Silence is Golden
Wow. Super Daryl Deluxe. What a game this ended up being. I can’t even say that I expecting anything in particular when I first started playing it, aside from a healthy dose of satire (an expectation which most definitely came true). But, well, what did end up giving me was something so weird and wonderful that it’s almost hard to properly describe.
Super Daryl Deluxe is basically what you would get if you forcibly mashed Napoleon Dynamite and the Metroidvania genre together. It sounds weird on paper. It gets weirder when you start playing it. And, by the time you’re done with it, it’s managed to reach a level of weirdness so high that you can’t even tell if the game was taking itself seriously or not. I don’t know where Super Daryl Deluxe came from. I don’t know why it’s here. But man am I glad that it exists.
Super Daryl Deluxe sets the stage for its own narrative by looking back 30 years into the past, at which time two honor students named Kent and Eli were graduating from Water Falls High School. These weren’t just any honor students, though. They were smart. VERY smart. So smart, in fact, that they had the power to change the world for the better. And, after having graduated, that’s just what they planned on doing – and it would all be possible thanks to the self-help book that they planned on writing. They were successful in the end. And that success even led them to write a second book… which happened to brainwash the entire planet. Fortunately, humanity overcame that brainwashing “somehow”, branding Kent and Eli as traitors to the human race in the process.
The rest of the story takes place in the current time, and focuses on none other than Daryl Whitelaw – a new transfer student to the once-prestigious Water Falls. Now, this is where things get interesting. You see, on his own, Daryl really isn’t much. He’s the most literal example of a tabula rasa protagonist I’ve ever seen. And that’s exactly why he gets into the mess he finds himself in in the first place. Daryl’s goldfish-like attention span makes him the perfect errand boy. And that’s exactly what he does. He runs errands. For the entire game.
It doesn’t matter what people ask Daryl to do. He’s (and I say this with love) kind of an idiot. He’ll do anything. Daryl’s journey literally has him running through man-made pocket dimensions on a quest to save the fabric of reality from being torn apart, and he doesn’t so much as bat an eye. Whether he’s picking flowers, or rallying the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Cleopatra together to fight an army of goblins, Daryl treats all tasks the same.
Contrasting Daryl’s absolute blankness, is the rest of Super Daryl Deluxe’s cast. Dan & Gary games did an excellent job with making the in-game world game feel as alive as possible (which actually isn’t too hard when the main character is Daryl). What impressed me most, perhaps, is how the game handles satire. May of the characters in Super Daryl Deluxe aren’t to be taken too seriously. This is due to the fact that most of them are either completely self-centered, or flat-out crazy. But not all of them. Every so often, the game throws in a character who seems, well, competent and self-aware. Although small in number compared to cornucopia of weirdos inhabiting the rest of the game’s world, these (passably) normal characters do an excellent job of keeping the story moving, and help the player remember that not everyone is out to get them.
Despite its irrational and wonky premise, Super Daryl Deluxe is actually a simple and straightforward Metroidvania. And a highly competent one at that. Being set within the bounds of a high school and all, you might not think that much is going to happen. After all, most high schools aren’t that exciting. Mine certainly wasn’t. But Water Falls isn’t an ordinary school. Thanks to some spoiler-related shenanigans, the very fabric of Water Falls has begun to twist and warp. As a result, most of the classrooms aren’t exactly normal any more. Instead, they’ve become alternate worlds, whose composition is based upon the subject of the classroom itself. Ever play Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Before? It’s kid of like that. Except a lot weirder.
In terms of actual gameplay, things are pretty self-explanatory. I can confidently say that anyone with prior Metroidvania experience will become comfortable with this game very quickly. The controls are easy to learn, platforming is tight and responsive – an especially impressive feat, considering how tall Daryl is. Seriously, he takes up a pretty decent amount of space for a platforming character. It’s surprising how little that actually effects the game.
There are a lot of things that make Super Daryl Deluxe great, and the game’s level design is pretty high up there on that great-making list. Each of the classroom’s worlds are designed uniquely enough to help ensure a lack of similarity in between each of them, while managing not to forego an overall sense of cohesion. It’s still a Metroidvania game in the end, sure, but the way in which each world approaches the “Metroidvania-ness” is never quite the same. On top of that, this game sports some absolutely gorgeous (and sometimes terrifying) visuals. Even if you didn’t need a reason to visit a world (which you will, don’t worry), it would still be worth it just to see the numerous and striking artistic themes presented within the game.
Take a Page from my Book
Have I mentioned how weird this game is? I have? Okay, just making sure. Because, if I haven’t, I would definitely do so now. Much like his intellectual capacity, Daryl’s physical prowess isn’t much. In fact, aside from his impressive vertical leap, he can’t do anything at all in the beginning. Fortunately, that all changes thanks to the very last copy of a book. A very special book which helped improve (thus paving the way to the eventual destruction of) humanity in the past. For some reason, simply hanging onto pages out of that book are enough to imbue its holder with a variety of special abilities. And it just so happens that those pages have fallen into the hands of a certain slack-jawed protagonist.
The easiest way to describe combat in Super Daryl Deluxe is to compare it to one of its inspirations. Specifically, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Much like OoE’s Shanoa, Daryl doesn’t actually fight with a weapon (although he can equip weapons to boost stats). Instead, all of his attacks are based on which pages you have equipped (a la OoE’s Glyphs). Each page is responsible for its own, unique attack, and can be fit into one or more of a number of attack categories, including melee, ranged, utility, and more. While attacks don’t require anything like MP, most of them can’t be used endlessly and come with a cooldown time. Because of this, players are required to learn how to properly chain attacks.
Super Daryl Deluxe’s chain attack-based combat ultimately serves to help it shine. While a little tricky to get a solid hold of in the beginning, combat quickly becomes both engaging and enjoyable after a while. Coming up with new and creative ways to take down enemies is always fun. And the fact that the game’s cornucopia of abilities for players to pick up as they journey through… well, high school, technically, means that there are plenty of chances to mix and match abilities and find the perfect set of skills to use in your battle against whatever it is that Daryl’s being forced to fight.
A Fool’s Errand
It’s true that Daryl ends up embarking on a journey which would take him through space and time. And it’s true that, along the way, he faces numerous obstacles and enemies which he must overcome. But, in reality, there’s only one reason why he’s doing all of that; because people tell him to. The entire basis of the consists of other people bossing you around. I know that there are plenty of Metroidvanias which make use of quests. But with Super Daryl Deluxe, completing quests are at the very core of gameplay.
Super Daryl Deluxe does quite nicely with its quest presentation overall. Although most of the game’s quests aren’t mandatory, it’s the optional quests that end up making the game for the most part. Optional quests are where you get to see a lot of the secondary characters shine through, and even learn a bit about the history of Water Falls (and its wonderful student population). Of course, if lore and exposition aren’t your thing, quests also offer plenty of loot, EXP, and money. With as many quests as the game has to offer you might think that things would begin to run together after a while, but Super Daryl Deluxe deftly overcomes that issue by keeping its own ever-growing to-do list as varied as possible by smoothly cycling between quests involving combat, item collecting, trials, “diplomacy”, and more.
Deluxe? More like Aeluxe! (Get it? Like, it’s a Good Game so I Gave it an “A”)
Super Daryl Deluxe is a game consisting almost entirely on being weird and, every once in a while, creepy. There were plenty of times when it didn’t make sense, and on more than one occasion I couldn’t decide whether what was happening in the game was actually even happening or if it was all in Daryl’s head. There is, however, one thing that outshines this game’s weirdness; its quality. Super Daryl Deluxe is, without a doubt, a true testament to the modern-day Metroidvania. And it more than proves that good things come in gangly looking packages.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: Dan & Gary Games ; Developer: Dan & Gary Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 10, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Super Daryl Deluxe given to Hey Poor Player by the developer.