What is it with AI that wants to be your friend going completely off the deep end? Whether it’s Monika from DDLC or GLaDOS and Wheatley from the Portal series, games love to play with the idea of constructs either turning against us or otherwise corrupting beyond their original designs, no matter how benign. And to be clear, I’m here for it, especially as it goes down in Not a Sailor Studios’ recent demo for Buddy Simulator 1984. From the old CRTV effects to the classic text adventure interface, this demo does a wonderful job of setting a scene and nailing the voice, and I am definitely looking forward to the game’s full release.
If you’ve played Not a Sailor Studios’ first game, A Game About Literally Doing Your Taxes, you can expect a similar theme of subtle horror (followed by not-so-subtle horror) that builds up out of normalcy as the demo starts. The graphics and sound design are on point, from the slightly tinny startup sounds of old computers to the clickity-clack of mechanical keyboards that evoke that Gen X, early video games vibe. The graphics are charmingly simple and the starting games are cute, if easy. The real catch is in the responsiveness of your ‘buddy,’ from simple tricks of remembering your birthday and preferences to changing the screen to try and surprise you, to developing more games when you exhaust your small starting list.
What really drew me into this game, however, is in the later half of the demo. Your Buddy builds an entire text adventure, complete with an inventory system and secrets galore. This section also allows the horror to shine a little brighter, with subtly wrong descriptions and the clear voice of your Buddy coloring the player’s experience in the adventure. I spent 3 hours playing this demo trying to find every single interaction, every item, every alternate path of dialogue and reactions. And all this in a free to play demo? Suffice it to say, I got hooked hard. The voices feel authentic, and the storytelling is enticing.
Currently, the full game is projected to release on January 14th, 2021, after the dev team pushed back their initial December release plan in order to complete the game to their full vision and allow room for playtesting and bug fixes (also, to avoid releasing on the same day as Cyberpunk). With the mix of Undertale-esque graphics and character design, a heavy dose of horror, and the added complication of a digital buddy, I’m looking forward to playing the full game in the future.