One of Many Faces
The Nintendo Switch is a melting pot of indie titles, many of which are pretty awful but contribute to the successful smothering of legitimately good games. Roguelikes, arguably my favorite sub-genre, are the most egregious of offenders. It is impossible to search the eShop without nimbly navigating a nefarious nexus of negligible Roguelikes. Chances are, you will do all of that, trip over one and land face first in a pile of them. Many Faces by EastAsiaSoft is the latest to join the crowd, and it follows it’s earlier PC release by comfortably finding its way into the indie pile of the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and XBox One. Not the good pile of course – the bad one.
You play as the nameless, almost faceless protagonist who wields a mighty blaster of titanically average proportions. You must jump, roll, and shoot your way through a series of stages, each consisting of a number of waves. Each stage is a single, unmoving screen that you must conquer before moving on to a slightly different panel. Rinse and repeat for the most part. It is a simple premise that would be ideal for a quick pick-up-and-play session on a lunch break – in theory. The issue is, Many Faces doesn’t really do anything right.
The most immediate flaw is the game’s controls. It utilizes a typical twin-stick method, which is all well and good, but it feels slightly off. A mixture of imprecise movements, mysterious jank, and unsatisfying physics resulted in a bit of a mess. Along that same vein, I lost count of how many times I accidentally fell through a floor because the game registered a down input. I never died due to this, but at the same time, I never felt comfortable enough to feel confident that I would be able to navigate the game’s obstacles. As a side note, there is no option to use the d-pad, which is a niggling gripe that often plagues these games.
The art of combat itself is mediocre at best. Aiming is easy enough, shooting is a button press, and your roll grants a short burst of god-like invulnerability that gets all the enemies envious of your athletic prowess. The problem is the enemies themselves – they are just not that interesting to fight. Sure the game boasts a number of enemies, each with a unique pattern of movement, but most of them don’t seem to actively seek you out. It is incredibly easy to just blast away, occasionally jumping to a higher platform for a better angle. Enemies take a handful of shots to down, and the game will rarely throw more than a handful of enemies per wave, so the challenge just isn’t there once you understand what you are doing.
Then you have the gimmick of the game – the thing that makes you go “Oh, that’s neat” – the hats. Every stage you complete spawns a chest. Within this mysterious oblong storage device is a cranial dome cover. Each hat bestows your monochromatic hero with a unique power. These range from the mundane, like a health boost to slightly more interesting things like a damage increase, or a change to your projectile. Once again, this comes with its own set of drawbacks, namely you can’t stack your hats into a mighty pyramid of buffs. You can only have one hat at any given time. This severely limits your customization options. Additionally, if you use your dodge roll, your hat is flung off your bonce, and your new powers are lost until you pick it up. I spent the vast majority of my playtime actively avoiding hats simply because the hassle of constantly picking the damn things up, wasn’t worth the minor buffs they provided.
Many Faces has a number of bosses that appear every now and then. Which one you fight is seemingly random, which is interesting. What isn’t interesting is the actual boss itself. Challenge would be a term used to describe practically anything else, besides the bosses. Sure they litter the screen with projectiles and sway back and forth trying to thunk you into oblivion, but the vast majority of the time you can just roll your way to victory. The other times you can just cheese them and stand in one place and watch as they do nothing. In fact, I beat the last boss doing just that. What could have been an interesting interval to break up the monotony of regular combat just devolves into mindless tedium. An impressive feat considering the game is only 30 minutes long.
What’s Good About It?
Arguably the most interesting aspect of Many Faces is its stage design. Each stage has a series of platforms, with each platform given a unique design to indicate what it does. Some platforms collapse when perched upon, others cannot be dropped through, etc. It adds a much-needed layer of conscious thought which helps cover up the games other, glaring flaws. Stages also randomly contain hazards, such as spike pits or deadly space lasers that erupt from the ground. These are all nice touches, marred every few stages by a boss battle.
How does it look and sound?
I thoroughly enjoy retro aesthetics, and Many Faces tries its darndest to appeal to those sensibilities. It failed, but the attempt was still there. The game is just ugly from start to finish. There are very few animations, the art style is unpleasant, the character design is barebones and repetitive and the stages are just a series of black backgrounds with some retro neon platforms to break up the abyss. Bosses are the highlight of the visuals, but that isn’t really saying much. All that being said, the music is pretty darn awesome. 8-bit rock blipping and blooping all over the shop. It is easily the best part of Many Faces and had there been any worthwhile action to speak of, the music would have your heart thumping and your head bopping like no tomorrow.
Many Faces is a game with more issues than the faces it contains. Floaty, imprecise controls, boring combat, and mind-numbing bosses that can’t be saved by above-average stage designs and a cracking score. This is a once and done experience that might hold your attention until the very moment you look at the grass outside your gaming dungeon and realize that watching it grow was more entertaining. You will turn the game off and will have no desire to pick it up again. As a result…
MANY FACES IS NOT RECOMMENDED
Many Faces can be bought Steam for PC or via the console stores for PlayStation 4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch.
Many thanks to EastAsiaSoft for the review copy.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.