We’re a funny lot, the human race. Capable on the one hand of compassion and understanding, we’re also simultaneously prone to bouts of some much less desirable traits. Doki-Doki Universe from HumaNature – a team made up of some of the creators of 16-bit classic ToeJam & Earl – takes you on a tour of, well, human nature by putting you in the metal shoes of robot QT3, a cyborg whose very own survival depends on understanding what makes others tick.
The quest involves touring around the various planets and asteroids in the Universe helping people with their problems so that you can prove to the robot facility that you’re worth saving. After a quick introduction to your customisable home planet and a short visit to a tutorial world, you’re sent out into the stars to save your shiny skin.
When arriving on any of the planets, the first order of business is to find out its inhabitants’ particular problems. Each location has a unique theme ranging from Egyptians to ghouls and ghosts, and while the problems that you need to solve are rooted in human behaviour, they’re packaged up in some very strange situations indeed. Whether you’re helping sushi to escape being eaten or coming to the aid of a bride whose groom has been magically transformed into a toilet, you’ll need to find the solution using QT3’s amazing ability to conjure into existence pretty much anything that you can imagine.
To help out the interesting and quite frankly bizarre characters that populate the game, you’ll need to determine the thing that’ll best solve their problem. Requests range from the broad to the very specific, and you’ll need to search through your library of ‘summonables’ to find something that best fits the bill, be it a ghost, cake, or even Egyptian deity. At first, your library’s quite limited, and you’ll come across situations where you don’t have anything that’ll satisfy a specific request. Fortunately, you can expand your repository of items by completing quests, finding them hidden in wrapped boxes, or by maxing out a specific character’s love/hate meter by exploring their likes or dislikes.
Elsewhere, throughout the Universe there are a number of asteroids that you can visit. Landing on one of these presents you with a series of questions which feed into a personality profile based on you, the player. You can then view this information at the therapist on your home planet. However, while it’s a nice idea, we felt that our profile didn’t really reflect our own character particularly well. These sorts of tests rely heavily on you being as honest as possible, so putting it into a game where people are looking for the ‘right answer’ is probably going to lead to some inconsistent results.
Still, it’s hard not to be attracted to the wonderfully quirky world that QT3 inhabits, which is brought to life through a two dimensional art style that looks like every frame was drawn and animated by hand. With vibrant colours and wacky designs throughout – you travel between worlds by riding a pig with wings and a crash helmet – the game really sets itself apart from the crowd and looks great on the screen whether you’re playing on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, or Vita.
Moreover, the humour that runs through the release is also delightfully inoffensive, but the conversations at times sail quite close to sentimental territory. Fortunately, the clever writing and interesting characters pull it back from the brink, and we found ourselves smiling through many of the exchanges between QT3 and the citizens that need his help. It’s a shame that your interactions with many of the personalities are quite short, as there are some that we would have enjoyed spending more time with. That said, despite the sheer number of people and planets in the game, it still manages to run out of steam by the time that you reach its conclusion.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that there’s very little challenge. With no way to fail, we ended up following an almost production line approach to progression: talk to the inhabitants, summon some random stuff, find all of the collectibles, move on to the next planet, rinse and repeat. By the time that we were two-thirds of the way through all of the locations – not including the DLC expansions – the gameplay felt staler than a week old loaf of bread, with only the sharp writing and colourful cast providing the drive to push us on to its conclusion.
As already alluded, the release is available via cross-buy across all three of the current PlayStation platforms, with the only major difference between them being that the Vita’s touch screen and rear touchpad are put to extensive use. While this makes the controls more intuitive, however, it does come at the price of the precision that you have when using the controller.
Doki-Doki Universe is a unique and quirky timewaster that unfortunately runs out of steam due to a lack of challenge and variety in its gameplay. While the colourful characters and brilliant art style keep it off the scrap heap, those craving a more involved experience would be better off summoning a different title to add to their collection.