This is a weird one, but it's a good kind of weird.
At a certain point in Super Daryl Deluxe, a difficult-to-categorize game from Dan & Gary Games, our plucky hero faces off against a living xylophone while Beethoven and a music producer watch from a balcony above. Upon seeing his instrumental invention defeated by a lanky teenager, the music producer leaves in a huff, allowing Beethoven to take back the music department and replace the producer’s damnable beatbox with his beloved piano. If you think any of that is weird, you should know it’s not nearly the weirdest thing I’ve experienced during my time with Super Daryl Deluxe.
When newcomer Daryl transfers to Water Falls High, he finds it in a bit of a transition period. Students and teachers have been disappearing for weeks, classes have been cancelled, and the school administrators become more suspicious by the day. Textbooks in particular are in such short supply that two enterprising young students—Alan and Paul—have set up a business in which textbooks are a form of currency. Daryl, a lanky Napoleon Dynamite-type, is quickly roped into this new business venture, running errands for his colleagues, which eventually take him into some very surreal places.
Super Daryl Deluxe is essentially a side-scrolling RPG with brawler combat. Daryl takes on quests from a variety of sources, many of which lead to new quests or feed into other quests you’re already pursuing. Quests go from blasé (“find a hairbrush”) to bizarre (“bury this dead rat”) to increasingly surreal (“get Leonardo de Vinci to cough up the money he owes Beethoven”). Completing quests gives Daryl experience points, textbooks, and/or equipment, and it is here where the game’s RPG trappings really come to the fore.
Daryl can earn standard level-up experience but also skill experience. Skills are attacks that you buy from Alan and Paul with textbooks. A surprising variety of attacks are available to buy and they can all be upgraded via skill experience. You can have four attacks on hand at any one time, assigned to the face buttons and one to a shoulder button (you do the assigning). There’s your standard three-punch combo, but then there’s a camera flash stun, a mop uppercut, a rubber ducky slingshot, and many more, some of which include status effects. All skills have level requirements so that you’re not too powerful right off the bat. Each skill also has a cool-down. Half the fun is experimenting and finding an attack combination that you’re comfortable with.
Your enemies tend to be very strange things, like ambulatory maracas, tuba-playing ghosts, derpy chemistry beakers, and knife-wielding rats dressed in stereotypical French outfits. Did I mention this game is surreal? Depending on where you are in the school or what quest line you’re attacking, you wind up doing a lot of combat. I was surprised by how careful you have to be—enemies that are even a couple levels higher than Daryl can wreck you so it pays to be cautious. Thankfully, the game throws equipment at you like it’s going out of style so you can wear numerous things that will increase your health, defense, attack power, and more. You can win equipment from completing quests or you can buy it from shady-looking students who typically take up residence in the bathrooms.
The brawling can be a little tiresome and there are times where your quest log is full but you’re not totally sure of where you’re supposed to go, but Super Daryl Deluxe is hilarious, charming, and gorgeous, and that pushed me through a lot of minor complaints. The writing—good lord, the writing—is excellent. Quick-witted and with a wonderful sense of character, I never stopped smiling and chuckling while reading the dialogue. It’s the little things that get me the most: I laughed out loud, scaring the dog, when I tried to talk to Beethoven and his response was “PARDON?” He’s deaf! It was so perfect.
The game looks great, too, with a comic-book style filled by a minimal use of color. Every single object is gorgeous, and a huge variety of art styles crop up for the different zones of the school. The characters are also lovingly crafted. One of your classmates is a bear! Just watching Daryl animate is entertaining in itself. His cartoonish walk and run cycles are great, but I love how he ducks and the huge variety of animations for his attacks (I love his lightning bolt pose) is endlessly inventive.
My complaints about the game are few. First, there are a lot of kill rooms. That is to say, a lot of quests come down to killing a bunch of enemies, either for the sake of killing them or because they might drop certain items. The combat is inventive but it’s ultimately repetitious brawler fare, so your mileage may vary. Second, despite having a bunch of quests going at the same time, it’s not often clear what you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. I often stumbled across solutions while doing something else. Third, and this is maybe my biggest issue, leveling up takes a really long time, and there will be times you’ll want to grind before going into the next enemy-filled area. Now, there are plenty of places to grind (just revisit any dungeon) but grinding for experience in a brawler is not always great.
However, Super Daryl Deluxe is fantastic despite those minor inconveniences. The story becomes increasingly strange, the locations increasingly surreal, and the dialogue increasingly funny. I can’t say I’ve played too many games like this, and I’m very happy to have had the opportunity.