Two of the things I never used to like or understand were mobile games and adventure games. The former was owing largely to the impression awful, over-hyped messes like the Infinity Blade games left on me, while the latter mostly came down to a lack of experience. What a strange turn of events, then, that I’d end up finding so many hidden Android gems, and that one of them would be a bizarre adventure game centered around a lovably disaffected cocoa-and-cognac-drinking 7 year-old named Nika who resolves to build a giant robot and purge the world of the things and people she doesn’t like.
That’s basically the story in a nutshell
There’s not much to say about the plot other than what I already have; Nika feels alone in the world and doesn’t like many people, so she decides to build a killer robot. Then she does. The real stars of the show are the characters littered around the world who range from bizarre to outright sociopathic. There are prostitutes of indeterminate gender, Nika’s game-addict granny, and a number of other characters and situations I’d rather not mention for fear of spoiling some of the unexpected things you’ll stumble into, especially given the game’s short length and the inherent lack of replay value of adventure games.
But we’re talking about a game that’s 2 dollars on the Google Play store, and it’s absolutely worth every penny (as its current 4.9 out of 5 stars user score implies). In fact, the characters’ delightfully odd bent reminds me a lot of a grown-up version of Earthbound that includes a little nudity and profanity. Make no mistake: this game really isn’t for kids, but it’ll definitely appeal to the kid in you.
What’s really frustrating is that it’s hard to explain this in detail without giving away some of the best moments of the game. Impossible, even. The closest I can come would be to say that the world Nika hates is an insane place where pretty much anything can happen, a kind of wonderful modern-day dystopia where kids being neglected by adults leads to said kids getting into the strangest kinds of mischief imaginable. I only wish there was more content in the game so that I could afford to spoil one or two of the more amazing moments here and clue all of you in as to the depths of weirdness that await anyone willing to give MechaNika a try.
Adventure games are well suited to touch controls
One of my biggest prejudices about mobile gaming was the awkwardness of touch controls, but they really do suit adventure games like this that don’t rely on twitch reflexes or precise timing. As you can see in the gameplay video above, the controls are fairly simple: tap to move or bring up possible interactions with an object, tap Nika to open the inventory (in which there are icons for saving, returning to the main menu, and going over the tutorial explanations again), and tap Nika’s head inside of the inventory screen to exit out. If you want to use an inventory item on something, all you have to do is open the inventory, select the item, and tap Nika’s head to exit the inventory while the item is still selected. At that point, it’ll hover over her head and using that item is as simple as tapping on whatever you want to use it on. This can lead to amusing situations like where you walk around offering fruit or dirty magazines to random people, and while not all combinations work (sometimes Nika will tell you that you “haven’t thought this through” or something to that effect), there are a fairly sizable number of things you can present to people that will elicit an amusing response.
Some miscellaneous pluses and minuses
First, we’ll start with the rare negatives. To start with, the font that the writing uses is quirky and suits the style of the game well, but it also has a tendency to be difficult to read at times. Also on the topic of the writing, while it’s almost universally solid, there are one or two typos such as “here” instead of “her” during a developer cameo.
Then there are even less important quibbles like the fact that selecting an item and tapping the icon hovering over Nika’s head deselects the item, which can be annoying once or twice when you’re trying to use an item on something behind Nika. All of these negatives are nitpicks at best, though, because there’s really nothing seriously wrong with the game that I could mention.
In fact, the closest thing to a real con this game carries with it would be its fairly short length, but it has a number of scenes that can play out slightly differently given your choices despite being a linear adventure game. My first playthrough of MechaNika lasted maybe a day or two, and this is likely to be the case for many people as newcomers try to figure out where they can procure the components necessary for the construction of Nika’s robot, but even after getting my playthrough time down to around 20 minutes (as you can see in the video to the right) and playing through the game 10-20 times, I still didn’t know until five minutes ago that presenting the remote to Nika’s mom causes her to snatch it. You can also circumvent a quiz by acquiring enough money from relatives, and one of the components you need can be acquired in two different ways. As such, the short length of the game isn’t as much of a negative as I had initially thought, and even if it were, the game’s definitely long enough for being 2 dollars.
The graphics and music are perfect for the game
I’m not a graphics whore by any stretch of the imagination, but there are rare times when a game’s graphics suit its tone and overall style so well that the entire project is bettered for it. MechaNika is definitely one of those games; the characters are incredibly expressive while maintaining a cartoonish kind of innocence that contrasts the bizarre nature of the world surprisingly well, and if the alternate cutscene panels are any indication, a lot of work was clearly put into the art.
The music isn’t quite as varied as the graphics, but it suits the game every bit as well, creating a kind of humdrum atmosphere inside Nika’s house, an upbeat mood when running around the town, and even a hilariously bouncy theme for Nika’s granny’s house that makes a certain scene toward the end even more enjoyable. All of these themes have memorable melodies, as well, and are quite distinctive and supremely hummable. It’s just an all-around great job.