By John Walker on March 20th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
DLC Quest has escaped the murky mire of Greenlight, to be on Steam proper. How does this satirical platformer fare, in the bold cruel world? I’ve played through, spent all my imaginary money, and can tell you wot I think:
DLC Quest doesn’t quite work. Because it isn’t the thing it sets out to satirise. What it is, is an amusing – often laugh-out-loud funny – short platform game (two, in fact), that takes cynical swipes at the nature of modern gaming. Your character at the start can only move to the right, until you unlock the Movement DLC allowing moving left and jumping. All the necessary abilities to continue on are unlocked in the same way – collecting in-game coins, then buying the new “DLC” from a shopkeeper character, in order to progress.
It’s presented very well. Cute graphics, lovely jokes with animations only unlocked once you’ve “paid” for them, the completely superfluous addition of zombies, and many other appropriate, witty snarks at the rather odd state of microtransactions and DLC that have infested gaming, as publishers seek every avenue of “monetisation”.
But it isn’t it. DLC Quest, seemingly by an accident of its commentary, has employed a perfectly valid mechanic for a platform game. Gathering coins to unlock abilities, with each new skill allowing entry to previously inaccessible areas and thus the collection of more coins, is a sort of Metroidvania device that proves a rather decent way to play such a game. Of course at the start you’re without animations, music, even a pause button, and the wit of this is directly appreciable. But you’re also without double-jump, weapons and maps, that are perfectly valid additions to an exploratory platform game, sensibly unlocked through play. It’s definitely arch and critical in its deployment of them, sarcastic remarks read on signs, or uttered by other characters stood in the world, but it always feels like a commentary on a system with which you’re not currently engaged.
I think DLC Quest could have been a really interesting statement, rather than a quite fun game in its own right, had it only committed to the idea it was spoofing. The game costs money. Albeit a very tiny amount – £2 at full price for both DLC Quest and the even better Live Freemium Or Die. I wish it could have been a free game, with each of its in-game purchases requiring a genuine transaction of money, totally the £2 asking price by the time you’re finished. To have to genuinely fork out the 20p, to go through the process of entering payment details to gain those necessary skills, would raise this to the satire it seems to want to be.
Perhaps that’s impractical – tiny transfers of money can often cost more to process than they’re worth. But unfortunately the result is a system that completely fails to make its point. Spending coins gathered in the game on in-game items – that’s gaming! That’s a good thing.
It’s worth noting that the brand new Live Freemium Or Die campaign is even better than the first, far more aggressively sniping at unpleasant tropes in modern gaming, while offering some really very decent platforming. It’s trickier too, and in being so, again creates that same situation again of a rather good game, reliant on coin collecting mechanics that in no way act as a critique. Still though, key words here are “really very decent”.
For £2 (and £1.60 right now) there’s no good reason not to grab the game. It’s a well-made platformer, albeit a brief one even with the new levels. And there are some proper chuckles inside, none of which I’ll pointlessly spoil. It makes some grumbling commentary with which everyone will likely find some catharsis, while entertaining with enough hidden areas, bonuses to seek, achievements (“awardments”) to hunt down, to wile away a good couple of hours. It’s a touch heavy-handed in places, the opening few minutes writing its jokes on pianos then dropping them on your head. But it certainly falls short of its ultimate aim, and I so dearly wish it could somehow have required genuine financial transfers throughout. At that point, it would be a genuine satire, rather than a pleasing spoof.