If Doki-Doki Universe taught me one thing about myself, it’s this: I am willing to slog through even the most mundane and unappealing chore in order to be able to check it off my to-do list. The same apparently goes for video games.
True to its description in the first article I read about it (written by fellow games blogger Paul Abbamondi), Doki-Doki Universe isn’t so much a game as it is an animated – and somewhat interactive – personality test. Robot QT3 has been abandoned by the family that owns him, and left on an asteroid somewhere in space with no one to keep him company but a red balloon, aptly named Balloon. Some time later he is visited by saucer-flying Alien Jeff, who informs him that he’s been sent to evaluate QT3’s potential to attain humanity, as his particular model has been discontinued and scheduled for disassembly. Helping QT3 interact with denizens of planets he visits and learn “human lessons” basically serves the function of the player providing the game with information about himself, the better for the game to evaluate his or her personality. In between planetary pit-stops, players can also visit a multitude of asteroids to take 3-to-5-question personality tests, asking everything from which picture you prefer to what you think a particular character in an image is thinking at the moment.
On each planet he lands, QT3 will be asked to perform numerous tasks for the inhabitants, which usually involves conjuring a cutout item that they’re asking for. How exactly QT3 is able to make these objects (or sometimes beings) appear out of thin air is never explained beyond just “magic”, but once the game gets rolling he carries around an immense inventory of random items, collecting them everywhere he goes and frequently receiving them as rewards for successfully filling requests. Other tasks asked of him include tossing people around, bowing or waving to them, or simply chatting them up. The dialog is inconsequential, with a surprising number of poo jokes, there’s hardly a plot to speak of, and the summon quests (I hesitate to call them fetch quests as there’s rarely any actual traveling required) get stale after the first ten minutes. Taking paper-and-pencil personality quizzes galore doesn’t exactly liven things up in between planets, either. In short, the unconventional “gameplay” quickly became tedious to the point of being nothing more than a chore to complete, and I found myself longing for a completed checklist of trophies sooner rather than later.
I realize that some of the criticism I’m leveling at Doki-Doki Universe may seem unreasonably harsh in light of the fact that the title isn’t meant to be a traditional game; similarly, I may as well chastise Google Maps for not offering immersive storytelling or the phone book for being too broad in scope. But none of this erases the fact that, at the end of the day, I was unable to find any fun or joy in this game, whatever form it was meant to take on.