Not many people know this, but I'm a huge fan of hip-hop. Whether it's the smooth beats of Death Row Records' 90s G-Funk, or the sometimes jazzy Hieroglyphics, hip-hop is one of my favorite genres because of how meaningful the lyrics can be (see Public Enemy in particular).
Even gangster rap has a message hidden in all the cursing and general debauchery, whether it's anger, broken friendships, inequality, or a general look inside someone else's troubled psyche. In fact, pretty much all hip-hop has a message, which really resonated with me from a young age.
So what's Way of the Dogg's message? Don't buy it, G.
Way of the Dogg (Android, iOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed]) Developer: Echo Peak Publisher: 505 Games Released: May 3, 2013 (Xbox 360) / TBA (Android, iOS, PlayStation 3) MSRP: $9.99, 800 MSP (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) / TBA (Android, iOS)
Snoop came out of nowhere to deliver Way of the Dogg, a rhythm game similar to Elite Beat Agents. Now I know that comparison probably has you jumping for joy (I was pretty excited in the first ten minutes too), but don't get too ecstatic, as it doesn't offer anything beyond a base experience of the genre. You'll take control of America Jones, a bad ass mofo who wants to take revenge for the murder of his partner/lover Sierra -- and what better way to do that than learn kung-fu from the one, the only, Snoop Lion.
To "battle," you'll watch notes snake and appear on-screen as you time your button presses to the beat. As you progress, Way of the Dogg mixes things up by forcing you to hold and release some buttons, press certain directions simultaneously, and so on. To be clear, this isn't a fighting game in any sense of the word. The on-screen fighting is merely a delivery system for how well you're doing in the rhythm portion, as you have no direct control of it outside of hitting your notes and the occasional QTE.
Depending on how well you do in a portion of each stage (levels usually have 10-15 musical sections), you'll have the ability to unleash a QTE and take off some of the enemy's life bar. The bar is set up in a tug of war fashion though, as failing a section will result in a tug in your direction. If your health drops below a certain threshold, that's how you fail a stage -- if theirs drops, well, you just have to keep going and finish the level. Everything is pretty responsive outside of the QTE motions, which strangely force you to use the analog stick for directional input, and preclude the use of the d-pad.
If you jack the game up to Hard mode it's actually pretty challenging, even for a rhythm vet who could perfect PaRappa the Rapper. But while the actual rhythm part is fairly well designed, I can't say the same for pretty much any other part of the game.
Way of the Dogg channels old school kung fu and blaxploitation films, framing the narrative around a tale of revenge, kung-fu style. But even as a fan of both genres I just couldn't get into the world, mostly due to the fact that they didn't go far enough. Blaxploitation in particular was raw, gritty, and tough -- that's pretty much the point of the genre. Sadly, it seems as if Snoop's mellow attitude has rubbed off on the game, as it's rated "T for Teen."
Yep, the game features insanely explicit songs such as "Who Am I?" yet it completely bleeps out everything "worse" than "shit." The lack of explicit lyrics doesn't just hurt the overall theme of the game -- it also affects gameplay, as it's tough to get a flow for the rhythm and time button presses to lyrics when some of the words are completely bleeped out.
America Jones as a relentless protagonist is pretty much the only fitting part of the game, as the villains aren't nearly compelling enough (one of them doesn't even talk). You'll fight stereotypes galore, from the rich white guy at the top, to the silent evil kung-fu master, to generic gangsters. What the game should have done is gone full on camp, with crazy fights with a White Castle manager or something even more absurd -- perhaps then the silliness factor would have been compelling enough to keep you going.
I mean, they tried. With locations like "Pier 420" and a fat white cop as one of the most formidable foes in the game, it's clear they were attempting to go for some camp -- they just failed. If Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a perfect example of how to embrace a genre with its camp in tow, Way of the Dogg is the exact opposite.
This failure isn't as evident in the first portion, because the thing is, the game was actually tolerable at first. Jones was going through the motions, searching for his partner's killer, chillin' and learnin' from Snoop, and then ... time travel happened. Yep, I'm not kidding! Actual time travel is a major plot device around halfway through the game.
The sad part is going back in time is the excuse for replaying the entire game over again through an alternate plotline. Outside of the final (underwhelming) fight, you're actually replaying the same first half with some minor plot adjustments. I pretty much couldn't believe it, as I was actually having a decent time, and the fact that the developers exploited a plot device like this to recycle content is pretty shameful.
After you're done with the roughly hour and a half campaign, you'll have the ability to play an underwhelming multiplayer mode, a challenge mode that basically rips off exact story sequences (even lazily including the actual cutscenes), and an art gallery with bios. Multiplayer is in the form of a local-only two player experience, where both players square off in a versus mode. It's fairly simplistic in nature, but it works -- the only issue is finding someone else who's actually willing to play it with you.
But at least there's one worthwhile extra! Once and for all the all-encompassing mystery of Snoop's identity is answered within the game's gallery -- "Snoop will always be Snoop Dogg. Snoop will always be Snoop Lion." There, now you don't have to buy the game to put your mind at ease, because I know that kept you up at night.
Way of the Dogg is a wasted opportunity. As someone who consumes pretty much all the media on offer in this game it doesn't even appeal to me, which should tell you that something's wrong. It's a shame, because with an "M" rating and a little more plot tweaking, this could have been something special. Someone call the popo -- this game just did a 187 on your wallet, foo.
Average - Like a meal of lukewarm water with white bread. It filled my time and my belly, but lacks any discernible flavor or nutritional value. A game that left me no different than it found me. Just passing through.
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