(The review key for Anarcute was provided by our friends at White Tie Games)
Anarcute is a “rampaging riot simulator” where you lead your mobs of super-cutified animals against the tyranny of evil corporations attempting to control the world.
The game incorporates gameplay features from a number of great games like Pikmin, Katamari, and even a touch of Zelda. Roll it all up in that uber-cute wrapper and you have something - but is it something you want to play?
Like me, I'm sure the first thing that caught your attention was the style - the bright, happy colors and the animals with the huge heads and eyes. If you watched the video, you probably noticed the similarly bright soundtrack with high pitched squeaks. If you squint, tilt your head, and turn the volume down a bit, you might - just for a half a second - mistake it for Katamari (or at least that's what my mind convinced me).
So boom - instantly something that piques my interest. (For the rest of the world, it's probably 50/50 if this is a good thing or a bad thing.)
At a high level, the game’s concept resemble Pikmin, just replace the pikmin with Animal Crossing-looking characters. You find/save animals trapped throughout a level, they make your mob bigger/stronger, and you run around completing objectives and defeating enemies using a number of attacks and abilities that grow more powerful as your mob grows. Lose members of your mob, you can't get them back. If the mob falls to 0, you lose.
In terms of level design; the simplicity is deceiving - they are really well thought out. They give off a certain Zelda vibe in the way they're built - it's all a bit of a maze, with corridors and rooms replaced by city blocks and street. Like Zelda, sometimes you have to skip or miss parts of levels in order to return with a different ability (read: bigger mob), and there's always an optimal route through a city in order to avoid casualties, but brute force is usually an option too. The environment is comprised of a handful of different real-world cities you visit that (obviously) inspire the aesthetic of the levels along with the music, and each feels different enough to keep it interesting. Each city is comprised of 8-10 levels, and culminates with a boss to be defeated before moving onto the next one, and the bosses are actually fun and challenging changes of pace.
The game plays great - control setup and response, camera setup and control - nothing to complain about. It's honestly a joy to play. Progression is also well balanced, with difficulty ramping nicely through the game, constantly testing your ability to maintain your mob, leverage your abilities at the right times, find the best route through each level, slightly more complex puzzles, and throwing in more difficult enemies (or just more enemies).
For your consideration, the game is around 4-5 hours to beat; 100% completionists might be able to find 8-11 hours? I'm not sure, I don't really play games that way, but you can earn grades on each level, so I suppose someone who needs S rank in all areas could get lots of replay value. Either way, the length of the game could be a factor for someone, but in general, I don't think that should keep you from playing a game if you're interested in trying it.
It all sounds pretty sweet, and for the most part, it is. It's a very well executed game that's fun to play.
So why am I left with the feeling of "meh?"
It had to do with my vanity - the game's look is what drew me in, which is a really shallow reason to get into anything, but it's also one of the best ways to capture attention when it comes to games (and it worked for me here and on Katamari). The difficulty was that once I started playing the game, I found out it lacked personality; it was every cliche about "beauty is only skin deep/what's important is what's underneath" ever written. With the Katamari comparisons in mind, it really shone a light on the game's shortcoming; it lacked character.
When you play Katamari Damacy, you learn about the Prince, his father who destroys the cosmos after binge drinking, the mental abuse the Prince must to endure, and the hilarious way they frame this absolutely tragic story. Playing Katamari, I was more than willing to overlook the sometimes-difficult controls and camera to keep moving forward just so I could find out what ridiculousness they would present to me next.
Anarcute came so close too; there are some absolutely hilarious "news" cut scenes of the evil corporations your fighting against, outlining their next plot to take over the world. The rioters never get their time to shine; other than being cute, the story never provides depth to the animals - you're nothing more than a faceless mob and I ended up more emotionally invested in the corporations. I might have enjoyed a role swap in this game more - something like a tower defense game where I play the hilarious evil corporation keeping the cute animals from stopping my evil plot.
(*furiously writes down idea*)
So Anarcute is a well executed game that just lacks that really special something to get you fully invested. With the lack of character, once you strip away the chibi-facade, you're left with a really fun game with a solid structure that lacks personality. If you can't find yourself entertained by the silly graphics and the fun soundtrack, you may find you can still have fun, but I fear the simple/repetitive nature of the game may slowly rear it's ugly head.
The real reason I feel disappointed is that it came so close. It might be unfair to dwell on a game's intangibles - "personality" or "character" - but that's the difference between love and like. This is a game I really like, and I was able to enjoy my time with it; I suggest you give it a try if you're into Pikmin style games or are intrigued by the chibi design. My only regret is that it was so close to being something I could love (and I wanted desperately for it to get there).