Title: Arrest of a Stone Buddha
Release Date: May, 21 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Circle Entertainment
Occasionally some games will try to reach beyond certain conventions to bring a totally new experience to the player. It seems like Arrest of a Stone Buddha by publisher and developer of Yeo set out to do just that. Unfortunately, the deep concepts introduced miss the mark.
In Arrest of a Stone Buddha, you take control of an unnamed hitman. Each of his targets seems to be a person in a position of power. After he takes out his objective, he’s confronted with a wave of suit-wearing baddies all looking to take revenge for their fallen boss.
Following the assignment, he meets with his coworker and lives an otherwise mundane life, wandering around the city until his next job. Little to no exposition is given to the player; only vague hints are given throughout with relatively unrelated small talk with your informant. After a while, you learn that you have insomnia and often need sleeping pills to get any rest; otherwise, you stay awake for days.
During shootouts, your character casually walks away from the scene of the crime while attempting to disarm and kill the hordes of enemies coming at him. You begin armed with a handgun but will quickly run out of bullets. To obtain more ammo, you can break the gunmen’s arms that are closest to you and steal their firearms.
This includes a handgun, double handguns, or a shotgun. Handguns shoot one enemy at a time while shotguns can take out about three who are grouped together. Shotguns also seem to have a shorter range. There are riffles as well, but I can’t say for sure if you can steal them, as I was never close enough to these opponents for me to attempt taking it.
Ammo is limited, and you’ll have to make a judgment call who to take out with a gun and who to take out by breaking their arm. Enemies will run towards you but can stop at any time to pull out their weapons. Enemies at a distance can prove especially tricky to take care of as your gun will take out the henchmen closest to you first. This means any armed enemies can use their allies in front of them to serve as their shield while they can shoot directly to you doing damage.
If you press down to crouch and shoot, you can bypass unarmed enemies and shoot the gunmen furthest from you. It’s a neat feature but one that takes some getting used to as there is a delay in crouching. I found myself shooting before I was “fully down,” wasting precious ammo and milliseconds before adjusting to this delay.
There is also a “quickfire” that you strangely press up and fire to implement. This transition came off a bit overly complicated when performed during gameplay. To disarm an opponent, you also have to press up in combination with the kick button. To shoot, you have to press the aim button in conjunction with the action button. Given that shoot and disarm are your two most used actions, I’m not sure why neither has a dedicated button. There is no actual “aiming” other than the crouch and aim mechanic. Still, the actual action is pretty fast-paced and enjoyable at times when you find a rhythm.
You typically clear these shooting stages by reaching the opposite side of the screen. Enemies on and off-screen will keep coming until you cross the very end of the screen or enter a designated door. I’d say probably 75% of my deaths came from nearly crossing this finish line only to be shot by a henchman not even shown on screen. This leaves more up to chance than skill and feels frustratingly cheap.
Many times I would just hope I had enough ammo and kept shooting blindly into the void, hoping that if armed guards were there, it would take them out. Several other shooting stages put significant visual obstacles in the foreground, making you guess your enemies’ actions. These stages are already pretty challenging, but the biggest hurdle in the stage is an enemy you can’t even see.
Stairs are another awkward part of these stages. You will shoot whoever is to your left or right regardless if they are higher or lower than you, but this goes for your enemies as well. When walking down a flight of stairs, things quickly become confusing after someone who was on your left may now be on your right, which is jarring.
To make levels more manageable, there is an “easy mode,” which I ended up opting for. In this mode, you can take more shots, but all of the previous things mentioned are still present and rough to get past.
After you complete each mission, you are left to wander the city. There are a couple of locations you can check out, like the pharmacist, movie theater, museum, bar, and your apartment. Each of these destinations offers little to do. If you hit your action button, you will attempt to interact with objects or people, but this feels painfully awkward. If you try to interact with something that you can’t interact with, a little confused animation will play on your character, not letting you do anything else for several seconds.
With the first hour, I realized that interacting with anyone doesn’t really lead to much. You can watch a movie, buy a drink, maybe get some clothes or sleeping pills, but actual conversations don’t take place. This wouldn’t be a big issue if you could just move on to your next hit, but the game forces you to wait about two days until each mission. The more you walk around, the faster the time will pass. You can buy sleeping pills to pass the time, but you must wait until 6 pm in-game time before you can do this.
It doesn’t help that your character moves ridiculously slow. After doing everything the city had to offer, I found myself wondering if I was indeed the slowest person in the city. Many passersby lapped me, but I eventually found a random citizen who was my athletic equal and raced him. It was a draw. If that’s not evident how psychologically maddening the waiting was, I don’t know what is.
When I figured out this time mechanic, I opted just to leave my Switch on and do something else until the days passed, and it took me to the next shooting stage. The first couple of times, my Switch waited so long it went to sleep. After turning off sleep mode and timing the wait, it took half an hour in actual time for the game to take me to the next stage.
I understand that this meaninglessness is supposed to reflect what your main character is feeling and that he’s bored and restless when he can’t sleep or shoot anything, but I think there are more creative ways to represent this monotony. That said, if these sections are considered to be essential to the game, I believe refining other aspects, like the interactions, would have gone a long way to making waiting periods feel more deliberate.
There are some positives like the fantastically beautiful and melancholy soundtrack that fits the mood of the character and city perfectly. Sprites and the environment are also well done and give a nice bit of variety to each stage. The brutality and aesthetic are reminiscent of 80’s Hong Kong action movies, and Arrest of a Stone Buddha captures that well.
Arrest of a Stone Buddha requires patience from its players; without that, it loses all of its core concepts. Still, getting passed the lengthy in-game day cycles are merely rewarded with shootouts full of cheap deaths and confusing mechanics. It attempts to add a layer of immersion that doesn’t really work as a game since the fundamental interactions with the world aren’t all that interesting.
Sure, the soundtrack and art direction capture the depressing atmosphere, but other parts of the game aren’t as effective. There are definitely some good ideas and commendable risks taken here, but sadly they don’t come together to achieve the emotional impact intended.
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