The idea of buying an interactive commercial is like battery acid in the minds of most adult gamers, but we blissfully forget that we once paid full price for entire videogames that existed purely to push another product.
World Gone Sour (Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed], PlayStation Network)
Release: April 11, 2012
MSRP: 400 Microsoft Points
World Gone Sour is a story about Sour Patch Kids, the anthropomorphized candy that you'll find filling the lobbies of all good movie theaters around North America. Just like the advergames of yesteryear, it takes the form of a simple platformer, as players step into the gummy boots of a lost Sour Patch Kid who wishes only to be eaten, lest he be driven insane.
The first thing to note is just how adult-oriented World Gone Sour is. One would assume that, like all good advergames, the target audience is gullible children. Instead, the game opens with one Sour Patch Kid stabbing another brutally in the back with a knife, and that's just the first of many adorably morbid concepts thrust into the player's mind. As if that wasn't enough, the action is narrated by Creed Batton from The Office, who makes lewd, vulgar, family-unfriendly comments throughout. It would seem gullible adults, or at least teenagers, are the marketing department's ultimate prey.
As far as the platforming goes, players will need to jump over chasms, avoid spikes, and generally do all the things that one would expect to do in a run-of-the-mill sidescroller. A slight Pikmin-flavored twist is introduced in the form of smaller companion Kids, twenty-five of which are scattered around each level. These companions follow the player character around and can be thrown to hang off switches or collect hard-to-reach items. They can also be absorbed, allowing players to grow in size.
The player can absorb or break apart at whim (so long as enough companions are present), and our gummy hero can be one of three sizes. At their smallest, players can squeeze through tight spots, while the larger sizes can hurl companions like bowling balls, perform ground pounds, or take extra hits from enemies before dying. It's usually a good idea to be at least mid-sized for most of a stage, although tight jumps through dangerous territory can benefit from a smaller character.
Each stage is littered with green gummy pieces that dish out extra lives, stars that contribute to a leaderboard score, and five secret trophies. At the end of each level, players are awarded points based on what they've collected, how many companions they found, and how many unique deaths the player inflicted on said companions. You're encouraged to toss your friends into spikes, liquids, and flames, especially to collect items too dangerously positioned for your liking. Such sadism goes unpunished, since dead companions respawn after a few moments, so nobody needs to worry about sending Sour Patch Kids to die by the dozen.
Companions won't be the only ones who die, however. Once World Gone Sour hits its mid-point, it becomes surprisingly taxing. Tricky platform sections that exploit the game's overenthusiastic physics, intricate wall-jump challenges, and a smorgasbord of increasingly brutal environmental hazards will happily whittle your lives down to zero. There are plenty of green gummies and liberal checkpoints to keep the game moving along, and while nothing's ever too difficult, there are a remarkable amount of opportunities to swear at the television, just like old times.
Unfortunately, that mid-point also serves as the moment where a lot of the charm runs dry. Batton's narration, positively flowing in the earlier sections of the game, disappears save for a few scant moments, while the repetitious music and lack of variety overall really turns the game into something of a tiresome affair. There are nine levels, split into three themes, and it doesn't feel like enough to keep things interesting, even for the couple hours of gameplay present. It's all solid stuff, but since a lot of the entertainment comes from the outright stupidity of the game's concept, the failure to capitalize with more humor really lets the mid-portion of the game sag.
It doesn't help that, at times, the game never feels quite right, either being too responsive or not very responsive at all. As noted earlier, the protagonist's jumps are huge -- a fact that the game itself takes advantage of -- while his wall-jumping ability doesn't always work properly. The hit detection feels a little off as well, with enemies that have incredibly tiny hit boxes that are hard to predict, given that they're mostly shapeless globs of monstrous bubble gum. One never gets a sense of weight in the game's world, which can be quite problematic at times.
Cooperative play is allowed for, but as is disappointingly common with XBLA games, it's local only. Players without friends won't be missing much, however, since the only real benefit is the ability to get a free respawn if one player dies and the other hits a checkpoint without also snuffing it.
For five bucks, however, World Gone Sour isn't the worst game around. In fact, it can be relatively enjoyable, and the dark humor is pretty entertaining when it pops up. There are some inventive little boss battles thrown in, showcasing insane Sour Patch Kids who have become slightly telekinetic and inhabit sneakers or dolls that they've brought to life. Defeating the bosses are simple cases of waiting for them to expose their vulnerable spots and attacking, but they're nevertheless quite fun to dispatch.
Whether or not you feel right in spending money on a glorified commercial is down to your own moral code, but World Gone Sour is an entertaining reminder of how shameless the industry has always been. It truly feels like a spiritual successor to Cool Spot, and while nobody has ever asked for a spiritual successor to Cool Spot, it gives one a nostalgic feeling nonetheless. With some pretty decent platforming, a dash of shockingly grim humor, and an utterly ridiculous Sour Patch Kids music video courtesy of Method Man, World Gone Sour is far from the worst thing you could waste five dollars on.
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