This review came out really harsh. My only hope is my own ramblings are more insightful or entertaining than the hot garbage they charged $25 for.
This expansion is honestly so devoid of any meaning that it's made me doubt if Wreden had anything thought-provoking to say ever, or if it was purely my projection that made The Beginner's Guide seem thematically powerful as a kid. It's been months since I played this, but while recently compiling a list of games I've played these past few years I was just overwhelmed by how unfathomably terrible a product this game is the more I thought about it. Genuinely one of the biggest wastes of money you could possibly get, in an industry I didn't think could get any worse with microtransaction hell. Let me try to walk you through just how shallow nearly every new addition to this game is, so that hopefully you can understand just how my jaw is agape thinking about how this unfinished mess was a streamer delight for weeks. Bennett Foddy - whose Getting Over It I still think is the most misunderstood game of the century - foreshadowed the age of "found object" games and now you get shit like this and Only Up! getting millions of views without an ounce of shame.
The skip button section has nothing to say. The narrator adds a skip button in a confined room because some critics were requesting it. Skipping dialogue here doesn't actually affect anything in the game; it's entirely scripted for a five minute section where you are actually FORCED to "skip" to even progress. If you try sitting and listening through his monologue before "skipping", not only are the sections poorly looped where lines cut into one another, he has absolutely nothing to say. Not even some mundane story to tell, the entire monologue is exclusively nonsense. If this is meant to be a comment on artists failing to take criticism and going insane, it's hard to give a shit when there's no original vision that's being altered to include the skip button. So what is the joke here? That the game's writing took a fucking nosedive and removed any specificity whatsoever? In fact, that's a running theme here. This entire expansion just vaguely gestures at "bad game practices" that I can't think of a single other game doing, essentially making this a game that's purposefully bad as "satire" for nothing in particular but itself.
The consequences for skipping dialogue don't make sense either. Time in the game world progresses when you skip, which is supposed to convey what? That players are messing with the logic of the world by doing things on their own terms? Sure, this is probably frustrating as an author, and I don't really respect people who - for example - fast forward through movies. But, at the end of the day, what is the point of making fun of players who skip dialogue? If skipping dialogue doesn't change the fundamental meaning of the scenes, as is the case here, why is a fuss being made about doing so? Skipping dialogue in video games typically happens when someone is replaying and/or trying to go through it faster to reach the more difficult content, yet something this fundamental to the thing he is making fun of is never once brought up.
This is because the entire skip button section isn't actually about the concept of skipping in video games at all, but about some stupid fucking reviews people left on Steam intentionally targeted at the narrator for being annoying. It's the equivalent of a fucking Reddit post making fun of someone's dumb comment about a product, except the guy has a meltdown about it and somehow the meltdown itself isn't even funny. You can't just go "UNFUNNY!???" towards a shitty comment and automatically be considered funny, you have to put effort into writing jokes with some kind of layers supporting them - which I thought Wreden was fully capable of but maybe I was just fucking hallucinating last decade because that could not have been the same person that wrote this shit. The base game arguably had some of this with its premise of the narrator and the player being in an endless battle, with neither coming out that much better. Yet this expansion is no longer interested in that tension between audience and authorial media analysis, if the games were ever interested or just blowing smoke up our asses the entire time. We basically just have a bunch of sections where the narrator decides to make fun of a random fucking player request for an entire level. Here's two more examples:
What about collectibles? What game out there adds collectibles to the base game after a decade and charges you full price for the expansion? Name one game that fits this criteria that the game is supposedly making fun of, because I'd be fucking fuming at that game, but the only game I can think of that pulls such a gross stunt is this one. The closest thing I can think of is when AAA games have prepurchase rewards that include more collectibles, which is still questionable but a very different situation from buying the whole game all over again. We also have varying levels of remasters, with the most egregious probably being The Last of Us which does a graphical overhaul no one asked for and pretty much nothing else. There's also shit like Nintendo Switch ports that charge full price for ports; I guess that could be what's happening here? So, is the game trying to criticize itself for needing to "expand itself" to justify being ported to newer systems, because that would be an actually interesting thing to talk about for indie games especially with how awful game preservation is. If this was indeed an intended theme of the game, it's barely touched on because the game wants to treat these half-hearted "expansions" as funny in and of themselves.
I've heard Todd Howard once promised to try making voice actors say the player's name a thing, but has anyone seriously been asking for this enough to make a joke about it? The narrator is taking a shot at self-righteous players who think they're very important by imagining a feature no one asked for. What about all the shit recently with right wing mods removing gender and race options in RPGs, an actual fucking real-life situation you can satirize instead of this lazy nonsense? Is this a joke about Todd Howard and people like him trying to implement a difficult feature that barely does anything but jerk the player off? What's the joke? How can you make fun of writers who cater to audiences when they have nothing to say when that's exactly what's happening here?
Every single issue Ultra Deluxe brings up feels like it focuses on the least interesting party. It focuses on the lazy criticisms from shallow audiences instead of how they affect how the author creates. It focuses on the bad products that result from shitty industry standards rather than how those standards affect artistic creativity. It's like it's asking the audience to give up hope for creativity under these circumstances, even though they've lasted long before this game's release, by intentionally making itself the most noncommittal, boring game you've ever seen. This game is so depressing that I honestly hope Wreden and co. get into a better mindset because this fucking shit is embarrassing for a writer who felt like such an icon in the indie game scene for a little while. Infinite hole scene innocent though.