There are many games that do very little with a lot, and there are many games that do a lot with very little. Most of the games in the former category often lack soul, lack a core philosophy and lacks design direction. Maybe one will argue that some games just want to have fun, and fun is very little but great, right? I will argue that fun has depth, Doom 4 for instance melded incredible level design, unmatched gunplay, beautiful animation, stunning monster design and a refreshing narrative to craft what is ‘fun’ about the game. To call it simply fun ignores how deep the fun runs, because there is fun from the buttery-smooth run and gun, there is fun in encountering a new enemy type and dealing with a different room layout, there is fun in finding a new weapon, getting a new upgrade for it and trying it on old enemies… there is a lot within the word itself and I will hesitate to say it achieves very little.
Something like Owl Boy, which wins the ‘Game I wanted to love the most’ in 2016, feels like it lacks that core. It is mechanically polished, has beautiful graphics and sound design, sleek gameplay and well optimised game overall… But so, so boring narrative, lack of creative gameplay mechanics, bland characters and lacklustre world building. It does what it wants to do well, but simply not enough. And most importantly, it lacks a core. It lacks a philosophy. It is usually a metroidvania, sometimes a Zelda with its block puzzles, sometimes a gitgud with insta-death boss fights that forces you to dodge everything or lose, and now at the end game it also wants to be a platformer. It does everything but nothing as well as Castlevania, Zelda and Shovel Knight did, and the core gameplay really killed the game for me.
In many way Owlboy looks like an overly produced mobile game, the 3 gun-types restriction with the limited narrative feels right at home at mobile where the focus was making the game work, and not giving it any depth. I’ve never had much respect for mobile games – although I must say Triple Town, 80 Days, Plants Vs Zombie Heroes and other games that could work on mobile after porting from PC like Guild of Dungeoneering are amazing because they all do a lot with the limited capability of the mobile device. Today Workemon joins that list of great mobile games, and had since become a serious contender for my game of the year. There is nothing I love more in games than world building and adherence to theme, and on that note Workemon hits all the buttons.
Workemon is a Pokemon parody that replaces bug collection with… workers collection. You enter the world of business as the 9th Heir to the Chairman of Gold Spoon Corporations, Chairman Oak, and this is simply the beginning of an endless supply of Pokemon references that are, for the most part, well written and implemented. It is not just a, haha, look, it’s a Pokemon joke moment – the jokes keep consistent to the theme of the game and are funny because they are great if you get the reference, but not awkward either if you have no idea what it is alluding to. Oak asks you your name, like the start of every Pokemon game, but quickly adds that he can’t remember because he has 3 mistresses (and many girlfriends), and so many children which is the reason for forgetting it. It adds a spin to the classic memeified Pokemon element by making sense out of it, merging a mechanic for player name input and the narrative. Small, almost insignificant, but that hinted at a game that new how a parody series and nerd gags should be written, unlike the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory which makes references but do nothing with them.
There are quite a few parts to Workemon, and even at the end game with most of the objectives complete I’m finding new things to do because the game has all this extra content that doesn’t feel out of place. The base game is a management style clicker game, you hire workers, they generate resources, you use that resource to conduct upgrades and hire more workers. But keeping to the theme as a Pokemon parody, the hiring of a new Workemon involves entering a Pokemon-style battle where instead of a health bar, Workemons approach you with an Expected Salary. Lowering that bar allows you to hire the Workemon at a cheaper rate, and if you do not negotiate they will happily accept your contract just like any normal job seeker would. Other than Salary, there is also a Pride meter to keep track of, when it is high, Workemons are more likely to reject the offer, and if lowered to 0, the Workemon will hilariously run away. Once again, it looks like Pokemon, but adds its own narrative spin and slight tweaks to the mechanics to make the game feel familiar yet unique at the same time – it is a parody, not a clone, afterall. Also, did I forget to mention that the Pokeball is replaced with you literally throwing a contract at the Workemon? It still gets me every time after catching over 100 of the 151 Workemons (yes, they did not miss that reference either).
And if that was all I’d think Workemon was a nice time waster while you are watching a video or just feel like sitting around playing a clicker which does not involve too much tapping for the most parts. But Workemon goes beyond that in the sense that it is also a rich kid CEO simulator. You can buy luxury items and equip them, including private airplanes for you to fly to faraway slums to find the rarest and cheapest of Workemons – but what is unique about this is that your character gets tired of these items in about 2-3 in game months. And afterwards you must buy new items for them because they will refuse to use those luxury item or that awesome looking golden airplane that costs as much as the yearly salary of 10 of my Workemons. But no, you are a rich little spoiled brat and you will not sir on the same plane for the 34th time. It just loses its charm by that time. In the office you can spend some of your energy to nitpick on your workers so that they generate double the cash while you continue, or you can scream at them as a form of ‘training’ to level them up so that they make more money in general. Watching my 18-years-old female CEO tell the 40yearold-Virginmon about how things were ‘Back in my days’ and chanting things like ‘Young people nowadays’ to him is simply nonsensical, yet realistic and absolutely hilarious. Also, the game suggests you tap on the screen while training the Workemons to increase the chances of success, which changes the animation slightly but does absolutely nothing – an allusion to the old Pokemon myth of how mashing the A button will increase the catch rate of Pokemons. It feels like the game knows when to make jokes, what jokes to make and nails it every time. Lastly on the things that spoiled brats do other than spending time at the gym and restaurant all day, which you can also do but are smaller mechanics in the grand scheme of things, you can visit a host club quite literally titled Take My Money. In your adventures for Workemons you can find different hosts that you can later visit in TMM to spend money and energy on to raise their affection, and eventually once it hits 100% you can hire them as your secretary. You get one secretary to start, mine is a rather charming anime husbando whom I have no complain about (because I picked a female character, you get waifus as a male), and there are 9 more to collect throughout the game making kind of a mini dating sim and waifu/husbando-collection game too.
Also, the game suggests you tap on the screen while training the Workemons to increase the chances of success, which changes the animation slightly but does absolutely nothing – an allusion to the old Pokemon myth of how mashing the A button will increase the catch rate of Pokemons. It feels like the game knows when to make jokes, what jokes to make and nails it every time.
And there are other mechanics in the game that I’ve not even been able to touch on like the Mom’s card, buying out of Sister Companies, and rebuilding the Workemon Centre by donating back the money you earned for Workemon welfare – and I think it is best that you discover for themselves. Game is completely free on the App store and honestly for simply the dark, brutal humour that it provides, it warrants a spot on your phone this Chinese New Year while you sit around listening to people talk about jobs and work and bosses. It is now a serious contender for my game of the year, and the funniest game I’ve played in a long, long time.