DrinkBox Studios set a pretty high bar for themselves when they decided to move on from the Guacamelee! games. Having created a widely-known indie classic, changing direction from that series was going to be a risky move. Their next title wasn’t going to be a quirky “search action” game, but instead, a top-down action RPG that mixed old-school Zelda exploration with a grind-focused level system, covered in an intentionally-gross Newgrounds-y art style. Nobody Saves the World released for PC and Xbox in January, quickly went viral, and now here we are in April with the other two consoles. We didn’t cover the original launch, so this is my first time with the game, and I was eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on it.
The title immediately establishes its style and humor by having the first people you interact with be extremely loud and rude, and giving the player character the option of calling them out, or calling them out with snark. Nothing really changes by doing this, but it’s a humorous subversion of meaningless dialogue choices often found in games like this.
This attitude carries over into the first combat situations the player will find, principally the fact that you are forced to fight your way out of a basement as a rat, a clever riff on a Western RPG trope. The rat is the first alternate form of many that the player will need to transform between in order to grow stronger.
Each of the forms that can be unlocked has its own set of goals that need to be accomplished in order to power the form up and unlock new moves. This generally starts with just killing enemies with a basic attack, but will quickly grow into asking the player to mix abilities from other forms into their battles.
This creates a complicated web of challenges that all contribute to an overall power level. Thankfully, you are also able to unlock simple and infinitely repeatable quests that will also give the player character experience points, just not towards any particular form. This incentivizes the player to experiment with how the forms are able to combine their powers and create more effective combat styles, but there is a drawback.
A lot of the challenges with this theme feel extremely grindy and are difficult to progress in outside of extremely specific scenarios, and the game’s main story dungeons lock away challenges entirely and force you to work through them without their guidance.
It’s also somewhat frustrating to consistently get used to the way a class feels to play, and their individual quirks (like the horse’s main attack requiring your enemies to be behind you), only for the game to force you to homogenize that class in order to make further progress in it. It ends with many of the strange forms ending up feeling more similar to play than they should.
The game’s overworld is fairly large and dotted with side quests and dungeons that each reward the player with upgrade points and experience, as well as the power star currency used to unlock the main story levels. The dungeons have a diverse aesthetic and many of them come with different gameplay challenges – one of the first ones that the player will likely come across (and should absolutely not attempt at that point) multiplies all damage dealt and taken by almost ten thousand, essentially creating a bullet-hell situation where getting hit even once will almost definitely send you back to the save point. While I like this element, the randomization of all of the dungeon layouts and the small pool of enemies ends up making it feel a bit repetitive anyway, but I was never bored by any of it.
As for the story, it’s not anything to write home about. It essentially functions as an excuse plot with minor details being doled out slowly over the course of the game rather than being focused on throughout, as the primary point of the game is the exploration and grind.
I mentioned Newgrounds before, and having spent a lot of time on that site, many aspects of this title reminded me of an expanded version of the type of game you’d find often on a flash game collection site like that. It’s charming and fun, but not necessarily something I would try to go for total completion on. The game’s difficulty level feels appropriate just by playing casually, but if you are the type of person that gets a lot out of completionist play, this game has a lot to offer you.
Nobody Saves the World is, if not a totally worthy follow-up to Guacamelee!, at least a very admirable and enjoyable effort. It feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch, where its simple graphical style won’t compromise its performance and the player is enabled to take it wherever they want to go while slowly making progress.
If a strong narrative is required to keep you invested in a game, it’s probably not the one for you, but for those out there who love the steady feeling of progress for its own sake, it’s a lot more fun than the idle games clogging the market and trying to scratch that same itch.
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