Doki Doki Universe: review

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What is Doki Doki Universe? The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might expect. It looks like a kid’s game; but it isn’t only (or arguably largely) for kids. There’s even a strong case to be made for saying it isn’t a game, as such. What it is, is funny (sometimes) and surreal (constantly). If the idea of playing a game with lines such as “I’m not listening to your chicken” and “Oh no! I can’t marry a toilet!” appeals to you, read on.

The first thing to jump out at you from any trailer or screenshot you come across is the art design. Every character, every item, and every backdrop looks as though it’s been drawn by a young child – an effect reinforced by animation with a few frames purposefully left out here and there. It’s unique, and immediately provides DDU with an identity all its own. The visuals are no lazy mask for a lack of imagination elsewhere, however. Not by a long shot.

Players are thrust into the metallic boots of QT3, a robot abandoned on an asteroid by his human family for reasons he doesn’t understand. He is told by Alien Jeff (yes) that his model is being discontinued; but if he can learn about and gain qualities of humanity, he might just be able to save himself and all the other robots of his line. So it comes to pass that QT3 travels to dozens of different planets, each with its own lesson for him to learn, meeting and helping a wide variety of people and creatures.

For reasons that are never explained, your robot can conjure up anything from a pensioner or a house to a dolphin or a spaceship. He has to find these objects first – by moving objects in the environment or by earning gifts from NPCs – but that isn’t difficult; or even, in fact, the object of the game. Gifting your conjurations on the other hand is; in part. An awful lot of DDU is simply talking to people, finding out what they want, then providing it. That alone is enough to put many people off.

A robot on a winged pig helping talking insects on an alien planet. Call of Duty this ain’t.

It’s not merely an amusingly alliterative adventure alluding to altruism and an avaristic avatar accepting absolutely all abjects (er, objects), however. The script can often be genuinely amusing, and it’s interesting to see what characters want and why they want them (and the objects themselves will sometimes have something amusing to say). There’s a whole other side to DDU, a side that it would seem defines the whole experience.

Dotted around the cosmic map, punctuating the appearance of a new planet, are asteroids that host (for some reason) personality quizzes. Each consists of a short series of pictures. You’ll be asked a few times to choose an option; what you think is happening in the picture, or which of 2-4 pictures you identify with the most. At the end of the quiz you’ll be given a brief summary of the sort of person you are (teasing, adventurous, realist etc.). On planets, you’ll sometimes be given options of how to reply to a character, and choosing an option also provides a snap decision on some aspect of your personality.

Play DDU for long enough, and you’ll realise that it is first and foremost a personality test. A huge, sprawling, and beautifully crafted one. It hits you that the child-like art isn’t there to grab attention – at least, not in the way you’d expect. The cute and welcoming aesthetics, the warm and offbeat humour, the story concerning an abandoned robot; it’s all there to put you at your ease, and pull you as far away as possible from the idea of a cold, clinical psychoanalysis. You’re supposed to forget that you’re being tested at all. But you are being tested, throughout the game. Every so often, when you’ve completed a certain number of quiz asteroids, you’ll be invited back to your home planet by Doctor Therapist (really) for a personality assessment that takes into account all of your choices in DDU to that point. Most importantly, if you’re honest in your answers, you’ll probably find that most of the judgements on you – both short and long term – are surprisingly accurate.

It can be enjoyed as a game nonetheless and, although it seems to be intended more for older players, children will certainly get a lot of fun out of it (though rather than learning about aspects of the human condition such as love and prejudice, they’re more likely to amuse themselves with things such as robots and babies with dirty nappies). There are annoyances – you’ll sometimes wish QT3 had a run button, and if you buy the standard edition of the game trying to land on locked planets or asteroids will prompt you to head to the PlayStation store to upgrade. Both versions feature the mail system, which can be used both in and out of the game. Every time you go to read a message from an in-game character however it urges you to connect to Facebook, which is highly irritating.

Featuring both cross-buy and cross-save, DDU allows you to continue your game on any system (though oddly, the PS4 version has its own trophy set). Though it looks just a little less sharp the Vita version is perhaps the best, allowing as it does for touchscreen, rear touchpad, and motion controls (mostly optional) which allow for a slightly smoother experience. No matter what system you play on however, DDU is one of those rare beasts which does something different and is enjoyable. It’s cheap and, in the best sense of the word, cheerful.

critical score 8

 

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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