I wasn’t expecting much from Buddy Simulator 1984. Its title and trailer seemed representative of a type of style all too common in the indie game realm: simulator titles, or what is often a rather twee interpretation of horror. As it turns out, this game is something quite different.
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You’re having fun, right?
The tone of the game is immediately apparent upon launching it. A logo fades onto a flickering monochrome display, framed with the appropriately round edges of a 1980’s CRT monitor; the computer whirs eerily in the background as a slightly detuned jingle plays.
It’s not long before your buddy makes itself known – a seemingly benign introduction had it not been juxtaposed by the subtle creepiness of the intro. They’ll ask you a bit about yourself (affectionately adding the odd smiling emoji here and there) and then the game takes off. It immediately pulls you in, and it only gets more intriguing from thereon.
The premise follows that your A.I buddy wants for nothing else other than to be your friend and to make you happy. When a text-based game of Rock Paper Scissors gets boring, your buddy seeks new ways to impress you.
Handing over the rights to the game files sets the buddy off on a quest for continual self-improvement. It’ll seek more ways to excite you by furtherly ‘upgrading’ the game and overhauling its mechanics. It starts as a text-based adventure which is then refined into a monochrome top-down RPG. The game continues to escalate in this fashion until its end.
For your buddy, the game world is a interminable work in progress. It has no problem flipping it into something wholly different in a bid to satisfy the player.
Buddy Simulator 1984 is a difficult game to review. Its defining feature hinges on the element of surprise, which if discussed too much, would undoubtedly spoil the experience. Intrinsically, the game is best played without knowing anything about it, so if you want the full experience read no further. To find out why this game is such a gem, read ahead.
A surprisingly robust RPG
Although the game is constantly changing, it manages to provide robust, classic RPG mechanics that present with a unique spin. The game is grounded in the style of the top-down RPGs of the ’90s; it’s perhaps most reminiscent of the Super Nintendo title EarthBound, and more recently, the hugely successful Undertale.
Before long, you’ll choose two individuals to join your party from a large cast of eccentric characters, each boasting their own abilities. Battles are the usual turn-based affair but with notably novel controls. Both attacks and blocking require timed button presses, meaning that landing a killer blow or defending against an attack lies firmly in the player’s reflexes. In a similar way to how the Paper Mario games handled fighting, this prevents turn-based combat from getting boring. It’s up to you to defend yourself and attack effectively at the right moment.
Enemy attacks are constantly being switched up, too, with the game bringing new tactics for each opponent. There are also a plethora of unique attacks and abilities between you and your party members. Defending and attacking always revolves around pressing a sequence of buttons at the right moment, but the game makes it feel as tactile and satisfying as it could be.
Battles are never too difficult but are fun regardless – a sentiment shared with the puzzles that are used to break the game up. These well-crafted features represent the cherry atop the cake, however. Buddy Simulator 1984 is much less about the actual quest you undertake, and more about your relationship with the game’s focal character – the buddy.
Do you trust me?
The most compelling feature of the game is its creative usage of the fourth wall. The relationship between player and buddy is at the center of the experience – it’s you, the player, who serves as the main character, and it’s you that your buddy is talking to, not the avatar on the screen.
This game isn’t about the adventure that ensues, the characters you meet, or the story; all of that is superfluous to the main aim of the supposed A.I. software: building a friendship. The RPG gameplay that ensues is merely a result of your buddy gaining control over the program. It’s solely about the two of you, and the buddy is always there to monitor the amount of fun you’re having.
This A.I. companion intently observes the game. They’re there to comment on what’s happening, to congratulate you on a battle well won, or to praise a good deed performed. Similarly, they’ll display frustration and upset towards you for doing the ‘wrong’ thing – going somewhere they hadn’t planned for or touching something they told you not to.
The player is free to obey or disobey the buddy at various intervals, and by this point, you’ve already gained a sense that something is wrong. Despite the utopic world the chipper tones of the theme tune wills you to believe in, the game will break at times, exposing some unexplainable, underlying depravity before plopping you back into the action as if nothing happened. “You were just standing there again! why do you keep leaving?” Your buddy remarks, and then it’s back on with the adventure.
You won’t leave me, will you?
The game facilitates a deep sense of uneasiness surrounding everything you do and everyone you meet. The supporting cast is a crucial component to the atmosphere, and also irrelevant, in another sense. There are many unique characters to meet in the game, each with their own slightly sinister story to tell. Most all want to be your friend, but there’s this underlying insincerity to it all. Even defeating an opponent in battle often results in them befriending you. Your buddy’s ultimate goal is to master friendship and everything in the game is laid out to that end.
As such, the A.I. acts as a bridge between reality and the game. No one is really ‘real’ but the two of you, accounting for a perverse revelation.
Quitting always instills a sub-surface level of anxiety in your buddy that you won’t come back. The game does an excellent job of depicting them as nervously awaiting your return as if they really do live somewhere in your computer. It’s disconcerting, but it’s also kind of sad.
The game is a successful commentary on friendship, on loss, on love, and on the questions and concerns raised by the advent of sentient A.I. Similarly to other games like Portal2, Buddy Simulator 1984 uses A.I. as a vehicle to break down human traits and emotions into an equation – to reduce and isolate a concept related to the complexities of the sentient human mind, in order to illuminate it in a new way.
Not a Sailor Studios have packed a thoroughly enjoyable and multifaceted game into six hours. It subverts convention from every angle, whether that be in its gameplay, its story, or its characters. It also balances its own complexity brilliantly, making for what is a disquieting yet compelling, ludicrous yet poignant experience. With multiple endings to discover, the game urges you to jump in for another run.
Check this one out. You’ll get more than you bargained for, in more ways than one…
Summary: Thanks to next generation AI technology, BUDDY SIMULATOR 1984 simulates the experience of hanging out with a best buddy! Your buddy learns from you, constantly adapting to your interests and personality. But most importantly, your buddy can play games with you!
I’ve been a passionate writer for many years, and particularly enjoy writing reviews and discussing the artistic merit and philosophy of games. My favorite games include Portal, Half-Life 2, Shenmue, Donkey Kong Country, and the Yakuza series. I’ve also worked with other gaming websites such as lostincult, SwitchPlayerMag, Gameranx, tigerfitnesscom, V4Media. You can find Linden over Steamas well and connect with him.