It's fair to say that developer Twisted Pixel is a little allergic to traditional game concepts. These Texans are perhaps best known for a game starring a hero that travels via explosions, along with a Kinect adventure in which you puppeteer an undead cowboy.
LocoCycle, an Xbox One digital game featuring a sentient robot motorcycle, is the latest idea to roll out from what we presume are some of the most fun and fanciful brainstorming meetings in the world.
Of course, this being a Twisted Pixel game, LocoCycle's narrative bends in all directions to accommodate the concept. Iris (that's the bike) wants to escape her evil corporate maker and also has a terrified Mexican mechanic, Pablo, attached to her back wheel by the fabric of his work suit. Along with Iris's passenger, there's an entire private military and a three-wheeled cyborg called Spike who' are out to deny Iris a free escape.
The concept is just on the right side of bonkers, enhanced by some of the most absurd live-action cinematics since Command & Conquer, along with tight and witty dialogue between the game's GLADoS-esque robot protagonist and her increasingly anxious passenger - neither of whom understand each others' language.
Gameplay takes the form of a sort of Frankenstein of Outrun and iOS endless runners such as Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run, though without the former's branching structure.
Controlling Iris involves weaving through traffic using the analogue stick, whilst firing machine guns at enemies and occasionally turbo boosting (using the A button) to reach objectives within a certain time limit. Acceleration is automatic, with the player left to handle other objectives such as pursuing helicopters and mysterious G-Man armed with machine guns firing from the back of Humvees.
But for a game starring a motorbike, surprisingly it's the combat (not racing) that is the meat of the dish here. Iris is capable of obscene martial-arts moves, and when gameplay calls for it, she'll jump in the air to exchange blows with jetpack-wielding baddies and burly enemy agents on stilts. It's a linear, scripted experience, with QTEs commonplace and regimented scoreboard sequences prompting repeated play.
Combat is fairly simplistic, with repeated use of the X button all that's required for blows, A is employed for counter-attacks and Y triggers a theatrical manoeuvre where Pablo is thrown off from Iris's back wheel to create a comical group-attack. The hit counter quickly reaches the hundreds and the player is constantly praised for their achievements with quixotic on-screen messages ("dominating!" "poetry!" etc).
"It's a linear, scripted experience, with QTEs commonplace"
Points acquired can be used to upgrade attacks and weapons, offering more damaging hits and longer Pablo throws, but they don't bring any required depth to the mechanics. This, like other elements of the game, feels like a wasted opportunity.
LocoCycle's key draw is its brilliantly bizarre premise, which Twisted Pixel keeps fresh with the routine introduction of whimsical, mechanically variant boss battles and even crazier enemies.
The studio makes a commendable effort of throwing in every possible mechanic to freshen up the linear gameplay, from on-rails shootouts to sequences where Pablo has to screw, wield and hammer a damaged Iris back to life.
You'll never travel far before the emergence of some new foe challenges the core drive-and-shoot game mechanics, whether it's a disc-throwing mech which needs to have its projectile deflected back at it, or group of scientists controlling giant, electric hamster wheels requiring evasive manoeuvres.
It's enough to entice you to play on, but can't quite obscure LocoCycle's repetitive core mechanics. When some crazy action sequence or bizarre enemy introduction isn't keeping you occupied, the basic gameplay is exposed as fairly dull.
And if you're looking for a game to show off your next-gen console this certainly isn't it; environments, character models and even the game's epic boss battles all look like they could've been achieved on the Xbox 360. But then, to focus too much on LocoCycle's visuals would be to miss the point; this is a great example of entertaining storytelling with brilliant bursts of inventiveness. But once you're left alone with the core gameplay, it feels pedestrian.
A witty and frequently inventive game that does a decent job of hiding its inherent flaws
- Inventive character design
- Wonderfully weird and well written
- Set-pieces provide bursts of brilliance
- Often dull and repetitive
- Shallow combat