Super stylish indie games have always been one thing that catches my eye. Games like Furi and Hotline Miami instantly attracted me thanks to their style. Tokyo 42 is another one of those games that I took one look at and knew I wanted. I really enjoyed the world that this cyberpunk isometric shooter was offering. Was it enough to keep me around, or is the city worse off than it looks?
Tokyo 42 opens up with the main character being framed for a crime they didn't commit. Specifically, they're being accused of committing the first murder of 2042. At the last minute, they're saved from the police by a man named Tycho. Determining the only way to clear the player's name is by becoming a professional hitman, the two start off to clear the murder charge by doing a lot of murdering. If you can't tell just by that, the game's plot isn't really meant to be taken seriously. I found some of the moments to be interesting, and I did enjoy the main antagonist quite a bit, but for the most part, you can ignore Tokyo 42's plot entirely and not miss much.
One thing that Tokyo 42 absolutely nails is the presentation. It's hard not to fall in love with the game's version of Tokyo. Extremely stylish, the game presents a floating city that never ceased to impress. From strange advertisements and megachurches to tucked away forests and little markets, the world of Tokyo 42 constantly feels alive in a way many games still have difficulty achieving. This is also accompanied by a soundtrack that varies depending on which area of the world you're in. Approaching a megachurch will see church bells and quiet chanting added in while hanging out near a flowing water source will add in something closer to raindrops. I was always impressed when exploring the world of Tokyo 42 and constantly found myself lost as I explored the world.
While the style makes exploring the world of Tokyo 42 really interesting, it does not make it easy to play. The basics are similar to any twin-stick shooter, but the game's isometric camera means that there are buildings constantly blocking your view. You can try rotating to change your view, but I found myself spending more time fighting the camera than the enemies. Since almost everything in the game (you included) is a one hit kill this led to many deaths from off-screen attacks, enemies popping out from behind buildings I couldn't see, or even dropping off of the world as I couldn't judge a jump from any practical angle. I can't help but think of Hotline Miami, another twin stick shooter heavy on style. There's a huge difference in how the style accompanies the gameplay though. In Hotline Miami it was used to enhance the game with better aesthetics, while in Tokyo 42 it interferes with it by constantly getting in your way.
The game's other big problem comes in from the strange aiming system. If you aim with just the right stick your character will only fire on the level they're on, unable to hit anything above or below them. You can aim up or down by pressing on the right stick, which gives you a cursor so you can select where you want to shoot exactly. The problem is that this cursor often felt wildly inaccurate, not really going where I felt like it should have. Eventually I found myself trying to lure enemies to my level rather than attempt to shoot them when they were above or below me. One side mission that required me to snipe three running enemies from a vantage point was an exercise in frustration, as the aiming cursor was simply unable to keep up with the game's environment or the running enemies. I eventually completed the level by memorizing where the enemies spawned and tossed a grenade at that area before triggering what spawned them so they all spawned into an exploding grenade.
These two problems are really the biggest dents in Tokyo 42, and every single moment of the game is constantly falling victim to them. You'll take on various missions as an assassin with some nice variety. One had me assassinate a target before another assassin could get to him, a second mission required me to deliver packages on a motorcycle, while another required me to sneak through a temple to kill a target with a sword. I enjoyed the game constantly changing up the challenge, but they all fell to the same issues: the camera got in the way and aiming was wonky.
The worst part is, when everything works in Tokyo 42 you could see bits of a better game peaking its way out through the cracks. Levels that take place in big areas that are mostly the same height were the best, leading to frantic gunfights where I could weave between bullets while taking out enemies. Another level saw enemies placed far enough from each other that I could sneak through it, stealth killing with my katana to avoid the gun fights. These few moments are when I saw what Tokyo 42 could have been before I was put back into another overly stuffed cityscape that I couldn't see out of.
I had a lot of little problems with Tokyo 42 as well, strange design choices that I would probably have devoted more time to if the game didn't suffer on such a massive level from the other issues. The game will tell you how many missions are available from contact terminals, but not which terminals these missions are actually available from. The only solution is to go around and check every single terminal until you find the ones that have missions available for you. Side quests require reputation to unlock, but you have no way to check how much reputation you actually have or how much you need to unlock more side quests. Occasionally a hitman called a Nemesis will spawn, disguising themselves as a random civilian to hunt you down. In theory, this means you should be watching civilians to see how they're reacting and work out who's hunting you. In practice they'll come around a corner you couldn't see because of the aforementioned camera and instantly kill you halfway through a mission that you now need to restart. At least you can eventually complete some side quests and get a cat that'll sniff them out.
The more I played Tokyo 42 the more I came to dread playing it. This isn't helped at all by the game's almost absurd difficulty spikes, especially in the last few boss battles. In regular missions, you can at least adjust how you approach each level to find a better way through. Boss fights don't allow that, instead having you run yourself into a wall of bullets and endlessly spawning enemies until you go mad. The last boss took me a solid hour to finally defeat, compared to the game's six-hour running time if you just plow through the main quest. You can easily triple that playtime if you plan to do the side content, but I don't think that's entirely worth it.
If the single player is driving you too mad, there is a multiplayer mode. There's only one game mode and that's deathmatch. You can fight other players in one of five arenas that are all a bit too cramped. It's slightly better than the single player because now everyone is fighting with the same handicaps involving the camera and aiming, but that doesn't really make it fun. It can distract for a little while, but the lack of more game modes or maps really hurts Tokyo 42's multiplayer longevity.
I was honestly surprised when I finally put down Tokyo 42. All the trailers sold me on a game that I thought for sure I would enjoy, a creative romp through a cyberpunk world with some fantastic visuals and a killer soundtrack. Sure it got the style part right, so long as all I was doing was looking at the game. Just as soon as I started to play it everything fell apart. It saddens me that Tokyo 42 is as bad as it is, but in the end, I found it to be my biggest disappointment of the year so far.
Tokyo 42 was reviewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on Xbox One and is coming to PlayStation 4 at a later date.
While I was originally extremely excited for Tokyo 42's stylistic cyberpunk world, I found myself dreading it after an hour or two. The city may look great, but it gets in the way of the game itself. Combine this with a poor aiming system, crazy difficulty spikes, and an uninteresting multiplayer, and you're left with a game that rarely manages to be enjoyable.(Review Policy)
- At Times You Can See a Better Game Poking Through
- Lovely Art Style and Soundtrack
- Story Has Some Interesting Notes
- Fighting the Camera More Than Enemies
- Aiming System Not Effective Enough
- Many Little Quality of Life Issues
- Absurd Difficulty Spikes
- Multiplayer Lacks Modes