Just when you think the vampire craze is over, someone inevitably creates a new piece of media to keep the hype train running. Though, to be fair to I Want To Be Human, this is a vampire who opts for a shotgun instead of her teeth, and has a snarky, albeit adorable, hat for a boyfriend.
Why? I don’t know.
Smile Tech is trying to find the secret to eternal life, and the most comfortable hat. They also got around to banning romance at some point, and punished our smitten heroes by experimenting on them. The pair now seek revenge for their new forms, so they’ve joined together to take down the corporation and search for a cure. It’s a silly but fun premise shown through comic book-styled pages, and sets the tone for the title’s specific style of humour. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t go very far and ends up feeling like it’s been thrown in for quirk-related reasons.
The gameplay in I Want To Be Human combines to create your standard action platformer affair. You always start on the left side of the screen and must use your skills to get to a balloon that’s waiting for you at the far right. The majority of your time will therefore be spent dodging bullets from enemies, and trying to find the right position to hit them with your shotgun. The rest of the game is about carefully timed jumps and dashes, while being aware of what the environment is going to throw at you next.
The basic set-up works really well. There are 5 worlds to platform through, with around 15 levels per world. You don’t have to complete every level before advancing to the boss, and can choose what order to play them in. Essentially, if you get seriously stuck you can either miss the stage entirely, or return to it later. To encourage you, none of the stages are overly long, although some tricky sections combined with limited checkpoints means that certain areas may take a while.
The boss fights are probably the best feature in the game. There’s a satisfying level of challenge with each one as they all have set attacks, but no specific order to their performance. You have to really watch to know what’s coming next rather than memorizing a pattern. This method meant that I would die a few times while learning how to time my dodges and shots, but always enjoyed the fight once I had everything down pat.
Having said all that, I Want to Be Human doesn’t make life easy for you. The controls are awkward and occasionally decide not to register, which is a pretty fatal platforming flaw. In fact, your best bet is to play with a keyboard and mouse as this gives the most control over the jumping and shooting. I wish you luck if you want to try playing with a controller, as I Want To Be Human hasn’t been programmed to be a twin stick shooter. Moving and aiming are both accomplished with the left stick. Want to snipe enemies from a platform, or shoot in a different direction to the one you’re moving in? You’d better put your controller away.
You’re expected to be a bit too precise in the game, as there is little room for error. Most enemies hit like a truck, knocking you really far back, and for just long enough for them to get another shot in as soon as your invulnerability frame runs out. Enemy placement doesn’t help matters, regularly forcing you to shoot while clinging to walls, which can be a bit much for the controls to handle. Both issues couple with the fact that the damage, distance, and shot speed from the shotgun are all pants. You have to get pretty close before you can hit something, and when that enemy can bounce their bullets or has a large spread fire, you’ll need to be able to perform some speedy dodging skills.
The harsh difficulty and controls could potentially be waved aside if it wasn’t for the minimal checkpoints and non-existent upgrades. I Want to be Human‘s checkpoints are only cause for frustration if you die a lot (which I did), but no new weapon choices is downright disappointing. Considering the characters are walking around a modification centre, it would have only been natural for them to enhance their abilities.
There are a lot of collectables and achievements to discover, as well as a high-score system to encourage you to replay. While the extra comic strips, concept art and music tracks are appreciated rewards, it just begs the question as to why there weren’t upgrades to collect as well. The additional challenge mode is a good test of your platforming skills if you manage to master enough of the controls, but nets you little more than bragging rights.
The art style was originally one of the elements that drew me to the game. Like anything, it’s going to be hit or miss depending on personal preferences. I defy anyone to not see the hat boyfriend as cute, though, as his little ears flapping with each jump never got old for me.
What’s unforgivable is that, because of the art style, you can’t always tell when an object is in the foreground or background, and certain objects actually change their functions in-between levels. So, on one stage you can move through white pillars, and on another you’re expected to wall jump off them. Sometimes grey boxes are decoration, and other times they’re supposed to save you from spiky doom. It’s really tedious to constantly question whether you’re going to land safely or plummet to your death, especially when you know the last checkpoint is behind a nasty section that you only just scraped through.
The final problem with this design choice is another personal issue I had. Certain enemies will have large speech bubbles that exclaim their thoughts from “Please don’t kill me” to “Give me that hat” and always die in a mini blood explosion. Upon killing your foes, your boyfriend will have similar quips (like “Hope I’m machine washable”) that, despite being fun at first, get old quickly. By the end of the first level, you’ll have seen most of the different expressions, and after that they’re just a nuisance.
It’s actually quite hard to comment on the soundtrack, as despite featuring music from Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine, everything sounded rather same-y to my ears. I am in no way an expert on that genre, however, so I’m sure it’s diverse enough for those that have more knowledge.
Overall, I Want To Be Human disappointed me. Upon picking up the game, I was ready for a challenging platformer with quirky humour and upgrades to keep me invested in the characters and their story. What I got was frustrating controls, confusing graphics and little depth or emotion to the characters. I tried really hard to enjoy my time with the game, and while some moments did manage to be fun, completing levels was ultimately met with relief that they were finally over.
This review is based off a PC copy of the game, which we were provided with.
I Want To Be Human does little to match the great titles in its genre. There is an existing charm to the concept and art style, but fiddly controls and non-existent upgrades leave much to be desired.