Time to make the woah-nuts
[Note: Jonathan Holmes' name appears in the Special Thanks section of Woah Dave!'s credits. No one knows why. One guess is it's because Jonathan and Woah Dave! creator Jason Cirillo had a decent conversation at PAX East 2014, during which time Jonathan was wearing a Woah Dave! t-shirt. Maybe that's it.]
Woah Dave! is a game that you don't want to get excited for. Any hype at all, even the slightest praise, might ruin your chance of getting into it. Ironically, there are plenty of reasons why some people can't help but be excited for Dave. For one, it's the latest game from Choice Provisions (formerly known as Gaijin Games), who have quite a large and dedicated following chomping at the bit for a new game from the studio. Not only that, but Woah Dave! has both an exclamation point and the word "woah" in the title, as though the game itself is excited that it exists.
If you go into the game expecting to say "woah!" right away, you may be disappointed. Like Super Crate Box, Geometry Wars, or Samurai Gunn, it's not a game that works to impress at first. That makes it all the more surprising when you discover how deep, intense, and unpredictable this game of controlled chaos can get.
Woah Dave! (Steam, iOS, 3DS eShop)
Developer: Jason Cirillo, Choice Provisions
Publisher: Choice Provisions, Mini Visions label
Released: October 30, 2014
MRSP: $4.99 (Steam, 3DS eShop) $1.99 (iOS)
So why is the game called Woah Dave!? Probably for the same reason Nuts and Milk is called Nuts and Milk, or Fast Eddie is called Fast Eddie. There was a time in gaming when no one knew what would make a game marketable. Technical limitations prevented games from going for any level of realism. Mimicking the themes and concepts that made films or TV shows popular was out of the question. Instead developers tended to go with fun-to-say names, easy to pick up mechanics, and nonchalantly surreal scenarios. It was a time when AAA games were usually about abstract cartoon characters running around bizarre obstacle courses, avoiding death at the hands of cute monsters while collecting money, love, or food. Pretty weird stuff by today's standards.
A little while back, I wrote about how Lone Survivor is one of my favorite games about psychosis. Woah Dave! might soon join that list, along with games like LSD and Deadly Premonition. That said, it's never made 100% clear that Woah Dave! is about hallucinating, or anything else for that matter. When Dave dies, everything we see transforms from a dreamlike landscape to a normal city scene. Does that mean Dave's been "living the dream" a little too well? Maybe. One thing's for sure though, titular hero Dave Lonuts has plenty of things to be paranoid about. Almost everything in his world can kill him, including giant green eggs, exploding skulls, and multiple forms of cyclopes. Where do these cyclopes come from, you ask? The fried eggs, of course. Worse, the lava underneath the floor makes cyclopes mutate, as dictated by laws of unexplained alien science.
Thus begins Woah Dave! adventure of constant risk, reward and crowd control. Your goal is to make as much money as you can before you die. The only way to do that is to kill. You kill with eggs and skulls. You can only carry one thing at a time, and either one will kill you if you hold on to it for too long. That forces you to be constantly picking things up, throwing them before they get too hot, running, jumping, and planning in pursuit of maximized profits.
Woah Dave! may be a little underwhelming on the first couple of plays because it's not immediately clear that with the preparation and skill, you can put together a huge plan for big, BIG money. If you take the obvious path of killing a few newborn cyclopes with an egg, you'll collect a penny per kill. Go about a game that way and you'll probably end up with $.20 or so before all three of your lives are through. With a little experience you'll learn that letting a cyclops get to the bottom of the screen causes it to mutate into a faster, red cyclops, which nets you two pennies per kill. Let a red one get to the lava and it becomes a blue hopping cyclops, worth three pennies. Let a blue mutate and it will grow wings. Kill that jerk and you get four pennies. Farming your foes for cash is the real name of the game, though encouraging mutation isn't something for the faint of heart.
It's a similar design hook as Pac-man Championship Edition: DX, where rounding up a lot of ghosts and waiting as long as possible to kill them is the key to achieving a high score. Woah Dave! is different in that the passage of time brings other dynamic changes to the field, some of which may sneak up on you before you know it. First is the Woah Block, which falls from the sky at random if you're able to stay alive for a while. The block kills everything on screen at once, so if you're able to fill the world with higher level enemies, you can net $.30-$.50 in massive blow.
So carefully waiting things out can help you to get rich, but it also makes life way worse. You probably wont notice it at first, but the bottom floor of the screen (the one that covers the lava) is slowly disappearing. That gives you less space to maneuver, and more opportunities for the cyclops to evolve. So you'll get more mutants at a faster rate as time goes on and less places to hide from them. Increased potential risk reward, if you like it or not. It's just one of the subtle, organic ways the game gradually scales the difficulty without resorting to conventional methods.
With a little experience, you'll learn to start anticipating your death the moment you start a game. Life is short, so you've got to make as much money as fast as you can. That means grabbing eggs and getting them to the bottom of the screen as soon as you start. You want mutants and you want them now. The bottom of the screen should be crawling with monsters within a few seconds if you're playing right. That'll makes the top of the screen the safer place to hang out, though not for long. Mutated cyclopes rocket out the lava upon contact, launching them to the top, and potentially into your butt. Being constantly aware of this is what separates the good Woah Dave! players from the masters. Like with Bit.Trip CORE, learning to stop focusing on individual points in the field and instead look at everything on-screen at once is the secret to Woah Dave! excellence.
Woah Dave!'s only weakness comes from its relatively low ceiling of content. After a certain point, you stop getting concrete rewards for accruing more money and survival time. At first you get little acknowledgements of your success, like changes to the background graphics, added layers to the music, and previously mentioned Woah blocks. After the floor is completely gone, and you've bumped into a few tough to kill UFO's, you'll have seen pretty much everything in the game. On top of that there's 16 achievements to shoot for, and an unlockable Bonkers mode, which starts you off with UFOs and no bottom floor. It's a nice little assortment of rewards, but as far as I know, there is no "ending" or more content beyond what you might see at past that $1.50 mark. That might limit your motivation to keep playing regularly enough to ever hit $3-$5.
That's where which version of Woah Dave! you pick up makes all the difference. The Steam version is the best value by far, as it has online leaderboards and 2-player "tug of war" mode where you compete with a pal to see who can get rich the quickest. The iOS version has online leaderboards too, whereas the poor old 3DS has local leaderboards only. The surprisingly fun 3D graphics, the portability and the traditional controls make the 3DS version my favorite in theory. In practice, the iOS and Steam ports win out thanks to those online leaderboards. Aspiring to be a global champion is the main reason to play the game long term. Without that draw, you may be done with regular Woah Dave! play after a week or so.
Still, a week with Dave is certainly worth $2-$5. There's hours of arcade fun, strange charm, and game design science here. If you can get past the game's deceptively simple surface and are content to challenge yourself after the game stops providing new carrots to chase, you'll find Woah Dave! to be well worth your pennies.
Woah Dave! reviewed by Jonathan Holmes
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
How we score: The Destructoid Reviews Guide