About midway through Nobody Saves the World, I was getting wrecked. I had bashed my head against a dungeon using my best and strongest forms--switching my shapeshifting hero between forms like the burly Knight and the nimble Ranger--but none of them had Light-based abilities necessary for countering the dungeon's monsters. The Light abilities I could import from other forms were close-range and I was getting overwhelmed in the scrum. On a lark, I decided to switch to the Snail form, which had a signature Light ability. The humble, unassuming Snail was a form I hadn't really tried, figuring it was more or less a joke. Friend, let me tell you: That snail ripped through the dungeon like it was wet paper. I was a tiny gastropod avenger, cackling as I choreographed a ballet of monster carnage the likes of which had never been seen. And as I collected my reward, the experience made me appreciate how meticulously developer Drinkbox designed every form, every combat encounter, every moment of Nobody Saves the World to feel great.
The attention to detail in Drinkbox's take on the dungeon-crawler action-RPG is a quality that becomes apparent from the outset, when you skitter through a dungeon in the form of a Mouse, using your little chompers to shred through enemies. The combat feels fine-tuned and satisfying right from the start, and then builds from there with a host of options and impactful decisions that add layers of complexity while remaining perfectly understandable.
You become a scurrying little mouse after a run-in with Randy the Rad, the cocky apprentice of the powerful wizard Nostramagus. After waking up in a dingy shack with no memory or personality, you visit the Nostramagus' house for help. He's gone, but when his magic wand attaches itself to you, Randy takes it as a personal affront and locks you in the dungeon. Hijinks ensue.
This is where you discover you can form-change into a mouse, using the ability to squeeze through a tiny crevice and enter the first dungeon. And it's an excellent illustration of how the game unfolds itself to you, explaining the basic plot conflict, the ability to change forms, and how that ability impacts both world navigation and combat, all in the span of five or so minutes.
The story is slight and mostly predictable, but imbued with personality through crackling dialogue and character art that looks endearingly deranged. Drinkbox is best known for Guacamelee, but this game ventures far from those sharp edges and bold curves. By comparison, the characters in Nobody Saves the World are lumpy and asymmetrical, with a slight tinge of child-friendly-Halloween creepiness. None of them are a better example of this than the main character Nobody, who in default form looks like a white ragdoll, as if someone forgot to apply color to it. The different forms you can take all echo the look of Nobody, appearing slightly saggy, like puppets without a hand, and punctuated by sunken, hollow eyes. It's cuter than it sounds.
With the Nostramagus missing in action, a Calamity seems imminent and the people have no one to protect them. You're asked to investigate some dungeons that appear to have something to do with his disappearance, and like any good action RPG hero, you wordlessly agree.
Embedded in that simple concept is a fiendishly compelling gameplay loop. You unlock story-critical dungeons using stars, which you earn from doing all sorts of quests. These can be typical RPG activities like completing a challenge room or resolving a simple puzzle. But more commonly, your quests are composed of completing combat tasks with each form, defeating a number of enemies with a certain move, or hitting those enemies with a combination of two moves. Completing these quests both earns you progress toward unlocking dungeons and also upgrading your forms to unlock even more forms, all while subtly training you how to use each of their special abilities. It's easy to lose hours at a time telling yourself that you'll just play a little more, try just one more form, or complete just one more quest.
The overworld is pocked with little bits of personality thanks to a combination of side-quests, puzzles, and non-story "demi-dungeons." It blends retro sci-fi elements with vampires, aliens, and knights, for a mash-up of every archetype you can imagine. The world is designed to feed your curiosity, regularly rewarding you with extra quests, treasure, or new pathways when you go exploring. Demi-dungeons offer a scaling challenge that gives you somewhere to sharpen your combat skills and develop your forms as you gather stars for the next piece of story progression. And the puzzles, while simple, are charming little bits of quirky storytelling. In one early example, a quest asks you to find true love. When you view a nearby horse your character observes that it's "just a stupid horse," but, under the right conditions, it can become the most breathtaking horse you've ever laid eyes upon. Quest complete.
Adding complexity to the combat are Wards, which are sigils that serve as damage shields against your attacks until you use a matching ability to break them. It would have been easy to default to the classic elemental triangle for this, but instead Nobody Saves the World offers four elements, split into two types: physical (Sharp, Blunt) and magical (Light, Dark). These Wards gently nudge you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to mix and match abilities from other forms, or even try a new class completely--as I did when I discovered the secret strength of the lowly Snail.
All of these systems feed so neatly into each other that it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. You upgrade your classes to earn new powers and unlock new dungeons and then you visit new dungeons to have a space to try out new classes, which starts the cycle all over again. You explore the world to find new demi-dungeons and end up stumbling upon upgrade points and money that you can use to gain new abilities which help you conquer those demi-dungeons. And though each dungeon has its own special qualities that make it unique, their layouts are always procedurally generated so that you can return over and over while upgrading your forms. There's a harmonization of systems and gameplay here that all work together fantastically well.
However, when the end does come, it's abrupt. With the Calamity closing in, plot revelations are quickly delivered and you're swiftly funneled toward the final boss. The story does ultimately resolve in a satisfying way for the large cast of weirdos but the final dungeon is disappointingly short, mainly consisting of a final boss encounter. Then again, this may just be that I didn't really want the game to end.
So for me, it hasn't. After finishing Nobody Saves the World, I went right back to it. There were still dungeons to explore, powers to unlock, secrets to uncover, and a New Game Plus mode to conquer. When a game is this much frictionless fun, it's hard to resist.