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.