Review – Buddy Simulator 1984
The time before ubiquitous, constant internet connection was a great one in terms of surprises, stories, and hype. For people who were teenagers in the late 90s/early 2000s, it cannot be explained how exciting it was to experience a movie like The Blair Witch Project or The Sixth Sense. Granted, the latter can still be crafted as long as you’re careful, but the former was the ultimate in a crafted world that no one could easily dispute because it simply took too much effort. Nowadays, anything that’s remotely mysterious is easily debunked: the era of cryptids and mysteries is essentially over, with many new cases proven invalid in a matter of days, if not hours. This sort of incredible unconventional connection also applied to video games. Metal Gear Solid, Eternal Darkness, and even Conker’s Bad Fur Day could turn on a dime and give you weirdness that you had no choice but to ask aloud: what the hell is happening? It’s a mystery and a vibe that feels so amazingly cool to be a part of.
With Buddy Simulator 1984, you’re aware of what’s going to happen from the drop. No one purposely makes a game that mimics the idea of an 80’s friendship emulator without something terrible on the horizon. So, even from the very text-based beginning, you’re pretty certain something weird is going to occur. It starts out harmless enough: you’ve got this “learning” program that wants to know about you so it can craft games and make things fun for you.
Of course, the AI is constantly worried about your happiness and your enjoyment, dropping nagging concerns of abandonment and you not wanting to play anymore if it does something wrong. Buddy (that’s what I call the AI) keeps trying to change up the game, but experiences glitches and errors, connecting the player to some kind of sinister past that I won’t elaborate too much upon. It rapidly turns into a game within a game, as you use the framework that Buddy provides to try and find some kind of respite and answers to the questions that, frankly, don’t really get solved.
As an art installation, Buddy Simulator 1984 is quite imaginative and really hits some interesting notes. Like the meta-RPG Evoland, your game is constantly moving forward, changing from text to 2D, to 2.5D and, eventually, first-person 3D. The game seems most at home in the earlier stages of the evolution, even in the 2.5D environment with different depth perceptions and angles. The developer has wisely chosen to continually reset the game within the same area (a small house with a surrounding yard and a nearby town full of odd characters) to keep with this idea of “living” inside the game.
The color scheme changes based on what you tell Buddy your favorite color is, which is pretty neat. Also the graphics, for the most part, keep in line with what you’d expect from a period-piece in a video game timeline. The shift to 3D was a little sudden and also presumptuous for the time the game is set, but it works most of the time. Players who don’t enjoy the FPS approach may be a bit motion sick (like I was), but it’s a great culmination for the storyline, so we’ll let it slide.
Gameplay-wise, things are incredibly straightforward. Most of this will be walking around, interacting with objects and people in different spots, and having minimal actions to take. Your inventory is infinite and you need to keep an eye on everything as it comes, because there are multiple achievements to be found for properly messing around with interactions (putting a dead grandmother in today’s stew, for instance). Nothing about this game suggests there can be a fail state, so feel free to experiment around and see what the game allows you to do.
There are also invisible interactions (things you can “talk” to that seem innocuous) that can unlock different achievements and, ultimately, different endings. Buddy Simulator 1984 really pulls focus with the keyboard, so I hope you weren’t set on using the mouse for literally anything. The text prompt may have clued you into that, but I need to be perfectly clear: it’s all keyboard, mate.
Which leaves us with the overall “game” of Buddy Simulator 1984. This whole concept of a sentient game that slowly develops some kind of psychosis and possessive connection with you…just doesn’t work. Or rather, it doesn’t work when you’re expecting it. You see, we’ve seen the games that make you question reality or sanity or whatever again and again. We’ve seen Doki Doki Literature Club, Glittermitten Grove, and Soda Drinker Pro, all games that pretend to be one thing and they’re actually another.
But the whole “this game is secretly evil or possessed” wears its heart on its sleeve, so you need to do more to sell it. Buddy was always needy and self-doubting/loathing, so the whole throughline was clear from the drop. Graphical glitches were almost expected, serving only for some quick jump scares because loud noises make you frightened regardless. It just didn’t grab me as something from left field or wild. It just simply was.
In that regard, I do like what Buddy Simulator 1984 was and is. I think the way that the story progresses is fantastic, and the way it can end with either a bang or a whimper is pretty cool. There’s a whole wide list of things you need to keep in mind to discover certain secret areas and connections you wouldn’t know otherwise, and I feel like that’s where the game really shines.
Being able to finish the game once, take your knowledge and preemptively apply it to the game throws Buddy off its rhythm, creating a new tonal narrative and making life more interesting. Being abjectly dismissive or mean to Buddy makes for serious unrest and a guaranteed bad ending. Ironically, being a Buddy Simulator is what the game succeeds most at, and I wish we could have genuinely focused on that. Much like Emily is Away, a narrative choice where you see where your decisions lead a friendship, a relationship, or abandonment. Buddy Simulator 1984 could have kept it more dialed in without spinning out on the “wow spooky AI brain” track.
It’s not a particularly long play, and it does have a fair amount of replay value, so there is some inherent worth for Buddy Simulator 1984. What it seeks to do and what it actually does, while I suppose that could be subjective, are two very different things. I didn’t hate the game by any stretch of the imagination, but it became a bit of a chore to get through in the end. This is something that needs to be gifted without any context or inquest whatsoever. It’s a great game to spring on someone and see what happens. I almost wish I knew nothing about it before diving in, because that would have changed my whole outlook. Sadly, just looking at the Steam page tags lets you know what to expect, and, when you know the monster is under the bed, you’re less likely to be surprised when it eats your feet.
Throwback pixel graphics work alongside intentional glitches, though some aspects of it feel anachronistic and for show rather than service.
Great use of keyboard to force players into the mindset, everything controlled well and no problems were had. Each leg of the journey was properly explained and mapped well.
The chiptune was alright at first but quickly grew grating. Static noise during glitch scenes was incredibly unpleasant and the authenticity of it reminded me why soundcards were so important.
An interesting if vaguely predictable journey, Buddy Simulator 1984 was a nice check mark to have on my list, but not something I can necessarily recommend to the population at large.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Buddy Simulator 1984 is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Buddy Simulator 1984 was provided by the publisher.