I haven't played enough of High on Life to offer a full review yet, as codes were distributed fairly late, but I have played enough to know one thing that will be universal for every single person who picks up the controller – High on Life is exactly the game you're expecting. The gameplay is exceedingly generic, with simple shooting and platforming mechanics, and considering how much it crams its head up its own ass to get a good sniff of the colourful cityscapes, it's also disappointingly linear. But love it or hate it, no one seemed all that excited for this to be a foundation shifting video game. It was just going to be simple and funny. So, is it funny? Well, the long answer is 'that's where you come into it buster!'. The short answer is 'no'.
I like Rick & Morty. I think the show has become a little less consistent these days, but it still delivers two or three stellar episodes a season. I've become reluctant to admit I like Rick & Morty, not because of the show’s (small but noticeable) decline in quality, but because of the way the caricature of the fanbase has solidified as losers online, who either play up to it or feel encouraged by it. You are not like Rick because you start a fight in McDonald's over meme dipping sauce or because you insult people on the internet. Enjoying Rick & Morty has gotten more difficult, but then High on Life should have been a welcome break – it's Rick & Morty humour without the Rick & Morty baggage. However, the translation is not perfect.
First off, Rick & Morty is the most referential show on television. Where The Simpsons would hide movie frames in its animation, Rick & Morty folds them into dialogue. High on Life tries to do the same, but has to justify the fact it's set on a distant planet so cannot easily reference Earth media. Except it can. When we head down a cyberpunk-style sideways elevator, our gun tells us it reminds him of Final Fantasy 7 and Resident Evil 2, before adding "You won't have heard of those, we only have those in space. Those are space games." And like, sure. That's a joke. It has all the basic conventions of humorous dramatic irony. But it's not really very funny.
At times, it fails to appreciate that it's a video game, and at others it understands this far too much. Everywhere you go, you end up stepping on a line, cutting someone off, or missing a beat. It's like the old joke – what's the most important part of comedy timing. Though the jokes sound like improv riffing, they are curated and choreographed, and we don't know the steps. They just do not translate. When it does understand that it's a video game, it makes overly obvious fourth-wall break references (we've all seen the clip of the annoying kid being killed before the gun laments "there goes our E for Everybody rating". Again, that's basically a joke, right?
You can turn the gun and enemy banter down, or even off completely, aside from relevant story information, but then you're just left with a generic video game. And that's fine! We expected it to be a generic video game! But we also expected it to be funny, and it is not.
It's not a complete whiff. There are a few times when it behaves like a sitcom, and the lines land. Some guards stop you from passing them, but you can traverse around them. While you jump, they call out insults about what a "fuckin' platforming asshole" you are, which is closer to the silliness I expected from the background characters. When we're met with a gate, we have to talk to people nearby to see if they can open it. One of these people identifies themselves as "Ol' Wet Grundy", and when we ask why he's called that, he replies "Well, my name's Grundy and I like to piss myself. I'm doing it right now!", which is such an absurd call and response that it drew a chuckle. Hey, I said I like Rick & Morty, you knew my humour wasn't that sophisticated.
High on Life's gameplay isn't all that good, but then we didn't expect it to be. I haven't seen enough of the story to judge it (or write my full scored review), but I'm not holding my breath. But it was supposed to be silly and funny, and whether or not you think it is probably depends on how much you're willing to believe it is in order to justify your own excitement.
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