West of Loathing (2017)
This week's game is one that kind of popped on up on me, I had no plans to play it anytime soon nor review it. I apparently had it high enough on my GameFly rental queue that it went sent to my after my first choice wasn't available. I didn't know much about it at all, but once it arrived in the mail I figured I should still play it for a bit and check it out, as it's been popular enough to warrant a physical release. West of Loathing is a black and white stick-figure RPG taking place in wild west.
I should note that I normally don't really like shows, movies, etc that take place in a "wild west" type of setting. I kind of pushed through Westworld (I have strong love-hate feelings towards Westworld, but that's for another time) mostly because of other mysterious plot aspects. However, West of Loathing really broke through despite that. I would perhaps call it a "parody" of the wild west era, since it doesn't take itself seriously enough. That's probably why I enjoyed it so much and really got into the cowboy (cowgirl) aspects.
You start the game by picking out your character face and name. They're stick-figure faces, of course, but you can kind of tell apart feminine faces from masculine ones and it will affect whether you're a cowboy and cowgirl. I think this is the first game I've played where you actually put both a first name and a last name, which I thought was kind of fun in this setting, since everyone has strange and wild west-inspired last names. Your adventure starts in your home in Boring Springs, and your motivation to set out is basically to take down the evil possessed cows that have been attacking people. There's not much backstory beyond that, and I don't know if I ever quite understood why the cows have gone mad in the first place or if cows in this setting are just deranged. It's not completely clear, but it's not super important to know either.
During your adventure in West of Loathing, you are able to arm yourself for battle against the cows, skeletons, and other strange foes. The role-play gameplay is actually pretty perfect for my standards. It doesn't feel like grinding or endless random encounters because each battle stands alone - you are always healed up by the next encounter, which I really appreciated. Near the beginning of the game, you pick who you want to take along as your partner. Fortunately for me, my partner had both healing and the ability to one-hit skeletons, so they were very helpful. There's a few battles that were hard enough to make me have to come back later with the right equipment, but for the most part, using the right moves and items was enough to take them down, not grinding. Most of the game consists of carrying out quests and missions for different characters, sometimes with not even being clear which are connected to the main plot; in a way, they all are. It feels a little overwhelming at times when you have a lot of quests going on at once, but I found you can choose to skip certain ones and focus on others to complete the game, unless you're going for a completionist run.
I would say West of Loathing is the most successful example I've played of an intentional "comedy" game. Games I've played that really made me laugh were due to gameplay style (Human: Fall Flat, Untitled Goose Game) and not due to any writing. West of Loathing actually has consistently hilarious writing. So, so many other games that attempt to add comedy in their writing flop terribly, with it actually coming out either awkward or even offensive. Despite many of the jokes being pretty dark and at times morbid, the overall feel of the comedy is fairly wholesome, especially in the ending. I spent the first hour just laughing at the way the protagonist's automatic setting is to rotate between ridiculous types of walks, including walking on their hands and literally dragging their body through the ground. Many interactions you have with another character involves some sort of sass or just some ridiculous story as well. The dialogue and interactions are presented in a text-adventure kind of way, where you have an option of what you can do next and you can see all in one screen how that conversation goes. Sometimes you've got options that are a little more bold than others, and actually do elicit negative reactions in the characters. It was too hard to resist doing so, though.
The music is pretty fitting and upbeat, however, the same track plays for a lot of the game and starts to get a little exhausting. The art style is something that you would just think would not work, but it really does. Even with very simple stick-figure faces, the emotions and responses of characters you encounter come across very clearly. Also, just about everything you see is interactable. It's worth taking the time to walk by every rock, plant, shelf, gravestone, and anything else for chance that you can get and item or just an interesting description. At times, the 2.5D perspective makes it a little difficult to see everything on the screen or interact with something that's too close to another item, but for the most part this isn't too much of an issue.
West of Loathing takes some liberties in its story and makes fun of some unexpected entities, in a way that feels like "punching up", not down. It goes for churches, bureaucracy, cults, exercise fads, and even Kellogg's. If you don't know about John Harvey Kellogg and his "beliefs" that led to creating a purposely bland cereal, the game's retelling of it is actually fairly accurate (I'm not sure how they managed to literally use the brand name).
West of Loathing is genuinely funny and catchy, it focuses on the character interactions and exploration over the challenge of battling. At times it feels like an endless series of sidequests, although you don't have to complete every single one. The black and white hand-drawn style managed to still give an incredibly detailed and rich world, full of very strange characters and stories. If you're looking for a game that will really put a smile on your face and you like interacting with every single character in a game, you'll enjoy this one. It's more challenging in completing quests than it is in combat.
West of Loathing is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 10 hrs