Defied expectations are a genuinely curious thing. When an expectedly bland meal turns out to be delicious, it’s awesome. When your brakes don’t perform as expected, it can ruin an otherwise pleasant day. Two man studio Santa Clara Games‘ 8DAYS defied my expectations in multiple ways; some delicious and some quite the opposite.
8DAYS puts you in the role of expendable mercenaries Mike “Ghost” or Lola “Wasp”, who are employed by a top private (and very shady) military organization known as G.O.D. You’re then sent around the world dispensing “peace” one bullet at a time to various groups causing problems for your clients. These can range from “eco-terrorists” protesting a nuclear plant or guerrilla fighters creating a rice shortage, thus making high-end sushi hard to come by.
The morally ambiguous narrative takes a predictable turn about halfway through and there’s a downright crazy turn about 80% of the way in. Unlike most shooters that portray war as a gleefully fun shooting gallery where you pop skulls for high scores and tastelessly “press X to pay respects”, 8DAYS makes no bones its condemnation of the callous inhumanity and greed behind war. Luckily, it makes its statement without a heavy hand, with its tongue firmly in cheek through parody and the occasional pop culture reference.
When I play a twin-stick shooter, I generally expect to be nimbly dancing around the incoming fire of multiple enemies while hosing them down with thousands of bullets. 8DAYS is not that game and if you try to play it as such, you’ll be dead immediately in the 8-bit dirt. You will encounter lots of enemies but ammo is usually sparse and you can only take three hits at the most before dying. If you get hit with a melee strike or high-caliber round then you’ll be killed instantly. To survive you must play carefully, surprising your enemies and taking them on one at a time. There are times where it’s smarter and more tactical to just sneak past them altogether. Boss fights switch up the tone of the gameplay, forcing you to learn your enemy’s patterns to fight back while dodging devastating attacks. 8DAYS is a lot like Hotline Miami meets Contra.
The controls are exceptionally easy to grasp. They don’t even make use of all the controller face buttons which leaves me wondering why the game lacks any gear implementation or the ability to pick up and carry health packs for later use. Instead it forces you to “use” health packs whenever you touch them, even if you’re already at full health. True to retro aesthetic, this primitive feature often leads to scenarios where you’ll accidentally pick up health you intended to save and come back to later–or even accidentally taking a health pack sorely needed by your injured co-op partner.
8DAYS’ level of graphic violence conveyed through innocent and retro-stylized pixelation is jarring but disturbingly satisfying, especially near the end of the game. Although charming, the 8-bit aesthetic does have its drawbacks as you’ll occasionally plunge to your death before realizing that what appeared to be a wall is actually a sheer cliff face.
The soundtrack’s 28 tracks aptly set the mood for each location and are conveniently interrupted by “danger” music whenever you’re engaging with enemies, which comes in handy if they happen to be just out of sight off-screen or hiding amongst groups of civilians.
When it comes to reloading most games sacrifice realism for convenience–but not 8DAYS. Instead of topping off the bullets in a magazine, reloading in 8DAYS means tossing aside your current magazine for a fresh one, losing whatever rounds are in the discarded magazine. This takes a little getting used to and forces you to play more conservatively when you’re not flush with ammo. Unfortunately, it also means you can accidentally discard a completely full magazine, which wouldn’t be a problem if the twin-stick aiming wasn’t a little dodgy, requiring you to pop off a bunch of rounds to hit squirrelly baddies.
The occasionally frustrating controls and ease at which you can die are really only a problem during the Contra-esque boss battles, many of which require pin-point aim, impossibly precise movement and a ton of ammo. During most boss fights ammo can be found laying around in abundance, but I did encounter one situation where I simply ran out of ammo during a boss fight and there was none being spawned. Needless to say, I didn’t win that particular battle.
8DAYS’ 5 missions can take anywhere from 5-10 hours to complete, depending on your skill level. With a couch co-op partner, completing levels is a bit easier and a lot more fun than playing alone. As the game lacks any sort of leveling system, different difficulty levels, online co-op or even online leaderboards, there isn’t much to motivate a second playthrough.
8DAYS is true to its retro-roots but unfortunately to a fault. Its adorably savage violence and tough-as-nails gameplay will be a delight for any retro fan. Unfortunately, like many actual retro games, the controls can be a bit unreliable and some boss battles can feel frustratingly impossible and hinge too much on luck. Thankfully, 8DAYS does not go on long enough to wear out its welcome and packs in a good amount of entertainment for its $8 price tag on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One.