Thursday, May 17

Review: Where Are My Friends? [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Indie games can offer some interesting twists and new ideas but sometimes their ambitions can also be their downfall. Something that very few titles attempt is to bring multiple play styles to the table all in one game. Those that do it will usually only have 1 variation hidden as a secret level or sub-game, but rarely do you see a developer try to tackle 4 different genres in one title. As crazy as it is, that’s exactly what has been attempted in the form of Where Are My Friends? Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a study in why people don’t typically shoot for making games that attempt to do this.


In the game you control the somewhat unusual-looking Wheye, who will need to find each of his 4 friends and get their keys in order to save a planet. If my relating the plot seems a bit basic that’s because the game has no dialogue and almost nothing to go on for story aside from some bits and pieces you’re able to extract from mini-movies you can trigger in-game that you can try to piece together. You’ll start out in a hub area, somewhat needing to stumble through understanding what symbols represent where you’ll need to go and what you’ll need to do, getting to a space and then divining what actions you’ll need to perform to trigger the next thing you’ll need to do. It’s a bit clumsy but it can be worked through, and you’ll then get to a wheel that will determine which of your friends you’ll go to next, understanding that in order to get each of their keys you’ll need to play through a segment in a completely different genre.

One of the segments plays out like a point-and-click adventure, and will have you in a series of labs trying to solve some puzzles that intertwine a bit with one another. Another segment plays out more like an endless runner and has you working through a series of slightly different sequences from the side or with a top-down view to make it through obstacles and get to your goal. The Metroidvania-ish segment will see you trying to maneuver through a series of somewhat murky caves, avoiding traps and obstacles along the way. Finally, in the puzzle platforming stage you’ll have to work your way through a series of portals and over platforms, while trying to avoid laser fire, to make your way to your destination.

The main thing that comes to mind playing through all of these sequences is the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I have no doubt that people can and will find at least some mild enjoyment with at least one of these styles but for the most part these are only the palest representation of their respective genres. There’s very little creativity, variation, or joy in their design, they have a much more checklist-like quality of elements being put together to satisfy the claim that each genre is in the game, but not much more. None of this is helped by the fact that the controls are often not very good, intuitive, or even consistent. Each new area would have its own sort of learning curve as you’d need to try to divine what it is you’re supposed to do in the first place and while some segments would have prompts others didn’t. A very specific complaint I have ties to the problem of ambiguity and that’s the fact that I had to repeat the entire point-and-click adventure segment because I accidentally chose it again in the hub area because I wasn’t positive precisely what I was supposed to be doing to select where I wanted to play. A prompt, or better not making completed sections selectable, would have helped.

While I can appreciate the effort that went into making Where Are My Friends?, even if you’re thinking a budget title with a couple of different genres has to have some merits I’d still encourage you to exercise caution. Not only are almost all of these genres far better represented by other titles already on Switch (many of them indie titles with fair prices as well), if you really love a given genre it can be painful to endure a bad example of it. Without any particular segment standing out as clearly superior, or remotely on par with the efforts of other titles’ gameplay in similar genres, this is a title I can’t recommend to pretty well anyone.


Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • 4 genres represented in a budget-priced title
  • Some of the artwork, particularly in the endless runner sequence, is unique

Cons:
  • While the various genres are each represented their segments are also pretty poorly constructed and show little creativity or inspiration
  • The controls aren’t always intuitive or consistent, and sometimes feel muddy
  • Periodic ambiguity concerning what you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go can be aggravating