Review: ​Doki-Doki Universe

DokiDokiUniverse

​Doki-Doki Universe is a strange title. Not that the title is necessarily strange (in fact it is fitting for the experience); but what I mean is it is almost not a game, and yet it is. The story revolves around a robot named QT3 that is loved by a family, but then without explanation is left alone on a planet.  An alien named Jeff appears and tells QT3 that it needs to learn how to be more human or risk being dismantled. There isn’t any real gameplay in the traditional sense, and yet the tasks presented at each encounter provide a wealth of activity and a fair amount of subversive fun.

In order to learn how to be more human, the alien named Jeff takes QT3 to a large range of planets which have very distinct themes (African plains, Arctic cold, Japanese garden, urban city). Each planet has a handful of citizens with problems that center around different human traits: jealousy, love, self-consciousness and sadness, to name a few. QT3 is then tasked with helping the citizens to solve their problems by asking questions to find out what each citizen loves or hates and then providing the appropriate object. Gifts containing certain objects can be found on each planet. While some objects are hidden behind scenery or just in plain sight, others are only obtained by reaching the threshold of extreme love or hate by the various citizens on any given planet. Sometimes a citizen will want an object that isn’t available to QT3 on that particular planet, which then requires the player to move the robot around the universe to acquire what’s needed and then return at a later point.

What makes ​Doki-Doki Universe such a compelling experience is seeing how the different citizens on each planet react to the various objects that QT3 offers. Sometimes a citizen will be vague in what they want, and thus providing an object doesn’t always solve their dilemma. Other times what the citizen wants is almost too precise and trying to sort through all of the objects that QT3 has acquired makes the task of delivering exactly what they want a bit of a chore.  For example on one planet a citizen asked for an enlightened older person. Browsing through my objects, I first found a person sitting yogi style on a rock. The citizen told QT3 that the object presented was clearly an enlightened person, but not old. So I then had QT3 offer up an old woman (who happened to have a spiked collar and a Mohawk using a walker). The citizen told QT3 that the object was clearly old, but was very likely not enlightened. Sorting through my objects I finally found what looked like a hippie with a piece sign whom the citizen accepted as both old and enlightened.

Often the game is most fun when you see how a citizen will react to an item that is clearly not what they want. Several citizens won’t offer up their gift without making their meter drop to the hate indicator. In order to do so, QT3 can provide items that may or may not be on the citizen’s like list. Discovering what a citizen dislikes by putting down random objects can be a silly joy. As can be expected, most citizens don’t like the idea of smelly poo, or vomiting people; but, seeing the reaction when said objects are placed offers a gleeful enjoyment that brings out the teenage boy in me. One of the silliest, yet sage, truisms I ran across was: “Love is like diarrhea. You can’t control it. It just spills out all over the place.” This irreverent whimsy is what makes ​Doki-Doki Universe so much fun to explore.

In addition to the planets with troubled citizens, small moons are scattered throughout the universe, offering quick quizzes to see how “human” QT3 is becoming.  The quizzes are seemingly random, but over time the results were eerily close to describing me. In one scenario you will be asked to “pick which scenario you would want to watch as a movie,” where there is a space ship or a hiker on a trail presented as options. Or another time the question “What is the boot saying to the sock?” will be posed, with a choice of answers including “you stink,” “I don’t think you’ll fit,” or “stay warm.” These quirky quizzes keep track of your responses and eventually reveal truths about your own personality.

​Doki-Doki Universe is a cross buy title and I played a fair amount on the Vita and the PS4 (and tested loading my save on the PS3). Whenever the game is saved and exited, it is automatically saved online so that the next time you fire up the game on a different device, the game asks whether you want to load from the cloud. The transition between devices is seamless and smooth. The only downside is that trophies earned on the PS4 don’t pop automatically on the Vita or PS3.

Variations between the consoles and the Vita are minimal, as the touch integration used on the Vita is handled nicely with the use of the right analog stick of either DualShock model. At times the use of the touch screen is almost more intuitive while playing on the Vita, but the symbols for each button are nicely labeled on the specific actions regardless of where the game is played. The only real frustration stems from the fact that there are 330 objects that can be used as gifts to solve the citizen’s problems, but there is no easy way to sort through all of the objects other than to choose random or similar. Often times an object that fulfills a citizen’s needs is on the screen the first time (as long as QT3 has collected it), but trying to sort through objects in order to make a citizen hate QT3 becomes a real challenge.

One other random thing that can happen when presenting an object, is what the game calls a backfire. Even when you select the correct item, the game will randomly backfire and cause QT3 to give the wrong object. There is no rhyme or reason for this, and it gets annoying to have it fire off after spending several minutes sorting through all of the objects to find the perfect one to make a citizen hate you.

An aspect of the game that I haven’t been able to get to work correctly (across any of the versions) is the in-game email system, which also is available as a free app for mobile platforms. After you visit several citizens they send email messages with follow-up stories explaining how the planet has changed with QT3’s help. Additionally, the email system (when integrated with Facebook) will allow you to send emails to Facebook recipients using the in-game art assets and visual flairs. Unfortunately, I never got any replies from the folks I sent emails to and they never received the emails–even though I did allow the game access to my Facebook account. I don’t know, maybe I’m just missing something. If the email system worked, it would be a pretty neat way to send notes to friends as the delivery and art style is cool. While emailing friends didn’t work for me, the game did allow me to visit the Home planets of my PSN friends and see how they had decorated their game while also putting my own touch on their planet.

​Doki-Doki Universe tells a whimsical story, with a warmhearted ending. The interactions are fun and unique across all of the different planets. Finding what some characters love or dislike is enjoyable, and inntentionally placing gross objects in front of a character often results in mildly humorous reactions that never get old. A more personal, introspective twist is introduced with the personality quizzes, which only add to the quirky charm of the game.  Being able to play across all three systems seamlessly for one price is just icing on the cake.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun interactions with all citizens
+ Interesting personality quizzes
+ Tons of collectables
+ Upbeat and pleasant music
+ Easy gameplay transition between systems

Cons:
– Trophies earned on one system don’t pop on another
– Inventory selection can be frustrating
– In-game mail system doesn’t seem to be working properly

Game Info:
Platform: PS3, PS4, Vita (PSN Cross Buy)
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: HumaNature Studios
Release Date: 12/10/2013
Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.