Indiecalypse is a mix of a ton of games, South Park and far too many issues. I think it’s easy to say that a game could be a diamond in the rough, but taking away all Indiecalypse’s technical problems would only reveal the counterfeit at its core.
Indiecalypse shows the story of three central characters as they become part of a development team and try to make their own games. It starts off with Jack AKA “DARKPENETRATOR69” at his school, just before an important coding exam. You sprint from the classroom you fell asleep in, to your locker where your keyboard is, and arrive at your workstation ready to take your exam. Taking said exam involves clicking buttons in time to the rhythm, in a homage to Guitar Hero, in a sequence entitled “Code Hero”. It doesn’t work perfectly, feeling much stiffer than Guitar Hero, but works serviceably enough to suggest what it’s parodying. This, in a nutshell, describes Indiecalypse as a whole. The majority of the gameplay takes the role of parodies of pre-existing games, but then throws in slight issues to each. They’re familiar enough to remind you of the game but not good enough to wish you weren’t just playing the original, instead feeling much more shallow and less thought-out.
This is to use the term parody very lightly. Usually, a parody involves taking some structure or idea and flipping it on its head to deliver something new. Indiecalypse purely takes the original game and puts it into its own experience. Instead of criticising the game itself, it feels far more like a child repeating what you say directly after you. This does not work well as criticism or parody, more parroting.
The parodies themselves feel rather tacked on to the base idea. Often at times, there isn’t any consistency to the story, just working as a basic platform from one minigame to the other. You take an exam so it’s Guitar Hero, you get into a fight for not liking Minecraft so it’s Enter The Gungeon, you kill your classmate for cheating so it’s Binding of Issac. There’s a lot of ground to parody things when it makes sense but Indiecalypse doesn’t do this, feeling like low-hanging fruit. It follows the formula of “write a random scenario involving some sexual act or over the top violence and make it about some popular indie game”.
The humour itself follows this same idea. The majority of it takes the form of references to video game culture but it fundamentally delivers this at an incredibly low surface level. Instead of referencing games, it will often just mimic the name in some low effort pun and leave it at that. This is done in much in the same way as mid-2000s gamer humour and clearly takes some inspiration from just that. Just scroll through some “CTRL + ALT + DELETE” comics from 2002 and you have the exact formula. And that means that instantly it feels dated and cheesy. The other form of humour it’s very fond of is that of crass shock humour, the type that worked very well in the two recent South Park games – The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole. It doesn’t work nearly as well here.
The reason it works in South Park is due to the fact that South Park uses it in two distinct ways: to ascend or further a joke to the extreme, or to shock you out of the comfort you’ve felt throughout the softer or more story-driven parts. Indiecalypse does not have this. It sets the tone with a joke about your dog sexually assaulting you and taking your virginity and then doesn’t stop till the end of the game. It feels crass, ill-thought-out and is not used sparingly, often numbing you to its humour rather than shocking you. Within half an hour of starting, the whole sense of humour gets boring and dull. And so too do the minigames.
That’s under the assumption the minigames included here all work as intended, but unfortunately they do not. Two particularly bad offenders that required multiple restarts were found in Indiecalypse’ parody of “Papers, Please” and its “Modern Warfare” clone, inexplicably titled The Rats of Us and Call of Rats in different instances. Burgers, Please involves checking receipts and only allowing ones that are accurate, yet on multiple occasions the information just didn’t come up or the person who came up to the till spoke and left immediately, giving me an incorrect violation or failing the game. The Rats of Us involves shooting kids with plastic balls until they cry. One particularly unruly child would not cry upon being hit and took three restarts before he actually did; that’s one tough kid. Unfortunately, every unique attempt that Indiecalypse tries at feels like a cheap 2000’s flash game.
The same can be said for both the music and art style. At times, such as the “Cuphead” minigame and some of the animations, the art style is serviceable; reminiscent of Gravity Falls. But more times than not, it is fairly ugly with few redeeming features. The music can be fitting to the game and its parodies but it’s wildly inconsistent. However, it seems that perhaps Indiecalpyse’s worst flaw is down to its very design. Nothing about it feels original, relying on parody or shock to create any form of entertainment, and it fails to bring anything new to the table. It criticises The Last of Us for being critic bait and sequels for being dull and unoriginal but Indiecalpyse is perhaps one of the most dull and unoriginal games I’ve played all year. It does a serviceable job at parroting specific experiences but fails at the very few attempts to leave that structure. It tries to criticise so many facets of the game industry (some of which really deserve the criticism) yet falls into most of the cliches it makes fun of. Sometimes it’s not good enough to just point at cliches and call it a day.
That same idea can be applied to the games it references. Whilst references can enrich a world or point loving homage to something you care about, the work itself should be able to stand out without them. If you take away references from most great titles, underneath you will find solid gameplay, great stories and a multitude of other factors to keep you invested. Indiecalypse is nothing without its references. Its story does nothing overall, instead feeling very cheap, and the minigames only work due to the idea that for the minute or so they last they remind you of better games.
Indiecalypse on Xbox One tries many things, but for the most part it fails. Throughout my time with it it has regularly required restarts to fix its minigames, its humour is grating and fails to show any depth, and it only really takes a couple of hours or so to finish. Despite this, the minigames and story aren’t worth the playtime. Indiecalypse is to games what “Epic Movie” is to films – shallow, self-serving and ultimately pointless. If you own any of the games it parodies, just play those instead.