Super Daryl Deluxe Review
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Dan & Gary Games
Platform: Switch (reviewed), Steam, PS4
Super Daryl Deluxe is a tongue-in-cheek Metroidvania style game with RPG elements (as the developers call it an RPGVania), and a wonderful aesthetic ripped from a bored high schooler's notebook. As a new transfer to Water Falls High School, our hero, Daryl Whitelaw, falls into adventure just trying to fit in. Water Falls is described as a "perfectly normal multidimensional high school." While the main halls are bland and grey, each individual room pulls you into an alternate dimension where you can talk capitalism with Stalin in the History room or battle rogue beakers in the Science Lab. Daryl's got a pretty open schedule (what with 99 percent of his classes being study hall) so he goes about the process of meeting new friends. At least, that's what I think he's doing, as the "silent protagonist" is taken to it's comedic extreme. Everyone who talks to Daryl gets a long, awkward silence in return. A physical cross between a bell-bottomed hippie and Napoleon Dynamite, Daryl rolls with everything that comes his way, be it to his advantage or not. Early in the game, a couple of jokers task Daryl to pick some flowers to brighten another student's day. When that student turns out to be deathly allergic and gets angry, it's on like Donkey Kong. Literally. The enraged chap turns into a giant ape, girders fall from the ceiling, and a boss battle commences. Best him and your friendship with the local Dwarves and Druids players begins. Daryl's early meetings turn into a campaign to profiteer via textbook sales, though Daryl's simply a gopher who finds said books. As the story develops, a deep conspiracy is uncovered that is far more than it seems.
As said before, Daryl's graphic style is pulled right out of the mind and imagination of a teenager doodling in his homework borders. The pencil-drawn aesthetics really shine as Daryl learns new moves, from inflating his fists as he punches all the way to breaking out a medieval battle axe twice as big as he is or riding a shark over your enemies. As you progress, you unlock more moves, of which you can create a loadout every time you visit your locker. It's a bit strange how battle is done. Every single move you have has a cooldown period, so you can't just go in guns blazing and maul everything. A proper loadout has to be created that balances weak and strong attacks with your own playstyle against the enemies you are encountering at the time. It's a neat bit of strategy that you have to think through when planning what section of the map to attack next. You'll be able to fight constantly, just not by mashing buttons. While basic enemies are pretty straightforward (the hardest part being how they are leveled compared to you), the bosses require you to develop a loadout that perfectly contradicts their patterns and attack strategies. The abovementioned ape boss really impressed me. At first, I felt there was no way around it, but a little brainwork and I found a pattern, much like a classic Mega Man game.
Daryl's graphics and music pull you into a surreal world where there really are no rules to how the world is put together. Characters are hand-sketched, and the world is a combination of drawing, polygonal frames, real-world photos, and wacky characters. Your classmates include a troupe of D&D nerds, preppy girls, some eight foot tall dude, and a bear in a T-Shirt named Mark. Most of the music incorporates Daryl's name somewhere, and you wonder if this is really happening or some mad power fantasy being dreamed up by our hero. There are plenty of oddball side quests that keep you busy outside of the main game, and they are all adorably wacky. Near the beginning naturally walking you may step on a rat. Turns out it's a pet, so you have to bury it in the quad, which happens to be broken and floating in the air. You must find the flower patch where Death is waiting. Speaking of flowers, the tutorial flowers slowly give you tips, only to realize you are picking them. A later flower in the game you talk to pulls out a "is that dirt under your fingernails?" that made me genuinely chuckle. The situational comedy is spot on, and only best experienced playing the game. The developers were very smart putting this game together, making a challenging yet funny game.
One detractor I'd have for the game is the save function. It's terribly oldschool. You save at bathrooms, heading to the stall to officially cement your progress. While they are fairly spaced, miss a bathroom on a pass, die, and you find yourself having to re-do a whole section. I finally beat that ape boss after the tenth try, went on, and got killed by some menial enemy when I was goofing off. Without the save, I was back before the boss. The learning curve is a little overwhelming at first, as the first scene is a flash forward (or lucid dream) where Daryl has all of his powers. Once you get back to the basics, the different abilities come naturally. I would have preferred a six button pad instead of linking a couple moves to the shoulder buttons, but at least the game has fully customizable controls to tweak those extra buttons wherever they make sense to you.
Super Daryl Deluxe is a wild ride, and worth the discounted price tag. A roughly 15-hour story quest awaits you, with plenty of sidequests to keep you occupied. Daryl's tripped-out high school consistently makes you wonder what's behind the next door, and it does a good job balancing it's skill tree and RPG nature with brawler-style gameplay for that quick arcadey fix that works so well on the Switch in handheld mode. Daryl's one of the few games that really "get" my oddball sense of humor. If you had an oddball time with social circles in high school, Daryl's calmer bits will remind you of what it took to "fit in," while the wild bits will cause you a bit of concern and wonder if someone slipped you a hallucionogenic drug.
-What a unique world!
-RPG leveling, MetroidVania searching, brawler battling
-Quest log is easy access and boils down everything to a checklist
-Boss battles really require some brain work
-The save system is ruthless and does not fear pushing you back for a simple mistake
-It takes a while to get used to the combos, and the system needs more face buttons
-As you get to higher levels, traipsing back through the school does get to be a slog (like other MetroidVanias). There is a basic quick travel, though.
Special thanks to Dan & Gary Games for providing a code for review!