One of the best ways to make a simple game work in a wider scope is to give it a good reason to keep people attached. There are many ways to do this. For the folks at Big Fish Games, they’re realizing they can take the fairly simple task of making a game of Eye Spy and elevating it with a dramatic story line for each of the different titles. While they certainly aren’t for me, I respect that they’ve created something that’s both entertaining and also with merit, as it could just be page after page of disconnected hunting and finding. If you craft something in a way that hooks the audience – be it through music, story or graphics – you can let a few minor details sail through as long as the overall package is satisfactory. That is certainly the case of solo dev Shinichi Nishimori, who goes by the title Seventh Rank, who partnered up with room 6 to bring us World for Two.
From the drop, World for Two sets up the players into a familiar yet alien ideology. You are an android life form, created with curiosity, but still obedient, to help out an aging scientist. From what the scientist tells you, the world is nearly dead: massive flooding has wiped out almost all life on Earth, and he believes he is the last remaining human. In his old age, he cannot go forth to try to save the planet, so he has constructed you for this purpose. Your job is to use a series of canisters around the globe which generate Starflame, a kind of natural building block. Utilizing the Starflames and the network of computers the scientist maintains, you can print out genes, giving birth to simple organisms and slowly bringing life back to a desolate land. Harvesting DNA from the new life will allow you to mix elements and create new and different species, hopefully refilling the world. But the scientist admits, when the android leaves, that there is something beneath the surface, something the scientist “is truly sorry about.” If that doesn’t fill you with creeping dread, I don’t know what will.
World for Two was originally an iOS/Android game, and this is also the first time it’s available in English, so take those two ideas as you will. The latter doesn’t show in any way: the phrases and language used throughout the game have been properly and excellently translated, with no trace of a problem or confusion in what the android observes as they traipse across the landscape. Besides the lifeforms and Starflame areas you find, there are also plenty of relics and traces of the world that has passed away, and the android views them with some interest, but nothing intensely questioning (at least, not at first). From discarded arcs to broken tombstones, smashed statues to abandoned cabins, the android sees them, notes them, and, gradually, begins to see and feel more and more.
The former aspect of World for Two (the coming from mobile gaming part) is apparent in the gameplay, so I don’t know how off putting that’ll be for players. In this game, you succeed by figuring out which combinations of artificial genes and DNA will work to create new lifeforms. For example, one of the earliest mixes is to take a pikaia DNA strand and mix it with a fish gene to make a coelacanth. If you then take the coelacanth and mix it with another fish gene, nothing happens except you lose both the gene and the DNA. You then have to get more Starflames from the canisters (which generate very slowly) and harvest more DNA from the animal to try again and try something different. You get DNA by first finding out the correct synthesization that goes along with the animal’s existing strand. There’s a helpful chart at the bottom of the screen, but it’s fairly simple: green to yellow, blue to red, and don’t mess it up. However, you can only harvest DNA from an animal three times before it dies, and there’s actually a death animation every time you do this. So to recap: trial and error at mixing stuff to make new stuff, cooldown to wait for more stuff to try again.
Having to continually try to fail with World for Two can be frustrating at times, particularly because there was an attempt by Nishimori to expand the experience by not putting everything right on top of each other. For example, the opening area (the Bog) has two blue Starflame containers that are about four full screens apart from each other, maybe more. Harvesting these Flames means running to one, getting, and running back to the other. If you want another colour Starflame, you gotta go to another region and run between those containers. The animals, like all animals do, constantly move about, so you’ll never see the squids, ants, scarabs, sharks and others in the same place twice. Also, due to the complexity of life, you end up mixing and matching the Starflames a lot to make different genes, and mixing and matching animals from different biomes to make different other animals. It can be a LOT to handle and organize, particularly if you’re patient enough to make it all the way to four full worlds.
However, the game addresses this in several ways. One easy way to make sure you don’t run out of DNA is to combine two of the same animal to make another animal. Though it seems cheap, doing this means you always get one DNA back after a full harvest and still have another animal to harvest from. Also, there is a fast pass map system that lets you jump directly from any location back to the lab or to the centre of another environment. It doesn’t solve the distance of certain things, but it is helpful. Oh, and don’t forget to always use the joystick! If you use the control pad, you’ll constantly be walking. The joystick puts you in an automatic running mode, allowing your android to lope like a graceful gazelle to pick clean the DNA of different life forms in order to preserve life.
World for Two is also a sensory feast, and I don’t think that can be understated. The visual aspect is off the charts in terms of gorgeous pixel art, with a hand and dedication to the creation of the areas that are unheard of. I loved seeing the sun set across the sky as day turned to night and then watched it rise again, something I wouldn’t have counted on had I not taken a break in the forest. The reflection of myself in the water is such a fantastic touch that I would not have anticipated, the clouds gently rolling across the sky and the detail in the arid desert and the tundra wasteland is positively breathtaking. As certain parts of the story take a turn and you begin to see an even greater science fiction aspect to the story, greater details and constructs leap out at you. The death animations for each animal weigh heavily on the android, and it begins to experience emotion as you watch the shark go belly up, or the legs of a mammoth collapse as life leaves its form. Death is a sadness that even non-human life can understand, and the gravity of it being conveyed through this medium is astounding.
The music is also a beautiful part, and I’m wondering if the creator was able to do it themselves. From the simple piano melody that floats through the science lab to the sharp chimes of the frozen world, from the relaxing steel drum-style of the desert to the synthetic wistfulness of the forest, there’s a gorgeous amount of detail within the music landscape. World for Two captures so much heart and so much love in a very simple medium that I’m shocked I’ve never heard of this title before.
World For Two is exactly why the Nintendo Switch exists and why there are moments of legitimacy in mobile gaming that need to be applauded. Though it has its faults in some very repetitive movements and motions, there is a rewarding factor in how the tale is being told and the very foreseeable but still gut wrenching ending. The fact that the developer also included a special chapter zero after the game to learn more about the scientist and how the world came to be is fascinating and should be a focal point for anyone who loved the game in mobile. You can try it for free as long as you can read Japanese, but I highly, HIGHLY recommend trying this offbeat exercise in patience, experimentation, exaltation and the meaning of life and sacrifice. World for Two is, in a word, love.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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World for Two Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
World for Two is such an exquisite experiment in storytelling and gameplay that the minor irritations are overshadowed by the powerful design and message.