Sunday, December 1, 2013

Indie-Cember: DLC Quest

Folks, I've been a gamer for almost two decades now, and as such I've been getting closer and closer to a clear idea of what I want from video games. Unfortunately, the game industry seems to be going in a different direction for the most part, with seemingly 90% of all triple-A game software going for the same monochromatic, hand-holding paradigm that's big on cinematic flair but short on content. Just now we've had to deal with the back-to-back releases of two new gaming machines which, in terms of both hardware and software, have done little to excite me personally. So the way I see it, I've got two options: either become a virtual hermit and sequester myself in the older console generations, or explore the uncharted territory of the independent games scene. As it happens, in 2013 I've found myself doing more of the latter, thanks in large part to that sugar daddy Steam and its no-holds-barred PC game sales. That's why I'm dedicating this month to all the interesting indie games I've had the pleasure to experience. And since this is a month-long event, I've got to name it after some month-based pun. So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado... welcome to "Indie-Cember".

DLC Quest
  • Publisher/Developer: GoingLoud Studios
  • Lead Designer: Ben Kane
  • Release:
  • XBox 360: 2 November 2011
  • PC: 6 February 2012
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost: DLC, US$5
A word of caution to anyone attempting to play DLC Quest: The purchase of downloadable content (DLC) is required to complete this game. Future areas will be blocked off, abilities will be disabled, and overall your progress will be halted unless you pony up extra to buy stuff that wasn't available out of the box. Heck, even sound, animation, and the ability to walk left require DLC. Oh, did I mention that all this DLC is actually purchased in the game itself with coins laid about the levels, and that the only thing you, the player, have to pay for is the upfront cost of the game? Bet that'll take a load of your mind.
Certain events unlock new "DLC" packs to "buy".
Alright, so, what is this game about, and what do you do in it? A bad guy has stolen a princess right in front of your (character's) eyes. That's your motivation. All presented in a quick, practically wordless cinematic, at that. So then you take control and discover that the only thing your keyboard or controller will let you do is walk to the right. There's not even any animation, your guy's basically just sliding. In doing so, you'll collect four coins and run into the guy who sells all the game's "DLC", named Nickel. (He's got a brother named Dime. Get it, they're nickel-and-diming ya.) And wouldn't you know it, the movement pack which enables you to walk left and jump costs exactly four coins. The nice thing is, both he and the first few coins are laid out in a way that, even without the ability to walk left or jump, you can't mess up. Seriously, Nickel is placed right next to a waist-high hill, so it's impossible to pass him without the ability to jump. Now that's good design right there. (Also, when you get the gun later in the game, you can kill the merchants and still buy DLC from them, which they openly advise you to not think too much about it.)

For the rest of the game, you'll follow the... following pattern of play: Get all the coins from an area until you can't get any more, go back to Nickel or Dime to buy the latest "DLC" that will let you access these areas, and so on until you save the princess. The gameplay with which you accomplish all these goals is as simple as the developers could afford to make it. You jump to collect coins. You find a sword and cut bushes. Proceed until you hit some sort of roadblock. "Purchase" the "DLC" needed to continue. Repeat as necessary. In essence, this is a action-exploration or "Metroidvania" platformer, and despite some very good examples of the genre, I've always been annoyed at their propensity for having you travel all over through places you've already been, and despite (or perhaps because of) DLC Quest's short length, much of your time will be spent backtracking in some fashion. And that's not good, because the game can be finished in just 20 to 30 minutes. Yeah, it has an Internet ranking system, so you have an excuse to replay it and set record times, but that's about it.
Remember when video games were about collecting coins? DLC Quest remembers.
Ideally, a video game should be remembered best for its gameplay experience as a whole, not for specific momenst strung together by bouts of generic, uninspired gameplay. It is in this arena that DLC Quest, sadly, fails. (See also: Spec Ops: The Line. Still good though.) It's not that DLC Quest's controls are broken or anything, it's just that... Well, back in the 8- and 16-bit eras, what was the "default" form of a video game that you could just slap any setting or intellectual property on, and call it a day? The 2D platformer, that's what. And DLC Quest practically runs on the joke that it is one of those games, only simulating the logical conclusion of modern gaming trends while at it. And hey, some jokes need to be told! We can't very well have companies forcing us to pay extra for essential content when we've already ponied up the full purchase price for their base product. It's just that in a perfect world, DLC Quest would marry that memorable idea with some memorable gameplay. Then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn't need a game like DLC Quest and its morals, but let's not think too hard about it.

I should note that there is a sequel episode to DLC Quest, called Live Freemium or Die, which is available as (ironically enough) real-world DLC for the XBox version of the game, or built-in to the PC version. It's about twice as long as the original game (which is good), although admittedly much of that is backtracking (which is bad), the double jump was replaced by a wall-jump (which is... different). More importantly, the game's sense of humour is as sharp as ever, mocking such concepts as memes (the town comedian's act is merely repeating one certain line from The Legend of Zelda... you know the one), colourless HD graphics (the "High Definition Next Gen Pack" simply turns everything sepia-tone), product placement (Pop Zone, brought to you by Pop!) and online-only games (the antagonist "kicks" you off the "server" in one cutscene, resulting in a fake re-connection sequence). If your copy of the game didn't already include Live Freemium or Die, I'd highly recommend it, if only to prop up the meagre run-time of the original DLC Quest.

+ Biting and humourous satire on the video game industry.

- Generic 2D-platforming gameplay.
- Both episodes are short and offer little replay value.

Controls: 3 DLC packs out of 5
Design: 4 DLC packs out of 5
Graphics: 2 DLC packs out of 5
Audio: 2 DLC packs out of 5
Value: 2 DLC packs out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

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