I’m not going to mince words- I did not enjoy my time with ‘I Want To Be Human.’ Outside of the game’s buggy and outdated gameplay, it lacks anything memorable or interesting enough to keep anyone’s attention for very long. Sure, it’s quirky- but it’s that kind of humor that’s weird for cringy sake. If you can get past the poor controls and frustrating level design, there are plenty of fun battles to be had. Sadly, I can’t recommend this game to anyone- it just feels far too amateurish, and it’s even more disappointing when I see the work this one-man team has put out before.
WHAT WE LIKED
º A cool art design that’s very reminiscent to Edmund McMillen’s portfolio
º Features some interesting boss battles and stage layouts
º Challenge mode is a nice addition to a game that lacks in diversity.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Unresponsive, outdated controls make the game a chore to play.
º Lacks the personality you’d expect from the outstanding visual design.
º The shotgun is slow and unreliable, and there are no other options.
Never have I played a modern game that encompasses the 90’s more accurately than ‘I Want To Be Human.’ I’m not just saying that because the game starts with some ridiculously dated punk music, but due to its twentieth-century grasp of game design. The lone developer Sinclair Strange is accustomed to posting his games to Newgrounds, and this experience feels like a love letter to the once bustling website. Sadly, even when one expects the horrible feeling of flash-based gameplay, it doesn’t hold up to some of his earlier work, which I should mention is still free on the site. In fact, his game ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ is one that he made in a 72-hour game jam, which has much better gameplay, charm, and controls than this 15 dollar Steam entry. Comparing the two is like night and day- but here I am to give you the forecast for tonight.
The game starts with you, a spunky teenage girl, and your boyfriend being captured by an evil corporation, where they turn you into a vampire and him into a hat. That’s the story. While I appreciate simplicity in my games, this does come across as more ludicrous as opposed to clever, and certainly not enough to keep me pushing forward. It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t feature any fluid cutscenes but crudely drawn comic book pages you move around on the screen to read. Besides the occasional text boxes that cheekily breaks the fourth wall, there’s not much concerning character development or any narrative to grab onto.
I played this on a controller because I hate the idea of platforming on a keyboard. There’s a special ring in hell for that kind of frustration. Sadly, even a PlayStation 4 controller can’t save this game’s muddled and unresponsive controls. Moving is only done through the left thumbstick when a d-pad would’ve been a much better solution. Even then, the game glitches out regardless of how you move your character, with your model seemingly clipping against the edges of art assets. In combat, there are three total buttons to master; a jump button, a fire button, and a speed dash. At any point, these three buttons might not register until the game decides you can press them again. In fact, I had more times than I could count where my character froze on screen, unable to move until I finally died. When I respawned, I was handed full control once again.
Combat is presented naturally, but it gets much harder as you progress; not through the game’s reasonable difficulty curve, but mostly due to the broken controls. You aim your gun by pointing a small circular reticle towards whatever you want dead, in typical 16-bit eight directions. The game, however, will only point your weapon in the direction you point the stick. This means you might jump from the left, onto a platform on the right, ready to shoot and take out an enemy in front of you, but instead shoot a round into the ground. Want to kill something that’s flying in from the upper right; you have to make sure you tap your thumbstick between up and right, otherwise you might have to run into danger to line up your shot. If the developer didn’t want to rip off Super Contra or Metroid, fine- but at least let me use the right stick for aiming without forcing my movement. These directional controls also extend to mid-air dashing, to where you have to be registering a left or right for it to work, meaning any instinctual upward angles to your jump, and you’re going to wish you had the d-pad.
There are some decent enough boss fights, and they’re introduced before you fight them with one of those comic panels. For each, I usually spent the first round getting my butt kicked, only to learn the pattern, come back and bring them down. They’re creative, and for moments outweigh the frustration of the game’s more frustrating aspects.
Speaking of frustrating, the game is full of outdated gameplay choices. It embraces some of the worst feedback I’ve experienced in a game as of late. When you are shot or step on some spikes, you jump back a platform’s length, usually to your death. Now, while that’s a lesson of going too far that the developer should’ve learned from Castlevania, everything else doesn’t go far enough. Vanquish enemies either just vanish in an unsatisfying poof of smoke or are covered by an onomatopoeia, or at best, their bloody bodies fly into the screen. Your character’s sprite barely changes when you slide down walls, making it hard to tell when you’ve got a grip. The whole game just sadly feels overly stiff and unresponsive in any of the ways you would expect a modern 2D platformer to be.
Even worst, the game seems like it was designed with speedruns in mind- but the developer failed to think about how aspects would affect others. For instance, the game only has one choice for your gun- an inaccurate and random shotgun. When you fire off a shot, you’ll have to wait for your bullets to hit or dissolve away before pumping in the next shot. This makes the shooting very slow and methodical, which doesn’t make sense if you have a game with a combo meter. Even worst, multipliers are scattered
around the map in blocks that you either have to knock from below or shoot, but these are usually so far away from the action, it makes it nearly impossible to build up your combo and quickly take out another enemy. I’m talking seconds here until whatever you were building is gone- and most of the enemies will need at least two slowly reloaded shots in order to bring them down. Keep in mind- there are no other weapons in this game. Despite my best efforts, I could never get beyond a ‘C’ grade, and after a while, I decided it would probably be best just to handle it like a slacker in high school; take my ‘D’s and just be happy it’ll all be done soon.
One thing I did like about the game was the inclusion of 20 challenges designed to test your platforming skill. Obviously, bad controls aside, this is a great addition and has some nicely designed and thought out obstacles, all with unique goals. One required you to hop through a bouncy hallway before time runs out. One of the others was a section where you can only jump and dash your way through a barrage of bullets. The later ones get so hard; I doubt many will conquer the whole lot.
The art design is one of the things that pulled me to this game. It has this nice mashup as if Jhonen Vasquez and Tim Schaffer had a bloody, repugnant baby. I love the look and even haphazard design (even if I would’ve liked to see more polish in the unanimated cutscenes). Heck, I even liked those text boxes that I complained about earlier. Sadly, the developer took the design work way too far and into some hackneyed areas. The background is sometimes completely indistinguishable from the platforms. Some objects rest in the absolute foreground that covers not only obstacles but whole enemies from sight. Several levels have items, like some transparent boxes, that float in front of the action, making it very hard to tell anything apart while you’re in the middle of a bullet-hell barrage of violence.
Not to mention, everything has this tongue-through-cheek generic video-game aesthetic, including enemies that brandish power gloves, NES Zappers or look like NES controllers. Yes, we get it- very ‘meta’ to use the most iconic gaming peripherals of all time.
The music and audio work are what you would expect from someone who’s still making games in Flash. Honestly, the first song you hear is from a small Manchester punk band called Without Andrew, where they bleat out over and over their desire to be a Homosapien as standard power cords play in the background. Outside of the discount Riddlin’ Kids opening track, all the other music is standard electronic noise that I can only describe as grating, especially the pause tune which is shorter and more annoying than the Battletoads music. Not to mention, it’s all flash, which means nothing plays over any of the loading screens or pauses in gameplay, meaning you’re pulled out of the game constantly when everything gets dead silent. The voicework doesn’t try to sound natural, opting for a distorted version of Simlish. Sound effects are standard, and not very engaging or entertaining- mostly because nothing is layered or has any depth to it.
I hate writing reviews like this, especially when I know that someone put their heart and soul into it, but this is a lackluster game that needed a lot more. It completely reminds me of one of those weekend rental mistakes I made when I was a kid, only instead of my Mom it was my editors forcing me to “get my money’s worth.” After a while, I started to learn how to handle the busted controls, to circumnavigate the nonsensical level design and to try and enjoy the game for what it is. I’m just going to leave it at that and walk away from this review. Maybe I’ll play some of the developer’s more earnest entries and wonder what went wrong with this fifteen dollar steam venture.