Yurukill: The Calumination Games Review

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One of the weirdest genre crossovers I’ve ever played, even if parts of it are eerily familiar.

You’d be forgiven for not fully knowing the meaning of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games’ subtitle. Merriam Webster defines the verb calumniate as “to utter maliciously false statements, charges, or imputations.” After learning that half of the game’s characters are imprisoned for crimes they claim to not be guilty of, Calumniation Games does start to make sense. Still, needing to go to the dictionary before playing a video game certainly isn’t the most typical of beginnings, but Yurukill should be lauded for weaving an interesting tale that’s part visual novel, part adventure game, and part vertical shoot-’em-up. Is its unique DNA worth the requisite vocabulary lesson?

After a brief tutorial stage that introduces some of the shooter mechanics, an image of a large cruise ship appears bound for a darkened amusement park. In the next scene, main character Sengoku awakens behind bars and works on trying to escape, to no avail. Almost immediately, he is introduced to the organizer of the Yurukill Games, Binko, who serves as a host to five groups of participants who have arrived at the park. We learn that the premise of the Games is to offer a pardon to one of the convicts should they emerge victorious. However, each one is paired up with an Executioner, who can kill their Prisoner with the push of a button. Should an Executioner win, they can choose to have any single wish they desire made true. As it turns out, the pairs are anything but random, with each Executioner generally being either a direct victim or severely impacted by the crime(s) for which their Prisoner(s) have been convicted.

Outside of the initial tutorial, much of the first couple hours of the game is filled with lengthy dialogue-based cutscenes. There are a handful of puzzles that pop up in each of the seven or so chapters, but few of them provide much of a challenge. The ones that aren’t immediately solvable lean more towards being inscrutable as opposed to brain teasing. The general layout of each chapter sees one pair of characters thrust into a different section of the park that is modeled after the crime that its Prisoner committed. Along the way, you’ll learn about the backstory of both Prisoner and Executioner and how the two are connected. After completing the puzzles of the area and making it through the attraction, the chapter concludes with a multi-stage vertical shooter section wherein the two individuals fight against each other in a type of arcade simulation.

While the overall plot and individual characters are interesting enough, much of the dialogue is repetitive and overwritten. It’s not the handful of typos that bring down the narrative but the sheer amount of it that is doled out all at once. The pacing of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is its biggest weakness, and even if the individual parts of the game are enjoyable in small bursts, they often drag on far longer than is necessary. The shooter sections are filled with dialogue breaks and question-and-answer mini-games, and past the midpoint of the game, some of the boss fights have upwards of 10 phases. Very little about the game is allowed to just breathe, and instead players are constantly smashed over the head with trivial details and inane back-and-forths between the characters.

All that said, the cumulative experience somehow remains a compelling one. With the mystery at the heart of the story, I genuinely wanted to find out how the Yurukill Games would end and who would emerge victorious. There’s a charm to Binko playing the role of Monokuma from the Danganronpa games, with her regular intrusions, obnoxious “YURUKILL!” greeting, and insistence on changing parts of words to “Bin,” even when it made no sense. The shooter sections, while definitely overstaying their welcome, provided tense bullet hell moments, especially when your pool of lives could easily slip to zero if you messed up one of the mini-game questions that were part of every boss fight. I also like that as you fill up your ship’s super meter, reaching the 20 percent threshold allows your meter to be used as an auto-defense system, preventing damage from the first shot you take but also spending however much meter you had accumulated.

In terms of aesthetics and performance, the Switch manages to keep it together for the most part. Some of the shoot-’em-up stages go through some neat transformations, but the enemies aren’t terribly varied. The different ships you get to pilot are pretty similar to one another, too. While most of the interior scenes aren’t overly detailed, the text is easy to read, and the point-and-click controls work well enough during the investigation sequences within each chapter. There are obvious hiccups between scene transitions, especially during the shooter sequences, and I did experience one full crash quite a ways into one of the final shooter stages. Even though all of the voice acting is in Japanese, it’s quite effective at setting the mood and was definitely a complement to all of the game’s writing.

Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is certainly an oddity, but it’s not without its charm. It definitely shares some characteristics with the Zero Escape and Danganronpa games, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same highs. The shoot-’em-up sections are enjoyable, but like other aspects of the overall game, they drag on a bit too long. A bit more time in the editing room would be a worthwhile prison sentence for Binko and the rest of the cast. While there’s not much in the way of unlockable content, you can replay any shooter stage you’ve cleared in the story and earn your place on the online leaderboards. Without a doubt, Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is a much more bold and ambitious title than World’s End Club, also from IzanagiGames, and I look forward to whatever dark tale they choose to weave next.

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