I could certainly do with more Handsome Frog
Here Comes Niko! made me question why I play games. That’s not a knock against it, either. It bills itself as a laid-back platformer; a “game for tired people.” I’m tired pretty much constantly, but I really don’t know what it means by that.
The concept is clear, however. Here Comes Niko! is a platformer where you just soak it in. You do the same thing you do in any platformer — collect stuff, talk to people, collect more stuff — but there’s no real risk of failure. You can bounce, swim, jump from high places and survive; just do your thing.
If you’re like me, you can’t help but ask, “What’s the point?” What’s the point of any game? The point is in the description: it’s just for fun. A platformer to relax with. I’m not sure I can do that, but I’m willing to try.
Here Comes Niko! (PC)
Developer: Frog Vibes
Publisher: Gears for Breakfast
Released: August 3, 2021
The plot of the game involves Niko, who just moved away from home due to some family issues. They’re attempting to land a job as a “professional friend,” and have to pass a series of challenges before their application will be accepted. Sort of.
The actual point of the game is to make people happy so they’ll give you tokens for the train. Not really for the train, but to move things out of the way of the train. Which is done through tokens. I’m getting off message here.
I’d call it a joy-maker, but it’s really more akin to Banjo-Kazooie. People have repeating problems from stage to stage, and you have to help them with things like planting flowers and catching fish. I never really felt a connection with any of them because their problems are so video game-y. Well, I suppose I connect with the people you trade cassette tapes to, but that’s only because they’re so cute!
The art style in general is adorable. Easily my favorite part of the game. Almost everyone you interact with is some form of critter, which is good because humans suck. Their designs are vibrant and distinct. Everything has a cheerful, poppy style to it. It suits the game well, helping bring out its relaxed demeanor.
The world design is a bit less exciting. You hop along a collection of islands, each with its own theme. The first few look like they could have been cobbled together through borrowed assets, though the later ones, especially the towering Japanese onsen, are a little more delightful. Overall, it’s nothing offensive, the environments just don’t pop nearly as well as the characters.
All the characters, yourself included, are completely 2D against the 3D backdrops. This works better than you’d expect, but still causes additional problems when it comes to depth perception. An image on your screen can make it difficult enough to discern distance, but when the characters are all flat, it becomes near impossible. Largely, the game is forgiving enough that isn’t an issue, but on some of the volleyball mini-games, it can be extremely frustrating as you try to position Niko under the ball.
The biggest problems I ran into came down to polish. Similar to the theme of the game, a lot of things seem lackadaisical in Here Comes Niko!’s design. Some of the challenges can be bypassed by the game’s movement system. Others require you to take advantage of its eccentricities to reach higher areas. The environments themselves have some oddities and can feel a bit thrown together.
Tokens are collected to advance — the primary MacGuffin — but on some levels, I could grab more than the signboard that tracks your progress said I could. It eventually evened out as more quests became available, but at the end of the game, I still had 9/10 cassette on one level and 11/10 on the other. Not the end of the world, but a little awkward.
There’s also a virtual pet that you can bring up by sitting on a bench that… complains. It’s cute, but there’s no real risk of it dying and it doesn’t tie into the main game, so it feels a little fluffy. I guess it helps with the laid-back aesthetic, but the last thing I want when I’m trying to relax is something reminding me of my responsibilities. You can ignore it, however, which I eventually did.
I ran into further bugs throughout my playthrough. The game’s developer, Frog Vibes, seems to be hard at work squashing any remaining glitches for release, but I hit quite a number of them in the pre-release build. I don’t think any of them are so bad that they can’t be addressed, but along with quirks in its aesthetic and gameplay, it gives Here Comes Niko! a rather rough feeling.
I get that the development mindset was to create a game that wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously, but that begins to feel like an excuse. There’s a subplot to the game where Niko deals with the fallout of running away from their family, but it’s all flavor and no substance. Niko’s starting their new life on their own and what’s past is past. It never creeps into the ongoing narrative and seems to have little purpose. It certainly doesn’t get resolved, so while it can be relatable, its inclusion seems almost like it’s trying to appear deeper than it is.
Likewise, the dialogue is pretty flat. It’s quirky in that casually irreverent kind of way, but it doesn’t get put to much use. None of the characters are terribly well developed in a way that makes you want to get to know them better. They don’t amount to much. Some introduce their backstory as you play their quests, but they, too, ring hollow. You can introduce same-sex couples all you want, but they’re not very impactful when they’re just random people asking for abstract favors. Worse yet, they’re usually the same favors over and over again.
I’m maybe doing exactly what Here Comes Niko! tries to protect itself from and taking the game too seriously, but if you put a game on my autopsy table, I’m going to dig in with both hands and pull it apart. What I found didn’t exactly horrify me, but didn’t impress me, either. It’s five to seven hours of “yeah, sure, whatever.”
Honestly, I feel like a curmudgeon. Maybe I just hate fun.
But what about you? Do you feel like you could do with some positivity? A game that challenges but never judges? A narrative that doesn’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders? Something that doesn’t send bosses that hate you for no reason? Then Here Comes Niko! might be a good fit. But look past the bright soundtrack and lovely character art and you might find that there’s no chocolate center.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]