Throughout the years of its existence, Devolver Digital has gained a reputation as a publisher and a brand; they don’t play by the same rules as everyone else. They take risks on niche games, they promote their games in unique and PR-less ways, and they even have a yearly press conference at E3 where they satirize current trends in the videogame industry while promoting their own unique experiences that will follow. From their well-known hits likes Hotline Miami and the recent Shadow Warrior reboots to sleeper hits like Dropsy and Ruiner; from critically acclaimed gems like The Talos Principle to top chart selling games like SCUM; Devolver has a wide range of games on offer, but they are all distinctly “Devolver-esque” titles.
The year has started off brightly for Devolver, as they released two new games, and with several other projects in the pipeline; but before those come out, I took a look at their two new games and see if that “Devolver-esque” quality is still there and if it is worthwhile. First off, Pikuniku: a side-scrolling adventure with platforming and light-puzzle elements with a minimalistic art-style and a ton of character. You play as Piku, a peculiar looking red creature that wakes up from his slumber to help save the nearby society; problem is they think that Piku is the legendary monster that has been foretold would come to destroy them. This is an incredibly charming, funny, and fun game to play; exploring the world and solving the puzzles it throws your way isn’t especially difficult—in fact it’s pretty easy. However, Pikuniku rewards you with a ton of extra character and goofy moments that help the game deliver on what it sets out to achieve: Make you feel like a kid again; be curious about everything and finding out what would happen if you did what you just thought of doing. It has a killer soundtrack, a fast-paced story that doesn’t linger any longer than it needs to, and plenty of secret stuff to find out after you finish the game; it’s not a mind-blowing game or a ground-breaking experience, because not everything needs to be that—instead, it’s a chill game with fun moments that lasts long enough to make me feel satisfied with my purchase and appreciative of the experience. It also fits really well with Devolver’s portfolio; sure, it doesn’t have bucket loads of gore or mind-bending stories, but it still has an attitude and an unconventional feeling to it, which makes it feel like a Devolver game.
Next up, Ape Out: A highly-stylized, top-down action thingy, about being an Ape and getting out from wherever their holding you. This is an incredibly fun and challenging game, with tons of visual and musical style, that again won’t blow your mind, but it will definitely leave you smiling and audibly cheering when you successfully indulge on your animalistic instincts to punch every one you see to bits. There’s no singular story to speak of, because Ape Out chooses to have 4 “albums” with their own randomly-generated layouts (within set maps), unique looks, and their own set-ups; however, they all start with you (an ape) stuck behind bars, making your escape (usually by spectacularly killing the guards in front of you), and then finding your way out through levels upon levels of fast-paced combat (consisting of bashing armed guards with each other, on walls, or simply using them as human shields and their guns as a one-time use item) and stylized violence, until you make your way out of the building and into the wild. While 90% of the game feels like a frenzy blend of violence and incredibly satisfying moments, the 10% that remains does feel a bit imprecise and frustrating; beyond that small fraction of frustration, Ape Out is Devolver AF: Killer soundtrack (with the added novelty of it being dynamic to what you are doing and helping you get a rhythm of guards’ timing and a sense of your own speed, which helps to know when you’re screwed and when you can get to the guard before they shoot), kind of hard, and mechanics-driven “one-note” gameplay that is expertly disguised and wonderfully explored into a varying and fast-paced “fun-first” game.
Both of these games are successes in their own ways, and those ways are becoming increasingly diverse—regarding Devolver releases. They used to be kind of “one note” like their video games, but with Pikuniku, GRIS, and Minit, Devolver seems to be expanding and searching for different experiences to provide alongside the ones that made its name synonymous with a certain experience. Regardless, if these are the appetizers for the year to come (at least regarding Devolver releases), then I can’t wait for their upcoming games.