It’s not often that a Simple 2000 game has recognizable – or even mildly appealing – characters. More often than not, Simple 2000 characters simply represent archetypes or attempt to imitate well-known characters from full-priced games. But when a game in this series has characters that are so appealing that they make one want to ignore the overall quality of the game, it’s clear that the developer has done something right. Such is the case with last August’s release of Simple 2000 Series Vol. 105: The Maid Uniform and Machine Gun – and, indeed, there’s a lot to ignore if one expects to have much fun with the game at all.
D3 Publisher hired Rideon, developers of the anime-based Gunslinger Girl games, to develop this action game. Anime fans will probably recognize this game’s setup right away: an android maid is sent back in time by her creator to rescue his young self from a kinky evil android, who’s been sent back in time to capture the young master. Yuuki travels through eight levels set in mansions, European cities, and the countryside, fending off various robot foes, from child-sized female ‘droids to big worker-bots.
Yuuki is charmingly animated and well-modelled, and it’s pleasing to just see her running around doing her thing. She’s somewhat clumsy and more than a little ditzy, so she presents a vulnerability that’s almost immediately endearing. At the same time, the wide range of moves available makes her fun to watch when her player’s on top of his or her game. The enemies nearly all have a very cute, rounded, and some of the larger robots recall the colorful style of the Mega Man Legends (and Tron Bonne) games.
Maid’s mechanics ape Devil May Cry most noticeably, though the colorful environments and characters recall 16-bit platformers more than gothic beat-’em-ups. Yuuki carries a samurai sword in addition to the titular machine gun, and the sword can be used to carry out a few different short combo attacks. There’s also a sniper rifle for slower, more powerful gun attacks, and a rocket-launcher special attack is activated by mashing L2 and R2 together. On top of that, there’s a dodge that’s activated with the triangle button. When it’s well-timed to an enemy’s attack, Yuuki dodges to one side with a flourish, and machine-gun attacks can be chained onto a dodge for a quick counterattack. Finally, there’s an almost-inexplicable move called “Maid Style” that’s triggered by clicking R3. It does nothing but make Yuuki pull out her broom and start cleaning, right in the middle of battle. There seems to be no purpose for it, other than to allow the player to show off a little and gain a better end-of-level rating.
These ratings give Maid a good deal of its replay value. At the end of a level, the player’s performance is rated in categories like damage taken, shots fired, combo count, Maid Style, and so on. High overall ratings are the requirements for most of the game’s unlockables, which include new weapons and new outfits.
Unfortunately – and here’s where things start to go south – Maid’s just not that fun to play at a high level. Most of the depth of gameplay the developers tried to impart is just not well-developed enough to make for a fun game. If you’re not trying to conserve ammunition – necessary for a high rating in the ‘bullets used’ category – it’s easiest to just run around a level wasting everything with the machine gun. Nothing but the bosses puts up much of a fight against that approach, and even the bosses are mostly just exercises in tedium. Most enemies only present the barest of challenges. They mostly stand around waiting for the player to attack them, and they give ample warning when they intend to take offensive action. The game’s unpredictable collision detection makes matters worse when player relies on the sword, and enemies take so many hits to kill with sword attacks that going for a no-bullets clear is an exercise in tedium.
The level design is about as dull as can be: the player moves from one boxy room to another, exterminating wave after of beat-’em-up-style wave of the same enemies. The fixed, rail-locked camera is about as flaky as such a camera can be. Action sometimes ends up taking place halfway offscreen, and area transitions are often pretty jarring. Between action stages are a few Silent Scope-style sniping missions that involve knocking out enemy cars and robots approaching the young master’s mansion. The control in these sections is nothing short of sloppy, and there’s not much substance to them at all: just aim (when the game feels like letting you take aim) and fire. Plus, they’re easily the ugliest sections of this often-unattractive game. The game is very short; its eight levels can be completed in two hours or so, which makes it an ideal length for replays. This would be a boon to Maid if the game were any fun to play at a high level.
It’s a shame that a character as cute as Yuuki has been wasted on a half-developed game like this. The game imparts the impression that the developers cared a lot about their creation and tried to do well with what they had, but weren’t quite prepared to bring a game to completion under constraints the Simple 2000 series brings. With this series, there’s always the hope that a sequel or upgrade will allow developers to turn a flawed first effort into a finished product. Better luck next time, guys.