Review: World Gone Sour

WorldGoneSour

Cross marketing physical goods into video games has always been a bit of a mystery to me.   As a kid I remember seeing Domino’s Pizza’s claymation commercials with their anit-hero Noid making delivery pizza show up in an inedible state.  The Noid was sort of cool, in the same way that Bart Simpson’s mischievous side was cool.  It makes sense that marketing a mascot for a pizza chain as a video game could tempt kids (and adults) into buying said pizza while playing a video game.  I also remember Cool Spot (the red 7-Up dot mascot) jumping around in a video game.  But honestly, neither game ever made me hungry for pizza or thirsty for a crisp, refreshing uncola.

Brand recognition is the underlying key to these sorts of cross marketing machinations.  The Toyota Scion recently co-branded the PS Vita version of MotorStorm RC as a free game.  Prior to that, Toyota had cross promoted their Yaris in LittleBigPlanet 2.  Burger King also had Big Bumpin’, PocketBike Racer, and Sneak King on the 360.  While I can almost understand a car company paying to advertise in a video game about driving, I don’t quite see how driving Burger King around in a bumper car relates to selling burgers. Again it is all about brand recognition.

So, what if a brand of sour candy that turns sweet was turned into a game?  A board game about candy has already cornered that market, so the next obvious step would be video games.  Most non-gamers equate video games to Mario and his plumbing, platforming antics.  So in my mind it makes sense that Sour Patch Kids, the candy, could be cross marketed as a platforming video game.  To go along with that idea, the original marketing for the candy already plays up the dual nature of sour and sweet candy which adds another potentially rich layer of story or gaming activity.  Playbrains, studio behind last year’s dope PSN graffiti platformer Sideway: New York, takes the sour and sweet notion one step beyond the normal marketing spin and sets the game up as a Sour Patch Kid candy who, at the last second, is denied being eaten and is instead sent tumbling to the floor of a movie theater.

Thus begins the escapades of a lonely gummy candy trying to be eaten.  Of course, no journey would be complete without obstacles and deadly enemies.  Mix in a wonderfully dark-humored narration, several musical tracks produced by Method Man and a sprinkle of citric acid, and you wind up with a mostly enjoyable platformer that doesn’t smack players on the head with the fact that the game is truly a long form commercial trying to sell candy.

I say mostly fun because I did experience several issues while playing the game.  First off, jumping can be a bit tricky, as the double jump doesn’t always happen when you want it to. I’m not sure if it was me being a touch quick with my button presses or if it was due to a quirk in the game design.  Throughout each level are additional Sour Patch Kids that join along on the journey.  Find enough SPKs and you can absorb them to become a bit larger, eventually growing to roughly two times the starting size.  Playing as the largest size has both advantages and disadvantages.  Some areas aren’t large enough to allow a big SPK to fit through. Being large also allows enemies to cause damage which in turn forces the SPK to drop down a size and kills off followers.  Fortunately, followers respawn in a short amount of time.

Throughout the game, once a SPK has followers, they can be thrown to either turn on switches, attack enemies, collect stars or mini SPKs (which fills a meter to add more lives) or just be sacrificial candies.  Due to the sour and sweet nature of the SPK, any sacrifice made caused a devious laugh to come from both me and my sugar-filled game character.  In each level a chart shows which type of sacrifice has been made, almost as a dare, encouraging players to be as sour as possible with their brethren SPKs.  I must admit that there is a bit of a dark satisfaction in throwing a follower into a pool of soda to watch them drown, or toss them at a spinning saw blade to see them split in half.  Melting, exploding, and impaling are just a few of the other ways to sacrifice the little followers.

Unfortunately, each of these sacrifices can also happen to the SPK that you control.  As I mentioned above, jumping (or not being able to double jump) can end as a perilous sacrifice.  Each level is filled with checkpoints which allow for quick respawns, but there are sections of the game that can be downright frustrating.  Wall jumping doesn’t always work as expected and there are some environmental hurdles that are almost more frustrating than when jumping (or the exact timing of a jump) doesn’t go as intended.  My only other gripe with the game is the lack of any camera control.  At times the camera zooms in closely and doesn’t allow the next obstacle to be seen until it is too late.  Toward the end of the game (the 11th level I believe) there is a series of jumps over large gaps, where the platform being jumped on has spikes that drop down.  Timing the jumps between these stacks of wood, while not hitting the spikes as they raised or lowered, was tense enough, but then add a camera that zooms in and sort of tilts to the left causing the next part of the level to be obscured (and thus almost impossible to see where to safely jump next), and I became incredibly frustrated to the point that I was ready to hurl my controller through the TV.

On a sweeter note, the overall look and feel of the game is pretty neat.  There are tons of death animations, the background art and the immediate platform environments are nice over-sized versions (when compared to the size and stature of an SPK) of Popsicle sticks, wads of chewing gum, books, doll parts, soda cups, cinder blocks and anything else you might expect to find under the seats of a movie theater, a little girls room or a backyard shed.

World Gone Sour also offers two player local co-op, which can be fun but also frustrating due to the aforementioned camera and world obstacles.  My daughter and I played through several of the middle levels after I had already played through what could be considered the easier, early levels, and she picked up the game mechanics quickly enough and delighted in watching some of the sacrifices while feeling a bit squeamish by others.  Lives are shared between both co-op players, but collected stars, followers and mini SPKs are tallied at the end of each level and compared in a competitive manner.

As a game that at first glance would appear to be a cheap interactive advertisement, World Gone Sour proves quickly that it is more than just a game focused on earning market recognition. At $5, this is a game that could easily be overlooked as nothing more than a quick cash grab promotion for candy, but I would have to say that assumption is wrong. A dark but cute story unfolds in a mostly competent but challenging platformer. The levels are long, the music is good and plenty of game is offered for very little investment. Fans of old school platforming should not pass up this sweet and sour gaming treat.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Interesting story and game world design
+ Fun use of sacrificial followers
+ Great music
+ Good couch co-op
+ Wonderfully dark narration

Cons:
– Lack of camera control can be troubling at times
– Jumping doesn’t always feel or respond as expected
– Later levels can be very frustrating
– Initial level load times are long

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available for Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Playbrains
Release Date: PSN – 4/10/2012, XBLA – 4/11/2012
Genre: Platforming
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local co-op)
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.