Why It’s Best To Avoid American McGee’s Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Correction: This piece originally stated that the art assets in Akaneiro were outsourced. According to a public relations representative associated with Spicy Horse, this is not the case and this title’s art was created in-house. Indie Statik apologizes for the error.

I like American McGee. There, I said it. Guy has nice hair, he made a couple decent games and he has a nationality for a name. If I could, I’d call myself Irish O’Flannigan, but I don’t have the kind of swag that Mr. McGee commands. Who does, really? The guy worked for Id, he coded on Quake, he made a horror adventure out of Alice in Wonderland. It was even pretty good. That takes some serious swag.

So this guy makes American McGee’s Alice and it’s a pretty good game. He slaps his name on it because I guess game designers are like celebrities now, and all we need is their name to convince us to throw money at them like cash-flinging gibbons. He’s a figurehead in the industry, so naturally he makes a couple more games, and this is how we ended up with American McGee’s Scrapland. American McGee’s reviewers gave American McGee’s newer games mixed reviews. Our faith in the man was shaken, but not destroyed. Every real artist releases a stinker or two sometimes, right? The next one would be better. Finally, after months of waiting, we got American McGee’s Bad Day L.A.

…You know what? Let’s just stop there. Let’s not talk about how American McGee’s Bad Day L.A. has regularly made “Worst Game of All Time” lists. Let’s overlook American McGee’s Grimm, his comically awful foray into episodic gaming shortly after Valve brought the concept into the limelight and forced us to endure an era of $20 demo-length episodes. We’re not here to criticize American McGee’s many abject and hilarious failures. No, we’re here to talk about Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, the latest game from McGee’s Spicy Horse studio. There’s no way it could suck, right? I mean, look at it! It’s so pretty.

Surprise: It’s Awful

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Here’s the setup: people love clickfest action-RPGs. They eat that shit up. Diablo games sell like hotcakes; Torchlight games sell like slightly cooler hotcakes; it’s basically a giant hotcake covered with icing made out of melted-down money. American McGee, the forward-thinking entrepreneur that he is, decided that Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile weren’t enough for the clickfest-demanding public. No, if they were going to ruin their mice with ceaseless clicking, they needed a game with his personal touch. They needed Akaneiro, which, for whatever reason, was not titled American McGee’s Akaneiro: Demon Hunters.

Akaneiro is based on the story of Red Riding Hood, because that was just screaming to be made into a Diablo-style action-RPG. Even the name of the game references the children’s tale: akane, or “red”, and iro, or “angry.” Angry red. It’s Red Riding Hood given that gritty edge that a story about a wolf devouring a defenseless old woman and subsequently being torn open was always crying out for. You’ve got three basic classes: the Prowess class, which follows the Red Girl and dual-wields; the Fortitude class, which follows the Forest Mother and uses two-handed weapons; and the Cunning class, which follows the Dark Huntsman and uses ranged attacks. In case you didn’t pick up on this, those are classes based on Red Riding Hood, the Grandmother and the Huntsman respectively. Yes, one of your options is the ability to play a character with all the combat ability of someone’s grandma. Sign me up.

“…it’s bad in an insidious sort of way, the kind of bad where something that looks great turns out to stink to high heaven. It reeks of disappointment.”

Akaneiro: Demon HuntersLet’s get this out of the way right now – the Cunning class blows. Don’t pick that one. This already isn’t a great game, and you don’t need a poor class selection making it worse. Their ranged attacks are very costly and don’t do a lot of damage, plus the range is questionable at best and they’re as resilient as wet paper bags. For all intents and purposes you’ve got two class options: you could pick Fortitude, which is a decent option if a little boring, but trust me and pick Prowess instead. This will ensure you have a character so powerful that you can walk all over the game. Prowess characters are fast, well-armored and can deal ludicrous damage to wide swaths of enemies at once right out of the gate, not to mention they only get better.

So you’ve taken your Prowess character (please tell me you picked Prowess) and you’re ready to adventure into the world. You’re probably expecting some exciting new mechanics or gameplay elements since this is a game coming out in 2013, right? Two things: 1.) This is an American McGee game and 2.) your naivete is simply adorable. No, you’ve got a left mouse button, and you’re going to click that thing until your fingers fall off. Click on enemies (mostly wolves, in one of the few clever nods to the story in this game) to smack them around; right click to use whatever boring skill you started with. Cunning gets a lame energy bow shot; Fortitude gets a temporary thorns aura, but for Prowess this is a quick flurry of attacks with your dual weapons that can somehow hit a massive five-foot cone of enemies in front of your character. You can clear out entire rooms just by herding up the enemies into a nice tight group and right-clicking a couple times. Prowess owns bones.

“The art style is reminiscent of games like Okami and is absolutely gorgeous…It would be a joy to play if there were any joy in playing it.”

Killing stuff gets you loot and red Karma Crystals. The former is pretty dull – there’s a bunch of different weapons, but the only differences between them are minor variations in damage and attack speed. Likewise, there’s a few types of armor available, but they’re mostly just an aesthetic choice. There’s the odd magic bonus on gear here and there with the usual color-coded loot system. No, what you’re after are those delicious Karma Crystals, which serve as currency. More importantly, there are no healing items in Akaneiro, so picking up Karma Crystals are the only way you can heal outside of a couple skills. That last thing deserves particular mention. Even as a Fortitude or Prowess character you’re not exactly survivable. Enemies come in massive, health-devouring hordes, and you can’t heal without killing them or consuming your distressingly limited pool of mana. What this means is that your focus needs to be on offense at all times, which is largely why Prowess is the best choice as the other classes will spend a lot of time eating dirt. Prowess characters, by the way, also get a massive area-of-effect life stealing skill on top of everything else. Of course they do.

And that’s it! That’s the game! There’s plenty of poorly-translated dialogue; there’s more skills, but they’re pretty boring and cost loads of Crystals; you can pick your stats when you level, but you might as well just keep going with your initial class as that will improve the skills you’re most likely to buy; there are shops where you can buy stuff in exchange for Karma Crystals, and finding upgrades there will be the highlight of your experience with this, ahem, groundbreaking game. Aside from the hilarious class balancing and combat issues, Akaneiro isn’t offensively bad – it’s bad in an insidious sort of way, the kind of bad where something that looks great turns out to stink to high heaven. It reeks of disappointment.

American McGee’s Glitter-Spangled Turd

I will admit that the game is gloriously pretty. The art style is reminiscent of games like Okami and is absolutely gorgeous, especially for something that runs in a browser. The animations are nice; everything is crisp and easy to see; the characters are well-designed and look interesting. It would be a joy to play if there were any joy in playing it.

Let’s talk about money. There’s a button right next to your Karma Crystal account in the corner of the screen just in case you wanted to buy more Crystals and throw some cash at the team for making this game. It’s the Starving Developer Generation, an era of gaming where we’re one step away from every game indie or otherwise being packaged with a picture of the developer’s ribs, a vial of their tears and an MP3 of their stomach growling followed by them asking for a check, so naturally there’s also a link to their reportedly “100% finished” game (stick with me) $200,000 Kickstarter on the main page and when you consider buying Crystals the game reminds you your money is “keeping [the developers] fed.” Ha, ha, ha. Cough. Excuse me; I need to go lie down now.

Yes, you heard me: the game is completed. Finished. Though American McGee has since retracted that statement now that the Kickstarter has been launched. Apparently, the game isn’t finished now, and he meant that they had ran out of funded development time on the game, thus implying the intention was to release an unfinished game or…what? It’s releasing soon anyway and will likely make it on to Steam due to the Greenlight program. It even has a business model set up with that Karma Crystal market. But they’re still running a Kickstarter for it, as if it has loads of development ahead of it and they weren’t in the position where they could just release the game and start raking in the revenue as they were going to originally via a free-to-play model. Think about that.

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

“I hate to beat a dead Spicy Horse, but Akaneiro’s just not that great.”

Kickstarter isn’t a shop, but it seems it’s now being used as a last minute pre-order station, where games can jump on the bandwagon that hype for the crowdfunding website has created over the past year. Developers are all over interest-free loans that they never have to pay back with no legal responsibility to provide any recompense! In fact, they seem to really like it when there’s a fair chance that their game won’t pull in all that much revenue! Who knew?

I hate to beat a dead Spicy Horse, but Akaneiro’s just not that great. This would be fine by itself as it’s pretty and can run in your browser, but between the hype machines chugging along to power this title and Spicy Horse’s hilarious (or insulting) Kickstarter shenanigans, something needs to be said. If you’re somehow hurting for action-RPG gameplay despite all the other options, then running a Prowess character through Akaneiro upon release might keep you entertained for a day or two.

Or you could just go devour someone’s grandmother. That’s probably a more exciting use of your time. The wolf was always the hero of that story anyway.

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  • http://twitter.com/amatecha amatecha

    Whoa, what’s up with the opinionated, inflammatory tone of this article? Very uncool…

    As someone who has been playing the game since the very first hours Spicy Horse was allowing testers, I have to say the game is actually pretty decent. I’m really surprised by the persistently negative approach this article has taken when this game is actually pretty solid, particularly for an indie studio. Why are you so insanely critical about this when this is actually a great example of the rad work that indie studios can produce? Yeah, Spicy Horse games often don’t lead the path on innovative gameplay, but they are still fun, and certainly not as horrible and “avoid”-worthy as this article tries to convey.

    Also, what substantiation is there to the claim that all of Akaneiro’s artwork is outsourced? Spicy Horse has some pretty crazy talented artists and I think if you’re going to make a claim like the one you have, you should probably back it up. Don’t just spout inflammatory accusations about an entire studio worth of artists without backup.

    Actually, this is one studio whose game artwork is among my top favorite. In fact, two art pieces by their artists were recently featured in the “Into The Pixel” video game art collection, and shown all around the world. First two items on this page: http://www.intothepixel.com/artwork/2012_contest_winners.asp Yeah, alongside artwork for games like Halo 4, Dishonored, Diablo 3, and Guild Wars 2. Ohh, but nah, Spicy Horse artists just suck, amirite?

    Seriously though, I feel like this article just brings a bunch of negativity into a community that needs no such thing. There’s really no benefit to such hyper-criticism.

  • Cory Galliher

    Hey there! The use of “near-sourcing” is a critical part of Spicy Horse’s business model, according to the company’s Web site. Large-scale asset production is outsourced to local Chinese studios and artists. This is to ensure that the per-project headcount remains small, below 60 people or so. Either way, I didn’t make the assertion that the art was bad because it was outsourced; rather, I said it was very good. This is a very attractive game, both in screenshots and in action, but that alone doesn’t make a game good.

    I’m intensely critical of the game because I don’t think it’s very good. I think it’s a boring and generic title that would get little to no attention were it not for its art and the fact that it runs in a browser. I don’t think it’s an example of “rad work” at all – far from it, in fact, I think it’s at best a cashgrab and I believe the fact that they’re Kickstarting a finished game supports that assertion.

    As for bringing negativity into the community: again, I think the fact that this company is Kickstarting a finished game, essentially asking for free money while already having a completed product that they’re ready to sell, is a questionable act that doesn’t show much community solidarity or faith in their product. Further, I think that we need to criticize games like this to send a message to developers and shape what future games will be like, just as we criticize traditionally published games for the same reason.

    • Fiachdubh

      A “cash grab”? Are you serious!? The game is completely free! What kind of moron calls a free game a cash grab? The kickstarter is to add new features to the game. Spicy Horse is an indy company they don’t just have money lying around. Especially after giving the main game away. But if they get more money, they can add features players want.

      The audacity to even make such a claim is so idiotic, so ignorant, and so arrogant, that it calls into question every other point you made. Being someone so lacking in common sense, or logic.

      No, you’re not overly critical because the game sucks. Your overly critical because you’re one of many dumbass gamers, who expect AAA perfection from every game you play regardless of the developers’ means. For a completely free action rpg, playable in browser or client, Akaneiro is pretty darn good.

      Also you’re wrong about the classes sucking except one. Typical power gamer bullshit mentality.

      • Cory Galliher

        I’m sorry you feel that way. I would reiterate, though, that this game was finished and in a state where it was ready to be released with a fully functional cash shop when they began the Kickstarter. I believe the intention behind Kickstarter is to fund projects that couldn’t otherwise exist without the money so they can reach a point where they can fund themselves. If that’s the case, then Akaneiro’s Kickstarter was a subversion of the system and something that merits criticism.

        “For a completely free action rpg, playable in browser or client, Akaneiro is pretty darn good.” – I don’t believe that being “completely free” (there is a cash shop, which I would argue means the game is not “completely free”) or browser-based should protect the game from criticism, as the Action-RPG genre is a long-standing one and there are plenty of games to compare it to. If I were to compare it to other games using a similar model, however, I would compare Akaneiro to City of Steam. City of Steam uses a more original setting and has more fleshed out and enjoyable mechanics, so even against other games in the same “sub-sub-sub-genre,” Akaneiro falls short.

        Oh, and given the way the skill system works, the classes are practically identical except that Prowess gives you the least frustrating starting point for your character. I’d still say the other two are terrible by comparison.

  • Jess

    Someone! Please make a clicky game that has wonderful storytelling and tactical depth!(Stoked for Sui Generis though).

    I’ve just never understood some of these games, personally. Making a character is fun. But what do I do with it? Kill stuff, it seems. Maybe explore some stuff. But in the end, I’m only going to kill whatever lives there and leave the lands around whatever hub town I’m operating out of empty of anything that made it interesting.
    Maybe I just don’t get it. Or maybe too much Baldur’s Gate lately has spoiled my appetite for mediocrity.

  • ahcetama

    Just played this game………….WOW it sucks, and not in a good way.

  • Sheogorath

    damn. someone’s got some sand in their vagina