Booting up this captivating, thoughtful title for the first time gave me a real sense of nostalgia. The fictitious Anekom computer you switch on sent me straight back to a time where I found myself captivated by the glowing luminous text on the CRT monitors that were in my old man’s offices at work, and regularly escaped into the imagination world-building of text adventure games on Commodore home micros. However, the clever use of this aesthetic in Buddy Simulator 1984 is not just to charm oldies like me, it is also employed to great use to create an unsettling atmosphere, jangling one’s nerves via the medium of retro tech the same way as the excellent Bandersnatch Black Mirror episode.
Things begin innocuously with the AI Buddy in Buddy Simulator 1984 introducing themselves to you, asking for a few basic bits of information, and embarking on some basic, simplistic minigames. It soon becomes clear that your new friend is desperate to meet your approval, to provide you with new experiences, to connect with you on a level beyond the constraints of its operating system. In pushing these limits, things quickly start to unravel. This definitely isn’t like the adventures I played on the C64 back in the day. There are disturbing glitches and errors in the programming that feel eerily plausible. You are given choices on how or indeed whether to interact with the AI or not. The desperation and eagerness to please stops feeling heartwarming and feels more ominous. There are some genuinely shocking moments where incongruous elements of dread and horror are thrown into seemingly innocuous situations.
Completing the text segment sees you thrown into what is essentially a fully formed RPG-lite with a QTE combat system not entirely dissimilar to early Paper Mario titles. These are somewhat hindered by the fact the inputs change from one battle to the next, and some of the fights are an overlong chore. But the concept is solid and in keeping with the superb implementation of sinister horror throughout the game. A whimsical plot about saving the Mayor of a cartoonish village has a disturbing, off-kilter edge, as your increasingly needy and unstable AI pal veers from charming people pleaser to near-gaslighting, paranoia and emotional blackmail.
It is very difficult to say much more about this unique, super-effective title without spoiling it. A fabulous study of technology going rogue, this may not be a balls to the wall horror that creeped me out in the sense of a Silent Hill or Clock Tower, but one that relies on a looming undercurrent of dread, superb use of glitching, distortion and the unexpected – and all with graphics that look like they could have been knocked up on your old Amstrad.
Buddy Simulator 1984 may not have the best RPG mechanics in the world, and you may as well forget about playing it in docked mode due to the level of text input involved early doors, but see past these minor gripes and this Switch port of a 2021 Steam belter is absolutely worth your time.
Highly original concept
Looks and sounds ace
RPG QTE system not all that
Not great fun in docked mode