PSX 2017: Super Daryl Deluxe Preview

I won’t lie: Super Daryl Deluxe was probably the strangest game I tried out at this year’s PlayStation Experience. The game, developed by the two-man team of Dan & Gary Games, is an oddball adventure about Daryl, a slack-jawed high schooler who finds himself at the center of an interdimensional conspiracy involving self-help gurus, an underground textbook market, and friendship-starved computers. Its oddball sense of humor is a product of the developers, both of whom have been friends for years. Although Dan Plate and Gary Porter are designing a video game for mass consumption, they described the project best as “two friends in school who looked at each other and said, ‘Hey! Let’s make a video game! That’d be cool!”

Designed as an “RPGvania,” Super Daryl Deluxe emphasizes exploration and customizing the main character’s abilities. Because of Water Falls High School’s temporal troubles, and a mysterious new principle that no one has seen, Daryl battles his way through worlds designed around different school subjects such as computer science, biology, music, and history. These classes are controlled by honor students who may or may not be connected to the troubles plaguing WFHS, its unseen administrator, and an incident that occurred 40 years prior. The real narrative hook to all this is the nature of the main character. He’s not what you’d call a hero. He’s not popular and he’s certainly not cool or good looking (well, your mileage may vary). Daryl is a dim-witted, gangly teenager with no outward personality and any of his accomplishments are attributed to blind, dumb luck. The developers on hand were quick (and frequent) to ridicule the game’s star and mentioned that a lot of the humor is at his expense (and I found it all to be genuinely funny).

And yet, he is the only one who can save his high school. After acquiring a self-help guide, the player has access to over 45 individual powers that can be assigned to each of the Dualshock’s face buttons. Much like the game itself, these powers are pretty silly, from spiked bats and swift swords to teleportation and surfboards (to ride the waves, of course). As Daryl fights his way through the game, he will level up alongside his abilities which makes them more powerful and ridiculous over time. The best example is the surfboard attack. For this move, Daryl gets on a surfboard and rides a wave across the screen that damages enemies in its path. At its highest upgrade level, the surfboard is replaced with a terrifying looking shark that does additional damage. There’s a strong emphasis on customization as these powers can be swapped out by visiting a locker and purchased from shady looking teens.

The demo I played at PSX was broken up into four sections: a prologue, two classrooms, and a boss battle. I went to the computer science stage where I found myself running errands for a sentient computer that desperately needed a friend. Almost immediately, Super Daryl Deluxe stands out for its striking visual style. The levels and the enemies within are drawn by hand and peppered with some interesting uses of mixed media. I was tickled to discover that the face on the main computer for the level is the soundtrack composer whose photo was stretched out in Photoshop to make it look like an unnerving human version of TRON’s  Master Control Program. Fulfilling his quest meant moving from room to room, battling enemies that fit the theme of the level, such as Microchips (that were Spongebob-like in appearance), Viruses with claw arms that would steal your items, and skull-faced computer cards. There was no shortage of enemies to fight, and I almost felt overwhelmed by their number. However, that meant there are plenty of opportunities to make use of Daryl’s superpowers.

Super Daryl Deluxe is a weird game but it’s the kind of weird I can get behind. What really impressed with about this project, however, was the enthusiasm of its creators. I tried the demo mid-afternoon on the last day of the show and while I’m sure they were nearly exhausted from talking and sharing the game for an entire weekend, their enthusiasm felt unwavering. Dan and Gary built the game with a foundation of their experiences, friendships, and encounters during their school days and often pointed out that many of the gags were in-jokes and self-referential humor. Super Daryl Deluxe may be strange and likely to not meet everyone’s tastes but playing it made me feel like I was the new kid being welcomed by two of the funniest students in the classroom.

Super Daryl Deluxe is on track for release in Spring 2018 for the PlayStation 4.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.