Earlier this year during the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, Sony put a big focus on indie games, with one of those games being Doki-Doki Universe for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita. Developed by HumaNature Studios and ToeJam & Earl creator Greg Johnson, DD Universe is a game that promises to teach you everything you need to know about being a human. It’s an interesting trek to learning about humanity but one that could have used just a little bit more.
In Doki-Doki Universe, players are given the role of QT377665, or QT3 for short, a robot who has been waiting over 30 years for his human masters to return. One day he meets an alien named Jeff and starts a quest to learn about humanity and to keep himself from being scrapped. The story delves into so many aspects of humanity in a cute and interesting way. It is a deep story that somehow hides a lot of that depth in the kid-like nature of how its story is portrayed and the characters found in the game.
The basic idea of the game is travel from planet to planet, fulfilling quests from the inhabitants and learning about a specific part of humanity through that planet. One planet will be about bullying while another is about finding true love. Each character on the planet will teach you a little bit about said subjects. Simply land on the planet and start talking to people to unlock quests that need to be completed. Once you have finished all of the quests for a given planet, you will have learned your humanity lesson and can then move on. There are about 10 planets that are available upon boot up, with others unlocked when you complete a certain amount of your main quest.
In each level, you have two main objectives. Complete quests given to you by the locals and collect treasures found throughout the level. The quests you are given are fairly straight forward, ranging from helping someone’s friend out or summoning an item for them. A person might ask you for money or something cute, so you are then tasked with searching through your available summons to find such an item. The process of finding these can be a bit tedious, as you are sometimes left to filter through screen after screen of items to find the correct one. Oftentimes, the one needed is on the first set you bring up, but not all the time. It would have been nice to have a bit simpler of a system, as your only options are to randomize the items on the screen or find ones similar to your highlighted item.
Items can be found by picking up buildings and objects through each level to find the hidden ones, or learning about the locals to win or scare over their items they have. To get the items they possess, you usually have to learn about their likes or dislikes from the other people, while also finding out what greeting they like best. As you solve more and more quests, you will earn dust bunnies used to summon items and also level up. It’s not a bad system and lends for some funny moments. However, after a few planets it gets rather boring, simply walking from person to person and talking or summoning items.
Taking a break from asking question after question of the locals, there are also over 31 quizzes to be found throughout the universe. These are basic questionnaires that ask you 3-5 random questions that after answered, tell you what kind of a person you are. Questions range from: “What do you think the cat is thinking in this picture?”, or “What movie would you rather see?”. While the quests provide a nice small break from the routine of questioning, they are very quickly finished and don’t feel like they add much to the overall experience.
If you are looking for even more to do, there is also a home planet to decorate and a mailbox to check out. On the home planet, you are able to change your planet’s setting and paste stickers of various houses and props around your level. The ability is also there to change your character’s appearance and what steed you will travel the universe on. As you gain levels throughout the game, you will unlock new avatars to use as well as new steeds. Get ready to ride the waves of the galaxy as a lumberjack on top of a pile of poop. The mailbox in the game will allow characters in the game to send you emails thanking you for your help or wishing you to come back and visit. There is also a rather cool ability to send emails to your friends on Facebook, but for the most part this feature seem rather pointless.
The game is cross-buy enabled so if you purchase it on the PlayStation 4, it will also be available on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. I was not able to test the game out on the PS3, however I did get some time with it on the Vita. Overall, it plays very similar to its PS4 counterpart, except that it uses the front touch screen to select items on the screen and the back touch screen to greet people. One major issue on the Vita game however was that it felt a bit choppy when moving throughout the world.
On the presentation side, the game is a bucket full of colors, with every world being vibrant and bright. It is a very appealing and cute look that works well with the equally childish look of the characters and planets. As with the presentation side of things, the audio is a mix of 8 bit quirkiness that really shines during the levels. Though the game has some rather annoying sound effects throughout, like the random fart noises that seem to play every time to go to summon an item or way too often when you are talking with people. Outside of that, most of the noises found in the game just work and really expand the experience.
I hate to keep using the word cute, but that is exactly what Doki-Doki Universe is. A cute indie game that has its moments of brilliance, that are sadly overshadowed by rather boring gameplay. What starts out as a cool trip through the trials of humanity begins to wear on you as you move from planet to planet, performing the same mundane tasks over and over again. The charm is there, shining through in the environments and characters, but is lost in a game that really doesn’t give you a lot to do. It also doesn’t help that a game that looks geared towards pre-teens has a bit too much text to really hook them in for extended amounts of time. At $15, even with cross buy, it is really hard to recommend scooping in to pick this up.