Don’t you love surprise game releases? There’s no hype, no previews, no interviews, no strenuous embargo to respect. Just a notification that a game is finally available and you’re free to go and play it to make up your mind. It’s the simple things in life that make me smile and, well, in the case of Asymmetric, there’s a lot to smile about. Let’s go over the reasons why in our Shadows Over Loathing review.
The game is set up as a direct sequel to the much-adored West of Loathing, a strange amalgamation of surreal humour, RPG mechanics and point and click adventure that, despite its simple black-and-white-stick-figure-early-Flash graphics (take a minute, catch your break, here here), won over many players’ hearts. Our protagonist is called to a distant town by his uncle to aid in a matter of life and death, that will propel them in a complex web of cursed items and mysteries. Shadows doesn’t reinvent the wheel, in that sense, but instead just refines all its previous mechanics to deliver a polished, funny and engrossing experience.
One major new feature, for example, is the possibility to customize the stick figure, in pure RPG style, right at the beginning. I went with a unibrow protagonist because that’s obviously one of the best secret powers to have. There are a lot of other options, it is even possible to skip the turn-based combat altogether if you don’t feel like it. Also, while it is possible to reduce the presence of arachnids, I went the other way and adopted one as a familiar (it fights like a drunken Irish it does!). I then also decided to replace all sounds with spid- sorry there was a knock at the door. Ah yes, it’s my thirteen pet tarantulas that needed help with tying their shoelaces, sorry let us carry on.
Fans of the previous title can look forward to the abundance of the very same type of humour, y’know the one. And I do very much mean abundance, I have checked out the thesaurus and I am pretty sure that’s a real word. I have complained before about games being too insistent with their constant barrage of jokes, but I really do not feel like that same observation is valid for Shadows over Loathing. The pacing of the humour feels just perfect, all the way from double entendres to fourth-wall-breaking jokes, with the overall tone always kept consistent. You do want to keep on exploring just to enjoy a few more conversations with NPCs, that’s not something I can say for a lot of other RPGs, even of the AAA kind, frankly.
While all the basic mechanics of an RPG are there (meat used as money, levelling up, picking up new weapons, getting new members on your team to fight, etc) Shadows over Loathing also welcomes experimentation and playing at your own pace, since even just lazily walking around on the map (there’s a button for that), can reveal new sidequests or things to do to improve the stats of your team. While going around to solve mysteries and retrieving cursed items is a big part of the gameplay, you definitely won’t want to miss out on the wacky sidequests like retrieving urns, visiting the tentacle house or bringing pancakes to a poor starved man who just can’t leave his mailbox.
At this point, I feel the Loathing series lives in its own little separate universe where new players will need time to adjust to its own little quirks, but once drawn in, you can never leave. They should call it Hotel Calif- ok, no. As far as Shadows might feel like a small indie title, the developer are very comfortable inside their limitations and are able to slowly introduce new ideas (like going to alternate realms to fight cursed items). As much as the black and white graphics won’t be everyone’s cup o tea, they have their “Paper Mario in primary school” feel which is just oozing charm. And poisonous spiders, of course.
While others might be emphatically scared by what looks to be a throwaway indie RPG “just for laughs”, Asymmetrical delivers a polished experience with all the bells and whistles of any ordinary RPG (even though sometimes those bells might fall right down on your head…). Shadows doesn’t just incorporate humour at the detriment of gameplay, instead they are perfectly balanced. Sure, this is clearly not meant to be experienced like a fully-fledged Western RPG with 60 hours of gameplay, but listen: would you really need another one of those? How much time do you even have to play each week, son? Just let yourself wash over by the comforting, quirky and hilarious vibes of Shadows over Loathing.
Well, folks, this review is starting to stink more than a speakeasy at the end of the weekend, so let’s finish it up. Fans of the original can do themselves a favour in checking out the sequel as soon as possible since it takes everything right about West and amps it up to eleven. Newcomers might feel a little out of place coming into the sequel without knowledge of the original, but they will be up to speed in no time. Shadows over Loathing can be recommended all around to everyone who might want to make their life better by the way of solid RPGs with witty writing and intriguing gameplay mechanics. And spid- *TUNK*
Our Shadows over Loathing review was made possible by a key made available by PR (thanks to Emily) and developers. Shadows over Loathing is available on Steam.
Shadows over Loathing: Shadows over Loathing is just a witty, funny, endearing and well made RPG all around. Also, any game I can fill with spiders is an automatic 9 in my book. – Damiano