Where Are My Friends? It’s a question I ask myself on a regular basis, usually before swiftly heading back into another gaming session in solitary with the lights down low, oblivious to the outside world. Where Are My Friends? is also the title of a game that’s been ported to Xbox One, published by Sometimes You, which sees the titular character wonder about the whereabouts of his friends. It’s a good job he didn’t just retreat to his living quarters; otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a game now would it?
Having taken notice of the recent influx of games arriving under the Sometimes You label – Spiral Splatter, North, One Eyed Kutkh etc. – I’ve grown to admire the combination of highly original ideas and the low prices. Therefore the bar has been set for Where Are My Friends? to deliver something just as creative to keep up the trend. The fact it delivers four different genres in one game might be a good start.
In Where Are My Friends?, players take control of Wheye – an eyeball on a wheel – on a mission to locate all of his friends who have gone missing whilst they were studying the local species on an unnamed planet. This planet is about to explode, so it’s down to Wheye to save the day, venturing to different parts and having to overcome whatever stands in his way. The story itself is conveyed without words, leaving you to interpret what’s going on from the pictures and the short videos within. Although it works in expressing the rough plot, it’s not the most expansive tale told, nor the most interesting.
Anyway, four classic gaming genres stand between you and success; Metroidvania, point ‘n’ click, runner, and puzzle platformer. These are split across four levels, each with their own style and concept, and accessed on the spaceship hub in any order you wish to tackle them. What I do appreciate is the way you must solve a handful of little problems on the ship beforehand to even find the level select area. Having no idea which icon on the revolving wheel for selecting levels related to each of the genres, I chose one at random.
Unfortunately, the first level took me to a dark and dingy cave that required Wheye to explore with limited light and activate a whole load of switches. The Metroidvania level sees you having to manoeuvre and jump across gaps, avoiding spikes and projectiles to stay alive. The mechanics aren’t great though; seeing this one-eyed hero get stuck in limbo as you’re half hanging off ledges and other times dying when it appears you haven’t been touched by anything. Death isn’t such an issue in terms of progress as there are checkpoints dotted all about the place, but what irritates the most is how large the environment is and subsequently how easy it is to start revisiting the same places for that next switch because you’re lost.
The good thing is, you can return to the ship and start one of the other levels at any time, without losing anything you’ve already done. And after a frustrating opener, the point ‘n’ click level which followed was where things picked up. Wherever it transports Wheye too, there are many rooms featuring different artificial weather machines to create rain, wind, snow and more. Levers are missing, bits of tape are required and cogs need fixing, to name a few of the problems you’ll face. It’s the standard ‘find things that’ll solve the issue and use them’ gameplay, and that’s not overly exciting I’ll grant you, but the rooms are rather cool and apart from the cursor disappearing every so often – forcing a reload – it’s a relaxing affair.
As it stands, that’s half of the levels experienced and Where Are My Friends? hasn’t done an awful lot worth shouting about. But I haven’t yet mentioned the puzzling platformer level, which is by far the most enjoyable and brain taxing part of the game. Using an array of portals and moving platforms, you’ll need to evade various laser beams to delve deeper and deeper into a bunker. Not only must you figure out the best course of action to reach the end of each section, but also have the timing to pull it off. It gets tough – really tough in fact – when multiple coloured portals and rotating lasers get involved, but the joy of making it to the next checkpoint is worth giving it a go. It’ll only keep you occupied for around an hour in total though and it won’t be winning too many awards for innovation.
Last up is the runner, and I’m impressed with this for two reasons mainly: the art style and the gameplay. Heading to the jungle with Wheye, he’ll end up racing full pelt to escape the clutches of a flying creature, leaving you to jump over and slide under obstacles along the way, with a spot of underwater traversing at one point too. These obstacles range from plants that fire projectiles to what look like prehistoric dinosaur-like turtles. There are four different sections to the level, with left to right and right to left scrolling as well as top to bottom and the opposite way. The latter two are from a top-down perspective though and this change invigorates the gameplay at the most opportune times.
Aesthetically the runner level really stands out amongst the rest of the game, not only due to the use of hand drawn art, but the wholesome feel it brings to proceedings. A lot of love has been put into the top down parts especially, which looks as if it’s been drawn using crayons. The lovely artwork, coupled with the encouraging soundtrack and addictive gameplay, ensures the jungle is a joyous place to be.
Overall, Where Are My Friends? manages to create an original experience with the concept of designing four contrasting games and wrapping them together in a story of friendship – what little story there is. Nothing has the wow factor though, and aside from the lovely runner level, there is very little I haven’t seen before elsewhere. The bonus is that everyone will like something here, and for gamers looking to broaden their horizons, they can get a taste of some classic genres for under a fiver. The atmospheres suit each situation too, with decent backing tracks setting the tone for the levels. Sadly, the implementation of the game mechanics let it down on occasion, causing frustration to set in, especially in the cave when you’re already lost.
Despite the flaws, it’s certainly worth a punt given the price. I enjoyed it and you may too!