As much as I lament seeing a game confined to a Japan only release, I understand why that happens. Some games are released too close to the start of a new console generation, and would thus encounter problems trying to attract an audience. (Not to mention how beefy (and thus costly to translate) those games tend to be.) Others deal with subject matter so specific that Japanese players are the only people who can relate to it. And still others don’t venture too far outside generic conventions, meaning they’d blend in too much with their peers.
I see Tryrush Deppy falling into the third category, albeit for different reasons. It’s not that the game is too comfortable within its own genre; it’s that the game is trying to cover too much ground within that genre. Does Deppy want to be a meditative platformer? Or is it more interested in being the loud and gaudy game that would interest a five year old? Maybe it’s pursuing the older crowd, given the emphasis on speed and personality. There’s nothing wrong with each individual approach, and the game would have worked fine if it chose just one or two. But not all three. The only thing appealing to all three at once achieves is tripping over your own feet.
An odd choice of words, given the main character’s lack of feet. Tryrush Deppy follows the titular Deppy, an anthropomorphic car who embarks on a road trip through major American cities. Given the apparent focus on a marketable mascot whose defining character trait is his speed, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Deppy is riding Sonic the Hedgehog’s coat tails. While that’s a valid reading (and one I’ll address later on), it’s worth it to step away from mascot platformers for a moment, since for as much as Deppy connotes speed, the levels he navigates don’t. They demand a slower, more methodical mode of play. Their platforms require careful navigation, and all their little secrets discourage speeding through the levels. A bonus item tucked away in a corner, or some minor narrative event you’d have missed if you were rushing to the end. Granted, the only event I could find was rescuing a police car (also anthropomorphic) from sinking into the water. But based on what I’ve seen, I’m led to believe there are other events like this one hidden throughout the game.
On their own, these aspects of the game’s design don’t leave me much to comment on. They’re mildly entertaining in their own right, but what really catches my attention (at least in theory) is how the gas mechanic interacts with them. Deppy being a car, he can only travel as far as his gas tank will allow him. Depleting it means losing a life, and the only way to replenish it is with gas canisters strewn about the level. A straightforward feature? Definitely. In this context, though, it redefines the game’s tone. Deppy is no longer as easygoing as it first appeared. Every step through the level costs you something. In fact, it’s possible you could reach a point where you don’t have enough gas to fix your mistakes. Play becomes uncertain and a little dangerous. Yet it’s for these reasons that you’re supposed to explore the level in the first place. That’s what makes the gas mechanic work: it adds an element of danger to the game while also further motivating you to engage with it. This isn’t risk for its own sake. It’s risk that accentuates what you do in the game; risk that encourages you to push further into the levels; risk that adds a tense layer of excitement to what might otherwise be a flat experience.
Or at least that’s how it works in theory. In practice, the game’s flashy visuals interfere with the gameplay too much for it to actually work. Now I’m not criticizing the game’s aesthetic simply for the sake of criticizing it. Tryrush Deppy does enough with its bright, blaring colors and its soft, plasticine shapes to tell me this is a deliberate artistic decision. In fact, the game uses them to cultivate a certain circus-y atmosphere. The soft shapes tell you that this is a fun space, one full of wonder and joy. The bright colors claw away at your attention, demanding that you join the fun. True, it’s just as possible to read the visuals as invoking a cartoony atmosphere, but I don’t know how well that holds up to scrutiny. “Cartoony” implies that visual humor is the primary aspect of the game’s character (see: Super Tempo), yet the humor in Tryrush Deppy is sparse. Meanwhile, the game’s only power-up implies that loud music and busy visuals are an elevated state of play.
What the game fails to realize is that this circus sensibility is at odds with its exploration. For exploration in a game to work, the game needs to create a sense of calm. Or at the very least, there needs to be a certain level of focus so the player can concentrate on the world enough that they can actually explore it. That’s why the gas mechanic performs as well as it does: it accents whatever tone the exploration operates on. The visuals, on the other hand, completely overwrite that tone. They don’t offer a single moment to relax, as they’re always trying to grab hold of your attention. However, the sad irony is their efforts only serve to distract you from something you’d most likely have paid attention to, anyway. So you have to fight against the game to unearth some of its best moments. No wonder playing the game can feel so frustrating.
These visuals might have been more at home if the game devoted itself more to speed than exploration. Yet even if we interpret the game along those lines, we’ll continue to find problems with it. Some of those problems stem from the environment: by building the world with exploration in mind, the game limits how much speed that same world can deliver. However, I see the gas mechanic as posing larger problems for the game. As good as that mechanic is at encouraging you to explore the levels, it does a remarkably bad job of encouraging you to speed through them. Yes, it allows you to charge up a dash for a quick burst of speed, but that only speaks to why it’s a problem in the first place.
Deppy limits the player’s speed not through the environment, but as an intrinsic part of Deppy’s character. The game’s telling you to use that dash wisely, and to maintain constant control over Deppy – the exact opposite of what makes speed in games appealing. The whole point of speed in games (non-racing games, at least) is to let go of control; to let yourself fly through the world in all sorts of exciting ways. Tying speed to a depletable resource precludes any such strategy. What it instead is tell you to limit whatever it is that’s supposed to make the game thrilling. As with the visuals and the exploration aesthetic, all this leaves us with is a meaningless, uncomfortable tension.
This isn’t to say that games should be limited to doing just one thing and doing it well. What I’m trying to say is that all of a game’s elements, no matter how diverse they may be, should be in harmony with one another. Or if they aren’t, then the conflict between any of these elements should speak to something that their unity never could. Although Tryrush Deppy holds the potential to fulfill either of those conditions, its insistence on appealing to three different audiences at once leaves that potential unfulfilled.