Woah Dave! is without a doubt one of the most difficult games I’ve had to review. Within about an hour or two of playing I was ready to start explaining how this was one of the worst games that I had ever experienced on the Vita, and easily the worst to have been released to the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection. I’m sure that anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with it will know exactly what I am talking about, because it doesn’t look like much, doesn’t have an awful lot about it and is incredibly frustrating. There was one small problem though; I kept going back to it. Once you get beyond the initial frustration, there is something quite addictive and charming beyond the surface.
Developed under the “Mini Visions” arm of BIT TRIP Developers Totally Choice – formerly known as Gaijin Games – Woah Dave! is a single screen action game presented in a very simplistic 8-bit style and the gameplay is inspired by (and an obvious nod to) many 1980s style arcade games, such as Joust and more notably original Mario Bros. arcade game. The aim is to navigate the protagonist, Dave Lonuts, around a series of platforms and defeat your enemies whilst, in the process, racking up the highest score that you can. This is achieved by picking up alien eggs and skulls which you throw at the on-screen enemies.
The eggs that rain down from above will hatch though, and the enemies you encounter will have various different forms. If you do not manage to defeat them before they fall into the lava on the screen, they will mutate into another version until they reach their final forms. To eliminate the creatures you can throw an unhatched egg, or skulls which periodically appear, but you have to be quick because the skulls will explode after a period of time, and the eggs will hatch, even if you are holding them. The whole game very quickly becomes a frantic mess of “hot potato” with you navigating platforms all over the place, dodging enemies and launching projectiles before it results in the loss of life. Successfully defeating an enemy will earn you coins, with the upgraded versions of the aliens worth more as they progress through their cycle. You only have three lives to play with though, which decrease each time you are hit and once these are all exhausted it’s game over. The game will not reward you with any additional bonuses the further you play through.
As your score progresses, you will encounter additional enemies, such as UFO’s (who rather unhelpfully remove platforms) as well as rising lava levels and the loss of platforms over time. It all adds to the tension and stress but even after many failures, I found myself returning to it for another go. And that’s before you unlock the “bonkers” mode, which throws even more enemies and action into the mix. Thankfully the game has one more trick for you to conquer your foes; the “WOAH” block. This infrequently encountered power up is activated by throwing and will instantly kill every alien on screen, leaving only a trail of coins. That’s if you don’t just throw it into the lava, which is easily done!
As you can probably guess, the gameplay is incredibly simple. You use the left stick to manoeuvre Dave around the screen and he will automatically pick up whatever he passes. He jumps with the cross button and pressing square will launch whatever he is holding. That’s all there is, but it’s all that you need, and mastery of these controls will determine how successful your run will be. Visually the game isn’t much to shout about, but there is something incredibly charming about the characters.
The main problems with the game do lie in the frustration that you will feel for each unsuccessful play and the limited longevity. Bonkers mode is unlocked after reaching a score of $1.50 and this is easier said than done. Also, despite there being 16 trophies to play for – some rather cruelly tied to some challenging scores – there isn’t a lot else to do. It’s the type of game that is played for high scores and bragging rights, and once you have grown tired of the charm and can’t get any further it’s highly likely that it will be forgotten.
Which is a shame really, it’s not that Woah Dave isn’t particularly special as there is something very likeable but it unfortunately doesn’t have much to it. It benefits from launching on PlayStation Plus, which will give exposure to a larger audience and for those without the service it’s available quite cheaply and is guaranteed to give some satisfaction in shorter doses, but it’s not something you’ll be going back to often.