Music has always been a huge part of my life so I find myself naturally attracted to anything involving rhythm as a part of its gameplay. I went through my requisite Guitar Hero/Rockband phase and I was extremely excited to get started on Brand New Boy. Stylistically the game feels like you took a variety of bizarre anime and blended them with electronic icons Daft Punk. Overall the game emphasizes style over substance; despite the various customization options the combat is extremely simple, but in those moments when you’ve amassed a high combo chain and the music is pumping away it makes you feel invincible.
Amnesia is such an overused plot device that I find myself groaning internally when someone employs it. Unfortunately such is the beginning of the game’s story. You’re accompanied by a semi-helpful companion that takes the form of an ambulatory television set. The writing and dialogue are so bizarre that I wasn’t sure if it was intended to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek parody or simply the unusual semi-logical ramblings that often results from sloppy translations.
Regardless, the game is simple which is both a great starting point and its ultimate downfall. You attack by tapping the screen and dodge by swiping. Utilizing items and special abilities is as simple as tapping their icons. The story mode of the game usually proceeds in the same manner; a few lines of bizarre dialogue and then you set forth to battle. A few defense missions and boss battles mix things up a bit, but there’s little tangible difference between the battles. Since most of the battles take place in identical settings you can understand why things get stale fairly quickly.
The enemies are fun to look at; initially your foes are strange egg-shaped creatures and just as you start to wonder if that’s all the game has in store they begin to vary it up. Some have ranged attacks; some have shields that must be broken down before they can be assailed. While I largely agree with some of the musings of Oscar Wilde in regards to style being extremely important, when you’ve nailed the style, you can’t just stop there. The creatures look fun and varied but don’t really deliver a challenge. There’s a lot of customization given to your character. You can play a protagonist of either gender and there are various weapons and accessories to purchase, all of which have a visual impact as well as a statistical boost. Some are the expected profusion of blades and sharp edges while others are silly animal mittens, further muddling the sense of whether I was supposed to be flat-out laughing or not.
Completing the story mode alternates between laughably easy and vexingly difficult. There are multiple stats to manage and upgrades for skills and weapons alike. I found a fairly familiar pattern emerging where I would clear a few missions and then hit a wall where making more than one or two mistakes meant defeat. Usually the solution was simply to grind through earlier missions to gain enough gold and experience points to upgrade my abilities. Simply getting better at the game only takes you so far as the screen sometimes becomes over-cluttered with the UI, your character and whatever you’re fighting. Enemies that aren’t immediately in your field of vision have floating icons that flash red when an attack is incoming but sometimes they’re stacked on top of one another or tucked into a corner, meaning that unless you’re shifting focus to every corner of the screen constantly, luck will determine the outcome of a battle rather than strategy or skill. Making a customizable UI or changing the size of the icons might help in this regard.
The supposedly rhythm based gameplay is nothing more complex than tapping your finger to a beat. It’s not even truly essential to keep great time as you’ll do damage regardless of how off your timing is. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still fun; between its looks, sounds and robust stat system it manages to draw you in, but adding some greater depth to the rhythmic scheme inherent in the combat would have made this a truly stellar game. As it is, the combat interface feels like a minigame in a different title. I don’t want to make it sound too easy however; the game presents a robust challenge and bosses in particular require care and precision.
Now we have to turn to the ugliest part of mobile gaming and consider the freemium nature of the game. As you churn through missions you’ll accumulate coins but as you may suspect the highest tiered items are absurdly expensive and would require an extensive amount of grinding to obtain. To be fair, the only items that were exclusively available to those willing to shell out real cash are costumes and other purely cosmetic upgrades and there are still plenty of cool options available for free. If you’ve got the time and energy it’s possible to obtain almost everything in the game without spending more than the initial price of download so in terms of Hardcore Droid’s stance against freemium games, Brand New Boy is committing the freemium equivalent of jaywalking.
Overall there’s a lot of charm in this package for the right person. We’ve all had that game or franchise where we loved it out of proportion to the rest of the world. This feels like one of those games that could absorb a lot of time for the right gamer and deliver boundless joy. If it’s your cup of tea there’s a lot to conquer with each level having a time goal and an infinite mode. Despite some issues with repetitiveness and an oversimplified mechanic, Brand New Boy showed to me why it’s been sitting so high on the charts for Android downloads.
Making up for simple combat with buckets of style, Brand New Boy is a good time for a low price.