By: Stephen Machuga (ShanghaiSix)
Developer: Mad About Pandas
Publisher: Versus Evil
Available on: Apple Arcade, Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Sometimes, magic realism can be awesome. For those of you who don’t know, magic realism is the idea of our world, with just a taste of magic in it. Often, magic realism does not explain the magical; the magical just exists in a real setting. A good example of this kind of fiction are films like Big Fish or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Nobody really questions or explains the magical or supernatural, or odd occurrences in them.
Hitchhiker uses a combination of elements of mystery and magic realism to tell its story. I'm not quite sure the unexplained elements of the game work for it, however.
Hitchhiker is a game that sets itself up as a mystery set along lost highways, where your goal is to solve the puzzle of your own backstory. It sounded interesting when I got the press release for it; I love mysteries in games. Sure, the “amnesia” backstory is a little tired, but I was extremely interested to see what kind of game you could squeeze into being the passenger of a car. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver inside the passenger seat of a car, and unless you’re driving down a series of over-the-top Christmas decoration style scenes that are pre-set for you, I was unsure how this was going to work. In my head, I envisioned a gritty, realistic series of dialogues between individuals that led you to your final destination.
However, Hitchhiker goes right off the rails almost instantly with the first person you start your journey with when his friend on the radio starts talking directly to you and asking you questions. You see, Hitchhiker gets around any kind of restraints with scenario or setting by just going hard in the magical reality paint. You’re talking with one of your drivers, and then look out the window, and surprise! It’s your childhood home with your mom and dad, but your dad has the head of a buffalo!
That’s not in the game, but it might as well be. The problem with magical realism is when the medium doesn’t explain any of the rules of the world to you, and things just happen. Whoops, your peanut butter and jelly sandwich is now made completely of bees! Isn’t that fun? Oh, didn’t you know? Those kinds of hijinks can happen in a magical reality world! Then, Hitchhiker goes too far in the other direction. There’s an entire section of Hitchhiker where it goes into extreme detail explaining that there are robot clones in this world that you’re inhabiting and some of the rules behind them...and then proceeds to go nowhere with any of it.
So, instead of a gritty crime drama where you’re trying to figure out who you are and where you’re going before you wind up bound and gagged in the trunk, you’re more playing a bad acid trip where anything can happen at any time, and you’re just along for the ride.
The other major problem with Hitchhiker is the “game” part. There’s not really much to do as far as gameplay. It’s one part “point-and-click” adventure, where you rummage around your bag for certain items that you collect during your journey or things within reach. There are a whopping two logic puzzles in the game, which I actually enjoyed, but it took less than five minutes for each, and we were back on the road.
One of the first things you find is a matchbook with a phone number on the inside with the word “HELP” in it, and I was thinking, “Oh, here we go, this nice grape farmer is going to murder me!” What you end up doing with the number at the end of the game...let’s just say I couldn’t explain it to you in a way that would make any sense without revealing the entire game of the story and its bizarre drug trip fantasy world.
Blessedly, unlike the unending Kentucky Route Zero (where this game seems to draw a lot of its indie art house silliness), from the very beginning, you can see there are five drivers/scenarios that you play through, each of them less than an hour long. But you’re more listening to random monologues from the five drivers and then throwing random responses back which don’t appear to have any actual purpose other than giving you a reason to interact with the story. I may be wrong, but based on the playthrough I had, there are no surprise branching pathways where you upset one of your drivers, and they leave you on the side of the road.
Trying to wrap this up with something witty to say, but the fact the game is over, I’m supposed to have figured out how it all went down, and I’m still scratching my head as to where the story ended up...whatever.