Hard pareekSeptember 14, 2020 10:49:00 AM IST
To say that you don’t come across many video games in India and / or research the country’s mythology or culture would mean there aren’t many female characters Lawrence of Arabia. Technically they are there; but here and there play a role no more than that of a distant spectator.
Enter Raji: An old epic.
Developed by Nodding Heads Games, an independent studio based in Pune, the action-adventure puzzle platformer, available now on Nintendo Switch, doesn̵
The game that can be completed in about as much time as it takes to see it Lawrence (You really did it in five hours) is an ambitious endeavor considering it’s the first in the studio and not had the easiest development course. But as much as the game promises something new, it stalls too often to be really convincing.
One of the game’s biggest attractions, especially for non-Indian players, is the unique setting. The game revolves around Raji, the protagonist who is looking for her brother Golu, who was kidnapped by demons. In her search she is assisted by various gods who also act as speakers throughout the game.
The cutscene, with which the game begins, plays out (like all following) in the style of the shadow puppet play, is beautifully made and immediately draws you into the world. When the real game begins, the world is just as noticeable. But unfortunately the illusion is quickly broken.
First off, as you notice almost immediately, the playable character model is so small that it is almost impossible to discern any feature or movement other than jumping around / parkouring. The problem gets worse as the camera zooms out more. Even playing in Switch’s docked mode doesn’t significantly improve the experience. (In fact, I enjoyed the game a lot more in handheld mode.) The same goes for any common enemies or bosses you fight along the way. While there is a decent variety of them and the skill distribution among them is preoccupying (more on that in a moment), any cool character designs or traits are overshadowed by the fact that they can’t be really clearly seen on the screen.
The game also lives from invisible walls. You can’t take more than a few steps without running into one. Although designed to look expansive and dynamic, RajiThe world is extraordinarily restricted. There will be times when you can’t walk through an open door, climb onto a surface, or jump off the edge of a building, but at the same time you can fall off high platforms or slide into the water, if that’s the game. This is not a specific problem for this game. Invisible walls have part of the games as far as anyone can remember. The problem is how unnatural it feels in this case. For a game released in 2020, in which the landscape plays a character in itself, the design looks ill-conceived and dated.
In addition, texture pop-ins are not uncommon, and their quality is often the same as that of mobile games. Temple Run comes to mind. However, if you are willing to ignore it all, the scenery on offer is so fascinating that you can move on to see more of it. Some of the best looking levels will be featured in later stages of the game. Now and then Raji even manages to offer a pleasant surprise, a visual pleasure if you will, even if it is without much depth.
Raji, which occupies about 6 GB on Switch, is doing a bit of ground in terms of audio. Although the score is a bit general at the beginning, it gets better as the game progresses (as it does with a number of game elements) while the speech output is well produced. But even the best voice actors can only do so much when they have the boring things to say.
The conversations between gods, which, as mentioned, also act as narrative / exposition, sound like the game in which 10-year-olds are taught Indian mythology lessons. This persuasive tone persists throughout. One can understand if the game will appeal to a foreign audience, but this approach only undermines the quality and potential of the storytelling. And then there are the random lines that Raji injected himself. Regardless of whether she calls out to her brother or tells a demon that she is not afraid, the said words come out as funny at best, and worthy at worst.
However, the problems with telling the story are not confined to the narrative alone. While in the beginning the names of Indian gods (and demons) and concepts like Raksha Bandhan being tossed around as if the game assumes players are already familiar with them; As the game progresses, we will be introduced to a series of murals that tell stories from Indian mythology in the same tone as mentioned above. This, along with ‘Mandals‘While these scenes from Raji and Golu’s lives are an interesting concept in themselves, they are poorly integrated into the core story of the game and feel like an afterthought.
The gameplay itself, as you might have guessed, has its fair share of ups and downs. The combat mechanics and challenges posed by different classes of enemy are mostly fun, and help the game gloss over many of its drawbacks, including the extreme repeatability of affairs. The story, which is as bare as it comes, hardly progresses for most of the game and presents you with the scenario “Your princess is in another castle” over and over again. What then comes to mind is the different weapons available at different stages of the game and the number of combat skills / styles to be tested (although you won’t be penalized too much for pushing buttons).
Platform is simple and just something you have to do to make progress. If anything, it feels a little frustrating and out of date at times. The game itself runs smoothly, save for a couple of occasions that trigger some noticeable frame drops. But then there were the mishaps. On a few occasions in my playthrough, Raji started floating in the air and you could have her floating anywhere on the map. On another occasion, if all the enemies in a combat area were defeated (which, like the invisible walls, is being pulled out at random), new ones would not appear, nor would my character be able to leave the area and move on (restarting did the trick). .
In another instance, the character stopped jumping, used a weapon, or something other than walking around (had to restart the game). Some patches are very much due at this point.
Indeed, it is disappointing to see a project that presents a fascinating vision – something that has been long awaited but not necessarily invested enough to support. There’s a ton of great ideas here, from the great potential of the stories to be explored, to something as simple as the lack of a HUD or the built-in health bar around the character’s feet. And towards the end of its life, the game proves that it can really improve it, showing how some of its more inspired choices can come together to make the whole bigger than its parts. Unfortunately for the most part, Raji feels uncomfortable and suffocating.
As it stands, there will be a sequel to the game. One can only hope that the promises will not be fully realized too long in the future.
Checked game on Nintendo Switch. Review the code provided by the publisher.