Brand crossovers seemed neat when I was young. I had no idea Yo! Noid was just a re-skin of Kamen no Ninja Hanamauru or that Spot: the Video Game had almost nothing to do with 7Up’s cool mascot. Neither one of those titles were particularly good, but I played them anyway because I liked the goofy characters. In my older and increasingly bitter age, I’ve scoffed at the likes of Doritos Crash Course, Yaris, and all of those weird Burger King games. Likewise, when a review code for World Gone Sour crashed my inbox my immediate reaction was along the lines of, “come on guys, really?”
I was ready to get off before the ride even started, but then a few sharp and unexpectedly dark turns pulled me back in. It wasn’t just that the press release stated the participation of Method Man* and Creed Bratton, but rather the opening logo crawl which featured one Sour Patch Kid stabbing another one to death with what appeared to be a gummy prison shank. Suddenly, World Gone Sour had my attention.
The premise is absurd to any rational context but right at home as a videogame conceit. Sour Patch Kids, you see, desire only to be eaten by human beings, and presumably just at movie theaters. As a green one you’re on your way to someone’s mouth but miss your target and fall on the floor. From there it’s a quest to avoid the pratfalls that arrive with the seedy underbelly of a movie theater’s floor, a teenage girl’s room, and tool shed. Along the way you can find other Sour Patch stragglers that can help you in your quest.
Visually and conceptually, World Gone Sour is an unabashed lift of LittleBigPlanet’s platform design. A large background remains out of focus while the camera stays close to the details up front. Many of the standard platforming tropes, like sliding down ripcords, lassoing points to swing across dangers, and avoiding a few different flavors of baddies are all in play. Most, if not all, of your abilities are enabled by the finding and collecting stranded Sour Patch Kids scattered throughout the levels. The most interesting addition, or at least one that doesn’t feel completely ripped off, is the ability to enhance the size of the main character. After picking up enough Kids, you can grow up to three times larger and thus take more damage. You can also shrink back down at any time, allowing you to pass through smaller spaces. Your litter of kids can also be used as projectiles, but fear not, because they always seem to respawn a few seconds later.
All of World Gone Sour’s ideas, however borrowed they may be, are great as concepts. The problem is the execution and pacing aren’t strong enough to support their weight. The jump mechanic isn’t tight enough for precision platforming, and the inconsistencies of what constitutes an enemy’s head or weak area can lead to a few frustrating deaths. Likewise, the timing of wall jumps was something I could never grasp, and the use of the short projectile move seemed flawed from most angles. Even the rule set (regarding the second miniboss in particular) couldn’t make up its mind; if a move works once, even if it’s not from an intended approach, it should be replicable on further attempts. In this regard World Gone Sour can’t seem to make up its mind.
For the first five or so levels World Gone Sour is a lackadaisical romp and its shortcomings don’t really matter, but the back end suddenly turns more demanding and the technical proficiency required by the gameplay is more about luck through trial and error than any learned skill. Or, to put it blatantly, it kind of sucks when you perceive your lives are extinguishing unfairly and then have to repeat an entire level. It really goes to show how much time and care went behind controls were in Super Meat Boy or N+. Those games might be $5 more, but most gamers would be willing to pay the price for that kind of refinement.
It’s disappointing because World Gone Sour has all the charm in the world. The silly gibberish that spills out of your Kids’ mouths is adorable, as is the brightly colored environments filled to the brim with stereotypical knickknacks. Creed Bratton’s dark indifference and occasionally profane narration is the perfect complement to the fluffy world, but even he seems to mostly check out in the back half. That could have been played as some sort of meta commentary on the narrator’s interest level, or lack thereof, in the world but it feels more like the writers ran out of clever things for him to say.
It doesn’t take more than a couple hours to finally beat World Gone Sour, but there are a couple reasons to stick around. A neat optional objective in each level tasks you with checking off a myriad of ways (burned, drowned, stabbed, etc) to kill some of your followers. There’s also a ton of stuff to collect in every level, be it standard gold points or green bits of Kids. The entire game is also playable (local) cooperatively, which also grants the ability to resurrect your friend and make the game a bit less frustrating.
*Method Man’s contribution lies with this video, which is either incredibly amusing or exceptionally disappointing based on your expectations of 2012 Meth.