If brevity is the soul of wit, Woah Dave! must be the funniest game we've ever played. This retro-inspired arcade title shows you just about everything it has to offer within 30 minutes of the first time you see its title screen. However, this seemingly simple gameplay belies a deep and incredibly satisfying experience.
Our hero – a bizarre and possibly insane man known as Dave Lonut – is wandering through a Mario Bros. fever dream when suddenly eggs, fiery skulls, and mysterious blue blocks begin to rain from the sky at an increasingly deadly rate. The first hatches enemies and can be used as a projectile weapon, while the second is purely combat based, acting as both a missile and a landmine. The blue blocks, known colloquially as 'Woah Blocks', clear all of the enemies onscreen at once.
Destroying either the eggs, or the enemies hatched therein, will drop coins which – when picked up by our protagonist – give precious points. If the enemies happen to hit the lava below, they'll evolve, making them harder to kill but worth more coins.
Furthermore, as the game progresses, the lava below slowly locks off sections of the stage by rising and falling. Most important of all, though, is that both eggs and skulls will damage you if you hold them for too long. And with only three hit points – as well as a very steep difficulty curve - death is a painful and all too common reality.
It should be fairly clear how these mechanics interact, but the real fun of the game is not in this sort of dry analysis. Rather, it can be found in the kinetic way these systems force you to make deadly decisions in the blink of an eye. Luckily, the controls are more than up to the challenge, meaning that it's always your fault when something goes wrong.
Indeed, there are only three things that you can do in Woah Dave!: run, jump, and throw. But this simple set of tools spirals out to create a magnificent multitude of strategy to mull over. You might collect groups of eggs in one corner, and then take them all out in a single fell swoop. Or, you could place a few eggs on the bottom layer at the start of the game, helping you get ahead while things remain relatively safe.
The title also features a bevy of small but clever design choices which elevate it above the competition. For instance, picking up the aforementioned items isn't mapped to a button, but instead happens automatically as you walk over them. In this way, it's impossible for you to avoid the action, because simply by walking through the level, you're forced to interact. It's these sorts of quirks which make Choice Provisions' latest a mechanical joy.
This simplicity also carries over to the game's bright, blocky, and brilliant presentation. While it may be safe to assume that this was simply a charming aesthetic choice, the real genius of these visuals is that they leave absolutely no room for ambiguity; you'll know with pixel perfect clarity exactly where everything is at all times. What's more, you'll never accidentally run into something untoward purely because of needlessly elaborate animations.
However, depending on what you value, this minimalism might end up being its biggest weakness. Make no mistake, this is a simple game, and one in which its longevity is based solely upon high score hunting. Similarly, there are only two modes included, with the second simply offering you the ability to start later on in the game.
Put simply, if you aren't prepared to stare at the same level for hours on end with only the whiff of a slightly less embarrassing defeat to cling to, then this probably isn't the game for you.
Woah Dave! Is a stellar example of how simple systems can combine to create incredibly tense and satisfying gameplay. While the package doesn't contain oodles of content, high score hounds are likely to find hours of fun exploring this utterly elegant experience.