High on Life is the newest title released by Squanch Games, co-creator of Rick and Morty Justin Roiland’s game development company. Trover Saves the Universe gave the world a taste of what Squanch Games had to offer, but High on Life is the company’s prowess on full display.
The game features the comedic talents of Justin Roiland as well as Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack, the creators of Smiling Friends. As fans of all three, I was expecting a good and laugh-filled experience, but even I was surprised by just how great of an experience High on Life would be.
The game opens up with a tutorial on the game’s basic controls, with a clever twist. You play as Buck Thunder, the protagonist of Buck Thunder 2, an obvious doom parody where your enthusiastic divorce attorney guides you through defeating hordes of aliens who are dating your ex-wife.
This sequence quickly reveals itself as a video game the player character is playing as their sister knocks on their door, revealing that your parents are going to be out of town for the week and she plans to throw a party. The dialogue paints the very clear picture that you are the black sheep of the family, who spends their day withdrawn and locked in their room playing video games.
Your relationship with your sister Lizzie is explored through the course of the game, and its initial tenuous nature becomes more wholesome over time and is one of the more interesting aspects of the story.
Your plans to throw an epic rager are quickly interrupted when an alien invasion starts right in your cul de sac. When one of the aliens is killed by the head honcho in charge, the screams of his discarded gun lead you to your first and most reliable tool in saving your planet.
The talking gun is a Gatlian, which they explain to you after infecting you with translator microbes via spit directly in your face. Your trusty first Gatlian reveals to you that the invaders are the G3 Cartel, who have come to turn the Human race into drugs.
After killing some G3 goons and recovering some alien tech, you, your Gatlian, and your sister Lizzie (who killed an alien herself in a much more bloody fashion) warp to the city of Blim, which serves as your hub world for the rest of the game. Blim is a great hub world, incredibly vibrant and packed full of characters to speak to.
There isn’t a single point in this game where some form of character interaction, showcasing the absolutely massive amount of clever writing that went into the game. Each character feels totally unique, and with many featuring multiple dialogue options for the player to choose to really get to know them.
In order to save your world, you and your Gatlian become a bounty hunter, using advanced technology and other Gatlians to hunt down members of the G3 cartel one at a time. By taking on bounties, you can earn Pesos to buy upgrades from the local pawn shop, making it easier to take on the hordes of cartel aliens on their home turf.
High on Life is a unique shooter, and not just because of its vibrant worlds and hilarious comedy. Each upgrade and Gatlian you find adds a new gameplay mechanic to use, such as dodging or swinging around the map.
The game gives you some time to play around with these mechanics, before using them to twist up fights and platforming segments. A great example of this is the fight boss fight against the clone of an Ant crime boss, where you have to use your knife’s ability to swing around to keep yourself in the air as the room fills with toxic sludge.
Each boss battle is unique, with Borderlands-style intros and lots of build-up for the character you’ll be fighting in the level leading up to it. Defeating bosses often see you rescuing their Gatlian, unlocking the weapon of the enemy you just beat, which is an all-time favorite video game mechanic of mine.
Your Gatlians each have their own unique basic firing mode, with your initial Gat being a basic click-to-shoot pistol-type gun. They also come with special abilities, such as the ability to launch enemies in the air and juggle them with shots for extra damage.
When picking up High on Life, I thought the only separation from the typical Borderlands-style pve shooter would be the writing and the whacky setting. While for many, this can be enough to make it a great game, High on Life manages to switch up the shooter formula enough for its gameplay to stand on its own.
The mechanics in the game are simple but fun to use, keeping many of them from feeling repetitive and switching it up enough that they don’t get the chance to anyway. Each upgrade comes right as you’ve mastered the last, and the sense of progression feels constant and satisfying.
Not that you get the chance to be bored anyway, as you’re bombarded by great humor and fantastic dialogue the entire time. Plenty of fourth wall breaks and twists on your expectations for video game design keep you surprised and laughing between and even during waves of enemies that you mow down with your Gatlians.
The Final Word
High on Life is a surprise hit, blowing away all of my expectations and showing what Squanch Games can really do. Fans of Rick and Morty, Smiling Friends or Oneyplays are going to be drawn to this game because of the names attached to it, but will really be blown away by the fantastic gameplay this title really didn’t need to have.
Our High on Life review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!
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