America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 16th Apr 2018 | 2,114 views
Super Daryl Deluxe is one of those titles that sneaks up on you. Its greatness is obscured until you're waist deep in it — and it's 1:00 in the morning and all you want to do is complete just one more quest. It's an exceptionally-balanced and thoughtful action-RPG, or "RPGvania" as the developers call it, made all the more impressive since it's essentially the work of two men: Dan Plate and Gary Porter. Moreover, this game is the twosome's first foray into video game development — almost unbelievable considering its high quantity and quality content.
Set in the hallowed halls of Water Falls High School (WFHS), Super Daryl Deluxe follows new student Daryl Whitelaw as he attends gym class, goes to house parties, and slips into parallel dimensions where everyday school subjects like science and history have taken on lives of their own. Yes, something isn't quite right at WFHS, and Daryl, the slack-jawed new kid, might just be the solution.
Even without its huge collection of interesting quests and upgradeable skills, Super Daryl Deluxe succeeds on atmosphere, tone, and setting. Water Falls High is a sublime send-up of high school politics and social customs, and an ideal setting for Plate and Porter's slightly-demented fantasy and science-fiction storytelling. Part Napoleon Dynamite, part Beavis and Butt-Head, and part Sideways Stories from Wayside School, the game's setting is weird, wild, and endlessly-funny.
The game's story and characters are likewise off-beat and fun. Daryl, with his orange bell-bottoms and stoner stare, is a riot. So too are his scholarly compatriots: a concussed, conspiratorial janitor; a pair of cutthroat second-hand book sellers; and an entire guild of greasy, socially-awkward Dwarves & Druids players, to name only a few. As the school's classrooms break with reality, historical and literary figures enter the equation. Have you ever wanted to get drunk with Caesar or catch ghosts with Ebenezer Scrooge? Then this is the game for you.
While players can glean much of the game's story through newspaper clippings, quick conversations, and environmental clues, some of the meatier plot points necessitate full cut scenes — it's here where the game loses focus. Many of these scripted scenes are overlong with lackluster voice acting.
These distractions are few and far between, however. For much of the game's 20-30 hour duration, players will be fighting, exploring, and questing across WFHS and its extra-dimensional classrooms — each a portal to ancient Rome or The Lord of the Rings or the inside of a computer. Dan and Gary Games calls Super Daryl Deluxe a RPGvania, and it's a fitting expression. It shares the 2D exploration and backtracking of a Metroidvania with the quest and upgrade framework of a role-playing game.
Toward the beginning of the game, Daryl is gifted a special book with skills on every page. He can equip skills in five slots, and use them in rotation in battle. Each of the game's 45+ skills has a rank (trash, OK, good, great, etc.), a type (melee, poison, range, etc.), a cooldown period, and an upgrade path. By cashing in textbooks — the default currency of WFHS — Daryl can unlock new skills, and by spending SXP earned from defeated monsters he can upgrade those skills.
Thus players can tailor the combat experience to the enemy and to their own fighting predilections. Using and upgrading the right skills and equipping the correct accessories is essential to surviving some of the tougher monsters and bosses in Super Daryl Deluxe. Make no mistake: button-mashing will not win the day. Curating the proper collection, managing cooldowns, and unleashing skills with perfect timing — that's the recipe for success.
If there's one flaw in combat, it's the game's last boss. Video game design 101 will tell you that an end boss should be a final exam of sorts, an assessment of everything you've learned throughout the game. It's not the time to introduce new mechanics and moves. Unfortunately Dan and Gary Games throws you into a fight where you have to learn the rules on the fly, resulting in a confusing climax.
If for any reason you need to take a break from combat, you can accept one of the dozens of absurd, hilarious quests in the game. Almost every NPC has a quest, and many of them are spectacular. You might need to put out fires for the Bride of Frankenstein, or deliver the components for a nuke to your prospective girlfriend. Maybe you'll need to eliminate 15 bats for a chiropterophobic vampire, or conduct a little corporate espionage by burning down a competitor's locker. Each completed quest brings with it experience points, or rare items, or reputation points, which grant new social ranks and corresponding passive abilities, e.g. 5% extra health.
Apart from its clever and comical setting, its interesting assortment of quests, and its nuanced action-RPG combat, Super Daryl Deluxe features yet another noteworthy feature: its charming hand-drawn art. Dan Plate has gone above and beyond in delivering some amazing animations, environments, and monster designs. The entire production has that doodled-in-the-margins look, perfect for a game set in a high school.
Super Daryl Deluxe is extraordinary — not just because it's a terrific RPGvania, but because it's the work of two university students. What they've turned in here is substantial, smart, deep, and wildly original. Anyone with a fondness for Metroidvania games and/or side-scrolling action-RPGs should snatch it up ASAP.