A new champion has arrived.
Eagerly have I been anticipating this day, dear readers; some of you may recall DS game I reviewed in 2010 called Homie Rollerz, which I held aloft as the pinnacle of terrible game design. Since that day, I have, in the back of my mind, been waiting for its successor, a game so abysmal, so offensive, so achingly droll that it gains the sort of cult status only reserved for films like The Room and Plan Nine From Outer Space. Red Colony, my friends, is that game. It has no redeeming features, no low-budget charm, and no higher expectations of itself. It is the kind of game you’d expect to play while the Rifftrax or MST3K guys provide commentary.
In Red Colony, you take control of a scientist (?) named Maria, a woman who seems to have been drawn, according to my wife, in Microsoft Paint. Maria is animated like a marionette and is smartly dressed in short shorts, high-heel boots, and a bright red crop top. Her basketball-sized breasts bounce stiffly with every step she takes—a step cycle that is unbalanced, so she always appears to be limping. Even when she’s not carrying anything, she appears to be holding a gun.
Maria is on a quest to find her daughter and escape a zombie outbreak by limping through 2D environments. Sometimes, in order to avoid the undead, Maria can crawl on all fours under a table, looking down--instead of forward--as she does so. She’ll open a lot of cabinets and find all manner of items, many of which are not fully explained, and others which are 3D printing supplies used to craft things like…guns and ammunition, because firearms are banned in the Red Colony. Borrowing a page from Resident Evil, Maria can only save her game if she finds a USB stick (one save per stick). Every time Maria moves between rooms or up and down stairs, there’s a short cutscene of her moving into the new area. This cutscene does not take her current health status into account.
Many lockboxes and doors require codes, and the codes are almost always, conveniently, right next to the locked door. The codes are always four characters long. In one room, for example, a kid’s action figure collection, for some reason, has the numbers 1-4 written next to certain figures. On the other side of his room is a computer. Guess what his password is?
I quickly learned that guns aren’t actually necessary to battle the undead, which is probably for the best since ammo is relatively scarce. Rather, the solution to every encounter is to stab a few times, run a few feet away, and repeat until the zombie dies. If Maria is attacked by zombies, her health is shown by the condition of her clothing but here, rather than looking slashed or bloody, Maria’s fragmenting garments appear to be slowly fading away, molecule by molecule. Senran Kagura still leads the pack in the "torn clothes that still look good" category.
Though her daughter is seemingly always just out of reach, Maria will come across several friends and frenemies in her short adventure. One of her friends and colleagues, Jill, is what older generations might call a “loose woman” and is frequently inebriated. Maria's kid’s nanny, Emily, has apparently been sleeping with Maria’s husband, which leads to a lot of, shall we say, “charming” back-and-forth between the two of them. The game does contain a good amount of dialogue, such as this Pulitzer-winning passage spoken by Maria’s friend (?), Alan, who appears to be dying:
"Shut up, B*TCH, I’m talking! I’m gonna die, Maria. DRUNK IN MY F*CKING OFFICE while I watch your big t*ts and curvy-ass BODY…F*CK MY LIFE! You’re SO GOD DAMN HOT! If James hadnt shown up, I would have given you the world!"
Go home, Jane Austen, you've been outclassed. And this is nothing compared to the venom spewed between Maria and Emily. The asterisks are mine, of course, but that typo is in the game. Typos, awkward phrases, subject/verb disagreement, and inconsistent tense are all constant companions throughout Red Colony. I read some exchanges aloud until I realized that doing so caused my English degree to visibly decay. Too real, Red Colony. More than anything else, perhaps (although read on), this game needed a competent writer. We’re not that hard to find!
Speaking of writing, though, the high point of Red Colony occurs when Maria finds her way back to the lab, in which the frankly incredible backstory of the zombie virus is revealed. You don’t need any other part of Red Colony, only this explanation; I may have found a new religion based on the ideas presented here. Check the TalkBack thread if you want to full story.
We’ve discussed the awkward gameplay, paper doll graphics, and award-winning script, but I still need to talk about Red Colony’s biggest feature: the bugs, which easily outnumber the zombies. There are some real charmers, like the occasions when, upon entering a new area, Maria would demonstrate a new superpower: levitation. She would levitate for several seconds, moving left and right along the ceiling and phase through walls, as if blown by an invisible wind. Not all were so entertaining, though. During my first playthrough of the game (yes, there were multiple), I realized about halfway through that I didn’t need guns, and so I attempted to start a new game since there aren’t multiple save files, but this merely returned Maria to the game’s first room, but all of her collected items were intact. All doors and cabinets were already unlocked, but spent ammo had not been returned.
I decided to trudge on, getting through the rest of the game in one sitting—it’s absurdly short—and never saving my game. Unfortunately, I reached a what might be a bad ending (maybe there's a good ending) or simply a poorly-executed ending, and attempted, again, to start a new game. Once more, Maria was cast back to the first area, all of her equipment intact, but her clothes—and therefore health—in tatters, the result of that ending. Alas, I was unable to actually USE any healing items or save my game. It was as if Red Colony was being selective as to what it did and did not reset. Even picking up new health kits and USB keys didn’t allow their use. I allowed Maria to be attacked by a zombie just to see if Red Colony would go the Senran Kagura distance (it does not) and then found myself unable to continue.
I couldn’t go back to a save file because I hadn’t saved in the previous run, and attempting to start another new game immediately took me back to the “you died” screen, where I could only attempt to reload my save. It was like a programming version of Orobouros. I eventually had to delete the game and reinstall.
I also can't avoid talking about the graphics. The backgrounds actually look surprisingly good and varied, but the character design, I mean good lord. Just look at that screenshot (above). Everyone is, whether they want to or not, developing a new hobby during the COVID pandemic. Mine happens to be teaching myself to draw pinup art. You know, the kind of art guys like Gil Elvgren did so well. It's hard, I'm used to drawing extinct reptiles, so human anatomy is completely alien. But looking at the art in Red Colony has given me a boost of confidence. I'm doing pretty well.
Red Colony very much feels like a first draft of a game, from graphics, to script, to programming, that was somehow released on the eShop as a finished product. This would be like buying a puzzle, finishing the border, and declaring it completed. Frankly, I’m not sure how anybody could look at this game and think it was ready for prime time. If the bugs weren’t there, it might get by on its “so bad it’s good” appeal, but in its current state, it’s a disaster. Homie Rollerz, you finally have some competition.