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
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.”
Let’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.
“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.