Taking a relatively played out genre and putting a new spin on things is a great way to draw attention and when Retro CIty Rampage blew onto the scene back in 2012 it proved that top down action games in an open world still have plenty of life left in them. Now VBlank Entertainment has returned with a new open world game in that same vein in the form of Shakedown: Hawaii. Is this entry worth your time or was this one best left retiring?
The aging CEO of Feeble Multinational may have written an autobiography about how his company runs itself while he’s at the beach but unfortunately over the years new technology has caused that business to run itself into the ground. After hearing that his company is nearly bankrupt the CEO learns that online shopping, video streaming, and more modern day conveniences have put his previous businesses underwater.
Not one to just let his previous dynasty crumble into nothingness the CEO immediately consults with his top men and figures that the best way to get back on top will involve some rather underhanded tactics that involve mostly criminal behavior, some rough game show appearances, and violating pretty much every law protecting consumers from predatory business practices. The CEO isn’t the only character in this game however as his son, an “aspiring” DJ who hasn’t booked a gig in a decade, is trying to earn street cred and the CEO’s own personal fixer also end up being playable characters.
That being said, this dynamic of allowing for three characters to have a story and be playable on the fly doesn’t really work the best in Shakedown: Hawaii as the other two characters besides the CEO end up feeling a bit flatter in comparison. Sure it is funny a few times seeing the CEO’s son attempting to be a gangster and failing at it but the best parts of the narrative come when playing as the CEO himself. Thankfully the writing for the story mission is as witty and humorous as one could expect from the developer of Retro City Rampage.
Sure the direct references have been toned down to basically winking at the player since we all know exactly what they are talking about in most situations and obvious memes are now non-existent but if anything that makes the comedic nature of the storyline all the better. Not only is it often hilariously over the top given what the CEO’s plans end up being and the backlash that he can end up facing (or simply getting away with), but the story often is a witty bit of social commentary on the marketing business as a whole and those looking for a game that is more than willing to let humor take the wheel need look no further than Shakedown: Hawaii.
Shakedown: Hawaii adopts the old school top-down approach to the action as players are tossed into a world that is almost immediately available for them to explore. Free-Roam is of course an option separate from the Story should the player choose but there’s no real reason not to take part in the game’s story mode at the same time as various collectible and the crazy challenge missions are still available in this mode. Players will find various mission markers that trigger cutscenes in the aforementioned story and, at least in the early parts of the game, introduce various mechanics and ways to make money.
Combat in this game has a nice arcade style feel to it with players easily gaining access to a wide array of weapons running anywhere from baseball bats and handguns to scissors that can cut off hair and even spread-shot guns that can annihilate anything in their path. It is worth noting that the lock on system in the combat is a bit finicky at times and considering the amount of random civilians and other vehicles around, the game can often struggle to target specifically what you wish to aim at but this is only a small problem in the end as ammo rarely feels like an issue and even if the police get a bit riled up, a quick escape in a car, which handle quite well, or run to a mission is all it takes to lose them.
You see, while players have their own pocket money that can be used to purchase clothing and eventually character upgrades this money is seperate from their overall business pool. After a set amount of time passes in-game a day will pass and depending on the player’s current income stream their business will gain that amount of money that can then be invested in various ways, or paid out to the player as a salary that can be as paltry or as exorbitant as you wish.
Outside of completing story missions one of the first ways players learn to earn a steady but smaller source of income happens to be in the form of the titular shakedowns. Nearly every building in the game is available for players to enter and then trigger a shakedown in order for that business to “subscribe” to the player with some protection money. To do this players will need to perform some sort of task that ends up leading to some of the most crazy situations that the game can offer. This can range from simply smashing shelves, clogging up all the toilets, and shooting up a rival gang, to invading customer’s personal space, escaping from their trap door dungeon, or cutting off their hair. There is such a wide array of shakedown types that this is easily one of the best parts of the game and a way for players to earn a solid bit of income.
As players advance through the story they will quickly be told different ways to help increase their daily revenue and this happens to range from everything to blowing up rival same-day delivery trucks to repossessing cars with predatory loans. This is all introduced at a fairly blistering pace and immediately gives players a variety of activities to do outside of the story mode but if you really want cash then real estate is where it’s at. Nearly every building on the island can eventually be purchased by the player and the more things they own, the more money they can end up making. Everything from homes to entire malls can eventually be purchased and to top that off, multipliers in the form of short term gift cards and targeted advertisements help increase the daily revenue to an extreme degree.
The way this is done is unfortunately a bit rough around the edges however as the game’s menu systems for multipliers as well as purchasing properties are a bit annoying to deal with. Players will need to look through the map and apply each multiplier as needed while the actual businesses need to get purchased one at a time and considering the massive amount of property available, this can be a bit time consuming even if the load times are non-existent. It also is a bit disappointing that while the goal for the player is eventually to end up owning everything, it quickly becomes an afterthought. The low cost of player upgrades, cosmetics, and weaponry won’t put a dent in any of your real spending and eventually even new buildings can be bought up without batting an eye as a single payday can eventually buy out an entire block. This makes the eventual overflow of money a bit disappointing as there simply aren’t enough ways to spend it.
Visuals & Audio
One of the first things players of the previous game from this developer will notice is that Shakedown: Hawaii has been given a significant graphical improvement over the past game and presents everything in crisp 32-bit style pixel art. This is true both in the open world overworld as well as in the cutscenes that take place, though it is worth noting that any character customization is only reflected on the overworld screens. There is a ton of variety to see in different parts of the city and while it is true that some of the buildings do end up repeating themselves, being able to venture inside of over two hundred buildings is a significant feat.
Along those same lines players will find that the game’s soundtrack happens to fit perfectly with the theme of the game. It is worth noting that while the world is designed with plenty of attention to detail with numerous things being destructible, there are parts of the map that don’t get quite the same amount of attention story-wise compared to others which is a bit disappointing.
Shakedown: Hawaii continues the legacy of VBlank’s legacy of delivering over the top action combined with a hilarious story. Sure the setting this time around is a bit more grounded but its ridiculous take on corporations still rings close to home with enough parody to keep players laughing even as they blow up a toilet for protection money or take back a farm from a drug cartel simply to sell soft-drinks at a cheaper price. Though the economy eventually ends up way overbalanced towards the player, those looking for a great action game with plenty of humor will find that Shakedown: Hawaii delivers in spades.