Some humor has a kind of innocence, an innocence that it takes to work. You realize this when you think of Guacamelee, Drinkbox’s breakthrough on PS Vita – a game of these strange things called ‘memes’, a game with a play on words. I feel like we probably wouldn’t enjoy a game with memes in it in 2021 – they’re familiar now and kind of strangely important, and so you’re losing innocence. But Drinkbox has kept innocence elsewhere with Nobody Saves the World. It’s another silly, but also apparently very good game built on humor first and a clever evolution of the genre behind it, and another game with a play on words.
You play as someone named Nobody in Nobody Saves the World, who drops Guacamelee’s wrestling metroidvania costume (aside from a few familiar chicken-sized tunnels) for the fantastic mantle of an action RPG crawling a dungeon. It’s not the genre I expected after making my way through Guacamelee, but it’s the result of the studio wanting to stay ‘engaged and creative’, as lead designer Ian Campbell put it, and the result is a game that feels the same: energetic and spicy and full of snap.
There are minor twists in the genre. The first is that Nobody Saved the World is built around changing “forms” on the fly. No one is a blank and comically useless canvas of a character picking up a special wand, which by waving you can transform into one of what Campbell says there are currently 17 or 18 forms available (‘we’re trying to do more, but that’s what we have now “), each a little ridiculous and purposefully” non-standard. “For example, I took on my first dungeon as a rat with some poisonous, gnawing attacks, then unlocked a fairly common ranger, followed by a strange one, much less everyday magician calling up rabbit families and poking people with a fan of cards. There’s a horse, and so on (I’m not selling this as laughing out loud, I’m aware! But sometimes humor is just levity and Drinkbox has a magical light touch).
The ARPG side of things is traditional at first glance and asks you to get through the overworld by crashing through the individual dungeons, but Drinkbox’s twist is you complete small missions or missions as opposed to grinding. In practice, this doesn’t feel much different – you gnaw your way through X number of enemies, clear a large dungeon, or summon Y magical rabbits and that will earn you a number of points that unlock more characters, more skills, and so on ( including the “stars” needed to advance to new parts of the overworld) but the actual process is still the same: play more, get more stuff.
But playing is fun! And the process is part of it, feeding into that beautiful more virtuous RPG cycle. Each character has their own set of skills and passives that complement each other (a rat nibble also poison, another skill will detonate anything poisoned), but later you get the option to mix and match. This is combined with enemies starting to take shields, or “wards,” requiring specific types of damage – dark, explosive, etc. – before they are vulnerable to other types of damage, and now you have to think. Dungeons warn you of what kinds of compartments are in front of you, and so you might decide to stick the rat’s nibble on your ranger, or link the ability to summon rabbits to whatever you do with the horse.
Aside from the follies, this is of course about systems: good synergy and min-maxing and all the joyful life-consuming things that come with a good ARPG. For example, if you stay with the mage, there’s an ability that lets you sacrifice one of your family members for an attack boost, and an ability that makes them explode on low health or death, and one that heals them when they do damage – so that can. Summon a rabbit and then blow it up to deal damage, get a damage boost, giving the rest a healing boost, and so on. All of this is reflected in the cycle of unlocks and mission completions and progression, back to animal summoning and blowing them up.
There are some quirks that you need to get used to – the game’s biggest challenge was the control scheme, I found, where you attack the way you face, but the way you face movement, meaning one of the triggers. to shoot instead of just shoot – but this could just be me, and Drinkbox’s flair will remain. It’s pacy and fluid, smooth, but light. It’s great, and a great example of what this studio is all about. A low-level, ground-floor loving goof that soon gives way to a much deeper source of combat and systems, and a quiet mastery of the genre.