Oh boy. I feel like I’m trundling around Jim Sterling’s old stomping grounds lately. NallyNally, the public service announcement of Steam! On the one hand, it’s not like this game would get any attention to begin with, and on the other… It doesn’t really deserve it. What a satisfying bait and switch! As you might have seen from that Game Journalism I’ve done with the title, Ari’s Arooroo isn’t very good.
The first thing that struck me about this game was it’s very odd dialogue style and general storyline. You see, it reminded me something awful of direct to TV flicks. The type that you can see on particularly boring bus rides. I might have to eat some crow here, because it turned out, Arbuckle Amplification is, indeed, based on a direct to TV flick. The whole deal, too! Made in Germany, starring an empowered teenage redhead, horses, kindly old men, and a pretty boy love interest. Or I assume he’s a love interest. Maybe in the end she dates the horse.
For some damn reason, however, the game doesn’t put you in control of Mika, movie protagonist, and instead puts her in a convenient coma. The tone is incredibly lighthearted, and most characters will laugh and joke about silly old Mika, who is just sleeping it off after a freak accident in Andalucía featuring a blender and twenty appletinis. This goes together like jello and rusty nails, in my honest opinion, but I guess it takes the edge off for whoever had to write this. I’m not caught up on my teenage girl soaps, so this stuff might actually happen in one of the books.
Looking at the trailer and the in game art, characters look made by someone in the same universe as the films at least. I get it though, likenesses are hard to get for products THIS amazing. Models rock misaligned eyes, wonky walk cycles, and going through the motions style idle animations that are really not all that varied. Sam for example apparently has a quite unhealthy obsession with stretching.
The premise is simple, you are Ari, short for nothing, little violent snot-nosed orphan who goes around punching lads and taking names. German authorities don’t seem to appreciate this, as you’re in the foster home system, and have a criminal record. At age 13. I get it, after all Ari’s an instant expert at anything she touches, so she probably mastered sythesizing meth from watching one episode of Breaking Bad. A friend of yours who mysteriously disappears halfway into the story, called Fannella… Shortened to Fanny (hold chuckle) brings you to the place of magic, or witchcraft, that is Kaltenbach ranch.
You soon try to make your escape and meet kindly old man, generic hunky boy, and comatose spirit, then everybody says some nonsense about being a warrior, which apparently translates to riding horses and not doing a lot of warring. Windstorm the spooked horse and Ari will tighten their bond in a masterful way that’ll bring tears to your eyes.
That is to say, fuck all happens between Ari and Windstorm. He doesn’t get better at jumping, or running. Ari’s already a master archer as soon as she starts the game, and besides her walk cycle looking like she’s ice skating, she doesn’t have the same clipping issue the horse does. When they’re together, Windstorm tries to avoid obstacles on his own, which for some reason turns him into the incredible reverse magnet horse, who has a deathly fear of walls, tiny slopes in the ground, and trees. But he can essentially turn into a sea horse and run in deep puddles of water effortlessly. One doesn’t choose their phobias, I guess!
The map is really huge and it’s a chore to get around it. For most games, you want movement to be at least bearable if it can’t be fun. Not every game is gonna hit that amazing Saints Row IV flying and jumping across the map with radio on feeling, but you’ll probably agree with me on this: If getting around the map sucks and the game’s genre is walking simulator, you MIGHT have a tiny problem. Invisible walls and clipping traps litter the whole place, making every step a gamble in some areas. Here’s hoping they fix it, because as it stands, the game’s a chore you pay to do. Not exactly a great selling point.
Windstorm should feel powerful, fast and agile. Instead he controls more than a little tanky and unresponsive, having a lot of trouble clearing even the tiniest of obstacles. Mind you, this is a prized jumping horse who can only hold a full sprint for seven seconds, and can’t clear a waist high fence. It’s a bad thing when the average player is fitter than your super duper special horse. Give him an infinite sprint! There’s no harm in it, only players will get around the map faster and in a more satisfying way! No one is gonna question a horse being able to run for long periods of time!
Idealised Mongolian warriors moved as one with their horse, yes! And what this translates to is “Little violent orphan gets a bow and arrow and can instantly shoot it, with perfect accuracy, from horseback.” I don’t know if a progression system will be thrown into the mix at some point, but I very much recommend it, because as it stands, Ari and Windstorm do a whole lot of fuck all to bond. Yes, they go to a lot of far away places, but that is more of a torture session than any real bonding. If I had to spend time with any of my friends riding them to places, crashing into walls every twelve nanoseconds while I lost arrows all over the place to kill my boredom, I can’t imagine they’d still want to get ice cream afterwards.
For most of the game, Ari’s on the run from the cops and being hidden by kindly old man. In fact, she’s sleeping outside, getting no hot meals and no showers. For anyone who hasn’t lived on the countryside, let me tell you: Fleas and other parasites will eat you alive. Romanticising nature is all well and good, but come on, human history has been nothing if not a long attempt to get away from icky, sticky muds and things wanting to kill or inconvenience you!
In short, the plot’s mostly a wash, but I will commend whoever wrote it for staying mostly true to the source material. It even has no ending, although this being pre-release, I’m not sure if it’ll get patched in at some point… Or even if they expected anyone to finish it. Gameplay is your usual walking simulator affair. Not much to do other than go to the next spot and clear a generic thriller plot.
There’s a bit of ham and cheese here and there, the villains are absolutely fucking vile for no adequately explained reason, and one of them even looks remarkably like Tohru Adachi from Persona 4. Seriously, when people are literally lining up to betray and hurt a little defenseless orphan and her beloved horsie, you’re a train track and a bit of string from dastardly mustache evil. Skeletor has nothing on these people.
Map isn’t particularly picturesque and depending on your personal tastes, it might fail to hold interest for very long. Another game like this was Deadly Premonition, or at least it had the huge map uncover secret thing down pat. But Deadly Premonition was charming and occasionally let you shoot very dumb zombies in the eye socket. Armando’s Armistice, instead, lets you shoot apples ONCE. Okay, you can shoot at cars, but there’s no fun in shooting at something that doesn’t at least go YEOWCH like in those old Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Other than that, there’s sidequests that seem to revolve around endless fetch quest variations. Shoot twenty bear asses, consume fifty horny antlers, find the secret panties of Genghis Khan and wear them on your head doing a silly dance for +5 to warrior-ness… Playing the main story is doable enough, if you really love the series or really hate yourself, but the fetch quest-a-palooza is a little too much for my tastes.
All in all, if getting around the map becomes less nightmarish, it could make a decent enough gift for fans of the novel or film. How big is that demographic, I honestly have no clue. If the words “Walking simulator with a buggy horse and mad fetchquesting” were exactly what you were looking for, by all means, grab this game. Personally, I’m holding out for “Robot dating VR game with physical feedback”. Now that’s something that could change the face of the industry.