Stop the presses, there’s actually a game about love and affection.
Doki-Doki Universe is the bizarre, heartwarming tale of QT3, an emotionless and outdated robot left abandoned by its family. Eventually, along comes Alien Jeff, a robot factory worker who informs QT3 that he is to be turned into scrap metal unless he can learn to be more human. Wearing its feel-good sentiments on its sleeve and set to a backdrop of a gorgeous doodle aesthetic, Doki-Doki Universe is the charming, must-play indie title determined to make you a better person.
To understand the various facets of human emotion, QT3 travels to different planets around the universe – each with its own accompanying moral. Love, prejudice, insecurity about oneself, there’s plenty to be learned by the unemotional robot. You talk to the inhabitants of each planet to unlock missions and find out their likes and dislikes. Knowing these, you can summon just about any item imaginable to make them happy. Someone likes spooky things? Summon a ghost. Someone likes power? Try conjuring up a big fighting robot. Someone likes poop? Go ahead and produce some poop. There’s a whole lot of choice and variety on offer, and you’ll be darting between planets collecting more “Summonables” to get the most out of your options.
This is all complemented by its captivating art style and delightful cast of characters. Doki-Doki Universe looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of a child’s art-book and it is absolutely the game’s best feature. Each world boasts a distinctly unique and imaginative design and you never know how the next planet will impress.
Topping it off, there are the numerous personality tests littered around the eponymous universe. Depicted as asteroids next to the game’s planetary levels, each one asks the player a few image-based questions and uses them to judge your personality. There’s a constant feedback and reassurance for the player based on their actions, and ultimately it makes for a more interactive and enjoyable experience.
It is also spot-on
The game quickly establishes a routine of get-task and complete-task for each level. Giving people gifts will make them happy and they’ll reward you with gifts to give other people. It’s a self-propagating system, one which spurs you on to complete a planet so that you can complete another planet elsewhere. The problem is that this is all the game is. What you do in the first ten minutes of Doki-Doki Universe is what you’ll be doing three hours later.
The puzzles are no more challenging than tapping X to advance a conversation and choosing an item to suit the situation. It’s paper-thin. Aside from hundreds of summons you unlock and a few planets you need to progress further into the story to access, there’s absolutely no sense of progression to be had, and because of that fatigue sets in pretty quickly.
The summons page is pleasant if a little clunky to navigate
It seems unfair to chastise Doki-Doki Universe for lack of imagination when it actually has it in spades. If there was as much depth and creativity in its gameplay as there is in the way it looks, Doki-Doki Universe would be easy to recommend, but its heavy emphasis on environments and characters means it’s not much more than an interactive picture book.
However, thanks to the quality of its writing and gorgeous-looking doodle art style, there’s really nothing wrong with that. No, Doki-Doki Universe is not a brilliant game, but in short bursts it’s an absolute joy to play. The charm, the wit, the constant interaction with the player and its humanitarian themes, all make Doki-Doki Universe a wonderful alternative to the classic picture-book. If you have children, then this is a must-buy, and if you don’t, then playing a game that doesn’t focus on violence certainly won’t kill you.
Doki-Doki Universe is out now for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita, and one purchase will get you a copy for all platforms.
Images: HumaNature Studios