Why Bother? It’s Gonna Hurt Me
HIGH The darkly humorous writing really spoke to me.
LOW Difficulty spikes that come out of nowhere.
WTF I really need a job, again.
Anyone in a creative field goes through the same thing every now and then. Me? I’m writing this review after a long period of questioning what the hell I’m doing in this industry. The bad thing is that I don’t know when these bouts of negativity will end, but thankfully most of the art I consume now is about the feelings that arise when trying to work on something creative. This game is a perfect example.
Don’t Give Up: A Cynical Tale is a 2D indie RPG that stars Tris, a 27-year old indie developer who is making a go of it in a new city. As someone who had a mental breakdown four years prior, Tris struggles to make a name for himself or to put himself out there. His friends want to see him succeed but his self-deprecation and sardonic humor hold him back as he retreats to an inner dialogue that is personified by a portrait of a physical brain talking back to him.
The writing is sharp and packed full of dark humor that I appreciated, though it does tend to get a bit too real at times. In the early moments, Tris starts drinking aggressively on his bathroom floor while pondering if life is even worth living. Seeing this portrait of failure and self-hate was jarring, but also refreshing. Few games tackle the way some people cope with self-worth, especially in a society where its often tied to financial gain. As someone who constantly tries to figure out how to monetize his hobbies, the feeling of hopelessness that comes with not landing a job or failing to move forward hurts like nothing else.
Don’t Give Up isn’t just narrative, though — there is combat, which happens in real-time. When battles start, players move around four squares that correspond with the directions on the D-pad. If the space they’re on is red, they need to either dodge or parry the upcoming attack. At the same time, they’re able to land a few hits if they can follow where their foe is moving.
This “foursquare” Combat is deceptively simple and can change up depending on the story beats or the enemy types available. One of my favorite aspects is “Smack Talk,” in which Tris is given dialogue choices directed towards an opponent. Different choices have different effects, and the main goal is to lower an enemy’s guard with cutting words. However, pick the wrong choice and an enemy will get so mad, they might actually get more fired up to fight. This system not only adds variety to each battle, it’s also funny as well and I appreciated the banter.
While the combat is fine and even novel, Don’t Give Up succeeds with its writing. Interacting with NPCs often results in hilarious exchanges, including one very dark Rugrats reference or some awful puns. Without spoiling much, later parts of the story delve into more fantastical and existential themes along with new characters bringing their own humor into the mix.
Don’t Give Up: A Cynical Tale is perfect for anyone in a creative field or for those who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. With its sardonic sense of humor and very real writing, it reminds us that we all need a pick-me-up every now and then.
Disclosures: This game is published by Nuchallenger and developed by Taco Pizza Cats. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 10 hours were played in single-player and the game was completed. There is no multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated T for Language, Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol, Suggestive Themes, Drug References, and Fantasy Violence. While the violence is never overtly gratuitous, a lot of the content is definitely not suitable for younger children. Themes of depression, suicide, alcoholism, social anxiety, mental health and more are present.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues for everything that happens onscreen as well as subtitles, though text cannot be adjusted. (See examples above.) This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, the controls are remappable.
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