We’re truly in the throes of silly season now, where the biggest publishers unleash their biggest guns. It’s at once exciting and overwhelming; there are almost too many games to play. Here at Square XO, we feel it’s therefore doubly important to shine a light on the smaller titles which, more than ever, are at risk of being overlooked in the rush. So, let’s take a little time to appreciate Super Daryl Deluxe, one of the most idiosyncratic and endearing games I’ve played all year.
It splices several genres and defies easy description. Simply put, though, Super Daryl Deluxe melds platforming, fighting, exploring, RPG elements and some Metroidvania-style backtracking into one absolute riot of a game. The way it effortlessly segues from a relaxed, almost point ‘n’ click style adventure to a tense platformer – and back again- is truly memorable. It’s rare to see so much imagination, variety and creativity shoehorned into one game.
You play Daryl, the new kid at Water Falls High, the setting for a bizarre story packed with nightmarish worlds accessed through the various rooms in the school. The art style has a hand-drawn look and feel; Daryl himself is particularly comical in appearance. He flails in an ungainly fashion as he walks and runs, recalling memories of comedy gaming mascots such as Cool Spot and Earthworm Jim.
Starting with just a solitary punching move, Daryl can be equipped with up to five different abilities which are purchased and upgraded over time. You can chain attacks together; in fact, you’re forced to mix things up, as each ability requires a short recovery window or ‘cooldown’ after use. Repeated spamming of the same attack isn’t an option here. The controls feel a little soft and floaty, less than ideal, really, but you can acclimatise to them before too long.
The school is not only the setting but the gateway to some of the RPG-style progression. Appropriately enough, your locker is the hub from which you can manage your skills inventory. You can purchase new abilities from Paul and Alan, two fellow students who seem to be perpetually loitering the corridors, while the game can be saved by paying a visit to one of the toilets dotted around the game. That’s right: no autosave. We’ve been pampered and cosseted by autosave for years now, and it’s a shock to the system to hark back to the old way. Still, save points are reasonably plentiful, so there’s not too much frustration from this design decision.
I’m terms of gameplay, Super Daryl Deluxe takes a while to show its hand. The early stages focus on talking to students and fairly dull back and forth fetch quests. My advice? Stick with it. Once you’ve dispatched the first boss (a bully boy who has morphed into a giant gorilla), you start to see the sheer variety the game has in terms of aesthetics and level design. A trip to the chemistry class, for example, sees you negotiate a bizarre, dreamlike level, battling sentient test tubes. On completion, you return to the prosaic and mundane school corridors, which contrast starkly to the outlandish levels hidden behind the classroom doors. My only gripe is that until you purchase markers for the map, it’s possible to be wandering aimlessly for a time as you chase down your latest objective, and that’s never fun.
There’s a distinctly retro feel and flavour to the proceedings, which is no bad thing. The game serves up idea after idea, as though all the creative concepts from the dev were run through a blender and fired continuously at the player through a cannon. All the while the music is a treat, veering from sparse and subtle to absolutely infectious. The humour is consistent with the tone of the game: silly, irreverent but never offensive or out of place.
Super Daryl Deluxe is a genuine surprise. It’s positively brimming with imaginative ideas and is likely to sustain your interest over the main story thanks to the upgrade system and sheer diversity in terms of visuals and design. Sure, it’s not perfect. It takes too long to get going, the platforming is floaty-light and possibly the humour won’t resonate with everyone. However, I urge you to give it a try. It’s something genuinely different, and the game deserves to find a wider audience.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*