Playing Lococycle feels much like you've crashed into an alternate universe where Quentin Tarantino and a cheap porn director got together to shoot a budget movie. A disastrously beautiful amalgamation of live-action cutscenes, on-rails shooting, GlaDOS-inspired voice acting, quick time events, awful racial stereotypes, an orchestral soundtrack, and--in one instance--Street Fighter-inspired 1v1 combat: this game really does try its darndest to be loco. The end result is a hot mess; a sporadic, and fever-dream-like game that is both torturous and incredibly entertaining for the entirety of the six to seven hour campaign. But is it a good game? My heart tells me no. Is it fun? As fun as watching a low budget kung fu movie at 3am. Is it worth playing? Look, once actual blockbusters come out you’re never going to get back to this, so it’s either now or never. But while the humor and success of Lococycle's tone can be decided on an individual basis, what cannot be argued is the mechanical clunkiness of the gameplay and controls.
The insanity begins with the story. If you struggle to suspend disbelief, you won’t like the story. Also if you don’t like low-brow jokes playing off racial stereotypes, you won’t like the story. Also if you don’t like truly, deeply awful acting, you more than likely won’t like the story. But! If you find perverse joy in the above things then you’ll really get a kick out of the narrative Twisted Pixel weaves, because at points it’s painful. The plot focuses on two main characters: the sentient motorcycle I.R.I.S. and her hispanic mechanic, Pablo. After some embarrassingly beautiful live-action cutscenes, I.R.I.S. decides she REALLY wants to go to Scottsdale, Indiana for a motorcycle rally. Pablo (who only speaks Spanish the entire game by the way) gets his leg stuck on her, and off they go! From then on it’s just you two, I.R.I.S. merrily plodding away towards Scottsdale with Pablo being dragged behind her.
So what’s wrong with it? Well the ludicrous story would be easy to swallow if it was supported by smooth gameplay, but unfortunately this is not the case. Your perspective is behind I.R.I.S. as she speeds along the motorway, only being able to control her left-to-right movement for the majority of the game. This is quite unrefined, and leads to unavoidable mistakes. I found myself careening into cars and railings with the lightest tap of the stick, while other times I was mashing a direction hard only to have I.R.I.S. slowly make her way about. If you run into anything you’ll be damaged, and for a game that relies so heavily on dodging obstacles and enemy attacks, it was infuriating to be unable to adequately control the motorcycle at times.
Fine tuned for combat
While you may be tempted by the flashy melee upgrades, stay away from them unless you want to have an awful and painful experience for the duration of the game. Grab the upgrade that heals you for every enemy you kill first, then plod down the health and gun upgrades. You can out fight melee enemies, but you can’t outgun the long range enemies. So your best bet will be to outfit yourself to take them out quickly. Spread shot is your friend.
This powerlessness also extends to combat. You'll encounter long-range and melee enemies on the road to Scottsdale, and I.R.I.S. has abilities to deal with both. The melee combat is fantastically fun. You button mash like crazy, throwing Pablo around and delivering up to 500-hit combos (where each 100 hits adds another visual element to your rampage). If an opponent is able to get a hit on you, a quick press of the A button at just the right time will counter them and keep your combo going. It’s fun, exciting, engaging, and requires some skill.
The long-range combat, in essence, is exactly the opposite: it’s frustrating, difficult, and there’s no way to outplay the AI. Basically, your health just ticks down by the second as you flounder back and forth, trying to get your damn motorcycle to lock onto enemies for long enough to kill them. It’s unfortunate because this is the majority of the gameplay, with the more fun and rewarding melee combat taking a back seat.
There are ways to abate this frustration though, and that’s through the upgrade system. Throughout levels there are checkpoints where you get a grade and a number score based on how well you did. Your rank may or may not depend on your accuracy, highest combo, health remaining, mission completion time, or something else entirely (I’m still really not sure); but regardless, you get a number score. This number translates into points that are spent upgrading I.R.I.S., and you can choose between her survivability, melee abilities, and gun abilities.
Unfortunately, while the temptation is to spend points upgrading your melee abilities to perform awesome combos, you usually have to put points into gun abilities just to be able to slog through the anti-fun gun fights. Forget buying the awesome helper drones and fire wheels, oh no, the need to progress means splashing points on reloading your ammunition 10% faster.
Strangely though, the inconsistent gameplay doesn't ruin the whole experience. For me, at least, qualms with fluidity didn’t negatively impact my enjoyment as much as they could have. Why? Because this game is beyond ridiculous. I was shaking my head and laughing during every cutscene, and some of the modes that get introduced are just abhorrently beautiful. They're so bad, they're actually good. Whether it’s flying through the air raining laser bullets down on battleships, or playing a Street Fighter reskin (complete with the same combos for I.R.I.S. as for Ryu), you'll never be bored while playing this tragically beautiful road trip.