"World’s End Club,” on paper, seems like an incredibly plausible joke: Kazutaka Kodaka and Kotaro Uchikoshi, the two known Saw-like-visual-novel-adventure-game-writer-directors, form their own independent company (like Keiji Inafune, Koji Igarashi, Hideo Kojima et al) to make a cinematic platformer game (one not entirely dissimilar to “Playdead”’s output and the wave of imitators that followed “Limbo”). The concept of it is ridiculously “safe,” and part of its intro is an obvious homage to its directors’ previous “Danganronpa” and “Zero Escape” series. By all accounts, it was destined to be the definition of going through the motions. A good part of its intro would support this conclusion.
About an hour in, “World’s End Club” promptly gives its charade the hook, letting its true identity shine through. Though it often pulls from Kodaka and Uchikoshi’s bags of tricks (even reusing a twist from “Virtue’s Last Reward”), it’s thoroughly its own beast, essentially a patchwork so noncommittal that it’s unmistakable for anything else.
The gameplay style, for starters, is a rotation of two disparate genres. Over half the game is rendered in cutscenes, images and voiced dialogues, with the remainder being short-and-simple platforming stages and boss fights. Rather than basing these stages around puzzles or overt environmental storytelling, “World’s End Club” embraces its road-movie plot by focusing on variety and light action. Each playable character in the Go-Getters Club gets their own superpower, and the rapid changes in scenery and mechanics make up for the action/challenges’ lack of depth. The breakneck pace and short runtime are part of this game’s draw; between them, the genre combination, and the surprisingly saccharine tone given the subject matter, it separates itself from its competition and precursors. The Go-Getters trip across Japan and fight against super-AI MAIK play out more along the aesthetic lines of EarthBound’s bizarre surreality than “Virtue’s Last Reward”’s logos-y sci-fi or “Limbo”’s heavy nihilism.
It reads very optimistic, especially in a post-Covid world. Think anime-The Goonies. Characters and subplots are fleshed out quickly as well, letting the story chapters match the action stages by giving everything and everyone personality. Even the in-game product placement, manifesting as a series of tongue-in-cheek verbatim promotions for the Japanese energy drink Lifeguard, manages to add to the experience. It rivals Final Fantasy XV’s obsession with Cup Noodles (there’s actually a point where Lifeguard somehow saves the heroes from being guillotined by a cult, because of course).
All this is saying nothing of the visuals and soundtrack — two aspects here given as much polish and production value as in the best adventure games. Jun Fukuda’s soundtrack in particular is an absolute wonder. There is very little dead space here, and the small amount there is exists due entirely to the branching path system, which has thankfully been trimmed down from the labyrinthine boilerplate-replete flowcharts of the Zero Escape series.
At a few set points in the game, the player can choose which side to take in an argument the Go-Getters are having, with their decisions determining what levels they play next. I reached the true finale after receiving the bad ending, playing all alternate routes, and the experience was still short, substantive, and novel.
“World’s End Club” is not going to change the world. The deluxe physical edition — which comes with a soundtrack sampler and art book at $50 — feels like a desperate attempt to justify buying a shorter game to an audience that has access to the Zero Escape Trilogy collection and can expect “Danganronpa Decadence” later this year. I actually had to order my copy online because the GameStop here only stocked one on release day. Its attempt to push its developers and audience a fair distance from their comfort zones is admirable, and you shouldn’t let it pass you by if you prefer more casual games. What we have here is a future sleeper hit in the making, one with just enough oddity to alienate skeptical players. It isn’t completely free of bugs or typos (I managed to move the camera underground in one boss fight, and the game crashed following another), but it was more than worth the price of admission and years of development time.
Gaget is a video game developer and critic. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform: Apple Arcade, Switch
Price:$0 (Apple Arcade), $40-50 (Switch)
Internet Usage (accounts for download size):6.0 GB
Release Date:09/04/20 (Apple Arcade), 5/28/21 (Switch)
Genre (if applicable):Adventure/Cinematic Platformer
Developer: Too Kyo Games, Izanagi Games