuring someone trying to become a great game coder, it’s baffling to see how many mistakes in design or coding kept popping up.
Possibly the best part of Indiecalypse is its art style. It’s reminiscent of various Cartoon Network shows, and animated pretty smoothly throughout. I am of course talking about the non-mini-game sections. The mini-games vary in visual quality, based on whether they’re trying to look like the game they’re parodying or not. The Tapper parody features a sprite which glitches out and ends up on top of the large machines in the background constantly. The Super Punch-Out!! parody’s framerate is on par with the average PowerPoint presentation. The absolute worst looking ones, however, are the 3D mini-games. The combination of poorly used cel shading and bizarre color palettes turn these games into the psychedelic video game equivalent of ugly Christmas sweaters. One 3D mini-game doesn’t fit this bill, but does have noticeable seams where parts of the level don’t line up. Far and away the best looking mini-game is the Cuphead paordy, but as is a pattern in this game, even that found a way to be ruined.
Okay, I’ve danced around the biggest issue with Indiecalypse long enough. It prominently advertises its use of dark humor, and I have no problem with that. However, what’s in this game is not dark humor. This game feels like it was written by a junior high student who badly wants to be the class clown. One of the first characters to pop up is a guy named Professor Fuckeye, and later on there’s a lady named Miss Saggytits. A couple characters wet themselves, which is supposed to be funny I think. At one point there’s a group whose name abbreviates to “PENIS.” Laugh, damn you. An over-the-top gay guy dies in a bondage hammock, then someone cuts his pelvis off and uses it in an improvised art piece. Please laugh. There’s a character later on called Cliff Blowsinski. I imagine whoever came up with that got a high-five for coming up with something so clever. Then there are times the game makes references to random movies or songs, but forgets that a reference is not in itself a joke, and they fall flat. Oh but wait, there’s the Cuphead parody, titled “Bloodhead: Don’t Deal with the Devil.” Aside from the laziness of not changing the tagline at all, this mini-game features the female character flying through her own vagina on a bloody tampon, ending with a short boss fight against a lady in a red hat and trench coat named Carmen Sanmenstru. The only dark humor I can think of is that some people get killed, which isn’t dark humor; it’s just dark. Even when it tries to poke fun at game development or the industry at large, it comes off as flat and awkwardly executed. I realize humor is highly subjective, but I highly regret subjecting myself to this game’s “humor.”
Even on the story front, Indiecalypse doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. The game jam Jack was gearing up for? The one with the $10,000 cash prize? That gets dropped and never mentioned again. Later Jack needs to find money fast so the landlord doesn’t evict him and an old man he “accidentally” killed. That gets dropped and never mentioned again. For reasons I still don’t understand, the musician of the group joined them because a pot used to make drugs was also used to serve kids in a cafeteria, which made all of them and the building explode. The ending doesn’t come off as an ending so much as the game running out of ideas and needing to end by any means necessary. If the humor were better this might not matter so much, but as is everything feels half-baked.
Indiecalypse stands as an example of misplaced effort. Instead of being one polished game, it’s a cobbled together mess of several different incomplete builds of games. Even the Kickstarter backer list seems rushed, since none of the names are in alphabetical order. The humor isn’t dark so much as desperate and annoying to a degree that even Meet the Spartans thinks it’s overdoing it. In a way its portrayal of video game fans and developers reminds me of the movie Ready to Rumble, which is about pro wrestling and designed for its fans, but ends up depicting those fans as dumb, immature, irrational troglodytes. This game isn’t even four hours long, but not only did it feel much longer, I had to keep taking breaks every twenty minutes or so. Sometimes I just had to play something else, but usually I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling because this game’s sense of humor has that effect. $12.99 is far too much, and I’m not sure any sale price could justify ever buying this.
Review copy provided by publisher.