Gaming

High on Life: A Memorable Shooter That Blends Rick and Morty With Metroid

Late in High on Life, amidst all the cosmic absurdity, I witnessed a tender moment. Two star-crossed lovers, an alien and a human, found themselves on the brink of a breakup. They struggled to comprehend their complicated emotions for each other. Yet, despite the overwhelming absurdity of the universe, they reached a sweet understanding — they truly loved each other. The alien turned to me and, with a genuine tone, criticized other games that might have undermined such an emotional moment.

“In a lesser game,” he said through laughter, “you’d be playing some Rockstar game, you fucking asshole.” I could hear someone in the background laughing uproariously at this outrageously aggressive improv. This moment captures the essence of Squanch Games’ creative approach in their new sci-fi shooting adventure. They prioritize creativity and the sheer joy of making each other laugh, discarding structure and rules. And let me tell you, that attitude is infectious. I was doubled over in my airplane seat, unable to contain my laughter.

Interdimensional Gaming

Let me quickly sum up the game for you: High on Life is a first-person shooter developed by Justin Roiland, known for creating Rick and Morty. If you enjoy Roiland’s humor, then you’re in for a treat with over 10 hours of it. The comedy in this game is reminiscent of Rick and Morty, brimming with sci-fi absurdity and adult humor that gleefully embraces the outrageous. However, if Roiland’s style doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a “banter” toggle to turn it off.

The story revolves around a nameless protagonist and their sister, thrust into an alien conflict while their parents are on vacation. Their house is transported to a distant planet, where they encounter Gene, a three-eyed alien. Gene enlists their help, along with their couch, to track down members of the G3, an intergalactic cartel turning humans into drugs. The player becomes a bounty hunter, accompanied by talking guns called Galatians. While the story touches on themes of family and self-discovery, it mainly serves as a backdrop for an exciting intergalactic adventure.

The comedy in High on Life can be hit-or-miss. The banter of the talking guns, for instance, oscillates between being funny and cloying. Roiland himself shines in the humor department, lending his signature Morty stutter to the character Kenny. The voice actors’ comedic prowess depends on the quality of their gun’s banter. Unfortunately, some characters, like Gus voiced by JB Smoove, don’t get as many standout moments. Betsy Sorado’s Sweezy can also be a tad grating. But Tim Robinson delights as Creature, a father who uses his children as living ammunition, boasting proudly as they fulfill their short-lived purpose. They truly grow up so fast.

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A player points a gun at a tiny town in High on Life.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s a certain inconsistency throughout the game. Some jokes fall flat, relying on yelling, swearing, or relying on bodily functions without delivering an actual punchline. However, other moments had me laughing out loud. For example, a key emotional beat takes place in a “Space Applebee’s,” a hilarious nod to Nathan For You’s Dumb Starbucks. I also stumbled upon a collectible card featuring Frasier’s face, with text questioning the legality of its inclusion. The best laughs in High on Life are those that feel like the developers making offhand jokes to one another and including what genuinely made them laugh. One of the most memorable moments for me was a hilariously lengthy conversation with an “alien cum” vendor that ended abruptly when Smoove broke character as I tried to buy a vial. It’s as if the developers decided, “Screw it, let’s keep it in.”

High on Life does encounter some common issues faced by comedy games. Its length results in moments of dead air. While there are plenty of amusing side gags in each location, it’s challenging to sustain that level of comedy throughout the entire game. Towards the end, it felt like my guns were merely filling the silence with repeated voice lines. Jokes lose their impact with repetition, and there’s quite a bit of that here.

A player looks out over a city while holding Gus in High on Life.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This issue is further exacerbated by the game’s challenging nature. High on Life presents complex combat that caused me to die multiple times during its toughest encounters. However, during a late-game boss fight that gave me a hard time, I found myself rolling my eyes as I had to endure the same Metal Gear Solid reference four or five times. High on Life tends to prioritize authored jokes rather than leveraging the unique comedic potential of video games, leaving me feeling like it falls short in that regard.

Rick and Metroid

While the humor in High on Life may be polarizing, the gameplay itself is highly enjoyable. The game takes many design cues from Metroid Prime, offering a first-person adventure game with a focus on platforming. This aspect of the game shines, as players unlock new tools that gradually open up the world, allowing for seamless exploration. It all begins with a grappling hook (attached to a bloodthirsty knife) that helps traverse gaps and avoid poison floors. As the game progresses, players acquire satisfying traversal tools like jetpacks. The platforming mechanics are fast and smooth, providing ample opportunities for chaining abilities and executing impressive moves.

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There’s a strong sense of progression as players gain new abilities. The guns themselves have utilities beyond combat. For example, Sweezy can freeze time, allowing players to squeeze through fan vents, while Creature can shoot his children into pipes to access locked rooms. Some mechanics could benefit from more use, as High on Life doesn’t offer many challenging environmental puzzles. However, revisiting planets still proves worthwhile.

Squanch understands what makes a Metroidvania game successful. They have filled their alien planets with collectibles, sight gags, and hidden chests. The chests are especially important as they contain pesos, which can be used to purchase suit and weapon upgrades. There’s a wide range of upgrades available, from health boosts to mods that alter how a weapon functions. One mod, for instance, allows Kenny’s bullets to ricochet off enemies while in the air, completely changing the playstyle. Despite the limited selection of mods, I was still eager to explore and acquire them all to experiment with different playstyles.

The player and his living gun explore a city in High on Life.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As an adventure game, High on Life excels in its aesthetic. The world itself is a joy to explore, with each location brimming with visual creativity. The electronic musician Tobacco provides a delightful and aptly fitting soundtrack. Blim City, for example, is a bustling metropolis filled with chatty aliens, amusing billboards, and humorous loudspeaker broadcasts. Another planet, home to a tribe of foul-mouthed teddy bears, is a vibrant jungle teeming with cosmic flora. Each biome has its own unique personality, maintaining the momentum of this spacefaring adventure—though it does start to repeat locations in the second half, which relies heavily on backtracking.

While the game will undoubtedly be judged primarily on its humor, its strengths as an adventure game should not be overlooked. Squanch Games has successfully merged what made games like Metroid Prime exceptional with Roiland’s talent for crafting distinctive sci-fi worlds. The two elements naturally complement each other, resulting in a compelling adventure game that stands out in today’s sea of bloated game worlds.

Meeseeks and Destroy

What surprised me the most about High on Life was its commendable first-person shooter gameplay. Initially, the combat felt relatively simple. Kenny could shoot enemies with his handgun and use his “globshot” (a term that quickly wore thin) to launch enemies into the air. However, each of the four guns in the game gradually becomes more complex, transforming battles into fast-paced, chaotic encounters.

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Rather than merely copying conventional weapon archetypes, Squanch Games ensured that each gun feels special. Sweezy, for instance, functions like a rapid-fire machine gun. But when aiming down sights, it can charge up a long-distance shot for sniping enemies from afar. Additionally, it possesses the ability to freeze time as a secondary function, adding a unique utility that complements the other weapons. In typical arena battles, I found myself freezing an enemy, unleashing Creature’s children on it, drawing in another enemy with Gus’ vacuum ability, finishing them off with a shotgun blast, launching more enemies into the air with Kenny’s globshot, and finally, raining bullets down on everyone else. Once I fully grasped the nuances of each gun’s mechanics, I reveled in the depth of combo potential.

High on Life wisely keeps itself relatively short and compact, considering it already verges on overextension. Towards the end, I found myself going through the motions during the final bounties, revisiting the same areas and engaging in wave-like battles that extended slightly longer than necessary (a detail that the guns themselves poke fun at). The game concludes in an unexpectedly anticlimactic manner, so abrupt that I half-expected a mid-credits twist.

A player battles Krubis in High on Life.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This structure in High on Life reminds me of Roiland’s brand of wandering improv riffs. Similar to Rick and Morty’s Pickle Rick episode, High on Life doesn’t build up to a grand punchline. Instead, it focuses on providing immediate moments of fun that keep players entertained in the present. After all, you probably remember “I’m Pickle Rick!” more clearly than the actual plot of that episode. The game excels in satisfying combat, seamless traversal, and a smattering of hilarious vignettes, crafting an admirable adventure game where the individual parts are more memorable than the whole.

Just don’t ask me why I have an achievement that says I spent 15 hours in an alien strip club.

High on Life was tested on PC and Steam Deck.

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