Wot I Think: MechaNika

I’m getting a touch fed up of games that don’t make it clear they’re episodic. I had a lot of good things to say about MechaNika [official site] (along with some raised eyebrows), right up until it ended with an anticlimax, no suggestion of how it would continue, and no mention that it was an incomplete story on its Steam page. It really doesn’t help that there’s little to no optimisation for PC, either. Dammit people, these things aren’t hard. It’s incredibly cheap, I have lots of good things to say about it, but dammit. Here’s wot I think.

In a world where MechaNika had in any way a rewarding conclusion, even if left open-ended, the review would go something like this:

Blimey, this is a weird one. I kind of really like it for that. MechaNika is a short adventure about a seven year old girl called Nika, and her desire to destroy most of the world because of how boring it is. In order to do so, she wants to collect twelve components that will let her build a mecha-suit with which her reign of destruction can be carried out.

That’s an auspicious start. It gets stranger. Nika lives with her uninterested family – a distracted and distant father, a television-addled mother, a depressed and lonely grandfather, and a brother who obsessively plays online videogames. Oh, and there’s the boarded up nursery that would have belonged to her still-born sister. Good god. Her teacher at school plays mobile games instead of teaching, and her fellow classmates accept the drudgery. Nika does not, hence her desire to kill them all. If that strikes you as a strange and morbid ambition for a seven year old, she also carries a hipflask containing cocoa and cognac, from which she glugs when she wants inspiration.

Aaaaaaand it arguably goes into even more peculiar territory once the references to goat fucking start.

Despite its extremely cute (slightly Adventure Time-esque) cartoon design, and a painstakingly patronising unskippable tutorial for how to play a point-and-click adventure at the start, this is obviously not a game intended for kids. There are a couple of moments in there so grim I’m not sure it’s intended for adults, either. But it somehow, despite its crassness, manages to feel charming. A real highlight is when Nika bumps into the creators of the game, and discusses with them the consequences of her destroying the world they’ve made, all done without any awkward winking at the camera.

The process of seeking out all the objects is fairly routine point-and-click stuff, but along the way you meet a really unique selection of characters, have some genuinely strange conversations, and at a couple of points, get quizzed on things that’ll likely require you to switch out to Wikipedia.

Although switching out is a touch annoying, since this is yet again a game clearly intended for tablets, and hastily ported to PC. It works with the mouse, at least, but the “options” screen lets you turn all the sounds and music off or on, or switch the font from illegible to legible. That’s it – clearly the same options that would have come with the mobile version. It’s stuck in full-screen (even Alt-Enter doesn’t work), and it rather unhelpfully keeps playing its music once you’ve task-switched away.

In the end, the game’s so short (maybe two hours at most) that perhaps this isn’t such a huge issue, but it remains far short of acceptable for releasing a game on PC. But the chances are, any annoyance at this will be forgotten in the face of Nika’s charmingly awful ways. It’s not a “ha ha, I could kill them!” sort of thing. It’s a genuine plan to murder most of the population of the planet. It’s a touch disconcerting, which I found interesting…

And that’s about as far as I can get with not mentioning how it then just bloody stops. Collect all the components for the mecha-suit, and no. The end. Nothing. No pay-off, no purpose, no reward. What a pile of piss.

Dig deep enough on their Steam page (but not the game’s website), not in its extended description, but buried in an update post, and you’ll find,

“For those who don’t know about the game, MechaNika is the first episode of what we call the Psychotic Adventures, games that take place in the Psychotic world. This first episode features Nika, a smart 7 year old girl that doesn’t like this world, so she wants to destroy it… We are already working on new Psychotic Adventures, so your feedback is really important to us.”

My feedback would be: How about telling people that this is a fraction of a game at the point of sale? It’s only a tiny £2.80, as you’d hope for something less than two hours long, but the principle remains: if something’s episodic, you say so. Starting with putting it in the title.

It’s such a shame, because a complete game would get a recommendation from me. It’s a troubling game in many ways, but without ever being overtly dickish about it. The hipflask is perhaps a little trite, but the grim undertone of its breezy and delightful animation makes for a splendid cognitive dissonance. There was one moment in there near the end that is certain to upset some people – for me it merely had me say “Oh my God” out loud, and then move on. I was far more offended by the whole thing being a wild goose chase ending with the words, “GET READY. THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING.” Nope. It was the ending, and it was bloody annoying.

16 Comments

  1. Thirith says:

    It doesn’t sound like your normal episodic game, though, at least from the blurb you quote. It sounds more like the Oddworld games, say, with Abe’s games one episode, Munch’s game another, then there’s Stranger’s Wrath. It doesn’t sound like episodic storytelling, at least not necessarily.

  2. jgg says:

    Hi, John. Here Javi, designer and programmer of MechaNika (the guy in the burger terrace, haha).

    First of all thank you for taking your time to play our game and write about it. No matter how bad you think our game is or how wrong we are when trying to tell people what our game is. It’s our first release and we know that we need to improve many things. Your feedback is really helpful and we are going to take it into account.

    Regarding why we don’t specify that the game is an episodic adventure game is because we don’t want people to expect that MechaNika’s sequel will be a new point and click adventure, because it won’t. In fact, our next game won’t be the sequel, but a prequel featuring a character that appears in MechaNika, with her own story. We want to make a few games featuring different characters of the Psychotic world and they won’t be all point and click adventures.

    We need to make it clearer so people know what to expect when playing MechaNika: the quest to build a rusty massive destruction weapon with Nika. Next Psychotic adventures will feature other characters who Nika meets in MechaNika. And if we have the chance to do it, we’ll be able to show how the story ends. We may clarify that in the game description so people know that Nika’s story may not end when MechaNika finishes, so people is not disappointed when the game finishes.

    And related to the mobile port, the game was developed from the beginning to the end with mobile and desktop platforms in mind, so we designed everything in a way that could be played in every platform. We didn’t add more options to the menu because we didn’t think it was necessary, but after reading your opinion we’ll consider a fullscreen toggle and silencing the music when the game is in the background.

    That’s all. Again, thank you so much for your review and your time. We hope we can make it better next time!

    • Radthor Dax says:

      Sounds like you need to think about PC-specific optimisations and being a little clearer, if not in your title, in your descriptions.

      Perhaps something like:
      “The first title in a series of genre-spanning games following different characters of the Psychotic world.”

    • YogSo says:

      No matter how bad you think our game is

      Hola, Javi. I haven’t played your game, but reading John’s review I didn’t get the impression that he thought your game was bad, nor he seemed to hate it… beyond the unexpected abrupt ending. I understand your point of view about setting a wrong expectation about a direct sequel to the game, but I also agree with John with the necessity of stressing out that MechaNika is only a piece of a bigger story, so people going into the game don’t feel the frustration that John has described. Since an “Episode 1” subtitle would probably set the wrong expectations, my suggestion is that you call the game “MechaNika – A Psichotic World Episode” or something similar.

      Hola, Javi. No he jugado a vuestro juego, pero la impresión que me ha dado la reseña de John es que no le parece que el juego sea malo, ni tampoco creo que lo odie… a parte del inesperado y abrupto final. Entiendo vuestro punto de vista sobre lo de no crear falsas expectativas acerca de una secuela directa, pero también estoy de acuerdo con John en que deberíais dejar más claro desde el principio que MechaNika es una parte de una historia más grande, para que la gente que se interese por el juego no sienta la misma frustracón descrita por John cuando lleguen al final. Posiblemente ponerle el subtítulo de “Episode 1” contriburiría a lo que no queréis (que la gente espere otra aventura point-and-click continuando la historia) así que mi sugerencia es que lo tituléis algo parecido a “MechaNika – A Psichotic World Episode”.

      • jgg says:

        I understand that he got really disappointed because of the unexpected cliffhanger. And yes, it seems that John doesn’t hate our game but I think his review has a negative tone in general (I might be biased! I know!). However, as I said, I really appreciate the review and every feedback we get. =)

        BTW, when we started developing the game we named it MechaNika – Psychotic Adventures Episode 1, but we decided to leave only MechaNika; we thought it was short, straight and strong and people wouldn’t expect all Psychotic Adventures to be point and click. Then the task to explain what we wanted to do (game series) was the new odyssey.

        Anyway, we took into account all your comments and we have changed the description, so (we hope!) it’s clearer what to expect from MechaNika now.

        Thank you all for your help!

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      Yeah – like YogSo says, I really didn’t think the game – apart from the massive anticlimax of the ending – was bad, at all. I was so annoyed because it was quite so good! I felt that so much that I couldn’t bring myself not to write the review I wanted to write before I encountered where it suddenly stops, hence the odd way I structured this review.

      Regarding PC specific settings – it’s really been bog-standard for many years for a PC game to have at least resolution options, and the choice to play in a window. I also cannot think of another PC game that doesn’t let me choose to toggle music and SFX independently, and indeed with volume sliders for each. Just an on/off for all sound is standard on mobile games, but absolutely isn’t on PC.

      The issue with the ending colours the whole review, bookending it with negatives, because, frankly, negatively is how people will come away from a game that just stops before the promised conclusion happens. This is a game in which you’re tasked with gathering objects to build a robot, and nothing else (other story elements are there, but they’re *not* player tasks) – the whole game is about this one goal, and then you don’t get to do it. It’s like getting someone to make an elaborate and delicious-looking sandwich, and then upon its completion, taking it away and not letting them take a bite. The anticlimax is enormous, and of course made far worse by there having been no suggestion at the point of sale that it wouldn’t conclude.

      There is so much to love about this little game, and I hope I communicated those things in the review, but reviews are buyers’ guides, and as such it had to be such that it was a warning to potential buyers that it was an incomplete game, and one that was poorly optimised for PC. Clearly on the strength of this game I can’t wait to see what you do next – it’s bursting with potential.

      • jgg says:

        Thanks again for your comments, John. We probably made some mistakes while definitely there are some ideas that we do not share, but that’s what opinions are all about! =)

        I’m sorry you were so disappointed because of the lack of an ending reward. And you are not the first one to tell us, that’s for sure, but we thought this was the best way to do it taking into account how we want our next adventures to be while avoiding spoilers of what’s to come.

        Anyway, we’ll tell you about our next game and will see how it goes!

        • Premium User Badge

          John Walker says:

          If it results in an epic mecha game, where I get to blow up most of humanity, SO much is going to be forgiven : )

    • alms says:

      Javi, appreciate the earnestness. Though, if it can be useful to you, I’d add that knowledge of the next game not being a continuation of this one, would make me even more disappointed by an abrupt ending. That is not to say the game should be longer (I hate padding with a passion) or that it HAS to provide closure, rather than providing a satisfactory conclusion of whatever kind is even more important.

    • Nereus says:

      I felt Johns review was positive, but as I prefer story based games his review made me want to buy your game, but not want to play it.

      I think that’s probably a bad outcome. I have many, many games in my library I’ve never played. Quite a few of them are probably pretty good, but I don’t have time for everything and I need to know I will get something out of it for it to jump to the top of the list of games I will be playing next. Not knowing if/when you will provide closure to a story that from Johns account was quite good, makes me more likely to completely forget this exists by the time the next game in the series is produced. It looks lovely and sounds lovely, and I really want to see what you continue to produce but leaving things unanswered gambles with your potential fanbase.If this is a project borne of love only and not out of a desire for a career building games then you can probably continue, but fostering a loyal fanbase when you don’t have a complete narrative is going to be tough especially with no guarantees that narrative will be finished (worse, that narrative may never get finished if you are invested financially in the success of fragments of a larger story).

  3. JimmyG says:

    I really like the art. I could draw a game like this if I knew anything about anything.

  4. commentingaccount says:

    Is that a tiny weirdly drawn vagina in the last picture

  5. alms says:

    I’m getting a touch fed up of games that don’t make it clear they’re episodic

    Insta thumbs up without even reading the post. If I actually did any of that thumby face social tome something or other thingy.