By Adam Smith on April 5th, 2012 at 3:30 pm.
My wrestling credentials are top notch. I may not be able to fight my way out of a paper bag or open a bag of crisps, but given that my every relationship relies on the keeping of kayfabe, I’m more in tune with the mental processes of the mountainous men who grapple in the squared circle than an onlooker might think. Given that I also have an aptitude for both pointing and clicking, I am the perfect man to tell you wot I think of Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass.
As a rule I try to avoid playing games with titles that sound so wrong when my larynx wraps itself around them. My attempts to say ‘da’ as a definite article, rather than the repeated syllable of a cultural movement that people at university pretend to be interested in, is so preposterous that it borders on the obscene and offensive. Naturally, this led me to consider releasing an audiobook version of these thoughts on Da New Guys but dat would have been dumb.
So, here’s da thing, capiche? I’ve written about Da New Guys before but…no, I can’t just leave that hanging there. Is ‘capiche’ even right in this context? I’m imagining a sort of Brooklyn mobster, or maybe a short order cook, giving the sort of inflection to my ‘da’ that all but demands it be in the same sentence as a ‘doity’ and a ‘rat’. However, given that the three lead characters in the game are as British as Bovril I’m a little stumped as to how they’d go about saying it themselves. Awkwardly, I reckon, just like me. One of them even says ‘wot’ on a regular basis and tells people to ‘get out of it’.
I’ll talk about the characters then. Da New Guys are a trio of professional wrestlers, one a monstrous bruiser, one an intellectual in protective gear and the last an egotistical weakling idiot called Brain. During the course of the game, control switches between them, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by choice, and I found that my enjoyment and wellbeing was often linked to which of the three I was forced to become. It’s not that they play differently to one another – it’s all object puzzles, pointing, clicking, dialogue and the occasional stealth section or maze (of which more later) – but I dislike Brain enough to find playing him a chore.
It’s odd. He’s supposed to be unlikable. Inappropriately named, socially inept, voiced with a whinging monotone, he doesn’t fit the game’s world or theme. How did he become a wrestler? He’s not well-built, he has no charisma and he’s apparently not even old enough to drink. People don’t dislike him because he’s a heel, fuelling their loathing, they dislike him because he’s smug and inconsequential.
Perhaps it’s a sign of success, causing me to wish bodily harm on the bearded blighter. At one point, Simon, the Big Show of the group, threatens to punch his face off and I felt a momentary catharsis, only to be disappointed that they were soon working together again. Simon’s OK, I guess. He’s big, occasionally grumpy but mostly just a lump of a thing, sprawled on a couch hoping for a quiet life and a lad’s mag to read. The Defender’s my favourite, although I wish he wouldn’t address everyone as “my friend”; it’s the kind of dialogue quirk that might work on paper but sounds awkward and forced when voiced.
In fact, even though some of the vocalisations are half-decent, the game might be better enjoyed without them. The gags rarely rely on timing and the voices that I imagine for the characters fit better than the recorded ones, with the notable exception of the villain. The strangest thing about the humour is how rarely it relates to the ridiculous, carnival world of pro wrestling. Disappointingly, the wrestlers could be off-duty slacker private detectives for all that their activities relate to the soap opera of suplex and spandex.
The Wrestle Zone is this world’s WWE, a large organisation with a cast of circus strongmen, freaks, villans and heroes sweating through choreographed clashes to entertain the adoring masses. Hardly any time is spent exploring the corporation or the characters though. Instead, Da New Guys is the equivalent of a cartoon about superheroes hanging out at home between jobs. Look how ordinary they are! Watching TV, drinking a beer, acting like slobs! I keep wanting to describe the humour as ‘gentle’, which is probably just a kinder way of saying I didn’t laugh.
I smiled a lot though. Despite kidnappings, master criminals, high security prisons and electrocution, it’s a laidback, easygoing sort of thing, never over-facing with too many objects and locations at once, never being so illogical that I ended up using a smoked salmon on a mermaid’s teardrop in order to remove my contact lenses, and an initial MacGuffin that manages to assign motive without ever mattering enough to cause tension. Maybe ‘gentle’ is the right word.
If Da New Guys had embraced the wrestling theme, giving it the sort of rib-tickling bearhug that Monkey Island applied to all things piratical, it would almost certainly be a more interesting game. As it is there are few moments that celebrate or skewer the mad spectacle that is sports entertainment, which is a great shame because there’s a language and lore powering those muscular manoeuvres that is ripe for puncturing, affectionately or otherwise.
Because the story is one of crime and kidnap, with a nemesis confusingly in place from the characters’ previous appearances in animation and freeware gaming, the protagonists are essentially investigators rather than wrestlers. At first I thought the city they lived in was built around the theme, a suburban sprawl in which wrestling is the only entertainment known, perhaps similar to Metalocalypse’s opening gambit: how changed would the world be if a death metal band were the most powerful cultural force on the planet?
I don’t know exactly why, but the first half hour of Da New Guys led me to believe there was a similar approach here; what if professional wrestling was as popular as every non-entertainment sport combined and reality TV to boot? Or if everybody in the world was a wrestler.
While the puzzles occasionally involve arm wrestling giant bouncers they also involve breaking into jail cells and retrieving teddy bears. On top of that, or perhaps beside it, are the non-puzzle portions. I remember a time when every game had a stealth sequence that people complained about. Super Meat Boy would have had one, Bulletstorm would have had several because it’s in first-person and Crusader Kings II would have been brought low by countless inappropriate searchlight-evasion segments.
Da New Guys harks back to those times, squeezing a bit of stealth in between the inventory abuse, and although it’s thankfully not very difficult it does feel like a strange and somewhat pointless addition. There are a couple of other variations to the pointing and clicking, none offensively difficult, but one maze in particular is more time-sapping than I would have liked without being any fun at all.
I had a pleasant enough time, even if I did want to throttle Brain rather than rescue him, but by next week I’ll probably have forgotten almost everything about the game. That’s good, in that it passed the few hours it took to complete in a quiet and unassuming fashion, without leaving the scars of the one loathsome puzzle that so many adventure games through the years have contained. It’s also obviously not a recommendation to set some time aside for the game at the next opportunity.
Try the demo. The full game is more of the same, with nothing too surprising and nothing too disheartening. There’s a weird world of wrestling to explore, but regrettably Da New Guys is set in a place that’s only slightly strange and that’s not even nearly strange enough for my liking.
Da New Guys is available now from Wadjet Eye Games, priced at £8.16.