Doki Doki Universe is a new Indie title for the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita that is about discovery and learning about humanity.
When you look at films, TV, music and even literature, these are often broken up into more than simple genres. They aren’t limited to simply being comedy, horror, action, romance, etc. The genres are often merged and intertwined based on the story and the audience they are aimed at.
A family film can often be as scary as one aimed at adults only. Labyrinth can be as unsettling as something like an Amityville Horror. A comedy aimed at kids can have you laughing as much as something with more of an adult theme. N0t every piece of media needs to pigeon-hole its audience, music, film and TV are inclusive. Sure they may be passive experiences, but they allow everyone to join in.
Games, whilst not being passive, can feel very exclusive. Playing games like a Resident Evil, or Battlefield will often mean finding time when the kids aren’t around. Your partner may get bored with you playing your 600th game of NHL or FIFA. They aren’t always involving for the other members of the house-hold.
This is where Doki Doki Universe comes in. It is a casual game, but it is one that works for bringing the family into your hobby, it makes gaming an inclusive activity for all types of players.
Gamestyle spent a lot of time playing this in the company of family, which is squarely where this game is aimed. It is an ideal title to sit down on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy for a couple of hours. Swapping the controller between each person in the living room, enjoying what the game has to offer.
It is a plot driven game, where you take on the role of a robot called QT3, who having been abandoned by his family, finds out he maybe taken out of production and taken for reprogramming… Which means destroyed! He is given a chance though, if he can learn about humanity, he can be saved from this fate.
To do this he must travel to different planets and undertake various tasks, helping the inhabitants on each planet. Each one he visits has a different setting and a different set of problems. Speaking to the inhabitants will reveal things about themselves and others, they will give you minor tasks that will be part of a bigger overall story. Complete these tasks and you will be greeted by Alien Jeff who will try and find out what you have learned, in the hope you can avoid reprogramming.
Tasks are often simple and require simply going back and forth between characters, speaking to them and learning more about them, this is backed up by often needing to find something, or do something to help one of them. Such as allowing a woman to get the ability to communicate with her dead husband.
The items that character require are given to them via summoning objects. These are found from a bubble in your personal menu and will often be as simple as finding outright what a character is after. For example, someone you may need information from, will say they like something of a certain colour, therefore in your summoning bubble you find something that matches what they want.
It is all very straightforward initially, but as you explore more planets, you find that getting the items you need require you to go elsewhere, do tasks on other planets, before returning to finishing off what you were doing on the original planet. It isn’t really going to test your abilities too much, but the fun comes from going through these tasks with others in the room.
This isn’t a co-op game in the truest sense of the word, you don’t have multiple people with controllers, all doing different things on the screen, it is only single player in that respect. But being handed a task and getting input from others as to where you are to go, or remembering where you did that thing makes it a very social experience.
Aside from completing tasks to complete planets and obtaining new summoning items, these can also be found in the form of hidden presents, which are either hidden behind scenery or given to you by characters when you have made them happy enough, or annoyed them enough so that they give up what they are holding. Seeing to ticks on a planet, showing you have done everything you can is a great feeling of accomplishment.
It’s not just on planets you visit where there are things to do. You have a home planet that you can decorate, usually with rewards earned from completing tasks on your journey. You can be evaluated from Dr Therapist after visiting numerous planets to get personality reports. Presents are littered around space, as well as asteroids that will have quick personality tests on them.
These personality tests are quirky visual questions that are meant to be able to tell you the sort of person you are and we must admit that at times, it seemed to nail us down to a tee. Other times it seemed very wide of the mark, so don’t be too reliant on these as some kind of moral barometer.
There are a lot of planets to discover and many, many asteroids and presents dotted around as you travel among them, which makes the game feel very impressive in terms of content, which is great as it means it isn’t a title that will be finished in a single session. The pacing has some issues in certain respects, but because of the amount there is to do, it is one that will last you a long time, especially if you set aside the time to only play it with your family, whether that be in short bursts, or for the odd longer session.
The game overall feels like there is an influence from the likes of Toe Jam & Earl, which considering it is by the same creator, shouldn’t be a surprise. The structure is different to TJ&E and Doki Doki Universe is designed to be a lot more approachable from the get go, however that does cause some pacing issues.
This comes from it having somewhat of a slow start which can get a little repetitive and overly simplistic, even for a child, it tries to be something everyone can play and be accessible to everyone, however that does have a little bit of a downside and comes across as though it doesn’t trust its audience to understand things from a gaming mechanics side. It really wants to hold your hand, rather than letting you go on a journey of discovery for yourself.
It isn’t something that lasts though and soon enough, it does let go and goes a lot deeper, but the time it takes to allow that, can be off putting initially. It is worth persevering though because there aren’t many games out there that can bring the family together round the TV like a good film can.
This though is one that can, having a child point out where you should go next, or asking questions about why certain things are happening, shows that they are learning from the game and having a good time. When the entire family have lost a few hours to the same game at the same time, it must be doing something right.
What works though is going from initial sessions of one to two hours at the weekend, was the fact that it worked as an after tea blast too. twenty to thirty minutes doing a couple of tasks on Doki Doki Universe is a lot more rewarding than sitting down infront of some show that the kid will watch, while you bury your head into the computer, or your partner is reading a book. Half an hour of family time doing something that requires you all to communicate is a great idea.
Doki Doki Universe isn’t going to appeal to everyone, it isn’t a game that pushes the limits of what is possible, but it is a nice family friendly game that you can go back to time and time again. A game that allows you and your closest to share an experience in a medium that can often be exclusive to outsiders.