Waking up in a small shed with no pants on is a worryingly familiar scene, but thankfully this time it’s in a videogame. In this instance, I’m Nobody, a white humanoid thing with black, empty eye-sockets and a cliche case of amnesia. As the helpful woman outside the shed points out, however, amnesia is no excuse for the lack of underwear. I’m inclined to agree. Unfortunately, Nobody seems to be the only one saving this world from the evil Calamity which is in the process of covering everything in some hideous goop. Armed with nothing but a wand that lets him change forms (and still no pants) it’s up to Nobody to save the day, get his memories back, figure out where the great wizard has gone and destroy the calamity.
Drinkbox are known for their wacky games and Nobody Saves the World is no exception to the rule. This action-RPG is all about levelling up, mashing buttons and weird characters. The plot is minimal with a twist you’ll see coming from several miles away, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good time. Not everything needs a complex, deep tale, after all.
Nobody isn’t exactly a prime candidate to save the world, though, considering his only ability is a piddly slap that wouldn’t even hurt a wounded fly. Luckily for us, the wand Nobody snatched up from the missing wizard’s house grants the ability to transform into other forms, starting with…um, a rat. Not the most glamorous form, certainly, but the rat can fit into tight spaces, poison baddies with its teeth and even heal itself by gnawing on enemies. By completing missions as the rat, like biting a certain number of enemies or healing yourself enough times, you’ll level the rat up, adding new abilities.
More importantly, levelling up the rat is how you start unlocking the roster of other awesome forms. Level up a couple of times and you can transform into a sword-swinging guard or bow-wielding ranger. Level those up and you can become a shambling zombie, a speedy horse, a mermaid, a robot, a necromancer and more. There are 18 forms in total to unlock and transform between at will, and each of them has its own innate pros and cons, and four attacks/skills. The Magician can summon up bunnies and tigers as allies, the Necromancer can raise the dead, the Monk can unleash a rain of light and the mermaid can smack people with her tail while the robot has a drill.
It’s such a cool idea and I was constantly giddy at the idea of unlocking a new form to play with. Plus, how many other games let you play as a Mermaid? Or as a bodybuilder that hits baddies with weights?
You’re going to do a hell of a lot of fighting in Nobody Saves the World, or more specifically you’re going to do a hell of a lot of button mashing. Each form comes with one basic attack which dishes out damage and recharges Mana on a hit, which is then used to fuel special moves like a stomp or the zombie’s infectious bite. The big thing to consider is that some foes have Wards protecting them from damage unless you first break the Ward using a specific attack type such as Blunt, Dark or Sharp.
As for the bad guys you’re slicing, dicing, smacking and whacking they come in many forms, but behave largely the same; they pile onto you or hold back and hurl projectiles. The way Nobody Saves the World handles difficulty is fairly predictable, too: higher health counts and more bodies being thrown at you. The on-screen action can become hectic to the point of losing yourself in all the hub-bub. It’s the ultimate button-bashing experience. Unfortunately, that does make the first hour or two drag. Each form is fun, but you have to level them all up individually to unlock more skills, so each time you get a new one you’re back to hammering a single button before eventually progressing and being able to hammer two buttons! Hurrah!
Those first few hours might honestly put some people off, the novelty of swapping forms being unable to counter the growing cramp in your thumb. However, stick with it and the real fun starts, because after a while the game lets you mix and match abilities between different forms. The only constant is each form has a single innate element that can’t be changed, like the Zombie’s constant decomposing, but other than that you have three passive slots and four abilities to swap and customise. Want a bodybuilder than can unleash the robot’s Tempest Missing Swarm? Can do. How about a Monk that can infect enemies and turn them into zombies? Or a turtle that can breathe fire? or a slug that can raise the dead?
There are opportunities for some crazy builds. The Zombie, for instance, is slowly decomposing so she is always taking damage. So what happens if you put the Monk’s Smite ability on her, which has a chance of hitting a nearby enemy with a lightning bolt whenever you take damage or dish it out? You get an ability that constantly triggers, unleashing bolts everywhere. It’s fun to play around and develop builds for specific dungeon modifiers, or just so that you can be a ghost who sprays water at baddies.
Each and every skill and ability can be upgraded using tokens as well, with the limiting factor being the original class’ level. In other words, if you want to buff up the guard’s stomp to use with your horse form, you need to level up the guard first. Primarily the tokens need can be earned by completing dungeons, but they can also be found in chests or in the massacred corpses of your victims.
So how exactly is the levelling handled? Basically, you have two bars to fill: the first is specific to the curent form, and that’s filled by completing form specific quests. So, as the guard, you might have quests to stomp several enemies at once or to break a certain amount of wards. The second bar is Nobody’s level, the one that determines base stats and whether or not you’ll be able to handle the tougher dungeons. Each form quest completed adds XP to this bar, as does finishing dungeons and completing other missions within the world.
The world is built so that in many instances you can amble into enemies far tougher than yourself, providing a small degree of flexible difficulty. If you’ve put together a good build then you can often tackle high-level dungeons and areas, otherwise, you’ll get minced. No matter what, though, you’re almost always making progress in terms of levelling up forms and completing quests, even if it’s just that infinite quest for running around bought from the shopkeeper. When you get down to it, Nobody Saves the World is basically one massive grind-fest. Everything you do involves pumping out missions and dungeons to power yourself up in order to tackle the next dungeon. That means by its very nature the game is pretty repetitive as you level up to get the stars needed to unlock the next big mission.
And there is really no variety in the game to speak of. Different dungeons have slightly different visuals and there are modifiers like status effects lasting longer or no health pickups, but mostly you’re hammering those two or three buttons until the final fight where you get locked into a room and have to….fight more waves of enemies? Huh. There are some amusing characters to find and a couple of fun quest ideas like a knight who can kill any rat with a single blow, a challenge you can take on in your rat form. But over the 16-hours it took me to beat the game (I did most of the side-stuff, too) I did frequently find myself wishing for something different. Even something small. Perhaps even a few basic puzzles could have been enough.
But I don’t want to downplay how the whole thing is built. Nobody Saves the World might look like dumb fun, and it very much is dumb fun to play, but the actual development work behind it all is bloody solid. Everything is built to feed back into the loop, from the different forms to the levelling and the quests and the dungeons and even the way the map slowly unlocks. The team at Drinkbox have focused everything on getting max fun out of a simple set of mechanics and ideas, and in that, they’ve succeeded. And there’s going to be a very specific type of player that Nobody Saves the World hits the sweet spot for. I’m close to being that audience, the kind who loves to level up and build classes and mess about. So if you’re that type of gamer then Nobody Saves the World should absolutely be at the top of your playlist.
It’s even better if you have a friend to take along for the rider. While there’s no local co-op, a big missed opportunity, you can hook up with a friend online. It certainly makes some dungeons easier because you can cover all the damage types between the two of you, whereas playing solo means you might have to jump back into the menus a few times to change out abilities.
Drinkbox keep churning out these excellent, focused little projects and it’s impossible not to love them for it. Nobody Saves the World isn’t for everybody and that’s fine. It’s meant for a certain audience and I think that audience will love it, and the fact that it launched straight into Gamepass just means it’ll be able to find that audience. Because quite honestly I doubt I would have played Nobody Saves the World without it being on the service.. Although it is repetitive and those first few hours could put some players off, Nobody Saves the World is a rollicking good time.