Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a review. What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?!? has already been sequelized, and even a review of What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?!? 2 would be several months late at this point.
Instead, think of this as a sort of critical hybrid. It's partially a deconstruction (only without a preconceived goal), and something of a love letter to the game (only without the creepy undertones inherent in making kissy faces at long series' of 1s and 0s). Really, I think the best way to describe this post is as a long form argument on why you should take a chance on a little known game that stands out as quirky even in the catalog of a Japanese publisher known specifically for its quirky, little known games.
Reading that last paragraph back, I realized something: What I'm writing here is an advertisement. A fan-made ad penned by a professional critic and published next to real news stories about power mad police officers, gay rights and the finest in Canadian male jailbait (malebait? jailmale? jamaileyboo?). So sit back, grab a drink, and tuck in for the long haul.
I'm felling a mite verbose, so once you hit that jump you'll probably be here a while.
Where does one begin with a game like What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?!??
Well, first off, let's do something about that title. It's an unwieldy mess of a thing, almost certainly designed as a jab at, well … something that isn't actually a problem for gamers. I don't recall ever being flummoxed by an overly long game title. For that matter, I don't think I can recall ever having been flummoxed by anything. If any of you have ever been flummoxed, what's it like?
Oh wait, the title: What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?!?. Yeah, it's probably a joke, and it probably went over everyone's head. That's a little bizarre isn't it? Suitably so, as you'll see.
(Truth be told, What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?!? is really the series' second title. It had to be changed to its current moniker after the people behind the 1966 Batman television series threatened legal action toward the series' original moniker, "Holy Invasion Of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This?")
Like a stupidly large foam cowboy hat, there is a certain charm to how massive the title is, and it can't help but win points by virtue of inconveniencing gaming journalists everywhere. Down to the last Asperger-suffering, socially brain dead leper, we're a group of pricks, and we really do deserve it.
That said, for the sake of my sanity, I'll henceforth be referring to the game (and the series as a whole) as WDIDTDTML, abbreviating the myriad words, and dropping the canonical abbreviations (and in the case of the sequel, I'll attach a "2" to the end of all those letters). I have faith that you can remember all that.
Now on to the aesthetics. The word "throwback" seems apropos. Actually, the words "designed to appeal to a pervasive twentysomething affection for the (perhaps imagined) innocence of our collective youth as personified by visuals mimicking, as well as inspired by, the 8- and 16-bit graphics widely seen in video games circa the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s" are a bit more apt. You've seen these sorts of throwback visuals before and if you loved them then, you'll love them here.
The overall look is like a cross between Dig Dug and Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest if you're
nasty Japanese). Each stage is essentially a giant pit full of various strata of dirt, nutrients (both magical and mundane), creatures (likewise magical and muggle-style) and eventually heroes. In a clever (if not entirely original) twist the creatures are your friends, and the heroes are the jerkasses trying to kidnap Badman, the evil Overlord who lives within each gigantic pit, dispenses sarcastic advice, and essentially fills the role of Bizarro Princess Zelda for each WDIDTDTML title.
Now that I mention it, the game's title is presumably Badman's plaintive cry as he is dragged away for the umpteenth time this month by some waifish toolbox with pointy ears, a hard-on for the color green and a sword that causes dragons to explode when he collects enough hearts (not that the concept of stuffing one's pockets with the still-warm physical machinery of cave monsters would ever immediately strike anyone as a method to achieve explosive combustion, but who is Badman to argue against a tunnel lined with still-smoking dragon ichor?)
The one area of this game that isn't an obvious pastiche of prior influences is the actual gameplay. One could say the overarching concept was cribbed from classic PC series Dungeon Keeper (and insomuch as each series deals with building dungeons to house monsters with which you hope to kill typical adventurer types, that is true), but the differences between the two games are almost immediately visible to anyone who has played both for more than a few minutes.
WDIDTDTML nabs a Dig Dug-style tunnel digging mechanism (taken to its logical extreme, insomuch as you only ever appear as an onscreen pickaxe capable of digging tunnels) and marries it to a surprisingly complex and organic method of raising fictional creatures. Instead of plunking them down, feeding them and hoping they get along with their neighbors, you're tasked with digging spaces that encourage realistic interaction between species, ie: predation, evolution and in some cases the development of symbiotic relationships.
In short, you're tasked with creating a functional ecosystem governed by the strict lifestyle needs of creatures as diverse and exotic as dragons (er, I mean, "Dvagons") made of a delicious meat substitute, haughty, magical teen girls with bottomless appetites and professional eating competition experience and chronically depressed demons seemingly designed as a dig at Britney Spears.
In both concept and in practice, it's very difficult to juggle the needs of all your dungeon's denizens in real time. Say the local Omnom population is getting a bit too large and have begun eating all the Slimes they can find. Yes that's bad news for the Slimes, but it's also terrible news for your entire dungeon since those Slimes carry precious nutrients that, in effect, are the most basic building block of all the other species in your dungeon. Too few Slimes and every population under your watchful eye will start crashing, leaving the local adventurers with nothing to stop them from sauntering in and snatching Badman.
The silver lining behind this daunting complexity is the truly unique challenge it offers. You will not find a game like this, anywhere, and the ways in which your brain will have to contort to work through its various tasks and challenges are very satisfying. The neat bit about this game's dynamic is that the cerebral nature of its underlying gameplay will appeal to those who dig puzzles and old school war gaming, while its mythological, "Tolkien and Gygax by way of Nintendo circa 1990" trappings will strike a happy chord with anyone who has ever swung a Master Sword at Ganon or rolled a d20 to determine their Charisma.
The series, being developed entirely for the portable PSP, also has to contend with the particular requirements of a good handheld title. Specifically, how well can one play the game in short, intermittent bursts, and can it still hold their attention for long periods of time? Will major plot lines or gameplay mechanics be forgotten if one doesn't play the game for an extended period? Is the game appropriate for use in public? Luckily, this is perhaps where the series acquits itself best.
Each of the training missions and regular game scenarios takes no more than five to ten minutes to complete, while the second WDIDTDTML title introduced a wide open sandbox mode that allowed players the limitless freedom to design a dungeon as large as they want and with their particular parameters, just to see how certain creatures would interact in certain situations (before throwing unlucky heroes into the mix to watch them get slaughtered en masse).
Likewise, the game's mechanics are so fully documented and explained in both the manual and the dozens of training missions, that the only way to forget how to play this game is to pound fifths of rum cut with water and lime juice until your name, your address and how to create a comfortable den for a Heavy Lizardman are as familiar to you as the guy who just stole your shoes, wallet, and left eyeball.
Finally, while the humor is bizarre and the gameplay nuances are calibrated at an adult intelligence level, there is nothing in the WDIDTDTML series that I could imagine as being inappropriate for children.
Maybe if the kid belongs to a set of those parents who are terrified of their child having any contact with the outside world, lest it turn him into a drug smoking, sex fiend, then the concept of a cartoonish knight slaying a cartoonish dragon might be anathema to their precious little spawn. If that's the case though, I doubt the little guy or girl has ever even seen a video game, nevermind owns the handheld console required to play any of the WDIDTDTML games.
All of that's a pretty rad set of broad strokes, especially given the game's niche, Japanese origins, but what really sets WDIDTDTML apart from the rest of the quirky games on the PSP is its tiny details. To wit, the game is simply overflowing with astonishingly wide ranging cultural references. The adventurers, for instance, are all thinly veiled nods to, well, absolutely everyone. A glance at my copy of the game's Almanac (it keeps track of every being you encounter in the game, often with hilarious descriptive text) revealed heroes ranging from philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, to Indiana Jones, to The Office's Dwight Shrute to Enos from The Dukes of Hazzard. It would be baffling it wasn't so hilariously bizarre.
Likewise, the creatures in the game are treated with the same sort of irreverence. The Almanac description for the "Channel Lillith" reads "She is way into brand names. She is also highly reproductive and gives birth to many children. Because of her short life expectancy, it is said that it is impossible to form a baseball team from her children, but one day, she managed to form one. A documentary about the team aired on Netherworld Box Office and was really popular."
Either you read that and burst into laughter or stared hard, angrily wondering why anyone would ever find that appealing. Take that reaction as your own personal barometer on whether you should buy a copy of WDIDTDTML2 or not.
"But wait," you say aloud. "Why would I want to buy WDIDTDTML2 before I'd ever even played the original?" Therein lies another of the WDIDTDTML series' greatest features, though this one is something of a poorly kept secret.
Remember when I mentioned the legal hot water splashed about by the people who hold the rights to the old Batman TV show thanks to the series' original name? That wasn't the only hiccup in the development of the first game in the WDIDTDTML series.
It was originally scheduled for release on PSP as a physical UMD disc, but due to underwhelming sales figure projections, the idea of a physical release was scrapped at the last minute. Not only was this jarring to those who suddenly only had the option of downloading the game from the PlayStation Network Store, it also was a real kick in the junk to those who had pre-ordered the game through the publisher's website only to find out that they would be given a voucher to download the game instead of an actual hard copy and all the treasured memorabilia that goes along with that.
Fast forward to May 2010 and the release of WDIDTDTML2. Due to the highly vocal fans of the original, the sequel did get both a physical UMD and a downloadable release. Developer Acquire, remembering how terrible they felt for essentially shafting those people kind enough to pre-order their game sight unseen felt they had to do something as a mea culpa, so they convinced Sony and publisher NIS to include a copy of the original WDIDTDTML on every UMD version of WDIDTDTML2. Now, everyone who buys the physical copy of WDIDTDTML2 merely has to alternate between clicking the left and right shoulder buttons five times each on the title screen and they can play the first WDIDTDTML game in its entirety.
Pretty rad bonus, huh?
You don't often see that kind of fan appreciation from any developer or publisher, so its truly refreshing when something like this happens completely out of the blue. And yes, part of my "you guys really ought to buy this esoteric Japanese game" stems from a desire to support a developer who is cool enough to say to their publisher "we need to do something extra cool for the fans who still stood behind us even after we dicked them out of a physical release of the first WDIDTDTML."
When you combine the moral gold star Acquire earned from that stunt with the creative chops necessary to craft a wildly unique puzzle game wrapped in a thick layer of humor guaranteed to appeal to an audience you could likely count on one hand, it's a foregone conclusion that WDIDTDTML won't be battling any chubby Italian plumbers for the top spot on the monthly NPD sales charts.
Actually, I'd be a bit shocked if the NPD charts even list the WDIDTDTML games. There is a bare minimum sales requirement numbering in the tens of thousands to being included on those things, I believe.
The endlessly optimistic fans of the series though seem to see that as even more reason to love the WDIDTDTML games. They're the video game equivalent of being into Nirvana in 1989, and unless a PSP falls into Snooki's racially embarrassing grilla, I doubt MTV will be discovering this hidden gem any time soon.
After all of that, what more do you need to convince you to go out and buy this game?
In an era where the Japanese games industry is actively dying because the games biz is so jammed full of boring, derivative games, WDIDTDTML is wildly original.
WDIDTDTML is both funny and cerebral, when only a small percentage of titles in the history of gaming as a cultural medium have been able to manage either one of those with any success.
While both our oceans and our economy lie mortally wounded by companies attempting to fiscally sodomize their customers to death, WDIDTDTML developer Acquire proves that they actively care about their fans with a truly generous gift.
And the kicker?
The UMD version of WDIDTDTML2 — the package that includes the first WDIDTDTML game — will only set you back $30. That's half the price of a new Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game, and $10 less than most new PSP games, and I'd be willing to bet you could find it significantly cheaper if you shopped around or found a used copy at your local games retailer.
I just hope that I've done my part here. Stuff like this is rare in the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog-while-other-dog-snorts-coke-and-fucks-depressed-stripper-dog-on-top-of-a-fifth-dog's-horribly-mutilated-corpse world of business, and it really should be rewarded and held aloft as an example of how to do business.
If, for no other reason, than to show all those creepy dogs that puppy snouts full of blow, wanton Jenga-style sex pyramids, and canine cannibalism (caninabalism?) will not be tolerated in the boardrooms of decent, hardworking Japanese developers.
(Underage cartoon porn, sure, but not junkie caninabal sex-fiend puppies. That shit simply crosses a line, Broseph Gordon-Levitt.)